The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Quebec is offering a "Bed-in for Peace" package to mark the 40th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 "Bed-In for Peace" protesting the Vietnam War. A special "Imagine" package includes the same room-service menu and drinks that the Lennons had sent up.
We were sitting in a Montreal hotel room that could only be described as disheveled — covers strewed across the bed, towels on the floor, half-empty coffee cups on the table — when there was a knock on the door.
No chambermaid. No bellman. Just two middle-aged women wearing meek smiles.
“Is this the room?” the first woman asked.
“We’re staying in the hotel,” stammered the other. “And we just wanted to see… “
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“Come on in,” I said, stepping back to allow two strangers into our sanctum.
So it goes when you’re living in the lap of history: Room 1742 of Montreal’s Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, where, in 1969, Beatle John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, spent an eight-day “Bed-in for Peace” to protest the Vietnam War.
In this hotel room, the long-haired newlyweds wore white, conducted countless media interviews and received visitors such as Timothy Leary and Dick Gregory before recording the cacophonous anthem, “Give Peace A Chance” with the help of some 50 packed-in revelers.
The luxury hotel is making the most of the 40th anniversary, with a “Bed-in for Peace” package available through the end of the year in room 1742, now known as the John Lennon and Yoko Ono Suite.
The Fairmont has made sure that John and Yoko are all over the room, in framed black-and-whites taken by photographers Ted Church and Gerry Deiter, who was at the Bed-in on assignment for Life Magazine.
Here’s a photo of John, legs tucked under him, sitting on the hotel bed. Here are John and Yoko with Timothy Leary. With Tommy Smothers. John and Yoko with her daughter, Kyoko. Here’s John at the center of the room, playing the guitar during the recording of “Give Peace a Chance,” a rowdy crowd squeezed in around him.
On another wall, in a huge frame, are eight gold 45s of “Give Peace A Chance,” by the Plastic Ono Band, surrounding another photo of John and Yoko.
As the story goes, the couple showed up at the Montreal hotel without a dollar between them. The hotel set them up on the 17th floor. Apple Records later sent a check for $10,000 to cover the cost of their stay.
Room in demand
It’s funny about history. You don’t know an event is actually worth remembering, or preserving, until the players have left or died, the witnesses are gone and the walls have been painted and papered again and again.
And while it has been refurbished numerous times since John and Yoko stayed here, Suite 1742 has been in steady demand for 40 years (The room is already booked for the 50th anniversary of John and Yoko’s visit).
We came because my boyfriend, Gene, is a self-described “Beatle nerd” who still gets sad when he passes The Dakota apartment building in New York City, where John Lennon lived — and where he was shot to death by Mark David Chapman in 1980.
“I wanted to visit some place with a more positive memory,” Gene said. “Here, John Lennon was alive and funny, hairy and artistic. Who else could lie in bed for a week and have the world come to him? Lennon said he knew it was silly, but he was willing to be the clown to do a positive thing.
“It wasn’t Sid and Nancy at the Chelsea Hotel, rock’n’roll at its most narcissistic, sad and dark,” he added. “The Bed-in was the opposite of that. ‘Give Peace a Chance’ wasn’t just a song, but a worldwide peace anthem.”
Thanks to YouTube videos and a 2008 book of Gerry Deiter’s photographs called “Give Peace A Chance: John & Yoko’s Bed-In For Peace” (Wiley Publishing, $24.95), we were able to puzzle out how the rooms looked back then.
Over there, against the west-facing wall and under the window, is where the bed was set up in the suite’s living room. John and Yoko spent their nights in another suite, and starting seeing visitors after breakfast.
Over there, by the (new) French doors and where the television cabinet now sits, is where engineer Andre Perry set up the reel-to-reel tape on June 1 to record “Give Peace A Chance.”
The hotel-room acoustics left Perry wanting. Low ceiling, sheetrock walls, “the worst conditions for making a recording,” Perry says in Deiter’s book.
The lyrics were written on poster board and hung on the walls so that people could follow along. The song was recorded only twice, with people singing and banging on telephone books, ashtrays, whatever they could get their hands on.
Perry stayed after everyone left and recorded Yoko singing “Remember Love,” which would be the record’s B-side.
Back in his studio, Perry frantically called friends to come and sing background vocals to improve the recording’s sound quality. John approved, and an anthem was launched.
“Is this the bed?” asked one of the women who knocked on our hotel room door.
The exact same bed? After an eight-day Bed-in with John, Yoko, journalists, cartoonists, Hare Krishnas, deejays, Petula Clark, Allen Ginsberg and one of the Smothers Brothers? Plus 40 years of guests?
Let’s hope not.
Yoko Ono came to Montreal for the opening of a springtime exhibit about the Bed-in at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and thanked the city for hosting them all those years ago.
“I think without your help, without your vibration, without your spirit about us, ‘Give Peace A Chance’ may not have been born,” she told the crowd.
That spirit still lives in Montreal, 17 floors above the street.
Nicole Brodeur: firstname.lastname@example.org