////The BED-INs: Amsterdam and Montreal by Anthony Fawcett

The BED-INs: Amsterdam and Montreal by Anthony Fawcett

Bed Peace 2009

THE BED-INS: AMSTERDAM AND MONTREAL

by Anthony Fawcett

“The actual peace event we staged came directly from Yoko. She had
decided that whatever action she took, she took for a specific reason.
Her reason was peace. I’d been singing about love, which I guess was
another word for peace. Our actual peace demonstrations were Yoko-style
events. They were also pure theatre. The Bed sit-in in Canada was one of
the nicest ones, and I participated almost like a spectator because it
was Yoko’s way of demonstrating.”  – John Lennon, 1975

Once Yoko had shown John a way in which they could demonstrate, he was
able to use all his influence as a Beatle and as a public figure,
enhanced, of course, by his beguiling rhetoric, his tremendous reserve
of energy and capacity for endurance. John’s motive was primarily to do
something constructive with the constant publicity given to anything and
everything he did. Their objective was to turn the Bed-In into an event
that would have maximum effect through the widest coverage.

“We worked for three months thinking out the most functional approach to
boosting peace before we got married, and spent our honeymoon talking to
the press in bed in Amsterdam,” Yoko explained. “For us, it was the only
way. We can’t go out in Trafalgar Square because it would create a riot.
We can’t lead a parade or a march because of all the autograph hunters.
We had to find our own way of doing it, and for now Bed-Ins seem to be
the most logical way. We think the Bed-In can be effective.”

The first Bed-In took place after John and Yoko’s secret marriage in
Gibraltar on March 20, 1969. They picked Gibraltar after having tried to
get married everywhere else first, and also, John said, because it was
quiet, friendly, and British. Two days later they were ensconced in
Suite 902 of the Amsterdam Hilton and word quickly got out that the
Lennons were spending seven days of their honeymoon in bed for peace and
as a protest against all forms of violence. The world’s press were
formally invited to interview them to discuss their campaign.

Identically dressed in white robes, John and Yoko sat in an enormous
king size bed in the Grand Bedroom of the Presidential Suite, surrounded
by flowers, posters, and drawings. The walls were covered with
hand-painted signs reading “Bed Peace,” “Hair Peace,” “I love John” and
“I love Yoko.” On the first day alone there were over fifty journalists,
photographers, disc jockeys, and camera crews, all anxious to find out
what was happening. John was confident but emotional; conjuring,
compelling, words flowed ceaselessly from the magic Lennon tongue. His
outward appearance was commanding. From John’s ever changing gallery of
faces an image had evolved that perfectly suited this new role: long
flowing hair framing the intense bearded face, accentuating his glazed
eyes behind the National Health round wire glasses, the tautness and
seriousness of his features alternating with the familiar leery smile.
When he spoke he manipulated his hands in sharp gestures typical of his
vibrant body language:

“We are both artists! Peace is our art. We believe that because of
everything I was as a Beatle and everything that we are now, we stand a
chance of influencing other young people. And it is they who will rule
the world tomorrow.”

For seven days, from ten in the morning until ten in the evening, John
and Yoko talked nonstop about peace. Planeloads of journalists flew in
to cover the event and were for the most part sceptical. Half of them
had expected to see the couple~ making love in front of the cameras;
when they were confronted with a barrage of serious peace slogans they
were disappointed. The attitude of the British press in particular was
harsh and critical, and the way in which they hurled abuse, mercilessly
lampooning John and Yoko, was unnecessary and deliberately hurtful.
Nevertheless, John’s message did get printed, most often with a large
amount of space given to photographs accompanied by the gist of his
conversation.

“We’re very shy and straight and ordinary,” John said in an effort to
explain his feelings. “We’re just trying to do the best we can. But
we’re in an abnormal situation-. The Blue Meanies, or whoever they are,
are promoting violence all the time in every newspaper, every TV show
and every magazine. The least Yoko and I can do is hog the headlines and
make people laugh. I’d sooner see our faces in a bed in the paper than
yet another politician smiling at the people and shaking hands.”

Apart from becoming physically exhausted John enjoyed the Bed-In, and
the energy and attention that surrounded it. “It’s the best idea we’ve
had yet,” he said. “Better than wriggling about in a black bag or
stripping naked for people who don’t appreciate what we’re trying to do
or why. Just suppose we had wanted to go to Capri for a secret honeymoon
like Jackie Kennedy had, the press would have been bound to find out. So
we thought we might as well do something constructive about the
publicity.”

Although the main impetus for and visualization of the Bed-Ins came from
Yoko, and related more to the personalities of John and Yoko than to the
peace movement in general, John had been gradually influenced by the
political consciousness of the sixties, particularly the London
Underground.

The Underground was a diverse group embracing all manner of artists,
beats, mystics and freaks, and John went out of his way to contribute to
their media-especially the newspaper International Times (later IT). He
had been confronted at various times by several prominent members of
this community, who had asked him pointedly what he was doing about
peace, and he had especially taken to heart a letter from Peter Watkins,
the controversial filmmaker, repeating this question. Many smaller
incidents had also registered with John. At the Alchemical Wedding, for
instance, which was the Underground’s Christmas party in 1968, a
gray-suited politico, waving a banner about Biafra, had screamed:

“Do you care John Lennon, do you care?” while John and Yoko were
on-stage in a bag.

Whether he liked it or not, John played a leading role in the youth
movement. Being a Beatle had originally placed him in the part but his
own actions had validated his position. Certainly in the eyes of the
public John represented the left-wing, political aspect of the group.
His widely publicized comments on Christianity and the Beatles, though
completely misunderstood, were basic statements of fact reflecting the
sentiments of most youth on the current state of religion. In turn,
youth had followed John and the other Beatles in their experimentation
with drugs, and their quest for cosmic consciousness with the Maharishi.
What developed was a kind of mutual interaction between John and his
audience, which he tried to influence through the Bed-Ins and later
through his music.

John always had political opinions and had been satirizing the system
ever since he wrote for and distributed outspoken magazines in school.
He had grown up very aware of his working-class origins: “It’s pretty
basic when you’re brought up like I was, to hate and fear the police as
a natural enemy and to despise the army as something that takes
everybody away and leaves them dead somewhere. It’s just a basic working
class thing, though it begins to wear off as you get older and get a
family and get swallowed up by the system.”

John’s class consciousness never did really wear off, but of course it
did get overshadowed at the height of Beatlemania. Working at a
phenomenal pace, constantly touring, he had little chance to express his
true feelings, and felt constantly pressured by his Beatle “image.” When
after a couple of American tours Epstein tried to persuade the group to
say nothing about Vietnam, John finally countered: “Listen, when they
ask next time, we’re gonna say we don’t like that war and we think they
should get right out!” As he explained it: “The continual awareness of
what was going on made me feel ashamed I wasn’t saying anything. I burst
out because I could no longer play that game any more-it was just too
much for me.”

The Bed-Ins were immensely important to John, since they provided the
release he needed for accumulated passions and emotionally charged
political feelings that had been building up inside him for so long. It
was a lonely and brave stand to take and he was prepared to put his
credibility on the line. Besides Yoko, there was literally nobody else
who supported his actions or stood by him. To do what John did, and to
pull through all the humiliation involved, it was necessary that he have
complete faith in himself. “Yoko and I are quite willing to be the
world’s clowns,” he said, “if by so doing it will do some good. I know
I’m one of these ‘famous personalities.’ For reasons only known to
themselves, people do print what I say. And I’m saying peace. We’re not
pointing a finger at anybody. There are no good guys and bad guys. The
struggle is in the mind. We must bury our own monsters and stop
condemning people. We are all Christ and we are all HitIer. We want
Christ to win. We’re trying to make Christ’s message contemporary. What
would he have done if he had advertisements, records, films, TV and
newspapers? Christ made miracles to tell his message. Well, the miracle
today is communications, so let’s use it.”

Protests were raised about the cost of the Bed-In, the extravagance of
the Hilton Hotel luxury suite, the money for which could perhaps have
been used in a more practical way. John was adamant, however, on that
point:

“People criticized us for spending all that money protesting about
Biafra and suchlike, when the money would have been more useful had I
sent it directly there. But I’d already done that. And I have always
respected the sentiments behind that kind of charity and I always will
do. But it doesn’t solve the problem…. In a capitalist society like
ours, people are much more effective if they have money. And we have.
Our name is known and so we’re using our fame and our money to advertise
for peace. Some people say that that is a pretentious ambition but we
feel that the big problems are where you’ve got to start …. ”

The Amsterdam Bed-In was a beginning, a sort of trial run for John and
Yoko to feel their way around and see how much they could accomplish
with this type of hard-sell campaign. They felt the event was successful
mainly because it did get their message plastered all over the front
pages of the world’s newspapers. For John it was the start of a
spiralling manic devotion to the peace cause, which led him into
frenzied attempts at all-out media saturation.

By the time of the Montreal Bed-In two months after Amsterdam, John and
Yoko were more self-assured and glowing with supercharged energy. They
were ready to take on North America. As veterans of the “sell peace”
campaign, with the echo of a thousand interviews behind them, they now
faced the biggest challenge of their chosen career. They had desperately
tried to gain entry into the United States, but each time John’s visa
had been denied. Rather than wait any longer, they decided on the
practical strategy of staging a second Bed-In close enough to talk to
the U.S. media, and generate a flood of publicity. They arrived in
Canada after finding the Bahamas totally unsuitable. It was midnight on
Monday, May 26,1969, when John and Yoko and their entourage checked into
the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. After much aggravation with
immigration authorities they were granted a ten-day stay, during which
time they were to give over sixty interviews to the press.

Inside their crowded suite John and Yoko sat peacefully holding hands,
surrounded by pink and white carnations, record players, film equipment,
and busy phones. They were both relaxed and at ease with reporters. “The
whole effect of our Bed-In has made people talk about peace,” John said.
“We’re trying to interest young people into doing something for peace.
But it must be done by nonviolent means—otherwise there can only be
chaos. We’re saying to the young people-and they have always been the
hippest ones-we’re telling them to get the message across to the
squares. A lot of young people have been ignoring the squares when they
should be helping them. The whole scene has become too serious and too
intellectual”

“What about talking to the people who make the decisions, the power
brokers?” suggested a cynical reporter. John laughed, “Shit, talk? Talk
about what? It doesn’t happen like that. In the U.S., the Government is
too busy talking about how to keep me out. If I’m a joke, as they say,
and not important, why don’t they just let me in?”

From their bed John spent a lot of time on the phone talking with AM and
FM radio stations all around the United States and Canada. His energy
seemed to be unlimited, and he kept up a more or less constant
conversation, one call after another, all the time promoting peace. The
immediacy of his rhetoric was put to the test when he was connected to
students who were in the midst of a Peoples’ Park demonstration in
Berkeley. They were emotionally worked up and scared about a showdown
with the police. “Help us, what are we going to do? It’s going to go
wrong!” they shouted. With understanding and persuasiveness in his
voice, John replied: “There’s no cause worth losing your life for, there
isn’t any path worth getting shot for and you can do better by moving on
to another city …. Don’t move about if it aggravates the pigs, and
don’t get hassled by the cops, and don’t play their games. I know it’s
hard Christ you know it ain’t easy, you know how hard it can be man, so
what?-Everything’s hard-it’s better to have it hard than to not have it
at am” John worked himself up into a fury: “Entice them, entice them!
Con them-you’ve got the brains, you can do it. You can make it, man! We
can make it-together. We can get it-together!”

At times like this, I felt his peace campaign was working. The personal
contacts and exchanges were worth so much more than any photo in a
newspaper. More important, he was getting his message over to the kids
who needed his advice, and who really believed in him.

For a long time, John had been thinking about using his music to promote
peace. On the final weekend of the Bed-In, between eight in the evening
Saturday, and three the next morning, John led everyone in the Montreal
hotel room in singing his newly written “Give Peace A Chance.” It was a
rousing song with a simple, catchy message, a perfect expression of
John’s feelings. An eight-track portable recording machine was hauled to
the hotel to record it. The chorus included comedian Tommy Smothers,
Timothy Leary and his wife Rosemary, Rabbi Abraham L. Feinberg and the
Canadian chapter of the Radha Krishna Temple.

“Give Peace A Chance” was spontaneous and improvised. It was perhaps the
most important contribution John could give to the peace movement, and
the phrase “we don’t have a leader but now we have a song” was soon
echoed all over America.

 


excerpted from
JOHN LENNON: ONE DAY AT A TIME
A Personal Biography of The Seventies 
Written by Anthony Fawcett
New English Library Ltd. (UK) / Grove Press Inc. (USA)
(c) 1976 Anthony Fawcett
Available from Amazon UK / Amazon USA

Anthony Fawcett was John & Yoko’s personal assistant 1968-1971.

 

Facebook Comments

comments

2009-02-15T14:41:56+00:00 February 15th, 2009|Interviews & Articles|