John Lennon Opines Jesus

John Lennon Opines Jesus

July 29, 1966

August 1966 interview about his March opinion 
John Lennon Opines Jesus

Looking for trouble

By 1966, it could seem that the whole world  knew who Beatles were and that most of the world liked their music and them, too. Of course there were many who did not like the Beatles’s music nor the Beatles themselves. Critics made wise cracks about them needing a haircut, looking like girls,  their looks in general.

Rock and Roll was just a teenager and there were plenty of people who were suspicious of the music and anyone associated with it. The Red Scare and McCarthyism of the 1950s still echoed in the early 60s, the Soviet Union was still our arch nemesis, and the re-invigorated civil rights movement threatened the status quo, however unjust that status quo was.

Parents warned their teenagers, “If you go looking for trouble, you’ll find it.” Teenagers knew, “If you want to find a reason to dislike my music, you’ll find a reason.”

John Lennon Opines Jesus

Maureen Cleave

Journalists knew that a Beatle interview was money in the bank.  Maureen Cleave, of the London Evening Standard, ran a series of interviews called “How does a Beatle Live?”

On  March 4, 1966, Maureen Cleave interviewed John Lennon for the series.

During the interview, Lennon, who had been reading about various religions said, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I’ll 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.”

John Lennon Opines Jesus

The article appeared and that was that.   No outrage by the British.
John Lennon Opines Jesus

US reaction

Tony Barrow was the Beatles press officer. He offered the rights to all four interviews to US teen magazine, Datebook.

John Lennon Opines Jesus

On July 29, 1966 the article appeared with a headline featuring the Lennon Christianity quote, which was only a small part of the entire interview.

John Lennon Opines Jesus

It became national news on August 4. A NY Times article lead sentence read: “Dozens of radio stations throughout the United States are banning music by the Beatles because of a statement by one of the rock ‘n’ roll singers that his group is more popular than Jesus.

The article’s last sentence read: “Several radio stations scheduled bonfires for the burning of Beatle records and pictures.

John Lennon Opines Jesus

Some support

The US negative reaction was not universal. A Kentucky radio station declared that it would give the Beatles’ music airplay to show its “contempt for hypocrisy personified”, and the Jesuit magazine America wrote: “Lennon was simply stating what many a Christian educator would readily admit.”

John Lennon Opines Jesus


The Beatles toured that summer, but it was their last. While the Christianity comment alone did not cause that cessation, it was a part of it.

And in 2008, the Vatican issued the following statement: “The remark by John Lennon, which triggered deep indignation, mainly in the United States, after many years sounds only like a ‘boast’ by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success, after growing up in the legend of Elvis and rock and roll. The fact remains that 38 years after breaking up, the songs of the Lennon-McCartney brand have shown an extraordinary resistance to the passage of time, becoming a source of inspiration for more than one generation of pop musicians.” [BBC article]

John Lennon Opines Jesus

Summer Jam Watkins Glen 1973

Summer Jam Watkins Glen 1973

July 28, 1973

Summer Jam Watkins Glen 1973

Summer Jam Watkins Glen 1973

Another Woodstock?

Rock festivals had become a normal part of the warm months and 1973 had the biggest ever, at least in terms of attendance.  Shelly Finkel and Jim Koplin produced the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, a one-day event with only three bands.

The three bands weren’t just any bands. They were arguably the three biggest rock bands of the time: the Allman Brothers, The Band, and the Grateful Dead. Some attendees bought tickets, 150,000 at least. If that number is accurate, then 450,000 people saw the event for free, because the estimated number of people at the event is 600,000, far outnumbering Woodstock in 1969.

Summer Jam Watkins Glen 1973

July 27, 1973

The plans called for the bands to do their soundchecks the day before. Like Woodstock, there were already thousands of fans waiting the next day’s concert, but The Band decided to do their soundcheck anyway. The Allman Brothers followed with a couple more songs.

Like no other band before, since, and perhaps ever, the Dead ended up doing 90 minutes with two full sets. Deadheads rate this “show” as one of the best ever!

Set 1

  1. The Promised Land
  2. Sugaree
  3. Mexicali Blues
  4. Bird Song
  5. Big River
  6. Tennessee Jed

Set 2

  1. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
  2. Me And My Uncle
  3. Jam ->
  4. Wharf Rat
  5. Around And Around

And like most Dead shows, there are several recordings available: soundboard, audience, and a wonderful matrix.

Summer Jam Watkins Glen 1973

Watkins Glen acoustics

With 600,000 attendees the area resembled the already 4-year-old Woodstock Music and Art Fair: clogged highways, impromptu parties, dazed wanderers, and seat searchers.

A crowd of that size required some clever acoustic technology. Every two-hundred feet from the stage, the crew erected additional sets of sound towers.  Seven sets altogether. That alone would have created  acoustic Doppler mayhem with the original sound lagging  behind the forward groups of towers, each delayed and piling upon each other.

The key was setting a 0.175 second delay for the first set speakers and additional delays for each set outward. Such a system created a “single” sound to the brains of guests. (insert joke here)

Summer Jam Watkins Glen 1973


The word “jam” in the event’s title lived up to its name. The Dead opened the day with a three-hour plus show. The Band followed with a rain-interrupted two hour set.

The Allman Brothers followed with its own three-hour set after which all three bands joined for a 45 minute set of Not Fade Away, Mountain Jam, and Johnny B. Goode.

Summer Jam Watkins Glen 1973

Not Woodstock

Despite its location (New York) and its size, Watkins Glen is not nearly as famous as its iconic neighbor in Bethel, 145 miles away. And it is not famous for some of the same reasons that the three dozen plus other festivals of 1969 remain mainly in obscurity: no soundtrack and no movie.

In fact, one can argue that the fate of Woodstock would be similar to that of Watkins Glen if not for it having a movie and album.

Summer Jam Watkins Glen 1973

Bethel Becomes Woodstock

Bethel Becomes Woodstock

July 1969

One of the most common questions guests ask when visiting Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is, “Why do they call it Woodstock?”

The question never asked is, “What happened in Wallkill?”

Here’s what was happening in July 1969 while Woodstock Ventures, the partnership that created the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, continued to prepare the Wallkill, NY site for the August festival.
Rt 17B, early Saturday morning 16 August 1969 (photo by J Shelley)
Bethel Becomes Woodstock

Wallkill declines

On  July 14, 1969, Woodstock Ventures had again met with Wallkill town officials and presented its revised application for the festival. Wallkill had instituted new ordinances and Woodstock Ventures felt it had done what was necessary to meet those demands.

The next day, in a closed session at the town hall, the Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals passed judgment on the status of Woodstock Venture’s application for a permit. The five-member board refused to allow the festival to build anything on the 200-acre site.

July 16: officials posted  an eviction notice on the front door of Howard Mill’s barn (one of the organizing locations for the festival) The notice told Woodstock Ventures to vacate the premises. To this point Woodstock Ventures had sold approximately 150,000 tickets for each day and had spent $500,000 on the concert. Woodstock Ventures went to court.

Bethel Becomes Woodstock

Bethel’s Woodstock

The move to Bethel, New York is a bit shrouded in a Sullivan County early morning fog. That is not surprising. No one followed Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman, or John Roberts around with a tape recorder or notepad to document every word for posterity. No one knew that posterity would be interested.

That same day (July 16) Mel Lawrence (Director of Operations) and Michael Lang took a helicopter over nearby areas looking for a concert new location.

While they were gone, Elliott Tieber apparently contacted Woodstock Ventures about a place in Bethel, NY, 30 miles away. Tieber’s family ran the El Monaco Motel at the intersection of Rts 17B and 55.

Upon investigation, the site was completely unsuitable. Tieber (perhaps, perhaps not) set up a meeting with Max Yasgur.

Bethel Becomes Woodstock

Max and men on the moon

July 17: although not particularly interested, Max Yasgur agreed to meet with Woodstock Ventures. Area media had covered the festival’s troubles in Wallkill and Yasgur knew all about the Wallkill eviction.

July 18: in the morning before the Yasgur meeting, Michael Lang and Ticia Bernuth (production assistant) explored the Bethel area. They saw an area they thought suitable.

The first site Yasgur offered did not please Lang. Yasgur offered another site, a field he owned about a mile away. It was the same site Lang and Bernuth had seen that morning. Yasgur and Lang made an agreement.

July 20: Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

Bethel Becomes Woodstock


July 20: someone nailed a sign to tree at driveway entrance.

Bethel Becomes Woodstock

July 21: Judge Edward O’Gorman handed down a decision. It banned the festival from the Wallkill site. That evening, the Bethel Council unanimously voted to grant permission to Woodstock Ventures to hold the festival.

Bethel Becomes Woodstock

July 22:  Mel Lawrence brought festival workers from Wallkill to Bethel. He held a general meeting at Tieber’s El Monaco Motel.

July 24: the Bethel Supervisor reported that he’d received about twenty phone calls from residents opposed to festival, but no legal threats.

July 26: Wes Pomeroy, the Chief of Security, began interviewing NYC police. He explained that those selected will not be in uniform, will carry no weapons, and will not hassle attendees about drug use, dress, or language.

That same day a local petition circulated to ban the festival.

Yasgur continued to support his decision and made the following statement: “I hear you are considering changing the zoning law to prevent the festival. I hear you don’t like the look of the kids who are working at the site. I hear you don’t like their lifestyle. I hear you don’t like they are against the war and that they say so very loudly. . . I don’t particularly like the looks of some of those kids either. I don’t particularly like their lifestyle, especially the drugs and free love. And I don’t like what some of them are saying about our government. However, if I know my American history, tens of thousands of Americans in uniform gave their lives in war after war just so those kids would have the freedom to do exactly what they are doing. That’s what this country is all about and I am not going to let you throw them out of our town just because you don’t like their dress or their hair or the way they live or what they believe. This is America and they are going to have their festival.”

Bethel Becomes Woodstock