There comes a time in everyone’s life when you realize the things of childhood, your routines, your pastimes, even your friends, have to give way to the realities of adulthood. To paraphrase the Biblical quote, it becomes time to put away childish things.
I just spent eight hours watching four men put away their childhood. It’s a miniseries/movie called The Beatles: Get Back and if I have to name the four gentlemen I’m talking about then you need a remedial class in Pop Culture 101.
If like me you watched the original Let It Be documentary when it was released in its two hour running time you will remember what a total mess it was. This version, taken from the exact same footage, allows the viewer to see what was actually going on in this four week sprint to create an album that was also a television show that was also a live performance that was supposed to be a culmination of The Beatles. It is a fascinating opportunity.
What we see is a band that is more than just the Lennon and McCartney songwriting juggernaut. We see Harrison and Starkey both making contributions; a total collaborative effort by the foursome. I found it frustrating at times when bits of songs we all know so well are being fiddled with. There is a definite desire to scream at the TV “no no Let It Be goes like this”.
There are many amusing moments, moments that put a new spin on the events of the later Beatle days. John trying to create I’ve Got A Feeling while Yoko balances her checkbook or knits next to him. Peter Sellers drops in at one point but with nothing in particular to do he clears out after a very brief stay. George noodles around with a song he’s written, trying it out for the other three and you find yourself wondering what a Beatles version of All Things Must Pass would have ended up sounding like. The four looking at a gossip item in the paper suggesting Yoko is breaking the band up with Paul quipping “yeah fifty years from now they’ll say it ended because Yoko sat on an amp”. And there is a lovely moment when Linda McCartney brings a six year old Heather into a Sunday session and the child turns the studio into a playground, ultimately getting ahold of a microphone and imitating Yoko singing. She does a pretty good job of it.
Of course there are also darkly comical bordering on tragic moments. I’m sure Jackson couldn’t help himself when he inserted a shot of McCartney and Starr musing at the end of a work day. “And then there were two” says McCartney. Yes, that’s right, now there are only two, those two. When George walks out of the session and effectively quits the band, John and Paul mull over the idea of getting Eric Clapton to join them, then Bob Dylan. “We could call it The Beatles and Company” says John, unaware of Clapton’s infatuation with George’s wife Patti but thus depriving the world of a Beatles version of Layla and Wonderful Tonight to add to Something. One woman, three classic songs about her.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you gotta click the link if you want some more
Of course we all know how it ends and I don’t mean up on the rooftop of the Apple building. We’re looking at four men, four brothers, about to start out on their own pathways, pathways where the others can’t follow. There won’t be the comradery of the early Beatlemania days, the us against the world solidarity after John’s Jesus comment, the ability to throw a few lines of lyric or notes of music out into the air for one of the others to catch it, embellish it, and send it back to you.
We see this through the lens of being fifty years on. We know what happened to them. We know about Wings and Imagine and Photograph and The Concert For Bangladesh. We know what the ever present cigarettes (Kents for those interested) will do to one member in particular. And we know about Double Fantasy and that December night at the Dakota. More about that this coming Tuesday.
Instead of a group, we have four individuals with different wants out of life. George is tired of having his writing pushed aside as secondary to Lennon/McCartney, he wants to be thought of as an equal. John is more interested in playing old rock and roll tunes than new Beatle material, to the point that you begin to feel he’s trying to go back to childhood and reinvent a new one for himself with Yoko as his absent mother. Paul is the most adult of all of them, a businessman who has a product he needs to get out and he sometimes has to kick ass to get that product made. And Ringo? Well Ringo is just Ringo, mugging for the camera, trying to impress the director Michael Lindsey-Hogg, and getting ready to become a movie Starr via The Magic Christian. That didn’t work out. At least he didn’t have to open that hair salon he always said he was going to have after this rock and roll thing ended.
For those out there that even today pine for a Beatles reunion, and really, good luck with that idea, this series/film should put that notion out of your head. They were done, finished with it all, ready to move on to new things and new ideas. While we may mourn for the lack of more music from them collectively, they are obviously not needing to produce it. Let’s be honest, the album that came from this was not a great one. Get Back and Let It Be are the only classics, the rest filled out with I Dig A Pony, I Me Mine, and One After 909 style uninspired claptrap. OK, The Long And Winding Road is also good (the naked version minus the Phil Spector overdubs). But this is how great there were, that an album with “only” two classics is considered second rate.
This project originally came out of the group’s desire to get back to performing live after three years of holing up in a studio creating a great White Album, a Magical Mystery Mess of another, and a masterpiece still considered by many the greatest rock album of all time. They itched to perform live, but they didn’t want to tour. One show, one night, blink and you miss it. This concert idea morphed over the four weeks from ancient ruins in Greece to a park in London to maybe just a live studio audience. The look in Paul’s eyes when the suggestion is made to have the live concert on the roof of the very building they are rehearsing in, a look of joy, of thankfulness, of glee that everyone will finally be happy, tells more about where he and his mates were at that moment than anything else.
Where they were was on that long and winding road leading to their own individual doors, a road they’d been down before together, but now they’d each be all alone. And that road would never disappear. 50 plus years later it’s a measure of their greatness that we can still be fascinated with their achievements, both as a group and as individuals.