If you had told me then that Chicago would remember me as the man who brought the Beatles, I would have laughed at you. It was August 1966. A week earlier, John Lennon had set off an uproar with his offhand observation about art and life. It was all over the papers in this country: “We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first — rock ‘n roll or Christianity.”
Maybe he was right, but some people were saying Lennon had put his foot fatally in his mouth this time. The Beatles’ very career was threatened. The press was in a tizzy. A movement was taking shape in the South to ban Beatles records from stores.
Lennon had refused to say anything more in England. But the group had promised a press conference in Chicago to kick off their fifteen-city tour of the United States, and now hundreds of press types were pouring in from all over the world to see if there would be an apology. Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, was flying over to handle the onslaught himself. And there I was at the ramp at O’Hare Airport, waiting for Brian Epstein.
Jack Mabley, in his column for the Chicago Herald-American that day, was thundering that the Beatles should take their money and go home. I had brought in Mabley to introduce the Beatles form the stage at the last concert they did for me, but he had apparently changed his mind about them since then. Len O’Connor, a commentator for the big WGN radio station, added a loud attack on the air. I guessed that if even these guys had had such a profound change of heart, it meant proper society must be pretty thoroughly shocked. Epstein was sure the reporters would have his boys’ heads for it.
They could have them, for all I cared. My main concern at this point was to get this over with and get home. I didn’t have much to say to Epstein about anything. I was much more interested in Vladimir Lenin’s views than in John Lennon’s. I guess I was in the minority on both those matters, but I was used to that.
In any case, I was just the promoter. My job was to put the asses in the seats, and if I did it well, I expected to be left alone.
Norman Weiss, the Beatles’ booking agent at General Artists, had called at the last minute and asked me to meet Epstein myself with a limousine. In my eight years in the business I had occasionally been forced to hire limos for artists, but I had drawn the line at attending them personally. This time I reluctantly agreed, sure that this was the final step in my progress as a sellout.