Giving Peace A Chance
Fifty years ago today was May 26, 1969. Fifty years ago today John & Yoko came to Bed-In in Montreal. Fifty years ago I was 21. Fifty years ago I published my first literary/hippie magazine, Ostrich. In case you’re wondering why I called it Ostrich, let me make a short story short. Here’s the last paragraph from my editorial in Volume 1, #3:
“The ostrich, contrary to popular belief, does not bury its head in the ground in times of danger. Rather, its keen eyesight serves as a sentry, on guard for dangers from within and without.”
I told you it was a hippie literary magazine. It looked hand-made. It was. It was how we wanted it, anti-commercial, anti-establishment. Of course, we also didn’t have resources to do it up snazzy, so we made it unsnazzy. And maybe we did it because the times they were a-changing.
It was during these changing times, May 26, 1969, that I interviewed John & Yoko and published it in Ostrich. We also published photos and excerpts from the ‘interview’ and a poem by John. It all came about through chance, serendipity, alignment of the stars and a little deception.
I was working at The Gazette as a sports reporter. I was the ethnic sports reporter who covered ethnic sports, namely soccer. I was also in my transitional phase from jock to hippie. I was a jock who played Junior A soccer and covered the major league.
However, as my hair and consciousness grew longer and deeper, my interest in sports moved from the actual to the aesthetic. I still enjoyed the camaraderie of jocks, the rush of the game, and the thrill of victory but I was also tuning in, getting off on the Beats, and experimenting with grass.
I remember when the two states – body and mind – joined for one glorious moment. It was before I dropped out in 1970 and moved to Meatball Creek Farm. It happened during a game in which I scored five goals while high.
I felt so inside and outside of myself that that I was beside my self. It was as though I was watching myself and knew where and when the ball would arrive before it did; knew exactly where it would be and what to do to become at one with the game. I was in the Zen moment; ‘it’ was doing it. They now call this state The Zone.
I got the newspaper gig through the team manager of my Junior A team, who worked at The Gazette and knew that I was in the Arts program at Sir George (now Con U) and needed a summer job. He used his influence to get me an interview.
The sports editor, a cigar smoking/chomping gruff man – a real cliché of a newspaperman à la Perry White – asked to see a sample of my writing. I gave him my honours essay ‘Meditations and Variations on Waiting for Godot.’ He glanced at the title, tossed it on the desk and asked me if I could spell and type.
I happened to see two guys (who turned out to be Pat Hickey and Ted Blackman) hunting and pecking on manual typewriters. I told him that I could do that but lied about my spelling. After all, I was an English major. I knew how to use a dictionary.Back then, The Gazette was in a battle with The Montreal Star for readership and was looking to get more ethnics to read the paper. Having a regular column about ethnic sports seemed like a good plan. I was ethnic, my name was ethnic, I played the ethnic sport, I could write English well enough and I could hunt and peck, so I was hired and given a press pass.
It was around this time that I got friendlier with a couple of guys, Allan and Allan, whom I knew only casually in high school. One Allan was into the Blues, the other Allan was into journalism à la underground. The three of us were also into getting high.
For some reason that I don’t remember – if you remember those days, you weren’t stoned enough – we decided to start a magazine, along with one of the Allan’s sisters, whom I had a crush on.
I think one of the reasons I was interested in publishing was because of LOGOS. LOGOS was a Montreal underground paper. It was messy, edgy and fun. I think it was located in an apartment on Duluth above a butcher shop. Aislin was one of its cartoonists.
Its most memorable issue was the one in ’68, in which they reproduced The Gazette logo with the “z” inverted. The headline read “Mayor (Drapeau) Shot By Dope Crazed Hippies.” It also claimed that one of the “dope crazed hippies” stabbed the mayor with a hypodermic needle.
I vaguely remember that an announcer on CJAD announced it as The Gazette gospel truth. I found a second source who also “seems to remember” that this was true. According to The Gazette, about fifty people called the switchboard thinking it was true.
LOGOS publisher Paul Kirby landed in jail and during the trial, in 1969, Drapeau personally testified that “nobody shot him or stabbed him with a hypodermic needle.”* Ah, the good old days of ‘Fake News’ with a social, satirical purpose.
Memories keep my mind wondering. Sorry.
I had a press pass, and a first issue of Ostrich was about to publish an article about marijuana by “The Mandala”, a couple of short stories, a couple of poems and a cartoon about the environment with the heading of ‘Time’s on my side’ by The Rolling Stones. I'm impressed how environmentally aware we were.
Just before we went to press, we heard that John and Yoko were coming to town to have a Bed-In for peace. Back then, everything was an “in”: Love-in, Sit-in, Be-in, so why not a Bed-in?
Allan said, but don’t quote me, “you have a press pass, I know a photographer, let’s go interview them.” So off we set to be a part of The Happen -(In)-g.
The Queen Elizabeth hotel lobby was crowded with perplexed business-suits carrying briefcases, trying to go about their coming-and-going among the flower-powered jeans and skirts, the tie-dye shirted, sandaled, army surplus canvass-bagged longhair boys and girls and their auras and scents of patchouli, wanting to see John & Yoko. It was the clash of the bland and the colourful counter-culture cultures.
I used my press pass to get Allan, Morrie (the photographer), and me past the loosey-goosey security into their suite. It was crowded with the famous and the unknown. In the middle of the room, reclining in their all-white bed, in their all- white pyjamas were John & Yoko. (John’s PJs might have been striped.) My first impression of John was that he was skinny and not as tall as I thought. His long hair and beard reminded me of Jesus with glasses. His saying, in 1966, that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus might have influenced my thinking that. Yoko was even smaller. Her wiry black hair fell like a cape about her delicate face. Her smile had a seriousness to it.
Even though they were considered “royalty,” I didn’t feel that they acted as such. Yes, they were reclined but it felt like you were at a friend’s bedroom party. People were sitting guru-like on the bed, on the floor, leaning against walls and doors, wandering about, chit-chatting and smoking. It didn’t feel odd. Maybe I’m seeing it through rose-coloured glasses. Probably. Probably, it seems odd now.
I don’t remember how long we spent there or what we talked about. I remember him asking me, “Hey man, how’s it going?” When I told him about the magazine, he said “cool.” Looking back on the notes in Ostrich, I see that John also said, “We’re all Christ, you know” and Yoko said, “The main centres of the world are Moscow, Washington, and the Vatican.” Allan was the one who asked him to write a few words. John drew a quick sketch of himself and Yoko. He also gave us permission to reprint a poem of his ‘Our Dad.’ I think it was from his book, In His Own Write. Reading it now, I must say, it isn’t a great poem, but the sentiments were right for the times.
We spent a few hours mingling, feeling special, believing that love was the answer and peace was possible.
“You, you may say I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one I hope someday you will join us And the world will be as one.”
Imagine © John Lennon
We’ve been sold the idea that war can end war. We’ve given war chance after chance and it always ended up leading to more war. It’s the classic definition of insanity, doing the same thing time after time and expecting different results. Giving peace a chance seems like a sane alternative. I think we need dreamers more and more because I don’t think we have a choice. Time is not on our side. Imagine that!
I left before ‘Give Peace a Chance’ was recorded. I had a soccer game to cover. I was probably the only one in the city of Montreal who wasn’t on the record.