This is a transcript of a conversation between John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Timothy and Rosemary Leary at the Hotel Queen Elizabeth in Montreal on May 26, 1969 is fascinating.
Why that date? Well it was the venue for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s second ‘Bed-In’, the first being held in Amsterdam. This one was meant to be held in New York but because Lennon had a conviction for maijuana possession they couldn’t hold it in America. They then went to the Bahamas but that was to hot – oh the woes of being a wealthy pop star – so they took off to the rather cooler Montreal.
It was here that they recorded ‘Give Peace a Chance’ with some of their visitors such as Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory, Murray the K and psychedelic guru Timothy Leary.
However, Leary, being a man of full consciousness wanted a little more out of his trip, excuse the pun, and so recorded a conversation with Lennon and Ono about a variety of subjects and here is the transcript below.
The transcript was only found recently in an unmarked envelope in a box of miscellaneous papers by Leary archivist Michael Horowitz. The conversation begins with the finer points of teepee life, moves on to the effects of place on one’s state of mind, touches on both couples having found themselves on the wrong side of drug law enforcement and ends with Lennon and Leary comparing notes on how they use the media to convey their message:
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
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.]
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