This month marks the 50th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s recording of the single “Give Peace a Chance” in a Montreal hotel room.
The makeshift studio was Room 1742 of the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in the heart of the city, where the Lennons drew press from all around the world with their self-styled bed-in for peace. The War in Vietnam was still raging in the early days of the Nixon administration and rock’s royal couple were trying to make a point. Think of that cheeky Trump baby balloon currently floating over London during the presidential visit. Same spirit, really, with the Lennons using their celebrity to play the world’s fools in order to disrupt the usual headlines with a power to the people, anti-war message.
I was not yet quite 12 at the time and was just as baffled as other pre-teens or even my parents. In their white jammies, huddled under a sheet in their hotel room, John & Yoko did look just like, as Lennon famously sang in “The Ballad of John & Yoko,” two gurus in drag.
Fifty years later, however, one wonders what would the power of Twitter might have done to carry and accelerate that message? Would it just burn the news cycle out faster? Were TV and newspaper reports more pervasive back then? Would it get smothered under an avalanche of digital pushback and cynicism?
I was in Montreal in September of 2015 visiting the set of Quantico, a short-lived ABC homeland security series that starred new Jonas brothers bride Priyanka Chopra. Canadian broadcaster CTV put press up at the Queen Elizabeth hotel, which allowed me to take a Magical Mystery side-tour.
I discovered that the QE, a mid-century landmark which opened in 1958, had tricked out the suite with several photographs of the couple from their May 26 to June 2, 1969 adventure. There were also gold records and framed press clipping on the wall.
The hotel and the city of Montreal are giving peace another chance with a tourist-y salute to the 50th anniversary of the bed-in. The hotel has a new, 50th anniversary offer allowing guests to stay in the Lennon suite for $2999. White jammies like the Lennons wore, dinner and other goodies included.
In 2015 you got a similar deal for around CND $1200. The full VIP treatment then included a pickup at the airport, Lennon CDs and breakfast in bed-in.
Among the celebs who flocked to the suite and took part in the Give Peace a Chance sing-a-long were LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary and Tommy Smothers. The latter was fresh from getting fired from he and brother Dickie’s CBS variety show.
I spoke with Smothers 10 years ago when the comedian and his brother Dick hosted the television Critics Awards in Los Angeles. He told me Lennon chastised him for trying to show off on the guitar and instructed him to simply follow his lead.
Side note: The Beatles were booked into the QE five years earlier on their first North American tour. Death threats aimed at Ringo (!), however, gave the rock entourage the willies, and The Beatles beat a hasty retreat back to the airport after their Montreal concert. It was the only stop on their tour where they did not sleep in that city overnight.