John Lennon And Yoko Ono's 'Bed-Ins:' What Was The Point (And Did They Succeed)?
John Lennon and Yoko talking to Donald Zec about their seven day event at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel. March 1969 Z03078-011 (Photo by WATFORD/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
In 1969, amidst the chaos of the Vietnam War, John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged two “bed-ins” for peace in Amsterdam and Montreal. The Beatle and his new wife -- they'd just gotten married in Gibraltar (near Spain) -- wanted to spread peace and love while denouncing violence all over the world. The term "bed-in" played on the '60s idea of a sit-in, love-in or be-in, some sort of communal, consciousness-raising event. But wasn't it was really just two famous people in a hotel bed surrounded by reporters? What did John and Yoko hope to achieve with this stunt, and did they feel it succeeded?
The Bed-Ins Made The Hotel Rooms Famous
In ‘69 John Lennon clearing his throat made headline news. So a bed-in with assembled media in two swanky hotel rooms became a global news story, covered like a White House briefing but with more interest. The specific hotel rooms in both Amsterdam and Montreal that starred Lennon and Ono’s peace movement turned into instant tourist attractions. You can still stay in the same rooms for just $2,000 a night.
At the time, Lennon and Ono were receiving unrelenting media attention due to their controversial relationship. Both had split from their respective partners to revel in each other’s nirvana-seeking vibe. To increasingly whet the appetites of the voracious media, the couple sent out an invitation to their Amsterdam hotel room.
The invitation suggestively read that the couple planned “the century’s most uncensored love-in.” Since it was the ‘60s, some reporters thought or maybe hoped that they would witness a conjugal act. Instead, they walked in on a Jesus-looking Lennon and Yoko Ono enwreathed in flowers, promoting peace.
Lennon And Ono’s Aspirations
As the most publicized couple in the world, their marriage brought unending attention. The pair decided they would use that attention for good. “We knew whatever we did was going to be in the papers. We decided to utilize the space we would occupy anyway, by getting married, with a commercial for peace,” said Lennon.
We would sell our product, which we call ‘peace.’ And to sell a product you need a gimmick, and the gimmick we thought was ‘bed.’ And we thought ‘bed’ because bed was the easiest way of doing it, because we’re lazy.
As Lennon and Ono took visitors for up to 12 hours a day, the Paris peace talks were ongoing, with representatives from the U.S., South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Viet Cong convened around a table in the French capital. Progress was slow, which frustrated the iconic couple. Lennon said, “In Paris, the Vietnam peace talks have got about as far as sorting out the shape of the table they are going to sit round. Those talks have been going on for months. In one week in bed, we achieved a lot more.”
In fairness, he did write one of the more famous anti-war songs in that era, “Give Peace a Chance,” during the Montreal Bed-In, so that's an accomplishment. The song was recorded in the hotel room, with celebrity guests. Tommy Smothers helps out on guitar, and Timothy Leary, Petula Clark, Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg and others join in clapping along and singing the chorus -- sort of. They were there in the room, but the original recording was cleaned up in a studio and augmented with more voices, so whether you can actually hear everyone on the single that was released is unclear.
A Surreal Scene At The Bed-Ins
Naturally, many people rallied around Lennon and Ono’s calls for peace. After all, Beatlemania was still running strong through the veins of many youths all over the world. Of course, the many media members and fans that visited cared more about soaking in the presence of greatness than the mechanics of world peace.
As columnist Dave Bist remembers, “Truth is, nobody quite knew what to make of these freaks and their bed-in for peace, but there was an underlying sense of awe, nonetheless. Hey, we’re talking 1969 here, and this guy’s a Beatle. Let him preach about World Peace and Blue Meanies and we’ll write it down. I just still can’t believe I was there. It was such a remarkable experience. I think the word I used the most is ‘surreal.’ I went through this whole thing thinking, ‘Is this really happening?'”
Rita Robidoux, elevator operator at the time, remembers seeing Yoko Ono’s child and some odorous smells. "The kid had long hair, I couldn’t really tell if it was a boy or a girl," she said, and also noted the strong smells of marijuana on their floor.
Assessing The Bed-Ins' Impact, If There Was Any
After their successful bed-in in the Netherlands, Lennon and Ono planned another. Their first choice was New York City, but a marijuana charge against Lennon nixed that idea. They then flew to the Bahamas but left after a day. Rumors spread that the oppressive tropical heat killed the Bahamas as a viable bed-in location. Ultimately, they ended up in Montreal and became the toast of the town, all without leaving their bed.
While Lennon’s song “Give Peace a Chance” and the insatiable desire for more Lennon and Ono news did attract endless attention toward their “product,” world peace did not reign. The Vietnam War raged for another six years before finally coming to an end. Many years later, Ono reflected on their bed-ins for peace. “John and I thought after Bed-In, ‘The war is going to end.’ How naïve we were, you know? But the thing is, things take time. I think it’s going to happen. I mean, that I think we’re going to have a peaceful world. But it’s just taking a little bit more time than we thought then.”
Tags: Bed-Ins For Peace | Give Peace A Chance | John Lennon | Peaceful Protests | Remember This?... | The Vietnam War | Yoko Ono
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