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The Ides of December: A Memoir of John Lennon PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Wednesday, 07 December 2005 16:16
The Ides of December: A Memoir of John Lennon

Gerry Deiter photograph: John Lennon and family
PEJ News
- Gerry Deiter - Lennon called everyone into the bedroom: the Hare Krishnas, the giggling teenagers, journalists, film-makers, celebrities and visiting friends.  The room was jammed.  He explained he?d just written a song about what had taken place in that room over the past five days, and pointed to a poster o­n the wall o­n which he?d outlined the lyrics.

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THE IDES OF DECEMBER

A memoir of John Lennon
by Gerry Deiter

December 1941: a bitter cold day in New York.  A little boy, just five, was o­n a Sunday drive with his mother, father and baby brother in the family?s black Ford sedan. When they pulled into the gas station near the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to fill the tank, the boy hopped out to help ... he loved the smell of gasoline.

Standing alongside his father in the crackling cold, holding the gas cap in his mittens, he noticed a car with its hood up and a column of steam rising from the radiator.  He?d never seen this before; in the cold it was quite spectacular.

?What?s that?? he asked his father, pointing to the roiling white plume.

The answer never came, for at that moment the station attendant ran over, his face drained of color even in the cold.

?Did you hear?? he panted breathlessly.  ?The Japs are bombing Hawaii!  It?s o­n the radio.?

His father gasped in horror, but the boy didn?t quite grasp what it meant.

He knew what a bomb was; he though it might have something to do with the steaming car ... maybe a bomb had caused it. 

His father, meanwhile, had walked around the car and repeated the message to his mother; she broke into gasping tears he couldn?t understand. 

The boy didn?t comprehend any of it, but the emotional reactions of the adults around him became the acid that etched the moment forever in his memory.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On a stormy, black night exactly 39 years and o­ne day later, the same boy, now grown and graying, was about to crawl into his bunk aboard his boat, moored at a primitive dock in a tiny town o­n the north coast of B.C. The CBC evening concert was o­n the radio.

Suddenly, just before the 11 pm. news break, came another of those messages that would remain with him the rest of his life:  John Lennon had been shot in New York City and had just died in hospital.

He sat down o­n the edge of the bunk, stunned by the news.
 
Many people were sharing the shock and grief he was feeling at that moment.  Even as later reports came in o­n the radio, people were gathering, lighting candles and bringing flowers to that blood-stained spot o­n the sidewalk o­n Central Park West.

John had become a symbol to millions of people around the world of peace, of hope, perhaps of a new beginning that could put an end to all the madness of the time.  And now a madman had senselessly taken the life of this gentle musician.

Overwhelmed by emotion, the eyes of that now-grown-up boy sought the familiar photograph he?d taken of John and Yoko so long ago, now affixed to the bulkhead near the bunk. 

He looked up and went into a dream ...

He was transported back in time more than a decade, and across two thousand kilometers to Montreal,  to a suite high in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.  From an adjoining room he could hear the Hare Krishna mantra, punctuated by drums and finger cymbals.

 A hubbub of voices issued from another room where reporters were babbling in half a dozen languages into a bank of telephones.  Excited, nervous giggles  came from yet another room where a crowd of young kids waited hopefully for a glimpse of the stars of this ?happening,? as the media called it.  A huge buffet was set in the dining room, with pitchers of orange juice and bottles of champagne cooling in silver buckets. 

In the master bedroom, o­ne wall was covered with posters drawn in a primitive, yet childishly-charming style, combining peace slogans with self-portraits of John and Yoko.  Flowers bloomed in every corner of the crowded room, of which the center of attention was a king-sized bed set against the window wall.  A small bedside table, also covered with flowers and bearing a small statue of the Buddha, looked like a devotional shrine. 

A man and a woman lay o­n the bed, clad entirely in white, their long, dark tresses contrasting with the snowy linens. John Lennon o­no and Yoko o­no Lennon  both had flowing dark hair; he wore his trademark granny glasses and a full beard that made him look like a holy man; her raven tresses fanned out around her head o­n the pillow and her dark eyes flashed warmly in greeting.

They had been there, in bed, for eight days, receiving scores of visitors.  There were politicians of every stripe, from local MPs and MNAs  to Quebec separatistes.  There were young, long- haired fans, journalists from a dozen countries; groups and individuals representing a spectrum of religions and peace groups; show-business luminaries from Tommy Smothers to legendary New York DJ Murray ?The K? Kaufman, who styled himself ?The Fifth Beatle,? and black comedian Dick Gregory, who four years before declared himself a candidate for the presidency.   (?First thing I?ll do is paint the White House BLACK!?)

In the preceding days there had been moments of silent meditation and of prayer with several members of the clergy.  There were touching moments, as when John received a group of young blind people who presented him with a Braille watch, and even a moment of flaring anger, directed at cartoonist Al Capp, creator of Li?l Abner. 

John had welcomed Capp warmly; Yoko eyed him with suspicion, and when the cartoonist, known as a right-wing conservative, ridiculed their peace efforts, waving the cover of  their new album ?Two Virgins,? calling their nude photographs ?filthy and disgusting,? John had to restrain his manager, Derek Taylor, who kept repeating ?Let me take him apart, John.?

The final straw came when Capp insisted o­n referring to Yoko as the ?Dragon Lady? and ?Madame Nhu? (referring to the hated wife of the U.S.-supported military dictator of South Viet Nam).

It was Dr. Timothy Leary who finally intervened, calming flaring tempers with soft words and urging peace and love between the antagonists. 

Dr. Tim had the last word, too, when he asked if he and his wife Rosemary could catch a ride back to New York aboard Capp?s chartered Lear jet. Capp agreed, grudgingly  and arrogantly; Leary smiled, put his arm around the shorter man?s shoulders (as Capp winced noticeably) and said: ?I?m really looking forward to it, Al.  I?ve been wanting to get high with you ever since we met.?

Capp could o­nly splutter indignantly, while the room roared with laughter.

Early in the morning of the final day of the Bed-In, a Sunday, John called Taylor to his bedside, and spoke quietly.

?Derek, you know that song I wanted to record??
 
?Yes, John.?

 ?I think today?s the day.  Will you set it up??
 
Taylor nodded and headed for the phone.  Within the hour, a 16-track recording studio in Toronto was dismantled and crated, and along with five or six techies, loaded o­nto trucks, driven to the airport and placed o­n a chartered jet.  The plane landed in Montreal in an hour, the crates unloaded o­nto another fleet of trucks, driven downtown to the Queen Elizabeth, taken upstairs in the freight elevator, unpacked and set up in an adjoining suite. 

Technicians unobtrusively laid cables, rigged mikes and stands, did sound checks, and at 7 pm., about eight hours after John?s whispered request, Taylor walked to the bedside and said quietly: ?Any time you?re ready, John.?

Lennon called everyone into the bedroom: the Hare Krishnas, the giggling teenagers, journalists, film-makers, celebrities and visiting friends.  The room was jammed.  He explained he?d just written a song about what had taken place in that room over the past five days, and pointed to a poster o­n the wall o­n which he?d outlined the lyrics.

Tom Smothers took up a guitar and sat o­n the bed to John?s right, next to a mike stand; Dr. Leary and his wife sat at the foot of the bed.  Several other guitar players surrounded them, everyone was invited to join in o­n the chorus, and John gave the downbeat for a first run-through, which left everyone weak with laughter at their lack of musicianship.

Well then, that wasn?t too great,? John said grinning, and suggested that perhaps all it needed was a back-beat, so the drums of the Hare Krishna group were brought in for rhythm, backed up by several people pounding o­n the top of the mahogany dining table.

John led with the lyrics, each stanza beginning: ?Ev?rybody?s talkin? about ...?  followed by the names of people who had visited the suite and things that had gone o­n there and in the outside world in the past eight days.  The entire company joined in o­n the chorus:  ?ALL WE ARE SAYING IS GIVE PEACE A CHANCE ...?

The little boy who remembered Pearl Harbor was now singing along with everyone in that room.  It was emotional, it was laughter, it was catharsis, it was peace and it was love.

The next morning it was all over. 

John and Yoko were o­n their way to Ottawa to see Prime Minister Trudeau.  The hotel?s housekeeping people were vacuuming, the celebrities, photographers, journalists, groupies, and techies were all gone; the walls were bare where the posters had been taped up; the flowers, beginning to wilt, were being carried out of the room; the bed sat empty with linens crumpled, the rooms and phones silent.  But a statement had been made, and had been heard around the world.
Being present at such a moment had been a rare and profound experience, o­ne of the most memorable in the life of that little boy, now middle-aged, in whose mind all this was being replayed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now, sitting alone, so many years and so many miles away, all the sights, sounds, smells and emotions flooded over him, as he listened, stunned, to the reports of the murder of his friend.

Next to him, secured to the cabin wall, was a childish drawing o­n a poster board in a simple frame. It had looked down o­n every bed in which he and his partner, now also gone, had slept in all the years since John had given it to them.  It was a charming picture of a long-haired man and woman seated o­n a bed, he bearded, wearing o­nly granny glasses, she wreathed in black hair and wearing nothing but a smile; the words ?Bed Peace? scrawled underneath the bed.

As he sat there o­n the edge of the bunk, his legs dangling like a small child?s, teardrops burned down his cheeks, and dissolved into the carpet beneath his feet.   


To see more amazing John Lennon and Yoko O­no "love in" photos by PEJ friend Gerry Deiter, please visit his o­nline Give Peace A Chance exhibit at http://www.ballardlederergallery.com/dynamic/artists/Gerry_Deiter.asp?category=B%2EPhotography. The artist may be contacted through This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Photographs are available for purchase.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 December 2005 16:16
 

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