Hello Goodbye: The first crack?

Michael Gerber
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Linda S. got in touch with the ol’ Dullblog this morning with a thought too interesting not to share.

“I was startled the first time I viewed the video piece for “Hello Goodbye,” Linda wrote. “John seemed strangely subdued. I wasn’t sure what I was sensing, only that it made me feel very uneasy. Still does. There is the coda, of course, the jokey dancing, where John seems more himself. Was it all in my head? Has anyone else ever been given pause by that video?”

Actually, I’ve felt the same thing, but always assumed it was caused by John’s many disparaging comments towards the song. “That’s another McCartney. Smells a mile away, doesn’t it? An attempt to write a single. It wasn’t a great piece…”

Well, John, I like “Walrus” better too, but c’mon.

Here’s the video:

Was the song really all that bad? Surely not — but “Hello Goodbye” was recorded in the heaviest of times for Lennon, a bare six weeks after Brian’s sudden death. Worse still, the film was recorded at the Savile Theater, until recently owned by Epstein and the locus of many of his post-Beatles dreams. It’s perfectly in character that Lennon would do that film, fighting the sense of his friend and mentor all around; while Paul, dealing with death in his way, pushed through another million-seller.

I’ve long believed that the sessions for “Lady Madonna/Hey Bulldog” (hey! The Beatles read our blog!) was the end of the Beatles’ unity as a group. But it could be that Linda is onto something, and that the split can be seen earlier in the film for “Hello Goodbye.”

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  1. Michael Michael wrote:

    I’ve always thought the reason John seemed subdued here was acid. Either he was tripping, or, y’know, the effects of tripping recently. Or any of the other things he was taking (Yoko says in Norman’s biography that in 1968, Lennon would open up a jar of pills and grab a handful indiscriminately at the start of the day.) I don’t know if John in 1967 was going to be reliably…engaged. Now, could John have dosed because he didn’t want to deal with making the film for Paul’s granny music? Yeah, for sure. But it could also just be a symptom of the deeper pharmaceutical malaise.

    • @Michael, wasn’t there a pestle on John’s mantle (in the sunroom, above the cabinet that read “Safe As Milk”) where he’d grind up all sorts of drugs, and then dab his finger into the resultant powder randomly during the day?

      That kind of behavior, plus the drugs he was likely being given by friends, plus the new, stronger drugs that were being introduced into the hippie community after 1967 (STP being the first but far from the last) and you can see how Lennon could go off the rails, and quickly.

      • Michael Michael wrote:

        @MichaelGerber Yes indeed. This was very much in that era. As you’ve expertly observed on this blog, drugs are the unexamined factor in so much of the group’s story. This is a good example, to me, of how it’s easy to view even the smallest Beatles episode from our perspective as people who aren’t perpetually tripping on LSD and then randomly sucking mixtures of coke, speed, and barbiturates off our fingers, then showing up for work. And because the Beatles don’t look drug-addled in most cases, it’s not something that’s screamingly obvious. It’s remarkable that Lennon managed to stay at all lucid and make cogent sense as much as he did in this time period. I know people from college who did a fraction of what he’s reported to have done, and they became something you just propped in a corner, to paraphrase Mick Jagger talking about Brian Jones.

        • “It’s remarkable that Lennon managed to stay at all lucid and make cogent sense as much as he did”

          I marvel at this endlessly. The only thing that I can think is that John had truly an addict’s tolerance (naturally high, and then made higher by use), and that drugs were perhaps less potent then. Certainly the pot was.

          Just another example of Beatle luck. Which I think ran out when he began to do heroin. Or maybe it didn’t, maybe he kicked in 1969 or whenever he claimed. But…I’m dubious.

    • Avatar Rob.Geurtsen wrote:

      ” Now, could John have dosed because he didn’t want to deal with making the film for Paul’s granny music? Yeah, for sure.”

      Oh really…

  2. Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

    He looks bored to me, kind of going through the motions. I don’t think he wanted to make the video.

  3. Avatar Rob Geurtsen wrote:

    Mmm interesting thought indeed…
    What’s more interesting though is the quote of John:
    “That’s another McCartney. Smells a mile away, doesn’t it? An attempt to write a single. It wasn’t a great piece…”
    Where does this originate from. Interesting because if it’s true, I like to believe Paul used the phrase smell a mile away in a song a few years later…

    anyway, I only can start to believe anything if the source are verifiable and thus validation of the argument is a possibility…

    • Rob, I found that here, where it was attributed to the Sheff book, All We Are Saying.

      • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

        I’ve always liked this song, and think it holds more meaning than it’s often credited with (not that I’m saying it’s one of the band’s deeper songs). I hear it as McCartney writing about the tensions between him and Lennon in a deceptively bouncy way (I say yes, you say no). He often does this: “Smile Away,” from “Ram,” is an upbeat song that’s actually about standing up to critics — Rob, that’s where the line “I can smell your (teeth, feet, etc.) a mile away” comes from. Interestingly, that came out years before the Lennon quote about smelling a Paul song a mile away.
        Here’s a link to the page of “All We Are Saying” that reprints the quote in question: it’s originally from the 1980 Playboy interview. Same interview where he talks about the kind of story songs Paul writes as “boring songs about boring people,” btw.
        In Dowdling’s “Beatlesongs” book he notes that “Lennon always hated that song and felt insulted that this was the A side of the single, relegating his own “I Am the Walrus” to the B side.” Dowdling cites the 1970 “Lennon Remembers” interview in Rolling Stone as his source.
        The “smells a mile away” quote exemplifies the quality I dislike most in Lennon: a willingness to speak caustically about others and their work while being hypersensitive to any perceived criticism of himself or his work.
        It’s also notable that Lennon describes “Hello, Goodbye” as “an attempt to write a single,” while Dowdling records that the song spent six weeks at number 1 in the UK and and three weeks at number 1 in the U.S.
        If we’re looking for the first crack in the Lennon/McCartney partnership, I think we have to go back at least to “Yesterday.” The critical and popular success of that song clearly rankled with Lennon, given his remarks in later interviews, and it’s notable for being the first Beatles song to feature only Paul (and George Martin’s string arrangement). As much as McCartney has been described as jealous of Lennon, I think there’s more evidence that Lennon was jealous of and threatened by McCartney as his songwriting developed.
        Finally, this is also from the 1980 interview, and is pretty fascinating. In response to the interviewer’s question about Lennon and McCartney being seen as the “songwriting Beatles,” John says: “Let’s say, I think it’s possible for John and Paul to have created the same thing with two other guys. It may not have been possible for George and Ringo to have created it without John and Paul. OK?”
        As much as he’s taking down Paul elsewhere in the interview, what a massive diss that is to George and Ringo!

        • Avatar Ruth wrote:

          Its a diss, but its consistent with other comments John made in relative privacy. In the “Let it Be” lunchroom tapes, he says the same thing, arguing that he and Paul are the Beatles and that George and Ringo (who is sitting right there, mind you, while John is saying this) are, to an extent, replaceable. (That’s the same conversation where he suggests replacing George with Eric Clapton). He also said it several times to Ray Connolly: “Paul and Me were the Beatles. We wrote the songs.”

          • Could there be a more obvious attempt to break up the group than this? Utter sabotage.

            I have honestly never understood Beatles fans who revere Lennon of the “Let It Be” era.

        • Avatar Rob Geurtsen wrote:

          @Nancy and Michael thx for the reference to ‘All We Are Saying’ as the source for Lennon’s words. At least that disarms the idea that occurred that Macca’s “Smells a mile away” on Ram, was a the mirroring of a Lennon-quote (critique, what else).

        • Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

          [John]arguing that he and Paul are the Beatles and that George and Ringo (who is sitting right there, mind you, while John is saying this) are, to an extent, replaceable.

          While it’s kind of rude to say it in front of G and R, it’s true, IMO.

        • Avatar Matt wrote:

          “I’ve always liked this song, and think it holds more meaning than it’s often credited with (not that I’m saying it’s one of the band’s deeper songs).”

          In actual fact, it would seem that it did have a deep meaning – deeper than many would assume – even though the lyrics when looked at on face value seem lightweight, simple and maybe a bit lazily written. I can’t remember where I read this, but McCartney has more than hinted that ‘Hello, Goodbye’s’ lyrics have a deep, esoteric meaning. He’s singling about duality – the positive and the negative, white and black – something that the ancient mystery schools, philosophies and secret societies are underpinned by. So, where there is a ‘yes,’ there is a ‘no,’ and so on. Let’s not forget that when this song was written, the counter-culture scene of that time was very much influenced by esoteric and occult elements. The so-called ‘underground culture’ of the 1960s was influenced by occult and esoteric writings and philosophies. Indeed, the bookshop that McCartney’s friend Barry Miles ran at the time was steeped in such literature. It certainly influenced Lennon, we know (Leary and ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead). To some extent, George Harrison’s songs during that period (‘Within You, Without You and ‘The Inner Light’ to name but two) had leanings towards Eastern esoteric influences.

  4. Avatar Drew wrote:

    Sorry but he doesn’t look all that subdued to me. I mean it isn’t like any of them are running around crazed until the end. Not sure I’m seeing what you all are seeing.

  5. Avatar Drew wrote:

    Sad that even on a Paul song, all people find to talk about is John. Seriously, who cares if John liked the song or not? I’m sure there are loads of John songs that Paul didn’t like.

    • Avatar Ruth wrote:

      “Seriously, who cares if John liked the song or not?”

      Agreed. This was one of my main issues with “All the Songs:” much of their song evaluation was dependent on John’s opinion, giving him the final say on a song’s quality. That’s absurd. To assume that John’s post-breakup statements on any of his work, or Paul’s, are completely honest, and given without some sort of agenda, demonstrates an inexcusable lack of source analysis. We know John was willing to criticize Paul’s work — such as Sgt. Peppers — for reasons that had nothing to do with its value and everything to do with his own jealousy and insecurity. Yet I’ve never seen a Beatles author address this.

  6. Late ’67 and early ’68 were full of cracks.
    It’s pretty obvious that Lennon resented this song big time. “Smells a mile away” is about the harshest thing he ever said about any McCartney song, and there are his many other comments about how Walrus deserved the A-side. The bitterness is unmistakable.
    Let’s also take into consideration that John was creatively barren during this period–Walrus was the one and only song he offered between All You Need Is Love in June and Across the Universe the following February. That’s one song in 8 months! Is this the longest fallow period he ever had? Meanwhile McCartney, although not churning them out at his usual rate, was still outpacing him, plus he was spearheading the MMT project.
    And is it any coincidence that it’s always “Walrus” and “Universe” that Lennon singled out as having been treated with disrespect? His most passive, unproductive period as a Beatle, and his few offerings are shat on (or so he felt). His feelings of worthlessness are palpable.
    One last thing about this period, which may or may not be relevant: John famously made a pass at George’s wife at the Christmas party. Was this another first, a Beatle going after a fellow Beatle’s wife? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he was falling apart.
    Yeah, the cracks were appearing at about that time. When Lennon says the breakup happened with Epstein’s death, we should probably take him at his word.

    • Wait, @Beasty — wasn’t “Hey Bulldog” in there, too? He’s doing the demo (“She Can Talk to Me”) in that period, for sure.

      And @Drew’s got a good point: the narrative posited by Lennon in “Lennon Remembers” ignores the fact that a good percentage of the Beatles’ finest work — much of what they’re known for today — was created after August 1967.

      “Hey Jude”/”Revolution”
      The White Album
      Yellow Submarine (this has been the gateway drug for generations of kids — including Sean Lennon himself)
      Let It Be
      Abbey Road

      Did John begin to lose his own way after Brian’s death? Unquestionably. But the Beatles were fine. And maybe that’s what pissed him off the most.

  7. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    I never fully appreciated “Hello Goodbye” until I heard it covered in a mellow way in a commercial:
    I guess I always found Paul’s version too strident. The cover made me appreciate the beauty of the words and melody.

  8. Avatar Drew wrote:

    “When Lennon says the breakup happened with Epstein’s death, we should probably take him at his word.”

    Why? He wasn’t the band. He was just one member of it. And the other members went on to produce great songs after Epstein’s death. Also, the fact is: Epstein wasn’t doing much to lead the band in the year before he died. And John wasn’t even spending much time with Brian. I think John’s comment sounds like his usual after-the-fact moaning, and not necessarily how things were at the time.

    But I agree with you that Lennon was creatively barren at this time.

  9. Avatar Drew wrote:

    And thanks to those who pointed out John’s comment “smells a mile away” and the similarity to the lines in Paul’s great song, Smile Away, on his brilliant Ram album: “I can smell your feet a mile away.” And he just keeps blithely singing “Smile away” — i.e., smile away in the face of betrayal and insults from your so-called friends. That is fabulous and shows both how tough Paul could be, but also what a great sense of humor he has.

    • Avatar Rob Geurtsen wrote:

      @Drew… there has been a period in my sort of Beatles-fan life that I had the luck of a Beatles-fan, that is odd for a Beatles-fan.
      – The, musically fantastic, productive years of George Harrison in the early seventies with his solo-albums, his production work for Indian Music the gorgeous sound of Splinter that was totally his, and we can find echoes of on Brainwashed and
      – McCartney getting out on the road, and
      – and the press willing to write and report on anything Beatles-related… evoking a mythical power that was not grounded in the past, but in reality and hope… (I know many will disagree, but Beatleness lady Candy Leonard might agree, and
      – I too young too get married, too much on the un for the stupid homefront desperately getting out and trying to find realness about what The Beatles were about…

      and then Wings came to the Netherlands, they slept in a hotel in The Hague where I went to school, and I was sure I was going to get a signature, plus… having been around a few international bands at the time, at festival-events I understood the required patience, the luck, and the networking involved. I took with me girl-friend who was willing to do anything…
      I got to the pot smoking family-man, whose concert I really appreciated, loved the rock, and damn those piano songs from Wings Wild Life, are worth a lot more attention then they were getting then and more then they are getting from him too…
      The most significant quote I took from the conversations was “John does it openly, but I play the game too, it is in my lyrics. A line here, a word there, sometimes fake, sometimes true (depends on whether how the words might fit the sound, the melody or the rhythm) but you can find quite a few references on Ram.”
      I was happy I didn’t fall like a fan for it, and start asking questions while being out of breath of being part of a conversation between Beatles. B.t.w. which is what I never got the impression of Paul, I was glad the conversation went back to the music and the band’s ambition.
      I never got a hold on Smile Away, but while playing it with air guitar and fake-microphone I always felt the happiness was not internal, it was related to somebody on something else. Like: I am happy I can have smelly feet while I am with my gal, or indeed like Drew suggests, I can keep on smiling even though I come across in the perception of others as terribly smelly, or ugly or boringly home-loving.

  10. Michael, I agree with you that they produced a ton of great music post-1967. I was speaking only of that period post-Pepper and before the White Album when John was mostly a bystander.
    You are correct, Hey Bulldog was recorded at the same time as Universe, but it’s just a barely recognizable fragment in those home tapes. There are actually quite a few home demos from John in that period, but they are unremarkable and aimless. You can really hear him struggling to come up with *anything*.
    I guess my point was that during this critical period in the group’s history, when their manager had died and left a leadership vacuum, John was simply not up to the task of answering the call. He was producing almost no music, and passively allowing Paul to lead the way. This obviously rankled him for the rest of his life. He never did stop talking about it. So I suppose I’m saying that the cracks did indeed first appear at this time, but it was not a single moment or incident.

    • Not disagreeing here, @Beasty, just digging at it a bit.

      Wasn’t it John’s established working method to do nothing until Paul said, “Let’s do an album”? With MMT being in the can, it would be his way to lay fallow, watching a lot of TV, taking drugs, and so forth. Still, late ’67 is the first time since, what? 1957? where Lennon doesn’t have to play dates. That, plus the massive amounts of acid and other drugs he was ingesting might very well cause a certain…lassitude.

      Also, we gotta keep in mind what a crazy-ferocious pace these guys had been working and writing at for at least five years. So I’m not necessarily sure that Lennon dried up as much as took a rest — then EXPLODED from February to April 1968, in the most productive period of his life. His muse didn’t depart after “Walrus,” it was just resting.

      However, he may have felt the icy hand of “no songs in me” for the first time in late ’67, and that — plus Epstein’s absence — plus Paul’s fecundity, enough to intimidate any musician — and the wiggliness of reality when you’re on drugs all the time — might have put an existential sort of scare into him. When he talks about that period later, it sounds like somebody remembering great fear and getting angry to keep moving forward.

      Here’s the music we have from Lennon at this time:
      Stranger in My Arms: https://youtu.be/9z7PD3HgWtE
      Chi Chi’s Cafe: https://youtu.be/ReNAv2ftfWI
      Daddy’s Little Sunshine Boy: https://youtu.be/YrBfuvuBUjw
      Down in Cuba: https://youtu.be/EKgbxyhJZdo
      Lucy from Littletown/Down in Eastern Australia/Pedro the Fisherman: https://youtu.be/-ENe6SWDqlE
      She Can Talk to Me: https://youtu.be/cBDxJpWHGU4
      Cry Baby Cry: https://youtu.be/Sa4JvqyS9rU

      A lot of this is Goon Show-type stuff, but all it may show is how John’s songwriting process just worked a little differently than Paul’s. Paul’s ideas came more fully formed in the pop idiom, whereas John got it in fragments, then had to work with fragments more intensely — playing simple phrases over and over until something clicked. Listen to the “Nothing Is Real” set of SFF fragments. They really are fragments, in a way that Paul’s stuff never seems to be. Not even stuff like “Los Paranoias” feels as rough as the above tracks do.

  11. Avatar Dan wrote:

    George and Paul agree, in January 1969 that Epstein’s death started the spiral. This is in private conversation (as taped on the Nagra reels).

    * From this post: http://theymaybeparted.com/2013/08/14/jan-7-on-their-own-at-the-holiday-camp/

    George: Ever since Mr. Epstein passed away, it hasn’t been the same.

    Paul: We’ve been very negative since Mr. Epstein passed away. That’s why all of us, in turn, have been sick of the group, you know? There’s nothing positive in it. It is a bit of a drag. But the only way for it to not be really a drag, is for the four of us to say, “Should we make it positive? Or should we fuck it?” There’s only two alternatives, innit?

    George also says, “The Beatles have been in doldrums for at least a year.” (http://theymaybeparted.com/2013/12/29/jan-7-have-a-divorce/)

    So there’s no question there were cracks at the time of “Hello Goodbye.” Still, I bet it’s the drugs making John look like that in the clip.

    (I also just realized that it’s called “Hello, Goodbye” with the comma on the UK single, and “Hello Goodbye” elsewhere).

    • Interesting — I remember this, now. Thank you @Dan.

      Anybody else think that Paul is clearly playing for the cameras here? I doubt they called Brian “Mr. Epstein” in private — so there’s perhaps some PR going on, the story for public consumption being, “It all started when Brian died…”

      I have no reason to think this is wrong. But then again, Paul walked out of the Revolver sessions (June 21, 1966). Revolver, White and LIB were all marred by walkouts. With Pepper and Abbey Road being harmonious? Wasn’t Paul being bossy during those albums? Wasn’t that the whole reason John and George got fed up?…

      So much to say, this is complicated, a fluid situation, and not nearly as cut and dried as the Lennon Remembers “we’re fucked” narrative. Inter-group turmoil might have been more standard than we realize, and it wasn’t Brian’s death that put a pall over things, but not having him there to patch things up. After Brian, little slights were allowed to get big. Think John would’ve made a pass at Patti if Brian had been alive? I bet not.

      • Avatar Drew wrote:

        Michael: Interesting that you think Paul is playing for the cameras here by saying Mr. Epstein when, from this quoted transcript, it’s George Harrison who calls Brian Mr. Epstein first in this exchange. I don’t think either of them are playing for the cameras. And yes, among the four of them, I’ve read before that they called Brian Mr. Epstein — both as a bit of a joke and as a recognition by these working class boys that Mr. Epstein was “management.”

        • That’s interesting, @Drew, I didn’t know that. But my point remains: It’s very difficult to be yourself when you’re being filmed — even if you’re a Beatle and used to it. I’m not sure everything went to hell after Brian died. Maybe it did, but the music and working method seems strong and basically unchanged until May ’68 to me. That’s nearly a year after Brian.

          Your laudable desire to defend McCartney is making you see bias where there isn’t any — I’m working insane hours AND trying to keep up with comments here, and my contacts were dry and my vision is poor. I consider Paul to be a once-in-500-years talent; it’s John who, for all his genius, was obsessed with PR.

          • Avatar Drew wrote:

            Michael: I apologize if I came off snippy. I appreciate all you do for this site. My point was merely that both George and Paul used the “Mr. Epstein” phrase. So either they were both playing for the camera, or, more likely in my view, “Mr. Epstein” was a joking phrase that all 4 Beatles routinely used.

          • No, no! Not snippy — you just are so vigorous in your defense (which as I say, I agree 100% with). I wouldn’t want you to think I was piling onto Paul.

            BTW, I love the “Mr. Epstein” factoid. Thank you.

            And thanks, I love doing it, and the commenters are why. Such a delightful group of people; if I could buy you all a candy bar, I would.

  12. Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

    I just wanted to say that I kept reading this headline as “Hello Goodbye: the first crack cocaine?” And thought, damn this video is fun and quirky, but calling it CRACK is a bit harsh. And then I had to read through all the comments to the bottom of the page before it finally clicked. And now I have wasted someone’s valuable time by putting this ridiculous comment into the moderation queue. Sorry!

  13. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Here’s Ringo (age 75) watching and providing commentary on the video:
    He points out a trick I hadn’t noticed: his drum kit is sometimes BIG and sometimes SMALL shot to shot.
    His commentary is funny, even when he’s talking about the audience of two during the rooftop “Get Back” or his terror on horseback.

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