John Lennon was right. The Beatles are bigger than Jesus Christ. He was right in 1966, and he's even more right today. Hell, you have a Pope that denounces his own religion by opening the gates of St. Peter to schnorrers and non-believers. You have a new Superman movie where the Man of Steel is being offered up as the God of Man. Devout Christians picket fallen hero funerals with signs saying GOD HATES F-GS. And guess what — that burning cross is making a comeback.
Thank you, Jesus, for the Beatles.
Wednesday night at the Grammy Museum I was among the pilgrims who shed the restraints of both Towne Car and Mercedes Benz to tread the same ground and occupy the same space as Ringo. Maybe not the best drummer in the world but certainly the most formidable and beloved. Ringo was the component of Beatle wit that you got immediately. He conceivably was the atomic nucleus that the other electrons orbited.
Until they brought Ringo into the band, they were a great band, but they weren't world famous. When Ringo was taken from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and brought into the Beatles, it was like the magical missing piece that enabled the machine to work. Ringo to the Beatles is like a key to ignition.
It wasn't always that I had such a fondness for him.
In 1969 my mother worked for Walter Shenson at United Artists. He produced the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night." Mom was working the premiere of "The Magic Christian," starring Ringo and Peter Sellers.
Knowing my zealot like connection to the Beatles, she arranged a press pass for me and positioned me at the curb with a crowd of other journalists. I was 13 years old and already nearly 6-foot-4 with all the grace of a gelded water buffalo. I was holding the "Abbey Road" album in one hand and clenching a Sharpie in the other. Limo after limo dumped out A-listers and their entourages that I ignored while my eyes predicted what set of headlights would be the chariot that heralded Ringo.
Then, in a rush, He emerged. Ringo. A Beatle. I stepped in his way and held out my album while flashbulbs popped and jittered shadows. I'll never forget it. In front of my Maker I offered myself as a sacrifice. And sacrificed I was, as Ringo looked up to me and said: "What, are you bloody kidding me?"
And he was swept away. The tide of paparazzi and steno pads following him like a rip tide that swept the effluence out to sea.
I'm sure there's a term in psychotherapy where upon exploration, the cause for everything in life that distresses you can be identified. A watershed moment where you draw some meaning and promise that holds the answer to sanity and resurrection. That was it for me. And as crestfallen as I was, I didn't need Sigmund Freud or Gabriel Byrne's analysis. I had a Hollywood mother who put the whole thing in perspective: "Honey, he was mobbed. He couldn't stop for you. Now, eat something."
Years later during a lunch with an internationally known bass player who was a client of mine, I recounted the story. "Richard, luv — Ringo didn't play drums on 'Abbey Road.' It was all Paul. Ringo hated 'Abbey Road.' That's why your God denied you." With a chuckle at my expense, he downed his third Courvoisier. Fortunately, his beautiful wife was still semi-coherent.
Then Wednesday night I was again in his company. This time not with a 12-inch vinyl album cover but with an iPhone. Although there seemed to always be a crush of people around him at the Grammy Museum, I devised a plan where the strategy could not fail. I went to talk to his wife.
My mother looms large in this story. Ringo's wife actually worked with the old gal when she was making James Bond movie "The Spy Who Loved Me." Barbara Bach looked like she had not aged, and I interrupted what was probably a serious conversation.
I noticed Ringo monitoring my brief conversation with her from two people away. I was on auto-pilot, and I explained my connection to her as if I was pitching a sitcom in an elevator three floors from my destination.
Now it was she who interrupted me, and brought me into her world. She did remember mom and brought up some names from the 007 office who she still sees. Delightful, and in the midst of our brief interchange I had forgotten about Ringo and focused on Mrs. Ringo. Beautiful, captivating and genuine. The perfect woman for a demi-God.
Do not miss this exhibit. It's on through March 2014.
John Lennon's oft misquoted "The Beatles are bigger than Jesus" quote would never have been uttered by Ringo. He didn't have to. Today it's just enough that he says, "Peace and Love."