JAIMIE VERNON – CHRIST YOU KNOW IT AIN’T EASY
We just passed another Beatle milestone on October 9th. It would have been John Lennon’s 75th birthday (and as many pointed out in Socialmedialand, his son Sean’s 40th). The world continues the nostalgic hypothesizing and speculating as to the what ifs had Lennon lived.
The most sure thing is that Lennon would still have been a non-Beatle for 45 years. Had Lennon lived he could count 10 years as a Beatle…and 45 doing solo work (with that 5 year interruption in the mid-70s where he decided to stop making music, bake bread and play with Sean). Fans have opined the sense of loss at what Lennon’s continued output post-Double Fantasy would have been – discounting the post-humous barrel scrapings necessary to keep the afterlife of this Rock and Roll martyr alive.
Would the Beatles have reunited? Some believe both Lennon and Harrison, always the world conscious Beatles would have joined Paul McCartney on stage at Live Aid in 1985 as we had seen Pink Floyd do 20 years later at Live 8.
It may have fast-tracked the Anthology releases in 1995…or may have derailed them (some would assume with a new album of material). Few people make mention of Lennon’s previous life as an activist. Would he have sat by silently plying his trade as a reborn songwriter or would he and Yoko have returned to their jetsetting world of activism as they had done so early in their relationship? One hopes the latter. It’s hard to imagine a man who believed so strongly in change would have just stood on the sidelines waving at the crimes against humanity that we’ve endured since espousing those immortal slogans: “War Is Over” and “Give Peace A Chance”.
Canadian/Australian journalist and John & Yoko confidante Ritchie Yorke wants to make sure that the world does not forget the trail that the publicly outspoken duo blazed from 1969 onward in his new book “Christ You Know It Ain’t Easy: John & Yoko’s Battle For Peace”
It was a movement to change the way we perceive the world – the last gasp of Hippie subculture…elevated to the world stage and discussed in bedrooms, boardrooms and parliaments. Lennon’s vehicle was music – something he believed could universally touch people no matter the language – but it wasn’t enough. He wanted to reach the people that made the decisions about getting involved in conflicts like the Vietnam War. Without pointing fingers he and Yoko began to provoke dialogue through their Bed-Ins and happenings and meetings with heads of state; it was a means of using celebrity status to not (just) sell records, but to sell an idea.
Yorke was working for Toronto’s Globe & Mail when John & Yoko decided to go on a post-wedding world tour to deflect from what would be The Beatles’ death knell (though the world didn’t know it at the time). It was a newly invigorated Lennon who wanted to do more than give lip service to his own global catchphrase “All You Need Is Love“. Yorke had seen Lennon’s larger-than-life presence in person while covering any and all Beatle related events and writing about them in the Globe & Mail. And when the call came for Yorke to come on board the John & Yoko Peace Train he quit his job and became their defacto publicist and road manager in December 1969.
Yorke’s book discusses both his own personal feelings about war (having had a father who came home to Australia from World War II in 1943 as a very troubled man) and Lennon’s disassociated, parentless life as one of four of the biggest celebrities in the world during the 1960s.
Yorke’s initial feelings of intimidation around Lennon soon gave way to one of a kindred spirit; at the core, both men wished the world would just calm down and stop killing one another.
Enter Ronnie Hawkins, a good ol’ boy from Alabama whose grandfather used to run moonshine to both sides during the Civil War with Bill Clinton’s grandpappy. Ronnie took the advice of Conway Twitty in 1958 and found full-time employment as the frontman for a Rockabilly combo in Hamilton and eventually in Toronto where his legend grew. That band eventually became THE Band – who would leave the Hawk’s nest to become superstars in their own right (via Bob Dylan). Ronnie was left back in Canada but he never let it slow him down. After 57 years in Canada he may be responsible for employing more musicians in Canada than any government organization before or since.
Hawkins was looking for new ventures by 1969 and when Yorke asked him to help with the John & Yoko ‘War is Over If You want It’ promotional campaign he was all in. So much so that he volunteered his homestead in the wilds of North Mississauga outside Toronto where John & Yoko could make home base while in Canada. It meant bringing telephone lines in where none existed before – a fact that Ronnie still teases Yoko about (the Lennons racked up $400 in phone bills that were never paid according to Ronnie).
John & Yoko worked the media to great advantage. They took the train from Toronto to Montreal and held court with politicians on board discussing war overseas, Canada’s peacekeeping roll and even decriminalizing marijuana. They eventually met with then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau – a staunch meeting that was set for a small window of time and ended up lasting nearly an hour; Trudeau was compelled by Lennon’s intelligence, his knowledge about world politics and well, his Beatleness.
The Bed-In in Montreal became the media event du jour and punctuated John and Yoko’s efforts via a sporadic but semi-orchestrated recording of ‘Give Peace A Chance’ on June 1, 1969, in Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Everyone who was anyone within spitting distance of Montreal attended…and sang or stomped their feet on the record.
But Lennon’s stint as Peace’s pied piper was short-lived as pressing Beatle business kept him from making the commitment to tour the world on his mission of hope. Instead, Yorke and Hawkins became emissaries. These deputized men of peace helped spread the John & Yoko message to no less than 15 countries having traveled 52,000 miles in 5 weeks. The most infamous of these trips found York & Hawkins at the border of the People’s Republic of China.
The duo were able to draw Chinese media to a swath of neutral territory to wave their white signs filled with peace and anti-violence slogans before the shiny guns from the Red Army forced them to bee-line it out of hostile environs – the irony completely lost on the armed combatants. Nine newspapers covered the story. John & Yoko were pleased with the results. The message had been sent. It would be up to foreign governments to react.
As history recalls, most didn’t. But the efforts were not considered a failure, clearly, as we still remember the events and the message of “Give Peace A Chance”, both of which have become synonymous. Yorke’s personal account fills in the details of how the peace movement began on the backs of mere mortals and has evolved even today. What we used to refer to as peaceniks are now the new environmentalists, the planet spokesmen, the anti-war advocates. And Ritchie Yorke, himself, has embarked on a new mission of spreading the Lennons’ message with his own wife Minnie.
Ritchie, Yoko, and Minnie
I highly recommend the book not just to fill in these hectic weeks of John Lennon’s life but as a historic document of a group of people who just wanted to make a world of difference. And did.
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon