Saturday, August 15, 2009

Year One

By Ritchie Yorke/June 28, 1970

TORONTO. Snow was starting to fall in splashing flakes on the windows. Ronnie Hawkins yawned. Yoko Ono cuddled closer to John Lennon, took a drag on his Gitane cigarette and closed her eyes. The whole household was drowsily relaxing in the rambling old farmhouse on the outskirts of Toronto that Ronnie Hawkins and his wife, Wanda, owned.

Ed Sullivan's vacuous visage bounced onto the screen as Wanda came into the room and exclaimed: "Look, it's the Beatles on TV." John and Yoko came to life and Hawkins reached out to turn on the volume. Lennon leaped out of the sofa and knelt a few inches from the screen.

The long shot cut to a close-up of Paul McCartney singing "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed . . ." Lennon laughed, "Boy, was he shitting then."
Then a rerun of the group's first-ever appearance on the Sullivan show. Up came Lennon, short-haired and obviously nervous, strumming his axe and screaming into the mike. John had returned to the sofa and Yoko was laughing.

"Is that really my husband?" she teased. John shrugged.

Shea Stadium: John, leading the rest of the Beatles through the police guard and the cutaway shots of the crying, craving teenyboppers. "Yes, yes, yes," John bubbled. "I remember every moment of that. It was incredible."

A few minutes later, Sullivan was replaced by a Canadian network's public-affairs show, "W5," and Lennon was back on the screen. He was talking about peace and a massive pop-music festival for peace to be held in Canada next summer. His words were clear and full of conviction. The interviewer wanted to know if the rest of the Beatles would be there performing. "Yes, yes," he said impatiently. "I'm going to ask each of them. I can't say now that they'll play but I think they will."

John and Yoko's arrival in Toronto for the third time in less than a year was preceded by a large "War Is Over" campaign that had been simultaneously unveiled in twelve cities the previous morning. In Toronto, thirty roadside billboards went up, along with thousands of posters and handbills. Capitol Records of Canada took out newspaper ads with the same message.

The first press conference took place at the Ontario Science Centre.

"Well," announced John, "we've come back to Canada to announce plans for a big peace-and-music festival to be held at Mosport Park near Toronto on July third, fourth and fifth next year. We aim to make it the biggest music festival in history, and we're going to be asking everybody who's anybody to play.

"The whole idea of our new peace campaign is to be positive. You can't expect anybody to do anything for nothing. You must run things the way the Establishment does. The idea came from the Toronto people. They wanted to produce the biggest pop festival in history by the usual means, and then give a percentage of the gross to a new peace fund, which we're setting up. But it won't be the usual fund thing, and that's what we liked about the idea.

"We are forming a peace council that will administer the fund as it sees fit. If we decide, for example, that we want to give food to starving children in Biafra, we won't use traditional means. We'll hire planes and take the stuff there ourselves. We're doing away with all the old methods because they haven't worked very well from what we can see."

John spoke slowly, distinctly, choosing his words with evident care. Yoko, looking nervous, chewed a great wad of gum and, for the most part, only listened, smiling at John continually.

"One of our friends here in Toronto has come up with the idea that the new year should not be called 1970 A.D. Everyone who is into peace and awareness will regard the New Year as Year One A.P. - for After Peace. All of our letters and calendars from now on will use this new method.

"Along with the festival, we are going to have an International Peace Vote. We're asking everyone to vote for either peace or war and to send in a coupon with their name and address. This is going to be done worldwide, through music papers initially and, when we've got about twenty million votes, we're going to give them to the United States. It's just another positive step."

Why Canada and not the U.S.? According to John Brower, one of the team working with the Lennons on the festival and allied projects, Lennon feels that Canada has become the world's greatest hope for peace. "The political climate in Canada is completely different from any other country. The politicians here at least want to hear what young people think. They'll talk, and that is the important first step."

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