you know it ain't easy
still more popular than Jesus?
"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
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.
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
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."
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
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.