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
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."
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".
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.
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."
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:
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
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
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
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.
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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