It was 40 years ago today…
… that John Lennon and Yoko Ono checked into two adjoining suites on the 17th floor of Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel. They remained there, of course, for seven days, hosting a variety of celebrities, well-wishers, detractors and an endless stream of international media. It all culminated on June 1, 1969, with the hotel-room recording of one of Lennon’s most famous anthems, “Give Peace A Chance“.
The entire week-long stay in Montreal was the second of two Bed-Ins that were among a variety of pop cultural / media initiatives the famous couple undertook in the era to promote peace (The first had been held in Amsterdam a couple of months earlier, during Ono and Lennon’s honeymoon).
A terrific ongoing exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts tells the whole story.
The couple was very clear about what they were trying to accomplish: Leveraging their celebrity in the pursuit of a larger social goal. Here’s what Lennon said at the time:
“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’ … Henry Ford knew how to sell cars by advertising. I’m selling peace, and Yoko and I are just one big advertising campaign. It may make people laugh, but it may make them think, too. “
In a sense, Lennon and Ono were pioneers. Nowadays, four decades on, celebrity activists are a dime a dozen. But how well do they help the causes they support? And aside from one classic song, what is the enduring impact of John and Yoko’s week at the Queen E?
Here is a link to a televised discussion I produced that deals with those very questions.