The Beatles' Scandal: "We Are More Popular Than Jesus Christ"
To be honest, most Beatle fans, those between 9 yrs. and 15 yrs. in 1965-66, did not care one iota about John Lennon's observation made during an interview. Well, it actually was true at the time especially to that age group! The remarks were made a full year in England before they crossed the Atlantic, In England, there was no hoopla about it at all. However, when Datebook, a teen magazine ran the story in the USA, the overly sensitive Americans living in the bible belt went ballistic
Within five days after the story broke, 35 radio stations refused to play Beatle records, hundreds of their fans burned their records and stores refused to sell them. Some communities had public drives to collect all Beatle records or went house to house canvassing for them to destroy. Nearly all of this insanity came from the American religious groups who were offended by the comment. How could anything be more popular than Jesus?
The KKK in South Carolina declared war on The Beatles and nailed their records to crosses and threatened to kill them if they came to their State. Even, the Vatican warned the group about making such outlandish statements. Beatle concerts in the USA were cancelled. Worse, in South Africa, the ban of Beatle records (airplay or purchase) continued until 1970.
Brian Epstien, their manager, insisted that John must apologize, to which, John refused to do. John was expressing a valid opinion that he felt was true, why an apology? The fact was, The Beatles were more popular than Jesus to their millions of fans, like it or not. John, after some arm twisting, agreed to clarify his statement when The Beatles arrived for their tour on August 11, 1966. The press met the members in a very antagonistic manner, far different than in 1964. John's clarification, well, it was a jumbled mix of babble trying to explain what he meant without actually saying, "I'm sorry". Once he was finished, the reporters were silent. They were totally baffled. Suddenly, a reporter asked, " But are you prepared to apologize?" This is when John, who had thought he just had apologized, began to lose his temper and restated his clarification in a more concise, clear manner. Again, once restated, reporters continued to ask John for an apology. John and Brian glanced at one another. Then John said, " I wasn't saying whatever they're saying I was saying". John paused, "I'm sorry I said it. I didn't mean it to be a lousy anti religious thing..if it will make you happy, I'm sorry". Then, John went on to denounce America's involvement in the Vietnam war.
When the Beatles reached Memphis on August 19 to play, the KKK picketed the stadium and the Beatles were paranoid that a sniper was in the crowd because of the threats from the klan members. Police were everywhere and looking for suspects. Then, when firecracker went off that resembled a gunshot, George nearly panicked during a song. When they played in Cincinnati, Paul was so nervous, he puked often off stage.
The whole incident really angered the band. 1966 would be their last tour.
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