"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. John Lennon to Maureen Cleeve (London Evening Standard) March 4th 1966.
Maureen Cleeve & The Beatles
Maureen Cleeve & The Beatles 1964
The Apologies :
john lennon :"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
"I like the Beatles more than Jesus Christ."
What do you think about that?
JOHN LENNON :"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 apologise?
JOHN LENNON :"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."
Beatles Interview: Memphis, Tennessee 8/19/1966
ABOUT THIS INTERVIEW:
On August 19th 1966, The Beatles flew to Memphis Tennessee
for two shows at Mid-South Coliseum, the 8th stop along
their 1966 North American tour.
John Lennon's misquoted remarks earlier in the year about
the current state of Christianity had caused tensions, especially in
the southern states: Protests, record burnings organized by christian
radio stations, and anonymous death threats, including a televised
against the Beatles from a local Memphis Ku Klux Klan member.
While there were no issues with the afternoon Memphis performance,
hearts stopped as someone threw an exploding firecracker on-stage
during the Beatles' evening concert. Reportedly, the noise sounded
at first like a gun shot, shocking everyone who heard it.
Beatles' Press Officer Tony Barrow would later recall: "Once we did get
down to that area, the southern states... a firecracker was let off during
the concert in Memphis and everybody, all of us at the side of the stage,
including the three Beatles on stage, all looked immediately at John
Lennon. We would not at that moment have been surprised to see that
guy go down. John had half-heartedly joked about the Memphis concert
in an earlier press conference, and when we got there everything seemed
to be controlled and calm, but underneath somehow, there was this nasty
atmosphere. It was a very tense and pressured kind of day."
News of the 'Jesus statement' controversy in America had reached home,
and ITV had flown from London to Memphis to interview the group backstage
at Mid-South Coliseum.
- Jay Spangler, www.beatlesinterviews.org
Q: "What difference has all this row made to this tour, do you think? Any at all?"
JOHN: (opens his mouth widely to speak, and comically freezes with his mouth open)
PAUL: "I don't think it's made much. It's made it more hectic. It's made all the
press conferences mean a bit more. People said to us last time we came that
our answers were a bit flippant, and they said 'Why isn't it this time?' And the
thing is the questions are a bit more serious this time. It hasn't affected any
of the bookings. The people coming to the concerts have been the same,
except for the first show in Memphis which was a bit down, you know. But,
uhh, so what."
Q: "The disc jockey, Tommy Charles, who started this row off, has said that he won't
play your records until you've grown up a little. How do you feel about that?"
JOHN: "Well, I don't mind if he never plays them again, you know."
PAUL: "See, this is the thing. Everyone seems to think that when they hear us say
things like this that we're childish. You can't say things like that unless you're a
silly little child."
GEORGE: "And if he (Charles) was grown up, he wouldn't have done the thing
'cuz he only did it for a stunt, anyway. So I mean, who is he to say about
growing up? Who is he?"
PAUL: (jokingly to George) "Who is this
JOHN: (smiling) "Other than that, it's great."
PAUL: "Quite a swinging tour."
Q: "Do you feel that Americans are out to get you... that this is all developing into
something of a witch hunt?"
PAUL: "No. We thought it might be that kind of thing. I think a lot of people in
England did, because there's this thing about, you know, when America gets
violent and gets very hung-up on a thing, it tends to have this sort of 'Ku Klux Klan'
thing around it."
Q: "It seems to me that you've always been successful BECAUSE you've been
outspoken, direct, and forthright, and all this sort of thing. Does it seem a bit hard
to you that people are now knocking you for this very thing?"
JOHN & PAUL: (smiling, and exaggerated nodding) "Yes!"
JOHN: "It seems VERY hard."
PAUL: "It seems hard. You know, free speech."
Q: "But is it possible just to say what you think all the time? What about
14-year-old teenagers who think you're absolutely marvelous?"
PAUL: "See, we're not... When we say anything like that, we don't say it,
as other people seem to think, to be offensive. We mean it helpfully, you
know. And if it's wrong, what we say, okay it's wrong. And people can say,
you know, 'You're wrong about that one.' But in many cases we believe it's
right. We're quite serious about it."
Q: "But do you mind being asked questions, for example in America people
keep asking you questions about Vietnam. Does this seem useful?"
PAUL: "I dunno, you know. If you can say that war is no good, and a few
people believe you, then it may be good. I don't know. You can't say too
much, though. That's the trouble."
JOHN: "It seems a bit silly to be in America and for none of them to mention
Vietnam as if nothing was happening."
Q: "But why should they ask you about it? You're successful entertainers."
JOHN: "Because Americans always ask showbiz people what they think, and so
do the British. (comically) Showbiz... you know how it is!"
JOHN: "But I mean you just gotta... You can't keep quiet about anything that's
going on in the world, unless you're a monk. (jokingly, with dramatic arm gestures)
Sorry, monks! I didn't mean it! I meant actually...."
JOHN: "It doesn't matter about people not liking our records, or not liking the
way we look, or what we say. You know, they're entitled to not like us. And we're
entitled not to have anything to do with them if we don't want to, or not to regard
them. We've all got our rights, you know, Harold."
Beatles Press Conference: Chicago 8/11/1966
ABOUT THIS PRESS CONFERENCE:
Reporter Maureen Cleave, a friend of John's, published an article about him in the March
4th 1966 edition of the London Evening Standard, entitled 'How Does A Beatle Live?'. The
article contained a small handful of quotes from a recent conversation she had with him,
including John's personal view of the current state of religion: "Christianity will go. It will
vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I am right and I will be proved right. We're
more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first-- rock and roll or christianity.
Jesus was alright, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins
it for me."
The quote was taken out of context in America, and spread as a ridiculous egocentric
headline: "John says Beatles bigger than Jesus." Reaction in the southern parts of the
United States ranged from Ku Klux Klan protests and Beatle record burnings arranged
by christian radio stations, to anonymous death threats.
Chicago was the first stop of their 1966 American tour. This was the Beatles' first
opportunity to answer questions personally for the American press regarding the Jesus
Following this August 11th meeting with the Chicago press at the Astor Towers hotel,
the Beatles would hold an additional press conference in Chicago the next day,
preceding their August 12th International Amphitheatre concert.
- Jay Spangler, www.beatlesinterviews.org
JOHN: "If I had said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got
away with it.
You know, but as I just happened to be talking to a friend, I used the word '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.
Q: "Some teenagers have repeated your statements-- 'I like the Beatles more than
Jesus Christ.' What do you think about that?"
JOHN: "Well, originally I was pointing 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 sort of... It is true,
'specially 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,
you know. I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong. And
now it's all this."
Q: "There have been threats against your life, there have been record burnings,
you've been banned from some radio stations-- Does this bother you?"
JOHN: "Well, it worries me."
PAUL: "You know, it's bound to bother us."
Q: "Do you think you're being crucified?"
JOHN: (clearly and seriously) "No, I wouldn't say THAT at all!"
(laughter from reporters)
Q: "What do you think about the record burnings here in the United States?"
PAUL: "Well, I think it's a bit silly. It seems a bit like a publicity stunt on their
part, you know. I think they're not going to gain anything by doing that."
JOHN: "If they just didn't buy the records, or threw them away, but burning them is..."
GEORGE: "It's the same old wrong mess. They've just taken it the wrong way, and
that's just the pity that... It's this misunderstanding which shouldn't be."
Q: "Mister Starr, you haven't said a word."
RINGO: "Well, I just hope it's all over now, you know. I hope everyone's straightened
out, and it's finished."
Q: "Is this an attempt to raise your flagging popularity?"
JOHN: "I could think of a much easier way..."
Q: "Such as?"
JOHN: "...to raise flagging popularity. I don't know, if you think of stunts. But we
don't do stunts. I think we've done one in our lives that's been completely a stunt."
PAUL: "But anyway, that's not the kind of thing that's gonna..."
Q: "Are you sorry you said it?"
JOHN: "I am. Yes, you know. Even though I never meant what people think I
meant by it. I'm still sorry I opened my mouth."
Q: "Did you mean that the Beatles are more popular than Christ?"
JOHN: (sighs) "When I was talking about it, it was very close and intimate with
this person that I know who happens to be a reporter. And I was using expressions
on things that I'd just read and derived about christianity. Only, I was saying it in
the simplest form that I know, which is the natural way I talk. But she took 'em,
and people that know me took 'em exactly as it was-- because they know that's
how I talk, you know."
Q: "It was quoted, a recent statement by you, that the Beatles were anxious for
what they called the downfall-- that is, the time when they would no longer be on top.
Are you anxious for it?"
JOHN: "Well, I don't know what that is. No."
PAUL: "I don't think that we ever said that."
GEORGE: "If we were really anxious, we'd just do something to..."
PAUL: "We'd DO it, you know."
GEORGE: "...end it."
PAUL: "That's the thing. If we really wanted to get out..."
JOHN: "People say, 'Oh, they must've done it on purpose. They must have a reason,'
But I made a mistake, and I opened me mouth, but there was no alterior motive in it,
Q: "Are you concerned that your image may be changing and diminished in the
eyes of the kids?"
GEORGE: "We change all the time, really-- our style."
RINGO: "I mean, we look different every time we come to America, if you look at
the old photographs. We never keep to a strict fashion."
JOHN: "You can see how we've changed."
Q: "Do you do that on purpose?"
JOHN: "No. (giggling) We're just growing old."
RINGO: "No, it's just that we don't control ourselves that much. We just look the
same for twelve months."
GEORGE: "If you look at a photograph of yourself last year, you probably changed..."
Q: "It hasn't been done by any design?"
PAUL AND RINGO: "No."
Q: "Does that mean your hair is longer?"
JOHN: "Probably, yeah."
RINGO: "It could be. I don't think mine is."
Q: "Do you chaps want to go into SHORT hair?"
RINGO: "No, I don't like short hair, you know."
JOHN: "We don't follow fashion anyway."
Q: "When are you gonna make another movie?"
RINGO: "Umm, maybe January, with any luck."
Q: "Do you have any idea what it's going to be about, or..."
RINGO: "It's just a small idea. There's no script yet."
Q: "What's the most enjoyable thing for you four about this adulation-- this almost
'Godhood on earth' that you've achieved?"
JOHN: (looks away distastefully) "Don't say that."
PAUL: (pointing to the reporter) "It was him. He said it."
JOHN: (to the other reporters) "Now, you all SAW that."
Q: "Can we talk about your music a little bit? You've gone a long ways from 'I Want To
Hold Your Hand' to 'Eleanor Rigby' and the raga and so on. What direction are you trying
to move your music?"
PAUL: "The thing is, we're just trying to move it in a forward direction. And this is
the point-- you know, this is why we're getting in all these messes with saying
things. Because, you know, we're just trying to move forwards. And people seem
to be trying to just sort of hold us back and not want us to say anything that's
vaguely sort of, you know, inflammatory. I mean, we won't if, really-- If people
don't want that, then we won't do it-- We'll sort of just do it privately. But I think
it's better for everyone if we're just honest about the whole thing."
Q: "How are you going to respond after tonight? Are you going to try and explain
yourselves every time somebody asks, or what?"
JOHN: "Well, I'll try if they keep asking me, you know."
Q: "It's very important to you?"
JOHN: "I'll try... I'll go on and on trying until they get it straight, you know,
because I just don't like to be sort of thought of as what I'm really not, you know.
It's nothing like me-- the thing they're putting 'round is nothing to do with me as a
person, you know."
Q: (to George) "What about you? What was your reaction to what he said, and the
reaction TO what he said?"
GEORGE: "Well, in the context that it was meant-- it was the fact that christianity is
declining, and everybody knows about that, and that was the fact that was trying
to be made."
Q: (to George) "Do you agree with it?"
GEORGE: "I do agree. I agree that it's on the wane."
Q: "What do you think about that fact that you believe that it's true?
What's your reaction to that truth?"
JOHN: "Well, my reaction is that I was deploring it, you know. I was pointing
it out. I mean, if somebody like us says it, people sort of do take notice, you
know-- even church people are trying to be 'with it' with pop groups and things.
They're still doing it the wrong way, and I was just stating a fact as I saw it.
And I wasn't trying to compare me or the group with Jesus or religion at all,
but just only in that way-- the way I'm trying to tell ya."
Q: "Can I have just one more question? I'd like to ask your reaction to the
fact that at London Airport this morning, some of the girls were crying,
'John, not Jesus.'"
JOHN: "Well you know, I don't take that seriously, either."
PAUL: "They're taking it the wrong way like everyone else, you know."
Q: "Are you unhappy about that?"
JOHN: "No, you know-- It'll get straightened out, because... I mean, I could have
stopped there and said, 'Now listen, that's wrong, what you're saying,' but I couldn't
do that-- I had to come over here anyway and do all this, and try and straighten
THIS out first. So, if it does get straightened out, it'll be straightened out for THEM."
M.C: "Okay, that you very much."
BEATLES: "Thank you."
REPORTER: "Thank you, John."
Source: Transcribed by www.beatlesinterviews.org from video and audio recordings of the press conference
1966--London's Evening Standard publishes Maureen Cleeve's interview with
John Lennon that contains his soon-to-be-distorted "Beatles more
popular than Jesus" remarks. Lennon said: "Christianity will go. It will
vanish and shrink. I needn't argue that. I'm right and will be proved right.
We're more popular than Jesus right now. I don’t know which will go first,
rock and roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were
thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me." Although
Lennon was making a comment about the irrelevance of organized
religion to many contemporary young people, most conservatives
interpret his statement as an arrogant insult. No one in the UK is
particularly shocked or offended, but when the remarks (quoted
out of context) reach the US, American conservatives (particularly those
in southern states) go off the deep end and start Beatles bonfires for the
burning of Beatles records, magazines, cards, books, posters, and other
paraphernalia. The hostile atmosphere surrounding The Beatles' final
concert tour of the US has much to do with their decision to quit touring
altogether. Although the most controversial part of the Lennon interview
was the “Jesus” remarks, he also made some rather prophetic statements
about his personal life: “Weybridge won’t do at all. I’m just stopping at it,
like a bus stop. I’ll take my time. I’ll get my real house when I know what
I want. You see, there’s something else I’m going to do, something I
must do...only I don’t know what it is. That’s why I go around painting
and taping and drawing and writing and that, because it may be one
of them. All I know is, this isn’t ‘it’ for me.”
The John Lennon I knew
The man who changed the course of pop music would have been 65 this week. Maureen Cleave, who knew the Beatles at the height of their fame -
and who relayed Lennon's most notorious quote to the world - recalls his chippy genius, and wonders if he would ever have been friends again with Paul McCartney
For those of us who wasted hundreds of column inches in the 1960s looking for the new Beatles and the new Rolling Stones, it's disconcerting to find
them still here 40 years on. Not only here but still (most of them) on tour, cavorting about with their hair dyed in various fetching shades of cigar, from Hamlet to best Havana
Had he been spared, what would a 65-year-old John Lennon be like? What would he make of Sir Paul and Sir Mick? Pretty short work, I should think.
Would he, like Sir Cliff, be having the Prime Minister to stay? Not on your life.
He never wanted to grow old: "The only thing I'm afraid of is growing old - they grow old and they've missed it somehow," he once said, cheerfully
dismissing a third of the human race. Charisma rarely survives the ageing process but, killed in the prime of life, Lennon remains a very powerful absence.
Early in l963, Gillian Reynolds tipped me off about this odd group in Liverpool who inspired an unaccountable frenzy in the young. The London
Evening Standard sent me to interview them. I wondered then how Lennon, looking so like Henry VIII, could possibly become a pop idol. With a Napoleonic sense of his own destiny and an
Olympian disregard for the rest, he didn't have the humility required at the time.
If he hadn't liked me, I wouldn't have dared like him, but I was all right because I had a fringe and a pair of red boots, considered rather daring.
The Beatles attached tremendous importance to physical appearance; the dreaded moment in any performance was when they got hot and sweaty and their fringes stuck to their foreheads, making
them look slightly like Hitler.
Lennon was the most interesting of them: imperious, unpredictable, indolent, disorganised, childish, vague, arrogant and very good at answering
back. Nice enough fellows, said Ted Heath, but they didn't speak the Queen's English. Lennon was on to this in a flash: "And I bet half the people who voted for him didn't speak the Queen's
One could hardly believe the speed with which they became famous. In the beginning of 1963 they were the darlings of Merseyside. By October, they
were famous all over Britain. A year later, soon after their appearance in the United States, they were probably the most famous people in the English-speaking world.
Theirs was the fascination of repetitive siblings, the almost sinister attraction of identical quads - how alike they were, how very
For two years they were out of breath. They ran to escape screaming mobs of frightening harpies. "Come on Thingy," they'd roar at me as I pelted
after them. They were smuggled in and out of food lifts. Once, in America, just like the Marx Brothers, they dashed through a palm court orchestra playing to ladies eating ice cream.
It was exhilarating while the novelty lasted, though Lennon, far from being surprised and grateful, seemed rather nettled he hadn't been famous
sooner. "I was always surprised I wasn't a famous painter. I used to look in the paper and half expect to see my photograph there."
He found his own story, the Beatle story, romantic; he liked to talk about the rags and the riches and, by the time they reached the top, fame had
so cut them off from real life there wasn't much else to do but talk.
Lennon once said, "The trouble with reality is it leaves a lot to the imagination", and it's almost impossible to exaggerate the destructive force
of modern fame. As John Updike said: "Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face."
When fantasy becomes reality, when you are rich and famous beyond bounds, when you have to come to expect instant results, how do you keep your feet
on the ground? The Royal Family have training and a supportive set-up; modern celebrities are hemmed in by press officers, preventing them from saying anything of the slightest
I last saw Lennon in 1966, when he had moved to an absurd stockbroker Tudor mansion in Weybridge, cut off from the rest of the world except for
George and Ringo, who lived in stockbroker Tudor mansions nearby. "What day of the week is it?" he would ask with interest when you rang up.
They saw only each other, driving between houses in their Ferraris and Rolls Royces - all with black windows. ("I'm going to get a bicycle with
black windows," said Paul, always better at real life than the others.)
They had swimming pools, but they rarely went outdoors or took any kind of exercise. "Sex is the only kind of exercise I bother with," said Lennon.
At two in the morning they might set off for clubs in London. They didn't know day from night; as for mealtimes, they hadn't had those since the early days in Hamburg.
He had everything money could buy but not what he wanted. "Here I am in my Hansel and Gretel house, famous and loaded, and I can't go anywhere.
There's something else I'm going to do, only I don't know what it is, but I do know this isn't it for me."
Prophetic words, fulfilled sooner than he might have thought. He'd told me he was reading about religion. "Christianity will go," he said. "It will
vanish and shrink… We're more popular than Jesus now - I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity."
With a PR man at his side, the quote would never have got into my notebook, let alone the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, where it ended up. As it
was, the Evening Standard didn't even put it in the headline. We were used to him sounding off like that and knew it was ironically meant. But the Americans have little sense of irony, and
when the article appeared in a magazine called Dateline, all hell broke loose. It was the last time the Beatles ever toured.
Shortly after this, Yoko came to fetch him away, our national treasure. Years later, I came across this in a book she published called Skywriting by
Word of Mouth. In 1978 John had written: "My life with the Beatles had become a trap… I always remember to thank Jesus for the end of my touring days; if I hadn't said that the Beatles were
'bigger than Jesus' and upset the very Christian Ku Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there with all the other performing fleas! God bless America. Thank you, Jesus."
So what if he had lived? Would he have made it up with Paul? I doubt it; he didn't have a forgiving nature. When his father Fred turned up, he was
shown the door. "It was the second time in my life I'd seen him - I wasn't having him in the house." Would he still be with Yoko? Definitely yes. She loved him and she had the measure of
him. Would he have dyed his hair? No, too badly organised.
I once had to cut it for him myself.
Were he still here, I'd start by asking him what he thought of the National Museum of Liverpool buying his old brown suede jacket. There's a worn
patch in the lining where his arm moved strumming the guitar. At the auction it was held up by a young curator in white gloves, as though it were a holy relic, and it went for
And the second question: "What do you think of Paul's new album?"