At the beginning of the month, Maureen Cleave passed away, aged 87. Today, perhaps his name only means something to Beatles scholars; she was one of the few members of the press with access to the group. Access so narrow that, for a time, it was believed that she was the protagonist of Norwegian Wood, elliptical Lennonian chronicle of an extramarital affair. And no.
Graduated in Modern History from Oxford, Cleave was a secretary at the London Evening Standard when he was commissioned to open a section dedicated to pop, Disc Date. He was agile enough to travel to Liverpool in 1963 and interview a group on their way to their first number one with Please Please Me. Although ten years older than George Harrison, Maureen’s youthful appearance appealed to The Beatles. She was subjected to innocent jokes and passed the tests with flying colors: she joined the gang. So much so that Lennon accepted his suggestions for a couple of lines from A Hard Day’s Night.
During the beatlemaniaThat a journalist had a direct line with the group was a guarantee of guaranteed employment. Thus, Cleave could call Lennon and propose a chronicle of his daily life. The hook was that John had his home – like George and Ringo – in Weybridge, a favorite residential area for bankers and stockbrokers. In fact, McCartney, installed in the capital, was the only beatle with social life and proximity to the bohemian.
Today such a report would be impossible (there would be at least one press agent watching and conditions previously agreed). But Maureen succeeded and her text was published on March 4, 1966, under the headline How does a beatle live? John Lennon lives like this. There was no evil in Cleave, though she didn’t bite her tongue, either. Although with a friendly tone, he presented a capricious, wayward, indolent Lennon, without a sense of time, oblivious to his family. The house was full of televisions, tape recorders, and quirks that once seemed like a great idea: armor, a gorilla suit. His bookstore included the colorful tomes of Guillermo Brown alongside those leather-bound classics destined to furnish the mansions of the nouveau riche.
And cars, many luxury cars. Among them a rolls royce that some passers-by mistook for the Queen. However, Elizabeth II would never have thought of the extra equipment required by the beatle: folding bed, refrigerator and —indispensable— television. Lennon bragged that he had read “millions of books”, but seemed fond of the electronic tit.
The text included Lennon’s resounding statement for history: “Christianity will disappear. It will shrink and evaporate. I don’t even have to argue: I’m right and time will prove it. Right now we are more popular than Jesus Christ. I don’t know if Christianity will last longer than that rock’n’roll. Jesus Christ was a nice guy, but his disciples have been short and vulgar. They manipulated their teachings and that annoys me. “
In the UK, with its tradition of eccentrics and provocateurs, those words of John Lennon went unnoticed. Not so in America, where a teen magazine Datebook, was quick to highlight them (curiously, the cover of that number was occupied by Paul McCartney, the most desirable of the Beatles for his single status). And a perfect storm started.
WAQY, a tiny Alabama radio, suggested to its listeners that they burn their Beatles records. Other stations in the Deep South announced a boycott of “that group of foreign singers.” The national press echoed and fury overflowed: a Pennsylvania senator demanded that promoters not hire them in his state. And the Beatles began a few days later, on August 12, their third tour of the US and Canada.
The Beatles arrived scared. They had just been scared to death in the Philippines, where a misunderstanding with Imelda Marcos, the dictator’s wife, led to attacks. Press conferences were held for Lennon to explain his comparisons to Jesus Christ and Christianity. He could not reveal the immediate cause: that on that date with Maureen he was probably full of marijuana.
Still, death threats came. They didn’t enjoy that tour. They performed for half an hour in large stadiums, with an amplification that could not compete with the shouting of the staff. And there were concerts where they did not fill. That happened at his farewell, on August 29, in San Francisco, the city that the following year would take over from the world counterculture.
By then, the Beatles had already secretly decided to stop touring. In a way, it was a consequence of the Maureen Cleave interview. Ergo, it could be said that we must dedicate all their energies to study to her. And that they began in December 1966 the most extraordinary streak of recordings in the history of rock, of Sgt. Pepper a Abbey Road.
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