John and Paul, Friends and Rivals

This started as a comment on Mike’s “Were John and Paul Lovers?” post. Though I wrote it before commenter Marcua’s thoughts came in, we’re expressing some similar ideas about the probable roots of John’s post-India hostility toward Paul.

I very much doubt that Lennon and McCartney were ever lovers. There’s enough credible evidence that Lennon talked about and expressed interest in bisexuality for me to think he, at some point, recognized a degree of attraction to Paul. And there’s enough from Paul (“he had beautiful hands,” etc.) for me to think it might have gone both ways, if not as strongly. Could John have made a pass at Paul in India, under the circumstances Michael describes? I can believe that. More than that I have difficulty believing, given what we know of the way each man lived the rest of his life.

Ultimately I think the central importance of the Lennon/McCartney partnership to both men’s lives indicates that we need to expand our ideas about what friendship can be and how much it can matter. As Michael put it in his post, “Male gender roles are pathetically restrictive; any close friendship between men is plagued with rumors of sex. That’s bullshit, and we shouldn’t make those restrictions stronger.” It might be more revolutionary to see John and Paul’s alliance as evidence of how defining a non-romantic friendship can be than to see it as a romantic relationship.

I also don’t think the post-India hostility on John’s part toward Paul requires a sexual pass/encounter to explain it. Here’s my theory: take it with whatever amount of salt you deem appropriate.

Why Lennon may have resented McCartney from the start

Onstage, 1966

Onstage, 1966

From the beginning of the band, John saw Paul not only as an ally but also as a competitor. Lennon’s friend Pete Shotten reported that John thought twice about asking Paul to join the Quarrymen because he was so good. I think John also likely felt resentment against Paul from the beginning –not for what he did, but for his comparatively easy circumstances. And I think that only got worse as the years passed. Consider:

  • Paul’s mother died; John was emotionally abandoned by both his parents, then had a brief reunion with his mother before she was suddenly killed.
  • Paul had a relatively stable and supportive extended family; John’s Uncle George died, leaving him with only a fraught relationship with his Aunt Mimi.
  • Paul didn’t experience another significant bereavement as a young adult; John grieved Stu Sutcliffe’s death deeply.
  • Paul got his girlfriend Dot Rhone pregnant, but she miscarried and the relationship ended; John got his girlfriend Cynthia Powell pregnant and he felt he had to marry her.
  • Paul, while he lived with the Ashers, got to live as a bachelor-with-benefits in the heart of swinging London; John was stuck in the “stockbroker belt” with Cynthia and Julian, a child he’d never wanted.

I think this disparity in their circumstances was tolerable to John — just — as long as he was the undisputed leader of the Beatles, the main songwriter, singer, spokesperson, and driving force. But that balance started to tilt around 1966. Paul started writing more songs and getting more A-sides. Then Brian Epstein died, and John experienced that as another abandonment. Paul kept pushing, but John stopped pushing back: he seems to have lost the will to do so. But at some level the knowledge that he was losing his leadership role in the band had to be terrifying. In emotional terms, the Beatles were the only thing he had.

Post-India and the Breakup

I believe that having time to stop and think about all this in India might well account for John’s subsequent hostility toward Paul, and his determination to reassert power over the group. It could only have made things worse that Paul could take up with Linda Eastman without needing to divorce Jane Asher or abandon a child. To regain a sense of control John needed to form an alliance with someone who would reassure him that he was still the band’s leader — enter Yoko Ono and Allen Klein.

In Rishikesh

In Rishikesh

After reading Mikal Gilmore’s Rolling Stone article on the breakup and Peter Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money, I’m convinced that John’s alliance with Allen Klein was a bid to reassert power, particularly over Paul. I’m not sure to what degree John really was done with the band and wanted to break it up and to what extent he wanted to break Paul. I think he may well have wanted Paul to admit he needed the Beatles too much to quit, sign with Klein, and thus affirm John as the group’s leader.

When Paul wouldn’t do that – when he stole John’s march and virtually announced the breakup in the McCartney album’s self-interview—John’s rage reveals how much this defeat meant to him. Now there was no going back, and John had to push the “he hasn’t quit, I sacked him” narrative to save face. Then Paul won the lawsuit to have the Beatles breakup recognized as a fact so that Klein would be ousted.

John won that PR battle: Paul was vilified for the lawsuit and blamed for the breakup for years (still is, in some quarters). But in intra-Beatles terms, I think all this primarily played as Paul publicly refusing to follow John’s lead. That refusal, which John saw as absolute betrayal, fueled the hatred expressed in “How Do You Sleep?”

Paul and Linda's wedding, March 12, 1969

Paul and Linda’s wedding, March 12, 1969

And all this helps explain why John seemed invested in believing that Paul’s marriage was unhappy and would end, that all his solo music was crap, etc. Paul had gotten the better breaks from the beginning; I can imagine it must have seemed cosmically unfair to John that Paul had been able to defy him and then forge an independent life that was happy in any way.

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83 Comments

  1. Great post, Nancy. So much to say about this, and I hope to say it, but until I can carve out the time let me just remark: this has always made a lot of sense to me. In fact it’s the line of argument I put forth in Life After Death for Beginners — that John resented Paul for becoming a better Beatle than he was, and every Macca mega-hit (“Hey Jude” for example), made John angrier.

    It would be ironic if John hired Klein as a way to get Paul to come back to a Lennon-led Beatles, because that drove Paul from the group — no emotional thing could’ve, but a legal/financial one could. Paul would become the Caretaker and do what needed to be done.

    Paul left the Beatles so he could sue the Beatles, and he sued the Beatles so he could save the Beatles, and history proved Paul right.

  2. Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

    Michael, this is also what George Starostin says in his review of Revolver: “I cannot even exclude the thought that this is the starting point from which we have to unwind the story of the Beatles’ breakup (which, in my opinion, has always been the story of John Winston Lennon being pissed off at one James Paul McCartney stealing his, John Winston Lennon’s, band from under John Winston Lennon’s nose — and not being able to do anything about it, because all the stealing happened through fair competition. But that’s putting it too roughly, of course).” Link: http://only-solitaire.blogspot.com/search/label/Beatles?updated-max=2012-05-01T16:16:00%2B04:00&max-results=20&start=13&by-date=false
    .
    I’m just adding that I think the roots of John’s resentment go back to the disparities between Paul’s life circumstances and his own, and that the Beatles as a group he could lead might have meant more to John than to Paul, post-India.

    • So you’re arguing that, post-Pepper, the band meant more to John than to an increasingly confident and accomplished Paul?

      • Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

        Very much to my own surprise, I think I want to argue that the group was at least as important to John as it was to Paul at the time of the breakup — although I think for different reasons. The more I think this through the more I think that John needed to put Paul back in line, and that he was banking on Paul’s loyalty to him personally and to the group to make Paul knuckle under. How seriously did John think about what would happen if Paul didn’t back down? That’s an interesting question.

        • Avatar Drew wrote:

          The funny thing is: We always talk about how John felt. How angry John was. How John felt betrayed by Paul. How John wanted to rein Paul in. How John felt resentful of Paul’s success and his marriage.

          But people never seem to focus on Paul’s point of view, or think about how he might have felt — other than, of course, to paint him as the controlling, lesser-talented, self-absorbed villain who should have bowed to John’s greater genius and who destroyed the band when Paul couldn’t get his way. But I don’t see any reason why Paul should have had to kowtow to John in 1968. Maybe Paul felt he’d put his heart and soul into the band. Maybe he felt he’d done the lion’s share of the grunt work — I don’t mean in writing songs but in overseeing production, handling the album covers, coming up with projects to keep the band moving forward — and when John steamrolled over everyone by signing unilaterally with Klein, maybe it was Paul who felt gutted and betrayed. Maybe Paul felt he’d had to set his own interests aside for years in order to cater to John’s whims. Maybe Paul felt that he’d even had to sacrifice his own name on his own songs just because John and Brian thought “Lennon-McCartney” sounded better. I can imagine that Paul felt quite a lot of resentment and anger, too — and rightfully so. He must have felt really bitter that his so-called friends didn’t appreciate all he’d done for the band, they just resented him for it.

          So maybe, when John made his move to reassert his leadership of the band, Paul viewed that as disloyal after all he’d done. He felt angry and unappreciated and dug in his heels, too, rather than once again put John’s interests and ego first — like everyone always seems to expect him to do, to this day. It wasn’t just John’s band. It had never really been just John’s band.

          • Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

            Drew, that’s one of the things that makes Gilmore’s article on the band’s breakup refreshing to me: he considers the events and feelings of it from McCartney’s perspective as well as the others’. In the online notes about the story he straight-up says that John and George “treated McCartney shamefully during 1969, and unforgivably in the early months of 1970” and that McCartney went public with the breakup because “he wasn’t about to play any games about his love for what the Beatles were, nor was he going to dishonor his own pain.”
            .
            Link: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/why-the-beatles-broke-up-the-story-behind-our-cover-20090818#ixzz3ofxAChfd
            .
            I really hope that Gilmore’s projected book on the breakup does in fact make it to print.

          • “I really hope that Gilmore’s projected book on the breakup does in fact make it to print.”

            Nancy, Gilmore’s a friend of a friend, and I’ve expressed the same wish.

            We talk about John for two reasons, @Drew:
            1) He was the one that changed. The Paul of April 1970 is pretty much the same guy as he was in April 1966. John, on the other hand, is massively different. John loves the band, then suddenly hates it; loves Paul and considers him his closest friend, and then suddenly drops him for his diametric opposite, and then shits on him in the press constantly.
            2) John gives us lots of stuff to discuss. Whether or not it was really what was going on in John’s head, John seems to give us his thoughts and impressions constantly from May ’68 to 1971. Paul speaks reactively if at all.

            But it’s not fair, and Paul’s feelings have not be given enough weight, and I think he would’ve been well within his rights to be incredibly pissed off at John, and at the other two for not backing him up.

          • Avatar Drew wrote:

            Well I was eager for Gilmore’s book, too, until I read that line he wrote about John being the band’s only genius.

            FFS. There’s not an eyeroll big enough. So, so tired of that myopic view.

        • Avatar Ruth wrote:

          “The more I think this through the more I think that John needed to put Paul back in line, and that he was banking on Paul’s loyalty to him personally and to the group to make Paul knuckle under.”

          Which may, in turn, help explain what I mentioned on the “John/Paul Lovers” thread, which is John’s enduring disdain for and shoddy treatment of Linda. Its important to remember that Paul wasn’t making this decision to reject John’s lead regarding Klein entirely by himself: he was relying on emotional support from Linda, who supported him through his depression — “You’re a grown man, you don’t have to take this; you’re a great songwriter” — and the Eastman’s, whom Paul was turning to for financial and legal advice. If Linda hadn’t appeared — and if her father and brother in law hadn’t happened to be wealthy, reputable lawyers with a history in music publishing — isn’t it reasonable to assume that Paul would bowed to majority rule and accepted Klein, however reluctantly? And John’s power play would have succeeded? And that Linda, by extension, was the monkey wrench? Given how you have John openly speculating that Paul and Linda’s marriage would not last long (and this was *after* Mary was born) and that Paul would quickly realize the error of his ways (and, presumably, come crawling back to John and/or Klein) it sounds possible to me.

        • If the group was the most important thing to John, Nancy, why didn’t he continue it in 1970 with Klaus or Harry Nilsson replacing Paul?

          I think John despised what he felt The Beatles had become, and laid that all on Paul. Pretty much everything John Lennon did after his return from India makes no sense unless he’s actively trying to sabotage the group — or change it into something so vastly different from what it had been, that it wasn’t the same. What would Paul “falling into line” have even looked like? Releasing “Cold Turkey” and “What’s the New Mary Jane?” — okay. But recording songs with Yoko singing, or that Yoko had written? John knew Paul would not, could not go for that — and that’s why I believe he picked Yoko.

          • Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

            Good question, Michael. It makes me realize that when I said “the group” was important to John, what I was really thinking was that being seen as the leader of the group — making it clear that no one else was steering its destiny –was really important to him. As for what he thought the group would do if/when Paul signed with Klein, I wonder if he thought about that at all. One of the sad things about the Lennon of this period, to me, is that he seems to have a kind of tunnel vision. And Klein did, as well. It’s as if neither of them stopped to think that a “victory” might be Pyrrhic, since breaking Paul to the point that he signed would have snapped the band’s back.

          • The issue here though is, seen by whom? Everybody in the Beatles and circle knew that if John didn’t want something to happen, it didn’t happen.

            Whether it’s the psychodrama of inter-group dynamics, or a romantic overture gone awry, it adds up to the same thing: something inside John Lennon’s head, not in the external world. And that’s why, to me, the leading cause of the tumult is probably mental/emotional discomfort caused in India.

    • Avatar Ruth wrote:

      “I’m just adding that I think the roots of John’s resentment go back to the disparities between Paul’s life circumstances and his own.”

      One of John’s teenaged friends (I can’t recall which one) makes the same claim in Spitz’s bio: that John’s intense jealousy of Paul dates back to Julia’s death. John may have resented certain things about Paul prior to that, but couldn’t be *too* overtly jealous of Paul because his mother was dead and John’s was still alive. You also have John, during the “Let it Be” sessions, telling Paul in earnest that Paul’s “got it all.”

      At the moment, all I can say is that, if this theory is true (and I find it very plausible) its an incredibly sad one, for both John and Paul.

      My major question would be how much of John’s hostility was aided and abetted by Yoko and Klein. The time period following the breakup in which the John/Paul relationship is at its warmest — The Lost Weekend — is also the time period in which John’s carefully constructed breakup narrative has publicly crumbled. He’s separated from Yoko: he’s left Klein, he’s heavily dependent on drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile Paul is still happily married and has had an undisputed critical and popular smash with “Band on the Run.” If much of John’s bitterness is attributable to this long-standing resentment of these disparities, wouldn’t John have been at his most publicly/privately bitter?

      • @Ruth, I think your last paragraph is where this theory falls down for me. That’s exactly when Paul is flying the highest, and John is at his nadir.

        For the record, I believe John resented the hell out of Paul; I think he was terrified of losing face, of “being beaten” by Paul from the point of “Yesterday” onwards. But I don’t think he reacted to this by wanting Paul to remain in the same group as himself. Paul didn’t want to leave the Beatles, never did; and there’s no evidence that Paul ever vetoed John on any Beatle-like projects. As Paul himself has said many times, he doesn’t feel quite comfortable as the frontman, and prefers being a strong #2. Nobody outside of John Lennon’s own brain ever thought Paul was Chief Beatle, and there’s no evidence that Paul ever thought about kicking John out of the group (I can’t even type it).

        I think John felt (rightly) there was no way to beat Paul at the popstar game, and so he consciously began molding his image against that, doing things he knew Paul would never do, in ways that Paul would never try. This wasn’t to make Paul fall into line — what would that even mean? Write worse songs? — it was to shatter the partnership, to put so much stress on the Beatles unit that it shattered.

        • Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

          Ruth, good point. I do think that a few things are different in 1973-4, though, that may account for the abating of John’s resentment. The breakup and the “Lennon Remembers” interview, the Melody Maker correspondence, and “How Do You Sleep?” had gotten some of that out of John’s system. Maybe at this point John was starting to be able to get some perspective. And that may go with being away from Yoko, who seems consistently to have worked to keep John and Paul apart. He obviously did care for Paul, and it doesn’t surprise me that that would surface once he wasn’t under the direct influence of Klein and Yoko.
          .
          But let me add that I’m not completely convinced of my theory, either!

  3. Avatar Karen Hooper wrote:

    “Paul’s mother died; John was emotionally abandoned by both his parents, then had a brief reunion with his mother before she was suddenly killed.”

    This was actually the essence of their emotional bond as youngsters, not a source of jealousy or acrimony. Even John himself says that losing their mothers was a bonding moment for them. If anything, John was jealous of Paul’s father–even going so far as to pit Paul against him, and being proud that Paul “chose” John over him.


    John’s comment in the last Rolling Stone interview with reference to the breakup is telling: “when I’m weak, I assume Paul is strong.” I think the basis of John’s jealousy is rooted in childhood experience which made him feel exceptionally vulnerable.

    • Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

      Karen, that’s a good point. Their emotional bond was solidified by losing their mothers, no question. What I was trying to get at was how much worse John’s family situation was than Paul’s. It’s horrible to lose your mother to death, but to feel emotionally abandoned by your mother and then have her die just as it looks as if you might be able to forge a relationship — that’s a whole other level of dreadful. Paul’s family situation wasn’t perfect, but all the evidence I’ve seen suggests he always felt wanted and basically secure. Not to go all Freudian, but the kind of deep wounding that John sustained as a young child explains a lot, I think.

      • Avatar Drew wrote:

        Hmm. But did Paul always feel wanted and secure? George talked about how his mother was close to Paul. Paul used to hangout in the Hamburg restrooms with Rosa, the wash-room attendant. What kind of 18-year-old boy does that??? And more than one of his girlfriends said he seemed to like their mother more than he liked the girl! One of them said after shows in the Cavern, Paul would come over and her mother would massage his legs! Even Paul admitted that he adored Jane Asher’s mother. In short, he’s spent an awful lot of time searching for a mother figure. Much more so than John did.

        I think losing a loving parent who you’d relied on as a center of stability in your life as a young teen — not to mention her being the primary breadwinner for your family — is a different sort of trauma from abandonment but I’m not sure I buy that it’s any more or any less traumatic.

        • @Drew, Paul strikes me as a person who suffered a great trauma in his early life — there’s no measuring one trauma against another — but unlike John, he processed it. He grew through and past it. For example, there’s no evidence whatever that Linda McCartney was fulfilling some role in Paul’s psychodrama — they were two equal adults in a loving marriage. Whereas, Yoko Ono was embroiled in something very weird with John, who seemed to grow less mature, less able, less productive, and less stable with her than before.

          I think, at the risk of sounding uncool, that it came down to one thing: drugs. I think McCartney’s natural caution regarding chemicals, and his preferences in them, allowed him to continue to grow. And Lennon’s mania for oblivion — for greater and greater doses, of weirder and weirder stuff, bludgeoning his consciousness with no regard — eventually produced one man who was a grownup and sane, and one who was much less so.

          • Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

            Michael, I would disagree that Paul really grew past the trauma of his mother’s death, or at least not for a long time. By his own admission, it wasn’t until the catastrophic trauma of Linda’s death that he was forced to grieve properly for his mother, and she’s certainly been on his mind a lot since then. For the first several decades of his career, Paul barely mentioned his mothers in interviews (or seemingly in private, to friends or acquaintances) but that’s been the case the past 15 years or so. The man who wrote the New Yorker profile on Paul, for example, said he mentioned his mum in their conversations as often as the Beatles, and he’s mentioned her a couple of times in his fansite q&A’s (for example, if he could time travel anywhere, it would be to go back and spend time with her). Especially in his 20’s, Paul constantly seemed to be attaching himself to older women or mothers of his girlfriends, looking for that maternal connection.

            We can see the way the handling of his mother’s illness and death affected Paul, IMO, in the ways he handled death and even conflict throughout most of his adult life. He knew his mother was ill, but was not told with what, even when he visited her in hospital. Then suddenly, she was dead, and he still wasn’t told why (imagine not knowing your parent’s cause of death – awful). He had no closure of a funeral nor even (according to Mike) were they told where their mother was buried. For some time afterward, Paul and Mike were taken from their home and separated from their only parent to live with relatives. Every single thing about that is the exact opposite of how to healthily handle death with children. Suddenly and without explanation, Paul did lose a loving, constant presence in his life, his main caretaker and the main financial provider, and the message he received from society (and even family) was to bottle it inside, not to inconvenience others with his emotions. John let his grief out for everyone to see, but Paul got the message as a child that when his entire world was turned upside down, it didn’t matter to anyone else.

            I’m not into comparing traumas either, though certainly Beatles biographers are. John and Paul’s mothers’ deaths were both awful for them, but different kinds of awful. John’s grief was, in many ways, around a relationship that never was. Julia had always been the flighty aunt, while his actual aunt was his parent. While Julia was still alive, I think John could somehow convince himself that her original abandonment was not that bad, but her death brought it all to the forefront. Yet even had she lived and they had a great relationship, Julia was never going to be a mother to John. You can’t rewind time and make up what a child lost as an adult. But at the same time, when Julia died, John did not lose the person who had cared for him when he was sick, who made his meals, who tucked him in at night, who gave him financial stability. That was Mimi.

            I think many biographers also either willfully ignore (or don’t care) about another significant difference in John and Paul’s experiences: their ages. There is a huge difference between loss at the age of 14 (Paul) and loss three months before you turn 18 (John). Paul was a child, and John was not. Children have different psychological reactions to loss and grief. At Paul’s age, adolescents are just beginning to figure out their own boundaries and independence, but also still have one foot in childhood. They often start to have healthy conflicts with their parents, but if their parent dies in the midst of that, the child can spiral into guilt. Every minor transgression suddenly becomes a major thing. Paul once made fun of his mother’s pronunciation of a word, something that I’m sure (if we were able to ask her) she either forget or would brush off as a completely forgettable thing. But Paul spent DECADES remembering and mentioning that incident, and how he wish he could go and take it back. No child is perfect – and certainly no 14 year old is – but not every child then has their parent basically vanish overnight forever. Most of us have a chance to grow up, laugh later with our parents about the rockiness of our teen years, and dumb incidents like that.

          • Amazing comment, @Rose, thank you. Changed my opinion about Paul and his mum.

  4. Avatar Nicole wrote:

    Regarding John’s expectation that Paul would kowtow, not leave, I always found this quote rather touching but also amusing. I mean, really, John!?
    .
    Q: “I asked Lee Eastman for his view of the split, and what it was that prompted Paul to file suit to dissolve the Beatles’ partnership, and he said it was because John asked for a divorce.”
    JOHN: “Because I asked for a divorce? That’s a childish reason for going into court, isn’t it?”

  5. Avatar Karen Hooper wrote:

    Any discussion of John should include, I think, a discussion of his mental health issues, separate and apart from his childhood traumas. I would bet my bottom dollar that he was bipolar. I can’t think of the quote off hand, but John himself discussed his wild mood changes in final interviews. Take an untreated bipolar and add childhood trauma and drugs, you gotta a pretty screwed up guy.

    • Avatar linda a. wrote:

      I would bet my bottom dollar that he was bipolar.

      Either bipolar or perhaps Borderline Personality. Borderline has very similar characteristics to bipolar and sometimes it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two. People who have experienced abuse of some kind; physical, sexual, psychological as in abandonment by parental figures, or even psychological abandonment as in parents who remain with the child but cast him aside emotionally are vulnerable to developing Borderline Personality Disorder. To me John had all the signs and I think it fits more than bipolar, and it fits more with Paul’s comment that John was “disturbed”. Borderline is an extremely serious mental illness, and very hard to treat.

      • Avatar Karen Hooper wrote:

        “Either bipolar or perhaps Borderline Personality. Borderline has very similar characteristics to bipolar and sometimes it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two.”

        Actually, no. Bipolar disorder, of which I am afflicted I’m sorry to say, is a mood disorder. Borderline is a personality disorder. The only similarity is the rise of fall of emotional affect, but with entirely different origins.

    • Avatar Ruth wrote:

      “Any discussion of John should include, I think, a discussion of his mental health issues, separate and apart from his childhood traumas.”

      I agree. Its something that Beatles writers are going to be forced to tackle, in some form or another, eventually. Its obviously a delicate issue, but historians now virtually all agree that Lincoln struggled with depression, and some theorize that Martin Luther was bipolar. If we can respectfully attempt to posthumously psychologically analyze Luther and Lincoln, we can do the same to Lennon.

  6. Avatar Devin McKinney wrote:

    Nancy, I think you nailed it.

  7. Avatar Dan wrote:

    One of the things that gets overlooked in discussions of John’s early traumas is the death of the only father he ever knew – Uncle George – when he was 14. People seem to think that Mimi brought him up single handed, but in fact George was far more of a parent to him than Mimi was, at least in terms of love and affection. Philip Norman has this quote from her – “John loved his uncle George. I felt quite left out of that. They’d go off together, just leaving me a bar of chocolate and a note saying: ‘Have a happy day.'”

    • Avatar Michael wrote:

      Another interesting thing about Uncle George that’s almost never noted is that he may have been gay, and closeted. Philip Norman’s book claims that Mimi lost her virginity to a student to whom she rented a room at Mendips and began a relationship after George passed away.

      • Wow, if true that really explains something about Mimi’s demeanor, and likely her “scarlet woman” view of Julia, too.

        • Avatar Michael wrote:

          Right? It goes some way to unpacking why Mimi can seem like a caricature of a good Victorian. Additionally, and this requires multiple leaps, if by some chance there were some similarities between the way George Stanley and Brian Epstein spoke, acted, thought, carried themselves—as respectable closeted men in 50s Liverpool—it wouldn’t surprise me if on some level, that subconsciously contributed to John viewing Brian as a father figure.

      • Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

        I’m hesitant to take Philip Norman’s word on anything, especially as so many Beatles scholars seem determined to portray Mimi as a villain. And what better way than to paint her as a cold virgin whose own husband wasn’t even interested in her, as compared to the vivacious and sexual Julia?

        Bob Spitz’s book has its faults, but I find myself returning to him again and again as a source for the Fabs’ childhoods. He seems to be the rare author who actual did considerable Liverpool research and, remarkably, tracked down a few of the surviving contemporaries and relatives of the Beatles’ parents.

        We can never know the details of Mimi and George’s sex lives, of course, but Spitz writes that, unlike her sisters, Mimi was uninterested in domestic pursuits and instead aspired to education and a career. She was apparently whip-smart and unfailingly honest, becoming first a nurse then a secretary/office manager to a notable businessman. At one point, Mimi supposedly turned down a suitor’s proposal by saying, “I have no interest in being tied to a kitchen or a sink.” Her dream was to have a place where scholars could congregate in Liverpool.

        Mimi met George when he delivered milk to where she worked, but the courtship was slow as Mimi’s father hated any suitors of his daughters and watched them like a hawk. He seemed to have been an unassuming fellow and the opposite in some ways of ambitious Mimi, but sometimes, opposite attract. Mimi did not want children of her own, but both she and George loved John, and Julia’s erratic behavior and preference for socializing and being a “good time girl” made it convenient for Mimi and George to take John in. Mimi and George did seem to share a sense of humor, a love for John and a focus on education and reading (showering him with books) that later served him well.

        Again, we can never know, but Mimi doesn’t strike me as a woman who was desperate for a husband so she had to settle for being the beard of a gay man. She and her sisters were all “stunners” and she’d turned down other suitors, eventually agreeing to George because he wouldn’t give up. If I were to guess, I think Mimi was attracted to George because he was more easygoing than she was, but while not highly educated himself, was also supportive of education, a lover of books, and supportive of her dreams. It can be hard for modern people to realize sometimes how difficult it was for any woman of that time period to step aside her gender roles, such as Mimi being open about not wanting children and not wanting to be a housewife. Perhaps George also didn’t want children, and even today, married couples who don’t automatically want children are considered suspicious and/or defective.

        • This seems like a very humane and judicious take on Mimi, @Rose. The portrait we usually get of her seems very much smaller-than-life — in order to make room for her very much bigger-than-life nephew.

        • Avatar Drew wrote:

          Rose: You should write the next Beatles history! You have a better understanding of the fabs and the women in their lives than P. Norman or any of these other authors. 😉

          Great point about Mimi and the stereotypical way she is portrayed as the cold virgin compared with the “sensual” Julia. You can tell a man made that comparison, can’t you? It reminds me of that lame bio of Paul (“Fab”) in which Howard Sounes portrays Jane Asher as the delicate rose and then slut shames Linda McCartney throughout the book for being a woman who enjoyed sex and drugs. So typical of these Beatles books.

          • Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

            Aw, thanks guys! I blush! 🙂

            I’m reminded of when director Sam Taylor-Wood sought out Paul’s opinion on an early draft of Nowhere Boy. Decades removed, and after having five children of his own, gave Paul perhaps a better perspective. He said, “She sent me a synopsis and it said, ‘Aunt Mimi is a cruel woman’, and I said, ‘Sam, this isn’t true. Sam, do me one favour: Aunt Mimi was not cruel. She was mock strict, very proper. But she was a good heart who loved John madly and she knew she had to bring up what was potentially a wayward boy.'”

  8. Avatar linda a. wrote:

    Rose I wish you could send your comment on Paul’s mother’s death to every biographer and potential biographer out there. They should actually be required to memorize it verbatim and remember it when it’s time to write the part about Mary’s death, that normally takes one page (if we’re lucky) of, Mary died and Paul asked, what are we going to do without her money? The end. Back to John.

    • Avatar Drew wrote:

      I, too, appreciate the detailed comment up above from Rose about the impact of his mother’s death on Paul. This bit particularly jumped out at me: “Paul got the message as a child that when his entire world was turned upside down, it didn’t matter to anyone else.” Exactly. And the sad fact is: That same reaction to Paul’s grief has continued in pretty much EVERY book ever written on the Beatles. As LindaA points out, writers take a page on Mary’s death and move on quickly to Julia’s death that gets pages and pages. Even Mark Lewisohn, of whom I would have expected better, spends pages and pages on Julia’s death and its impact on John. Mary’s death? Gets 3 pages, and that’s in the extended edition of the book. In the shorter version of Lewisohn’s book, Mary’s death gets 1.5 pages. Your mother dies? No biggie. Back to John.

      So, in effect, the message throughout his entire life has continued to be: Paul’s entire world was turned upside down but it doesn’t matter to anyone else. It doesn’t explain any of his character or his faults. It was a blip in his life. Now lets talk in depth about the death of John’s mother and use it rationalize all bad behaviour and explain his character. It’s so odd when you think about it in these terms. So thanks Rose! Fascinating post.

      • @Drew, I think John and Paul get treated like this because John was so self-mythologizing, and engaged in so much (seeming) self-analysis between 1968-75. Much of how we see Julia’s death, and Mary’s, comes from each man’s own mouth. John talked more, more dramatically, and (seemingly) more openly. And the writers all copied it down.

        Paul is the great Undiscovered Country in the Beatles’ story. Your focus, and others, suggests to me that his time is coming, Norman be damned.

        • Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

          However, as I’ve noted here before, I think Paul wants to remain the Undiscovered Country. And part of me is rooting for him to escape having the glare of public scrutiny search out every remaining part of his life, at least while he’s still alive.

        • Avatar Drew wrote:

          Well I’m sure John’s self-mythologizing is part of it. And yes, John’s easier to analyze as he liked to spill his guts. But it’s not JUST that. Too many Beatles writers (all of them men) assume that Paul’s soft, feminine, melodic music made him less gifted than John, less interesting than John, dumber than John. Too many Beatles writers (all of them men) refused to take Pretty Paul seriously as an artist. McCartney often writes surreal lyrics but most music writers almost willfully refuse to see that he’s being surreal because they don’t think he’s smart enough to BE surreal in his songwriting. So they just assume that some of Paul’s crazier lyrics are just Paul being dim and lazy. And sometimes he was being lazy, but the same is true of John.Some of John’s lyrics are downright simplistic but he’s never reduced to his worst lyrics as Paul routinely is. And has anyone actually looked at some of George’s lyrics? They’re pretty darn simplistic yet writers choose to invest George’s songs with depth because of George’s religious leanings. They see depth in John and George’s songs because they WANT to see depth there; likewise, they refuse to see depth in Paul’s work because they don’t want to see it. How else to explain why so many reviewers and music writer seemed to miss how deeply personal Paul’s lyrics were on the Ram album. They just dismissed the album as gibberish when, as the Pitchfork review of the Ram reissue noted, all you have to do is pay the slightest attention to figure out that Paul is revealing a lot on that album. But they weren’t listening.

          In short, it’s not that Paul lacked depth in his work or in his life or in the impact of his mother’s death on this life. It’s that many male Beatles’ writers refused to believe that the girly Beatle, the cute Beatle, the manipulative, the superficial Beatle was capable of great depth in his work. Just look at all the pejoratives often applied to Paul — during and after the band’s breakup. It’s amazing how many of those pejoratives are phrases used to demean women. So for me, it’s not just that Paul wasn’t self-mythologizing, it’s that most Beatles writers refused to dig any deeper to see beneath their surface understanding of Paul.

          /rambling.

  9. Avatar Dan wrote:

    I’d also be interested to read a proper analysis of Jim’s physical abuse of Paul and Mike. Corporal punishment was common in those days of course, but I get the feeling that Jim took it too far even for the 50s.

    • …and specifically, how Paul cleaved to John, who himself was a notorious hitter. Patterns, patterns.

    • Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

      Dan, that was one of the most surprising bits from Howard Stern’s interviews with Paul. Mike wrote in his books about he and Paul getting “bashed” (spanked) for a particularly egregious stunt that almost got them both killed as children, but it certainly sounded like typical punishment for the time, especially for such dangerous behavior. But, and I can’t even remember the context, but Paul told Stern that his dad “used to hit me” and then described the last incident as being when he was 16 or 17. His dad hit him across the face for something, to which Paul looked at him and calmly replied, “Go ahead. Do it again.” And then described his dad backing off like, “Whoah.” Hitting someone across the face is certainly not spanking or typical corporal punishment, even for the era, and 16-17 is way too old an age to be doing any such corporal punishment anyway.

  10. Avatar linda a. wrote:

    ” Hitting someone across the face is certainly not spanking or typical corporal punishment, even for the era, and 16-17 is way too old an age to be doing any such corporal punishment anyway.

    I agree Rose, but I’ve always wondered what Paul had actually done…or said, that caused Jim to slap him across the face. Yes it’s unusual for a parent to hit a 17 year old but I’ve never seen Jim as a particularly nasty or abusive guy. Although I think he may have been a bit controlling about certain issues, unless there’s some deep secret that never came out, I don’t think he was an abusive father. So I’m wondering if Paul had said or done something that just enraged him and he lost control and slapped him.

    • And now, @linda a., is the time in the thread where I utter the magic word: “alcohol.”

      The Beatles were a family, but they were an alcoholic family — and that makes all the difference. John, Paul, George and Ringo worked so well as a unit, fit so closely together, because each of them had come from an alcoholic family. (I don’t know if Pete Best did, but if he didn’t, that would explain his sacking to a T.)

      Trying to make sense of, say, John and Paul’s relationship without understanding the patterns and tendencies ingrained by (having/being exposed to) alcoholism, is useless. You leave thinking, “But WHY did they act like that?”

      Unfortunately, alcoholism is only slightly less scandalous-seeming than sexual matters — and the UK is decades behind the US in understanding it. So when you bring it up, you get a bunch of defensive harrumphing. But for many questions, it is the shortest distance to an answer.

      • Avatar linda a. wrote:

        now, @linda a., is the time in the thread where I utter the magic word: “alcohol.”

        Interesting Michael, and true about alcoholic families. I know what you mean when you say the Beatles were an alcoholic family, but you are saying that they came from alcoholic families and brought that into the group? I’m feeling a bit ignorant on this topic so please bear with me. As we have said many times the bios skirt over the childhoods of Paul, George and Ringo, and tend to repeat the same few details from perhaps the Davies book, over and over, while devoting most of the narrative to John. Ok, having said that I will now say that Lewisohn changed that with his excellent research on Ringo. It was in Lewisohn’s book that I finally realized that Ringo’s family were indeed alcoholics. But were John’s, Paul’s and George’s? The only thing I remember reading about is a small comment ( possibly in Norman’s book on John) that Uncle George died of cirrhosis of the liver, then nothing else is said. In Spitz’s book it is mentioned that Jim was very generous with his liquor when guests were over, and when Mary died he turned to drink. And of course getting back to John, Twitchy’s drinking got him into a lot of trouble. Now George; I don’t remember reading anything about alcoholism in his family. Ok it’s been established by Lewisohn’s wonderful book that Ringo’s family were alcoholics and it’s safe to say John was exposed to it as well, but with Paul’s father you almost have to read between the lines. Based on the information we’ve been given, are you thinking he was an alcoholic? And again, I’m drawing a blank on George’s family.

        • @Linda A., this topic requires a 200-comment thread of its own, but when I say “alcoholic,” I don’t mean “visibly drunk all the time” or “laying in the gutter” or even “died of cirrhosis/stomach cancer/any of the other alcoholic-type causes of death.” I mean something at once much more subtle, and much more definite.

          First, the definite: there are certain arrangements of families that commonly occur when one member is an active alcoholic. One member’s the addict — and another is the golden child/caretaker, another is the lost child, another is the rebel, another is the clown. I don’t know of one great source for this, but I suspect Melody Beattie’s writings on codependence would be a good place to start.

          Clearly we can see the Fabs in this pattern. Is this random — is it a pattern that human groups fall into? Or is it an alcoholic family pattern? We have ample evidence to answer that question.

          But, as I say, it’s subtle. When a family is as dysfunctional as the Lennons and Stanleys were, something’s up. Mental illness? Addiction? Addiction caused by self-medicating to combat mental illness? Why did Fred and Julia act they way they did? Why did they treat John that way? Why was Julia’s life an endless series of temporary liasons with questionable guys? Why does Mimi seem so angry? Why is she so strict with John before he’s even old enough to misbehave? And so forth.

          Saying that Julia was a beautiful, talented woman who genuinely loved her son; and that Mimi was a very smart, loving if occasionally severe woman; these do not explain John’s situation or development. A loving family full of talented people, blighted in the ways characteristic of addiction (in this case alcohol), really does.

          The fact that John used alcohol and drugs the way he did is a strong indicator of an alcoholic family. Addictive tendencies are genetic, because of course they are. In my experience, the only people who dispute this are people who want to drink/use without being “judged.” This is typical addict thinking. Nobody’s judging the drinking; the glass of beer is not the problem. It’s the glass of beer, plus your nervous system, equalling nearly beating Bob Wooler to death over a stupid joke. “Everybody drinks,” is true; but if you risk your entire career over a fistfight, you’ve got a fucking problem.

          We have a pretty good idea of what kind of kid Paul was. We also know that he smoked a ton of pot for most of his adult life. We also know that Paul’s brother Michael has had his own struggles. So when I read that the normally mild-mannered and loving Jim slapped the 16-year-old Paul across the face, I think: “alcohol.”

          So: John — certainly an addict, certainly a product of a family blighted by addiction. Paul — doesn’t seem to be an addict, but definitely compulsive, and very likely co-dependent — not least likely because he hooked up with John. Ringo — another addict, but also the clown, the mascot, everybody’s friend. George, I don’t know about, but it is highly unlikely that a person would be in a group with three refugees from addictive/alcoholic families, and not come from the same background. You wouldn’t like, understand, or feel comfortable with them, nor they with you.

          And here’s the final piece, one that will break your brain: these patterns persist until they are identified and broken. So maybe Louise French’s father was a drunk, and that’s why she picked the gentle and lovely Harry Harrison (he was gentle and lovely, I’m remembering that right?) — but because she’d been raised the way she was raised, she gave her own children those same subtle clues…which George then recognized in his mates, and slotted himself in as “the lost child.” Quiet, shy, underappreciated, overshadowed — but often funny, angry, and very talented, too.

          All this is as plain as the nose on Lennon’s face once you know the information — and are willing to go there. Most people are not. They think it somehow denigrates their heroes (when of course it doesn’t). They think it’s oh-so-American, and to some degree it is, but this brings up something really important to remember about the Beatles and their families and alcohol. We are just now beginning to understand all this stuff, and frankly don’t understand it very well. Yet alcohol has been part of human society for thousands and thousands of years. I think I read somewhere that brewing was the basis of civilization. So it’s firmly integrated into our culture, thoroughly normalized, perceived as neutral.

          John, Paul, George, and Ringo all grew up surrounded by alcohol — which meant that if they, or anybody close to them, had a neurological susceptibility, they would be given ample opportunity for that condition to take root. And if the only remedy was abstinence, the patterns would not be rooted out — they would seem “normal,” “just how our family does things.” But they’re not normal — they are the effect of a disease. And those patterns were a big part of the glue that held together the Fabs, and then broke them apart. One can look at the rift between John and Paul as Paul’s growing up, and healing to a certain degree, and breaking the contract that he and John had struck, silently, all those years ago. Paul certainly did heal, because his own marriage and family life seems to have been very stable. Unlike, for example, John’s. If you take John’s money and fame and power away, his personal life would’ve been much like his mother’s or his father’s. Because he never really addressed the patterns — though he seemed to be getting ready to in 1980.

          • Avatar linda a. wrote:

            Very interesting Michael and I concur, but aren’t these behaviors and patterns also common in families where mental illness exists even without the use of alcohol? I can think of many dysfunctional families that are this way not because of alcohol but because of bipolar disorder or even major depression even if they are not self medicating with alcohol. The patterns seem to be the same. But speaking strictly about the Beatles, it’s very easy to see that there is alcohol in all of their families, but I think at least in John’s and Paul’s cases there was underlying mental illness that was self medicated with alcohol and/or drugs. John’s, Paul’s and probably Jim’s behavior all seem to be the result of an underlying depression, or in John particularly either bipolar or like I mentioned once before borderline personality disorder. Anyway thanks for pointing all of this out. It’s so interesting.

          • I can’t speak to that, @Linda A. I just know that the family dynamic methodology created via AA/CODA seems to fit the Beatles group dynamic very neatly. First I noticed that, and then I went back into the history and found, lo! and behold!, lots of drinking and, yes, stuff like Jim smacking Paul. Something that seemed both out-of-character for him, and also for the kind of kid Paul seemed to be.

            Is it worth surfacing on the front as a post? What do you think? Will it spur fruitful discussion?

          • Avatar Karen Hooper wrote:

            “I think, alcohol.’

            Funny, I think, “they way they themselves were brought up.”

            My mother was raised by a woman who was a maid by age 15. She wasn’t nurtured or parented. She, in turn, beat my mother, and my mother, in turn–alone with three kids while my father worked long hours–beat us. There wasn’t a drop of alcohol in sight.

          • Wow, I’m really sorry to hear that @Karen. Deeply sorry.

            The reason I thought “alcohol,” wasn’t just that Jim hit Paul; it’s that Jim apparently didn’t hit Paul all the time — only occasionally. So what was the difference? Less impulse control in that one moment. That is, booze. But for sure, Jim was probably raised with corporal punishment, too.

            Also — and this is what people have a difficult time swallowing — is the belief that these patterns, once established, persist until they are rooted out, whether or not the person is a drinker. But it makes sense: if a parent was a drinker, often you don’t drink — but when it comes time to raise kids, who do you emulate? Mom or Dad. So you have the behaviors, without the substance. Alcoholism isn’t, in my experience, simply the ingestion of alcohol; it’s a whole constellation of attitudes, which I can sniff in the first fifteen minutes I’m with a person.

  11. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    You’ve got it ALL WRONG!!!! John and Paul were neither lovers nor rivals. A close reading of Beatles history, lyrics of Lennon-McCartney songs, and the script of Help! reveals that the antagonism John and Paul felt toward one another stemmed from their frustrated ambition to be jewelers.

    FACT: John and Paul sacked Pete Best in part because they felt his drumming ability was limited. However, Lennon and McCartney both envied Rory Storm and the Hurricanes drummer Ringo Starr because of the dazzling array of rings he sported on both hands.

    FACT: At the 1963 Royal Variety Performance, John Lennon quipped: Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.”

    FACT: Paul McCartney wrote the following lyric in Can’t Buy Me Love: “I buy you a diamond ring my friend, if it makes you feel all right”.

    FACT: John Lennon wrote the following lyric in I Feel Fine: “her baby buys her things you know, he buys her diamond rings you know..”.

    FACT: Lennon and McCartney wrote the following lyric in If You’ve Got Trouble: ” I don’t think it’s funny when you ask for money and things, especially when you’re standing there wearing diamonds and rings”.

    FACT: The Beatles performed in a memorable scene in the movie Help! when they visited a jeweler’s shop in hopes of removing the cursed ring from Ringo’s hand. As the jeweler attempts to cut and grind the ring off, George Harrison goes through the jeweler’s cabinets, shelves, and display cases, and even takes a few items. John Lennon intently studies the jeweler’s work and sternly pronounces, “Jeweler, you’ve failed!” when the hacksaw and wheel do not work. As Paul McCartney looks at his watch to announce the time, there are several rings on his right hand that were not there at the beginning of the scene.

    FACT: Paul McCartney’s original lyric for the song Drive My Car was to be “I can give you golden rings” but Lennon vetoed the lyric as he preferred precious stones to gold jewelry, as will be seen two years later.

    FACT: Lennon’s son Julian shared his father’s obsession with precious stones. In 1967, he produced a work of art entitled “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. An impressed John promptly wrote a song about the art work with the same title.

    FACT: McCartney wrote the following lyric in Ob La Di Ob La Da: “Desmond takes a trolley to the jewelers stores, buys a twenty carat golden ring”.

  12. Avatar linda a. wrote:

    also for the kind of kid Paul seemed to be.
    Is it worth surfacing on the front as a post? What do you think? Will it spur fruitful discussion?

    I find anything regarding their psychology, fascinating. Hopefully others do too, enough to make the discussion fruitful.

  13. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Michael Gerber, PLEASE do a post on the Beatles and alcoholic family dynamics. It’s the best explanation I’ve ever seen for why the group worked the way it did, and it helps explain why there was an intuitive connection between the four in terms of the way they were wired—before the money, the fame, Hamburg, before they were even writing original songs, there was obviously some powerful glue between J/P/G. A huge portion of that had to do with them being extraordinarily gifted, curious, and talented kids, but I’ve always felt there was more to it than that. As the child of a para-alcoholic father and codependent mother, incidentally, this is a fascinating way to understand the Fabs.

    • OK, I will, @michael. For those of us in the secret brother-/sisterhood, it really smacks you in the face. “Ohhh, that’s why John and Paul connected so hard. That’s why Ringo was the go-between. That’s why George went off to India on his own in 1966…”

  14. Avatar Drew wrote:

    Michael: I have wondered for awhile if Jim McCartney’s addictive poison wasn’t alcohol but gambling. There have been rumours in various books that Jim spent a lot of time at the horse races and I wonder if the reason that Mary had to work and was the main breadwinner was because Jim was blowing his wages at the racetrack. A gambling addiction isn’t visible and isn’t the sort of things kids would recognize. But financial stress does cause parents to lose it and smack their kids in those moments of high stress and money worries. I also recall that Paul, once he had money, bought his Dad a horse that actually won some major races. So it could be that Paul was hoping to channel his father’s interest away from gambling and into a focus on his own horse.

    I find the addiction theory interesting. It’s just that I’ve never read anything about Jim having an alcohol problem and I HAVE read comments about him liking to gamble. And back in the 50s and 60s, people didn’t recognize gambling as a source of addiction as they do now. But gambling debts would cause tension in a parent.

    • @Drew, that’s really interesting.

      I suspect that the presence of one addiction can sometimes show a predisposition to others. I wonder what the literature says about it.

      The way I look at it, it’s not what you’re doing/ingesting/smoking/etc., it’s the role it plays in your life as a whole. Is there dependence? Are there behavioral changes? And so forth.

      And I also hasten to add that, for me, there’s no judgment in this. People do not choose their neurology, nor the time and place in which they live. It’s very important to me that, when I view the Beatles through the lens of addiction, I retain a deep sympathy and gratitude for them — precisely because most of society looks at addiction as primarily a moral choice. It is more complicated than that.

    • Avatar linda a. wrote:

      t gambling debts would cause tension in a parent.

      But it’s also interesting that Jim always told Paul never to get himself into debt. This means that either Jim’s gambling never got out of control enough to get him into debt or he knew first hand what it was like to be in debt because of the gambling. Something tells me it’s the later.

      • Addicts suffer a lot, @Linda. The last thing they want is to see their kid doing the same stuff they do. I have never met a single addict who told his kids, “Do this! It’s awesome!”

      • Avatar Rose Decatur wrote:

        I agree that it may have been gambling, rather than alcohol, that was Jim’s addiction. I’ve had this discussion with Michael G. before in another post, but the author of “The Beatles with Lacan” (a pyschobiography) definitely took that view. Supposedly a relative said that the only thing Jim and Mary ever argued about was Jim’s gambling, and it is interesting that the first major present Paul bought for his dad was a racehorse.

        There was also a comment in a recent interview where Paul was talking about writing, and mentioned his favorite author Charles Dickens “always going back to his father’s debts” in his work.

        I second the motion to have the topic as a separate post. It particularly amazes me that I never made the connection before that Julia might have had an alcohol problem. The accounts of her being a “good time girl,” liking to go out and party, etc. are only ever connected to her string of boyfriends. But it certainly seems like code for “a woman who loved to drink” as well, and certainly promiscuity and alcohol addiction can be linked. And Twitchy Dykins definitely had an alcohol problem.

  15. Avatar linda a. wrote:

    I just thought of something that gives weight to the idea that all four Beatles were predisposed to alcoholism from the beginning. During the Let it Be sessions George suddenly blurted out this anecdote; He was sick in bed during part of their summer tour of Britain in 1963, (probably when he wrote Don’t Bother Me) but anyway, he asks John and Paul if they remember hanging out with him while he was sick and drinking all of his cough medicine, leaving none in the bottle for George to take for his cold. Hmmm now that’s a problem to me.

    • Or, Linda A., it’s a couple of kids who’ve learned that the proper relationship to any drug is: “take it all and see what happens!”

      With Lennon, particularly, there’s this craving to alter his experience which surely didn’t start with Preludin. Shit, it’s probably why he loved playing rock and roll.

  16. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Reading these comments and listening to the outtake of “And Your Bird Can Sing” where they’re high, it strikes me that the bond John and Paul shared with regard to their families and childhoods probably went so much deeper than “both of them lost their mums.” Even as they inhabited codependent roles in their own friendship/partnership/platonic-or-otherwise love affair, there must have also been some innate, subconscious recognition of having survived some version of the same traumas or horrors of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise addicted household. I think that’s part of where their ability to convey true joy came from.

    I also think Paul makes so much more sense as a three-dimensional individual if we consider him as the product of some sort of alcohol or other addiction. We know John was subject to volatility, unpredictability, and just about every other dysfunction, but even though his family was more stable, Paul must have been, too, to some degree. There’s no way that someone who comes from a truly healthy, emotionally safe, sheltered upbringing puts up with and enables John Lennon from 1967 to 1970. As Michael observes, Paul would have to have learned that indulging/protecting/enabling that sort of behavior is just what one does, how we stick together. It would have to have felt subconsciously right to him. The empathy in songs like “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be” make more sense when one sees them not just as offerings from The Well Adjusted Beatle, but as self-soothing hymns directed outward, because Paul is more other-directed than John and that’s how he communicates.

    • This is right on the money, @Michael. Maybe you and I should do a post as a back-and-forth?

      If you grow up in a disordered household, because of close contact with an addict, it makes sense you’d either go towards it (“Fuck it, this is what I know.”) or away from it (“Stability! Security! No conflict!”). You’d either turn into a John, or a Paul.

      Our portraits of John and Paul (and George and Ringo) seem two-dimensional in part because there’s a reticence to really get forensic about these guys — as if it’s somehow unfair or hurtful or extra-invasive to ask, “Was Jim McCartney an alcoholic/have a gambling problem?” Well, shit — we’re already doing a blog about Beatle minutiae; they’ve already been poked and prodded for 50 years and will be long after they’re dead. So it’s not really about not wanting to pry — it’s about a sense of shame and judgment, which is the engine for the “controversy sells” talk @Marcus and I were having on the other thread. There should be no shame in one’s genetic predispositions, and we can’t judge Jim for not changing his behavior when the entire society around him had no idea how to do that — or sometimes even felt one should try.

      The whole “Were John and Paul Lovers?” thread and this one too is, for me, an attempt to finally make these guys three-dimensional. Not John the genius and Paul the tunesmith; or John the druggie and “thumbs-up” Macca. But both huge talents, and huge success stories, produced by a time and place and circumstances, some helpful, some not, but all adding up to the greatest songwriting partnership ever. (Take that Gilbert & Sullivan.) And we mustn’t reduce their lives to our own — but instead use what we’ve learned in our own lives and see if it resonates in theirs, so that we can know them (and ourselves) a little better.

      • Avatar Michael wrote:

        @Michael, I’d love to. I admire how this blog analyzes these guys as three-dimensional human beings, not simply in terms of “well, John had a troubled childhood and Paul had a safe one except for his mother dying and then George and Ringo joined.” I think Paul, in particular, stands the most to gain from this kind of analysis. Paul is every bit as complex, sensitive, genuine, and passionate as John or else John wouldn’t have gotten together with him. Yet without appreciating how Paul might have processed and internalized his own pain in ways that turn him into thumbs-aloft Macca. As people have discussed in past threads, the heavy use of marijuana from age 22 to, what, 68, speaks to someone who isn’t simply sailing calmly through life, but rather someone who’s got some pretty serious anxiety or compulsion he needs to check. I don’t find that diminishes Paul in the slightest. I find that it humanizes him. Part of why people love John is because he seemed to be telling you the absolute truth about himself—”I’ve shown you everything, I’ve got nothing to hide”—while Paul dissembled. I wish biographers would probe more deeply into the way that for every “truth” John told (as he felt truth in that moment), there was far more dissembling (“I was bakin’ bread and not even thinkin’ about writing for five years while Yoko minded the shop”) than anything Paul’s said. Paul doesn’t project the way John does—he just doesn’t tell you anything he doesn’t think you don’t need to know. (Interestingly, the only other two major Sixties guys who seemed to have survived semi-sane do this too—Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger.)

        • Paul is every bit as complex, sensitive, genuine, and passionate as John or else John wouldn’t have gotten together with him.
          THIS. John’s post-Beatles portrait of Paul reveals more about John’s marriage than it does about Paul, or John’s friendship with Paul. And it’s a testament to the vast emotional immaturity of rock journalism, that nobody ever called bullshit.

          some pretty serious anxiety or compulsion he needs to check. I don’t find that diminishes Paul in the slightest.
          You can’t have done what Paul has done without being massively driven. One strategy to escape that is work, songwriting and recording. Another is pot smoking. Two behaviors, same mechanism.

          If only John had found a more wholesome, sustainable, less physically destructive strategy to get through. But we all do the best we can.

          • Avatar Michael wrote:

            “If only John had found a more wholesome, sustainable, less physically destructive strategy to get through. But we all do the best we can.”

            I’ve wondered why John didn’t also become a huge pothead, a la Paul. It’s interesting that, for all of the things John did do, there’s no evidence that, after the initial 1964-65 period when all the Fabs smoked a lot, John ever again leaned so heavily on weed as his drug of choice. Was he in so much psychological distress that only something like heroin scratched that itch? It’s not like John didn’t keep getting high post-Rubber Soul, of course. My take is that Paul was more prudent, and less inclined to shoot for oblivion, but to me, it’s a not-insignificant what-if—a John who merely smokes a lot maybe doesn’t need Yoko, doesn’t get a hammer taken to his muse, doesn’t go through the cycles of withdrawal and addiction and the attendant mood swings. The Beatles could have kept going if John didn’t need to get so fucked up.

          • Yeah, it’s very much like a drunk who switches to pot — he/she gets the alteration they crave, but without the terrible side-effects.

            I think John craved intensity; not just oblivion, but obliteration. I also think that the amount, combination and variety of substances that he ingested in 1966-67 seems to have altered him in some fundamental way. The story that’s told in Goldman is, in this sense, heartbreaking — in that John’s initial change under LSD is so positive; but that his insistence on more, more, more, really undoes him.

            His consciousness was opened, quickly and forcibly via chemicals; this is by itself a profound shift in the organism, and a period of delicateness. If he had put himself within an Eastern spiritual tradition, like George did, that opening would’ve been given a context larger than escapism or addiction; it would’ve been part of a larger quest and cosmology — harnessed and directed. But John had a wounded child’s mistrust of all authority, rather than inappropriate or unwholesome authority. (Another reason why people like The Process Church never got anywhere with the pre-Yoko Lennon.)

            It’s interesting to me that at the beginning, George is matching John tab for tab… and then stops. That’s because he was coming under the influence of serious Hindu teachers, and earnestly engaging in traditions that do offer the transcendence and ego-reduction and peace that John wanted, but do it in ways that the human psyche can absorb. Like so many of his generation, John wanted enlightenment in handy pill form.

        • Avatar Karen Hooper wrote:

          “I think Paul, in particular, stands the most to gain from this kind of analysis. Paul is every bit as complex, sensitive, genuine, and passionate as John or else John wouldn’t have gotten together with him. Yet without appreciating how Paul might have processed and internalized his own pain in ways that turn him into thumbs-aloft Macca. As people have discussed in past threads, the heavy use of marijuana from age 22 to, what, 68, speaks to someone who isn’t simply sailing calmly through life, but rather someone who’s got some pretty serious anxiety or compulsion he needs to check. I don’t find that diminishes Paul in the slightest. I find that it humanizes him. Part of why people love John is because he seemed to be telling you the absolute truth about himself—”I’ve shown you everything, I’ve got nothing to hide”—while Paul dissembled. I wish biographers would probe more deeply into the way that for every “truth” John told (as he felt truth in that moment), there was far more dissembling (“I was bakin’ bread and not even thinkin’ about writing for five years while Yoko minded the shop”) than anything Paul’s said. Paul doesn’t project the way John does—he just doesn’t tell you anything he doesn’t think you don’t need to know.”


          I want this embroidered on a pillow. It is seriously the best analysis of Paul vs John on the honesty front that I’ve ever read.

      • Avatar Linda S. wrote:

        Wow, Michael… I’ve been watching to see where the conversation would land next, after the John & Paul, Lovers? thing. I have just read through the latest posts from the past few days several times. This latest thread, like the previous one, has me ‘gob-smacked’. I have long adored the Beatles…, but just didn’t consider such things. I was quite content to love them (and their work). Your own post of 9/23, 9:03 am, really hit home. You and your followers are such a talented pool of thinkers! I have browsed Beatles blogs for a long time– but have never come across such substantive wealth! I’m curious whether any of the contributors might possibly be mental health professionals?

        • I’m not, @Linda S. — but I’ve had a LOT of therapy and do a ton of “work on myself,” as they say out here in Southern California. It’s impossible to dig around in one’s own life and, if you’re a Beatles freak like me, not think about their lives, as well.

          Here’s to more substantive wealth! And comments from you. Thanks for reading.

          • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

            I am loving this thread.

            If we’re going to delve into the abuse aspect… Don’t forget that John claims to be the one who stopped Jim’s abuse of Paul! From John’s POV, it was only with John’s encouragement that Paul finally stood up to Jim. Whether or not Paul sees it that way is a different story, but there you have it.
            It’s funny, Paul always speaks of his father not just respectfully but with abundant warmth and love. Everyone agrees that they were very close. But John talks about Jim with a completely different tone. He characterized Jim as controlling. He even went so far to say that he pushed Paul to finally choose between him and Jim (WTF, right? Like they are fighting for control over Paul?). And spiked the football by adding that “in the end, (Paul) chose me.”

            John being John, it’s hard to say how much of this animosity towards Paul’s dad was due to:
            A) jealousy of Paul’s close relationship with a dad (which John obviously lacked)
            B) Jim’s obvious dislike/distrust of John
            C) A simple clash of personalities (maybe they just didn’t like each other?)
            D) Resentment towards Jim for physically hurting Paul

            My guess is probably all of the above.

        • Avatar Karen Hooper wrote:

          @Linda S–full disclosure: I’m a retired mental health professional from Canada, so that’s my particular filter. Plus, like most people, life experiences have taught me a thing or two as well. 🙂

          • Avatar Linda Sherman wrote:

            I’m not in the least surprised by this, Karen. And I suspect that there are others in the profession among contributors to this blog. I read the posts with great interest, and am able to follow and comprehend the depths of insight in the threads. –But in a million years, I could never formulate such observations myself. (Is it the case, as I suspect, that we tend to admire in others those attributes/talents in which we are lacking?) (And if so, might that truism apply to John & Paul?!)

  17. Avatar Michael wrote:

    *puts up with John from 1957 to 1970.

  18. Avatar Michael wrote:

    “I also think that the amount, combination and variety of substances that he ingested in 1966-67 seems to have altered him in some fundamental way.”

    Yes. There is something about John that changes irrevocably after this era, and with it, so go the Beatles. My guess is that India completes the change. For the first time in two years, John had to go through his days without acid to mediate the experience—not to mention, a forced detox from everything else besides weed. To top it off, he’s meditating intensely and confronting stuff acid unlocked, but unlike George, he doesn’t have the interest or discipline to study meditation in a way that gives him a healthy way forward. Tying back to what was discussed in the “Were John and Paul Lovers?” thread, I think that huge shift from perma-tripping to harsh reality brought Lennon to a boil.

  19. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Saw this PSA about how children see their alcoholic parents:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwdUXS94yNk
    As an ACA, it hit home for me. Not sure if JPG&R’s childhood experiences were the same. I suspect Liverpool children of their era were extreme free-range. (there was no buckling into car seats or playground visits)

  20. Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

    Regarding the substance abuse… I’ve always been of the opinion that Paul used weed to self-medicate his more manic/compulsive tendencies. We all know he is an workaholic. The fact that he could still be so insanely prolific (regardless of what your opinion of his art is) while on a DAILY dose of a drug that kills motivation. Well, I’m no psychiatrist but doesn’t that mean the THC is functioning more like Ritalin? Or something?

    Also, it seems apparent that when he wants to abuse himself, his drug of choice (like most people) is alcohol. His post-LIB era depression (sorry, we don’t have a minimizing, cutesy name for it like “Lost Weekend,” but we should. Maybe his Scottish Bender?) was fueled by nothing but booze and cigarettes, IIRC.

    I have no trouble believing that Jim McCartney, a widower with two teenage boys (JEEZUS!) was hitting the bottle too hard. I don’t even blame him. What other tools did he have?

    • @ChelseaQW,

      “What other tools did he have?”

      Indeed. People can only operate in the time and place they’re in. In Liverpool in 1957, people didn’t go to therapists. They didn’t have access to mood stabilizers. They didn’t meditate or jog or work out, or all the other things we do to manage anxiety and depression. In Liverpool in 1957, they went to the pub and drank — which means that anybody with any kind of predisposition towards substance abuse would be highly likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. It’s as if the only acceptable way to deal with life’s ups and downs was by owning a pet. If you were predisposed to be sensitive to dander, you’d be sneezing all the time. But if you lived in a time and place where people didn’t own cats…

      By all accounts Jim seems to have been a decent man and loving father; as Mimi seems to have been a loving woman in her way, and definitely devoted to John. I think we should attempt to understand, not cast villains and heroes.

      The other thing that pot does (and why it’s so popular in the TV business here) is how it muffles your internal editor so you can get out that first draft. Far from being a motivation-killer, pot may well be what allowed McCartney to be so productive from 1965 onwards, especially given the fact that The Whole World Was Listening, and he knew it.

      Pot does seem to have been really great for the Beatles. Acid, too — at the beginning. It’s clear that Paul and George could use drugs, and not be used by them, whereas John and Ringo are wired differently.

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