The Rip Post                                                                                              


riposte2.jpg (10253 bytes)

Nov. 25, 2008

“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.

          I read the news today, oh boy, about Obama possibly naming Monsanto shill Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture (help!), and Donald Rumsfeld opining in the NYT about strategy in Afghanistan (cough), and Ahmad Chalabi---the Zelig of the Middle East---kissing Obama’s ring in the NYT in yet another slimy bid to become emperor of Iraq. . .
          And how the Vatican pardoned John Lennon.
          As I recall, Lennon is still dead, and therefore not in much of a position to enjoy a pardon. As I also recall, Lennon never attacked the Vatican, or the Pope, never killed anyone, never helped turn Wall Street into slot machine. 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?
          Lennon did, of course, once suggest that The Beatles might be a bigger draw than Jesus Christ, but then, Christ was dead at the time (still is), and his talents as a performer remain open to question.
          I checked the rest of the news today, oh boy. Nope. Nothing about the Vatican meeting with Generalissimo Francisco Franco, or urging that nations try to stave off World War I. I checked my watch. Yup, just as I thought. 2008. No new Beatles music since 1970.
          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".
          So some fellow, or fellows, or the holy editorial board at L’Osservatore, decided that poor old Lennon has not committed a sin against Gawd, after all. Forty-two years later. The countless thousands---millions?---of so-called Christians in this country who burned Beatles albums and frothed at the mouth, many demanding Lennon’s death, were wrong, after all. (Gawd forgive them.)
          Well, as the Church Lady used to say, “Isn’t that special!”
          Isn’t it special that the Il Papa and his minions would concern themselves with this! You know, they really have many more important things to do. Like psychologically enslaving the poor, ignorant, helpless of the world by indoctrinating them into the Big Catholic Guilt Trip, and condemning anyone to hell or purgatory who wears a condom or interruptus-es their coitus. Generally rah-rahing to make every ejaculation count, and foment still more little human greedball needballs to wahhh and puke and consume and cry and destroy and get tattooed and play Super Smash Brothers III.
          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 rolllllll back the clock, shall we, 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’s a nice article, actually, half-substantial and half-chocked full of gossipy details heavily in demand at the time, casually related, and without apparent awareness of Lennon’s frequent use of psychedelics. (Put it this way: there were at least several days that year when he was not tripping out.) Ringo and George are apt to stop in, Cleave jauntily reported, and “they while away the small hours of the morning making mad tapes---Bedtimes and mealtimes have no meaning as such.” (Heh.)
          (My favorite part of the article: Lennon’s prized possession of the moment seems to have been a gorilla suit. He tells Cleave how he suggested that the other Beatles each get one, too, so they could all go driving around London in them. The others weren’t as keen on this idea. Pity!)
          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 aoo too punishingly well, the world press soon filled with headlines, “LENNON SAYS BEATLES BIGGER THAN JESUS,” and the Beatle-album-burning orgy began. Now, forty-two 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 Tiny Tim. (Well, maybe the Stones!) At the time of the interview, Johnpaulgeorgandringo were seriously considering an end to touring---repeat, an end to touring---deeply repulsed by all the screaming, fetishizing idolatry. (They did, in fact, cease concert performances permanently just a few months later---except for the final show atop Apple Records in 1969---after being hounded with record-burning and death threats in the wake of Lennon's remarks.) Boasting of fame? Why, Lennon was practically a recluse at the time of the interview, and never went on tour again in his life(!) after The Beatles.
          Overall, the Jesus statement was just offhanded 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.
          Repeat: Lennon’s comment was meant to illustrate the widely known decline in popularity of so-called Christianity---not to trumpet the rise of The Beatles. (Fer crissakes.) Note that he did not tout rock ‘n’ roll or The Beatles as being better than Christianity, declaring that all were transitory phenomenae. What's more, JL actually compliments JC---something he also did, not incidentally, in interviews throughout his life. The man was a Christ fan. The salient part of his statement, really, is how Jesus’s “disciples were thick and ordinary---it’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
          Yowzah! Can you say. . .Pat Robertson? John Hagee? Boy, did John hit the nail on the head here, pardon the metaphor. It’s the televangelists, the martinet priests and pastors and ministers, and the poor dunderhead intolerant true-believers who know that they are gwyne up to hebbin’ because The Babble tells them so. . .who screw up the whole deal. Who have turned the unassailable goodness of Christ’s ideas into stupidity, hypocrisy, tyranny, evildoing, insanity. Mormon underwear, anyone? I have a personal relationship with Christ.
          Any thoughts of Lennon “boasting” about “enjoying unexpected success” should finally be allayed by a statement made later in the article, one that addresses the songwriter’s now fabled restlessness. It is, in retrospect, eerily prophetic:
          “You see, there's something else I'm going to do, something I must do---only I don't know what it is,” he said. “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.”
           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:
           Christ’s followers are thick and ordinary.

                                  © 2008 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.

                                             BACK TO PAGE ONE


© 2008 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.