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Beatles Interviews Database: Beatles Interview: Memphis, Tennessee 8/19/1966
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On August 19th 1966, The Beatles flew to Memphis Tennessee for two shows at Mid-South Coliseum, the 8th stop along their 1966 North American tour.

John Lennon's misquoted remarks earlier in the year about the current state of Christianity had caused tensions, especially in the southern states: Protests, record burnings organized by christian radio stations, and anonymous death threats, including a televised threat against the Beatles from a local Memphis Ku Klux Klan member.

While there were no issues with the afternoon Memphis performance, hearts stopped as someone threw an exploding firecracker on-stage during the Beatles' evening concert. Reportedly, the noise sounded at first like a gun shot, shocking everyone who heard it.

Beatles' Press Officer Tony Barrow would later recall: "Once we did get down to that area, the southern states... a firecracker was let off during the concert in Memphis and everybody, all of us at the side of the stage, including the three Beatles on stage, all looked immediately at John Lennon. We would not at that moment have been surprised to see that guy go down. John had half-heartedly joked about the Memphis concert in an earlier press conference, and when we got there everything seemed to be controlled and calm, but underneath somehow, there was this nasty atmosphere. It was a very tense and pressured kind of day."

News of the 'Jesus statement' controversy in America had reached home, and ITV had flown from London to Memphis to interview the group backstage at Mid-South Coliseum.

                                          - Jay Spangler,

Q: "What difference has all this row made to this tour, do you think? Any at all?"

JOHN: (opens his mouth widely to speak, and comically freezes with his mouth open)

RINGO: (laughs)

PAUL: "Umm, I don't think it's made much. It's made it more hectic. It's made all the press conferences mean a bit more. People said to us last time we came, all our answers were a bit flippant, and they said 'Why isn't it this time?' And the thing is the questions are a bit more serious this time. It hasn't affected any of the bookings. The people coming to the concerts have been the same, except for the first show in Memphis which was a bit down, you know. But, uhh, so what."

Q: "The disc jockey, Tommy Charles, who started this row off, has said that he won't play your records until you've grown up a little. How do you feel about that?"

JOHN: "Well, I don't mind if he never plays them again, you know."

PAUL: "See, this is the thing. Everyone seems to think that when they hear us say things like this that we're childish. You can't say things like that unless you're a silly little child."

GEORGE: "And if he (Charles) was grown up, he wouldn't have done the thing 'cuz he only did it for a stunt, anyway. So I mean, who is he to say about growing up? Who is he?"

JOHN: (demandingly) "Who!!"

PAUL: (jokingly to George) "Who is this guy?"

JOHN: (smiling) "Other than that, it's great."

PAUL: "Quite a swinging tour."

Q: "Do you feel that Americans are out to get you... that this is all developing into something of a witch hunt?"

PAUL: "No. We thought it might be that kind of thing. I think a lot of people in England did, because there's this thing about, you know, when America gets violent and gets very hung-up on a thing, it tends to have this sort of 'Ku Klux Klan' thing around it."

Q: "It seems to me that you've always been successful BECAUSE you've been outspoken, direct, and forthright, and all this sort of thing. Does it seem a bit hard to you that people are now knocking you for this very thing?"

JOHN & PAUL: (smiling, and comically exaggerated nodding) "Yes!!"

JOHN: "It seems VERY hard."

PAUL: "It seems hard. You know, free speech."

Q: "But is it possible just to say what you think all the time? What about 14-year-old teenagers who think you're absolutely marvelous?"

PAUL: "See, we're not... When we say anything like that, we don't say it, as other people seem to think, to be offensive. We mean it helpfully, you know. And if it's wrong, what we say, okay it's wrong. And people can say, you know, 'You're wrong about that one.' But in many cases we believe it's right. We're quite serious about it."

Q: "But do you mind being asked questions, for example in America people keep asking you questions about Vietnam. Does this seem useful?"

PAUL: "Well, I dunno, you know. If you can say that war is no good, and a few people believe you, then it may be good. I don't know. You can't say too much, though. That's the trouble."

JOHN: "It seems a bit silly to be in America and for none of them to mention Vietnam as if nothing was happening."

Q: "But why should they ask you about it? You're successful entertainers."

JOHN: "Because Americans always ask showbiz people what they think, and so do the British. (comically) Showbiz... you know how it is!"

RINGO: (laughs)

JOHN: "But I mean you just gotta... You can't keep quiet about anything that's going on in the world, unless you're a monk. (jokingly, with dramatic arm gestures) Sorry, monks! I didn't mean it! I meant actually...."

(Beatles laugh)

JOHN: "It doesn't matter about people not liking our records, or not liking the way we look, or what we say. You know, they're entitled to not like us. And we're entitled not to have anything to do with them if we don't want to, or not to regard them. We've all got our rights, you know, Harold."

Source: Transcribed by from video copy of the interview

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