John and Yoko: The Bed-In, 1969
December 8th is the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death. I prefer to celebrate life, and therefore, when I think of Lennon, I think of May 26, 1969, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged an eight-day "Bed-In" to promote peace at Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. While there were more than half a million US soldiers fighting in South East Asia, John and Yoko wanted to convince the world that the war was really over -- all you had to do was believe it.
Lennon moved all the pictures from off the wall of the suite, pushed the furniture out into the hallway including the boxspring, propped the bed's mattress against a window wall and invited the world to join them. TV crews (two which shot constantly), press photographers, radio announcers and international reporters came to interview John and Yoko, broadcasting from the bedside. Lennon gave about 150 interviews per day.
At the time, I was living in Paris and knew little about the "Bed-in" because my French vocabulary wasn't good enough to follow it in the newspapers, and The International Herald Tribune didn't give it coverage. Most of the other events that year were widely reported in the Tribune: Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon, Woodstock, the march on Washington to protest the war, Chappaquiddick, Biafra, the Charles Manson murders, and Charles DeGaulle resigning as president which, of course, got the most press of all.
By the time I returned to America in the 70s, the peace movement was winding down, flower children and hippies were almost passé, and Lennon and MacCarthy were both at the top of the charts, each with his own band. Ten years later, December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was shot and we all went to Central Park for a candlelit vigil.
I was recently in Montreal at Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth Hotel where John and Yoko bedded down. These days, the hotel offers a Bed-in for Peace package that includes one night in the famous suite (now filled with Lennon's Gold records, photographs, and other memorabilia), breakfast, a choice of the Lennon CD with the song, "Give Peace a Chance" or the "Give Peace a Chance" book of photographs ($793 per night).
Lennon suite at Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal
I didn't want to shell out the hefty price just to stay in the same room, but I have been listening to "Give Peace a Chance" on YouTube. The camera is positioned in such a way that it makes me feel as though I was there during the recording. Would I have banged on the table in the hallway or tried to snag one of the drums or tambourines from the members of the Canadian Rhadha Krishna Temple, also there? I can easily imagine being one of the forty people chiming in for the chorus.
Just before the recording, Lennon wrote down the words to the song on a poster board, along with all the famous people who had visited: Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Petula Clark and Dick Gregory. No one was refused admittance who wanted to enter the suite. What's more interesting to me is how Lennon ended up in Montreal. He'd gotten married and had done the first bed-in in Amsterdam, but the event didn't reach the media. He wanted to go to New York, but because of his marijuana conviction, could not. He decided to go somewhere closer to the U.S. and chose the Bahamas, but that was too hot for a week so he flew to Toronto. There, he was told to try Montreal -- a city more liberal which would let him stage a bed-in.
There are many things we and Montreal have in common when it comes to John Lennon: Central Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, now has Strawberry Fields with a mosaic Yoko Ono installed, "Imagine." On December 8th it will be jam-packed with well-wishers leaving flowers and other mementos and singing John Lennon's songs. Montreal has Mont Royal Park, also designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, and also with a tribute to John Lennon set in the ground: the "Give peace a chance" sculpture with those words written in many languages, including braille.
When I was staying at Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth, I looked at the leather guest information folder in my room. Tucked in next to hotel stationary, envelopes and fax forms was a postcard with a photograph of John with his guitar, and Yoko during their bed-in. Beneath the picture was a small white peace symbol and the words, "...all we are saying... "
Maybe someday we will give peace a chance.