The Great John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival — the festival that never was

In the wake of the great Woodstock peace ’n’ acid festival, John Lennon took one last stab at the great Peace Guru role. His latest caper in 1970 was to produce the great John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival. Feel the vibes. Which would be “bigger than Woodstock,” naturally.

Lennon hooked up with his latest guru — this big, fat nut named Dr. Hambrick. Hambrick claimed to be “in contact with supernatural beings from another planet who would arrive on earth to save us from our own self-destruction.” Hambrick’s goal was to “capture The Beatles because The Beatles would be the earth force by which the supernatural powers could act in concert to bring peace to our chaotic planet.”

So Dr. Hambrick had a sensible plan for bringing about world peace.

And Hambrick had indeed captured John Lennon with all this talk. Lennon was enthralled by all this stuff, about getting to meet supernatural alien creatures from outer space (Hambrick would personally introduce Lennon to the critters), and especially his exciting new role as Savior of Humanity.

So John ’n’ Yoko and the whole crew went off to Denmark for a big “retreat” to plot out the big John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival. The whole crew decided to trip on some REALLY STRONG ACID to help align their vibes to the big task ahead of Saving Humanity. So they passed this little dish around with “some black sticky stuff that smelled like medicine,” and they all ate it and they all got high.

“Like really high, like a completely nonphysical feeling,” said John Brower, the Peace Festival promoter who was along for the ride. At the peak of the acid trip, according to Brower, Lennon suddenly had a Major Revelation. He pounded his fist on the table and exclaimed to his manager Allen Klein: “HITLER WAS RIGHT. YOU’VE GOT TO CONTROL THE PEOPLE!”

Only now, instead of like Hitler controlling the people for war and all that bad stuff, John Lennon, the Great Man, would control the people for peace. Cool.

Then Dr. Hambrick laid his next brain-storm on the tripped-out multitudes. Hambrick had invented this amazing “two-passenger car that looks like a plane that goes on the ground or flies in the air, and it never needs fuel, its powered by psychic energy.”

Well, this is just the coolest. So the big plan now was for John ’n’ Yoko to fly one of those psychic-energy planes right over the crowd at the freakin’ John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival, and right up onto the stage. How’s that for a grand entrance (let’s see Paul McCartney top that one!). And even better, they’re gonna’ mass-market these psychic-energy cars, and you had better believe that those babies will sell like hotcakes, because you don’t even need fuel to fly them And, best of all, all the profits from the psychic-energy cars will go directly to the John Lennon Peace Foundation!

So this is just the coolest of all. Awesome.

What a guy. John and Yoko would hit the stage (to thunderous applause) and bring peace and love to earth. Restoring the cosmic balance of the cosmos, saving the world, and bringing harmony to humanity. All in a day’s work.

Now keep in mind: They actually believed this stuff. And, considering that John Lennon’s real life had already been so spectacularly unbelievable, I guess anything could seem possible to him at this point. And when you factor in LSD, with its peculiar messianic, hallucinatory, and exaggerating properties (as if Lennon’s life wasn’t already exaggerated enough) it’s little wonder that Lennon ended up having no IDEA which end was up. Myth or reality? Christ, just gimme’ some truth, he cried. Whatever that was.

Alas, the great John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival collapsed in a sea of bad vibes and organizational chaos (Lennon changing his mind with every new drug trip didn’t help matters). In a desperate attempt to save the sinking festival, Lennon wrote an impassioned plea to ROLLING STONE magazine — that crucial organ for all your latest Lennon updates — entitled: “HAVE WE ALL FORGOTTEN WHAT VIBES ARE?”

In the article, he wrote:

“Can you imagine what we could do together, one million souls (plus TV link-ups) in one spot, praying for peace. We could change the balance of energy power. On earth and therefore, in the universe.”

So it all made perfect sense.

But alas and alack, the people had indeed forgotten what vibes are. Darn. And, like so many of the hippie pipe dreams of the ‘60s, the great John Lennon Toronto Peace Festival went up in smoke.

FAME What’s Your Name What’s Your Name What’s Your Name

My publicist sent out this 8-by-10 glossy to all the major media outlets in the hopes of boosting my fleeting fame.
Someone asked me if I was “famous.”

Well. Maybe. It depends on how you want to parse it. If you took all the REALLY famous people — like Muhammad Ali and the Beatles and Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler and George Washington and Jesus Christ and Alex Trebeck and all the TRULY famous people that EVERYBODY knows. And you rated them on a scale of 1 to 100. All the truly famous people would be ones. And I’d be like a one hundred . . .  But I’d probably be in there somewhere. If just barely. Ha ha.

I once came across this gossip magazine from the 1940s. And it had articles about all the famous celebrities of the day. Aside from one or two people, I didn’t recognize any of them. I guess fame is pretty fleeting.

I wonder if when famous people get together they’re constantly ranking each other in their minds, like a pecking order. Like: “I’m much more famous than HIM. But HE’S much more famous than me. But that other guy is pretty much on the same level of fame as me. I feel competitive towards HIM!”

I’ve heard that famous people are the most impressed by other famous people. I read about John Lennon being at this party in LA that was full of all these Hollywood celebrities. And he was just thrilled to see all these famous people. He’d be gawking at them like: “WOW!! There’s Elizabeth Taylor over there!!” . . . Even though he was the most famous person in the room.

Andy Warhol — who was as obsessed with fame as anybody — said that every really famous person has at least one fan who is obsessed with them and thinks about them all the time. I remember reading about this guy who was obsessed with Johnny Carson. He kept a diary every day, but it wasn’t about HIS life, it was about Johnny Carson’s life: “May 14: Johnny seemed a little depressed tonight. I wonder if he’s having marital problems again . ..” And then there’s the guy in the papers who’s obsessed with the singer Taylor Swift. Follows her everywhere she goes. And even broke into her house several times. Poor Taylor is so freaked out by the guy, she’s had to hire a full-time bodyguard for protection. When they asked the Swift fan why he does what he does, he simply said: “I just want to get to know her better.” Ha ha.

When Andy Warhol was a young man in New York, he was obsessed with the famous author Truman Capote. He used to hang out all the time on the sidewalk by the apartment building where Capote lived with his mother, in the hopes of getting a glimpse of Capote. After awhile, Capote’s mother felt so sorry for the guy, standing out there in the cold, that she’d sometimes invite him up to the apartment for coffee. So Warhol eventually got to know Capote a little bit. Capote just assumed Warhol was one more of those losers that was “interested in arts” and would never amount to anything. Ha ha. I’ll bet Capote was pissed when Warhol’s mega-fame eventually eclipsed his own.

When Warhol was just starting out on his painting career, his big obsession wasn’t “I MUST create my masterpiece!” but “Do you think Picasso has heard of me?” As always, fame was the barometer for which Andy Warhol measured success. And he certainly got more than his 15-minutes worth of it.

A Twisted Image cartoon from 1986


This is a comic strip I did back in 1986 about John calling up Yoko from heaven. On a whim i sent a copy to Yoko at the Dakota, and got a nice postcard back from Yoko thanking me for the cartoon (the postcard was one of John’s doodles of the three faces, John, Yoko and Sean) . . Though for all I know the postcard was actually signed by Yoko’s personal assistant.

A day in the life of Phil and John

Lennon’s other good line.:”Phil Spector is the only person who’s ever walked across the Atlantic Ocean.” During this particular flight in 1964 — the Beatles coming to America for the first time — Spector was so nervous (“fear of flying” being one of his countless neurosis) he spent the entire flight pacing up and down the aisle.
My favorite Phil Spector story. When John Lennon was going through his “Lost Weekend” period around 1974 and regularly going berserk in violent drug and alcohol-fueled rages while trying to record an oldies album with Phil Spector, Lennon went particularly nuts one night. And got in a physical tussle with Spector and his bodyguard. In the course of the fight they had to physically tie Lennon down to his bed in an attempt to restrain Lennon’s violent outbursts.

The next day in the recording studio Phil Spector showed up with a big black eye and his face covered with welts and bruises. Lennon spent a long time apologizing to Spector for the damage he had inflicted. Lennon had been so fucked-up he barely even remembered what he had done.

Finally, after Lennon had sufficiently prostated himself to Spector, Spector admitted he had gone to a Hollywood make-up artist to have the fake wounds put on his face for a joke. Ha ha.

November 11, 1968

“Number 9, number 9, number 9 . . . 

On this date in history 50 years ago — November 11, 1968 — John Lennon releases his solo album “Two Virgins.” . . . Later in the day Lennon met privately with President Nixon in the White House to personally give him a copy of his new album. And to inquire about the possibility of being deputized. as an undercover agent in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, specializing in the confiscation and testing of illegal narcotics.



220px-Warmjetsvinyl.jpg9.) My freshman year of college, 1974, my roommate was this cool guy who was a total rock’n’roll freak. He had this huge record collection and we had hundreds and hundreds of rock records lining the walls of our dorm. He had all the ’60s classics, and lots of ’70s prog rock, and all the latest English glitter bands — like Roxy Music and T. Rex — that i had never listened to (he also played guitar in a local Kiss cover band, wearing all the make-up and platform shoes and played gigs at high school dances — Cleveland rocks!!).

Anyways, this Brian Eno album — Here Comes the Warm Jets — was my favorite of his whole collection. Great, well-crafted pop songs, with a zany, almost lunatic, sense of humor, and really innovative and experimental sounds.

So things were going great until mid-way through the school year my roomie had a spiritual epiphany and became a Born Again Christian. He cut off his long hippie hair, started carrying a Bible with him everywhere he went, and hanging out with these straight-laced Christian guys. One afternoon him and two of his Born Again buddies came up to our dorm room and they systematically destroyed everyone of his records, one by one. Because rocknroll was a tool of Satan — the evil one — to lead the youth astray.

So, sadly, I didn’t get to listen to my favorite Eno album anymore after that.



10.) In 1976, after having flamed out after one year of college, for lack of anything better to do I moved back to my parent’s house in the suburbs of New Jersey, to lick my wounds.

Up to this point the Beatles — and John Lennon in particular — had been my guiding light as sort of the role model of my youth. And they had been with me every step of the way. With each year bringing a new Beatles product — Beatles ’65 and Beatles ’66 and so on, almost like a model of a car that they up-dated every year. And then followed by new Beatles solo albums every year.

But then, by 1976, John Lennon had seemingly flamed out just like me. And disappeared from sight to lick his wounds, too.

So I bought this Lennon greatest hits compilation, Shaved Fish, which, at the time, seemed like the last of the line of John Lennon statements. A wrap-up. So as I listened to it I was also trying to make sense of what the Beatles experience had meant to me. And what it had amounted to. If anything.

And there was this druggy and soporific quality to a lot of the Lennon solo stuff. Compared to the brightness and sharpness of the Beatles stuff. So it really felt, at the point, like the whole Beatles thing had led to a big dead end.



11.) In 1977 there was all this media hype about the Sex Pistols and “punk rock.” So I figured their record would be a big let-down, like MOST of those media fads turned out to be. This year’s Bay City Rollers, ya know?

But Never Mind the Bullocks turned out to be a great record and lived up to its billing as a bona fide classic. The songs are all surprisingly well-crafted, there’s a great guitar sound, and excellent sonics. And it was completely fresh and exciting. Suddenly it made most of the other rock bands sound flaccid and “corporate” and overly-contrived.

But more important to me, personally, was that Johnny Rotten was my age, 20. And after spending my entire life up to that point living in the shadow of the Sixties Generation and listening to nothing but Sixties re-treads like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Starship. Finally MY generation had a voice.



12.) In 1980, age 23, I had the first real love affair of my life. I was just a boy trying to be a man, really, as the song goes. Anyways the woman I was madly in love with was a rock’n’roll freak like me. She would regularly scour CREEM and all the other rock magazine to be up to date on all the latest releases. That’s how hip she was. Plus she was sexy as hell. And she happened to buy the first U2 album, Boy, back in 1980. Before most people even knew who U2 were.

I immediately loved the album. Especially the haunting song I Will Follow (“These eyes make a circle when I call your name THESE EYES”). I still think its the best thing U2 ever did. And when I listen to it, I’m often transports me back in time to 1980, and I’m in her haunted house, sitting in her bedroom, listening to I Will Follow.


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13.) It’s funny how certain songs are like time capsules that take you back in time.

This one takes me back to the summer of 1982. I had moved back to Berkeley, age 26, with this burning desire to publish an underground punk rock newspaper. And i lived with my pal Duncan in his dusty little hotel room in the Berkeley Inn for three months while I worked on putting together the first issue.

And as I’d sit at Duncan’s desk working on the layout pages, I would often play this song, When Kings Come Home, as soothing background music. Its from the album Leo Kottke, Peter Lang, & John Fahey. I had never heard of any of them at the time. . . Duncan had this cheap little record player — one of those things that packs into a box with a little speaker built into it. And Duncan had a bunch of old records, mostly stuff he had bought in the ’60s. Simon & Garfunkle, Joan Baez, that kind of stuff.

It’s weird when I think about it, that I was working on making a punk rock newspaper while listening to this particular genre of music. Anyways, I haven’t listened to the song since the summer of 1982. But I finally managed to track it down on Youtube. So I’m mind-tripping my way back into Duncan’s little hotel room while I listen to this one, one more time. . . .



14.) In 1984 I wrote a novel, JOURNEY THROUGH THE TENDERLOIN: A Pornographic Love Story (later published by Loompanics in 1996 as a novella in one of their Greatest Hits compilations). It’s the story of this young guy who falls in love with a beautiful young stripper, and the misadventures he has while living in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. It was sort of a device for exploring the dynamics between romantic love and sexual attraction — love and lust — and how they often work at cross-purposes and how we often mistake one for the other.

The book was flawed (because, frankly, I didn’t know how to write a novel). But there are a couple of really good scenes. And a good screenwriter could probably turn it into a really good movie. And I always envisioned this song from the packed! album by Chrissie Hynde — When Will I See You — as the perfect theme song for the movie. It’s this wistful song about lost love, with nice, chiming guitar by Johnny Marrs of the Smiths. I always envisioned the song playing at the beginning of the movie, and at the end of the movie, and bits of it interspersed as background music during the course of the movie.

And maybe one day it will be. You never know in this life.



15.) This CD, Telegraph Street Music, is significant to me because I recorded it myself. For many years I co-published a photo calendar of the Telegraph Avenue street people. So I thought, why don’t I record a CD of the street people, too. So people could hear them as well as see them. So that’s how this one came about.

It featured some of the prominent Telegraph street characters of the time, like Hate Man, Rick Starr, the Rare Man, etc. And some of the more talented street musicians like Michael Masley, Larry the Drummer, Anthony Bledsoe. Plus Ace Backwords. I’d describe the CD as, half interesting music and half interesting characters. It was the soundtrack of my life for the year of 1994. Literally.






16.) This CD was significant to me because it was the last album ever bought. Back in 2009 I was working as a Telegraph street vendor, and I always had a big boombox at my vending table, and I’d regularly spin the radio dial in search of cool tunes. There was one hit song back then, Epiphany by Chrisette Michelle, that I really got me. This sort of good-love-gone-bad torch song. I used to listen to the local rap station (not my favorite genre of music) simply because they were the only station that played that song.

Finally, I broke down and bought the CD. And I used to smoke pot at my vending stand and play that song over and over and over (which I was wont to do when I was stoned). Until people would finally come up to me and say: “Ace, that’s a very nice song, but would you PLEASE play something else.” Ha ha. Everybody’s a critic.

I stopped buying records and CDs after that. Because, like most people, I mostly listened to music for free on the internet (It must be tough to try and run a record store these days). It’s amazing how you can find just about any song ever recorded on the internet. But nothing beats actually physically holding an album in your hands while you’re listening to it. That’s the best!