It will be 40 years in May since John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their bed -in for peace at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Apart from 60-something fans wrapped in the reassuring womb of nostalgia, why should anyone care? Lennon has been in his grave for almost 20 years and at the age of 75, his moody widow’s contribution to peace is to run around the world handing out pretentious little rubber stamps that bear the message, Imagine Peace. Still, local newspapers, French and English, have recently devoted their front pages to 40th anniversary hype . To commemorate the event the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has mounted a free photographic exhibition that runs until the end of June. and, for those who can imagine the taste of mixing rice wine with gin, The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel has come up with a commemorative martini - British gin for Lennon and Japanese Sake for Yoko. The actual hotel suite, number 1738, that the couple occupied , no longer exists, but Suite 1742 a remodeled version in the proximity of the original, has been converted into a shrine to Lennon, and rents for $600 a night.
During this year’s anniversary week the musical revue, Beatles Story, is booked to play the Corona Theatre with Ricardo Branchini impersonating the martyred Lennon. (John Oriettas is McCartney, Jean-Francois Cyr is Harrison, and Ted Doyle is Ringo.) None of this is news, of course, but advertising copy.
There is much about pop culture to commemorate but as publicity stunts go, bed-in for peace ranks up there with flagpole sitting and goldfish swallowing. Barred from the United States because of drug convictions, John and Yoko were originally ‘going to do a Cuba,’ and beam their message of peace to the world from The Bahamas, but were repulsed by the heat and settled on Canada instead. Writing about the event on the 30th anniversary in 1999, David Bist, who covered it for the The Gazette as a pop music critic, admitted that even at the time, “No one quite knew what to make of these freaks and their bed in for peace, but there was an underlying sense of awe, nonetheless. We’re talking 1969 here, and this guy’s a Beatle. Let him preach about World Peace and Blue Meanies.”
True, Give Peace a Chance, was recorded during the event. But even that memorable little tune is no longer the potent anthem it once was for a generation of flower children. In the newest Lennon biography, published last month, Philip Norman tells us how the song was written: “Early in the week a journalist asked for a capsule summary of what he and Yoko were trying to do. ‘All we are saying is give peace a chance.’ It was a phrase with an inbuilt rhythm like Honi Soit qui mal y pense, and within hours, prompted by Yoko, he turned it into a song, or rather a mantra like those he had learned in India. The verses were pure nonsense, spinning off rhythms from Bagism (Shagism, Dragism, Madism) and Revolution, (Evolution, masturbation, flagellation, regulation, integration,)…and listing some of the people who had joined the bed-in with others he wished had done so; Timothy Leary, Rosemary, Tommy Smothers, Bob Dylan, Tommy Cooper, Derek Taylor, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg…’I sort of cheated,’ he later admitted, ‘the word masturbation was in it, but when I wrote the lyric sheet, I copped out and wrote mastication.’’
Few anniversary accounts bother to mention that the day after the song was recorded, John and Yoko were deported from Canada and were sent on the first flight out of Montreal to Frankfurt.
Chatting over a drink at Alexandre last week with some bright, articulate McGill undergrads in their 20s, who didn’t know much about the significance of bed-in-for peace, but knew the song, they described it as a third rate effort by a first rate talent. Not one of them knew much about Yoko Ono either, apart from the fact that “She was the one that broke up the Beatles. If she hadn’t come along, who knows, they might all still be touring like the Rolling Stones.”
Now there’s a sobering thought.
Brace yourself. This is only the beginning of a year-long celebration of non-newsworthy events. 2009 is also the 40th anniversary of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, The Apollo 11 moon landing, Woodstock, Bob Dylan’s first appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival, and the Sharon Tate murders.
The 60s are long gone. Unfortunately, most of the editors who determine what we read these days are now in their 60s and won’t let them go.