John Lennon: “We’re more popular than Jesus”

12.00pm, Friday 4 March 1966 (48 years ago)
He is very keen on books, will always ask what is good to read. He buys quantities of books and these are kept tidily in a special room. He has Swift, Tennyson, Huxley, Orwell, costly leather-bound editions of Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde. Then there’s Little Women, all the William books from his childhood; and some unexpected volumes such as Forty-One Years In India, by Field Marshal Lord Roberts, and Curiosities of Natural History, by Francis T Buckland. This last – with its chapter headings ‘Ear-less Cats’, ‘Wooden-Legged People,’ ‘The Immortal Harvey’s Mother’ – is right up his street.

He approaches reading with a lively interest untempered by too much formal education. ‘I’ve read millions of books,’ he said, ‘that’s why I seem to know things.’ He is obsessed by Celts. ‘I have decided I am a Celt,’ he said. ‘I am on Boadicea’s side – all those bloody blue-eyed blondes chopping people up. I have an awful feeling wishing I was there – not there with scabs and sores but there through reading about it. The books don’t give you more than a paragraph about how they lived; I have to imagine that.’

He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England. ‘Physically lazy,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more.’ Occasionally he is driven to London in the Rolls by an ex-Welsh guardsman called Anthony; Anthony has a moustache that intrigues him.

The day I visited him he had been invited to lunch in London, about which he was rather excited. ‘Do you know how long lunch lasts?’ he asked. ‘I’ve never been to lunch before. I went to a Lyons the other day and had egg and chips and a cup of tea. The waiters kept looking and saying: “No, it isn’t him, it can’t be him”.’

He settled himself into the car and demonstrated the television, the folding bed, the refrigerator, the writing desk, the telephone. He has spent many fruitless hours on that telephone. ‘I only once got through to a person,’ he said, ‘and they were out.’

Anthony had spent the weekend in Wales. John asked if they’d kept a welcome for him in the hillside and Anthony said they had. They discussed the possibility of an extension for the telephone. We had to call at the doctor’s because John had a bit of sea urchin in his toe. ‘Don’t want to be like Dorothy Dandridge,’ he said, ‘dying of a splinter 50 years later.’ He added reassuringly that he had washed the foot in question.

We bowled along in a costly fashion through the countryside. ‘Famous and loaded’ is how he describes himself now. ‘They keep telling me I’m all right for money but then I think I may have spent it all by the time I’m 40 so I keep going. That’s why I started selling my cars; then I changed my mind and got them all back and a new one too.

‘I want the money just to be rich. The only other way of getting it is to be born rich. If you have money, that’s power without having to be powerful. I often think that it’s all a big conspiracy, that the winners are the Government and people like us who’ve got the money. That joke about keeping the workers ignorant is still true; that’s what they said about the Tories and the landowners and that; then Labour were meant to educate the workers but they don’t seem to be doing that any more.’

He has a morbid horror of stupid people: ‘Famous and loaded as I am, I still have to meet soft people. It often comes into my mind that I’m not really rich. There are really rich people but I don’t know where they are.’

He finds being famous quite easy, confirming one’s suspicion that The Beatles had been leading up to this all their lives. ‘Everybody thinks they would have been famous if only they’d had the Latin and that. So when it happens it comes naturally. You remember your old granny saying soft things like: “You’ll make it with that voice.”‘ Not, he added, that he had any old grannies.

He got to the doctor 2 3/4 hours early and to lunch on time but in the wrong place. He bought a giant compendium of games from Asprey’s but having opened it he could not, of course, shut it again. He wondered what else he should buy. He went to Brian Epstein‘s office. ‘Any presents?’ he asked eagerly; he observed that there was nothing like getting things free. He tried on the attractive Miss Hanson’s spectacles.

The rumour came through that a Beatle had been sighted walking down Oxford Street! He brightened. ‘One of the others must be out,’ he said, as though speaking of an escaped bear. ‘We only let them out one at a time,’ said the attractive Miss Hanson firmly.

He said that to live and have a laugh were the things to do; but was that enough for the restless spirit?

‘Weybridge,’ he said, ‘won’t do at all. I’m just stopping at it, like a bus stop. Bankers and stockbrokers live there; they can add figures and Weybridge is what they live in and they think it’s the end, they really do. I think of it every day – me in my Hansel and Gretel house. 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 round 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.’

Anthony got him and the compendium into the car and drove him home with the television flickering in the soothing darkness while the Londoners outside rushed home from work.

17 Responses to “John Lennon: “We’re more popular than Jesus””

    • Jeffrey Yoder

      “Were” being the key word. Many people have come that were bigger than Jesus, but they never have any staying power. Jesus and true Christianity have stood the test of time and will for eternity.

      Reply
      • Rigby

        “Jesus and true Christianity have stood the test of time and will for eternity.”

        Seriously now, it has only been around for about 2000 years in millenia of human history and it’s already diminishing. Most of the world is either secular (W-Europe) or Islamic.

        Reply
    • Tweeze

      Once again a correction must be made – and a very important one – John did NOT say ‘bigger than Jesus’. He said ‘more popular’. And he said ‘more popular than Jesus NOW’. People took this comment and have distorted it.

      John speaks from his own limited perspective. All he is seeing are a generation of youth attending the concerts screaming and idolizing the concept of the Beatles, he is experiencing ‘cripples’ being lead to their dressing room as if the ambience of the Beatles was somehow going to have rejuventating effects on their condition, he is reluctantly hob-nobbing with the elite who by their very daily lives essentially do not adorn their existence with Christian beliefs – etc. John made a bold statement – as he is oft to do. Then a collective of holier-than-thou types suddenly realized the error of their ways – perhaps. Instead of making a minor adjustment in their lifestyles they chose to distort John’s comment, as you have, and react in knee-jerk fashion. How interesting the record burnings to come, eh? Very Nazi-like.

      And yet, it never occurred to these people that when they bought a Beatles album – nobody twisted their arm, you know – that maybe they could have used the money spent on that album – or any album for that matter – and put the cash toward a more Christian oriented endeavor. It probably shocked these people with a sudden self-realization of the possible error of their potentially sinful ways. The next day? Would anyone be surprised that they queued up at the check-out line to spend their expendable dollars on a Johnny Cash album? Bottom line? If you fail to read the phrase properly that is your own fault. If you fail to read the entire article in its proper context that, again, is your fault. But one shouldn’t blame John for ones own shortcomings. That has a tendency to convey that in some personal instances he may have been absolutely correct.

      Whether Christianity shrinks and vanishes – he was probably only half right. The government imposes its will on the people and, as you can clearly see, the government continues to pass laws and Constitutional Admendments appear to fly in the face of staunch Christian belief. The government, you see, is NOT a Christian organization. It tries to attain these ideals but ultimately fails by placing other factors ahead of the Christian ideal. The 1960s seem somehow more Holy than the 2000s in retrospect. Being governed as it were, society itself shrinks from Christianity. Thus, John was correct. Whether Christianity vanishes? Well, the bastion of the faith itself is ones own heart and mind. Perhaps one can prevent it vanishing entirely, but that demands the discipline I mentioned earlier. Even the Pope occasionally makes alterations along the way that severs a constraint once binding in the faith. Once done, the shrinkage simply happens and all that was before quite has simply vanished.

      Reply
  1. robert

    The thing is factually John was wrong. They weren’t more popular that Jesus then they aren’t now. They seemed to be – but were not.

    Pulling all the religious points aside, John was just wrong on the facts. In fact even the comments John made surrounding that comment ‘Christianity will go,’ he said. ‘It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. .. ”

    Well, he has been proved wrong. That’s just the way it is.

    Reply
    • josephbrush

      @robert Time will tell. I guess you have never been in an half empty church. In the western world, Catholic churches are reeling from sex scandals. Christianity hasn’t vanished but it is definitely shrinking.

      Reply
  2. JulioCubillo

    John, as EVERYONE of us, had the right of be express what he was thinking, even if was wrong. For me as a Christian he was wrong, but was not saying that the Beatles were BETTER than Jesus, he just said that; at that specific moment, the were more popular for british young people than Jesus; and from that point of view, he was thinking that some day Christianity was going to dissapear. Was just an opinion. John was not a Christian (a least in practice), so he had the right of thinking such way.

    Reply
  3. robert

    I think everyone is in agreement that John has the right to his opinion. I don’t find any poster here challenging that.

    As for me, I was merely trying to point out, that regardless of his opinion and his right to it, John was just incorrect on the facts. That is just the truth of the matter.

    As John himself sang, “All I want is some truth.”

    Well, that’s the truth.

    Reply
  4. robert

    Well, I’m not sure how much time will tell. John made those comments 46 years ago. Christianity hasn’t shrunk – globally it has grown (it’s a global world not a western world). and as for the Catholic Church, their passing is akin to loosing Milli Vanilli as far as I am concerned. Bottom line is that Christianity is bigger now than in 1966 globally – look at the MEGA churches all over the world. Do the research.
     
    Then let me know how much time has to pass to declare that John was plain wrong on this one. An ironic point is the famous picture of John in his NYC t-shirt – he’s a got a cross around his neck. Take a look -it’s there.

    Reply
      • josephbrush

        I know it’s a global world, I have over 40 different passport entry stamps in my passport. Much of the world does not practice Christianity. There are other religions too.
        I don’t have to declare John to be right or wrong because the controversy doesn’t end today, it goes on.
        John wore a cross around his neck for how long, five minutes?

        Reply
  5. Jonathan

    Love the fact that Lennon had a gorilla suit (apparently the only suit that still fitted him !!).
    He is disappointed that he was the only one who bought one, he wanted them to drive around in Ferrari`s
    I bet he got the idea from the car chase with men in gorilla suits in the film “The Pink Panther” . It was released in Spring 1964

    Reply
  6. Adolfo

    There are no facts here, religion just tries to keep people blind, a mere invention for taking advantage on powerless minds, lots of people actually ignore Christianity origin. As many of us once decided on becoming a believer, whoever that decides on not believing is in his/her right. I do trust in God, and I do love Beatles’ music. God doesn’t mean being religious!!

    Reply
  7. Nick

    Leave it to the American right wing to have whipped themselves into a frenzy over John’s honest remarks. These were the same “Jesus lovers” who used fire hoses and dogs to oppress black Americans. Today, they value guns more than they value human life. Some things never change.

    Horrifically, John may have inadvertently planted the seeds of his own death with his remarks. His killer came from the bible belt and was a “Jesus freak” during his youth. It’s possible that coming from that type of background and being mentally unbalanced made him the kind of person who would eventually react in a heinous way towards someone who made comments that he considered blasphemous. The killer also wanted to be somebody and killing a celebrity would make him famous but there were many celebrities to choose from. Maybe the reason he targeted John goes back to John’s Christ statement, given the killer’s background. It is possible that John inadvertently started a ticking time bomb with the Maureen Cleave interview that exploded years later and resulted in his death.

    What’s vanished and shrunk are true Christian values. John was right about that. Look at how the American right wing considers anyone who is legitimately in need of government assistance a moocher and a freeloader.

    Reply

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