DJ Says John Lennon’s Spirit Lives On
WXRT disc jockey Terri Hemmert shared Beatles stories with visitors at the “Give Peace A Chance” exhibit at the Lake County Discovery Museum
Thirty years ago, today, John Lennon died of a gunshot wound from a deranged fan. His message of peace lives on, said Terri Hemmert, mid-morning DJ at WXRT and creator of Breakfast with the Beatles show.
"Let John's spirit keep inspiring us forever," Hemmert said as she spoke at the "Give Peace a Chance" exhibit at the Lake County Discovery Museum, Sunday. The exhibit centers on images taken by Life photojournalist Gerry Deiter during Lennon and Yoko Ono's Bed-in for Peace, held during two weeks in 1969 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.
Hemmert recalled that, despite Lennon's phenomenal success in the recording industry, he wanted to be remembered for his efforts toward peace. In one of his last interviews he was asked how he wanted to be remembered. He replied "As a pacifist.'"
"It was uncommon for a rock star to speak out for something like this. John Lennon got a lot of flack for it too. Back then a lot of people thought John was a real nut. He said he would be a clown for peace, he was willing to take those chances," Hemmert said.
Hemmert, who has been a DJ for more than 35 years, said she was inspired by Lennon and the Beatles to take her career path, one that was uncommon for women in the '70s. "If it weren't for the Beatles, I would have died of boredom," said Hemmert. "I might have become a nun."
Hemmert teaches broadcasting at Columbia College in Chicago, and tries to inspire her students.
"I tell my students they can make a difference," Hemmert said. She said people can work for peace on many levels – working for world peace, ending neighborhood violence or working towards peace in the family.
Realistically, she said people need to be aware that there will always be fighting. "But you have to keep working. Was John a failure because there's still war? I don't think so," Hemmert said.
Hemmert said in Lennon's last interview he was very positive and optimistic. "If he had been taken years before, he might have been a tragic figure. But here he was just turned 40. He really felt secure, happy and optimistic. It's so great that he got to that point," she said.
Hemmert never met Lennon, but she became acquainted with Yoko Ono through her efforts working with the Peace Museum in Chicago in the late '80s. "I got to know Yoko. She's very sweet, friendly and nice and she made our John very happy," said Hemmert, who believes fans and the public have been too critical of Yoko Ono.
Hemmert has also interviewed Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr numerous times. Hemmert was one of the guests at the White House when McCartney won the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from the Library of Congress, in June.
Seleena Kuester, museum educator, arranged Hemmert's talk at the museum. She said it seemed to be a natural fit and the museum was already working with WXRT to publicize the exhbit. Kuester said the exhibit has been well-attended. Hemmert's talk drew about 150 visitors on a frigid, Sunday afternoon.
"It was fun to listen to her talk; she has so many different stories and one story flowed into the next," Kuester said.
The Give Peace a Chance Exhibit opened on Oct. 9, John Lennon's birthday, and runs through Jan. 2. It includes more than 40 images taken during the Montreal Bed-in for Peace, when the couple staged a non-violent protest of the Vietnam War.
The Bed-in for Peace was the site of the historic recording of peace anthem "Give Peace a Chance." During the bed-in, Lennon and Ono received visits from many supporters, including Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers, and revolutionary psychologist Timothy Leary.
At the Lake County Museum exhibit, visitors can view large photographic images and read accompanying text. There is also a re-creation of the bed at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel that was always surrounded by flowers. Young visitors, or young at heart, can pretend they are the Beatles with the game, Rock Band.
Lennon told Deiter for Life magazine, "We're going to sell peace the way other people sell soap." In December of that year, John and Yoko bought billboards in 11 cities with the message "WAR IS OVER! If You Want It - Happy Christmas From John and Yoko."
"The special exhibit resonates with those of us who love John Lennon, appreciate his music and how he changed our lives," Hemmert said.