Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I met the Walrus

Many of you have heard about the short film and book written by Jerry Levitan called "I met the Walrus" about how he met John and Yoko in 1969 and interviewed John. That interview turned into a short film that is pretty well known because its interesting animation. I found the full story about his meeting with John and I wanted to post it. The top photo I had posted before but I didn't realize who was in the photo, plus this one is larger and clearer. The bottom photo is Jerry today sitting by his John Lennon wall. I believe if you look closely, you will see other photos of John taken on that day. He also has some video footage that was shot. Wow!
So, it’s a Sunday night, I’m 14 and I’m taking a shower and listening to CHUM fm, which was sort of the only game in town. It was the type of station where for a half an hour a DJ would play the side of an album and have a very chill voice. After one of the songs, the DJ said, "Somebody just claimed he spotted John Lennon at the airport, we'll check it out and get back to you in a bit."

That was all I needed to hear, I was on a mission.

I got out of the shower and started calling all the hotels in Toronto. I called the Royal York hotel and said "Hello, is John Lennon there?" They checked and said, "No, he’s not." The thing is, when I called them, the people weren’t presuming it was John Lennon of the Beatles. So, when I called the King Edward hotel and they hung up on me in response, I knew that was it.
The next morning I didn’t go to school. I dressed in a way I thought a reporter would look (but clearly I was not a reporter.) I grabbed my brother's Super 8 video camera, but didn’t know how to operate it and didn’t know if there was film in it. I also took my sister's camera - I had all these things hanging from my neck.

I took my copy of the infamous Two Virgins album, as well. I was probably the first in Canada to get it because I used to hang out at Sam the Record Man and call Capitol Records to ask when the Beatles record was being delivered. I would know when the truck would be showing up in the alley behind the store and they knew me. With the delivery of the Two Virgins, they opened the box, I took my copy of the album and then the police came in and confiscated all the records because it was deemed obscene. But I had it.

I went to the King Edward at 7 o’clock in the morning and started knocking on every door on the top floor. I woke up a lot of people and, at one point, the cleaning lady said, “Are you looking for the Beatle?' If memory serves me well, she was Irish or Scottish, she had a heavy accent.

I went down to floors, turned a corner and there was a little Asian girl on her stomach colouring – I recognised her as Yoko Ono's daughter from her first marriage; so, I knew I had found them. I went up and talked to her for a bit, but she didn’t really give me the time of day. So, I just stood there trying to figure out what to do.

A cameraman and a reporter came by, they knocked on the door, it opened up a little bit, they said, "CBC," it opened up more, they went in and the door closed. I stood there for 10-15 minutes, my heart starting to beat fast – it was like Al Pacino in ‘The Godfather’ when he's about to kill the cop. I knocked on the door, it opened up, I said, "Canadian News," it opened up more and I shuffled in, looking down. I sat on the floor near a tripod, looked up and there in front of me were John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
The two of them were in the middle of an interview, but John looked at me and chuckled a bit and kept talking. I thought I better get my cameras out and start looking like a reporter. In my video, you could see me zooming in on his feet - he was barefoot - and everywhere around the room.

After the interview, I went up and asked him if he could sign my album. He said: “How did you get that? I thought the Mounties came in on horses and took them all." At that moment, Derek Taylor, who was at the time the Beatles' PR guy, came in. He said: "John, we have to go to Customs to clear some stuff."

They started clearing the room, but I took a long time to get out, taking the long way out of the suite. I walked by [Lennon’s] bedroom and he was by himself trying to push this big English sea chest onto his bed. He says, "Hey, lad, come here, give me a hand." So, I’m pushing the case and we're like nose to nose, and he’s not very strong and I’m not very strong. At that point, I thought, "I’ve got to do more." I said, "John, can I come back later and bring a tape recorder and do an interview on peace so I can let kids listen to it?"

He says, "Yeah, great! Yoko, Derek, this kid has a good idea, he's going to do an interview and take it to his school. That’s why we're doing this! It's great, great, great! Set it up!"

Derek told me to come back at 6pm. I floated out of the hotel room and onto King Street.
The first place I went was my mother's work. She worked at a kosher chicken store at Eglinton and Bathurst. She freaked out because she thought something was wrong. "Why aren’t you at school," she said. I told her. But it was still a rumour that [Lennon] was in town and it was in the days before instant communication – I didn’t have a Polaroid camera, I didn’t have a tape recorder with me – there was no way to prove what I was saying.

I was in junior high and when I got to school it was recess. This was in the Bathurst/Shephard area – the suburbs. Everyone was outside and I was ranting and raving - there was a crowd all around me and all the girls believed me, and all the guys didn't. Then the vice principal came out who, in retrospect, handled it really well. He assessed the situation and took me aside and put his arm around me and said: "Jerry, take the day off. Go home."

I went home and crashed.

I woke up around three o'clock in a panicky sweat because I realised I didn't have a tape recorder. I called up CHUM and, by now, the word was out. I called the news desk and said: "Hi, I’ve got an exclusive with John Lennon at six. If you bring the tape recorder I'll let you use it for the news." The guy said, "Yeah, right." So, I said, "Call up Derek Taylor at the King Edward hotel and he'll confirm it, here's my number."

Five minutes later, the guy calls me back and he's my best friend.

I took the bus from Bathurst and Shephard. In those days, newspapers came out three times a day: the morning paper, the afternoon paper and the evening paper. At every bus stop, you could see [Lennon in Toronto] was front page news. The closer I got to downtown, the more I thought: "Holy s*, this is really happening. Are they going to let me in again or was it just a ruse to get rid of me?"

It was pandemonium in front of the King Edward – cops on horses, kids roped off, vendors. I go into the bar and there’s a guy drinking with a big reel to reel tape recorder next to him. I said: "Are you from CHUM?"
We take the elevator together, the doors open, I bounce out, and a big cop pushes me pretty aggressively sending me crashing into the back [of the lift]. The CHUM guy took his card out and said, "No, he’s with me. We're press, we've got an interview.” We go into the hall and, roped off with cops, there were about 300 kids there – a couple of them kids I knew from school.
Down the corridor leading to [Lennon’s] suite, there were chairs in single file with reporters from everywhere [seated in them]. A reporter grabs me and says: "Where are you going?"
"I have an appointment at six," I say.

He says: "Yeah, like the rest of us."

At that moment the door opened up and Derek Taylor said: "Where is the lad?"

He took me in, sat me down on the couch and said: "John and Yoko are just getting dressed, they'll be out shortly." It's at that moment that I realised I hadn't prepared one question.
As I'm panicking, John sits in front of me with Yoko. I still had my camera and he said: "You want a photo with me?" The CHUM guy took the photo and then [Lennon] said, "Ask away." So I started asking.
I asked what young people of Toronto should do for peace. He said: "Well, you can go to school for peace, or not go to school for peace. You can piss for peace – whatever you do, do it for peace." That started the dialogue and it went on for about 40 minutes.
I talked about how much I loved Beatles music, how much it meant to me in my life. I asked about the other Beatles. I told him how kids were saying bad things about the Beatles and how it upset me. I told him about the butcher. (My parents knew I had [the Two Virgins] album but they were freaked because I walked around with it all the time. My mother's boss, the butcher, Mr. Rosen, saw it and said: "Put that away, it's pornography." Then I said, "What do you call that?" He had a girly calendar up on the wall. He said: "That's art.")

Derek Taylor popped in at that moment and said: "What’s this about?" John was laughing and said: "Some butcher called the Two Virgins pornography."

I talked about Trudeau, I was a huge fan at the time. I always felt that I had a role in John Lennon wanting to, and ultimately meeting, Trudeau. You hear him on the tape saying: "We've heard about him swinging in London with a leather coat, and if kids like you think he's cool, well, maybe we should see him."
He didn't stop the interview, I stopped it. I realised at one point that I couldn't talk to him forever. That’s how kind he was and sensitive to the fact that I clearly was a kid who loved him and needed to talk to him. He accommodated me completely and generously and sweetly. And they didn’t throw me out after that.
After the interview, Derek Taylor came back in. There was an Apple Records recording artist named Mary Hopkin who had a smash hit at the time called “Those Were the Days.” She was a Paul McCartney protégé (from what we know now, at that time Paul and John were at each other’s throats.) She was opening up for Engelbert Humperdink, who was also really big. Derek Taylor says: “John, Mary Hopkin just flew in, she’s opening for Engelbert Humperdink and sends her love.”

“Send it back,” says John.

Derek: "She wants you to come to the show tonight."

John: “I don’t want to go to that f*ing thing. Hey, you want to go in me stead?”

Me: “Sure, I’ll go.”

John: “Have the kid go in me stead, give him the VIP treatment.”
I walked from the King Edward to the O’Keefe Centre and sat front row and centre. Afterwards there was a party and everyone was around Engelbert Humperdink. Mary Hopkin was around 17 at the time, she was sitting by herself at a table so we talked. She said, “What are you doing tomorrow? They’re giving me a tour of Toronto in a limo, would you come with? You probably know more about Toronto anyway.” So I said: “Sure.”
I came home and I told everybody, my mouth did not close. I told my brother that [Hopkin was] picking me up in front of what was then the Electric Circus, which was just east of Church St. on Queen. My brother and my cousin went down with me and totally didn’t believe me.
When we were about to leave, a limo pulled up and Mary pops out and, with a Welsh accent, says: “Hi, Jerry, come in.” I’ll never forget the look on my brother’s and cousin’s faces.
We went to the Electric Circus, I danced with her, and my recollection is that we kissed at one point. And that was it!

1 comment:

  1. I encourage all Beatles fans to pick up Levitan's book if you can. I totally connected with how he felt about The Beatles, especially John, though I wouldn't have the chutzpah to leave home/take an airplane to another country by myself/call a radio station/impersonate a news reporter/ditch school like Jerry did! But people do crazy things when we really want something...