Sunday, June 23, 2019

Bigger Than Jesus

Cynthia hasn't really talked about the comment made by John about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus Christ. She did acknowledged it in her books, but barely in interviews- which is surprising because it was very controversial in those days. You'd think a journalist would want to pick her brain about that but instead she got frequently asked about meeting and divorcing John.
Here's what happened: early 1966, Maureen Cleave went to Kenwood to interview John for Evening Standard March 4th publication and for America's Datebook in July 29th. He gave Maureen a tour of his home (with Julian following while holding a cat), sharing his indulgence of books, and being uncomfortable in his fame and mansion [more about that later]. He also talked, quite comfortably and open… Now, John was not anti-religion, anti-Christ, anti-church. Okay, sure, he didn't go to church often, very, very rare. Probably because he wasn't interested or he was extremely busy or it just didn't occur to him to go. But it must have bothered John to know that his teenage fans were at the point worshipping The Beatles.
When the article went to print in England, no one picked up on it or made it into a big deal. It went through one ear and out the other, skimmed over, and the newspaper was either thrown in the bin or was cut out and paste into a scrapbook. Then came America's turn to read how John lives at home. The controversy started with a disc jockey in Alabama who came across the article to discuss on his radio show as he did every day with articles to talk and, I guess, he got offended. He lived in one of the States that were heavily into the Bible and launched a Ban the Beatles campaign. He refused to play the music and several radio stations in the States soon followed. There were gatherings to burn everything relating to The Beatles- records, books, magazines, knick knacks, tickets, you name it… I often wonder if anybody regrets it now? Those things could've been worth a fortune! But I guess in those days you don't think about saving something that could be worth a lot of money. Even the Ku Klux Klan (the most racist group ever!) got involved, protesting for The Beatles not to perform nor be welcomed. I don't think that worked as I don't recall any concerts getting cancelled. Brian Epstein traveled first to the States before the tour started to do damage control. It's amazing how much damage could happen over a misunderstanding of a quote. John did not say The Beatles were better than Jesus Christ. He said they were more popular! Popular and Better are completely different meanings. John saw the weak state the churches were in and simply made an observation. Brian did remind the promoters they can cancel their city dates but none did!

"Everything was going well until in an interview John likened the Beatles to Jesus Christ. His truly honest assessment of their popularity offended the God-fearing, clean living Americans who lived in the Bible belt of America. His views were totally misconstrued. John was very bewildered and frightened by the reaction that his words created in the States. Beatle albums were burnt in a mass orgy of self-righteous indignation. Letters arrived at the house full of threats, hate, and venom. John would come downstairs in the morning and look intently over my shoulder as I opened the mail and asked worriedly, 'How's it going, Cyn? How many for and how many against?' To add to the misery of the impending tour a prominent American and highly successful clairvoyant predicted that the plane carrying the Beatles to America would crash with no survivors. This unwelcome piece of information really gave us all the heebie-jeebies. Our farewells before John embarked on that journey were long and lingering. We were convinced that we wouldn't see each other again.  John was sure that if the plane didn't crash, some incensed religious fanatic would pull a gun on him and kill him. It was a very worrying time for all concerned."
Cynthia, from her 1978 book A Twist of Lennon

The Beatles first went to Chicago for the tour and a press conference was held. John felt he was not only misunderstood, he didn't feel anything to be sorry for. However, John had to apologize: his band's lives, including his own, were in danger. He did. Some forgave him immediately, some took their time, some still hold a grudge to this very day, especially one in particular who later succeeded in ending John's life 14 years later. Still, the tour was very tense. Every time a shot-sounding sound rang through the stadium, the Beatles would look at one another, especially John, to see if they got a bullet. Physic readings came through… one shook John to its core about him getting shot while in the States before the tour started. Enough to scare Cynthia, who kept tabs on him more often than usual by phone, letters, and Brian's office to be sure her husband was still alive. Needless to say, John didn't want to ever tour again. Touring didn't cross John's mind until 1980 just before his life ended that he was thinking of going back on the road with Yoko in support of their album Double Fantasy now that Sean was five years old… [more about that later].

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