‘Montreal’ Mystery Tour: Visiting the John Lennon Suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel
Recreating John and Yoko’s Bed-In for Peace(a.k.a., ‘The Ballad of Jan and Wendy’)
My birthday is on May 23 and we always do something cool. A few weeks prior to that, “my better half” Wendy had mysteriously told me that, instead of celebrating the birthday the weekend before (May 21 & 22), she wanted me to “keep the Memorial Day weekend (May 28-30th) open – don’t book any gigs, OK? I’m going to take you on a little Magical Mystery Birthday Trip!” I couldn’t guess what it was and where it was going to be, but eventually Wendy had accidentally dropped a few hints, and I guessed it right.
As my BIG birthday gift, she secretly booked us a very, very special room at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, for that Memorial Day weekend: the very same room where John Lennon and Yoko Ono had their most famous “Bed-In” (36 years ago, to the week) – where “Give Peace a Chance” was recorded and filmed!!!!! I couldn’t believe it! I mean, earlier in the year, we stayed in the same room in Miami’s Deauville Hotel that was occupied by Paul and Ringo, in February of ’64 when The Beatles played the Sullivan show there, and now…this! Waayyyy cool! And if the above wasn’t enough: before our trip, on my actual Birthday, she gave me 1) expensive white pajamas like the ones John wore during the bed-in, 2) the DVD John and Yoko’s Year of Peace (which has all the Montreal footage, even with that A-hole Al Crapp, er, um, I mean, Al Capp, in it), and 3) a CD called “John Lennon: Bedism”, which has a lot of their press interviews from that week in 1969. So, we hadn’t even started on our trip, and I was already in “Beatles Heaven”.
Needless to say, Wendy and I had an AMAZING time in Montreal!! On Saturday, May 28th, at 1pm, we arrived at the luxurious Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, on le Boulevard Rene Levesque. We took the elevator to the 17th floor, and approached Room 1742, named “The John Lennon Suite”, at the end of a corridor. Just below the room # on the door, there was an elegant 6″x4″ silver plaque, on which were the embossed words, “John Lennon”. We slowly opened the door with anticipation. And feeling like Dorothy, as she opened the door to find a Technicolor Oz, our jaws practically dropped to the floor in awe: what a gorgeous suite, way beyond our expectations.
In the chandelier-lit foyer, the first thing our eyes set upon was a beautifully framed photo of a bearded, 28-year old Beatle, John Lennon. He sat, in white pajamas, upon the mattress that lay on this suite’s living room floor 36 years ago this week. His knees were up and hugged tight to his chest. He looked at once as wise as the proverbial “old man in the mountain” and as vulnerable as an orphaned child (that in a certain way, he indeed once was). It was a hard-to-describe moment for us, but wonderful nonetheless. There was a warmth and presence to the entire suite. The foyer was the hub connecting the complex of rooms. As we walked in from the corridor, to our left was the bathroom, all black marble (with his-and-hers bathrobes inside!). To our right was a good-sized kitchenette. The bedroom and living room were separated from the foyer by their own French (what else?) doors. The bedroom had a magnificent mahogany framed king-sized bed, and a huge TV. (BTW: this was a corner suite, so the bedroom looked out onto one boulevard, while the living room looked out onto that as well as the boulevard crossing it – quite a view). The entire suite was in a “modern-traditional” style (for lack of a better term – hey, what do I know?) — elegance from floor to ceiling! Very classy (I’m not going to tell you how much Wendy laid out for this one-day/night stay, but let’s put it this way……I don’t deserve her!).
The walls of every room were lined with beautiful, lovingly framed and matted original photos – each one personally signed and numbered by the two photographers who were there 36 years ago – of John and Yoko, together in bed, being interviewed, lounging, and ones taken during the filming of “Give Peace a Chance”, with Tommy Smothers, a tripped-out Timothy Leary, and others. Yoko had handpicked these photos personally for this suite only!
And now, the “piéce de résistance”: over the couch, on the living room wall hung a huge (maybe 5′x4′), framed, glass-enclosed and tastefully designed display, commemorating the events of both the Bed-in and “GpaC” recording/filming. On a red felt backing, was a sweet color photo of John and Yoko lounging on the mattress they had moved from their bed to the living room floor. John gives the “peace” sign with both his fingers and his upraised feet, put together in a “V”. The photo was parenthesized by gold “GpaC” singles, and below that were the lyrics to the song. Below the lyrics was a small, engraved plaque, describing those musically historic events. Quite a centerpiece to the room, and to the suite itself. This room also had a huge couch, 3 or 4 luxurious chairs, a writing table and chair and it’s own giant-screened TV. We, of course, documented about every inch of each room (including close-up shots of each framed photograph), and filmed all our activities (well, not all of them, actually) on about 5 rolls of film (B & W and color), a digital camera and a camcorder. We didn’t miss a beat.
The service at the Queen Elizabeth was lightning-quick, and the entire staff was very friendly, and they waited on us hand and foot – - this is the first time in our lives that Wendy and I felt like royalty! Within no more than 20 minutes of our being in the room, the doorbell rang (the suite even had a doorbell, can you believe it?!), and a bellman brought us champagne in a bucket of ice, and a basket of exotic fruits (mango, kiwi, papaya, bananas, etc). Wendy laughed when I said I thought they were plastic!
I looked around the suite and thought, “Hmmm, what’s wrong with this picture?” Of course! Wendy and I could tell, from the print-outs of the John & Yoko Bed-in photos we had brought along for reference, that they had slept not in their bedroom, but on a mattress moved into the living room, by the radiator and big picture window. Well, can you guess what happens next? That’s right – - After a gentle bout of begging and pleading with Wendy (she didn’t really mind, and warmed up to the idea quickly, actually – always an adventurer at heart, like me). I asked 2 bellmen (thanks Jacques, and especially Patrick &endash; you rule, dude!) to come up to the suite, take our very big and heavy mattress off our bed, drag it into the living room and drop it on the floor by the radiator and huge picture window, which they did with devilish glee. They put that mattress down onto the exact spot where John and Yoko slept (etc, etc), entertained reporters and guests (and suffered fools like Al Capp), and, of course, sang and filmed the monumentally important and historic “Give Peace a Chance”!! And we soon realized that the other reason why John and Yoko probably moved the mattress there (I forget what the first one was, ha ha) was that it afforded them (and us, 36 years later) a birds-eye view of the beautiful city of Montreal: the bright lights of the le Boulevard Rene Levesque, and the green basilicas of the old Roman Catholic Church below. We even witnessed the taking of the post-wedding photos of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s son and his lovely bride, complete with a white Rolls Limo, and Royal Canadian Mounties with swords raised high, as an “archway” for the bride and groom to descend the outside church steps. Pretty cool, unexpected “icing” on this already wonderful “cake”, eh?
During our stay, we did what J & Y did: we never ventured out to explore Montreal, we stayed in the hotel the whole time, mostly in our white PJ’s, reading newspapers, eating fruit, talking (“in our beds for a week” – well, one day, actually), watching some TV and doing other things, of course.
Now, you know that, as both a singer/guitarist and Beatles/Lennon freak, I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity: to play and sing “Give Peace a Chance” in that very room, in bed on that very spot! So, I magic-markered some peace slogans on small 16″x12″ construction paper, and scotch-taped them to the big window above the radiator behind our “bed-on-the-floor”. I also (as John had done, unbeknownst to most) wrote out the lyrics to “GPAC” onto a big piece of oak tag, and taped it to the front of the living room TV, so I could see the words from the bed (just as John had done – I always thought he had the words memorized). We set the camcorder on a table, Wendy assumed the lotus position next to me on the bed, and I whipped out my…guitar (get yer thoughts out of the gutter!).
Of course, you know what’s next, re: the singing of the song, but there was a cool little back-story twist to this. Initially, I was planning to round up strangers from other rooms, the elevator, lobby, etc, to come to our suite and sing along for our own little videotaped “happening”. But there were two problems with that: first, unfortunately, the high pollen count in Canada at the time played nasty on Wendy’s throat, making it hard to eat or drink. She was in considerable discomfort for most of the time (I felt so sorry for her. She, of all people, should have been able to enjoy every second of this trip! Soooo unfair!), and didn’t know if she was getting a cold or maybe strep throat. So I really didn’t want to drag a bunch of people into the room. Also, as she had pointed out to me, if all the folks we found didn’t know “Give Peace a Chance” by heart (or weren’t Beatles fans), the “event” could have turned into a train wreck. So she suggested this: “Why don’t you bring the CD player [the hotel provided for our room] over beside the bed, play the CD of the original song [which, being the good little Beatlles fan, I brought along on our trip, to play in the car], and you play along live with your guitar and sing – this way it’ll be like you’re singing with John, Yoko and their friends.” Perfect – we did just that! Wendy, of course, couldn’t sing because of her throat, so she mimed along and swayed with me to the primordial beat of the song. I pressed Play on the CD, and we sang our hearts out, accompanying the voices of 36 years ago – in the same city, hotel, room and upon a mattress on the exact same spot as John & Yoko & Co. Ah, what a wonderful thing to experience, a great, happy, positive vibe!!
We had a wonderful dinner that Saturday night in the hotel’s restaurant, then checked out its shops (and a bit of the underground mall, where Wendy bought me a cool Rubber Soul-looking brown suede jacket, to go with the Liverpool-made brown suede Beatle Boots she surprised me with in April! – did I mention that I am a very lucky guy, and I don’t deserve her?). Up in the mammoth hotel lobby, we tracked down a bellman that was working there back in ’69, when John and Yoko stayed there. His name is Andre, a delightful gentleman, a veritable human wellspring of stories and anecdotes (much like someone else, ha ha). Although he never had direct interaction with J & Y, he told some interesting tales of some of the other visitors to the Queen Elizabeth: like the Queen Mother herself, Tony Bennett, Charlton Heston and even Marlon Brando! And Patrick (my happy co-conspirator in “The Case of the Moved Mattress” from earlier in the day) secretly handed me the very last (a handful of about 10) of an extremely limited stock of the special commemorative “John & Yoko Bed-in Anniversary” post cards the hotel had specially printed. As I said, the people who work in the Queen Elizabeth are a cool and very special breed – this is such an honored and special job, that most of them make a lifetime career of it, if they can.
Later that night, as we prepared for bed, we turned on the TV in the living room, and were treated to a funny surprise. On TV, totally by coincidence, the local station was showing, of all things, ‘A Hard Days Night’ – but spoken in French [La Nuit D'un Jour Dur], which was a kick to watch and listen to (Paul, re his grandfather: “Il est très proper.”). The songs were sung in English, though. We had, as George said, in AHDN, “a giggle”.
The next morning a waiter rolled a white-cloth-covered table into the room and served us the absolute, most sumptuous, breakfast either of us has ever had in our lives! Everything on that table was THE freshest and finest looking/tasting thing a person could ever hope to eat: crepes, sausages, poached eggs, ham, croissants, muffins, bacon, fresh fruits, inch-thick-but-airy-and-light wheat toast (like in that Little Rascals episode with Spanky, Scotty Moore, the jar of jelly and the inch-thick bread), imported jellies, soft whipped butter, fresh-squeezed juices, coffee, tea – - we absolutely felt like Royalty! Funnily enough, that breakfast remains on both Wendy’s and my “Top Three” of the list of the 10 best things we loved about our stay in Montreal, ha ha. But, damn, the breakfast was simply that amazingly good!
Soon it was time to check out, and, to be honest, it was quite a depressing feeling for us (like what Cinderella felt, when her horse-drawn coach turned back into a pumpkin at midnight). I mean, we both wished we were millionaires and could stay in that suite of rooms forever! Wendy and I never did this before, but we actually (and pathetically, ha) waved a sad goodbye to the room, before closing the door with the silver “John Lennon” plaque on it, behind us. (The words to the chorus of Ringo’s song, “Photograph” come to mind at the moment). But in our hearts and minds, a part of us will always be there – as we knew a part of John somehow was still there the very moment we first stepped foot in that marvelous suite (and at the moment I toppled from that chair!). And I think he always will be. Thanks eternally, Wendy, for the inspiringly memorable “Magical Montreal Mystery Tour” you gave me for my birthday!!