Sunday, November 13, 2005

All we are saying, is give us the credit

Perhaps I'm showing my age here, but I had no idea that a Canadian rabbi was ever cited as a major influence on John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance." Now, according to the London Times, he is being credited with actually coming up with the phrase:
Lennon wrote the hit single while staying at a Montreal hotel in May 1969... On Wednesday the Queen Elizabeth hotel envelope with the notes handwritten by Lennon on two sides will be auctioned by Bonhams. The auction house has set a cautious estimate of between £175,000 to £200,000 for the sale price.
The envelope contains 25 key words such as “bagism”, “shagism” “dragism”, “revolution” and the mis-spelt “evelotion” as well as eight names including “John and Yoko”, “Bobby Dylan”, “Tommy Cooper” and “Norman Mailer”, all of which are in the song.
But the important clue is the word “rabbi” next to the phone number of 783-9689. It belonged to Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, described at the time as a “hip 69-year-old” who had once worked as a singer.
The hotel has kept records of Lennon’s stay, which indicate that he called the number and the rabbi went to visit rock music’s most famous couple. Lennon seized on a remark by the rabbi — “John, we really have to give peace a chance” — and realised that he could use it for his new song. Feinberg is only now being credited as the main inspiration for the song. Joanne Papineau, head of public affairs for the hotel, said: “We’ve had hotel staff who have told the story over the years, but perhaps they have not really been listened to. Nobody put two and two together until this envelope turned up.”
Presumably, the idea that Feinberg was the author of the famous line comes from the staff of the hotel, as the envelope doesn't prove anything. But it's highly unlikely to be true. In fact, a quick Google search shows that the story of Feinberg's involvement with the song was written up in The Montreal Gazette the very day after his visit -- probably a much more accurate source than the hotel staff's gossip 35 years after the event. The report, first of all, establishes that Feinberg did visit Lennon (no need to rely on phone records etc....), clearly shows that Lennon began working out the words to the song in Feinberg's presence (coming up with the direction of the song himself, I should add) -- but also clearly indicates that the key phrase was Lennon's own, written before the session with Feinberg. It's interesting that this account seems to have disappeared into the mists of time, with the main connection between Feinberg and Lennon usually cited as a few appearances by Feinberg on tv on behalf of John and Yoko (why John Lennon should have needed Rabbi Feinberg to do his publicity is beyond me -- is there a Beatles fan out there who can explain?) -- even though the Gazette account seems pretty easy to come by. Let's hope this "revelation" isn't too much of a factor in the high price of the envelope....

P.S. Picture of Feinberg with Lennon here -- scroll down.

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