Older News

Help Us Renew!

We accept donations at any time to help us renew our domains.

Every little bit helps and is greatly appreciated!

Follow Us on Facebook

Subscribe to Updates


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

The Ballad of John, Yoko, and the Baba Card

by Kendra Crossen Burroughs

The following article describes several variants on an “urban legend.” In order to avoid confusion, the true version has been boldfaced. (First published in OmPoint Circular 7, Spring 2012, pp. 32–33.)

 

Someone posted on Facebook this paragraph from a long interview with John Lennon by Jonathan Cott and published in Rolling Stone on December 8, 2011:

. . . Once, in 1971, I ran into John and Yoko in New York. A friend and I had gone to see the film Carnal Knowledge, and afterward we bumped into the Lennons in the lobby. Accompanied by the yippie activist Jerry Rubin and a friend of his, they invited us to drive down with them to Ratner’s restaurant on the Lower East Side for blintzes, whereupon a beatific, long-haired young man approached our table and wordlessly handed John a card inscribed with a pithy saying of the yogi Meher Baba. Rubin drew a swastika on the back of the card, got up, and gave it back to the man. When he returned, John admonished him gently, saying that that wasn’t the way to change someone’s consciousness. Acerbic and skeptical as he could often be, John Lennon never lost his sense of compassion.

What an amusing story. Except it didn’t jibe with the version I thought I had heard years ago, which didn’t even include Jerry Rubin, let alone a swastika. In the urban legend I admit having disseminated, Bobby Street is a waiter in a restaurant when John and Yoko come in and sit down, and before taking their order he hands them a “Don’t Worry Be Happy” card with the smiling photo of Meher Baba on it. In a Dadaist gesture perhaps intended to condemn gurus as dictators, Yoko takes a pen and turns Baba’s holy mustache into a Hitler mustache with a few scribbles, and hands the card back to the waiter, who as a Baba-lover is understandably taken aback.

Another amusing story. But actually, it didn’t happen that way. Certainly if the setting was Ratner’s—a kosher dairy restaurant where professional Jewish waiters were famous for their testy attitude—then it is not credible that a beatific non-kosher boy should be waiting tables there. But what really did happen? I was determined to uncover the truth.

Just as I was struggling to overcome my telephone phobia and call California to track down Bob Street, Baba came to my rescue in the form of Jerry Watson, who posted to Facebook on December 11, 2011: “As luck would have it, I was surprised to see Bob Street calmly eating breakfast at the Meher Pilgrim Retreat at Meherabad this morning. Apparently the lobbyman was misinformed when he told me that Bob had returned to the States. Anyway, I did get the details.” The following is a slightly edited version of what Jerry reported.

The year was 1971. The place, Ratner’s restaurant, a kosher eatery next to Fillmore East on Second Avenue in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Bob Street, a fellow diner, handed Yoko and John a Baba card — not the now-famous “Don’t Worry Be Happy” card, but one with a photograph from the 1956 series of poses by Chase Studios (Washington, DC) with the words Avatar Meher Baba printed on the bottom. Yoko proceeded to draw a Hitler mustache over Baba’s mustache, and after inscribing a message on the back of the card, she quickly handed it back. Bob returned to his table with card in hand and read her words: “Every man is a potential Hitler. Every woman is a potential Hitler’s mother.”

Puzzled by this rather cryptic adage, Bob went back to their table and politely asked what it meant. Yoko offered an explanation that only confused matters, and so Bob responded by saying that Meher Baba was God. At that point John Lennon intervened and asked Bob, “What is God?” Bob replied, “God is Love.” John quipped back, “Love is Love.” Bob acknowledged the truism with a smile and returned to his table, still bewildered.

A few minutes later, Jerry Rubin, who had also been sitting at John and Yoko’s table, got up and approached Bob and said, “John was wondering if it would be OK for them to keep the card.” Bob complied, handing the card back to Jerry.

A couple of weeks later, Bob happened to come across that particular Rolling Stone article with a narrative of the incident: “. . . When he returned, John admonished him gently, saying that that wasn’t the way to change someone’s consciousness. Acerbic and skeptical as he could often be, John Lennon never lost his sense of compassion.”

Bob Street could only surmise when reading that comment that John Lennon may have felt Yoko’s reaction to be inappropriate and wanted to make amends.

And that’s the inside scoop directly from the man who lived the tale.

Meanwhile, the Facebook discussion among Boomers struggling with their memories spawned several other variations, including one in which Yoko’s handwritten message was “Where there is a Hitler there is a Meher Baba.” I am chastened for circulating a false version—in which, however, Bob gets to keep the defaced card, now worth millions. The only thing that keeps me from preferring my own little fabrication is the realization that I could never tell any of these versions as an “amusing story” to Mehera.

 

Care to Share?
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  


Mischievous Peeps