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

The following article was published in the London Evening Standard newspaper on 4 March 1966. A fascinating portrait of John Lennon's home life, it was written by Maureen Cleave, a close friend to The Beatles.

The piece was headlined "How does a Beatle live? John Lennon lives like this". It grew notorious in later months when Lennon's comments about Christianity - "We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity" - were republished around the world.

It was this time three years ago that The Beatles first grew famous. Ever since then, observers have anxiously tried to gauge whether their fame was on the wax or on the wane; they foretold the fall of the old Beatles, they searched diligently for the new Beatles (which was as pointless as looking for the new Big Ben).

At last they have given up; The Beatles' fame is beyond question. It has nothing to do with whether they are rude or polite, married or unmarried, 25 or 45; whether they appear on Top Of The Pops or do not appear on Top of the Pops. They are well above any position even a Rolling Stone might jostle for. They are famous in the way the Queen is famous. When John Lennon's Rolls-Royce, with its black wheels and its black windows, goes past, people say: 'It's the Queen,' or 'It's The Beatles.' With her they share the security of a stable life at the top. They all tick over in the public esteem - she in Buckingham Palace, they in the Weybridge-Esher area. Only Paul remains in London.

The Weybridge community consists of the three married Beatles; they live there among the wooded hills and the stockbrokers. They have not worked since Christmas and their existence is secluded and curiously timeless. 'What day is it?' John Lennon asks with interest when you ring up with news from outside. The fans are still at the gates but The Beatles see only each other. They are better friends than ever before.

Ringo and his wife, Maureen, may drop in on John and Cyn; John may drop in on Ringo; George and Pattie may drop in on John and Cyn and they might all go round to Ringo's, by car of course. Outdoors is for holidays.

They watch films, they play rowdy games of Buccaneer; they watch television till it goes off, often playing records at the same time. They while away the small hours of the morning making mad tapes. Bedtimes and mealtimes have no meaning as such. 'We've never had time before to do anything but just be Beatles,' John Lennon said.

He is much the same as he was before. He still peers down his nose, arrogant as an eagle, although contact lenses have righted the short sight that originally caused the expression. He looks more like Henry VIII than ever now that his face has filled out - he is just as imperious, just as unpredictable, indolent, disorganised, childish, vague, charming and quick-witted. He is still easy-going, still tough as hell. 'You never asked after Fred Lennon,' he said, disappointed. (Fred is his father; he emerged after they got famous.) 'He was here a few weeks ago. It was only the second time in my life I'd seen him - I showed him the door.' He went on cheerfully: 'I wasn't having him in the house.'

His enthusiasm is undiminished and he insists on its being shared. George has put him on to this Indian music. 'You're not listening, are you?' he shouts after 20 minutes of the record. 'It's amazing this - so cool' Don't the Indians appear cool to you? Are you listening? This music is thousands of years old; it makes me laugh, the British going over there and telling them what to do. Quite amazing.' And he switched on the television set.

Experience has sown few seeds of doubt in him: not that his mind is closed, but it's closed round whatever he believes at the time. '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. 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.' He is reading extensively about religion.

He shops in lightning swoops on Asprey's these days and there is some fine wine in his cellar, but he is still quite unselfconscious. He is far too lazy to keep up appearances, even if he had worked out what the appearances should be - which he has not.

He is now 25. He lives in a large, heavily panelled, heavily carpeted, mock Tudor house set on a hill with his wife Cynthia and his son Julian. There is a cat called after his aunt Mimi, and a purple dining room. Julian is three; he may be sent to the Lycde in London. 'Seems the only place for him in his position,' said his father, surveying him dispassionately. 'I feel sorry for him, though. I couldn't stand ugly people even when I was five. Lots of the ugly ones are foreign, aren't they?'

We did a speedy tour of the house, Julian panting along behind, clutching a large porcelain Siamese cat. John swept past the objects in which he had lost interest: 'That's Sidney' (a suit of armour); 'That's a hobby I had for a week' (a room full of model racing cars); 'Cyn won't let me get rid of that'(a fruit machine). In the sitting room are eight little green boxes with winking red lights; he bought them as Christmas presents but never got round to giving them away. They wink for a year; one imagines him sitting there till next Christmas, surrounded by the little winking boxes.

He paused over objects he still fancies; a huge altar crucifix of a Roman Catholic nature with IHS on it; a pair of crutches, a present from George; an enormous Bible he bought in Chester; his gorilla suit.

'I thought I might need a gorilla suit,' he said; he seemed sad about it. 'I've only worn it twice. I thought I might pop it on in the summer and drive round in the Ferrari. We were all going to get them and drive round in them but I was the only one who did. I've been thinking about it and if I didn't wear the head it would make an amazing fur coat - with legs, you see. I would like a fur coat but I've never run into any.'

One feels that his possessions - to which he adds daily - have got the upper hand; all the tape recorders, the five television sets, the cars, the telephones of which he knows not a single number. The moment he approaches a switch it fuses; six of the winking boxes, guaranteed to last till next Christmas, have gone funny already. His cars - the Rolls, the Mini-Cooper (black wheels, black windows), the Ferrari (being painted black) - puzzle him. Then there's the swimming pool, the trees sloping away beneath it. 'Nothing like what I ordered,' he said resignedly. He wanted the bottom to be a mirror. 'It's an amazing household,' he said. 'None of my gadgets really work except the gorilla suit - that's the only suit that fits me.'

Also on this day...

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

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. Joe Post author

          I don’t really think this is the place for a discussion on the longevity (projected or otherwise) of Christianity, Islam or any other form of religious belief. The Beatles Bible is for believers in The Beatles.

    2. 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.

  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.

    1. 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

      1. 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?

  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

  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!!

  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.

  8. passerbuy4

    I fully agree with Tweeze he is the only one to get what John Lennon meant.
    Example – In 1973 Sunderland football club won the FA Cup Final.
    Every body was talking about Sunderland evan the woman,so that mean`s Sunderland where more popular than JESUS,until it wore off for about a month.
    After the Sunderland story wore off then JESUS came back,and people started talking about JESUS again that`s what he meant,John Lennon evan said it at the original interview.

  9. Elskidor

    Jesus has been in a decline for decades, and will be but mere memory as a historical figure or a fictional one, and the things he did to better life and for the repeat genocides and mass murders done in his name, but the Beatles will always remain iconic for their good deeds and influence to music forever.

    I praise the Beatles for many many things, but mostly for inspiring my all time favorite musicians “Queen”. I find no praise to be given for Christianity, unless only to thank them for showing the world just how evil religion can be.

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