In 2013, Kanye West compared himself to Jesus. Then again, West has said a lot of strange things through the years, whether it’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” (perhaps the most shocking) or “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.”
These days, if West says something outlandish, most people respond with, “oh, that Kanye…” as if they were referring to their naïve, prepubescent nephew. It takes something to be shocking in the post-Blurred Lines world (let’s face it – most artists are just playing catchup at this point). But then again, if you touch the right buttons, you will find yourself amid a mass controversy.
At times, music has prompted the religious, conservative, political and general listening public to organize protests and mass destruction of offending band merchandise.
You may recall that 53 years ago, The Beatles found themselves in a mess all their own – and it wasn’t unlike what West had done when he compared himself to Jesus (it was a lot like that, actually). In a London Evening Standard story that ran in March 1966, John Lennon claimed The Beatles were more popular than Jesus.
Now, this interview isn’t what caused a stir. There were plenty of oddities in the story, and the only way to be offended was to take the comment referring to Jesus in isolation. Oddly, it was when a teen magazine by the title of Datebook published segments of the then five-month-old interview that Lennon’s claims had reached critical mass, including the American south.
A DJ in Birmingham, Alabama wanted to ban The Beatles from the airwaves, and it wasn’t long before others joined in with their “Ban The Beatles” protest signs and the burning of Beatles albums along with other collectibles and merch. Of course, anything that was destroyed in the process could have been sold for a pretty penny today.
Then came the notice, on August 8, 1966, that Beatles albums were to be grinded up in a large, municipal tree-grinding machine. DJ Rex Roach wanted to present the remaining dust to The Beatles when they arrived for their concert in Memphis, Tennessee on August 19.
The controversy continued to escalate until Lennon apologized for his comments during a press conference on The Beatles’ final tour.
This, of course, did not lead to the downfall of the band. They went onto record some of their most brilliant and popular works, including Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and White Album in ensuing years. If there was anything that sent the group into turmoil, it was the death of Brian Epstein, who had been regarded as the Fifth Beatle.
The band, however, did break up at the end of 1970. Throughout the 70s and beyond each member had fruitful solo careers. Lennon was shot dead on December 8, 1980, aged 40. George Harrison passed on from lung cancer on November 29, 2001 aged 58. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr remain active in a variety of musical capacities to this day.