Giving peace a chance

Recorded June 1st, 1969 – 40th Anniversary

by Donald Tarlton, concert promoter, Montreal



PEOPLE GOT into the bed-in for dozens of reasons. I got in because I was a concert promoter and I knew all the rock writers. One of them, Dean Jones of the Montreal Star, called me up and said, “You’re not going to believe what’s going down. John Lennon is at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Come on down! Now!”


FROM THE very first moment John and I saw each other, we knew something was about to happen – something big. We just didn’t know how big. John said about our meeting: “It was bigger than both of us.” That was the feeling we both had. When John and I sang Give Peace A Chance from our bed-In in Montreal, we had no idea the song would become an anthem not only for our time, but for generations to come.

It went around the world and made other songwriters realize that you can convey political messages with songs. Millions of people got together and sang the song in different parts of the world at different times. The song connected us and made us realize that we were a power strong enough to change the world. Little did we know that that’s when we, John and I, really made our beds for life.

I still remember the beautiful full moon that John and I kept looking at from the bed, after everybody went home. Did anybody think that a man and a woman, a man from Liverpool and a woman from Tokyo, would do something crazy like that together to change the world? Maybe it was written already on a stone on the moon or something. At the time, we were laughed at and put down, in a major way, by the whole world. Now all of us are standing at the threshold of a beautiful new age that we worked hard for. It’s not in our hands yet, but we know we will make it happen. Let’s make the best of it and have fun. I think John would have been very pleased too.

Imagine peace
War is over, if you want it. 
I love you! 
Yoko, NYC 2009

I said, “Well, there must be a million people there, I’ll never get in.” She said: “No, everything’s fine. Your name’s been left at the door.” It indeed was and I got up to the 17th floor. I couldn’t believe it. I remember coming in the door, and Dean, you know, introduced me to John and Yoko as “our local concert impresario.” I was a little timid about the whole thing for the first while, because it seemed like a bit of an intrusion, like I really shouldn’t be there. It was a pretty spectacular situation and I looked around and said to myself, “This is surreal. This is some moment.” I closed my eyes and brought up the image of the debonair man in the suit who had made the girls scream on the Ed Sullivan Show, the man I had first seen on stage at the Montreal Forum five years earlier. And I opened my eyes and there he is, lying in a bed in front of me, the same man, but everything about him is different. He’s not singing songs; instead, he and his wife are patiently putting out one message, interview after interview. They stayed on target: “We’re killing the life on this planet, and the responsibility to stop it lies in each and every one of us. Inaction is not an option.”

Most of the time I understand we are all such little insignificant beings in the universe. But there was something much bigger than our normal life happening in that room. Being there that night gave you a feeling that you were in a special place, where people who the times had singled out were saying things that needed to be said.

It was just the luck of the draw that I ended up on the recording of Give Peace a Chance. There’s been a lot of wonderful things that I’ve participated in over 40-odd years of working with some of the biggest stars in the world, but nothing will ever rival that moment. How could it? I saw some of the writing process behind the song, saw how focused it was. They thought, “Why fool around with more words than necessary here? We’ve got a message; give them the message.” I mean, it’s the simplest song in the world. When I was listening to it in the playbacks, I said, “How can they ever release this? It’s not a song, it’s just a chant.” But boy, was I wrong.

Anyone who’s been in a studio recording session knows there’s nothing more boring than sitting for three weeks doing 2,700 takes on two lines. But this recording was different. I mean, everyone had an instrument of some sort. The Hare Krishna people were chanting and the people in the room passed around a tambourine, but most of it was hand-clapping, or you grabbed something – a couple of people had books, banging them together like cymbals. People were kicking the open sliding door to the next room for that big bass beat. Everything was really cooking. It was a very spiritual moment. And they just kept going and going; it went on and on, take after take, until John was satisfied.

It will never go down as one of his greatest songs, but it’ll go down as the greatest message a song ever gave the world – a message that has been understood and chanted by crowds all around the world. Why is the song still relevant? Well, can you think of a more relevant message in today’s world? Turn on your television sets, listen to your radio. Watch what’s happening around this world. Be horrified. Recoil. Ask yourself how this could have gone so wrong. So if you ask me if the message “give peace a chance” is relevant, it matters more today than it did when John and Yoko sent the original message to the world. We have to say to ourselves: It was a great message then. It could be a greater message today. It’s simple: Think of peace and of peace only.

Some nations have an atomic bomb; some nations have all the armaments in the world. John Lennon had his guitar, his voice, his soul and his spirit. We need more like him.

Excerpted from compiled by Joan Athey. Photography by Gerry Deiter. Edited by Paul McGrath. (John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd.)


Joan Athey and Gerry Deiter (1934-2005)

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