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Christ, you know it ain't easy
Beatles still more popular than Jesus?
by Mark Anderson

"The Beatles are more popular than Jesus," said John Lennon in one of last century's more infamous out-of-context quotes. And although many things have changed in the 35 years since, one thing stays the same: It might still be true.

There's the current theatrical re-release of "A Hard Day's Night," the 1964 flick, which produced around-the-corner lines at Portland's Cinema 21 earlier this year. Then there's the CD of 27 chart-toppers from the '60s that ended the 20th Century and began the 21st … atop the charts in a record-breaking 33 countries.

But it's the 354-page book, "The Beatles Anthology," culled from recent interviews with Ringo, George and Paul, that radiates new heat and light. While the humor-laced tome tries to pass itself off as a coffee-table picture book, it is in fact a massive (most pages contain upwards of 2,000 words), clear-headed and not always flattering look back upon the boys' own role in what was a strange, highly concentrated and ultimately transcendent decade for the planet at large.

The pre-Beatlemania 1960-62 period might be most revealing. The lads grew up in the tough, gang-laden seaport of Liverpool and, as youngsters, they'd hop a bus across town to see any player who knew a chord or two they didn't. Then, in '60, it was off to Germany to work several stints in Hamburg's red-light district, where they'd split 12-hour shifts with another band -- six days a week for weeks on end -- and learned to really play. Later still, they crisscrossed Britain in an unheated van with a hired driver, one Beatle in the passenger seat, three more in back -- keeping warm by sharing a pint and lying on top of each other, rotating positions, a Beatle sandwich.

From those whimsically intoxicating early days, even people who didn't love the Beatles were captivated -- along with Ed Sullivan and much of the rest of the world -- in their living rooms.

And from there it's certainly no stretch to say the rest is history: working class blokes write the songs that speak the truth that top the charts that turn the tide that stop the war.

Their Moptop memories, admittedly a bit blurry at times, are mostly mighty fresh. John's heady spirit is voiced via many sources (with thorough annotation and including the 1980 Playboy interviews); the quotes seem to put him in the room with the other three. It's sadly impossible to guess what 20 years' more reflection would have revealed -- Lennon was out of the band 10 years when he died in 1980, a mere 40.

In retrospect, it's odd that the words of 20-something pop stars were taken so gravely. Until you remember that these days, it happens far more often with far lesser talents. So it's beyond interesting to hear the boys reminisce.

Ringo: "The other thing that happens when you become famous is that people start to think you know something. They all want to know what you think about this and that, and I would blah on -- as a 22-year-old -- as if suddenly I knew. I could talk about anything, I knew exactly how the country should be run, and why and how this should happen … Suddenly people would give you all this credit! But we weren't any different; we'd just had a couple of Number Ones."

George: "… although there was a down side, I see my acid experience more as a blessing because it saved me many years of indifference. It was the awakening and the realization that the important thing in life is to ask 'Who am I?' 'Where am I going?' and 'Where have I come from?' If you can live by some inner rule and become centered on some kind of cosmic law, you don't need governments or policemen or anybody laying down rules. If I had half a chance, I'd put acid in the Government's tea."

Paul: "I'm really glad that most of the songs dealt with love, peace, understanding. There's hardly any one of them that says: 'Go on, kids, tell them all to sod off. Leave your parents.' It's all very 'All you need is love,' or John's 'Give peace a chance.' There was a good spirit behind it all …"

As for the Jesus remark, the Beatles' subsequent fall from grace and the firestorm of controversy that ensued -- album burning, hate mail, death threats -- the point, even still, is easily missed.

"If I'd have said, 'Television is more popular than Jesus,' I might have got away with it," Lennon reasoned, by way of explanation. "… I think people who need church should go. And the others who know the church is in your own head should visit that temple because that's where the source is. We're all God. Christ said, 'The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.' And the Indians say that and the Zen people say that. We're all God. I'm not a god or the God, but we're all God and we're all potentially divine -- and potentially evil."

Jesus and the lads from Liverpool -- they're all on the same side; it's no contest.

E-mail Mark at andersonenterprises@hotmail.com, and visit prior editions of tripewriter.

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