The day after their arrival in America for their final US tour, The Beatles held a second press conference at the Astor Tower Hotel, Chicago. Inevitably it was dominated with questions about John Lennon’s comments that The Beatles’ were “more popular than Jesus”.
Q: Mr Lennon, we’ve been hearing a great deal of interpretations of your comment regarding the Beatles and Jesus. Could you tell us what you really meant by that statement?
John Lennon: I’ll try and tell ya. I was sort of deploring the attitude that… I wasn’t saying whatever they were saying I was saying, anyway. That’s the main thing about it. And, er, I was just talking to a reporter, but she also happens to be a friend of mine and the rest of us, at home. It was a sort of in-depth series she was doing. And so, I wasn’t really thinking in terms of PR or translating what I was saying. It was going on for a couple of hours, and I just said it as, just to cover the subject, you know. And it really meant what, you know, I didn’t mean it the way they said it. It’s amazing. It’s just so complicated. It’s got out of hand, you know. But I just meant it as that – I wasn’t saying the Beatles are better than Jesus or God or Christianity. I was using the name Beatles because I can use them easier, ’cause I can talk about Beatles as a separate thing and use them as an example, especially to a close friend. But I could have said TV, or cinema, or anything else that’s popular, or motorcars are bigger than Jesus. But I just said Beatles because, you know, that’s the easiest one for me. I just never thought of repercussions. I never really thought of it… I wasn’t even thinking, even though I knew she was interviewing me, you know, that it meant anything.
Q: What’s your reaction to the repercussions?
Lennon: Well, when I first heard it, I thought it can’t be true. It’s just one of those things like bad eggs in Adelaide, but when I realised it was serious, I was worried stiff because I knew how it would go on. All the nasty things that would get said about it and all those miserable looking pictures of me looking like a cynic. And they’d go on and on and on until it would get out of hand and I couldn’t control it. I really can’t answer for it when it gets this big. It’s nothing to do with me now.
Q: A disc jockey from Birmingham, Alabama, who actually started most of the repercussions, has demanded an apology from you.
Lennon: He can have it. I apologise to him. If he’s upset and he really means it, you know, then I’m sorry. I’m sorry I said it for the mess it’s made, but I never meant it as an anti-religious thing, or anything. You know, I can’t say anything more than that. There’s nothing else to say, really, no more words. I apologise to him.
Q: Mr Lennon, are you a Christian?
Lennon: Well, we were all brought up to be. I don’t profess to be a practising Christian, and Christ was what he was and anything anybody says great about him I believe. I’m not a practising Christian, but I don’t have any un-Christian thoughts.
Q: Was there as much of a reaction to your statements throughout Europe and other countries around the world, as there was here in America?
Lennon: I don’t think Europe heard about it, but they will now. It was just England and I sort of got away with it there, in as much as nobody took offence and saw through me. Over here, it’s just as I said, it went this way.
Q: Some of the wires this morning said that Pan American Airlines had provided each of you with free Bibles.
Lennon: We never saw that.
Q: If Jesus were alive today in a physical form, not a metaphysical one, he would find ‘Eleanor Rigby’ a very religious song, a song of concern with human experience and need. I’m curious about your expression of that.
Lennon: Well, I don’t like supposing that if Jesus were alive now, knowing what he’d like to say or do. But if he were the real Jesus, the Jesus as he was before, Eleanor Rigby wouldn’t mean much to him. But if it did come across his mind, he’d think that, probably.
Paul McCartney: It was written because there are lonely people, and uhh, it was just a song about…
George Harrison: And we had to have another track to fill up the LP.
McCartney: Anyway, what you said is right.
Q: Do you think the Americans lack a sense of humor?
The Beatles: No.
McCartney: The thing is, you know, when we talk about all these things you say ‘The Americans,’ but as you said, the Americans can’t all be the same person. They can’t all think the same way, you know. Some Americans lack humour and some Britons lack humor. Everybody lacks it somewhere. But there are just more people in the States so you can probably pick on the minority classes more, you know.
Q: I read something recently that you were…
Lennon: Never said it!
Q: …worrying about the Beatles being brought down, that certain people were interested in getting the Beatles over with.
Lennon: Oh, I don’t know. I think that’s a bit of one that’s, you know, I don’t really know about that story, honestly.
Harrison: Sounds like a homemade one.
Lennon: There’s nobody, sort of, get, pull us down. I’d agree, that if we were slipping, there’s lots of people that’d clap hands daddy-come-home.
Q: What kind of people do you think would be interested in…
Lennon: I don’t know, because they never show themselves until that time arises when it’s right for them.
Q: Do you feel you are slipping?
Lennon: We don’t feel we’re slipping. Our music’s better, our sales might be less, so in our view we’re not slipping, you know.
Q: How many years do you think you can go on? Have you thought about that?
Harrison: It doesn’t matter, you know.
McCartney: We just try and go forward and…
Harrison: The thing is, if we do slip it doesn’t matter. You know, I mean, so what? We slip and so we’re not popular anymore so we’ll be us unpopular, won’t we. You know, we’ll be like we were before, maybe.
Lennon: And we can’t invent a new gimmick to keep us going like people imagine we do.
Q: Do you think this current controversy is hurting your career?
Lennon: It’s not helping it. I don’t know about hurting it. You can’t tell if a thing’s hurt a career or something, a space of time, until months after, really.
Q: You were also quoted as saying that you were not looking forward to the American tour, and that the only part of the tour that you really wanted to get to was the California part of the tour.
Harrison: I think I said that.
Lennon: Well, somebody probably said, ‘Which place do you like best in America,’ and we probably said, ‘We enjoy LA most because we know alot of people there.’ And that’s how that comes to be ‘We only want to be in LA’ You know, it just so happens we know a few people there, and we usually get a couple of days off, so we usually say LA.
Harrison: We usually eat different food from hotel food. Not that there’s anything wrong with hotel food! But, you know, it’s a break from hotels because we get a house.
Q: Are there any southern cities included in your tour this trip?
Lennon: Memphis, we’re going there. Yeah.
Q: What is your feeling about going down south where most of this controversy has arisen?
Lennon: Well, I hope that if we sort of try and talk to the press and people and that, you know, you can judge for yourselves what it meant, I think, better by seeing us.
McCartney: The thing is, if you believe us now, what we’re saying, you know, and we can get it straight, then uh…
Lennon: It might get through.
McCartney: ’cause, I mean, we’re only trying to straighten it up, you know.
Lennon: ’cause we could’ve just sort of hidden in England and said, ‘We’re not going, we’re not going!’ You know, that occured to me when I heard it all. I couldn’t remember saying it. I couldn’t remember the article. I was panicking, saying, ‘I’m not going at all,’ you know. But if they sort of straighten it out, it will be worth it, and good. Isn’t that right, Ringo?
Q: Do you ever get tired of one-another’s company?
Lennon: We only see each other on tour. All together as four at once, you see.
Q: To what do you ascribe your immense popularity?
Lennon: [to McCartney] You answer that one, don’t you?
Ringo Starr: I thought Tony Barrow answers that one.
McCartney: Really, if you want an honest answer, none of us know at all.
Q: This is your third trip to Chicago. Have you had a chance to see Chicago yet?
McCartney: No, we – It looks nice out the window!”
Harrison: This is the first time we’ve actually stayed here, I think.
Q: Do you hope to someday see some of these places that you’ve just flown in and out of?
Harrison: We can go to everywhere, really, I suppose. Everywhere we want to go when… ‘when the bubbles bursts.’
Q: John, Your music has changed immensely since you first started out. Is this because you’ve become more professional, or is it that you’re trying to show the public…
Lennon: It’s not trying, or being professional. It’s just, you know, a progression.
Harrison: It’s trying to satisfy ourselves, in a way. But you know, that’s why we try and do things better, because we never get satisfied.
Lennon: It’s only that, you know. It’s not sitting ’round thinking, ‘Next week we’ll do so-and-so and we’ll record like that.’ It just sort of happens.
Tony Barrow: Can we make this the last question please?
Q: Yeah. A short one for Ringo.
Starr: Oh, no!
Q: Two weeks ago, we had a World Teenage show here in Chicago.
Starr: And you won.
Q: There was a set of drums there on the floor, cordoned off, that said ‘These are the drums that Ringo Starr will play when he’s in Chicago.’ Now today at the airport, I saw some girls screaming when they saw an instrument case, apparently containing your drums, being loaded into a truck. Which drums are yours? Where are they?
Starr: Well, I hope they’re both mine. I don’t know. Malcolm [Evans] will tell you about that, you know. He just puts ’em in front of me. I just play them. He’s the one who… Have we got two kits? No? Oh, don’t tell ’em that.
Q: One more question regarding your marital status. Has there been any change that you could tell us about?
McCartney: No, it’s still three down, and one to go.
Also on this day...
- 2014: Paul McCartney live: US Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona
- 2013: Paul McCartney live: Investors Group Field, Winnipeg, Canada
- 2010: Paul McCartney live: Bell Centre, Montreal, Canada
- 1969: Mixing: Oh! Darling, Because, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
- 1968: Recording, mixing: Not Guilty
- 1968: John Lennon and Yoko Ono attend an Ossie Clark fashion show
- 1966: Live: International Amphitheatre, Chicago
- 1964: Radio: The Teen Scene
- 1963: Live: Odeon Cinema, Llandudno
- 1962: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening)
- 1961: Live: Aintree Institute, Liverpool
- 1960: Pete Best auditions for The Beatles
- 1960: Paul McCartney offers audition to mystery drummer
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.