The conversation took place in the middle of John and Yoko’s week-long Bed-In, on May 29th, 1969. That makes Lisa 6 months old at the time, and it’s a year before Michael met Tim face-to-face for the first time, visiting him in prison, and became his archivist. Chronologically, it was two weeks after the People’s Park Uprising in Berkeley and less than three months before the Woodstock Music Festival. The Vietnam War was raging. The Black Panther Party was being attacked by the FBI. Less than a month later, the Weather Underground formed, calling for armed revolution to stop the war. Hippies were being busted for pot and acid. The Chicago 8 were under indictment for inciting a riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Aug. 1968.
Michael points out: “The enormous personal and political pressures on the four of them are evident here. Despite (or perhaps because of) their global fame, both couples had a difficult time getting through Canadian customs. Both had been busted for marijuana possession the previous year – John and Yoko in London, and Tim and Rosemary in Laguna Beach. A few months after the Bed-In, John would leave the Beatles and move with Yoko to the U.S., where they were closely monitored by the FBI and threatened with deportation. Ten months later, Tim would be in prison; Rosemary would be putting on benefits to raise money for his appeal.”
The Bed-In – An Archetypal “Occupation”
Michael: “The ‘60s was a decade of occupations. Perhaps the strangest and most original was the Bed-In that took place in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, in 1969, 43 years ago, this Spring. John Lennon and Yoko Ono occupied a bed for seven days and nights in a “Bed-In For Peace” as a symbolic protest to end the war in Vietnam, which culminated in the writing and recording of the antiwar anthem, ‘Give Peace a Chance.’
“Prior to the Bed-In, in the early sixties, leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there were Sit-Ins in the South, occupying “white only” lunch counters; Be-Ins, beginning with the one in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (1967), and Teach-Ins on college campuses. The Yippies led occupations at the NY Stock Exchange (1967) and the grounds of the Pentagon (1967), and later, Smoke-Ins in Washington DC and elsewhere. A half million antiwar protestors occupied the mall in front of the Washington Monument, six months after the Bed-In. The 1990s witnessed Digital Be-Ins, and wars in the Middle East brought Die-Ins. These were some of the precursors of the Occupy Movement that began in Zuccotti Park last September.”
Thanks to the fame of the couple and the novel concept of their activism, the event got media coverage well beyond the small number of participants involved.
The film Bed Peace was made available for free on YouTube in August 2011 by Yoko Ono, as part of her website “Imagine Peace.” Tim and Rosemary’s participation is also documented in another video on YouTube (also courtesy of Yoko’s Imagine Peace website), where they are seen singing on the recording of “Give Peace A Chance.”
John Lennon wrote another song that week, the earliest version of “Come Together,” for Leary’s campaign for Governor of California against Ronald Reagan. It was the prospect of Tim debating Reagan on television that, as much as anything, led to his imprisonment for a miniscule amount of marijuana. With the campaign aborted, John decided to rework the song for the Beatles’ Abbey Road.
This conversation, published here for the first time, is a time capsule from an era that has powerful and poignant correspondences to our own.
Conversation between John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Rosemary Leary and Timothy Leary, Hotel Queen Elizabeth, Montreal, Canada, May 29, 1969
TIMOTHY: Living in a teepee is great. It’s pretty basic. It’s the first artificial habitat, after all.
ROSEMARY: It’s the sexiest building ever invented.
TIMOTHY: It’s like being in a sailboat, because you have to know exactly where the wind is. You raise the fluttering banners, and just look up through the smoke-flap and you can see how the wind blows. If you don’t have the flaps the right way, the wind will blow the smoke down. We always have to be aware of the wind.
JOHN: Yeah, Yoko had this plan for us two. To blindfold ourselves for two weeks, y’know, and just work it out. We might do that when we get to the new house and find out about it.
ROSEMARY: Yes, it’d be a fantastic way to learn about it.
TIMOTHY: Also, of course, we live with rattlesnakes. That’s groovy because it requires absolute consciousness. You just can’t go thumping through the brush, thinking of what you’re going to do tomorrow. You have to realize that you’re intruding on their territory. We don’t want to hurt you. We don’t want to stumble in and step on you. So your consciousness has got to be focused. And of course it’s always helpful to have dogs. We learn a great deal from animals.
JOHN: How long have you been there, in the teepee? I mean, before you sussed the wind and everything, and you know, got your senses back?
ROSEMARY: We had to put the teepee up three times before it was right. It’s like you can touch it, and it resounds like a drone, and then it’s perfect, the canvas. It’s a wind instrument that plays like a drone.
TIMOTHY: You would really love the teepee, because it’s a work of art which involves all the senses. You start with white canvas. Then you get the pine. Each man has to strip the bark so you get the wood smooth, smooth. You have to line the poles carefully. There are fifteen of these poles, and if you do it wrong you end up with too big a hole. It’s sculpture. Then once you’ve got it built, it’s a light show, because the moon shines through the smoke hole and you can see the stars.
ROSEMARY: If you placed it properly to the east, the sun rises right over the opening, so at one point during the day the sun is full blast down into the teepee.
YOKO: Is it very wide?
ROSEMARY: It’s a little narrower than the width of this hotel room.
TIMOTHY: And at night you have a fire. All right. We’re sitting around, with the fire here in the center. That means your shadow is thrown on the screen behind you, big, and I’m gesticulating like this and you catch my shadow. And the silhouettes flicker. The fire’s dancing. So, if you are outside, you can tell a mile away what’s going on. Then you get the wind coming. It creaks a little. The door, by the way, is shaped like the yoni and you have to bend your head down as you come in, in honor of it.
ROSEMARY: The only thing that comes through the yoni is the sun and the stars and the moon; actually only people go through the lower exit and entrance.
TIMOTHY: It’s a sexy place.
YOKO: All those nasty magazines in London, they all call me Yoni.
JOHN: Yeah. Yoni Ono.
YOKO: John Lingam and Yoni Ono.
Continue reading the rest of the story on The Timothy Leary Archives