In an attempt to do some damage control ahead of The Beatles’ upcoming U.S. tour, today Brian Epstein held a press conference in New York during which he attempted to explain John Lennon’s assertion that the band was  “more popular than Jesus.”

Lennon didn’t mean to boast about the Beatles’ fame. He meant to point out that the Beatles’ effect appeared to be a more immediate one upon, certainly, the younger generation. John is deeply concerned and regrets that people with certain religious beliefs should have been offended.

Apparently Epstein’s initial, panicky response to the controversy was that the tour would have to be cancelled. He went so far as to calculate what that would cost before deciding that the show would have to go on.

Being British, Epstein and The Beatles were rather taken aback by the vehemence of the response to Lennon’s remarks. According to Bob Spitz’s The Beatles, Paul described it as “hysterical low-grade American thinking.” And I’m not saying he was wrong, but at times The Beatles — like many Brits — could be a little snobby in their attitudes toward their Colonial cousins.

There was genuine concern that someone might make an attempt on Lennon’s life during the 1966 tour. Well, we all know how that story turned out. When Mark David Chapman shot Lennon 14 years later, he didn’t mention Jesus, though he did say “I would listen to this music 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.” So in a way, Lennon died not for insulting Jesus, but for insulting The Beatles. Ironic that.

In the course of researching this, I learned something I didn’t know before. According to The Wikipedia,

On December 7, 1980, the day before the killing, Chapman accosted singer-songwriter James Taylor at the 72nd Street subway station. According to Taylor, “The guy had sort of pinned me to the wall and was glistening with maniacal sweat and talking some freak speak about what he was going to do.”

And I just have to say, Jesus Christ, Mark David Chapman — you had James Taylor right there. Come on.

Just to bring things full circle, in 2014 Chapman said, “I found my peace in Jesus. I know him. He loves me. He has forgiven me.” Well of course he did — he’s had it in for John Lennon since 1966.

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