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John Lennon memorial, the Imagine Peace Tower, was 40 years in the making

imaginepeacetowerIt all started with Yoko Ono’s 1964 book, Grapefruit, where she talked about her artistic concept of creating a lighthouse. Ono’s “Light House” further described in her 1965 “Architectural Works Sales List” was a “house constructed of light from prisms, which exists in accordance with the changes in the day.”

When her relationship started with John Lennon in 1967, Lennon asked Ono if she could build him a “Light House” in his garden like the one he had read about in her publication. Yoko explained to John that her idea was conceptual: “I’m convinced that one day, it could be built, but I don’t know how to do it,” she told him with a laugh.

Forty years later on October 9, 2007, a lighthouse called the Imagine Peace Tower was launched by Yoko Ono in collaboration with the city of Reykjavík, Iceland. The circular structure, located waterside on Videy Island off the north coast of Reykjavík, is a powerful ray of light that shoots up towards the sky. The wishing well shines every year between October 9, Lennon’s birthday, and December 8, the anniversary of his death and represents people’s wishes for world peace.

“Actually, this is an answered prayer because my first time in John’s house he talked about building a lighthouse. I never knew how to conceptualize that,” Yoko explained. “I never believed this could be reality.”

Due to the heavy expense and maintenance to keep the structure lit 365 days a year, Yoko decided to have the Imagine Peace Tower lit between the two most significant dates in Lennon’s life, in addition to a few other selected weeks throughout the year.

“I realized that, with contrasting the two symbolic dates, it gives an understanding of the shortness of life, and eternity of the spirit,” Ono said. “It reminds one how brief life can be and is significant even for those not into John Lennon’s life.”

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“Imagine Peace,” a phrase that symbolizes John and Yoko’s campaign for peace, is inscribed on this outdoor work of art in 24 different languages. One of the reasons Yoko chose to erect the tower in Iceland was because it is “a peaceful country with no military,” as reported by the Iceland Post.Perhaps her greatest work of art, the Imagine Peace Tower took Ono three years to develop with engineers in Iceland. As described in the official Imagine Peace Tower book, there are six mirrors “angled at 45 degrees which act as prisms” inside the wishing well, which when combined with the nine searchlights on the floor, result in a tower of light created from 15 beams.

At the 2007 unveiling on Lennon’s 67th birthday, Ono said she was convinced that John Lennon would have been pleased with the Tower. “I dedicate this light tower to John Lennon. My love for you is forever,” she said.

Yoko encourages everyone to send their wishes of peace to the Imagine Peace Tower via Twitter, e-mail or postcards. A webcam of the Tower is available for viewing at http://imaginepeacetower.com/
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Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, director Ron Howard attend 10th anniversary of The Beatles LOVE show in Las Vegas

On July 14, 2016, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and many more celebrities gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Beatles LOVE show by Cirque du Soleil. The audio and visual experience of the show has been revamped and enhanced to give the production a fresh look.

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Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach, Joe Walsh, Marjorie Bach; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

Giles Martin, who serves as audio producer of the show, said that 10 years ago, “we used a lot of cutting-edge technologies to put The Beatles music into a 2,000-seat space, 7,000 speakers in the room. But the technology now has moved on so much and the actual sound bit of the show we can improve.”
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The updated version of LOVE, which features a cast of 70 performers, includes advanced projection technology, new acrobatic acts, a remixed soundtrack with a new song (“Twist and Shout”), colorful costumes, brand new speakers and state-of-the-art video panels featuring The Beatles’ images.

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Paul and Ringo with the cast of The Beatles LOVE; July 14, 2016; Photo by MJ Kim

This is the fourth time in 10 years that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have publicly attended the show together. The first time was when the show opened in 2006, the second time was for the 1st anniversary in 2007, the third time was for the 5th anniversary in 2011, and now in 2016 for the 10th anniversary. Sadly, two members of the Beatles’ family who attended past celebrations have since passed away: George Martin and Cynthia Lennon. (see photos from the LOVE premiere in 2006)

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Paul McCartney and wife, Nancy; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

Also in attendance was Ron Howard, director of the upcoming documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, and he shared some insights on the making of his film which opens in September. He said he has interviewed Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr twice for the movie which documents The Beatles’ years on the road.

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Yoko Ono; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

“It’s kind of an adventure/survival story in a way,” Ron Howard explained in an exclusive interview on the red carpet. “I really wanted to take the audience inside the experience a little bit. It’s not something that’s just ‘here’s where they went’, it’s how and why things worked the way they did. I hope the added value of letting audiences understand really how intense the pressures were from the outside while they were going through all of this AND continuing to grow as artists in this remarkable way.”
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Giles Martin (left) and director Ron Howard at The Beatles LOVE 10th anniversary celebration; July 14, 2016; Photo by Trina Yannicos

 

When asked if he has always been a Beatles fan, Howard remarked:
“Always a fan, not encyclopedic, not a fanatic. So in a way I’m sort of speaking for that group of people who kind of thinks they know the story, and now I can turn to that crowd, maybe the millennials in particular, and say you know the music, you know the name The Beatles, and you know they were big, but you just have no idea really what the story was and the intensity of that journey – what it meant to culture and what it meant for these guys to live through it.”

Paul and Ringo posted their own photo together on Instagram celebrating the LOVE show’s 10th anniversary:
https://www.instagram.com/p/BH30Qc7AWEX/?taken-by=paulmccartney
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In Memoriam: Cynthia Lennon dies from cancer at age 75

It was announced on Wednesday April 1 that John Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia Lennon, passed away in Mallorca, Spain after a short battle with cancer.

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Julian and Cynthia Lennon at Beatles LOVE show premiere in Las Vegas in 2006. Photo by Shelley Germeaux for Daytrippin'

Julian and Cynthia Lennon at Beatles LOVE show premiere in Las Vegas in 2006. Photo by Shelley Germeaux for Daytrippin’

Cynthia met John Lennon at the Liverpool College of Art in 1958 and they soon began dating. She wrote about their relationship in her book, A Twist of Lennon (1978). She shared intimate details of their time together:
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“John and I in those early days would just sit opposite each other, hold each other’s hands under the formica table and gaze avidly into each other’s moon-struck eyes,” Cynthia said.
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A love letter from John to Cynthia was published in the recent book, The John Lennon Letters. John wrote an 8-page letter to Cynthia at Christmastime in 1958. He was 18 years old and gushing over and over of how much he loved her:
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“You are wonderful, I adore you, I want you, I love you, I need you, Don’t go, I love you, Happy Xmas, Merry Chrimbo, I love you, I love you, I love you, Cynthia… All I Want For Christmas Is You, Cyn”.
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A few years later as John was concentrating on his career as a Beatle, he and Cynthia decided to get married when they learned she was pregnant in 1962.
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Julian Lennon was born on April 8, 1963. The demands of touring during Beatlemania and the temptations from other women resulted in their marriage becoming strained.

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In 1968, Cynthia caught John and Yoko together at the house she shared with John. The subsequent split took a toll on the Beatle family with Paul McCartney writing a song of support and encouragement for Julian called “Hey Jude.” John and Cynthia’s divorce became final in November 1968.

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Cynthia Lennon at a book signing for "John" in New York, October 2005.

Cynthia Lennon at a book signing for “John” in New York, October 2005. Photo by Trina Yannicos.

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In 2005, Cynthia published another book about Lennon called John.
She talked about her marriage to Lennon in this interview promoting the book:

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Over the years, Cynthia appeared several times in public to support her son Julian at various Beatle-related events.

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In 2006, Cynthia and Julian attend the Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil premiere in Las Vegas.

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In 2010, Julian and Cynthia appear at the unveiling of the John Lennon Peace Monument in Liverpool.

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Cynthia Lennon was 75 years old. Julian Lennon has set up a memorial page for his mum at cynthialennon.memorial. He also posted a touching tribute for his mother on YouTube:

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“The news of Cynthia’s passing is very sad. She was a lovely lady who I’ve known since our early days together in Liverpool. She was a good mother to Julian and will be missed by us all, but I will always have great memories of our times together.”

– Paul McCartney

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‘Montreal’ Mystery Tour: Visiting the John Lennon Suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel

Recreating John and Yoko’s Bed-In for Peace
(a.k.a., ‘The Ballad of Jan and Wendy’)

Story and photos by Jan Owen

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Note: This article was originally posted on Daytrippin’s website in 2005. We’re re-posting it in honor of the 44th anniversary of John and Yoko’s Bed-In in Montreal in 1969.

My birthday was on May 23, a Monday this year (2005). A few weeks prior to that, “my better half” Wendy had mysteriously told me that, instead of celebrating the birthday the weekend before (May 21 & 22), she wanted me to “keep the Memorial Day weekend (May 28-30th) open – don’t book any gigs, OK? I’m going to take you on a little Magical Mystery Birthday Trip!” I couldn’t guess what it was and where it was going to be, but eventually Wendy had accidentally dropped a few hints, and I guessed it right:

As my BIG birthday gift, she secretly booked us a very, very special room at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, for that Memorial Day weekend: the very same room where John Lennon and Yoko Ono had their most famous “Bed-In” (36 years ago, to the week) – where “Give Peace a Chance” was recorded and filmed!!!!! I couldn’t believe it! I mean, earlier in the year, we stayed in the same room in Miami’s Deauville Hotel that was occupied by Paul and Ringo, in February of ’64 when The Beatles played the Sullivan show there, and now…this! Waayyyy cool! And if the above wasn’t enough: before our trip, on my actual Birthday, she gave me 1) expensive white pajamas like the ones John wore during the bed-in, 2) the DVD John and Yoko’s Year of Peace (which has all the Montreal footage, even with that A-hole Al Crapp, er, um, I mean, Al Capp, in it), and 3) a CD called “John Lennon: Bedism”, which has a lot of their press interviews from that week in 1969. So, we hadn’t even started on our trip, and I was already in “Beatles Heaven”.

Jan-LnnonSuiteBedroom4WebNeedless to say, Wendy and I had an AMAZING time in Montreal!! On Saturday, May 28th, at 1pm, we arrived at the luxurious Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, on le Boulevard Rene Levesque. We took the elevator to the 17th floor, and approached Room 1742, named “The John Lennon Suite”, at the end of a corridor. Just below the room # on the door, there was an elegant 6″x4″ silver plaque, on which were the embossed words, “John Lennon”. We slowly opened the door with anticipation. And feeling like Dorothy, as she opened the door to find a Technicolor Oz, our jaws practically dropped to the floor in awe: what a gorgeous suite, way beyond our expectations.

In the chandelier-lit foyer, the first thing our eyes set upon was a beautifully framed photo of a bearded, 28-year old Beatle, John Lennon. He sat, in white pajamas, upon the mattress that lay on this suite’s living room floor 36 years ago this week. His knees were up and hugged tight to his chest. He looked at once as wise as the proverbial “old man in the mountain” and as vulnerable as an orphaned child (that in a certain way, he indeed once was). It was a hard-to-describe moment for us, but wonderful nonetheless. There was a warmth and presence to the entire suite. The foyer was the hub connecting the complex of rooms. As we walked in from the corridor, to our left was the bathroom, all black marble (with his-and-hers bathrobes inside!). To our right was a good-sized kitchenette. The bedroom and living room were separated from the foyer by their own French (what else?) doors. The bedroom had a magnificent mahogany framed king-sized bed, and a huge TV. (BTW: this was a corner suite, so the bedroom looked out onto one boulevard, while the living room looked out onto that as well as the boulevard crossing it – quite a view). The entire suite was in a “modern-traditional” style (for lack of a better term – hey, what do I know?) — elegance from floor to ceiling! Very classy (I’m not going to tell you how much Wendy laid out for this one-day/night stay, but let’s put it this way……I don’t deserve her!).

Jan-GPACRedWallDisplay4WebThe walls of every room were lined with beautiful, lovingly framed and matted original photos – each one personally signed and numbered by the two photographers who were there 36 years ago – of John and Yoko, together in bed, being interviewed, lounging, and ones taken during the filming of “Give Peace a Chance”, with Tommy Smothers, a tripped-out Timothy Leary, and others. Yoko had handpicked these photos personally for this suite only!

And now, the “piéce de résistance”: over the couch, on the living room wall hung a huge (maybe 5’x4′), framed, glass-enclosed and tastefully designed display, commemorating the events of both the Bed-in and “GpaC” recording/filming. On a red felt backing, was a sweet color photo of John and Yoko lounging on the mattress they had moved from their bed to the living room floor. John gives the “peace” sign with both his fingers and his upraised feet, put together in a “V”. The photo was parenthesized by gold “GpaC” singles, and below that were the lyrics to the song. Below the lyrics was a small, engraved plaque, describing those musically historic events. Quite a centerpiece to the room, and to the suite itself. This room also had a huge couch, 3 or 4 luxurious chairs, a writing table and chair and it’s own giant-screened TV. We, of course, documented about every inch of each room (including close-up shots of each framed photograph), and filmed all our activities (well, not all of them, actually) on about 5 rolls of film (B & W and color), a digital camera and a camcorder. We didn’t miss a beat.

The service at the Queen Elizabeth was lightning-quick, and the entire staff was very friendly, and they waited on us hand and foot – – this is the first time in our lives that Wendy and I felt like royalty! Within no more than 20 minutes of our being in the room, the doorbell rang (the suite even had a doorbell, can you believe it?!), and a bellman brought us champagne in a bucket of ice, and a basket of exotic fruits (mango, kiwi, papaya, bananas, etc). Wendy laughed when I said I thought they were plastic!

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I looked around the suite and thought, “Hmmm, what’s wrong with this picture?” Of course! Wendy and I could tell, from the print-outs of the John & Yoko Bed-in photos we had brought along for reference, that they had slept not in their bedroom, but on a mattress moved into the living room, by the radiator and big picture window. Well, can you guess what happens next? That’s right – – After a gentle bout of begging and pleading with Wendy (she didn’t really mind, and warmed up to the idea quickly, actually – always an adventurer at heart, like me). I asked 2 bellmen (thanks Jacques, and especially Patrick &endash; you rule, dude!) to come up to the suite, take our very big and heavy mattress off our bed, drag it into the living room and drop it on the floor by the radiator and huge picture window, which they did with devilish glee. They put that mattress down onto the exact spot where John and Yoko slept (etc, etc), entertained reporters and guests (and suffered fools like Al Capp), and, of course, sang and filmed the monumentally important and historic “Give Peace a Chance”!! And we soon realized that the other reason why John and Yoko probably moved the mattress there (I forget what the first one was, ha ha) was that it afforded them (and us, 36 years later) a birds-eye view of the beautiful city of Montreal: the bright lights of the le Boulevard Rene Levesque, and the green basilicas of the old Roman Catholic Church below. We even witnessed the taking of the post-wedding photos of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s son and his lovely bride, complete with a white Rolls Limo, and Royal Canadian Mounties with swords raised high, as an “archway” for the bride and groom to descend the outside church steps. Pretty cool, unexpected “icing” on this already wonderful “cake”, eh?

Jan-LvngRmFullWideReszdDuring our stay, we did what J & Y did: we never ventured out to explore Montreal, we stayed in the hotel the whole time, mostly in our white PJ’s, reading newspapers, eating fruit, talking (“in our beds for a week” – well, one day, actually), watching some TV and doing other things, of course.

Now, you know that, as both a singer/guitarist and Beatles/Lennon freak, I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity: to play and sing “Give Peace a Chance” in that very room, in bed on that very spot! So, I magic-markered some peace slogans on small 16″x12″ construction paper, and scotch-taped them to the big window above the radiator behind our “bed-on-the-floor”. I also (as John had done, unbeknownst to most) wrote out the lyrics to “GPAC” onto a big piece of oak tag, and taped it to the front of the living room TV, so I could see the words from the bed (just as John had done – I always thought he had the words memorized). We set the camcorder on a table, Wendy assumed the lotus position next to me on the bed, and I whipped out my…guitar (get yer thoughts out of the gutter!).

Of course, you know what’s next, re: the singing of the song, but there was a cool little back-story twist to this. Initially, I was planning to round up strangers from other rooms, the elevator, lobby, etc, to come to our suite and sing along for our own little videotaped “happening”. But there were two problems with that: first, unfortunately, the high pollen count in Canada at the time played nasty on Wendy’s throat, making it hard to eat or drink. She was in considerable discomfort for most of the time (I felt so sorry for her. She, of all people, should have been able to enjoy every second of this trip! Soooo unfair!), and didn’t know if she was getting a cold or maybe strep throat. So I really didn’t want to drag a bunch of people into the room. Also, as she had pointed out to me, if all the folks we found didn’t know “Give Peace a Chance” by heart (or weren’t Beatles fans), the “event” could have turned into a train wreck. So she suggested this: “Why don’t you bring the CD player [the hotel provided for our room] over beside the bed, play the CD of the original song [which, being the good little Beatlles fan, I brought along on our trip, to play in the car], and you play along live with your guitar and sing – this way it’ll be like you’re singing with John, Yoko and their friends.” Perfect – we did just that! Wendy, of course, couldn’t sing because of her throat, so she mimed along and swayed with me to the primordial beat of the song. I pressed Play on the CD, and we sang our hearts out, accompanying the voices of 36 years ago – in the same city, hotel, room and upon a mattress on the exact same spot as John & Yoko & Co. Ah, what a wonderful thing to experience, a great, happy, positive vibe!!

Jan&W&LnnonSuiteDoor4WebWe had a wonderful dinner that Saturday night in the hotel’s restaurant, then checked out its shops (and a bit of the underground mall, where Wendy bought me a cool Rubber Soul-looking brown suede jacket, to go with the Liverpool-made brown suede Beatle Boots she surprised me with at the NJ Beatlefest in April! – did I mention that I am a very lucky guy, and I don’t deserve her?). Up in the mammoth hotel lobby, we tracked down a bellman that was working there back in ’69, when John and Yoko stayed there. His name is Andre, a delightful gentleman, a veritable human wellspring of stories and anecdotes (much like someone else, ha ha). Although he never had direct interaction with J & Y, he told some interesting tales of some of the other visitors to the Queen Elizabeth: like the Queen Mother herself, Tony Bennett, Charlton Heston and even Marlon Brando! And Patrick (my happy co-conspirator in “The Case of the Moved Mattress” from earlier in the day) secretly handed me the very last (a handful of about 10) of an extremely limited stock of the special commemorative “John & Yoko Bed-in Anniversary” post cards the hotel had specially printed. As I said, the people who work in the Queen Elizabeth are a cool and very special breed – this is such an honored and special job, that most of them make a lifetime career of it, if they can.

Later that night, as we prepared for bed, we turned on the TV in the living room, and were treated to a funny surprise. On TV, totally by coincidence, the local station was showing, of all things, ‘A Hard Days Night’ – but spoken in French [La Nuit D’un Jour Dur], which was a kick to watch and listen to (Paul, re his grandfather: “Il est très proper.”). The songs were sung in English, though. We had, as George said, in AHDN, “a giggle”.

The next morning a waiter rolled a white-cloth-covered table into the room and served us the absolute, most sumptuous, breakfast either of us has ever had in our lives! Everything on that table was THE freshest and finest looking/tasting thing a person could ever hope to eat: crepes, sausages, poached eggs, ham, croissants, muffins, bacon, fresh fruits, inch-thick-but-airy-and-light wheat toast (like in that Little Rascals episode with Spanky, Scotty Moore, the jar of jelly and the inch-thick bread), imported jellies, soft whipped butter, fresh-squeezed juices, coffee, tea – – we absolutely felt like Royalty! Funnily enough, that breakfast remains on both Wendy’s and my “Top Three” of the list of the 10 best things we loved about our stay in Montreal, ha ha. But, damn, the breakfast was simply that amazingly good!

Soon it was time to check out, and, to be honest, it was quite a depressing feeling for us (like what Cinderella felt, when her horse-drawn coach turned back into a pumpkin at midnight). I mean, we both wished we were millionaires and could stay in that suite of rooms forever! Wendy and I never did this before, but we actually (and pathetically, ha) waved a sad goodbye to the room, before closing the door with the silver “John Lennon” plaque on it, behind us. (The words to the chorus of Ringo’s song, “Photograph” come to mind at the moment). But in our hearts and minds, a part of us will always be there – as we knew a part of John somehow was still there the very moment we first stepped foot in that marvelous suite (and at the moment I toppled from that chair!). And I think he always will be. Thanks eternally, Wendy, for the inspiringly memorable “Magical Montreal Mystery Tour” you gave me for my birthday!!

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Jan Owen is a singer/songwriter who does a great Beatles one-man show! Jan’s highly acclaimed one-man ‘Fab Fouray’ show features songs that would be challenging enough for a four-piece band, let alone a solo guitarist. Jan has performed all over the world including Buenos Aires, Moscow, Prague, London, New York, Woodstock and of course, Liverpool. Check out his website at www.janowen.com

For more Beatles travel stories, return to our Beatles Travel page


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Review: The John Lennon Letters is a collector’s and historian’s dream book

The John Lennon Letters is a fascinating document to Beatles history. Not only does it provide entertainment for Beatles/Lennon fans, it also offers a rare insight into the mind of John Lennon unlike any biography has been able to offer. In addition, the book provides a historical account of actual letters in existence, which is valuable information for Beatles memorabilia collectors.

The John Lennon Letters, compiled and edited by Beatles biographer Hunter Davies, includes letters that Lennon wrote throughout his lifetime, spanning from his childhood years all the way up until the last years of his life. Some letters are surprising in their sentimentality like the 8-page love letter Lennon wrote to his then girlfriend, Cynthia Powell, while they were attending art school together. Not so surprising may be some sarcastic, biting letters like the typewritten letter to Todd Rundgren in 1974 or the “John rant” that was addressed to Paul and Linda McCartney in 1971.

All in all, the collection of almost 300 letters, notes and doodles compiled together in book form is a feat in itself. Davies, with permission from Yoko Ono, contacted all the people he knew of (friends of The Beatles and collectors) who had a letter from John Lennon in their possession. Each letter is reprinted in its physical form, with Lennon’s handwriting then reprinted in text format. Davies also offers historical context surrounding each of the letters in this almost 400-page volume.

While some may believe owning entertainment memorabilia is more for investment purposes, the importance of collecting and preserving personal items of famous musicians and actors adds a lot to learning the history of the performer. The downside is that these documents or artifacts are often kept hidden in private collections and are never seen by the general public. Surely many Beatles and Lennon biographers would have loved to have had access to all of these letters while they were writing their books.

In recent years, artifacts once owned by The Beatles have often been uncovered for the first time revealing new facts regarding Beatles history. That’s why The John Lennon Letters, and books like Ringo Starr’s 2004 book, Postcards from the Boys, are such a gift to Beatles historians and collectors. Davies said in a recent interview that his next book will be a compilation of original handwritten Beatles lyrics. No doubt that forthcoming book will also add to the scholarship of the Beatles legacy just like The John Lennon Letters does.

–Trina Yannicos

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Yoko Ono’s An Invisible Flower is first book offering from Sean Lennon’s Chimera Library

A new illustrated story by Yoko Ono called An Invisible Flower has been released. The story and drawings were created when Yoko was only 19 years old. By chance, son Sean Lennon discovered these drawings in his mother’s archives in her apartment. He explains in the introduction to the book that he thought this story would be “a good beginning for Chimera Library.”

Written in 1952, An Invisible Flower is a simple, yet powerful depiction of how imagination can save people during stressful times. Ono writes in the afterword that the story was inspired during her time as a child when she was evacuated to the Japanese countryside during World War II.

In the story, she is comforted by the fact that a flower that only she can see can also be seen by a mysterious friend named ‘Smelty John.’ Seems like this may have been a foreshadowing of Yoko meeting Sean’s Dad, John Lennon, 14 years later.

While the illustrations are quite childlike, the concept of imagination flows strongly through this piece, tying in with Yoko’s lifelong body of art which constantly asks people to “Imagine,” most famously inspiring John Lennon’s legendary song, now played every New Year’s Eve in Times Square before the ball drops.

Yoko Ono, now 79 years old, currently has an art exhibition, Yoko Ono: To The Light, on display in London at the Serpentine Gallery. She is encouraging everyone to contribute a picture of them smiling to her new project, #smilesfilm. You can upload your picture via Twitter or Instagram (http://www.smilesfilm.com).

Chimera is a record label and publishing company founded by Sean Lennon. For more information, visit http://chimeramusic.com/

–Trina Yannicos

You can enter to win a copy of An Invisible Flower in our Summer 2012 Beatles Giveaway through August 31.

For more Beatles news, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


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Exclusive interview: Director of ‘U.S. vs. John Lennon’ and ‘Who is Harry Nilsson’, John Scheinfeld, discusses John Lennon, Yoko Ono and his new film on Elvis

Writer/director John Scheinfeld wrote, directed and produced the acclaimed documentaries The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?.

RLF Victor Productions Ltd. recently pegged the Emmy and Grammy nominee to direct Fame & Fortune, an adaptation of the 2007 best-selling book Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business written by Sonny West, (Elvis’s bodyguard and confidant) with biographer Marshall Terrill. Fame & Fortune is slated for theatrical release in 2012 to coincide with the 35th anniversary of Presley’s death.

In this exclusive interview with Daytrippin’, Scheinfeld discusses working on the John Lennon and Harry Nilsson films, his dealings with Yoko Ono and how the greatest rock ‘n’ roll summit in history  between Elvis and the Beates will be the centerpiece of his new feature film.

Q: What made you want to do The U.S. vs. John Lennon and why did you zero in on that one aspect of Lennon’s life?

JS: It is very rare to find a largely unknown story about someone as famous as John Lennon. When the information was de-classified in 1997 I remember thinking, “I had no idea.” The reason, of course, is that what the US government tried to do to John Lennon was done in secret. Due to the efforts of Jonathan Weiner, a professor at the University of California – Irvine, we have a very full picture of what happened. I was totally fascinated as was my colleague David Leaf. We did a treatment and for seven years we tried to sell this as a theatrical documentary and got a lot of “Who cares?” That surprised us and then we put it on a shelf for a while. Then it turned out that in a post 9/11, post-Iraq world, people began to see the relevance of a story which, at its heart, had an unpopular war…a president who lied to the country…and that if you protested the government came after you. Does that sound familiar?! Although ours was a story rooted in the past, it had a great many parallels to what was going on in the new Millennium. We had meetings set up at numerous studios to start pitching it again. Our very first one was with Lionsgate and, literally, they did not let us out of the room. They said, “We want to make this.” We were an example of good things come to those who wait. The working experience with Lionsgate was tremendous and we got to make the movie we wanted to make. It’s a project of which I am really proud.

Q: How were your dealings with Yoko Ono?

JS: We first reached out to her attorney, Jonas Herbsman, and told him what we’d like to do and this is how we’d like to do it. He liked the idea and set up a meeting with Yoko. She gave us her blessing after that initial meeting, but not her complete participation. I think she needed to see from us that we had integrity and that we were going to do what we said we were going to do. I believe she’s had some experiences where that was not the case. I knew that she had an archive of very rare material, including film and photographs, and I wanted access to it. In all of my documentaries I want to present the most rare and little-seen audio-visual material possible, not just the stuff you’ve seen in dozens of other documentaries.

So we went to see her at The Dakota and showed her more of a rough cut than we ordinarily would have. It was running obscenely long, close to three hours, and there were lots of holes in it where it said, “Photo here” or “Film clip here.” As you know, when you walk in, you have to step over the place where John Lennon was shot and killed, which is a bit creepy Then we were ushered up to the apartment, had to take our shoes off when we got inside and went into the kitchen. There was a big 50-inch TV up on the wall and Jonas Herbsman is there, who is a great guy. We were chatting and then Yoko walks in. She doesn’t really say hello or good morning, or offers us any coffee or tea and sort of says, “Lets go.” We put in the DVD and it plays. All the way through, she’s taking notes on a little pad. My heart is dropping into my stomach and I’m convinced she hates it. When it finishes, nobody says a word. Then she turned to me and said what she later said publicly, “Of all the documentaries made about John, this is the one he would have loved.” From that moment, the doors opened and we were given access to the archive. I don’t think a day or two would go by where Yoko or one of her staff would call and say, “You need to see this” or “Yoko wants you to have that.” There was so much cool stuff in the archive that really helped make the film special. Also, it was really gratifying to have earned her trust.

Q: What are some of the materials you are referring to?

JS: Well, from 1969 to 1972 it was, in effect, the John and Yoko Reality Show. They had a camera crew following them around capturing their various activities, concerts, meetings, protests, even just walking around New York City. That provided a wealth of great material for us. There’s also a wonderful moment in an interview segment in which Yoko describes her favorite moment during the Bed-In. She recalled that it was late at night, all their handlers had gone, the press had gone, it was just John and Yoko alone in the hotel room together. It was a beautiful night, there was a full moon in the sky and John turns to her and says, “Isn’t this great? Here we are promoting world peace and love and we have both.” And I turned to Jonas and said, “That’s in the movie!” and we all laughed. The reason I’m telling you this is that we needed some footage to illustrate the story. John and Yoko had their own camera crew at the Bed-In and they shot some lovely, lovely footage of them in bed together. It was tender and so sweet and showed that the love affair between them was so strong. But it was in that archive that we found that footage to illustrate that moment.

There was some also some footage of them dancing alone on a street in lower Manhattan and we found a way to use it creatively. There are many similar moments in the film, but it could not have happened without Yoko opening up her archive to me. She also had dozens and dozens of rare photographs that had never been seen before. We augmented all of this with our own treasure trove that found by casting a wide net around the world.

There are two pieces of film we found that I’m really proud of: one is from Vienna in 1969 when John and Yoko came there to do an event. The press turned out in full force and entered a room to find John and Yoko in a white cloth bag. We read about this but had never seen it. An Austrian TV network found a roll of footage that had never been developed in their vault. I think we showed it for the first time. Then there was a piece of footage that eluded us for a very long time. After John won his case against the U.S. government, he was interviewed on the steps of the New York courthouse in July of 1976. I knew what he said because the New York Times quoted him, but we couldn’t find film or video anywhere. All the archivists at various news organizations told us that it didn’t either exist or had been destroyed a long time ago. I’m fairly relentless when it comes to tracking down material and wouldn’t accept no for an answer. I knew what day the immigration case ended, so we went back to the archive and asked what footage they had shot that day. Bingo! In a far corner of the CBS archive was a 20-minute roll of film that had been developed, but was never used. There was John receiving his green card in an office and then there was footage of him being interviewed outside the court. In answer to a question he offered up a typical Lennon witticism that ended up getting one of the biggest laughs in the movie (I won’t tell you what it was – go see the movie!). Lennon knows he’s saying something funny and he winked at the camera, so I froze on the wink. Our film wouldn’t have been the same without that moment. It’s these little pieces of footage that you don’t expect to find that make all the difference in the world.

Q: What were on Yoko’s notes?

JS: Funny you should ask – she never shared them with me. She could have been making up a grocery list for all I know (laughs). Over time she had a few notes, but nothing major. She was extremely supportive of our vision. I remember at one point she said, “I think you have too much of me in the film.” This was great – she wasn’t your typical Hollywood star who would say, “There needs to be more of me.” I do remember, sometime later, that I was struggling with how to end the film. I was talking to Yoko about something unrelated, when she started to speak about how it felt to have her husband there one minute, she turns, and then he’s gone. His murder was so sad and unexpected – they never had a chance to say “Goodbye.” I thought it was a very poignant and emotional thing for her to share. This was a very profound moment for me…and gave me the idea for a new ending that would be emotional and yet inspire.

Q: Yoko has historically been a closed off person who rarely shows any emotion, but you could see in the clips of her and John, there was a great affection for one another.

JS: It’s interesting you say that because, when we started, we didn’t intend the John and Yoko love story to be a significant part of the film. However, the more time I spent with her and with people in her world, it became so clear that this was truly an extraordinary love story. You can see it, hear it, you can feel it and it was very clear it needed to be a more important part of the movie. It added so much emotion and heart to the film…and touched me deeply…to see just how much they really and truly loved each other.

Q: To me, the real star of the film was Lennon’s immigration attorney, Leon Wildes. He was so poignant and told the best anecdote in the film. Tell me about him.

JS: I conducted the interview in New York where Leon still practices. Here’s what I found most interesting – John and Yoko didn’t go to a radical left-wing lawyer – they went to a very conservative attorney whose specialty was immigration matters. The U.S. government wanted to deport him and they went with the attorney who they felt best could deal with that situation. At the time, Leon only vaguely knew who John Lennon was, but as things progressed, he developed great respect and a special relationship with John and Yoko. Early on John asked Leon, “So what do you think? Can we win?” Leon told him, “I think this case is a loser.” John asked why and Leon said his opinion was based on his prior experience in similar cases. But Leon had found some interesting wrinkles in the case and in the law that enabled him to formulate a creative strategy. Eventually, he filed suit against the government and, amazingly, won. I think it was his brilliance as an attorney that took what should have been a routine case and found a way to score a big win for his clients. Nice man and a very good memory for the atmosphere of the times.

Q: What kind of reaction did the film receive?

JS: When you make a film, you spend far too many hours in a small dark editing room hoping you’re doing good work, but you never really know until it’s released and people see it. From the premiere at the Venice Film Festival, to debut screenings at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals there was a buzz about the film. People were responding to it and it was resonating with them in a powerful way. It wasn’t just a story about a rock ‘n’ roller – the issues we were dealing with – freedom of speech, government abuse of power, the futility of some wars – plus the courage of John Lennon and Yoko Ono to stand up to the government as a true life David and Goliath story — all of these things hit a chord with people. And not just in the United States. The movie played in theatres all over the world and it has proven to have a strong afterlife on DVD. To this day, I still get emails and Facebook messages from people who are just now discovering the film, which I find very gratifying.

Q: Let’s discuss your follow-up film, Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everyone Talkin’ About Him…)? How did that idea come about?

JS: The attorney for the Nilsson estate, Lee Blackman, had seen some of my work and asked if I’d be interested in doing a documentary about Harry. Now, I’d known Harry’s music since my college days — I’d play his records on my morning radio show at Oberlin College. The interesting thing is that the first song I’d heard of Harry’s was “You Can’t Do That.” It took me by surprise because I was expecting just another bad cover of a Beatles song. I was wrong! It turned out to be Harry’s brilliant creation – a song of his own that wove together the titles of many songs by the Fab Four. On his early albums, you can hear a very strong Beatles influence. In fact, as far as Harry was concerned, the Beatles were the only band of consequence. So imagine Harry’s delight when his heroes bring his music to the attention of the world and, later, become his friends.

So…after doing a considerable amount of research I felt that Harry’s was a compelling story that needed to be told. Lee found independent financing for the film and went on to become our Executive Producer. We made it betwixt and between other projects. There was a rough cut ready around Christmas 2005 and the head of the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Roger Durling, heard about it and after seeing it said, “I’ve just gotta have this and show it at our film festival.” We liked the idea as a way to test the film in front of an audience and to build some buzz. So my editor, Peter Lynch, and I finished a cut just for the festival. It turned out to be a wonderful night. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was there as was Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night, Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, and May Pang, who hung out with Harry and John Lennon during “The Lost Weekend” period, flew in from New York. We got great reviews in Daily Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Leonard Maltin loved it, and all of a sudden, people were talking about our little movie.

We planned to release it theatrically in late 2006/early 2007, but we ran into some unexpected issues regarding the master recordings in the film. There are bits and pieces of 60 songs in the movie – a lot for any film much less a documentary. As a result, the film was in limbo for a few years. Eventually, everything was resolved and Pete and I went back into the editing room and properly finished the film. The world premiere was at the Cinema Village Theater in New York in September 2010 and we played there for three weeks, which for a documentary is amazing. Even more exciting, we got seriously great reviews from most major publications and influential critics. Icing on the review cake was a full-page column in Entertainment Weekly by Stephen King. What an honor that he would pay attention to our “little film that could,” not to mention rave about it!

Q: You’ve got some big names for Who Is Harry Nilsson? but Ringo Starr’s absence is felt. Why did he not grant you an interview?

JS: We tried every which way to get Ringo to talk on camera. What came back to us each time was that there are three people he just does not feel comfortable talking about in person: John Lennon, George Harrison and Harry Nilsson. It’s just too emotional for him and I totally respect his feelings on the matter. Ringo was, however, tremendously supportive of the film including providing us with photos and making it possible to use Son of Drac, a film that Ringo and Harry made in the early 1970s but has been locked away in a London vault since 1974. At the end of the day, we were happy to have his support and understood the decision he made. Sometime later we had heard that he saw the film and liked it but thought some things were missing from the story. And I said to myself, “Yeah, Ringo, you were missing…” (laughs).

Q: Fame & Fortune, the first ever big screen biopic on Elvis Presley, will be your foray into features and continues your examination of pop culture icons. What drew you to this particular project?

JS: I had been approached by the producers, Ricki and Cindy Friedlander of RLF Victor Productions. They had optioned the 2007 book called Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business written by Sonny West and Marshall Terrill. I saw it as a “buddy movie” – about the extraordinary friendship between two guys that played out over a 16 year-period and how that friendship was impacted by fame and fortune. This was of great interest to me. I like to use the analogy of “The King’s Speech” – a film that was about many things, but at its heart is about a journey taken together by two friends. In addition, I really liked the idea that this would not be an Elvis biopic – that’s been done many times on television – but, rather, was a unique window into the world of Elvis Presley as experienced by someone who was there. The Friedlanders had developed a script and were looking to bring on a director to bring a filmic vision to the material and to rewrite the script to match that vision. I understand that they talked to a lot of directors, most of whom had far more feature film experience than I did. But, as Ricki says, they kept coming back to me because they believed that I had a real affinity for rock icons and everything that comes with it, that I really understood the rock and roll experience, the pressures and temptations affecting a young man eager to express himself creatively, the roller coaster ride of fame and fortune and personal excess that can overwhelm an artist. And I do. I feel very comfortable with that world and so began many long conversations during which Ricki, Cindy and I discussed the changes I wanted make in the script, how I saw the film, how I saw casting, how I saw the story playing out and how I would treat the characters and character arcs. Happily, we were on the same page creatively. I believe they also made a lot of calls to all kinds of people asking what it was like to work with me and finally they took a leap of faith and brought me onboard. I couldn’t be more excited and appreciative.

Q: You said something very profound in an earlier interview that summed up Presley in a sentence, and that was, “What do you do when all of your dreams come true by the age of 20?” Is that the premise of the film?

JS: I don’t think that’s the actual premise of the film, although it will be an aspect of Elvis’ character that will be portrayed. I’ve seen a number of the made-for-television movies about Elvis, going back to the Kurt Russell miniseries in 1979.  In my opinion, they have tended to concentrate on the more sensationalistic aspect of Elvis’ life and, more often than not, he comes off as a caricature. I think that does a real disservice to a great artist. What I want to do with this film is take Elvis out of the tabloids where he’s been for far too long and show him as a fully-realized, complex, three-dimensional human being. I want to recognize the remarkable achievements without apologizing for the man. Sonny’s experience with Elvis allows us a very unique window into that world and enables us to present stories that are largely unknown to the average person. To be sure, it was a roller-coaster journey for Elvis, personally and professionally. There were demons he was battling his entire life as well as a streak of self-destructive behavior that eventually contributed to his untimely passing. But none of that should undercut the remarkable achievements of the man, and that’s what we will show in our film.

Q: Will you chronicle when the Beatles met Elvis in August 1965?

JS: Absolutely! Many rock ‘n’ roll historians don’t even pay attention to this meeting, but to me, the night the Beatles came to meet Elvis, was a very significant event. And the reason why I believe it’s a significant event is that it was the past (Elvis) colliding head-on with the future (The Beatles). This to me was a pivotal moment in which he came face-to-face with the artists who had replaced him at the top of the rock ‘n’ roll ladder. That had to be an extremely humbling experience, not to mention causing him to do some serious self-examination. That, in my opinion, makes for great drama.

I have read at least six different accounts of what happened that night…and they don’t all agree. How could the people who claim to have been there remember things so differently? Some thought they jammed on rock oldies, others said they didn’t. Some remembered Elvis greeting the Beatles at the door, others say that never happened. So where did the truth lie? Then I came across an interview with John Lennon in which he described in some detail…and with great enthusiasm…what happened that night. Having spent so much time in the world of Lennon, I know that he had a tendency to pooh-pooh things, to downplay their significance. So, for him to speak of this event in such detail and with such excitement, I had no doubt his was the true account. Then I went back and read Sonny’s book and, what do you know, his account, while not identical, is very close to Lennon’s. So, to my way of thinking, this shows that Sonny has a great eye for detail, a good memory, and is a reliable teller of the truth. I am loving writing this scene. The result, I hope, will be truly magical and joyous moment in which the audience will be a fly on the way watching the interaction – personal and musical – between Elvis and the Beatles.

Q: Did you find it mildly amusing and ironic in your case, that it was John Lennon’s imitation of Peter Sellers, (Editor’s note: Scheinfeld directed The Unknown Peter Sellers in 2000) that eventually broke the ice with Elvis? 

JS: You know, that was one of the great things that I had learned while doing the research. I had no idea! (laughs) I knew the Beatles loved Peter Sellers and listened religiously to his avant-garde radio show in England, The Goon Show. How cool, therefore, that Lennon and Elvis find common ground in one of Sellers greatest characterizations – Dr. Strangelove. And not just the unique voice, but the hysterical moment when the good doctor is strangled by his own gloved-hand. According to Lennon’s and Sonny’s account, once the ice was broken, these great artists appreciating each other, having a good time, sharing some stories of what it was like to be on the road, dealing with fans and a pressure-filled career to the point where they could relate to each other in a way that few others could. Some writers tell of mutual animosity as a result of this rock and roll summit meeting, but I do not believe that was the case. From my point of my view, Elvis was thinking more in terms of what was happening with his career and the choices he made…or the choices thrust upon him.

Q: What’s most interesting is that it’s taken almost 35 years for Elvis’ story to make it to the big screen. Why do you think it’s taken that long to get to this point?

JS: I think the first thing to make clear here is that we’re not doing The Elvis Presley Story. We are doing Fame & Fortune, which is the Sonny West story. In so many ways, that’s what really intrigued me because we have a very distinct point of view of Elvis. I like the notion of someone being off to the side and seeing everything through his eyes. That to me will make for very compelling drama. I don’t know why there hasn’t been a feature film about Elvis in the 34 years since his death. That’s a question that only Elvis Presley Enterprises can answer. At the end of the day, I want to make a powerful, emotional and highly entertaining film that transcends mere biography, one that celebrates one of the most important musical legacies in pop music while staying true to the spirit of a rock icon and the love his fans have for him.

For more information about the movie, check out the Fame & Fortune website at http://rlfvictorproductions.com/index.php?p=fame

Fame & Fortune Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FameandFortuneMovie

Fame & Fortune Twitter page: http://www.twitter.com/FameFortuneFilm

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