give peace a chance, again
Gerry Deiter passed away on December 9th 2005. I'm happy to be able to share with
you his Bed-In story just like he wished. Farewell, Gerry.
of Gerry Deiter's photos of the Montreal Bed-In in 1969
can order his book of photos of John&Yoko
Bed-In remembered in 2002
It was a stormy,
black night in December 1980, when a once-young boy, now grown and graying, was
about to climb into his bunk aboard his boat, moored at a primitive dock in a
tiny town on the north coast of British Columbia, on Canada's Pacific coast. The
evening concert was on the radio. Suddenly, just before the 11 p.m. news break,
came one of those messages that would remain with him the rest of his life: John
Lennon had been shot in New York City and had just died in hospital. He sat down
on the edge of the bunk, stunned by the news. Many people were sharing the shock
and grief he was feeling at that moment. Even as later reports came in on the
radio, people were gathering, lighting candles and bringing flowers to that blood-stained
spot on the sidewalk on Central Park West. John had become a symbol to millions
of people around the world of peace, of hope, perhaps of a new beginning that
could put an end to all the madness of the time. And now a madman had senselessly
taken the life of this gentle musician. Overwhelmed by emotion, the eyes of that
now-grown-up boy sought the familiar photograph he'd taken of John and Yoko so
long ago, now affixed to the bulkhead near the bunk. He looked up and went into
He was transported back in time more than a decade,
and across two thousand kilometers to Montréal, to a suite high in the
Queen Elizabeth Hotel. It was June of 1969, only two years after the "Summer
of Love," when hope was never higher, when an entire generation of young
Americans, Canadians and Europeans believed they held the world's future in their
hands. It was a time of idealism, of optimism, of pacifism. Yet the Viet Nam war
was at its peak; there were more than a half million US soldiers in combat and
support roles in Southeast Asia. Opposition to the war was coalescing, even in
the USA; hundreds of thousands of people were joining peace marches there, despite
all efforts by the government to suppress dissent. The evening news in most Western
countries featured daily body-counts, which was the Pentagon's way of convincing
the world it was winning the war. Yet every day, planes carrying young soldiers
zippered into rubber bags arrived back in the U.S., and the people were beginning
to suspect they were being misled and lied to by the US government. The United
States was divided, the people were confused, and anger ruled. The fight for justice
for the disenfranchised minorities across North America was every bit as violent
as the undeclared war in Asia, and the forces of authority were responding to
it with equal violence.
And in the midst of it, along came
John Lennon, this "pop star," beloved of young people, but seen by much
of the world with as much suspicion, confusion and ambivalence as the war itself...
a man with a "strange" Oriental wife whose art, although innovative
and original, was universally misunderstood and largely ignored by the art world.
And they were going to try to convince people that the war really was over...
all you had to do was believe it. A simple message. So they took to a bed in a
Montreal hotel in a very public manner, inviting the world to join them in discussing
the pursuit of peace, justice and compassion and understanding for all people.
This was the dream into which I, even then old enough to remember too many wars,
wandered in that hour when people were lighting candles on Central Park West to
honour the assassinated former Beatle. From an adjoining room comes the sound
of the Hare Krishna mantra, punctuated by drums and finger cymbals. A hubbub of
voices issues from another room where reporters are speaking in a half-dozen languages
into a bank of telephones. Excited, nervous giggles come from yet another room
where a crowd of young kids wait hopefully for a glimpse of the stars of the Bed-In.
A huge buffet is set in the dining room, with pitchers of orange juice and bottles
of champagne cooling in silver buckets. In the master bedroom, one wall is covered
with posters drawn in a primitive, yet childishly charming style, combining peace
slogans with self-portraits of John and Yoko. Flowers bloom in every corner of
the crowded room, of which the center of attention is a king-sized bed set against
the window wall. A small bedside table, also covered with flowers and bearing
a small Buddha, looks like a devotional shrine.
A man and
a woman lie on the bed, clad entirely in white, their long, dark tresses contrasting
with the snowy linens. John Lennon Ono and Yoko Ono Lennon both had flowing dark
hair; he wore his trademark granny glasses and a full beard that made him look
like a holy man; her raven tresses fanned out around her head on the pillow, and
her dark eyes flashed warmly in greeting. In more than a week, there were moments
of silent meditation and of prayer with several members of the clergy. There were
touching moments, as when John received a group of young blind people who presented
him with a Braille watch, and even a moment of flaring anger, directed at cartoonist
Al Capp, creator of Li'l Abner, who'd come intentionally to provoke a confrontation.
Tempers flared as his remarks, especially insulting to Yoko, became increasingly
provocative. But it was Dr. Timothy Leary, LSD guru to a generation of psychic
explorers, who finally intervened, calming flaring tempers with soft words and
urging peace and love between the antagonists. And on the last evening of the
event, a recording session took place which was to change the world. John called
everyone into the bedroom: Hare Krishnas, giggling teenagers, journalists, film-makers,
celebrities and visiting friends.
The room was jammed. He
explained he'd just written a song about what had taken place in that room over
the past five days, and pointed to a poster on the wall on which he'd outlined
the lyrics. Tom Smothers took up a guitar and sat on the bed to John's right,
next to a mike stand; Dr. Leary and his wife Rosemary sat at the foot of the bed.
Several other guitar players surrounded them, everyone was invited to join in
on the chorus, and John gave the downbeat for a first run-through, which left
everyone weak with laughter at their lack of musicianship. "Well then, that
wasn't too great," John said, grinning, and suggested perhaps all it needed
was a back-beat, so the drums of the Hare Krishna group were brought in for rhythm,
backed up by several people pounding on the top of the mahogany dining table.
John led with the lyrics, each stanza beginning: "Ev'rybody's talkin' about..."
followed by the names of people who had visited the suite and things that had
gone on there and in the outside world in the past eight days. The entire company
joined in on the chorus: "ALL WE ARE SAYING IS GIVE PEACE A CHANCE ..."
was emotional, it was laughter, it was catharsis, it was peace and it was love.
The next morning it was all over. John and Yoko were on their way to Ottawa to
see Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The hotel's housekeeping people were vacuuming
and cleaning; the celebrities, photographers, journalists, groupies, and techies
were all gone; the walls were bare where the posters had been taped up; the flowers,
beginning to wilt, were being carried out of the room; the bed sat empty with
linens crumpled, the rooms and phones silent. But a statement had been made, and
had been heard around the world.
Having been present at
the birth of this global anthem, I feel today a profound responsibility to help
revive and spread that simple message. The world today is in as much need of humanity
and compassion as it was in 1969 when John and Yoko recorded their plea for peace.
The same kind of madmen are again making war on some of the poorest and most miserable
people on earth. The same kinds of policies are being pursued today as 32 years
ago, implemented by unleashing bombs and rockets on people. And the same lunatics
are trying to convince us that if dropping bombs is not accomplishing their goals,
then dropping MORE bombs will. The policies being followed by our governments
have long been discredited; the history of the past 50 years demonstrates that
such policies produce only death, destruction and human suffering beyond our ability
to imagine. As I grow into the unaccustomed role of 'elder,' I realize that my
life has brought me to the awareness of my responsibility to those who follow.
Having lived through more wars than I have fingers on which to count them, I know
I must again stand up and say NO! We must all stand up and say NO! again, with
as strong and convincing a voice as we can find. I believe that showing these
photographs of John and Yoko's campaign for peace 32 years ago can help to inspire
and amplify our voices. Perhaps as we raise our voices together, we'll be able
to hear an echo of John's voice, singing "Give peace a chance."
About Gerry Deiter
Deiter was invited to photograph John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Bed-In for Peace in
Montreal in June, 1969. He was a professional photographer who worked in the USA
and Canada for over 30 years.
Deiter In Memoriam / The Gazette
experience by Ede Wolk: "I dropped in on the Bed-In
photos from the collection of Thomas J Meenach III
A. Kerwood's photo of John&Yoko in Montreal