Purposeful, businesslike, and starstruck, Alisa Cooper picked up a house phone in the lobby of the Amsterdam Hilton and asked to be connected with John Lennon.
She offered her name but didn’t mention that she was only 16 and on spring vacation with her mother.
I have a talk show in the United States, she remembers saying, which was true, more or less.
And I would like to arrange an interview.
It was March 26, 1969. Lennon and his bride, the artist Yoko Ono, were on the hotel’s top floor, commanding global attention with a publicity-minded, but evidently heartfelt, honeymoon “bed-in” for peace. That morning, the serenely pajama-clad couple held forth about nonviolence before a mob of international journalists surrounding their bed in the presidential suite.
And Cooper, an Atlantic City High School junior who reported about school activities once a week for a local AM radio station, was a Beatles fan with an inspiration.
“All I could think was: ‘John and Yoko are nine floors away by elevator. Let me see if I can get up there and meet them. Wouldn’t that be cool?’ ”
Cooper, her mother, and two friends had just learned why the hotel where they were having lunch was thronged with police. “I got up from the table and told my mother, ‘I’ll be right back,’ " said Cooper. “She gave me a look.”
Now 66, Cooper tells me the story (“I never get tired of it”) from behind her desk at the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, a view of the Atlantic Ocean before her and a photo of her teen-aged self with John and Yoko on the wall behind her.
“The person on the phone told me I needed to call back in an hour and ask for Peter Brown,” she recalled. “I went back to the table. A little while later I noticed a man I thought was Peter Brown. So I got up and spoke to him.”
The man turned out to be another member of Lennon’s entourage and seemed at first skeptical, then taken with, the earnest teenager’s spiel.
“He said, ‘You have a talk show in the U.S.?’ and I said, ‘Oh yes,' ’' Cooper recalled. “He probably figured, ‘She’s just a fan with a lot of guts.’ So he told me to be there in the lobby at noon the next day with my recording equipment and photography equipment, and I would be allowed to interview them for 10 minutes. I had a $12 camera with a flashcube, and I had to ask him if I could borrow a tape recorder.”
Cooper couldn’t sleep that night but did write out several questions. She played me a few minutes of the conversation — the original reel-to-reel recording is in secure storage — during which Lennon, sounding chipper, answers graciously.
Cooper: “Are plans underway for future Beatle albums, and if so, when will they be released?”
Lennon: “After this seven-days bed event, I’ll go back to London and finish off a Beatles album. It’ll probably be out in the summer. We’ve got eight tracks.”
Cooper: “Are plans underway for any future tours, possibly in the United States, and if so, when?”
Lennon: “There’s talk about us going on the road again. So it would probably be before the end of this year, I should say. I think probably in the States, because they’re the ones who can afford it.”
Cooper: “How are you practicing your philosophy of peace with this bed event?”
Lennon: "We thought of doing an event where we stayed in bed before we got married, and then it just seemed ... opportune to do that on the honeymoon. To make an event out of it, to tell people, We’re spending our honeymoon with you, really, in public, for the sake of peace, rather than hiding on a yacht in the Bahamas. ...
“We say to people that, if you want revolution, do it peacefully — stay in bed and protest or all get in bed together somewhere and [do] something constructive, rather than destructive. And while you’re at it, grow your hair. Because everybody can grow their hair ... and it could be a symbol of peace if everybody just let all their hair grow. Until there’s peace.”
Cooper can’t remember how the interview ended, or how they said goodbye. She did share portions of her interview on the Shore radio station.
And when I ask her whether crashing the bed-in was a peak experience of her life, she cites her family, and a professional career that included playing piano at Atlantic City’s legendary 500 Club, and meeting, later in life, the grown-up students to whom she taught music in Egg Harbor Township and elsewhere.
But every year on the birthdays of Lennon and Ono (he would be 79 this year, and she just turned 86) Cooper posts the photo of her and them on her Facebook page. She also does so on the anniversary of Lennon’s Dec. 8, 1980, murder.
“I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet John and Yoko while they were celebrating a very important event in their lives,” said Cooper.
“Here it is 50 years later, and I think of the amazing contributions that John Lennon made to the world. Every day on some radio station somewhere, you can hear the music of John Lennon.”
I know what she means.