On this day in 1966 a member of a popular beat combo gave an interview to a London newspaper. In it he talked about gorilla suits and car phones. He also said “We’re more popular than Jesus.” You may think that the shit hit the fan immediately, but you’d be wrong. It appears that no one in London really gave a flying act of fornication about this comment, but four months later the remark turned up in the US and a whole heap of opprobrium ensued.
Which beardy man is your favourite?
In context Lennon – for it was he – had been talking about the fact that Christianity seemed to be on the decline, that it was disappearing. Being more popular than Jesus wasn’t a boast, it was a (probably quite factual) comment on the waning of religion and the rise of celebrity culture, especially that surrounding the Beatles, which was, by any yardstick you care to measure it with, pretty batshit mental.
In parts of the US, well let’s be more specific, in the bible belt, this out of context remark was seen as blasphemy. Some DJs put a ban on playing any Beatles records ever again. This was of course their right, but then arranging places where ex-fans could bring any Beatles records and memorabilia for burning was a tad beyond the pale. Lennon realised that things had got a bit out of hand when he heard about the scheduled Alabama Bonfire of the Vanities and apologised, not for what he said, but for how he had said it.
Some bona fide idiots have stated that it was this remark that led to the end of Beatlemania in the US, completely overlooking the fact that after August 1966 the Beatles never toured again. Granted there were a few problems with the last US tour as officials got their knickers in a twist about religion being mocked, and there were a few empty seats, but the tour was a commercial success. The Beatles stopped playing live, not because fuckwits burned their records but because there was no point doing live shows when the audience screamed so hard that you couldn’t hear the band playing or singing.
It’s worth noting that one of the radio stations that organised a public burning of Beatles stuff, KLUE in Texas, experienced a spot of bother the day after their exhibition of utter lunacy. Their transmission tower was hit by lightning and all broadcasts screeched to a halt. It would appear that your man Jesus was a Beatles fan.
Today was the birthday of the original Jack the lad, Jack Sheppard . He was born in 1702 in Spitalfields in London to a poor family. We know they must have been poor because just about everyone in Spitalfields was. You’re probably wondering who this man you’ve never heard of was. Well, he was the model for Macheath in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and he was Jack the lad.
Ladies Love Cool Jack
His early life was pretty ordinary, he found himself apprenticed to a carpenter and was happily learning his trade, but he fell into the wrong company, or maybe it was the right company, and soon his apprenticeship was behind him and he was thief and a burglar. That in itself is not that unusual or interesting. What brought Jack his fame was his ability to escape from imprisonment. He was first arrested on 5th February 1724. He was imprisoned on the top floor of St Giles Roundhouse and within hours he had escaped through the roof using his bedding as a rope to lower himself to the ground. He remained free until May when he was arrested again. This time it took him a little longer to free himself as he had manacles to saw through, but within five days he was lowering himself down the walls of New prison in Clerkenwell into the neighbouring Bridewell, where he scaled a 22ft wall and was free again.
And again? This time he was in Newgate and had received a death warrant. With a little help from a couple of female friends, he loosened a bar in the window where he got to speak to visitors, got himself through it (Sheppard was a very slight and slender man) and was then dressed in women’s clothing and smuggled out of prison. By this time, Jack was quite famous. The public loved to hear tales of his derring do and his escapes. The authorities were not quite so enamoured of him, I really can’t think why. When he was arrested and imprisoned for a fourth time, again in Newgate prison they got a bit tougher. When warders found files and tools in his cell – the condemned cell – they were removed and he was put in another cell, one that was
Jack was also a bit of a graffiti artist. Is this Banksie finally unmasked?
even more secure than his old one. Feeling that was not enough, they clamped him in leg irons and handcuffs. While in this compromised position, Jack was visited by the great and the good who were also rather titillated by tales of his exploits. Jack treated all the same, he was polite, funny and not at all depressed by his situation. He had no need to be. A few nights after his imprisonment he freed himself from his handcuffs and escaped, still wearing his leg irons. This was his most spectacular escape of all. He broke through six locked doors, made it on to a neighbouring roof, broke into the house under that roof and made his way through it to the front door and out onto the street. All of this without waking the inhabitants.
He was only free for two more weeks. He was captured whilst utterly off his face – Jack did like a drink or several – and taken to a cell in Newgate where he was under constant scrutiny. This time he did not escape. His journey to Tyburn was like a public holiday 200,000 people accompanied the cart that was transporting him. They stopped along the way at an inn where Jack drank a pint of sherry and then finally he was upon the gallows. The hangman found a penknife with which he had been intending to cut the noose and it was taken from him. He was hanged for five minutes and then cut down. At this point the crowd surged around him to prevent the theft of his body for vivisection. This action prevented friends from getting to his body and taking him to a doctor to be revived. It’s likely he was dead already, but if there was any life in his body he would have had his most daring escape to date. Alas, his fame and popularity meant that it wasn’t to be and Jack was dead at the age of 22.
Now, far be it from me to big up a thief and a burglar, but Jack was a bit exciting and fun and for a while he really stuck it to the man and who can fail to enjoy that, even if just a little. And Jack was not violent. In his brief criminal career he never physically hurt any of his victims. He was loyal as well. If Jack had agreed to grass on his associates his death sentence would have been commuted to transportation; he refused.
So, good on you, Jack the Lad. You were a very naughty boy, but by golly you were a grand man! Happy birthday you terrible rogue!