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Chevy Chase on why people were "frightened" of John Lennon

The Beatles are still, 51 years after their break-up, the biggest band on the planet. They have fans everywhere, of every age, gender and walk of life. This is a testament to the sheer volume and quality of work they released in their decade-long life.

Due to the band’s supersonic level of fame, it took the band on a journey, one where they would meet other luvvies who would become their romantic partners. John met Yoko, Paul met Linda, Ringo met Bond girl Barbara Bach, and George fell for photographer Pattie Boyd.

In addition to the romantic relationships that their success spawned, The Beatles also developed artistic ones too. This isn’t to say that the romantic relationships weren’t artistic too, because they were. One has to only note John’s work with Yoko, or Paul’s with Linda, such as the 1971 album Ram, to heed this.

Furthermore, after the band’s end, the former Beatles would gain celebrity fans, who would become friends. A classic example of this is the convergence of ‘The Quiet One’, George Harrison, with the surrealist comedy troupe, Monty Python.

As this was an age where forms of art were meshing, music and comedy had come to be intertwined. This can be regarded in Harrison’s work with the Pythons, his earlier work with the Beatles parody act The Rutles, or the fact that Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull had financed the Python’s earlier film Holy Grail.

This story is not about Harrison, McCartney or Starr; it is about John Lennon. The former Beatles frontman, while living his post-Beatles life in New York, became friends with everybody’s favourite problematic curmudgeon, Chevy Chase.

Chase spent a considerable amount of time with Lennon in New York. Whilst a guest on Rob Lowe’s Podcast, Literally! on April 14th, Chase discussed his early days on the influential Saturday Night Live and his great friendship with Lennon.

Chase was on SNL from 1975-76. He was part of a talented and influential cast that included Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray and Garrett Morris. As he worked in the city, Chase lived there too, and he would bump into Lennon and Ono, who had an infant son, Sean. Chase told Lowe: “I was living on the west side around 71st street or something, close to the Hudson River […] he and Yoko lived somewhere near there too, because I’d see him quite frequently in the little park there, eating something and that’s where I liked to go to eat. I think the first time I met him, I had a huge sandwich in my hands. Anyway, then I’d walk back up 72nd street from the park with the two of them.”

Turns out Chase and Lennon shared a sense of humour. Chase had become famous for his wisecracking humour as the host of the Weekend Update and in comedy movies. Lennon may have been sincere, and a little austere in the music he wrote post-Beatles, but Chase maintains that this did not detract from his sense of humour. Chase described Lennon’s persona, and people’s reactions to him: “He was cheeky, not snarky, just cheeky,” Chase said. “People were very frightened of him in the sense that nobody would say, ‘Oh, Mr. Lennon, can I have your (autograph)?’ You wouldn’t even ask him because he was John Lennon. That you might smell him was good enough. I was already famous in this country anyway somewhat. So he knew who I was and it was fun.”

Lennon would be tragically assassinated by Mark Chapman in Manhattan in 1980. It was in this decade that Chase reached the pinnacle of his stardom featuring in comedy romps such as Fletch, National Lampoon’s Vacation series and Three Amigos. Meanwhile, the surviving Beatles would continue on their solo careers. However, it reveals the sheer stature of Lennon’s cultural effect that people were frightened to approach him. Reflecting the almost god-like nature, he has found within the annals of pop culture history.

This didn’t end Chase’s relationship with the Beatles. He revealed that he now sees McCartney regularly and that the ‘Band on the Run’ mastermind takes requests.

“I’ve become a close friend of Paul McCartney,” Chase said. “You can ask Paul by the way. We see each other in the summers. You can always ask him to sing something and he’ll do it. He’ll go a couple of bars.”