Today – October 9, 2015 – would have been John Lennon’s 75th birthday.
We’re celebrating this momentous event all week on uncut.co.uk: you can find our other pieces by following the links below.
Today, however, Yoko Ono guides Uncut through an extraordinarily detailed account of her time with John Lennon. From acid and the avant-garde, bed-ins, heroin, the end of The Beatles and the Lost Weekend through to their last tranquil years together – Yoko tells all! Words: Carol Clerk. Originally printed in Uncut’s September 2003 issue (Take 76).
It’s the summer of 1969, and John and Yoko are in bed in room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal. They are in their “Year of Peace”, this is their second and most famous bed-in, and an abusive visitor has confronted them. Right-wing cartoonist Al Capp is apparently trying to goad John into some act of violence that will undermine the couple’s reputation as peace campaigners, frequently addressing Yoko as Madame Nhu – the widely reviled “Dragon Lady Of South Vietnam”.
The smirking Capp insults the Lennons’ efforts to quell the riots erupting at a continuing demonstration in People’s Park, San Francisco, by protesters wanting to save the land from development by Berkeley University. With one person so far shot dead, many injured and thousands arrested, John and Yoko have been talking to the participants by phone and live radio every day, urging calm.
“They started throwing rocks at cops just a couple of days ago,” sneers Capp. “You’d better talk to them a little more.”
“Well, no-one got shot this time, did they?” retorts John.
But Capp persists: “You people have a home in London. Are you permitting people to come in and defecate on the rugs, smash the furniture and beat you up?”
“We don’t agree with violence in that form or any other form,” raps Lennon.
“Why do you want them to do it at Berkeley?” continues Capp.
John’s eyes focus angrily on his detractor. He starts shouting. “We don’t want them to do it at Berkeley! We are telling them to protest some other way! If they’d stayed in bed at Berkeley, they wouldn’t have got killed!”
Yoko attempts a conversation with Capp: “I’d like to ask you what you said about Joan Baez…”
He cuts her dead with a patronising chuckle and remarks to John: “I can see why you want peace… God knows, you can’t have very much, from my own observation, but anyway…”
By this time, John would clearly love to knock him out, but instead endures another flurry of insults before an outraged Derek Taylor, The Beatles’ publicist, asks Capp to leave the room. John intercedes on his behalf, mellowing, chuckling that, “We asked him here.”
John and Yoko: unpredictable, inseparable, crusading, controversial, confrontational, naïve, spontaneous, optimistic, well-meaning, misunderstood – and, to some, downright annoying.
But not to Toronto rabbi Abraham Feinberg, a vocal supporter of their peace effort.
He declares: “The love that the two of them have for each other extends itself to all humanity. It really does.”