Twisted Systems

You Know It Ain’t Easy, Part 1

Montreal, 1969

Over the last year or so, I have run across 2 people with incredible stories about how they planned ways to meet John & Yoko, and managed to actually do it. One story took place in 1969, and one in 1980.

Both stories showed a side of J&Y that, while on one hand showed perhaps surprising empathy, also showed an almost shocking hippie-like naivete.

Montreal, Canada 1969

This first story is about legendary Canadian radio talk show host Tommy Schnurmacher [Not a typo—I checked—Ed.], who, at the age of 18, wanted to get John Lennon’s autograph.

On May 26th, 1969, John, Yoko & Yoko’s daughter Kyoko and a small entourage which included their press agent Derek Taylor, booked themselves into the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada to commence their “Bed-In for Peace”. On June 1st, they recorded the song, “Give Peace a Chance”, live from their bedroom in the hotel and surrounded by various characters, the song. The song was still being written, right up to the time that it was recorded.

Much has been written about that visit, all the personalities who showed up to pay respects to John & Yoko (comedians Tommy Smothers & Dick Gregory, LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary, pop star Petula Clark, & Li’l Abner cartoonist Al Capp) and the recording of the song. What you probably don’t know, however, is this sidebar to the entire 8 day experience.

The fact that J&Y chose Montreal was broadcast over a local radio station, and an 18 year old high school student, Tommy Schnurmacher, along with a female friend, decided that they wanted to get John’s autograph. To make it easier to get to John, Tommy planned on showing up as a member of the press (the high school press, you understand), with a tape recorder and “interview” John. That, he felt, was sure to lead to an autograph.

When Tommy and friend arrived at the hotel they were shocked that there didn’t seem to be any security in the lobby. They quickly learned that J&Y were in suite 1738 (17th floor), got in the elevator, went up to 18 so as not to create a suspicion and walked down one flight to the 17th floor. Down the hall they saw a small group of people outside the room. Tommy, knowing that Kyoko was there, brought a box of crayons. When they walked into the hotel room,  a security guard in the room started to question why Tommy was there but Kyoko saw the crayons and wanted to use them— so Tommy said that if he was thrown out he would take the crayons. Yoko interceded, Tommy gave the crayons to Kyoko, and Yoko asked if they wanted to meet John, who was in the bedroom.

Tommy was told that he could not ask John question about the Beatles. The questions had to center around the Bed in and J&Y’s quest to bring peace to the planet. At some point Yoko asked why he had crayons. Tommy said that he had a sister Kyoko’s age and he was going back to his house to see her. Yoko asked if they wanted to take Kyoko to their house to meet Tommy’s sister. Tommy, stunned, said sure and Yoko handed Kyoko over to Tommy and his friend. They took Kyoko back to Tommy’s house to meet his sister and fed Kyoko as well.

Thus began a daily ritual which went on for 7 straight days!

Tommy and friend would come to the hotel, Yoko would give them Kyoko, off they would go and bring Kyoko back later in the afternoon. Yoko never asked for any ID. Never even asked for their last names!

The temptation to ask Kyoko questions about the Beatles and especially “Uncle Paul” (Paul McCartney) was strong. In the end it was decided that if they did and Kyoko told either John or her mother, that circle of trust would probably be broken—so they didn’t.

On day 8, Tommy again went back to the hotel only to find that everyone had checked out. They left behind items specifically for Tommy, however. 2 signed autographed albums (personally signed to Tommy and his friend) as well as signed publicity photos and $150.00 to cover their “nanny time” with Kyoko.

As they were about to leave the hotel room still being cleared out by someone probably with the record label, Tommy’s friend found, on the floor, the hand written lyrics to “Give Peace a Chance” that were left behind.

She took them!

That piece of paper with the hand written lyrics were sold many years later at an auction for nearly $300,000.00!

The ‘friend’ did not share that windfall with Tommy, which remains a very sore subject (and rightly so).

I asked Tommy if he ever did write up the “Lennon interview” for the school paper. The answer was that even though the interview was recorded he never did write it. Moreover, the tape disintegrated after years of storage.

I ended my interview with Tommy by asking him 2 questions:

1. Did his friends believe the story? He said that most of them didn’t at the time.

2. Did you understand their (John & Yoko’s) astounding naivety and “trust”?

“Looking back, the hippie naivete they showed was unreal, and the fact that they never even asked us for ID was pretty amazing”.

Luckily John & Yoko trusted the right person. Thank you Tommy!

Part 2, in Copper #76.