Wednesday, October 1st, 2014
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Charles Dickens & John Lennon

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dickens125x175.jpgCHARLES DICKENS
Letter, 1842

I have come at last, and it is time I did, to my life here, and intentions for the future. I can do nothing that I want to do, go nowhere where I want to go, and see nothing that I want to see. If I turn into the street, I am followed by a multitude. If I stay at home, the house becomes, with callers, like a fair. If I visit a public institution with only one friend, the directors come down incontinently, waylay me in the yard, and address me in a long speech. I go to a party in the evening and am so enclosed and hemmed about by people, stand where I will, that I am exhausted for want of air. I dine out and have to talk about everything, to everybody. I go to church for quiet, and there is a violent rush to the neighborhood of the pew I sit in, and the clergyman preaches at me. I take my seat in a railroad car, and the very conductor won’t leave me alone. I get out at a station and can’t drink a glass of water without having a hundred people looking down my throat when I open my mouth to swallow. Conceive what all this is! Then by every post, letters on letters arrive, all about nothing, and all demanding an immediate answer. This man is offended because I won’t live in his house, and that man is thoroughly disgusted because I won’t go out more than four times in one evening. I have no rest or peace and am in a perpetual worry.


Lennon125x175.jpgJOHN LENNON
Lennon Remembers, 1970

The bigger we got, the more unreality we had to face, the more we were expected to do, until when you didn’t shake hands with the mayor’s wife, she starts abusing you and screaming or saying, “How dare they?” There’s one story where we were asleep after a session, somewhere in America, and this mayor’s wife comes and says, “Get ’em up! I want to meet them.” And our publicist Derek said, “I’m not going to wake them up.” And she starts saying, “You get them up, I’ll tell the press!” It was always that, they were always threatening what they would tell the press about us, the bad publicity if we didn’t see their bloody daughter with braces on her teeth. And we had these people thrust on us. And that was the most humiliating experience for me. Like sitting with the governor of the Bahamas because we were making Help! and being insulted by these fuckin’ jumped-up middle-class bitches and bastards who would be commenting on our work and our manners. I couldn’t take it. It hurt me so; I would go insane, swearing at them and whatever. It was awful. All that business was awful. It was a fuckin’ humiliation. One has to completely humiliate oneself to be what the Beatles were, and that’s what I resent. I did it, but I didn’t know, I didn’t foresee that, it just happened bit by bit till this complete craziness is surrounding you. And you’re doing exactly what you don’t want to do with people you can’t stand—the people you hated when you were ten.

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  • Thanks for drawing attention to this interesting echo across the centuries. It's easy to forget just how huge a celebrity Dickens was.

    I'd add that all the Beatles shared Lennon's discomfort with the hounding they got from the public and the press; where they differed was in how much they loved performing for audiences. Post-1966, and post break up, Harrison and especially Lennon were ambivalent about frequently playing live. Starr, and to an even greater extent McCartney, have always seemed to love it.

    Artistically, I think Dickens and McCartney have a lot in common, and wrote this blog post about it: http://heydullblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/mccartney-as-dickens-of-rock.html

    Posted by Nancy on Mon 12 Dec 2011

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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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