Never Before Published Transcript of a Conversation Between John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Timothy Leary and Rosemary Leary – at the Montreal Bed-In, May 1969

Copyright 2012 Dr. Timothy Leary’s Futique Trust

Michael Horowitz, Tim’s longtime archivist and contributing editor to this website, has brought us this transcript from a tape recording of a conversation between Timothy and Rosemary Leary and John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which he found buried in his personal archives.

Photo by Stephen Sammons. Rosemary Leary, Timothy Leary, Yoko Ono and John Lennon, reading the local paper about their "Bed-In."

From Michael: “Back in 1984, Tim gave me this as a present to celebrate the completion of his bibliography. I’d completely forgotten I had it. In an archival lapse, I had put it in an unmarked envelope in a box of miscellaneous papers.”

Below is a scan of the cover page for the manuscript of an anthology Tim was considering putting together for publication around 1978 with the title, “Heroes of the Sixties: Meetings with Remarkable WoMen.”

Title-page of "Heroes of the Sixties: Meetings with Remarkable WoMen" typescript, with Tim's inscription.

A draft of “Part II: The Agents” from the table of contents is below. This transcript was intended to be added to a previously published piece, “Thank God for the Beatles” (The Beatles Book, 1968), “an essay about the Beatles as evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with mysterious power to create a new human species” (Leary Bibliography, B18). The article and transcript was to be Chapter 16 under a new title, “The Beatles As Unconscious Evolutionary Agents (with Conversation with John-Yoko).” The anthology, a collection of previously published magazine articles and book excerpts, with a few new chapters, was never published.

Michael continues: “After researching the publications in which it most likely would have appeared (the underground press and Rolling Stone) in the late spring and summer of 1969, and in the bibliography and the archives housed at the New York Public Library, I determined that the transcript of this ‘conversation’ has probably never been published.”

Another piece of evidence is a handwritten note on the permissions list when the project was in a very early stage: “Hitherto Unpublished.”

Table of Contents for “Heroes of the Sixties: Meetings with Remarkable WoMen.” - An unpublished manuscript by Timothy Leary.

Michael’s guess is that Tim was given a copy of the tape at the time it was made, or later, and had it transcribed by one of his assistants, whose penciled editorial notes appear on the first two pages, and on the contents and permissions sheets. Michael remembers Tim invited him to assist on the project, “ but he (Tim) was too involved in the Future History Series, where some of these chapters ended up in one form or another, and abandoned ‘Heroes of the Sixties: Meetings with Remarkable WoMen.'”

Montreal Bed-In and what was going on in the lives of the four of them when they held the conversation in John and Yoko’s Suite of Rooms 1738-1744 in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel

The conversation took place in the middle of John and Yoko’s week-long Bed-In, on May 29th, 1969. That makes Lisa 6 months old at the time, and it’s a year before Michael met Tim face-to-face for the first time, visiting him in prison, and became his archivist. Chronologically, it was two weeks after the People’s Park Uprising in Berkeley and less than three months before the Woodstock Music Festival. The Vietnam War was raging. The Black Panther Party was being attacked by the FBI. Less than a month later, the Weather Underground formed, calling for armed revolution to stop the war. Hippies were being busted for pot and acid. The Chicago 8 were under indictment for inciting a riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Aug. 1968.

Michael points out: “The enormous personal and political pressures on the four of them are evident here. Despite (or perhaps because of) their global fame, both couples had a difficult time getting through Canadian customs. Both had been busted for marijuana possession the previous year – John and Yoko in London, and Tim and Rosemary in Laguna Beach. A few months after the Bed-In, John would leave the Beatles and move with Yoko to the U.S., where they were closely monitored by the FBI and threatened with deportation. Ten months later, Tim would be in prison; Rosemary would be putting on benefits to raise money for his appeal.”

The Bed-In – An Archetypal “Occupation”

Michael: “The ‘60s was a decade of occupations. Perhaps the strangest and most original was the Bed-In that took place in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, in 1969, 43 years ago, this Spring. John Lennon and Yoko Ono occupied a bed for seven days and nights in a “Bed-In For Peace” as a symbolic protest to end the war in Vietnam, which culminated in the writing and recording of the antiwar anthem, ‘Give Peace a Chance.’

“Prior to the Bed-In, in the early sixties, leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there were Sit-Ins in the South, occupying “white only” lunch counters; Be-Ins, beginning with the one in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (1967), and Teach-Ins on college campuses. The Yippies led occupations at the NY Stock Exchange (1967) and the grounds of the Pentagon (1967), and later, Smoke-Ins in Washington DC and elsewhere. A half million antiwar protestors occupied the mall in front of the Washington Monument, six months after the Bed-In. The 1990s witnessed Digital Be-Ins, and wars in the Middle East brought Die-Ins. These were some of the precursors of the Occupy Movement that began in Zuccotti Park last September.”

Thanks to the fame of the couple and the novel concept of their activism, the event got media coverage well beyond the small number of participants involved.

The film Bed Peace was made available for free on YouTube in August 2011 by Yoko Ono, as part of her website “Imagine Peace.” Tim and Rosemary’s participation is also documented in  another video on YouTube (also courtesy of Yoko’s Imagine Peace website), where they are seen singing on the recording of “Give Peace A Chance.”

John Lennon wrote another song that week, the earliest version of “Come Together,” for Leary’s campaign for Governor of California against Ronald Reagan. It was the prospect of Tim debating Reagan on television that, as much as anything, led to his imprisonment for a miniscule amount of marijuana. With the campaign aborted, John decided to rework the song for the Beatles’ Abbey Road.

This conversation, published here for the first time, is a time capsule from an era that has powerful and poignant correspondences to our own.

Conversation between John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Rosemary Leary and Timothy Leary, Hotel Queen Elizabeth, Montreal, Canada, May 29, 1969

TIMOTHY: Living in a teepee is great. It’s pretty basic. It’s the first artificial habitat, after all.

ROSEMARY: It’s the sexiest building ever invented.

TIMOTHY: It’s like being in a sailboat, because you have to know exactly where the wind is. You raise the fluttering banners, and just look up through the smoke-flap and you can see how the wind blows. If you don’t have the flaps the right way, the wind will blow the smoke down. We always have to be aware of the wind.

JOHN: Yeah, Yoko had this plan for us two. To blindfold ourselves for two weeks, y’know, and just work it out. We might do that when we get to the new house and find out about it.

ROSEMARY: Yes, it’d be a fantastic way to learn about it.

TIMOTHY: Also, of course, we live with rattlesnakes. That’s groovy because it requires absolute consciousness. You just can’t go thumping through the brush, thinking of what you’re going to do tomorrow. You have to realize that you’re intruding on their territory. We don’t want to hurt you. We don’t want to stumble in and step on you. So your consciousness has got to be focused. And of course it’s always helpful to have dogs. We learn a great deal from animals.

JOHN: How long have you been there, in the teepee? I mean, before you sussed the wind and everything, and you know, got your senses back?

ROSEMARY: We had to put the teepee up three times before it was right. It’s like you can touch it, and it resounds like a drone, and then it’s perfect, the canvas. It’s a wind instrument that plays like a drone.

TIMOTHY: You would really love the teepee, because it’s a work of art which involves all the senses. You start with white canvas. Then you get the pine. Each man has to strip the bark so you get the wood smooth, smooth. You have to line the poles carefully. There are fifteen of these poles, and if you do it wrong you end up with too big a hole. It’s sculpture. Then once you’ve got it built, it’s a light show, because the moon shines through the smoke hole and you can see the stars.

ROSEMARY: If you placed it properly to the east, the sun rises right over the opening, so at one point during the day the sun is full blast down into the teepee.

YOKO: Is it very wide?

ROSEMARY: It’s a little narrower than the width of this hotel room.

TIMOTHY: And at night you have a fire. All right. We’re sitting around, with the fire here in the center. That means your shadow is thrown on the screen behind you, big, and I’m gesticulating like this and you catch my shadow. And the silhouettes flicker. The fire’s dancing. So, if you are outside, you can tell a mile away what’s going on. Then you get the wind coming. It creaks a little. The door, by the way, is shaped like the yoni and you have to bend your head down as you come in, in honor of it.

ROSEMARY: The only thing that comes through the yoni is the sun and the stars and the moon; actually only people go through the lower exit and entrance.

TIMOTHY: It’s a sexy place.

YOKO: All those nasty magazines in London, they all call me Yoni.

JOHN: Yeah. Yoni Ono.

YOKO: John Lingam and Yoni Ono.

TIMOTHY: We sent a message to you, through Miles, that said that next time you come to the United States, if you wanted to get away for a few days, there’s a place…

JOHN: We never got the message from Miles. [Footnote: Barry Miles, UK countercultural activist, helped launched Indica Bookshop and International Times.] We miss a lot. Yeah, we’ve got it now. And if we come…

TIMOTHY: It would have to be done in a way that no one would know you’re there. Once you just get into the valley, it’s another world. Of course, we’ve been doing nothing but studying consciousness for the last seven or eight years, and at Millbrook, we had this large estate. You probably heard about it–this big 64-room house. It became like a mecca for scientists and barefoot pilgrims.

“We’ve been doing nothing but studying consciousness for the last seven or eight years.”–Tim

YOKO: I’ve heard of Millbrook. I mean, it’s famous.

TIMOTHY: Yes, and police informers and television people. But then we saw how geography was important. The land north of the house was uninhabited. As you got there, you got farther away from the people, and the games, and the television, and the police. What we’ve been trying to do is create heaven on earth, right? And we did have it going, for a while–in the forest groves where there were just holy people. Just people going around silently eating brown rice or caviar, and when you went there, you would never think of talking terrestrial. You never would say, “Well, the sheriff’s at the gate.”

JOHN: We were going to have no talking either, for a week.

TIMOTHY: Well, this was a place where you only would go if you just wanted to. It was set up somewhat like, you know, the Tolkien thing, with trees and shrines. There was another place where we lived, which we called Level Two, which was in a teepee, and people would come up there, and we would play, and laugh. And then you get down to the big house, and that was where you could feel the social pressures starting. And once you left the gate, then you were back in the primitive 20th century. As soon as you walked out the gate, if you didn’t have your identification, then they’d bust you. So it was all neuro–geography. The place you went to determined your level of consciousness. As you went from one zone to another, you knew you were just coming down or going up.

JOHN: That’s great.

TIMOTHY: Now we’ve got that going again out in the desert.

ROSEMARY: We’re living with a more intelligent group of people this time.

YOKO: What did you do with the place, Millbrook? Is it still going?

TIMOTHY: We were supposed to go there this week. Matter of fact, we may go there tomorrow night. It’s still there. But it’s the old story. In the past, societies fought over territory. They thought, “We’ll hold this space, or we’ll force you out.” It’s an old mammalian tradition. As you pointed out about Reagan, what we’re doing in the United States is transcending this notion of the good-guy cowboy. That’s Governor Reagan: he’s gonna shoot down hippies, shoot down blacks and college students. So we gave up Millbrook, because there’s no point in fighting over the land, and making it a thing of territorial pride. If they want it so much that they’re going to keep an armed guard there all the time, they can have it. We’ll be back. [Footnote: Reagan ordered the California National Guard to shoot at protesting students during the People’s Park uprising in Berkeley two weeks earlier; it was G. Gordon Liddy, later one of the Watergate burglars, who drove Tim and his extended family from Millbrook.]

JOHN: Yeah, that’s where we’re shouting at the kids at Berkeley: “forget the park, move on.” They’re all saying. “Where?” Y’know, I’m saying, “Canada. Anywhere.” There’s plenty of space.

TIMOTHY: There is.

ROSEMARY: Yes, if you fly over this country in an airplane you’ll just be amazed at the amount of space there is.

JOHN: Pioneers. Pioneers are very important today, because people won’t go where somebody hasn’t already gone. Yeah! That’s what we’re saying: what did your forefathers do? How did they make it?

YOKO: And it’s a healthy thing to do, isn’t it?

TIMOTHY: What do the kids say when they talk to you? [Footnote: All day John and Yoko have been talking to every radio station they can reach, and to anyone calling in to one of these radio stations wanting to talk to them.]

JOHN: About peace, or about anything in general? On the phone? Well, if they’re not saying, “Welcome to Canada,” they’re saying, “What can we do?” y’know?

ROSEMARY: That’s good.

JOHN: They’re saying, what can we actually do, and then I say, we say, “well we can’t tell you what to do?” y’know, we can only sort of say, “there’s other things to do.”

TIMOTHY: You’re in charge. You don’t have to ask.

JOHN: Yeah, think about it. But they’re getting it, y’know, I mean they must be. Our voices must be going out solid about every quarter of an hour. And if it isn’t singing, it’s talking, and we’re just repeating the same bit, y’know, and there’s very little “Me eyes are brown and Paul’s…y’know? I mean I do that for the ones that need it. Most of it’s just, “let’s get it together,” and it must be going out now like a mantra. We’re trying to set up a mantra, a peace mantra, and get it in their heads. It’s gonna work.

TIMOTHY: It’s Pierre Trudeau that got us in Canada. Because, about a year and a half, two years ago, there was a big university thing in Toronto [Footnote: Perception ’67, a conference/ cultural event featuring, in addition to the two named by Leary, Humphry Osmond, Richard Alpert, Ralph Metzner, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Ed Sanders, and Ali Akbar Khan], and they invited people to speak about drugs. Paul Krassner came, McLuhan was there, and I was supposed to come up to give a talk, but the government wouldn’t let me in. So I sent a tape, and they confiscated it.

Then I went to the International Bridge in Detroit and handed it across, and the Americans busted me ’cause I wasn’t supposed to leave the country. That was two years ago, before Trudeau was premier. This time they checked with higher-ups. They kept us waiting about an hour. They were very polite. They were getting instructions from– wherever they get their instructions.

JOHN: They kept us about two hours, searched through everything. Yeah, well, we wanted to get to Trudeau, we’re really headed for Nixon.

“We wanted to get to Trudeau, we’re really headed for Nixon.” — John

TIMOTHY: I am too.

JOHN: We’re just telling them that we want to give them two acorns—a piece of sculpture that we entered in an exhibition. So we wanted to get that to Nixon and tell him all we want you to do is make a positive move, y’know. And then they’d either have to accept it or deny it publicly, and then we’d ask, “Why, why, don’t you give us that time schedule?”

TIMOTHY: How are things in Europe?

JOHN: They’re okay there, you know, it’s relaxed and everybody’s…they’re all smoking their cigars and drinking coffee, y’know, and you go to Paris and Amsterdam, and they’re all just rolling along.

YOKO: And they don’t dislike you for smoking.

JOHN: No, it’s not the same. They get down about it, but there’s none of that…

YOKO: Not hatred.

ROSEMARY: I’m always surprised when I read of any of you being busted in England, because…

JOHN: Oh, it’s again a bit paranoid in England now. It’s getting a bit heavy. ‘Cause there’s a lot of Americans coming in, y’know, sort of refugees, and it’s not even that so much. There’s just more people around, and they’re busting the pop stars. Like they got Mick Jagger and Marianne yesterday. [Footnote: Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull were busted for possession of marijuana at their London home on May 28, 1969.] There’s one guy doing it all, one little Sergeant Pilgrim.

“They’re busting the pop stars. Like they got Mick Jagger and Marianne yesterday.” — John

ROSEMARY: Pilgrim?

JOHN: Yes, I think he’s on a pilgrimage, collecting scalps.

ROSEMARY: Your Pilgrim and our Purcell. [Footnote: Neil Purcell of the Laguna Beach police dept. followed the Learys around for months before pulling them over and busting Tim for two marijuana roaches in the backseat ashtray of their car, on Dec. 26, 1968, which are the very charges that sent him to prison in March 1970.]

JOHN: And he’s going around nailing us all; and they’re beginning to hound the underground papers now. They never gave ’em any bother before. So it’s getting a bit like that. But it’s nowhere near stateside size yet, and by the time it gets like that in England, the States will have cooled off.

TIMOTHY: It’s not a yin/yang thing. The energy in the United States is accelerating, and you can go on the negative trip and point to all the bad things happening. But the reason these power trips are happening is because the freedom thing is so strong. I give lectures at colleges, and even down south, and up in Minnesota, in religious, very backwater places where you expected…. The kids are just waiting for any voice of honesty and humor.

ROSEMARY: It’s changed. It really has. Even a year ago…

JOHN: Yeah, when we were down there, in the States, it was terrifying. [Footnote: Lennon is referring to the last Beatles U.S. tour, in August 1966.] That’s when they were getting me for saying we’re bigger than Christ. Somebody was letting off balloons, and we all looked around to see which of us had got shot.

TIMOTHY: But the kids there are the same as they are anywhere. Because this thing we’re involved in, it does transcend all the old dichotomies of left/right or conservative.

JOHN: They’re even playing the “Christ you know it ain’t easy” record. [Footnote: “The Ballad of John and Yoko”] down south on some stations. I didn’t think it’d get past the line, y’know, didn’t think they’d play it there at all. I asked them, Jacksonville, Florida or what, “Hi! Y’playing the record?” “Yeah, we’re playing it. Why did you say that?” “Well,” I said. “Uh. Heh…” [Laughter]

TIMOTHY: John, about the use of the mass media . . . the kids must be taught how to use the media. People used to say to me–I would give a rap and someone would get up and say, “Well, what’s this about a religion? Did the Buddha use drugs? Did the Buddha go on television? I’d say, “Ahh—he would’ve. He would’ve….”

“John, about the use of the mass media… The kids must be taught to use the media.”– Tim

JOHN: I was on a TV show with David Frost and Yehudi Menuhin, some cultural violinist y’know, they were really attacking me. They had a whole audience and everything. It was after we got back from Amsterdam…and Yehudi Menuhin came out, he’s always doing these Hindu numbers. All that pious bit, and his school for violinists, and all that. And Yehudi Menuhi said, “Well, don’t you think it’s necessary to kill some people some times?” That’s what he said on TV, that’s the first thing he’s ever said. And I said, “Did Christ say that? Are you a Christian?” “Yeah,” I said, and did “Christ say anything about killing people?” And he said, “Did Christ say anything about television? Or guitars?”

“Did the Buddha use drugs? Did the Buddha go on television? I’d say, ‘Ahh—he would’ve. He would’ve…'”– Tim

TIMOTHY: Marijuana…

JOHN: Yeah. I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe that.

TIMOTHY: The trick is, though, not to be pulled off into the bullring thing. You’ve got to keep right on the essence, and if you do that…

JOHN: Yeah, I got a bit lost actually, but I got such a fright. I didn’t expect such…so much from ’em. It was just a sort of David Frost show with a couple of people on, and we’d just got there, and the hatred was amazing. I was really frightened. But Yoko was cool, so when one of us loses it, the other can cover.

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