“It’s quite suspicious
To say the least
Even mentioned it to my priest
One Our Father, three Hail Marys
Each Saturday night. . .”
—from “Vatican Blues,” by George Harrison.
JL vs. JC Again
And how the Vatican pardoned John Lennon. Eh?
Funny -- when you read about someone being “pardoned,” especially by the Vatican, isn’t it generally for a rather nefarious deed? Didn’t Pope John Paul forgive that nutso who shot him?
Yet there was the Reuters copy: The Vatican's newspaper has finally forgiven John Lennon for declaring that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ, calling the remark a "boast" by a young man grappling with sudden fame.
And from the Guardian: But L'Osservatore Romano turned the other cheek on Saturday, dismissing Lennon's remarks as "showing off, bragging by a young English working-class musician who had ... enjoyed unexpected success."
Then there are trifles such as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, genocides, famines, AIDS, Madonna. . .Yet the Vatican took a little time out to “forgive” Lennon. How very Christian of them!
Okay, just for fun, sinners, let’s roll back the clock to the foggy old year of 1966, when men were men and Beatles were Beatles. It was then that journalist Maureen Cleave wrote an “at home with” London Evening Standard profile of Lennon, who was still married to first wife Cynthia and living in a posh suburban London enclave with three-year-old son, Julian. The man was all of 25 years old.
It is fully eight paragraphs into the piece that this candid little aside crops up, in passing: “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.”
Uh-oh. . . As we know all too punishingly well, the world press promptly filled with headlines, “LENNON SAYS BEATLES BIGGER THAN JESUS,” and the Beatle-album-burning orgy began. Now, 42 years later, the Vatican has suddenly adjuged this comment to merely have been a harmless “boast” by an “English working-class musician who had enjoyed. . .unexpected success.”
Holy See, Batman! They’ve gotten all it wrong again. Cue “Strawberry Fields.” Misunderstanding all you see. . .Il Papa? Il Poopoo.
First, the statement was about the decline of so-called Christianity, not Lennon or The Beatles' fame. He was simply stating the obvious: that the modern version of Christianity -- hollow, hypocritical churchonsundee ritual -- was losing support. And so it was, especially in the wake of the youth movement of the ‘60’s, which was rooted in rejecting seemingly empty conventions of the day. This was a perfectly valid observation well in the context of the time. Just one month later, Time Magazine ran one of its most famous cover stories, “Is God Dead?”
What’s more, as any half-serious student of Beatles history knows, Lennon could not have cared less whether The Beatles were more popular than Christ, The Rolling Stones, or Dylan (Well, maybe the Stones!). At the time of the interview, Johnpaulgeorgandringo had stopped touring -- repeat, stopped touring -- deeply repulsed by all the screaming, fetishizing idolatry.
Boasting of fame? Why, the man was practically a recluse, and never performed a concert tour again in his life! The remark was just off-handed musing, an excerpt from a long, free-ranging discussion. Never mind that Cleave included it as an illustration of Lennon’s sometimes willful statements and skeptical nature, not merely for its content. She hardly played the angle up.
By “this,” he meant wife/house/six cars/9-to-5 world-famous John-the-Beatle. Not exactly embracing the old Elvis lifestyle, was he! Of course, it would not be long before Lennon would find Yoko Ono and try to turn his gargantuan fame into something constructive: a quixotic ongoing music and PR campaign on behalf of peace, cooperation, understanding. You know, all the kinds of little notions that Christ stood for. This “something else I’m going to do” statement renders as ludicrous the Vatican’s remark implying that the young “working class musician” was a punk kid drunk with unexpected “fame.” Quite the contrary, he was hiding from it, trying to figure out how to accomplish something fulfilling as a private human being.
By the way, almost all of the articles summarizing the Vatican’s comments used that word “fame,” or “famous,” instead of accurately quoting Lennon’s “popular.” (Exactly which Italian word was used in the Vatican press, and how it was translated, I don’t know.) Attention, journalists: there is a big difference between fame and popular. Jack The Ripper is famous. You've gotten the whole point wrong, right out of the starting gate. In the ‘60’s, it absolutely did feel as though The Beatles were more popular -- popular -- than Jesus. I remember.
And so this sad old story never dies. Short-sighted, unthinking "Christians" and sophomoric writers will continue to resurrect it and “stir up the controversy” ad nauseum, as long as it will turn heads and compel ears (and advertising bucks.) The mere fact that feeble minds the world over still argue about it, and still castigate Lennon’s old ghost, and that the Vatican -- the Vatican! -- would issue a wrongheaded “pardon” that winds up trivializing Lennon as a braggart kid intoxicated with fame and fortune. . .just proves the ever-so-thoughtful 25-year-old Beatle’s central point...