Thursday, April 2, 2009

John and Yoko's Montreal's Peace Experience

Until June 21, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is featuring 'The Peace Ballad of John and Yoko', a 40th anniversary tribute to Beatle John Lennon and his artist-wife Yoko Ono's bed-in for peace at Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1969. Link

For those of you too young too remember, it was a heady time in Montreal, back in 1969, when John Lennon and his new wife Yoko Ono held a 'bed-in' (their version of a sit-in) for peace in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in downtown Montreal.
Montreal was still a bit of a backwater back then, but luckily, when the peace couple was refused entry into the United States, they made their way up to our fair city to make their point.
'Eventually, they flew to Montreal on May 26 where they stayed in Room 1738 and 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. During their seven day stay, they invited Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory, and Al Capp and all but Capp sang on the peace anthem Give Peace a Chance, recorded in the hotel room on June 1."
Reading the National Post article brought back some fond memories of that event, to which I had a very tiny personal connection to.

I was but a junior high school student at the time, attending Montreal's most diverse and interesting high school, Northmount High, along with Tommy Schnurmacher, who today, is a successful and popular radio morning personality on CJAD.

Back then, in 1969, Tommy was an artsy high school senior with a decidedly offbeat view of the world. He was friends with my older cousin who lived upstairs from my family, in our shared duplex, in the Snowdon district of Montreal.

Tommy showed up one afternoon, in his familiar black beatnik regalia, complete with his signature 'Che Guevara' beret, looking for some babysitting help from my cousin. I intercepted him in the hallway and asked him who the little oriental girl was, the one holding onto his hand, ever so tightly.

I've reconstructed the hallway conversation between Tommy and I as best as I can, considering that it's been 40 years.

"Who's the kid? I asked.

"Don't tell anyone, but it's Yoko Ono's daughter, Kyoko. I'm babysitting" announced Tommy.

"Ah, bullshit..."

"Suit yourself"

"Whoooaaaa!.... Is it true, how'd you pull that off?"

"I've been spending time with John and Yoko at the Queen E and after a couple of days, they consigned their daughter to me, to take out to the park. Apparently I'm very trustworthy."

"What are you going to do with her?"

"Going to the park"

"Tommy, I got a 8mm camera. Can I take some movies."




"C'mon, it'll be proof when nobody believes you."


So off we went to the McKenzie King park, where young Kyoko and the uncomfortable Tommy spent an hour riding the swings, balancing on the teeter-totter and generally doing what five year-olds like to do.
I shot my film and went home. Two weeks later I got the film returned in the mail, (you had to send it out to get it developed in those days) screened it once and forgot about it for forty years. I imagine the film still exists somewhere in a box, in my mother's apartment.

I hadn't thought about it until last year when I heard Tommy on the radio, retelling the story of his John and Yoko experience, and of his subsequent bad luck.
It seems that while Tommy was babysitting, Lennon was composing his famous song "Give Peace a Chance."
He wrote the lyrics on a cardboard and gave it to another Northmount room-crasher, who had come along with Tommy to the hotel.

Years later, she auctioned off the document for $800,000! Link

Boy, Tommy sounded pissed about that, when recounting the story on the radio.

Hearing the story again got me thinking.

I never heard of Kyoko Ono again. Not once over the years. Nothing in the papers, no mention of her anywhere. I never saw her with Yoko. In fact it's like she never existed.

Curious, I Googled her name, to see if she was real, or if Tommy had been bullshitting me about her being Yoko's daughter.

Believe it or not, young Kyoko, two or three years after our babysitting experience, was abducted by her natural father, eccentric American film-maker Tony Cox, Ono's second husband. Kyoko was initiated into bizarre Doomsday cult called the 'The Walk' and was hidden from Yoko for over thirty years!

Mother and daughter finally reconciled after Kyoko bore a child, Yoko's granddaughter.

Read the story, it's quite amazing. LINK

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