a moral to this song

The Beatles through the looking glass onion: Recordings, rhetoric, images, interviews, articles, album sessions, and intrigue.

YOKO: Even now, I just read that Paul said, “I understand that he wants to be with her, but why does he have to be with her all the time?”

JOHN: Yoko, do you still have to carry that cross? That was years ago.

YOKO: No, no, no. He said it recently. I mean, what happened with John is that I sort of went to bed with this guy that I liked and suddenly the next morning I see these three guys standing there with resentful eyes.

SHEFF: Do you think that kind of attitude from people was also jealousy?

JOHN: It’s a kind of jealousy. People can’t stand people being in love. They absolutely can’t stand it. They want to pull you down in the hole they’re in.

SHEFF: Doesn’t the good feeling rub off?

JOHN: Well, yeah, but wait till you don’t want them in the room with you. It’s your self-absorption with each other; it’s your contentment with each other that people can’t stand. Of course they’re attracted to you because your energy is positive and high – of the highest form. But energy attracts energy suckers. Whether they come in the guise of friend or enemy is irrelevant. That’s why the line [in ‘Watching The Wheels’] “No friends and no enemies.” It comes in many mysterious forms. They’ll suck you dry. That’s what the game is. It’s hard enough to make it stay.

SHEFF: As Tom Robbins half-facetiously asks in his most recent book, “How do you make love stay?”

JOHN: Trying to possess it makes it go away. Trying to possess somebody makes them go away. Every time you put your finger on it, it slips away. Every time you put your finger on it, it slips away. Every time you turn the microscope’s light on, the thing changes so you can never see what it is. As soon as you ask the question, it goes away. Peripheral vision is what it is. There’s no looking directly at it. Try to look at the sun. You go blind, right? Now that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on it. Love is a flower and you have to water it.

— John Lennon and Yoko Ono, interview w/ David Sheff for Playboy. (September, 1980)

January 3rd, 1969 (Twickenham Film Studios, London): Amidst a discussion of what the Beatles should play for their projected live show to culminate the (Get Back/Let It Be) sessions  and the general concern of playing live again, John suggests they ride on the momentum that will be built from these sessions/song rehearsals and go directly into making a new album right after (instead of falling into their previous pattern of having long breaks in between recording sessions, which has affected their band chemistry and allowed them to become complacent). Whether John is intentionally implying the breakup of the Beatles as an eventuality or merely using an innocent turn of phrase is unclear, but it prompts both Paul and George to relays their optimism about the band’s future prospects as long as they remain focused.

George stresses the importance of rehearsing together until they have every number down instinctually and by heart so that the band can go onstage again without insecurities and utterly assured of themselves and one another. He admits that the pain and tedium of the process has in the past frustrated his resolve in his own compositions and discouraged his level of involvement in the band (i.e. the others’ songs), but acknowledges that it is a necessary course to take and that they would not get anywhere without putting in raw hours of conscientious effort.

In this frame of mind, George contends that the Beatles could realign themselves once again as a band more than the sum of their parts if everyone approached every song as if it were their own with the same amount of care and creativity, and in a moment of (perhaps uncharacteristic) sentiment expresses that when the four of them have it together, there’s no one else he’d rather play with. 

(Note: Transcript under the cut, because I evidently have no concept of critical economy. In the audio clip, George drifts in and out of singing Janis Joplin’s ‘Piece Of My Heart’; John is the one on the organ halfway through.)

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January 29th, 1969 (Apple Studios, London): With some reservation (and/or hesitation), George expresses his desire to record and release an album of solo material after the sessions for Get Back/Let It Be are concluded, in mind of all the songs he’s written and accumulated over the years. John and Yoko support the idea, but George (perhaps sensing that John’s perception of “going solo” and what it symbolises is more absolute than his own) elaborates that he thinks it’d be a good thing not just for each member of the band, but for the Beatles as a band proper - they would be able to both free themselves creatively in their own personal outlets to free themselves creatively and play and record as a group without feeling stifled.

(In other words, the band doesn’t  have to sever all ties to go their own way. Ultimately, it’s indeterminable if George is merely expressing, in a carefully unassuming way, his own intentions for individuation in light of John’s recent solo output with Yoko and growing estrangement from the Beatles family, or if he is making a discrete appeal to John of making up instead of breaking up, and is still, despite all of the Beatles’ overlapping troubles over the past two years, not least the past two weeks, genuinely attuned to the idea of the band staying together. Your mileage may vary.) 

GEORGE: John.

JOHN: Yeah?

GEORGE: I tell you what I’d like to do. After this—

PAUL: After this TV—?

GEORGE: —after this show. Um, you know, I’ve got so many songs that I’ve got, like, my quota of tunes for the next ten – you know, years, or albums.

JOHN: Yeah.

GEORGE: And I’d just like to maybe do an album, of songs.

JOHN: Of – on your own?

GEORGE: Yeah.

JOHN: Yeah.

GEORGE: But I mean, I’d like it so that if… uh… [long pause] ‘Cause it would be nice, it would be nice to mainly get them all out of the way—

JOHN: Yeah. It’d be nice anyway.

GEORGE: And secondly, just to hear what I – what all mine are like all together.

JOHN: Yeah, as long – you see, it’s good. If we put [out] an LP and it’s all safe that will be ‘cause it’s together, but George is doing an album and—

GEORGE: Oh yeah, but I mean it’d be nice to, uh—

JOHN: It’d be the same as me doing an album.

GEORGE: —if any of us can do the separate things, like, as well.

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January 26th, 1969 (Apple Studios, London): As the Beatles work on the arrangement of Octopus’s Garden’, Ringo tells Paul about the basis for the song, piquing George’s memory of what he was once told about octopuses. (Note: John’s on drums. This clip from the sessions is shortly followed by Heather sharing her personal octopus anecdote with John - which I can’t figure out, unfortunately - and more animal banter.)

GEORGE: Hey, it was somebody – he was telling me octopuses go and pick up all the seashells. You know about that?

RINGO: Yes, that’s why I wrote it! ‘Cause the guides told me [about them] on the boat in Sardinia. [inaudible]

GEORGE: Yeah. [to Paul] You know about that? They collect all nice-looking things and make a garden around where they are and just with all their groovy things to sleep behind.

RINGO: Yeah.

GEORGE: [laughs] It’s great.

January 22nd, 1969 (Apple Studios, London): After John tells Yoko, Paul, and George about having received a letter from Millie Sutcliffe requesting his financial support, George reads aloud from the letter while John expresses his derision for Mrs. Sutcliffe’s justification of responsibility - his old friendship with Stuart - and points out that Stuart didn’t even have much regard for her.

GEORGE: What’s Mrs. Sutcliffe want?

JOHN: Well, what they all want – money.

GEORGE: [reading] This is the last cry for help. My bank is now to the wall— [laughs] My back”.

JOHN: “Back”, “bank”. [George laughs] I thought it was “bank” too.

GEORGE: —as it’s been many times before, but this is the last time. Since [Stuart’s father] Charlie’s sudden death in March ’66, of my consequence of long— What?

YOKO: [reading] “Illness”.

GEORGE: —illness, I have managed to exist—

JOHN: [withering] “Illness”? She’s an alcoholic.

GEORGE: —but now it is the end of the road.”

JOHN: She’s an alcoholic, you know.

GEORGE: I beg of you, please come if only for the sake of the boy you once knew.” Fucking hell…

JOHN: You know, what’s it got to do with me?

GEORGE: What’s it got to do with Stu?

JOHN: Yeah.

GEORGE: I mean, she didn’t know him.

JOHN: No, he hated her anyway. [laughter] I remember at college he used to tell me so. Except for she gave him twenty ciggies a day and five bob. [pause] So I mean, it’s registered [inaudible], I’ve just got to write her and say, “What?” Or something.

MANSFIELD: But, you know, [after John showed me the pictures of himself and Yoko nude for the album cover of Two Virgins], I asked Paul about this. And this, to me, is indicative of their relationship, maybe as much as anything I [had] ever heard. I said, “Paul, you know, what do you think about this?” And Paul says, “I don’t know.” He said, “I don’t really agree with John. But I just am going to figure that John’s ahead of me on this, and that someday I’ll understand and I’ll catch up. So, you know, I’m okay.”

ROSEN: And what did that reaction tell you about their relationship?

MANSFIELD: That it was an extremely deep relationship. And you know, you couple that with the thing Paul told me about, you know, when I asked him how come John’s name was on ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ when I was there when he was writing it and John wasn’t. These two comments from Paul showed me what their – how deep their relationship was.

ROSEN: What did he say on that occasion, about ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’?

MANSFIELD: Okay. On ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ […] I was in the hotel room, the bungalow with Paul [in L.A.]. And that night, when we were – he was working on some songs, and he included me on the writing, you know, just ‘cause I was there. He said, “What do you think of this?” And I’d say, “Well, why don’t you try this?” And the songs were ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ and ‘[Back In The] U.S.S.R.’ And that was all. It was very casual. I drive home that night, and I’m going: “Wait a minute! Was I – was I songwriting with Paul McCartney? Wow, that’s pretty cool!”

Well, you know, the record comes out, and it’s Lennon and McCartney. And I didn’t expect it to be Mansfield-McCartney. But I asked Paul, I said, “You know, I was there with you when you were writing this, and John wasn’t. And yet it’s a Lennon-McCartney.” And Paul said: “John and I are so close to each other, we’ve been through so much together, we understand each other so much, our relationship is so deep, that when we’re songwriting,” he said, “even if I’m 6,000 miles away, I can be working on something and I can hear John over my shoulder going, ‘No, no, no, that’s not gonna work; why don’t we do this?’ Or ‘Hey, I like this.’” He said, “So, in essence, to me, we’re songwriting together even if we’re not together.”

ROSEN: Hmm!

MANSFIELD: Now do you see something between those two comments about how their relationship, how it was very—? Even when I think they were at their furthest away from each other, I think there was something, a strong connection between those two people.

— Ken Mansfield (record label executive and Apple Records U.S. manager), interview w/ James Rosen for Fox News. (December 4th-5th, 2007)

“You need to have someone who’s going to tell you the truth. And when you get to an elevated state like Paul, it’s very difficult to get people to speak honestly. They’re either in awe of the guy and think everything he does is great, or else they want to butter him up and get into his favour.

“My role in [Tug of War] was to goad Paul a bit. I think when he and John Lennon split up, he missed John’s goading enormously. It’s almost like they collaborated by means of competition. John would often say cruel things to Paul and Paul would come back and say, ‘I’ll show him what I can do,’ and Paul could be equally cruel to John and then John would come up with something. Despite the love they had for each other, they would still egg each other on in a funny kind of way. I think Paul missed that spur.”

[…]

But Martin discounts the theory that it was Lennon’s death in December 1980 that made McCartney want to buckle down and make a great pop album. “We were already halfway through the album when John died,” Martin notes.

“I remember I rang him that morning when I heard the news and said, ‘I don’t suppose you want to come in today,’ and he said, ‘Yes, I must come in today; we must work as usual.’ Well, we didn’t work; we chatted most of the day, but at least he got out of his home. It was a tremendous shock for him, as it was for me, but much more so for him.”

— George Martin, interview w/ Paul Grein for Billboard: Martin/McCartney ‘Tug’ team scores. (February 2nd, 1983)

Life: Paul McCartney talks about the Beatle breakup and his new life. (April 16th, 1971)

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(Note: I’ve temporarily removed the page scans from this post because Tumblr doesn’t seem to be uploading the inline-images in their original resolution as they should be. Will see to an alternative display solution, if I don’t figure something out within Tumblr itself!)   

An interview by Richard Meryman



So the separation became a divorce. On the last day of 1970, Paul McCartney filed suit in London against John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison to dissolve their partnership of the Beatles & Co. McCartney charged that their business manager, Allen Klein, was incompetent, and that the far-flung business affairs of their corporation, Apple, were a vast bookkeeping mess. Then the strained silence that had gripped the famous quartet for months became a war of words. In the course of a rambling 30,000-word interview in Rolling Stone, John accused Paul of trying to run the show. “We got fed up with being sidemen for Paul,” he said. George said he had once walked out because Paul had demonstrated a “superior attitude” toward him musically. Ringo claimed that Paul—“completely out of control”—had berated him over a conflict of album publication dates and said, “I’ll finish you!” Until now, Paul himself has remained silent. Recently he agreed to the following interview, in which he explains his motives and speaks in his defense. 

McCartney was interviewed in Los Angeles, during a recording session for his new album Ram. The album, which was partly recorded in New York, contains 11 new songs by Paul, including several written in collaboration with his wife Linda. It is scheduled for release May 15.

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SALEWICZ: So how do you react to criticism?

PAUL: When I see bad reviews, it’ll hurt me. I am giving myself a bit easier time in life these days. I’ve gone through so much criticism, and not just from critics. From people like John, over so many things, that like a fool I just stood there and said, “Yeah, you might be right.” I just accepted that I was to blame for all those things I was said to be the cause of. I’m beginning to see it a bit differently now. I’m beginning to see a lot of what they say is their problem, not mine.

John was going through a lot of pain when he said a lot of that stuff. He felt that we were being vindictive towards him and Yoko. In fact, I think we were quite good, looking back on it; many people would’ve just downed tools in a situation like that, would’ve just said, “Look, man, she’s not sitting on our amps while we’re making a film.” That wouldn’t be unheard of. Most people would just say, “We’re not having this person here, don’t care how much you love her.”

But we were actually quite supportive. Not supportive enough, you know; it would have been nice to have been really supportive because then we could look back and say, “Weren’t we really terrific?” But looking back on it, I think we were okay. We were never really that mean to them. But I think a lot of the time John suspected meanness where it wasn’t really there.

SALEWICZ: He was presumably fairly paranoid.

PAUL: I think so. He warned me off Yoko once: “Look, this is my chick!” Just because he knew my reputation. We knew each other rather well. I just said, “Yeah, no problem.” But I did feel he ought to have known I wouldn’t. That was John; just a jealous guy. He was a paranoid guy. And he was into drugs… heavy. He was into heroin, the extent of which I hadn’t realised till just now.

It’s all starting to click a bit in my brain. I just figured, “Oh, there’s John, my buddy, and he’s turning on me.” He once said to me, “Oh, they’re all on the McCartney bandwagon.” Things like that were hurting him, and looking back on it now I just think that it’s a bit sad really.

[…]

I’m beginning to think it wasn’t all my fault. I’m beginning to let myself off a lot of the guilt. I always felt guilty but looking back on it I can say okay, let’s try and outline some things. John was hurt; what was he hurt by? What is the single biggest thing that we can find in all our research that hurt John? And the biggest thing that I can find is that I told the world that the Beatles were finished. I don’t think that’s so hurtful. I know he said it was for publicity for my album, but I don’t even think that’s hurtful. Big deal! We waited four months after the group broke up and then I announced it.

I’ll tell you what was unfortunate was the method of announcing it all. I said to the guy at the office, Peter Brown, of book fame, “I’ve got an album coming out called McCartney. And I don’t really want to see too much press. Can you do me some question-and-answer things?” So he sent all those questions over and I answered them all. We had them printed up and put in the press copies of the album. It wasn’t a number. I see it now and shudder. At the time it was me trying to answer some questions that were being asked and I decided not to fudge those questions.

We didn’t accept Yoko totally, but how many groups do you know who would? It’s a joke, like Spinal Tap. You know, I loved John. I was his best mate for a long time. Then the group started to break up. It was very sad. I got the rap as the guy who broke the group up. It wasn’t actually true.

— Paul McCartney, interview w/ Chris Salewicz for Musician: Tug of war – Paul McCartney wants to lay his demons to rest. (October, 1986)