2. He thought he was Jesus.
Early in the Beatles’ career, Lennon made a few off-hand remarks about Jesus and the future of Christianity — remember, he was just a rhythm guitar player in a band — that nearly wrecked the group’s popularity. It happened like this, as I describe it in Imagine: The Story of a Song:
He told a reporter for the London Evening Standard, ‘Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink … We’re more popular than Jesus now — I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.’
Five months later, when the remark was reprinted in the United States, Beatle-worship turned to Beatle hatred among religious conservatives. Churches held bonfires of their records. The Ku Klux Klan, weirdly taking the moral high ground, nailed a Beatles’ album to a wooden cross.
The protest spread to other countries including Mexico, South Africa and Spain. Some radio stations banned their records. The controversy was so serious, erupting as it did on the eve of a Beatles’ tour in the United States that the band’s manager Brian Epstein considered cancelling it. Lennon apologized.
Yet, Jesus was a figure of endless fascination and power to him. So much so that one night a few years later, after a few joints and a bit of LSD, Lennon informed a friend, “I think I’m Jesus Christ.”
His mate replied, “You what?”
The next morning, Lennon called for an emergency board meeting of Apple, the Beatles recording company. The other three band members attended, including Neil Aspinall, Apple’s managing director, and Derek Taylor, their press officer.
“Right,” said John, “I’ve something very important to tell you all. I am…Jesus Christ. I have come back again. This is my thing.”
No one could think of what to reply to that. Someone suggested they adjourn for lunch instead.
In the restaurant over lunch a gentleman came up to John and said: “Really nice to meet you, how are you?”
“Actually,” said John, “I’m Jesus Christ.”
“Oh, really?” said the man. “Well, I liked your last record.”
Lennon pushed for adding Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler to the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but was outvoted. However on the iconic Abbey Road cover, that’s Lennon in the lead crossing the street, doing his impression of Jesus Christ in a white suit.