Yesterday Jill and I had a great old time at the Wisconsin State Fair. Cheese, cheese and more cheese, followed up by a plate full of feathery cream puffs. If Sarah Palin were the governor of Wisconsin she could see cheese from her back porch.
The first time I experienced the magic of the fair was about this time in 1966, and that got me to thinking.
See, for me the fair wasn’t the only big event in August of that year. I looked it up when I got home and yesterday was the day, the exact day 43 years ago, that I irked the bejeepers out of my mother. She was in the passenger seat of the family’s brand new Malibu while I, the one with the brand new learner’s permit, held steady at the wheel. Well, not that steady, actually. Instead of listening to her instructions I was focused on the car’s radio and the news conference taking place on the north side of Chicago.
She told me to turn left off Sheridan Road somewhere around Lake Forest College. I went straight. She told me to take the next right onto Deerpath Road. I turned left against traffic. She grabbed the dashboard with her right hand and squelched the radio with her left.
That was that. We went around the block, and I muddled my way back home as she fussed and sputtered.
The cork on my mother’s temper popped because I loved the Beatles, and there they were in Chicago for the first stop on what would turn out to be their last tour. And the lads were singing the blues at the press conference that ended my driving practice for the day.
In March of that year John Lennon had made some comments to a friend and reporter for the London Evening Standard, Maureen Cleve. Asked for his views on organized religion he had replied, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink . . . we’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was alright, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.” (www.beatlesinterviews.org)
It took five months for the casual remark to make it into print in the states, finally showing up in a magazine, called Datebook, an unlikely forum for things theological. It didn’t take long. Public bonfires. Trash cans, labeled Place Beatle Trash Here. Beatles music banned on 35 radio stations across the country. (Norman. Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation)
And all this just as the nationwide tour was beginning.
So the four young men sat down before the press and got on with the damage control. Straight away John Lennon, at 26 the oldest of the four, came out with it. "Well, originally I was pointing out that fact in reference to England -- that we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion, at that time. I wasn't knocking it or putting it down, I was just saying it as a fact . . . I'm not saying that we're better, or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is, you know. I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong. And now it's all this."
Lennon’s conversation with his London friend took place in a country in which only 10% of the population reported regular church attendance. He couldn’t have understood that in the minds of many Americans a resurrected Christ would be living in a double-wide somewhere in Cumberland County, Tennessee.
I can’t say how many times since then I have used Lennon’s line And now it’s all this in my own life when a simple statement or action leads to unimagined consequences. Things are going smoothly and you say something without thinking and suddenly someone is crying in another room. You make a loaves and fishes choice that will hurt the fewest and help the most and end up offending everyone.
Lennon couldn’t have imagined that his innocent conversation in the midst of a back breaking tour that took the group from Liverpool to Hamburg to Tokyo to Manila would end up so badly awry.
For somewhere down in Decatur, Georgia a tortured soul began a slow swim toward what he saw as the light. "I would listen to this music,” Mark David Chapman would say in a prison interview. “And I would get angry at him, for saying that he didn't believe in God and that he didn't believe in the Beatles . . . I just wanted to scream out loud, 'Who does he think he is, saying these things about God and heaven and the Beatles?' Saying that he doesn't believe in Jesus and things like that.” (Schultz. March 4th, 1966: The Beginning of the End for John Lennon?)
And now it’s all this.
As an aside, the August 11, 2006 press conference was held at the Astor Towers Hotel at 1300 North Astor Street in Chicago. Bertrand Goldberg designed this building just prior to planning Marina City, the twin concrete towers that changed the way Chicagoans viewed their city. Now a condominium, Astor Tower is located about three blocks south of the residence of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago.