Peace gets another chance
100 Quebec musicians return to Room 1742, Queen Elizabeth Hotel, to recapture the magic
- and repeat the plea - 35 years after historic Lennon-Ono bed-in and song session

Bernard Perusse
The Montreal Gazette
June 2, 2004

All they are saying ... Amnesty International's Montreal division will receive all proceeds from the sale of a new recording of Give Peace a Chance, done yesterday in the same room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel where, 35 years ago yesterday, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and friends made music history with the original song.

After 35 years, only serious Beatlemaniacs have a clue what the word "bagism" in Verse One of Give Peace a Chance means - but everybody sure remembers the chorus.

It filled the hall outside Room 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel yesterday, just as it did when John Lennon, Yoko Ono and their makeshift Plastic Ono Band recorded the original single on June 1, 1969 - the last day of their week-long bed-in in Montreal. Once again, the room's window was adorned with signs reading "Hair Peace" and "Bed Peace," as roughly 100 Quebec singers and musicians filed into the room, in separate groups, to record a new version of the peace anthem. All proceeds from the single, expected in July, will go to Amnesty International Canada's French-speaking division in Montreal.

For Justin Trudeau, the project's honorary chairperson, memories of his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, also filled the room. About seven months after recording the song, Lennon met with the senior Trudeau, then prime minister. "If there were more leaders like Mr. Trudeau, the world would have peace," the chief Beatle exclaimed after the encounter.

"This event certainly echoes my dad's belief in peace and the need to go and get it. It certainly made them connect well, him and John," Justin Trudeau said.

"The message is so important and still relevant - and it's great to have it renewed with all these fresh artists and great energy."

Like most participants in yesterday's celebration, Trudeau said the Amnesty International connection convinced him to take part.

"Having Amnesty so central gives it the depth and legitimacy that allows people to know that it's not about making money for personal gain. It's about drawing awareness to where it's needed most. People have faith in Amnesty."

Singer-songwriter David Usher flew in for the day from New York City to sing. In spite of the oppressive heat - the air conditioning in the room was turned off to avoid interfering with the recording - Usher was beaming.

"We're at a time when Amnesty International asks you to do something, you do it." Talking about the conflicts and rights abuses that keep Amnest occupied, he said, "It's become very obvious that there's a right and a wrong to this, and you have to speak up."

Recapturing the inspired anarchy of the original, however, was more difficult. "You can't capture that spontaneity - and I don't really think the event is about that. It's much more about trying to say that we're still concerned about the same things we were then, and people still have to speak out about them. But there's organized chaos here, which I like. If there's a spirit of John Lennon here, maybe that's it."

Rocker Antoine Gratton, appropriately wearing a Lennon-ish white suit, was clearly overwhelmed by the weight of history. Though the 24-year-old singer was not yet born when the original was waxed, he's a Beatles fan. "It feels soooo weird. I'm freaking out," he said. "People know they're coming here for peace and that it was John Lennon's message. It's still relevant and this is still something that we need to do. It's not just another remake."

Singer Coral Egan said she saw the occasion as an opportunity for artists to share ideas. "One of the perks of being an artist is being able to be part of something like this. Politics are linked to art. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are role models and I think more and more people are thinking that there's something they can do to help," she said.

New Brunswick singer Lina Boudreau said she was too young to be aware of the bed-in while it was happening: "It's sort of like a myth, but the message hasn't changed," she said. "We know this won't bring peace on earth, but we all know that one little action from people does make a difference."

Blues guitarist Bob Walsh said he was swayed by both the spirit of Lennon and Amnesty. "There's not enough support for (Amnesty) and it's the least I can do for them," he said. "The importance of this is that the money from the sales of the CD will go to Amnesty International."

Robert Harrison of Amnesty International Canada said the recording was the biggest event of Give Peace a Chance week, which was sanctioned by the city of Montreal and kicked off May 26 with a one-week exhibition and sale of unpublished bed-in photos in the Queen Elizabeth lobby.

"We're getting a positive response from musicians here today. We got the same response from Yoko Ono originally. It ends up being automatic for people to realize the importance of the work we do. The support we get from artists is precious to us, because it provides us with publicity and recognizability that you could never get any other way," Harrison said.

Citing the organization's need to maintain complete independence to criticize when needed, Harrison sang the praises of artists who help Amnesty find a source of revenue with no strings attached.

Bruno Pelletier, Jorane, Cassiopee and Gioaria were among the other artists present or scheduled to take part in yesterday's recording.

The Gazette (Montreal) 2004

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