Give Peace a Chance: John’s Legacy

Gerry Deiter

Nov 22, 2005 – Nov 22, 2005

"Shared joy is increased, shared grief is diminished. Thus do we refute entropy." Spider Robinson, like me a New York City-born Canadian, hadn't yet written those words 25 years ago this month when I learned their truth. Sitting aboard my boat in an isolated North coast port town, the CBC evening concert was interrupted by a news flash: John Lennon had just been shot in New York and was declared dead on arrival at hospital.

One's first reaction to such news is immediately to share one's grief with someone, a loved one, but my grief was made more terrible since I was alone, a stranger in a strange place, with no means of contacting the outside world. I thought I'd have to carry this burden myself, but as later news stories came in I learned that crowds were gathering in that fatal spot in Central Park, flowers were being brought and piled up, candles being lit and people singing. I was not alone; the world was sharing my grief.

My mind went back 11 years, to June 1, 1969. I had spent a week in Suite 1742 of Montréal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel, taking part in (and photographing) the controlled chaos that was the Bed-In for Peace. John, with dark, shoulder-length hair and full beard, looked like Jesus in white pajamas, while Yoko, her long tresses draped over her shoulder, wore a long, white nightgown. For a week they'd been receiving visitors as they lay in bed; hundreds of people had been through the room: politicians and music-business celebrities, magazine and newspaper reporters, photographers, film and TV news crews, poets and artists and hundreds of young people, who'd waited hours in a hot, stuffy hallway to be ushered into the suite to bring gifts and perhaps even have a word with John and Yoko.

It marked the beginning of the ascension of John Lennon from rock star to the leadership of a worldwide peace movement. "We're not AGAINST anything," he'd told an interviewer. "We are FOR peace."

Earlier that week they'd received a phone call from San Francisco, where a serious confrontation was shaping up between police and hundreds of people who had been camping in their People's Park. The conflict had been going on for days and the caller, obviously frightened, told John and Yoko that the riot squad was preparing to move in. He asked what message he should pass along to the people. John urged them not to resist physically, to try and minimize violence. Yoko then spoke up; taking the phone, she spoke these words: "All we are saying is give peace a chance."

John, several days later, scrawled those words on a posterboard and expanded on them. That evening a recording studio was set up in the suite and about 40 people, including TV star Tom Smothers and LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary, surrounded the bed and sang those words in chorus, as John called out the lyrics. In the 36 years since they were recorded, these words have become the root of the first truly global peace anthem, sung in every language and in every land where people oppose tyranny and war.

John had out-grown his Beatles persona; with Yoko, he continued his work for world peace and justice until he was senselessly cut down by a madman. His example – along with those words – became his legacy to the world.

The events subsequent to September 11, 2005 brought me to the realization that the world needed to hear John and Yoko's message of peace, compassion and understanding more than ever. It was as though I could feel John's presence at my side, urging me to help him in his campaign. I also realized that the photographs I took on those eight days in Montréal were my own legacy to the world.

For the past five years I have shown them – and spoken of their message – in art galleries, movie houses, museums, coffee shops and music festivals in the US and Canada. They have appeared here in the pages of Common Ground. And this month, to help remind people that it's 25 years since John's physical voice was silenced, my images and I will be appearing at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. They will appear as a complementary exhibit to the popular photographic show "Linda McCartney's Sixties."

I am honoured to have been asked to display them and to present several lectures in such a highly-respected Canadian institution.

Give Peace a Chance: Images of the 1969 Bed-In for Peace by Gerry Deiter will run at Victoria's Royal British Columbia Museum from 1 December to 30 January. He will present a talk about the images and about John and Yoko's concept that "peace can be sold the same way as soap" on opening night, again on the anniversary of John's death, 8 December and one more, time to be announced. For more information, see the museum website, and click on 'exhibits.' Or to se a collection of the Bed-In photographs.

Gerry Deiter

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