But mostly they talked about peace and lorded over the chaos in a room crammed tight with star-struck kids, reporters, disc jockeys, Hare Krishnas, Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers and hangers-on.
Photographer Gerry Deiter, on assignment for Life magazine, was there for all of it. The pictures weren't published, because the magazine spiked the piece.
Deiter's images now are being exposed to a wide audience 40 years later in the exhibit, "Give Peace A Chance: John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Bed-In For Peace." The exhibit makes its U.S. debut Friday at The Museum at Bethel Woods, which sits at the upstate New York site of the original Woodstock concert held later that same year.
Deiter's shots in room 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel include ones showing Lennon strumming his acoustic guitar in his white pajamas, a shirtless, smiling Leary, and the couple being filmed eating breakfast.
Lennon and Ono held two bed-ins in 1969, a period when Lennon was transitioning out of the Beatles and into a role as a prominent peace activist. The events essentially boiled down to the newlyweds chatting up folks about peace from their hotel beds, but they allowed the ever-clever Lennon to be an idealist, a provocateur and an avant garde wiseguy all at the same time.
The first bed-in, immortalized in the Beatles' song "The Ballad of John and Yoko," was held at the Amsterdam Hilton. The second was supposed to be in New York City, but Lennon could not enter the United States because of a marijuana conviction.
The enduring moment of the Montreal bed-in was the recording of "Give Peace a Chance," with people in the room banging on tables, books, tables and ashtrays. Deiter's many shots of the recording include an image of the big poster on the wall that served as a cheat sheet with Lennon's lyrics: "... ragism, tagism, this-ism, that-ism."
Music producer Andre Perry, called out of the blue to record the song, recalls setting up his four-track recorder in a room with lousy acoustics and dozens of people singing and playing percussion, some quite badly.
"There were people with bells and people banging on all kinds of stuff and it was like a bit of a disaster," Perry said. "It sounded like a brawl, a little bit."
Perry said Lennon's energetic singing and strumming (aided by co-guitarist Smothers) was enough to make the tune. The producer later added extra voices and created a thumping beat by pounding a telephone directory.
Deiter also caught one of the strangest cultural confrontations of the decade when "Li'l Abner" cartoonist Al Capp stopped by, cheerfully introduced himself as a "Neanderthal fascist" and ridiculed the couple for several minutes.
Amid the constant hubbub, Deiter zeroed in on the couple at the center of the madness. Included are affecting images of Lennon sniffing a blossom and of the couple resting their heads on big white pillows and gazing at each other.
Exhibit curator Joan Athey said Deiter noticed the intense affection between John and Yoko and expressed it in his pictures.
"He captured that. Even though they were constantly surrounded by people, they were in this bubble," said Athey, author of new book about the photos, also called "Give Peace a Chance."
Athey said the weeklong assignment changed Deiter, who moved west to British Columbia and packed away the negatives. He lived see to some of his photos displayed in a Canadian museum before he suffered a fatal heart attack on Dec. 9, 2005, a day after commemorating the 25th anniversary of Lennon's death.
The exhibit debuted last month in Liverpool and runs at Bethel through Sept. 7.
On the Net