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The Dark Side of Beatlemania

We may never fully understand the incredible power of Beatlemania to sweep people away in a sea of emotions. But at the height of their popularity in the spring of 1966, a segment of the American public demonstrated how that overpowering love could turn to hate very quickly.

Maureen Cleave in 1964
 
On March 4, 1966, this quote of John's was printed in an interview by reporter Maureen Cleave in the London Evening Standard:

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

He was, as she reported, reading extensively about religion. It was a small part of the article. No notice of it was taken in Britain. Read the entire original article here.

[SOUND] John remembers the original interview.

Then, almost five months later, on July 29, a teen magazine in the US, Datebook, reprinted the quote out of context, not submerged in an article, but as a part of a front cover story entitled "The Ten Adults You Dig/Hate The Most".

All hell broke loose. Radio stations in the south banned Beatles music. There were rallies of boys and girls stomping on their records and bonfires of Beatles material.

[SOUND] Radio station WACI in Birmingham, Alabama, announcing the boycott.

 
Commenting on the uproar over the article in America, Maureen Cleave in London said, "John was certainly not comparing the Beatles with Christ. He was simply observing that so week was the state of Christianity that the Beatles were, to many people, better known. He was deploring, rather than approving, this." And at a press conference in New York, to try and head off the growing controversy, Brian Epstein told reporters, "The quote which John Lennon made to a London columnist has been quoted and misrepresented entirely out of context of the article, which was in fact highly complimentary to Lennon as a person."

[SOUND] Brian Epstein speaks to the American press on August 6, 1966.

It did no good. The upcoming US tour was now only days away. Amidst threats on his and the other Beatles' lives, and the possible cancellation of the tour, John, notorious for never apologizing, condescends and has a news conference in Chicago on August 11, 1966:

[SOUND] John: "If I had said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it, but I just happened to be talking to a friend and I used the words "Beatles" as a remote thing, not as what I think - as Beatles, as those other Beatles like other people see us. I just said "they" are having more influence on kids and things than anything else, including Jesus. But I said it in that way which is the wrong way."

Reporter: "Some teenagers have repeated your statements - "I like the Beatles more than Jesus Christ." What do you think about that?"

 
John: "Well, originally I pointed out that fact in reference to England. That we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time. I wasn't knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it as a fact and it's true more for England than here. I'm not saying that we're better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is. I just said what I said and it was wrong. Or it was taken wrong. And now it's all this."

Reporter: "But are you prepared to apologize?"

John (thinking that he just had): "I wasn't saying whatever they're saying I was saying. I'm sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologize if that will make you happy. I still don't know quite what I've done. I've tried to tell you what I did do but if you want me to apologize, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry."

[SOUND] Brian talks to the press about possible tour date cancellations.

The press generally printed that Lennon had apologized, a planned second bonfire of records was called off, and no Beatles performances were cancelled. But the whole episode left a dark cloud over the public as far as the Beatles were concerned, and the upcoming tour would be their last.

[SOUND] John talks about his fear of touring again.


Postscript: Radio Station KLUE in Longview, Texas, one of the stations which organised the public bonfires of Beatles records on August 13, was knocked off the air the next morning when a bolt of lightning struck their transmission tower, causing extensive damage to their radio equipment, and according to the book Beatles In Their Own Words edited by Pearce Marchbank, knocking their news director unconscious.



Historical information from the book Lennon by Ray Coleman.

This page created May 28, 1995.
This page last enhanced January 18, 2002.



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