John and Yoko – “Bed-In”50 years on
The sudden marriage in Gibraltar of Beatle John Lennon to artist Yoko Ono in 1969 was followed by an invitation to the press to come to visit the newlyweds at their honeymoon hotel suite at the Amsterdam Hilton. Possessing all the trappings of the late 60’s discovery of the “Jet Age “, there were two newlyweds jetting around Europe and stopping off at the luxury hotels of the day.
The press pack were invited to Suite 902 and a half expected to come across the couple performing their conjugal duties. Instead, they arrived to find John and Yoko perched up in bed, clad in white pyjamas, their hair unkempt, and surrounded by bouquets and handmade posters proclaiming “Stay in Bed “, “Grow Your Hair “, “Hair Peace “and “Bed Peace “.
From March 25th to March 31st the press was welcome to come and go between 0900 and 2100, the visiting times when they would greet religious leaders, politicians and the public to engage in the discussion of peace.
You have to go back to the mid-1960s when the war in Vietnam was raging, the Cold war was hot and the seeds of public opposition to the war were growing. The couple knew that they could garner support for the anti-war movement but not just by turning up at a rally but through what was an unashamed publicity stunt that drew on Yoko’s mastery of performing arts. It worked. In a simple stroke, they drew attention to the anti-war movement. they created discourse and spread the message of love.
The success of the Amsterdam Hilton episode led them to Vienna for their “Bagism” press conference where they espoused the idea of living in a bag, devoid of any reference to race, gender or religion. Then next to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal where their “residency “from May 26th to June 2nd. The format was the same with the couple welcoming all comers for dialogue and to spread the word. Rolling Stone magazine commented, “A five-hour talk between John Lennon and Richard Nixon would be more significant than any Geneva Summit Conference between the U.S.A. and Russia.” It was at the Montreal episode that “Give Peace a Chance “was created. With the contribution from Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory and Allen Ginsberg they recorded the song in the hotel on June 1st 1969. Dozens joined in the chorus and Lennon played the percussion on anything he could find in the room. The message of peace was propagated through a poster campaign in 11 global cities, the posters pronouncing “WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas From John and Yoko”. The song itself must be the greatest legacy from the bed-ins. It was sung by Pete Seeger and protesters at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam march in Washington, D.C., in November of 1969
The bed-in was a derivative of the oft-repeated sit in which saw demonstrators occupying a room or building to protest. The bed-in due to its more personal nature was John and Yoko’s way of bringing the protest closer to home, humanising it by staging it in the heart of the home or family. Their message of peace was not heard by the world leaders who had all spurned their advances to discuss world peace. Instead, they chose to send the leaders an acorn as a symbol of hope and to rely on the publicity generated from the bed-ins to move public opinion.
It was to a certain extent a success. Novel and having all the trappings of a publicity stunt, yes, but its non-violent and innocent means of delivery was exactly in line with the message that was being delivered. 50 years on and the message is the same.