- Hey Dullblog Online Housekeeping Note - May 6, 2022
- Beatles in the 1970s: Melting and Crying - April 13, 2022
- The Beatles, “Let It Be,” and “Get Back”: “Trying to Deceive”? - October 22, 2021
I’m writing this because the discussion on the “Were John and Paul Lovers?” post has been niggling at me for a while now. Though it was published more than six years ago, it’s one of Hey Dullblog’s most viewed and most contentious posts. And because Michael Gerber and I read every comment as it goes through moderation, we’re aware of movements on the blog in a way others may not be. Given the persistent interest in this topic, I’ve decided that it’s worth articulating my thoughts about it in more depth.
I want to emphasize that the frustrations I’m expressing are directed not at any individual or group, but at the larger patterns and tendencies I’ll specify. I value this blog as a place for substantive, respectful conversation, and have no wish to point fingers at anyone in a destructive way.
Michael’s original post posed the question of whether Lennon and McCartney were ever physically intimate or had erotic/romantic feelings for each other. The available evidence makes that a reasonable question. In another post I’ve explained why I think our culture tends to undervalue and oversimplify friendship, and the way that to me the “Lennon and McCartney must have been in a sexual relationship” idea exemplifies that. But here I want to focus on four things that give me qualms about the John/Paul narrative and the reaction to it, and that’s because they reflect larger issues.
1. “Alternative facts”
Making claims with very little evidence, or cherry picking evidence, is a tendency I’m perpetually dismayed to see playing out on a national and international scale. In terms of the Beatles story, the “Paul is dead” conspiracy myth is the most egregious example. Proponents of this “theory” spend time analyzing ear height in various photos but avoid the questions that quickly make nonsense of the story. And at times I believe the “Lovers” discussion has gone in a similar direction.
“In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” is the title of one of Delmore Schwartz’s stories, and in my view we incur responsibilities when we choose which stories to tell and retell. In particular, it makes sense to think about why we are drawn to a particular story, and what consequences, intended or unintended, stem from its telling.
2. Unacknowledged wish fulfillment
In a comment on the “Lovers” thread, I noted that the “John/Paul” narrative closely resembles the slash fanfiction that is found in conjunction with many other pop culture phenomena. Kirk/Spock fanfiction seems to be one of the earliest to surface. Today there is slash fanfiction for a wide range of books, films, and TV shows, including Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Game of Thrones, and The Lord of the Rings, to name just a few of the more prominent. Available evidence (which is tough to authenticate, since many writers are anonymous) suggests that most slash fanfiction writers are women. Why women choose to write and read stories about men in romantic sexual relationships is a complex question. One relative constant in such stories, however, is the emphasis on emotions and relatively intricate plotting, at least as compared to plain old porn. In slash fanfiction, sexual activity can be quite explicitly depicted or merely suggested.
Writing fiction that is acknowledged as fiction and consumed as fiction is one thing. Presenting a narrative that is at best tenuously supported with evidence as reality is something else again. My own opinion is that there is no problem with anyone writing or enjoying John/Paul fanfiction. It’s when there is a strong investment in believing in an ongoing, intense romantic relationship between them that I disagree. There’s just too much evidence that has to be ignored or explained away for that narrative to be credible.
3. Writing out women
A lot of the evidence that has to be ignored or explained away comes from the life and comments of Lennon and McCartney themselves. I’m going to pass over a lot here (the many stories from the touring years about the insatiable skirt-chasing, Lennon’s first marriage and possible affairs, McCartney’s relationships with Jane Asher and others) and focus on their marriages.
Both men were eloquent about their long-term romantic partners. John talked at length about Yoko Ono, as Paul did about Linda McCartney. They wrote songs with and about their wives and repeatedly performed with them. Arguing that the two men’s real passion was for each other doesn’t just imply that they were both liars (more on that in a minute). It also radically deemphasizes the role of a key woman in each man’s life.
There’s already been far too much downplaying of the importance of women in the Beatles story, and I hate to see that trend continue. It’s worth remembering that Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney got roasted by the press and fans for years. Lennon and McCartney stuck it out with those women in the face of a lot of pressure to do otherwise. Both Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney deserve a great deal more recognition of their central importance to these two men’s lives.
4. Presenting Lennon and McCartney as lifelong liars
Finally, buying the “love of each other’s lives” story about Lennon and McCartney makes them cowardly liars who persisted in falsehood for years. The idea that there was erotic attraction between them that may or may not have been acted on at some point is not what I am talking about here. I’m talking about the narrative that they were each other’s true loves, and the corollary that they concealed their primary same-sex attraction for decades.
Believing this would make Cynthia Lennon, Yoko Ono, Jane Asher, Linda McCartney, Heather Mills, and Nancy Shevell “beards” that Lennon and McCartney used to fool the public into thinking they were straight. It would make all the interviews both men gave about their passionate love for those women a tissue of lies. It would make McCartney, in particular – who has lived long enough to see same-sex attraction and marriage be widely accepted – contemptible in his refusal to be honest.
I believe we have the responsibility to discuss the lives of real people with care. If someone wants to embrace a story about Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson being embroiled in a torrid long-term relationship, it’s hard to argue that anyone is hurt. But the Beatles aren’t fictional characters, however easy it can be to treat them as such. Speaking for myself, my ability to enjoy the Beatles music would be substantially undermined if I learned that the members of the band had been, for years, systematically misleading the world about something fundamental. There’s a high bar of factual provability that I’d need to see cleared before assenting to believe that Lennon and McCartney, for all their manifest flaws, were complicit in a scheme like that.
And, in the end . . . .
Real talk: I’m seriously worried about where we are heading, both as a nation and as a world community, in large part because of the “alternative facts” trend I noted at the beginning of this piece. Compared to things like climate change, impeachment, and the political misinformation that is rampant on social media, the John/Paul story is very small beer indeed. But here at Hey Dullblog, we’ve always believed that talking about the Beatles is a way to talk also about larger issues. I’m convinced that the ethical standards we use to decide which stories to tell and give credence to matter, and that’s why I decided to write this post.
Hey Dullblog has always been, and I hope will remain, a place where many opinions are welcome. Please take this post as my own considered opinion on this topic.
Well said, and wholeheartedly agree with this Nancy.
Especially this paragraph:
“Real talk: I’m seriously worried about where we are heading, both as a nation and as a world community, in large part because of the “alternative facts” trend I noted at the beginning of this piece. Compared to things like climate change, impeachment, and the political misinformation that is rampant on social media, the John/Paul story is very small beer indeed. But here at Hey Dullblog, we’ve always believed that talking about the Beatles is a way to talk also about larger issues. I’m convinced that the ethical standards we use to decide which stories to tell and give credence to matter, and that’s why I decided to write this post.”
Australia is on fire, sea levels are rising, icebergs are melting, animals are becoming extinct, but people refuse to believe Scientists that these events are occurring because of global warming.
Paul McCartney has implicitly said that he and John were NOT sexually involved. This is first hand knowledge. Yet people refuse to believe him, and are basically calling him a liar.
I don’t understand this lack of critical thinking. It would be an interesting experiment to see if those who believe in these sort of Beatle conspiracy theories, are the same people who believe whatever comes out of the Presidents mouth.
I suspect those two groups do not overlap, @Tasmin.
But I do think that people’s beliefs are not just a collation of all relevant facts—they do emotional work for the person.
So the interesting question is: what emotional work is the “Paul Is Dead” story, or “John ‘n’ Paul” story doing for its adherents?
That’s interesting Michael. Why do you think those groups don’t overlap?
Because I think the theories service different emotions. People who deny global warming are either very frightened of change, resistant to losing wealth and power, or religiously opposed to the idea that humans could change the environment. So, basically, fear.
john/Paul folks seem motivated by something different. Not fear. A desire to know? A fascination with male emotional possibility?
You know how one of the most popular categories of male hetero porn is “lesbians”? (I put it in quotes because it’s usually not actual lesbians.) I’ve long wondered what that was about, and think it may be that, because of patriarchy, men know that womens” sexuality is policed whenever a man is present. So “lesbian” porn is hidden, titillating and more “real”.
As the power gap between men and women closes, we may find the sexualities getting a bit more similar. And so a new generation of straight women use John and Paul to spin fantasies about what two brilliant, sensitive, powerful, complementary men who love each other get up to when women aren’t around.
There’s something very dark in most politically charged conspiracy theories. I don’t get a sense of darkness from John/Paul speculation.
One picks the conspiracy theory that fills one’s precise emotional need. I’m sure if you read widely enough, you’d find one that really intrigued you…which would be reflective of your own makeup.
That is right on, Michael. Politically charged conspiracy theories ARE based in fear. Beatle conspiracy theories are not. Thank you.
I’m a born skeptic, so I’ve never been prone to conspiracy theories. Thankfully!
Well said, @Nancy.
My own, earlier thoughts on this matter are here: https://www.heydullblog.com/uncategorized/a-few-words-on-conspiracy-theory/
As I’ve said, I think the desire to “queer” The Beatles by making John and Paul lovers is probably a desire to make a beloved musical/cultural item feel current and accessible. And I think it seems to fill some genuine emotional need for the people who talk about it, so I’m okay with the post, and the comments. We are living through a time of shifting sexual and gender norms and, if The Beatles are going to thrive, they will be regularly reinterpreted in the light of those changes. Not for nothing is this theory more popular among women than men, and if queering the narrative opens The Beatles up to their fans, I don’t see the immediate harm.
That having been said, I think Nancy’s point above is well taken: there ARE women in the story, and turning them into beards is another slap at some really long-suffering ladies. To Yoko and Linda, I would add Cynthia and Jane Asher (Jane never gets her due, but she was with Paul from 1963-68, and did any mortal woman have a harder gig?). Cyn and Jane are often seen as lesser for putting up with their fellas’ philandering, and now we can have a go at them for not seeing that John and Paul were having sex with each other, too?
But that’s not all. Neither John or Paul escaped the rigid gender roles of that time and place, where even expressing deep friendship with a fellow man was considered a sign of secret homosexuality. To the degree that they pushed back on these norms, they did us all a favor. To look at that and conclude, in the face of no other significant evidence, that they were indeed secret homosexuals is — whether one means to or not — to reinforce reactionary gender norms for straight men. If you look lovingly at a friend; if you put your hand on another man’s arm; if you holiday together…you must be screwing.
(To be clear: I don’t care if they were or not, and I don’t think they could’ve been any closer. A secret cache of love letters between John and Paul wouldn’t really change my reading of their friendship. I’ve had a creative partner, and it’s indeed a love affair, a marriage, and very intense. And I find Yoko’s periodic digs at her husband for being in love with Paul is petty and shitty and deeply sexist.)
When The Beatles arrived in America, they were called “faggots” for having long hair and singing love songs. Simply because Paul was perceived as “soft,” Paul’s sexuality was constantly the subject of rumors — even in the face of his “pursuing the female hordes.” A 1968 Olympia Press book about the homosexual underground identified him as “a practical homosexual” whatever that means, and as far as we know, it was simply because he didn’t ACT like a real man should act. But with Mr. Brian Epstein managing you? A guy who lived under the spectre of unmasking as a passive, effeminate, “bottom”? I think the only way Paul was allowed to be the least bit feminine was because he was 100% hetero.
Anyway, we could talk forever. As with so much, this is all about intent, and I don’t get the sense that our commenters on that thread are being either salacious or reactionary. But as Nancy says, go too far down the road and you start getting bedfellows (har) that you probably don’t want.
I suspect that your John & Paul discussion on this blog is so popular because it’s (for the most part) a respectful, interesting discussion with some really intelligent viewpoints that aren’t found just laying around everywhere on the internet. There definitely exist those people who ignore the available history and focus on their little corner of evidence to the detriment of the bigger picture—and the Beatles’ women. Just depends on the person and the forum, I suppose, but it’s not universal. There’s a great love for many of the Beatles’ women that I’ve seen.
Honestly, curiosity about the subject is what brought me to start reading all the available material I could get my hands on, and I’m up to like 20 books or so now and oodles of podcasts. 🙂 Because the history of the band and people, and the different view of those from different authors, is a fascinating subject all on its own.
And from what I’ve seen, this discussion doesn’t overlap with PID theorists at all. And for me, at least, different thought processes are at work when it’s hobby or real-life stuff. The “emotional work” this has provided for me is a fun discussion of a subject that I love and musicians that I love, and offers a possible clue to what happened (and it’s not a happier history than any other).
@Kristy, great comment, thank you!
I am always shocked when people talk about the rarity of intelligent Beatle talk on the web; I mean, we’ve been talking about something happening between John and Paul in India since the beginning of this blog in 2008–the chronology is just so simple, and I remember being flummoxed that no Serious Beatle Hostorians has ever tried to figure out what had happened between Feb 68 (everything’s fine) and June 68 (NOT FINE!). Similarly the theory that john wasn’t intentionally trying to break up the group, but was lashing out/asking for proof of love — this too is an idea I remember talking about with Devin in the esrly days of the site. That there are now podcasts talking about this stuff is…delightful, honestly, because it’s precisely the kind of “put yourself in their shoes” analysis that I do endlessly with all my various obsessions, not just with The Beatles. It’s a type of thinking — a sort of historical empathy — that I find endlessly fascinating.
When you wrote it’s a discussion of “a topic you love” to what we’re you referring exactly? Beatle interpersonal relations?
I’m so glad you find the conversation here respectful and interesting, Kristy. That’s our aim, and 99% of people who comment seem to share it. I agree that the thought process and motivation of the John/Paul theorizing is very different in feeling and apparent motivation from the PID version. What they can share, in my view, is the tendency to cherry pick evidence (and sometimes consider things “evidence” that I don’t think warrant that designation). And with a lot of people in the PID camp and with some — only some — in the John/Paul camp, there’s a degree of conviction that “this must be true” that I frankly don’t get.
One thing I’ve noticed and wondered about is that some people who comment on the John/Paul thread pretty much comment only on that thread. That’s the only HD post where I’ve noticed this pattern, and I find it perplexing. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Nancy, thank you so much for your thoughtful post! You very eloquently put into words what I have been thinking about this topic, and you have been much kinder than I would have been able to as well.
Hello. Long time lurker, first time commenter! Think this might turn out to be an essay, so apologies for that in advance 🙂
I think this post is really interesting. I agree so wholeheartedly with the point about the women in the story being erased by this exploratory narrative, that’s something that’s always bothered me about it.
The cherry picking evidence point is fascinating. Some of the stuff that’s being picked up on as part of this exploration is information that has been roundly ignored by Serious Beatles Historians over the years. A lot of these things do not constitute hard evidence of course, and anyone presenting it as such is wrong to do so, I think. But some of what’s being added back in to the narrative as a result of this discussion is really useful and makes the Beatles tapestry richer and more balanced, as long as it’s done with care and empathy for the (as you’ve pointed out) very real humans involved.
I think there are two things that complicate the issue, the first being what everyone has been so lovely and empathetic about in all these discussions on HD, and that’s the fact that male friendships are so badly pigeon holed thanks to unhelpful societal expectations and gender roles. We women aren’t immune to those biases either, so I wonder if some of this “slash” stuff is a result of seeing such obvious affection between John and Paul, observing the charge of their connection and all the heartache that came with it fizzling out, but being unable to frame it with any nuance that doesn’t involve sex. We’re taught that love = sex, John and Paul clearly loved each other, therefore they were sexually involved. I don’t know too much about the slash thing but it does feel like a way to explore sexuality in a safe and anonymous community. It doesn’t have any place in a historic evaluation of the Beatles’ impact or chronology, though, and that’s where things get problematic as you’ve pointed out.
The other issue I think that complicates this discussion is John Lennon. If you remove Paul from the equation, he still said and did a lot of things in his lifetime that suggest he thought of both his sexuality and his gender expression as somewhat fluid. He didn’t talk about it in those words, which makes it harder to unpick, but there’s a lot there and you don’t have to look to hard to find it, really. If you are willing to explore the idea that John may have been curious about his sexuality, as Yoko and others have hinted at, perhaps where some of this comes from is just that a relationship of some kind with Paul is an obvious (too obvious?) next move.
I think maybe the last thing I’d weigh in with is just that the idea that John and Paul’s music might be devalued or that the Beatles might be less than what they are now if it turns out they had been lying about a relationship worries me a bit. I don’t actually believe they were, but if they had been, labelling them as liars would be technically accurate, I suppose, but it’s also a label that’s missing an awful lot of the complex difficulties that would have gone along with being a gay couple in that time and in their unique position as Beatles with all the scrutiny and lack of a private life that came with that.
Nicola, so glad you commented, and hope you’ll continue to do so.
I think your conjectures about why women may be drawn to John/Paul slash are quite reasonable. I do think it’s an issue that our culture equates love with sex, and really doesn’t know what to do with intense same-sex relationships that aren’t romantic.
I get what you are saying about lying and the complexities of same-sex relationships, particularly for public figures in the 1960s. But I want to highlight the amount of concealment, deliberate obfuscation, and use of others (women as “beards”) that would be involved if Lennon and McCartney were really hiding a romantic relationship for so long (as opposed to one / a few sexual encounters — that’s a different issue, IMO).
@Nicola, welcome! I LURVE new commenters. Thank you.
I think that what gives McLennon rocket fuel of late is the growing, Yoko-encouraged consensus that if not actually bisexual, Lennon was bi-curious. And happened to be partnered with a man who — though apparently rather butch in person, at least hit some femme notes. Just as it makes intuitive sense that Lennon and Epstein were complementary in a personality way, and thus perhaps in a sexual one as well, and that we can’t and won’t know all of what transpired between them, it makes intuitive sense that Lennon and McCartney — who were compatible in so many other ways — might have been compatible in that way, too.
And then there is…whatever happened in or directly after India, which seems to express itself first in Lennon’s romantic life. (Not just the postcards to/from Yoko, but also the infamous Air India flight where he tells Cynthia all the times he’s been unfaithful. And then his behavior when he got back to the UK. And then the immediate introduction of Yoko into the mix, replacing the mother of his child.) Lennon’s heart seems to be where all this turmoil is taking place; but as distinct as the breakup of his marriage is a new resentment-bordering-on-rage towards Paul. He’s conflicted about Paul, and thus Beatle-dom, in a way that he simply was not before 1968.
None of us have been in The Beatles, but most of us have experienced a breakup, so for me it’s a natural thing to wonder, “Was there sex involved in the sudden and disastrous change in John and Paul’s friendship?” Which is why I wrote the post. I want to understand these guys as people, and that seems like a logical possibility; and to preclude it automatically is to 1) ignore the certainty that, if anything did happen, they would have to cover it up, and 2) to take a kind of liberty with those guys that I’m not comfortable with. They were/are whoever they were/are, not who we desire them to be.
So where McLennon becomes sticky for me is when the poster clearly desires for there to be a secret, forbidden romance — which I’m sure we can all agree is a romantic taste shared by many people. If the poster can acknowledge this desire, and acknowledge that it is driving a shaping of data — a bias — then it’s harmless fun. But when the desire takes over, I think it can do the kind of damage that Nancy mentions in her post.
Thanks, Nancy and Michael.
Nancy, sorry – I think I misunderstood what you wrote. Yes, I completely agree with you on the layers of deceit that would have had to go on if that were the case, and that it would certainly change their story significantly. I thought the general assumption would be that if something ever happened between them, whatever it was stopped before Linda and Yoko joined the party, although I guess would have lingered as an ongoing issue for both of them.
Michael, I think that India has such a lot to do with this newer John + Paul narrative, and the way their trajectory completely changed after the trip. There are areas of Beatles’ history that the ‘official’ story just tells very badly (or not at all) – India, John’s Dakota years, John and Yoko’s final few years of marriage, the break-up as a whole – that people start filling in the gaps with their own theories and ideas. And I think the Lennon/McCartney partnership falls into that category. The evidence (their words and actions as friends and collaborators) and the established Jann Wenner/Rolling Stone, even Anthology, narratives don’t add up – and so people maybe overcompensate, because they feel like something’s being hidden from them.
I definitely agree that the question of ‘was there sex involved?’ makes perfect sense, and it’s something I’ve definitely wondered about over the years. And Lennon’s swing from rampant homophobia to endorsements in Pride booklets and talking about the restrictions of gender roles in society certainly adds flavour to the discussion on their relationship. I also agree that the gender coding around Paul and his androgyny has always been a bit off. This is always hard for me to articulate well but Paul has always seemed to me as entirely in control of his relationship with John, and he did some of that through taking a ‘submissive’ stance in their interactions – soothing, acquiescing, giving affection, using pet names and funny voices to rein John in and keep him functioning. As John’s chosen confidante and best friend, Paul had an awful lot to cope with. I think anyone who has been in a relationship with a volatile partner, romantic or otherwise, can attest to how much hard work and the emotional/mental gymnastics you have to go through to keep the other person calm and kind. So yes, I think at that time in history, submissive was synonymous with ‘feminine’, and some of Paul’s actions or body language could therefore be read that way. I think that fuels some of the “bottom” Paul stuff you mentioned earlier, but I do think that was an acknowledged part of their friendship. John needed to be top dog, to be the leader, and Paul found a more comfortable way for them to work together than by constantly challenging John.
But to an observer with an agenda, that could very easily be manipulated into evidence of a romantic relationship with assigned roles.
Nicola, it’s entirely possible that I was unclear! Here’s what I mean:
I think it’s possible that Lennon and McCartney had some level of erotic attraction, and possible (though not as likely) that they acted upon it at some point. What I find implausible is their embarking upon a longer-term romantic/sexual relationship, even one that ended before Linda and Yoko came on the scene. A relationship that went on for that long (a few years? five? ten?) is significant enough to require a good deal of work to hide. That’s where the lying comes in. They don’t owe us all the details of their intimate relationships with anyone. But to conceal a connection that important is, in my view, not admirable.
If you take this further, as some John/Paul proponents do, and see the two of them as each other’s soulmates – and, therefore, as at least strongly drawn to the same sex in an ongoing way – that’s where the “women as beards” issue comes in. And at this point it would make McCartney cowardly for continuing to hide a key aspect of his sexuality into the 21st century. For instance, Elton John has openly avowed his sexual orientation, married a man, and adopted a child with him, helping to ensure that younger people see that this is possible even for someone who grew up in a time when his having sex with another man was illegal.
Thanks so much for clarifying. I think I was being especially dense so this definitely helps!
The erotic attraction theory is entirely plausible to me too but I also to agree in terms of the idea it was a long term relationship, that seems unlikely, and yes, requiring them to falsify so many areas of their story at the time and in the years since, which doesn’t necessarily feel right.
My feeling is that a lot of the PID devotees just like a good conspiracy theory and enjoy the trolling. They are not even fans of the Beatles much, I suspect.
However, there is also another group with a different motive, albeit perhaps subconsciously.
I suspect that some mostly older fans want to believe in either PID or McLennon as it allows them to regain control and freeze “the boys” in a timeframe where the Beatles still appeared to be each others best friends and before they started acting strange.
They dislike the women John and Paul chose and what they view as these womens disruptive force. They never wanted the Beatles to break up, to end that perfect dream. Coupling John and Paul and denying their wives’ importance to both men allows those people to pursue their fandom undisturbed, especially since they assume that not only they may have had an affair of some sorts, but that John and Paul were each other’s loves of their lives forever. This way the band may have broken up outwardly in 1970, but somehow remains intact, because they allegedly keep writing songs for each other, pining for each other endlessly, in Paul’s case to this very day. Beatles forever!
Does this make sense? I hope I managed to get my ideas across, as I haven’t fully thought through everything yet and English isn’t my first language, so please bear with me.
I think there’s something to this. I think it was the prime driver of the original PID theory — in addition to the assassinations of the 60s.
Devin has written really well on PID. To me, it’s a product of a period where pop culture and politics were merging, and sometimes ending in death. JFK, MLK, and RFK were all icons of youth culture, and if you liked and connected with them, you usually liked/connected with The Beatles, as well.
Last night I was talking about “emotional work” — what emotional work does this theory satisfy? By 1969, Beatles fans had endured several very intense emotional shocks — in 1963, 65 (Malcolm X), and 68 (especially 1968) — which changed their ideas of what the world was, what it could be, and what it did to public figures you loved. (Even, for example, Andy Warhol.) Plus you have the very real espionage that members of the counterculture had been encountering since late 1967; their world was full of “narcs” (the paranoia of pot helped with that.)
So PID is basically tailoring the sunny, hopeful early-60s story of the Beatles to fit with this darker, more paranoid, more desperate and less hopeful world. And this is why PID is taking hold again today.
I think you make total sense! When I first became a Beatles fan, (20 years or so ago), I was so sad that John and Paul were no longer best friends. I loved their partnership/friendship. I loved the pictures and videos of them goofing around and clearly very close.
So, I agree that “freezing the boys” in a time frame before Yoko and the breakup makes perfect sense.
Actually it was 35 years ago. Oops!
“Coupling John and Paul and denying their wives’ importance to both men allows those people to pursue their fandom undisturbed”
Honestly, I’ve seen very, very very little of this in actual John/Paul pairing fandom spaces. I mean, the Beatles broke up, they married women, and it would require a great deal of denial to demand otherwise. The women are included and often celebrated (perhaps one of the women less than others). And it’s not just older ladies … there are a LOT of people younger than I (and I’m GenX). Plus, I had the general impression that PID theorists are mainly male – but I could be wrong. I don’t mix with them.
Replying to Nancy: “One thing I’ve noticed and wondered about is that some people who comment on the John/Paul thread pretty much comment only on that thread. That’s the only HD post where I’ve noticed this pattern, and I find it perplexing. Do you have any thoughts on that?”
Well, if you google “were John Lennon and Paul McCartney in love” or some variation thereof, this site comes up pretty close to the top. 🙂 There just aren’t the fandom spaces so much anymore; tumblr attracts a generally younger crowd, and pictures are at a premium but discussion is difficult. Youtube and Quora are … frightening. So they see that discussion and stick to it, maybe? I started reading all the posts, but maybe not everyone develops a breadth of interest.
There are definitely people who wear tinfoil hats to keep the undesirable information out of their brains. But honestly, those people seem rare.
Thanks Kristy, that explanation makes perfect sense. I guess I’m surprised more people don’t go on, as you have, to read and comment on other posts here — I’d expect that breadth of interest to be the default. Do you have a sense of how many J/P fandom participants are also strongly interested in discussing the band’s music and other aspects of its significance? Don’t mean to put you on the spot to answer for a whole group of people—I’m just genuinely curious about this.
From Michael: “if not actually bisexual, Lennon was bi-curious. And happened to be partnered with a man who — though apparently rather butch in person, at least hit some femme notes.”
::whisper:: I think a good portion of the fandom, from what I’ve seen, actually assumes that Paul is the more, ah, dominant/masculine.
“When you wrote it’s a discussion of “a topic you love” to what we’re you referring exactly? Beatle interpersonal relations?”
I meant Beatles in general — history, clothes, music, etc., but interpersonal relations of all types are of course exceptionally fascinating to me. I think emotion makes a lot of the Beatles’ music stand out.
LOL! Well that is a surprise, and a welcome one.
The coding of John and Paul seems to have been very consistent for the first wave of fandom, with Lennon as the dominant force and leader (see Ginsburg’s poem, Portland Coliseum — “Lennon, the captain”) with McCartney as his foil or “second banana.” (Ginsburg was, for whatever this is worth, a homosexual man inclined towards strong, heterosexually inclined men; that he seems to have picked John over Paul isn’t nothing.)
As I’ve mentioned in the comments, Paul was actually identified as a homosexual — in a book called “The Homosexual Handbook” by someone using the pseudonym “Angelo d’Archangelo,” published by Olympia Press back in 1968. According to this article, it was brought to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover (also identified) by William F. Buckley (ditto). Why do I keep bringing this up? I think it’s a pretty good bet that Paul wasn’t identified as gay because he was perceived as a “top” — he wasn’t a “bear” or dom or leather daddy; it was because to people in the 60s, his generational cohort, Paul seemed to, or was assumed to, embody a more feminine aspect. He was pretty, and as such coded as soft, feminine, subservient, and non-dominant.
In my own time, the second wave fandom, that wasn’t as prominent a reading of Paul; I think this is because the palette of acceptable behavior for men had broadened. Plus, gay lib had come along and so we all got to see what gay men were like. During the Seventies, Paul was considered 1B to John’s 1A; John had pride of place via age and, well, because it seemed to matter so much to him. After Lennon’s death, Lennon took on a greater significance, by far, and there was a sense that the breakup had been caused by Paul’s overstepping his bounds and trying to dominate John inappropriately.
So now we have this reading which, to me at least, really demonstrates the female-led quality of the McLennon idea — it gives me some logical clues as to why it’s happening now, and the “emotional work” it’s doing for the fans obsessed by it. McCartney being the dominant/masculine part of the partnership is a genuinely new idea, one that you don’t see in the 60s or 70s, or even the 80s/90s. My guess is that it’s a claiming of space by female-gendered Beatle fans, using the most “female” Beatle as their stand-in. Because there are no female Beatles, to center the narrative in the way they want, they’ve picked Paul. A lot of first-generation fans wanted to love Paul, or sleep with Paul; but as the role of women has changed and broadened, and Paul himself has become grandfatherly, BEING Paul is an increasingly attractive form of communion.
Hell, I don’t know! What do YOU guys think?
The more we discuss this, the more I suspect it has a kinship with the ideas of Courtly Love, also a female-dominated idea with a lot of power-inversion in it.
Like Nicole, I’m also a lurker who found this blog through the John/Paul lovers post (I did go on to read more, though, which is how I arrived at the comments in this post), and I can’t resist chiming in here. Although this is an older post, I suspect the subject matter is somewhat timeless, so I hope I can do this conversation justice and contribute something useful.
I come to the subject of male power from 1. a “kink” orientation, specifically in my case, a primary attraction to power, specifically male power, 2. as a mythologist specifically interested in how masculine and feminine archetypes manifest in popular culture, and 3. as someone for whom a significant part of my professional life has been as a specialist in analyzing power structures in relationships, 4. as someone for whom the Paul/John relationship, primarily from a creative POV, has become one of my main fascinations with the Beatles.
So back to the ‘kink’ aspect, which I think is the most helpful here. Many of us ‘in the scene’ as it were, have developed over the years our own version of “gaydar” when it comes to identifying the underlying power dynamic in a relationship, be it an actual fully-realized dom/sub relationship or just the power dynamics that happen in any relationship regardless of whether it’s homo, hetero, sexual, romantic, personal, professional, etc. This ability to quickly assess, as an outsider, the power structure in a relationship is a byproduct of the need to navigate and find partners in a world in which S&M is one of our last remaining sexual taboos, treated much as homosexuality would have been during a prior era. It’s not usually safe (not to mention it ruins the mystery) to ask someone flat out if they are kink and, if so, are they a top or a bottom. So an ability to pick up on subtle signals becomes a survival skill to offset isolation.
One thing that one discovers very quickly, I think, as a result of this hyper focus on male power, is that the apparent alpha in a group is not always the actual alpha in a group. Authentic alpha maleness is more potent and oftentimes and maybe even mostly more subtle and quiet than the flashy in-your-face machismo that too often passes for masculinity in our culture The Trump example is the obvious, but of course examples of faux-masculinity abound — and probably even dominate — in our modern culture. It seems from my observations over the years that those who have genuine alpha male power tend not to be quite so flashy about it as the ones who want it (or think they OUGHT to want it to conform to cultural pressures or just to get what they think they want) but don’t have it.
All of which is preamble to share an anecdote that might be of interest here relative to the perception of power between John and Paul as reflected in slash fic, but also in fandom in general, and — and perhaps more importantly — relevant to the overall creative dynamic of the band and why it worked and then stopped working.
For context here, I’m a lifelong Beatles fan, but my deep dive into Beatles analysis as a scholar/student is newer, and so I had not, at the time I watched “Get Back” last fall, seen or read any Beatles scholarship or seen anything beyond the Ed Sullivan appearance, Shea, etc. (That has since been rectified in a big way, hence my lurking on this blog and the huge stack of Beatles books that has taken up permanent residence on my kitchen table over the past half-year.)
So then, coming to it as a near-completely untainted viewer with regard to the Paul/John relationship with no sense that either of them was more “in charge” than the other, I recall very clearly in the opening scenes of “Get Back,” when the cast of players enters the soundstage. Paul’s entrance struck me as so authoritative in its expression of alpha male power compared to the other three that I paused the video for a moment to regroup because it was somewhat psychically overwhelming. I felt like I could almost see the alpha waves radiating from him, not just at the opening, but throughout the entire six+ hours.
By contrast, it’s obviously not hard to see how 1969 John was a shadow of his former self and not in any position to alpha male anything or anyone. But even going back to earlier footage, interviews, etc. my “male power/kink radar” detects no alpha male in John at all, but rather a deeply sensitive, fragile, emotionally vulnerable person who — with no other resources available to him — developed a hyper masculine persona as a primary way to cope with overwhelming loss and pain. That Paul chose a different coping mechanism for his own pain and didn’t feel the need to posture his masculinity is, IMO, another indication that Paul’s alpha male leadership is the real deal whereas John’s is a defense mechanism, a “mach shau” of stereotypical male bravado to avoid appearing weak or dealing with emotions he didn’t know how to handle.
(BTW, none of this is meant as a value or character judgment on either of them. We cope with the tools we’re given, and posturing faux alpha male masculinity seems to have been and probably was the best/safest option available to John at the time, when there wasn’t therapy or anyone to talk to about his pain.)
All of this is not to weigh in on whether or not there was a love affair between them (which I realize is off limits). And I’m definitely not in any way suggesting that there was an actual dom/sub S&M relationship between Paul and John — while I get strong alpha male vibes from Paul and none from John, I don’t get “kink” signals from either of them. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I see/hear zero coded ‘kink’ language in their interaction at all.
My reason for delurking is rather to weigh in that (having also taken a quick stroll through Paul/John slash fic land after reading these comments) the perception that Paul is the natural “top” — whether that relationship was romantic, sexual, consummated, unrequited or solely creative in nature — feels to me like it’s rooted in something more substantive than projection or wish fullfilment or some other more esoteric thing. To me at least, Paul simply reads as alpha and always has and John doesn’t and never did.
Paul’s deference to John reads to me as something of an implicitly agreed-upon dance between the two of them in order to make their collaboration and relationship possible — John maintaining the facade, Paul knowing it’s a facade but helping him to shore it up out of…. love? ambition? an understanding that John would fall apart if his vulnerability were broadcast? a desire to maintain the delicate dynamics that made the group work?
Paul’s perceived submissiveness in the earlier years reads to me as his subconscious/intuitive understanding of John’s fragility, which in turn speaks to Paul being more emotionally literate and mature even back in the earliest years, to be able to pick up on that fragility and devise a way to relate to John that doesn’t step on his need to posture in order to feel safe in the partnership, the band and in the world in general. It’s possible and to me, likely, that John wasn’t capable of sustained, meaningful collaboration unless he was perceived to be in charge — the act of creation requires being vulnerable and that vulnerability, paradoxically, could perhaps only come from John creatively if he was posturing as hyper masculine in other ways to offset the gap in his armor required to be able to write with Paul.
I also wonder if perhaps this implicit dance the two of them (or perhaps just Paul) constructed to shore up John’s position as faux alpha might be the bedrock of the intimacy of their bond — a shared secret that goes far beyond any supposed homosexual impulses y in its danger to John’s psyche and sense of self. A secret that was then likely an open secret among the four of them, something known but not discussed. The fragile dance between Paul and John, alpha and faux-alpha, and by extension, the four of them, is, in my assessment, a key part of understanding the dynamics of the band throughout its phases, but that would be another, longer conversation probably off topic here.
In this sense, then, it would mean that what held the group together and what held the Paul/John partnership together was Paul’s ability to use his natural alpha male power to shore up John’s insecurities. And when that very fragile house of cards toppled — for whatever reason — it all fell apart because John fell apart.
A central question to me then is, if my analysis is correct, what happened to disrupt the dance between them? What shifted the dynamic from Paul quietly shoring up John’s alpha male posturing to Paul becoming more overt in his expression of his alpha male power in the band? It does indeed seem that something dramatic and radical happened in and around the India trip, and the theory that Michael posits in a gorgeous post that the intense meditation and self-examination of the India experience might have been the thing that toppled the delicate house of cards that formed the power dynamic between Paul and John (and thus by extension, the four of them (https://www.heydullblog.com/uncategorized/what-happened-in-india/). For me, this question of why the dance was disrupted is one of the most intriguing facets of the Beatles story and perhaps the key to the many of the biggest unanswered questions, and a big part, outside of the music itself of course, of what keeps me fascinated in their story.
I hope this comment does justice to and adds to the dialogue here. I really appreciate what you all are doing.
Brava, @Faith. Folks, this is a TEXTBOOK example of what I’m looking for in a comment.
1) It begins by giving the reader context (“here’s what I’m interested in, here’s why I’m interested, and here are the specific tools I’m employing to dig at it”);
2) It shows a very great depth of understanding of people in general, emotional intelligence, and empathy for the specific people under discussion;
3) It makes a strong conclusion, but doesn’t hold it strongly, and doesn’t express it in a way that encourages side-taking;
4) The intent is to illuminate the story, and share with others.
@Faith, I think this is a TREMENDOUSLY accurate analysis, and I think it also explains Yoko in a way that I have recently come to believe is very close to the bone.
This water is deep enough, and there are enough beautiful fishies in it, that I’d like to surface this into a post. I can quote it, or you can write it. Your call, just contact me through the “Contact Us.”
This reading — a fundamental power dynamic that was only ever expressed at one remove, and never talked about — also explains John’s tendencies towards anger and self-hate; his very strong insecurity towards Paul for things we think, “Why on Earth would he be insecure about that?”; and his terrible restlessness. I think for the fullest picture you’d have to add in John’s addictions — Paul in 1969 is not only at the zenith of his personal powers as an artist, he’s also not doing anything chemical to blunt himself, whereas John is. I’ll express this more fully in the post-version of this, but I do not think the Lennon of 1969 was the Lennon of 1963 or 1957, and I would guess that drug use and meditation and the natural course of “self-discovery” in his 20s pulled him towards a submissive stance that might not have been nearly as pronounced when he was younger and full of young person energy and ambition.
But you know who else really strikes me as a secret alpha male? Brian Epstein. Map that onto his known sexual proclivities and wow, things get interesting.
I’d be honored. Will work on it this week! Do I send the draft via the contact page?
Interesting thought about Brian. I think you may be onto something there, and yeah, let me sort through that from a kink perspective and see what the collective unconscious brings up…
Yes, @Faith, do feed it into the Magic Decoder.
I’ll talk more about this in the comment thread to your upcoming post, but I think heteronormative patriarchy has made most onlookers (myself included) perceive Brian as soft, receptive, submissive, artistic, decorative…And when we hear about his sexuality, it’s invariably his penchant for “rough trade” — with the assumption that Brian was submissive and enjoyed getting knocked around a bit. Of course Dizz Gillespie blackmailed him, he was passive, submissive, and so forth. And, being products of patriarchy, a weak man is what we scorn the most. (Blame the ancient Romans.) Goldman’s treatment of Brian Epstein positively drips with this, IIRC.
And THIS fits with the standard notion of John as the tough, alpha-male bully; John as “rough trade” himself. But was John really that? Seems just as likely he was a sensitive boy from the suburbs, squinting over the mic acting tough. And if John isn’t who we think he was, then Brian likely isn’t who we thought he was, either.
You don’t make the Beatles happen, commercially, by being passive. That’s an alpha move, requiring alpha energy and alpha self-belief. That action, at least, reads dominant to me, or at least power-bottom.
I’d love to see more scholarship about Brian. What an interesting character, vital to the Beatles history. I’ve been wondering recently if his infamous “tantrums” might have been autistic meltdowns.
@Meaigs, I would, too. Too often Brian is either treated like a sexual martyr, or castigated for his business mistakes; both these are part of his story, but there’s a lot more to the guy. The best place to start is this 1998 BBC documentary, “The Brian Epstein Story.”
I agree, this is substantive and interesting. Thanks for commenting, Faith!
From my perspective, it’s important to add that Lennon and McCartney were quite young when they met, and that they — and their working relationship — developed over time. Harrison’s abilities as a songwriter developed dramatically as well. I think those shifts drove a lot of the tensions we see in the “Get Back” period, and the earlier White Album sessions. In the beginning I think Lennon was the dominant force and was treated as such by the rest of the band, but as McCartney and Harrison came more fully into their own that dominance eroded.
The shift in McCartney was most bothersome to Lennon, because they were songwriting partners and he’d always been concerned about McCartney’s potential to take over.
You may be confusing smugness for alpha maleness. Paul had a hard time rallying the troops. It was only when John showed enthusiasm that the band came alive. Paul wasn’t a crutch for John.
@Michelle, not to speak for @Faith, who I hope responds to this, but the stuff she was talking about seems to be more a personality style. Submissive people have a different kind of strength and fortitude; and dominant people have a different kind of acceptance/allowing. It’s probably fairest to look at it as two pieces of a whole, which was both strong enough to conquer the world, and soft enough to change again and again and again. Lennon/McCartney is probably both the strongest, and most flexible, creative partnership I’ve ever known about. You don’t get that without a lot of different types of strength, and a lot of different types of allowing, all mixing together.
Yes, good point. I don’t think it’s either/or with them. Paul has said that John was regarded as the hard one and he the soft one, but Paul could be hard too (John said as early as ’64 that he was more biting than him when provoked) while John could be a “soft sweetie”. I think at various times either one was the alpha, both were the alpha and neither was the alpha.
To add to my post: I’m reminded of a fascinating quote from John in his 1970 RS interview: “When I’m feeling weak, I know that Paul must feel strong.”
The Get Back sessions were probably one such instance. It wasn’t invariably like that. John did not appear fragile or vulnerable in early Beatles footage, not to me at least. Or even to the majority of viewers, because the long-held presumption was that he was the dominant personality in the group. It was only after his LSD-induced ego death that he started to cede to Paul as the Epstein replacement (which, by the way, he wasn’t suited for as he himself said in the doc – “We need a daddy figure.”
Thank you, Michelle! And yep, 100% I see what you see as well. The difference for me is that, as someone who has assessed the interpersonal power dynamics in groups of powerful men (and of course, women, though I’m better with the men) over the past 15 years, I don’t believe that what we’re seeing on first (or even second, third and fourth viewing if you aren’t looking for the cues that I’ve learned to look for) is an accurate reflection of what’s really happening. The tells are subtle and I’ll do my best to expand on that a bit more in the article. (Other than that in terms of replying, I’m itching to, but I think it would be better all around to wait and have the conversation under the article.
Looking forward to it! I sure am glad I found you all.
Fantastic, @Faith, can’t wait. I have a friend who’s in that world and learning the codes and tells and outlook — the psychology of D/S — has been a real eye-opener. It has changed how I interpret people.
Thanks for this post @Faith!
“Paul’s deference to John reads to me as something of an implicitly agreed-upon dance between the two of them in order to make their collaboration and relationship possible — John maintaining the facade, Paul knowing it’s a facade but helping him to shore it up out of…. love? ambition? an understanding that John would fall apart if his vulnerability were broadcast? a desire to maintain the delicate dynamics that made the group work?”
This makes me think of the song Tug Of War (opening song on the album of the same name, Paul’s first album after John died).
“It’s a tug of war
Though I know I mustn’t grumble
It’s a tug of war
But I can’t let go
If I do you’ll take a tumble
And the whole thing is going to crumble
It’s a tug of war
(Pushing and pushing, pulling and pulling
Pushing and pulling)”
George Martin (who worked on the album with Paul) often said that John and Paul’s relationship was like a tug of war.
That song fits perfectly I think. Here’s the quote from Martin:
“Imagine two people pulling on a rope,” said George Martin, “smiling at each other and pulling all the time with all their might. The tension between the two of them made for the bond.”
@Faith, I really enjoyed your piece. It made me look at Lennon/McCartney from a different perspective, and I’ve been a Beatle fan for 30+ years!
It’s also interesting that you said you watched “Get Back” as someone who had not read much about the Beatles, and had no preconceived notions about the power dynamics of John and Paul. On another thread, I commented that I would love to read a analysis from someone who had no biases, and could look at them with a critical eye. I think you did that. Thanks.
“My guess is that it’s a claiming of space by female-gendered Beatle fans, using the most “female” Beatle as their stand-in. ”
Actually, it’s not just a stand-in scenario that I can see; all the Beatles are seen as objects of desire. Fans want to sleep with Paul and John, not necessarily be them. And Paul’s definitely still considered pretty and some people do want to feminize him, it’s true, but it’s not pervasive.
I didn’t mean that people see Paul as dominant in every way, it’s just not necessarily a Butch!John/Femme!Paul dynamic. I mean, I could write an essay on shipping (as in relationSHIP) or J/P fandom in general and people’s preferences, but in an attempt to stay on the surface, VERY GENERALLY for those people who prefer a more dominant Paul in interpersonal relations, I’d venture that it’s a combination of the fact that both Paul and John can actually be pretty masculine and heterosexual, but John seems to have a neediness and a tendency to seek out strong people to latch onto to take care of him? And while you can see John’s emotions from space, Paul is often seen as having more of a shell. Also, people in many fandom spaces that I’ve seen do not care in the slightest about the whole John as Leader vs. Paul as Leader thing. It’s seen as very outdated. Most stuff I’ve seen in fandom considers their relationship as Beatles as an equal relationship.
(Now, arguably, Paul wants someone to take care of him, too, but that’s a whole other conversation.)
Like I said, this is a generalization and other people have other preferences.
As for the list of practical homosexuals, I’ve seen it mentioned here but thank you for the fascinating link! I wonder if attendance at all those gay clubs and parties might have contributed to that as well as any perceived feminization?
I do appreciate your openness in this discussion!
I think this is a very interesting discussion! I think both Kristy and Michael have made many great points, but I think that his assessment that Paul is being chosen as an outlet of female projection due to his inherent “femininity” is slightly off the mark.
People in fandom (predominantly young women) usually project onto their favorite male person in fandom as a kind of power fantasy, in order to explore the autonomy of being male (men are inherently considered to be the sexual borderline for society; they are, in a way, gender-less. The have the most agency and power in a patriarchal society. An audience member walking into a movie, or a person reading a book, will usually expect the story to be about a man. It’s just a side effect of an uneven world). Yes, sex is usually a part of this projection, at least in fanfiction writings, but sex is just another form of intimacy which is heavily dictated by gender. The fact that the partner of this character is usually male (even for lesbian content creators) is not for nothing; that partner is also on equal footing. It’s essentially the ultimate relationship fantasy, especially when reality is full of toxic masculinity and objectification.
To choose Paul as a female stand-in because he’s coded as feminine, or the less dominant Beatle, is counter-intuitive. There are fandom spaces for female-coded projection/empowerment. And accessibility isn’t an issue for fans. You’ll find a fandom for all sorts of bizarre, non-human entities, from furries to supernatural creatures to transformers (and yes, there’s smut for it all). Paul is being chosen for projection BECAUSE he is male. Any mischaracterization that follows has nothing to do with him and everything to do with the author: fans merely likely to select their favorite toys from the box to act out their favorite stories. Sometimes the stories don’t fit at all, and that’s fine. It’s for fun.
Additionally, even the members of fandom who take this way, way too far, and lose sense of the boundary between reality and fantasy, have yet to be any kind of threat to Beatles fandom as a whole. PID is and has always been a huge issue, but unlike slash it isn’t based in exploration; it’s a conspiracy based in paranoia.
And lastly, I think it’s actually profoundly sad that slash fandom might become subject to a question of ethics. The vast majority of it is adolescent and teenage girls who, if I remember correctly, are the demographic upon which the fandom was built in the fifties and sixties. For us old people to sit in forums and discuss whether or not to police their enjoyment of the Beatles unironically is disingenuous to me. The Beatles weren’t just a band, they were a sexual revolution, and one that is still ongoing.
Bee, really important points about the significance of both participants in J/P having power. I think what you say about this kind of fanfiction empowering women makes complete sense.
To your point about whether slash fandom is subject to questions of ethics: I think that being human and acting in the world involves us in ethical issues, whether we recognize them or not. That emphatically doesn’t mean we should be “policing” anyone. It just means that what we do and say does have a moral/ethical dimension.
I want to reiterate that I have NO problem whatsoever with what people write or consume in the fictional domain, including fanfiction. From what I can tell from a distance, it seems like a largely healthy space for creators and consumers to explore narrative, sexuality, and power and build community. In fandoms focused on fictional characters, the kind of ethical questions I’m talking about don’t arise. The originator of a set of characters may or may not like the stories fans make up about those characters, but once those characters are released into the wild, I think part of the deal is that anything goes. Of course the originator can still comment on what’s being done with the characters, there is just no right to control what is done with them.
Fiction about real people that is presented as, and read as, fiction also seems to me largely benign, so long as it’s not focusing on, say, fantasies of killing someone. (Not saying that happens in fanfiction — I don’t know if it ever does — just saying that’s an instance where even a fictional story might be ethically questionable.) It’s at the point when these narratives are presented as true that, in my opinion, an ethical border is in question, whether the originator of the story sees it that way or not. I’m not calling for anyone to be stopped from enjoying particular stories, or to be gone after in any way. I’m concerned about a tendency that sometimes surfaces in the huge comment thread on Michael’s original post, the ultimate expression of which is to insist that Lennon and McCartney were long-term lovers and that people who don’t believe that are motivated by homophobia.
It’s not people who double down on Lennon and McCartney being each other’s lifelong true loves that really concerns me. Rather, it’s the larger trends in culture I see this kind of story as participating in, although in a much softer and less malign way. In the past few years it’s become crystal clear that deciding which stories to believe and which to reject is a MAJOR responsibility of us all in the 21st century. Once upon a time I thought the fact that Trump had pushed for years the false “birther” story about Obama would lead the Republicans not to nominate him. Well, I was sure wrong about that. And now every day we see more and more misleading narratives that are being told as true, many of them highly toxic.
And as I’ve gotten more interested in mindfulness, I’ve grown aware that we are always practicing something, whether we see that or don’t. When we wait at a traffic light and get agitated and curse, we’re practicing impatience and cutting that groove in our mind a bit deeper. When we take a few deep breaths at the light and see our tendency to anger without getting caught up in it, we’re practicing patience and making that a bit easier to do next time. In the same way, when we go all-in on a story without asking ourselves critically enough why we believe it and what implications reinforcing it may have, we’re making it a bit easier to go that route the next time we’re presented with a narrative.
Basically what I want to say to everyone, very much including myself, is: Consider your motivations for believing, disbelieving, or repeating/reinforcing a story. Carefully weigh the evidence. And to the degreee that you’re able, reflect on the consequences that spreading it is likely to have for you and others.
“Basically what I want to say to everyone, very much including myself, is: Consider your motivations for believing, disbelieving, or repeating/reinforcing a story. Carefully weigh the evidence. And to the degreee that you’re able, reflect on the consequences that spreading it is likely to have for you and others.”
Beautifully said Nancy.
Replying to Nancy: “Do you have a sense of how many J/P fandom participants are also strongly interested in discussing the band’s music and other aspects of its significance? ”
Actually, I think a lot of them do, because there’s discussion of the music and how it’s perceived today, and how it makes one feel emotionally. But it seems to me that a good number of them also don’t seek out too much discussion where they don’t trust the sources? Many younger people don’t seem to trust the the published books. And I can understand why, having read a lot myself. So much of the Beatles bibliography is written by men of a certain age, many of who write from a place that assumes John and Paul were hardly even friends, let alone very close friends.
The books by May Pang and Cynthia Lennon are valued for viewpoints that are more emotionally nuanced. I’ve seen a decent amount of discussion of published biographies by men, but there’s a huge sense of frustration at things the authors just Do Not See. So when we speak of evidence that’s being ignored, it’s because people just don’t seem to trust the “evidence.” Emotional stories like their romances with women and beyond, the reasons behind John’s depression around ’65-’66 and Paul’s depression in ’68-’69, the thoughts and feelings being expressed in Beatles songs, John’s and Paul’s obvious jealousy for and of each other, etc., are not as often explored in the mainstream published books. I feel like the bloggers here on HD do explore those things but they’re not as searchable. 🙂
(And as for possibly lying about their sexual orientation, which I’m definitely not saying he is, Paul really can’t win that one. Lying about one’s sexual orientation isn’t seen as a betrayal of fans or history, it’s seen as necessary.)
To anyone curious about the viewpoint, I would suggest watching the Understanding Lennon/McCartney video series on Youtube. It’s a documentary series of clips, photos, and songs, with a very light narrative touch, but a definite narrative structure centered on John and Paul. It’s hours long, professional-level and I can’t imagine how much work went into it. It’s apocryphally noted that this may be the video series Paul referenced watching before he told Ron Howard that he wanted to be sure the Eight Days a Week documentary showed him and John as friends. The creator is also willing to discuss their editorial choices.
Thanks, Kristy. This is really enlightening!
The Lennon/McCartney video series is very good. I watched it twice. As a child first interested in The Beatles, I just liked the music. They were just guys and you picked one as a favourite – George in my case. Revisiting them as an adult, with the aid of the internet, it was so obvious to me that John and Paul had an intense relationship. Anyone with eyes can see it. It’s there in the photos, the film footage. the way they look at each other and connect constantly, emotionally and physically. I think their relationship was special and sui generis – one of a kind. Whatever they had with each other could not be held up as a model for any other relationships they had. Today my favourite is JohnandPaul. Together. That their relationship – whatever it was – broke down makes me sad.
I got that impression well before adulthood, and long before the arrival of the internet. I wondered if it were possible that they were more than friends, or was my own lust for these guys being projected onto them. But even before that, as a child, I could sense that they – all the Beatles, really – had an incredible bond. I was already aware that they were a history changing phenomenon, so they must have had a bond that they shared with no one else. This is going to sound silly because many people think it’s a silly little song. But I remember the song “So Bad” when it came out not long after John had been killed. I was barely out of elementary school, and back then I didn’t see a love song as being different from any other genre of popular music – just knew whether I liked something or not. Anyway, it was on the radio and must have been introduced as a new song by Paul McCartney. While hearing it, I couldn’t help but think he was being mournful over John. Does it sound sad to anyone else, despite the falsetto? The melody itself sounds sad to me, and Linda’s backing vocals add to the melancholy. When I saw what the actual lyrics were many years later, they did little to change my mind in that regard. It starts off: ‘There is a pain inside my heart/you mean so much to me/And if you leave, my pain will go, but that’s no good to me.’ Now, if it’s about Linda, why would he feel no pain if she left him? That doesn’t make sense. But if the pain in his heart is John, he would no longer feel pain if memories of him would go. But he doesn’t want to let go of those memories. This isn’t unusual for people who are grieving. Of course they would feel better if they let go of their loved one, but they don’t want to for fear of forgetting them. That’s why it feels necessary to remember only the good times they had with that person. Setting aside romantic notions, if it’s about John it would certainly put to rest the absurd belief that Paul wasn’t affected all that much by John’s death. “This is worse than anything I’ve ever had”… Then you read Paul talk about the song and call unnecessary attention to the part where he sings “Boy, I love you” by explaining that he was singing the song to his girls and didn’t want his son to feel left out. LOL
@Michelle, I think Paul was devastated by John’s death, and I wouldn’t be surprised that in retrospect scholars will trace that particular thread through all his work after 1980.
You should listen to the podcasts Another Kind Of Mind and One Sweet Dream. They discuss the emotional connection before and after the breakup. It made me want to cry.
Kristy, I suppose I should have been clearer in explaining that I was primarily talking about a certain group of older fans, not the slash fiction writers, who indeed apear to be mostly younger and often still struggling with their own sexuality. In regards to those I just find it interesting to note that in a lot of their stories, Paul is indeed the submissive one. Also, whenever the story takes place around the break up, they have him crying non stop. So, yes, to me it looks as if he still is being cast as the female part, Michael. So in that respect I feel he is still being underestimated – *that* to me is interesting about these stories as it reflects on the mainstream overall narrative of the Beatles story. John is still the leader, the strong one, the decision maker. Here the slash community is in synch with the jean jackets. Fascinating.
Again, I don’t care for slash fiction, but I don’t want to police it either. I have the impression that many of these writers are fully aware that it is just fantasy for the most part. And they are often quite sympathetic to the women involved as well.
My beef is with the aforementioned older fans creating their own alternative universe without acknowledging that it is fantasy, insisting they have evidence, when it is just wishful thinking or a subjective feeling.
I probably shouldn’t care, but it irritates me.
PS: Maybe I should mention that while I don’t believe ( or don’t see any evidence) that they ever had a sexual encounter, I would not be shocked or disappointed to find out they did.
I appreciated your response Nancy and I agree with many of your points.
I agree with your point that real life is inevitably a constant battle of ethics on a personal front. We each have to police ourselves on a situation to situation basis, taking care not to think in a binary format and permit questionable behavior as long as it tics certain boxes in our mind (like justifying a toxic and damaging public mischaracterization of Paul as long as it can also be considered self-exploration or art).
What concerns me is not what people in fandom are saying about the sexuality of the Beatles. I have never heard anyone outside of a Beatles internet chatroom ever speculate as to Paul being anything other than completely heterosexual. To my experience, it’s not even a topic of conversation humorously whispered between adult women after a few drinks. It’s simply not on the radar. I think Paul’s reputation as a heterosexual man is actually one of the safest pieces of Beatles legacy; after all, he worked hard at it.
What concerns me is that this question and speculation of Beatles sexuality is being singled out as an issue and an irritant despite also being identified as less toxic in comparison to the PID conspiracy and others like it. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. If we can’t show evidence of a thing as toxic, and we can acknowledge that there is only a very specific subgroup of individuals who are taking it too far (and likely have limited power), then where lies the justification in singling it out as a cause for concern? To my knowledge, there is not a single book that takes the J&P lovers theory to any great heights, and yet every time I open my digital book app, Phillip Norman’s Shout! is the first thing advertised to me. If there ever was a published fanfiction of real people, it’s that book.
If we are going to practice being ethical beings, we have to tread carefully in our assessment of spaces which already face unbelievable amounts of scrutiny and prejudice. I think it should always be our instinct to address the emotional center of the things that irritate us. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to examine a portrayal of someone who means a great deal to you (as Paul and his music does to me) and be perturbed by it. And believe me, I have been disturbed by those portrayals. But I’m less disturbed by the crying, homosexual fantasy of an adult needing an outlet for unresolved issues than I am by the inaccurate and flagrant disregard for Paul’s achievements that continues to proliferate in every single Beatles book I buy.
I think any fear that Paul might become denigrated to second banana status as a result of hyperactive, sexualized fandom is unrealistic for two reasons: firstly, Paul has already been denigrated to second banana status in the unconscious minds of the world through the toxic narrative our generations continue to buy; and, secondly, because this point of view in the Beatles narrative tends to rest with emotionally unstable young adults and sexual minorities, and they, unfortunately, have almost no power in the world we live in.
When these groups of people have no authority, outlet, anecdotes, evidence, or even books behind them, then my instinct is to find any trepidation unwarranted, and likely a visceral reaction to an aesthetic that is unpalatable to most heterosexuals.
Also, if Paul’s portrayal (inaccurately or otherwise) as homosexual is something that undermines his authority, legacy, and autonomy as a man, then I think our discussion should not be about how to prevent that mischaracterization from ever taking place, but how we can influence the fandom so that such portrayals are not detracting in people’s minds and simply do not matter.
Bee, I think I see what you’re saying. I’m not sure how much we actually disagree. I wrote the post because it stands out on HD in the ways that I mentioned. As I’ve moderated comments on it over the years I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and these are my reflections.
I wouldn’t bother to engage with PID because rational, respectful conversation on that topic is pretty much impossible with people pushing that “theory.” Whereas such conversation is obviously eminently possible with plenty of J/P aficionados.
My real worry here isn’t about the Beatles. It’s the dynamics that I mentioned at the end of the post, which are much larger.
Finally, let me clarify that it’s not homosexuality per se I was talking about as harming Lennon’s or McCartney’s reputations — it’s the concealment of it. Which would be worse in McCartney’s case, clearly— that’s why I brought up Elton John and his example. Lying would be the issue.
Someone above mentioned PIDers are mostly male. I noticed this right off in troll PID comments on Paul youtubes. There are a very few females who seem to be shill trolls because they, like their male PID shill trolls hit the comments sections of as many Paul youtubes as possible, audios, videos and interviews. With only one exception and her I’ll advised book plastic macca backed her up, I have seen almost exclusively the PID sites are hosted by men. One particularly emphasizes very close up shots of early and late Paul features, demeaning him with his clothes on like Paul porn. The male site hosts really delight in ridiculing him every possible way and I can tell they are very highly threatened by his feminine androgynous appearance, high voice, mannerisms and are especially affronted when John drugged out and Paul stepped forward. The site host obsessed with Paul’s features is also obsessed with rumors that he is gay or bi. I have seen several PID forums discussing in comments that tavistocked John was bi. Oddly, the John and Paul were lovers has not bled over into PID. I’ve. seen several laugh that billy, the made up high schooler name in 69, is gay or bi. The male site host seem really threatened by Paul as see him as uppity effeminate male. This is culturally interesting as PID renewal now is a very conservative right wing idea that the Beatles cheated with PID to push LIBRULISM and they see Paul as the biggest cheater, though per PID it wasn’t his original idea. The site hosts are not comfortable in their sexuality and are highly threatened by a guy they think, looks and acts like Paul did in the Beatles and throughout his solo career. How dare he rise up and take the reins when John floundering and how dare he survive all against him solo in the seventies and beyond. He’s seen as a lesser effeminate man who does not know his place. I have noticed that two of the PID hosts have southern dialects and another doesn’t but lives in the south. I am southern and it is an area with stricter gender boundaries, and expectations even for men.
To. The commenter above, PIDers are almost always male except for a few paid shill female trolls hitting multiple Paul youtubes. With one exception, PID and tavistock conspiracies site hosts are male. The site hosts and some commenters delight in ridiculing Paul every way. Be PID site has several videos of very close up shots of early and late Paul features. Though he is clothed, this is veritable Paul porn. That site host delights in the Paul is gay or bi rumors and PID commenters delight in calling the Billyboy imposter gay and thinking that is funny. Somehow the Paul and John affir idea has not bled into PID. The male site hosts are very affronted at the pepper era Paul not knowing his place and taking the reins when John down with drugs. The male hosts and commenters seem to be almost in love with early Paul and to have a fanboy crush on him but to despise later Paul for his success with later Beatles and his solo success despite years of hardship. Contemporary PID and tavistock conspiracies center on the Beatles cheated to push the LIBRUL agenda and they see Paul as the greatest cheater though per PID idea itself, replacing JPM was not imposter idea. Paul’s androgynous appearance, high voice threatens these male PID hosts not comfortable in their sexuality and contemporary PID I’d conservative LIBRUL panic. They view the Beatles especially Paul as cheaters with PID to push the LIBRUL agenda. I’ve only listened to three of tge PID site hosts that are American…..all I’ve heard have southern dialects, a conservative area. A common thread in almost all of the site hosts is they are failed musicians or music industry folks. They see Paul as an uppity, androgynous imposter who does not know his place. Because they did not appear to know about the idea that John and Paul were lovers, they think the idea that contemporary Paul is gay or bi is funny. They assume stuff or ideas without proof, of course.
PID seems truly toxic to me. I’m glad we’ve never had many PID true believers on HD (probably because they have their own sites). I’ve made it a firm policy to stay as far away from that particular tar pit as I can.
Nancy and Bee: Paul has been accused of lying since I started collecting on the Beatles in 69. If he has had to lie to cover his past relationship with John or currently feels he has to lie, that is sad but is his business. The man apparently said as far back as early beatles days he always wanted a family and now has one and even has grandkids and great grand kids. I can tell Nancy that you are younger than I am as have a bigger problem with him not being honest and coming out even by now if indeed he had a relationship with John or is bi. The man has the right to his privacy and has had very little since achieving extreme fame at age twenty. No matter what Paul has done or said over the last fifty years, many folks have accused him of not being honest, so what’s one more thing. If he came out and especially if said he and John had a relationship the male John fanboys would REALLY accuse him of lying. It’s the person’s prerogative and normal folks aren’t put on the spot like a famous person. Wouldn’t worry about folks thinking he lied earlier about it as lots of folks seem to think he pretty much lies about everything so I doubt a further example of his lying would damage his reputation any more than it’s already been damaged for fifty years.
^^ I agree. If a gay man doesn’t want to reveal that fact, that is his business. We seem to forget that homosexuality was considered a crime in England as late as 1967. And homophobia is still a scary thing to that community, especially when fame is involved. Another thing. Why is it that men who like to watch two women getting it on is considered boys being boys, but when women are drawn to male-on-male action it has some deep psychological meaning? And to suggest that the girls of J/P fandom are not real Beatles fans? Ridiculous. My take is a rather simple one. John and Paul are irresistable to these fangirls. How can they resist each other, right? They probably have gone over the conventional Beatles terrain with the music and the history until they’re a walking encyclopedia, that they want to explore things you don’t find in books to keep things interesting. I don’t see anything unethical about it. Even Paul said he likes the theory LOL.
Seriously, WTF? Without having read through this thread. But reading back through JP relationship thread though, WHO CARES.
These men were close friends and friendships aren’t necessarily meant to be forever. Reading secret messages to each other is futile. We don’t know.
I think that it is disrespectful and arrogant to assume that we know anything in regards to this relationship between these two people.
I agree Marlo. And how incredibly frustrating for Paul, for people to totally disregard his statements, and call him a liar!
Paul probably has wondered, “Why the hell am “I” the subject of these crazy conspiracy theories?!
[Even Paul said he likes the theory LOL.]
No, he didn’t. Not that I am aware of.
Please povide an actual quote, thanks.
You can find the Howard Stern clip on Youtube. The video title has something like ‘Paul on John’s sexuality’ or something to that effect. When asked about Philip Norman’s book on John, where he talks about the possibility that he was in love with Paul etc., Paul said, “I like that theory” and laughed. I don’t think he cares that much about all the theories and rumors about the Beatles. It comes with the territory is how I read it. But about lying – was Paul lying when he said that John told him that ‘Jealous Guy’ was written with him in mind? We can’t prove that John told him that. If he’s telling the truth, then he should know that it would make people wonder. Does that song sound like it was written about a platonic relationship? I’m not sure. People assume it was for Yoko or Cynthia.
You can find this online, but regarding what Paul said early on, he decided to do nothing as it would probably keep folks interested in him. There was really nothing he could do to counter it as was in awkward position of proving he was who he says he is. Now, with the internet and renewal of PID and anti Beatles by Nazis originally this has really gotten out of control against him especially. The PID and tavistock crowd really pore over his and Beatles life histories and albums but to use against him and them and to further build their conspiracies. They delight in calling him faul, name from a fraud George last will and testament video and William or billy, name high schoolers made up in 69. It is practically impossible to sue for defamation of character in U.S. and laws differ by country. Even the PID book claiming Paul has six toes from Internet photoshop pics and that Crowley is his dad, plastic macca, Amazon even ships that book to England with its strict defamation of character laws. The Nazis and corporations Paul has crossed with environmental causes have really used renewed PID against him. When Paul dismissed it those years ago, you’d have to find the interview, he was right that it would keep folks interested in him but the tintards will gladly harass the man to his grave with it.
It is their wet dream conspiracy that a hated Beatle LIBRUL survivor is really a fake, the group were frauds, thus, the sixties were frauds. Because they are simpletons, they reason like this, the real lunatics think The Beatles, funny they focus on no one else, but the Beatles were a LIBRUL tavistock institute plot to push the LIBRUL agenda. A tintard claiming to be MI6, Dr. Coleman started this in 93, when Clinton was President, except Coleman said as entire Brit invasion to weaken America, why I don’t know as America helped England after WW2. Originally during Beatles era, this conspiracy lunacy started by the extreme right winger, Lyndon larouche. Old PID died down because kids who invented it came forward and confessed and folks knew gen about dead head term meant an acid taker. There are conspiracies of each political persuasion but I have read especially righters are fond of this…..like Clinton’s murdering folks, comet pizza. Righters especially love the cheating, murdering left wing conspiracies.
Michelle, I don’t understand why Paul is so many times accused of lying. What would it benefit Paul to lie about John writing jealous guy song about him? John somehow told a friend he did, so does that mean John was lying? I don’t get all the Paul is lying or lies tropes. John wrote that song in India and if John wrote it about Paul he should know who he wrote it about. You can research about the song, but may need to drop all of the Paul lying prejudices or presumptions. John was the worst to revise his stories along the way especially in seventies but it’s always Paul accused of lying. No one really knows all about them, but that song is very personal and suggests a relationship and it didn’t benefit Paul to say that if trying to hide his and John’s relationship.
What I meant was, he’s either lying about “Jealous Guy” being about him or lying about his relationship with John. The song to me sounds like it’s about a current or former love. Personally, I think he was telling the truth when he said that John told him the song was about him. Like you said, he would have no reason to say that if it wasn’t true. The song was written in India but with completely different lyrics.
So did John say “Child of Nature” was about Paul (the India version)? Or the re-written 1971 “Jealous Guy”?
The re-written version found on Imagine: “He wrote ‘I’m Just a Jealous Guy,’ and he said that the song was about me.” 1985 Playgirl mag
I interpret that as that LINE of that song — which describes his post-Yesterday relationship towards Paul – rather than the whole lyric. But who knows?
I’m patiently waiting for someone to say John wrote “(Forgive Me) My Little Flower Princess” for Paul.
I’d be willing to bet $100 that if you Google that you’ll find someone has said it.
I’ve definitely seen it, since apparently Paul was known as “John’s Princess” (from two sources that I’ve seen). But I also saw a healthy dose of skepticism, if that eases your minds at all. 😀
Supposedly John was heard at a he studio calling Paul his princess. Nevertheless, Hologram Sam, lol. You win the thread. Thanks for the reference of Paul saying that in the 85 mag interview, as I bought that and read it at the time and still have it in my Beatle solo mag collection, but my medical condition has affected my memory now. Paul was probably clinging to evidence that John indeed loved him after John had dogged him so badly in the seventies then tragically died, but paul was indeed sticking his neck out to cite this song publicly as being about him if indeed either John or a go between friend told him this song was about him, as the lyrics suggests romantic involvement.
Princess? I thought people’s McLennon radar would have been set off by John saying “my little friend” in that song. Haha, Aunt Mimi knows.
Watch out, you are convincing me. 🙂
Actually, to keep with the topic of concerns about the ethics of John/Paul speculation, I think that nickname was of course derogatory on behalf of the alleged Apple staff, and would not think it very kind of John to actually use it for Paul. But I’ve seen the nickname romanticized because it’s “cute.”
With my complex partial seizure medical problems, forgive if I’m duplicating or making errors in my writing here. As I saw wings in concert, I watch Rock Show videos very frequently as was best concert of five Paul concerts I saw, though all excellent especially also the 2002 show clear vocals. However, one of my favorite Macca songs in rock show where he gives a killer vocal is Call Me Back Again. Several have commented that the whole song sounds like is about John and almost sounds like he says John’s name in it, but some say he says child, not John.
John was not returning his calls as yoko was intercepting I’ve read through this time. As you know song is about calling someone since young and really wanting the person to return the call. It was probably about John and I realize s yet another circumstantial John and Paul were lovers reference but it was interestingly recorded when they wrote songs back and forth, but John had met with Paul to get him to agree to drop the hate songs and press wars.
As a person crazy about wings, who loves Rock Show and who saw wings in concert, I was amazed that on the Hoffman forum in the section going over Paul wings songs this song was thought not worth mentioning. It has a killer fats Domino style vocal, with an extraordinary lead guitar complimenting the great vocal. As with all wings songs period though, the live performance far exceeds the recorded one. This song well expresses the pain and frustration Paul was going through trying to communicate with and reconcile with his old friend.
As an addendum, per these comments, I listened again to silly love songs, and indeed I now see and agree that Paul when singing how can I tell you about my loved one, then the I love you parts come in, he’s talking about his loved one linda and the you is probably to John as John was tge one who provoked the whole song saying Paul wrote silly love songs.
I also tried to be open minded and listen to maybe I’m amazed but do think it’s about linda. I will credit someone in these comments for getting me to realize my favorite late Beatle Paul song, oh! Darling is about John. He was in a steady relationship with Linda then, they had married and in the song Paul is singing…I’ll never make it alone..believe me when I tell you, I’ll never do you know harm. As a young teen in 69, I knew enough about his life to remember that these lyrics perplexed me even way back then. I agree that oh! Darling is about John and putting that with Paul fleeing the studio with mai when John said he wanted a divorce and crying at home several hours, mal said. The term divorce was also strange when I read it as a teen,
Pidpoo, did you ever see the video for Call Me Back Again? Someone on Tumblr did a screen shot of this drawing of a couple that you see spinning around at various points in the vid. In the screen shot, it clearly looks like two boys snogging, one a little older and teddy boy in appearance. Noted by the person who owned the Tumblr.
John told photographer Bob Gruen that the “I love you’s” in Silly Love Songs was meant for him. Listen closely with headphones. Somewhere in the middle a tiny voice in the background seems to be singing a counter melody that may or may not be saying “John, I love you.” LOL.
Maybe John was crazy and maybe I’m imagining things because I’m looking for why he thought that was for him.
Maybe I’m Amazed could be inspired by both Linda and John. “You hung me on a line” sounds like John more than Linda to me. And “You help me sing my song, right me when I’m wrong.” When he wrote this song, was Linda already singing background vocals on his songs? John was the only person who ever had the guts/honesty to tell Paul when something in a song wasn’t right and needed editing. Just a thought.
Michelle, for me these kind of readings of song lyrics fall into the “cherry picking” / stretching category I was talking about in the post, and also into the downplaying of Linda McCartney’s and Yoko Ono’s importance in Lennon’s and McCartney’s lives that I described. And also, while we’re at it, into disregarding what the songwriters themselves said about their songs.
Take “Maybe I’m Amazed.” McCartney has said unambiguously for years that this song is about Linda. She did pretty much “hang him on a line” during (and after) the breakup. And she had sung backup with him before the recording of this song — on “Let It Be.”
I’m not trying to pick on you personally. But it seems to me that it is possible to argue that practically ANY song Lennon or McCartney ever wrote is “really” about their relationship, and I just don’t believe that’s accurate or, past a certain point, especially interesting.
The couple in question starts showing up at 3:58 of the Call Me Back Again video. Pause it at the 5:00 mark.
To me, the issue shows the monomania of the fan, pure and simple. John, Paul, George and Ringo’s lives were full of people — friends, lovers, enemies, and those who made them go ‘ehh.’ Their creative work reflected all those relationships and situations, not just one relationship, no matter how central.
It’s projection. Nothing wrong with that, it’s what fans do. But to claim it as true, or even as terribly reflective of the internal emotional state of someone you’ve never met, 50 years in the past…that’s about the fan, not reality. And I include myself in this thinking, too.
My apologies for keeping this discussion going. Just thought it was interesting. I’ll stop now and thanks for allowing different takes on here.
Don’t want to discourage you from commenting, Michelle, I just feel compelled to weigh in as well.
No problem. Do your thing.
@Michael, yeah, I suppose we are all guilty of this. Whether it is podcasting, blogging or writing comments….
And I really agree with your take that the songwriting was informed by lots of stuff we will never know about.
No worries, Nancy. Thank you.
Just like with the PID people, sometimes I find the John/Paul shipper analysis of songs interesting. but at a certain point it just becomes….boring. Interpreting every line, song, image, statement and sign the guys made as secret message by/for/about a secret relationship just seems so ignorant of the way writing works. It assumes not just a 100% autobiographical writing mode, but a 100% autobiographical mode at all times about one relationship. Even the most “confessional” writers don’t work that way. Such an obsession about one person or one relationship over such a long period of time would be at a level tantamount to mental illness – and I just don’t buy it in two people with such various life experiences to draw upon.
I’m a (sometimes) writer and have been married for twelve years. I can’t think of one occasion where I based a character on my spouse or wrote anything based on our relationship. That strikes me as utterly boring. I often write about things that are far outside my personal experience.
I do believe that historical evidence points to John being bicurious, if not a practicing bisexual. I don’t believe any such evidence to Paul, not least because he has lived until 2020, is still living and has been directly asked about it. “Wokeness” dictates that the only person who can define their sexuality is the person in question, and Paul has flat out identified himself as straight. When questioned on the subject (by Howard Stern), Paul not only did not seem defensive but vaguely curious about why he’d never had a homosexual experience. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity, particularly as his heterosexuality has gotten him in some trouble over the years (that sexual desire both blinded him and held his tenuous marriage to Heather Mills together does not seem to be in dispute). He certainly seems the absolute opposite of a person who is deeply closeted over a relationship which ended 50 years ago.
@Rose, I couldn’t have typed any of this better myself.
I’ve come to believe J/P tells us next to nothing we don’t already know from public statements and sources. It’s really more a window on the writer than J/P. That having been said, I think it works like any other obsession: fascinating to those who share it, but to those who don’t, it’s little more than a mental curio.
I have always thought that if John and Paul had a physical relationship,it might have started around the Hamburg era and ended after whatever the hell happened in India,BEFORE Linda and Yoko came into their lives;and I don’t think it was necessarily a long standing affair because that would make Cynthia and Jane much less important than they were. I’m thinking it was more an on and off kind of thing that definetely stopped after Linda and Yoko came into their lives. There.
Who is Paul addressing in the second to last verse in “The Pound is Sinking” (off Tug of War)? Anyone care to guess? We’re all guilty of trying to interpret lyrics, and the artists themselves are okay with that. He sings it with such anguish that I find it hard to believe that it’s related to something outside his personal experience. Turns out it was a snippet not originally related to the rest of the song, according to the collector’s edition of TOW. That was my impression all along. Who is this lover he knew all too briefly because “your heart just wasn’t in it anymore.” This verse, along with “Somebody Who Cares” and “Wanderlust” is more moving to me than the contrived “Here Today” and it’s not even close.
@Michelle, well if you have the reissued tug of war this gal in envious of you though I understand sound quality and total package on it was the least quality of the Macca reissues. I do want to say I think Here Today is very sincere and heartfelt Song but he has over performed it at his last many years of concerts and I do much prefer personally the other songs you mentioned, somebody who cares and the pound is sinking, the latter because of his extraordinary vocal performance on part of that song. I think Macca over performs here today as is part of his grieving process and to acknowledge his old friend. George Martin left off the duet of My Old Friend from tug of war, a great song. I would never venture to think such a song was contrived, particularly one written to his old dead friend or is possibly insincere. Now if you have the reissued McCartney 1, McCartney II boxset and especially the wings wildlife/rrsw reissued box set with the mcmouse and wings over Europe concerts, watch out, Michelle, because this old boomer may come to your house to get it. LOL, just kidding. I’m happy you have any of it and have had to search out incomplete postings online. I’m completely addicted to wings over Europe and the the two mcmouse wings live ICA performances earlier available on the McCartney years.
Always I enjoy your points. Thanks.
Does anyone else get a John/Paul vibe from Brokeback Mountain? Even the opening chords of the song that plays throughout is reminiscent of Blackbird. One character says “let it be” while playing the harmonica at one point, an episode from Kojak (Paul’s “fuck off, Kojak!” retort to John over the phone) is seen on the living room TV, there is a long-suffering, somewhat meek wife named Alma (as in Cogan – Cynthia would be too obvious), their partnership begins in earnest in 1963, etc including the switching of the plaid shirt owned by the survivor over the jean jacket of the dead one, which the dead one had hanging in reverse order in his closet as a souvenir. They continue to feel passionately about each other though they see each other only sporadically over the next decade, to the dismay of the one who pines more. There is a question of whether the two main characters were truly gay or not. The actors themselves said they were under the impression that they were two straight guys who happened to fall in love with each other. Some critics/observers disagreed. Although the troubled, intense one with a violent temper who was abandoned by his parents is the one most committed to his family (of two girls), while the one who is happy go lucky, came from a stable (loving and compassionate mom, stern father – John Twist, which is the name of Cynthia Lennon’s third husband) but financially meager home, and marries into money (I think he calls his father-in-law Lee at one point) is the one who fiddles with the harmonica and gets violently killed (either by a tire explosion or homophobic thugs, it is ambigious) and also leans more gay/bisexual than the other.
Brokeback Mountain was robbed for Best Picture. It won Best Director (Ang Lee) and in fact, was nominated for more Academy Awards than any film that didn’t to win the ultimate prize. It also made a killing at the box office. It is a classic to me as I’ve enjoyed a number of viewings whereas Crash, which I don’t remember anything about other than it deals with racism, like a lot of movies I thought was fine and well acted but one viewing was enough. It didn’t seem special to me. Voters from that year have since stated they would change their vote if they could. The short story on which Brokeback Mountain was based was written by a woman, by the way. I know I’m crazy but it’s funny to ponder, nonetheless.
A few points: Tom Robinson (an out gay singer in the ’70s who had a hit in the ’80s with “War Baby”) once said that John Lennon approached him on the street and told him, in an agonized way, that “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” was about a same-sex partner he was in love with. When I read this I was quite young, and the idea of the partner being Paul never entered my mind. But I’ve always remembered it.
There are many clues in the music. “Oh! Darling” always bothered me on Abbey Road because it was so intense, I mean almost psychotically intense. I think The “Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be” are full of clues as well. Paul is processing and self-soothing during this period, and it seems that it’s more than the break-up of the band, it’s the loss of the personal relationship as well. I think what hasn’t been explored as much is John’s relationship with Yoko in ’67 and how she slowly displaced Paul. (I mean, they met in November ’66, but John did a good job of pretending they suddenly “fell in love” in May of ’68. But it was clearly a lot more complicated than that. So I think India was indeed when John decided that Yoko was going to be it.)
Paul’s fairly recent comment that he felt “robbed” after John’s death was also very suggestive, I think.
The word “hide” in Beatles songs is a big tell. Some day I’d like to write an essay about that.
Bottom line: I feel very sorry for Paul and what he’s had to put up with. Now, it’s true that this could all have been happening on an emotional level and not ever reached a sexual level between them. My gut feeling? We’ll know the whole truth at some point after Paul’s death. (I’m not one of these people who think he’s already dead :))
Thanks for your comments on Brokeback Mountain, Michelle, which was written by E. Annie Proulx. I love all the wordplay and the clues. That could have all been subconscious on her part. Was she an early Beatles fan? It would be interesting to know.
@Gabriella West, I fact checked and like suspected, this was of course not personally told by John to Tom Robinson – it is simply Tom’s interpretation or wishful thinking as a gay fan. This is what he actually said: “My generation had grown up as teenagers in the 60s with pop music as a defining characteristic of who we were. Yet for those of us who’d grown up attracted to the same sex, the lyrics always described someone else’s situation, never our own. It was boy meets girl, every bloody time, even the great lesbian icon Dusty Springfield was singing about ‘him’ in the lyric. The nearest thing I heard to the way I was feeling was John Lennon’s lyric to You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away – which can only have been about Brian Epstein.
Did you twig that then or later?
It’s only subsequently we’ve found out about the holiday that John Lennon took with Brian Epstein in Spain. According to the rumour mill John later reported he’d gone to bed twice with Brian, the first time to see if he liked it and the second time to confirm that he didn’t. Immediately after that holiday the Beatles recorded the Help album, which included that song.
While not knowing this at the time, I was hopelessly in love with another boy at school spending my every waking hour thinking about it, and having to hide my love away was the big all-pervading secret that dominated my life. The song was just so true to my life, except for one crucial detail. The lyric went ‘if SHE’S gone, I can’t go on’ and suddenly the lyric wasn’t about me after all.”
Wonder why Robinson thought the line, “If she’s gone, I can’t go on” necessarily had to be about a romantic partner. For all we know, it could be about John’s mother who left him twice.
In addition to Let it Be and the Long and Winding Road, the song Two of Us has a line (you and I have memories…) that seems directed to John. They all are about letting go of someone, unable to resolve an issue, and saying goodbye to a friendship.
John surely understood the meaning of these songs and I wonder if he felt the same. I do wonder if hearing and playing on those songs with his song writing partner and best friend (who is saying goodbye to him) contributed to his erratic behavior (aside from heroin) during and after those sessions. Did John ask Paul about these songs, like “what the hell is this about our memories being longer than the road ahead, or I’ve always known the many ways you’ve tried?”
Surely John realized Paul might feel like he was being pushed away by John having Yoko with him 24/7. Even if that wasn’t John’s intention, he was smart enough to get that his actions might be taken that way.
That line of Paul’s is tragically prophetic. He and John had been friends for 12 years when he wrote it, and John lived no more than a decade after they broke up.
Thank you for bringing this up, Bill M! Much as Paul wanted The Beatles to continue, much as he tried to make it happen, I think he could read the writing on the wall. Sometimes he is a head-scratchingly prescient individual. I’m not one who thinks the Beatles “had to” break up, and I know it was far from a certainty in Beatle- and Beatle-adjacent minds at the time, but when I see Paul ending an album with “Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight a long time. Are you gonna be in my dreams tonight? Love you, Love you, Love you. The End.” — I just can’t not think: “Damn. He knew.”
Were John and Paul just talking past each other during this period? Was John trying to say “If you want to keep me you have to FIGHT for me”, but Paul heard it wrong and so responded with “If you need to go, I will mourn you but I won’t stop you.”? John, feeling weak, wants Paul to be strong — but Paul isn’t up to the challenge this time.
You’re welcome, Gabriella. Do you remember what interview it was that Paul said he felt robbed by John’s death? That sums it up for a lot of people.
Yup. It was from a book about Paul’s career in the ’70s with Wings, by a Scottish journalist called Tom Doyle. So it was actually in a sit-down interview with Doyle for the book. john’s death is covered in depth. https://gabriellawest.net/2020/05/17/review-moving-on-two-ex-beatles-very-different-lives-in-the-1970s/
Long time lurker, first post.
I’m sorry this comment is over a year late (to be honest, I’m not much of a participant; more an observer) but this particular thing is really nagging at me – enough to break lurk mode.
I’ve never quite bought the McLennon theory; I’ve always thought John and Paul were in love with each other’s minds, intellect and talent, and that their relationship was platonic, albeit, deeply intense. Creative people can be deeply intense without that intensity being in any way sexual.
Now I find myself questioning some of what I thought I believed after recently stumbling across John’s Real Life demo take 3.
The last verse:
Was I just dreaming
Or was it only yesterday
I used to hold him…ahh [I’m pretty confident this is the lyric, but others may disagree]
and now a baby and another on the way
[gibberish and something about a farm?]
Why must we be alone?
If it don’t feel right, don’t do it
If it don’t look right, look right through it
Just call him on the phone.
Start listening at 3:42 until the end.
Anyway, what do people think? Stretching? Misheard the lyric? Wearing my super-duper nothing-escapes-these-babies headphones, it is clear to me that John is using the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’ (or ‘im’ in the last line to be precise). I’m not sure this could even be about Paul since the demo was recorded in 1979 and Linda had James (the baby on the way?) in 1977. Unless John was just referencing random memories as they come to him, out of order?
It’s pretty difficult to ignore/explain away the implication inherent in the lyric, ‘I used to hold him’. So that’s what’s been nagging at me…
What do others think?
Hi Mel. That’s what it sounds like to me. I’ve seen this video before and read some of the comments. People also point to his use of the word “yesterday” which John couldn’t have in a song without people thinking it was about Paul, which I do think is a stretch. It’s not an uncommon word in popular music. The reference to babies, the farm and apparent estrangement (“just call him on the phone”) does sound like it could be about Paul. Listening to this again, the piano chords at the beginning reminds me of Let it Be which I didn’t notice before.
Hello Gabriella, Paul’s quote “I felt robbed” still resonates in me. I have come across a very interesting essay about Give My Regards to Broad Street by Henry W Sullivan called “Paul, John and Broad Street”. It is worth reading:
You have to register but it’s free.
Sullivan claims that Broad Street was Paul’s attempt to work through his grief and pain after John’s death. Since then I have seen especially No More Lonely Nights with different eyes.
“We’ve only got each other to blame.” ….. Sounds like John and Paul, doesn’t it? And also the line “And if it takes a couple of years to turn your tears to laughter….” sounds so similar to “So many times I had to change the pain to laughter” from Early Days – an “official” song about John. Paul’s pain and grief about John’s death is heartbreaking and so much deeper than publicly perceived. It is a witness to a much deeper relationship.
I love the song No More Lonely Nights, the music and words are very poignant to me. “I can wait another day until I call you” after a futile attempt to reach someone as the line just keeps ringing (movie clip). “But another lonely night might take forever.” What if there is no tomorrow? The scene in Broad Street where Paul approaches a building and watches in horror as the guy he’s been after (because he ran off with some tapes or something) gets stabbed and staggers up the steps before collapsing. Can’t help but think of John there. That article you linked sounds familiar. Does the author state at one point, in regard to John and Paul’s relationship, “I am not implying something of a carnal nature, but…” Can’t remember what led him to say that, or what followed. It struck me as a scholarly essay, in any case.
I just read the article. Mr. Sullivan uses the word “homosexual” not carnal. Don’t know where I got carnal from, LOL. I did read this essay a long time ago. He made it to clarify why he was describing their partnership as “psychomusical matrimony” (no gay implications). If the Harry character who gets assassinated in the movie is based on John, well… he’s kind of evil for pushing the boat that the other three Beatles (Linda McCartney as Paul, Barbara Bach as George and Ringo as himself) were peacefully floating in over a waterfall to their deaths, and then stealing their (purely symbolic) session tapes. But it turns out he’s “not such a bad boy”. Also, early on in the movie Paul sizes Harry up and despite his reservations about his “bad boy” character says, “You’re in” and declaring “It’s a pact.” The author compares this to Paul “giving John a chance which led to the formation of the Beatles.” Excuse me, it was John who took a chance on Paul (John used words to that effect) and invited him into the band, not the other way around. Fascinating essay, however. Especially as it relates to a connection between John’s death and Jim McCartney’s. Thanks for digging that up, Tanja.
You are welcome, Michelle. I think I know where you got “carnal nature” from: Ruth McCartney uses the term at the beginning of her essay about John and Paul. 🙂
Haha, that’s it! ‘The Chemistry of Lennon & McCartney’ a well-written a funny piece by Ruth McCartney, Paul’s stepsister: http://www.mccartney.com/?page_id=344
Other than the wonderful book on creative pairs by Joshua Wolf Shenk (Powers of Two) and a book by the shady Beatles biographer Geoffrey Giuliano, it seems that books on Lennon/McCartney are lacking for such a legendary pair. Their relationship is largely examined in the context of the Beatles as a band. McLennonists are sure to have a field day with this upcoming book, even though it is probably not at all what the title suggests:
I would be lying if I said this doesn’t intrigue me.
Here is a preview of the upcoming book on Lennon/McCartney written by the author himself. (Lovers, but not sexually – nearly fell on the floor).
I like reading his articles. If you’re not familiar with Ian Leslie, he wrote “64 Reasons to Celebrate Paul McCartney” early last year. This is a good article of his on the two major Beatles releases in November (Get Back/The Lyrics):
Read the book description and this is what I was trying to say in an earlier comment. John and Paul loved each other in a way that defies categorisation. I don’t know if sex was involved and it doesn’t really matter either way, because their relationship was about each other and creativity and an intense connection based on intellect and many many things.
I recently saw an interview on YouTube with the author, Ian Leslie, who seems to lean McCartney in his favoritism, both in that interview and on his blog. Though the book he’s working on wasn’t mentioned outright, he did touch on the topic of Lennon/McCartney being a love affair (in all aspects beside sexual, of course – like he knows for sure). It is his opinion that the breakdown of the relationship occurred in the mid-60s because “Paul wasn’t as obsessed with [John] as perhaps he would have liked.” He also accepts Paul’s assertion that John had told him that “Jealous Guy” was about him. I don’t think I’m going to like this book very much!
Also, I clicked on the link I posted for the book above, and the article has been taken down. I wonder if the McCartney camp or someone objected to the “They were lovers” – platonic – line.
@Michelle John obsessed with Paul sounds about right. After all, Paul was “John’s princess,” not the other way around; and it was John prone to form romantic attachments with men; something very unlikely from Paul’s perspective, unless he’s done an incredible job keeping it quiet for the last sixty years. John in the late 70s is still obsessed with Paul, scrutinizing his music, his character; jealous at every step of Paul’s success; acting like a rotten child when he hears Paul is going to stay in his preferred hotel suite; absolutely paranoid about anything to do with McCartney. Paul’s contemporaneous interest in John is more muted: they would have been friends if he could penetrate the immovable objects that are John’s neurosis and Yoko’s strictures. But there’s also a sense that Paul, unlike John, can say “fuck you” when they have an argument, hang up the phone, and get back to life with Linda; maybe a bit bummed out but not losing sleep. Paul’s interest in John to me seems to have been maintained principally by real or imagined competition and approval seeking (and with the loss of that perceived competion/approval/non-approval after John’s death, his music takes a major dive), whereas John’s behavior is that of somebody spurned, constantly oscillating between reconciliation and revenge, mostly failing at both, and always as obsessed as only someone who cares way too much can be.
Woah, didn’t mean to rile anyone. I’m just curious what the author has to say. Why does it have to be either/or, is what I’m wondering. What is the point of a book about a Lennon/McCartney “romance” if it’s one sided? Maybe the book won’t portray it like that, but obviously that’s where you stand. I think it was mutual, but with John burning his bridges after disillusionment and/or finding that things simply had run its course. He never stayed with one thing very long, and Paul had a penchant for playing everything himself. If John was prone to form romantic attachments to men, with the only realistic possibilities being Stuart and Brian, Paul for some strange reason became jealous – by his own admission. It’s funny how defensive Paul gets when questioned about John’s sexuality, with the argument for hetero being he slept with John many times. If John did indeed have bisexual leanings, and Paul is telling the truth that John didn’t show any hint of anything while they were together, that only serves to prove that John didn’t have any attraction to Paul. As for Paul’s feelings being muted, he never likes to talk about his feelings. His emotions are all in his music. The number of songs that people can agree John wrote to/about Paul, you can count on your fingers. Fans have to strain to see something other than “How Do You Sleep?” which is tragic, as I think “I Know, I Know” can be a possible peace offering. Conversely, there are numerous songs that Paul wrote for/about John, a few of which are discussed on this Paul blog:
And that doesn’t include Beatles era songs like “Oh Darling” and “Long and Winding Road” which, if not about John, certainly have Paul pleading with someone not to leave or abandon him. Paul said recently in his lyrics book that John must have heard the song Dear Friend and others but “never responded to them.” He obviously wasn’t looking for a music critic because John did praise Band on the Run. [Oh wait, he resented all of Paul’s successes… but not his biggest success up to that point!]. They would have been friends if John wanted to be friends. It’s as simple as that. He didn’t appear to want Paul back in his life on any kind of regular basis. Maybe it was a case of John preferring the idea of Paul, rather than the real thing. That can be a natural result of disillusionment. Every action/behavior you describe from John sounds like hatred to me, which I’m sure Paul hangs on to now like a life raft, because it does show that what John had wasn’t indifference. But John had hateful/sarcastic things to say about Mick Jagger and Paul Simon as well. None of this is obsession, just a guy with a lot of time on his hands and a voracious reader of newspapers. Is it okay to quote Chet Flippo’s McCartney biography on here? Or is he on the enemies list with Philip Norman and other writers because of their Rolling Stone or other rock music press taint (but not the eminent Albert Goldman). Something about Paul pursuing John until the last day of his life and being “long suffering”.
“Is it okay to quote Chet Flippo’s McCartney biography on here?”
Of course it is, @Michelle. What’s the quote?
Oh, thank you. I don’t have the book in front of me (I checked it out from a library a long time ago). It was not especially good overall. The quote was basically my last sentence, that Paul pursued John unsuccessfully up until the latter’s death.
@Matt – My own view is that John did have a romantic attachment to Paul, but that what made him go off the rails when he realised Linda was what Paul was looking for in a wife, was the realisation that he would be left behind. I think he was stuck in adolescence (you see that a lot with people who have experienced childhood trauma) and that the Beatles was his gang, his substitute family. Had Paul been willing to put on a gorilla suit and be a lost boy forever with John, I don’t think the Beatles would have broken up. Paul grew up and left John behind, and John couldn’t forgive him for it.
That’s how I see it anyway. I think John’s romantic attachment to Paul added an extra layer of complexity, but basically I think he was hurt because Paul moved on from him.
@Elizabeth, re: Paul “moving on due to maturity”: You know, this is a pretty popular theory and I think it has merit in the broad strokes, but I don’t know if it matches up with how John and Paul actually acted during the breakup, and I think that it also applies a lot of retroactive narrativization to the story. If this were true, John’s flip would have happened when Paul and Jane got engaged, or immediately after he and Paul returned from the Apple press tour in New York (as this theory often relies on the idea that John sensed that Paul and Linda were going to end up together when she got into that cab w/ them in May, as per the extremely fanficcey framing popularized by the Joshua Wolf-Shrenk book and the AKOM podcast), OR when Paul started bringing Linda around the studio. This really gets the events out of order imo. Yeah, Paul was into her & the attraction b/t them was obvious to outsiders, but after meeting w/ Linda in New York, Paul went home and tried to salvage his engagement w/ Jane (while subconsciously sabotaging it) and relationship-hopped a few other affairs before bringing Linda to London (incld. asking long-term side piece Maggie McGivern to marry him after Jane gave him the boot). And John wasn’t particularly unfriendly to Linda until the breakup got rolling (less nice than he was to Francie or Maggie perhaps, but certainly nicer than he ever was to Jane). Paul and Linda’s elopement was definitely one of the breaking points, but I think whatever was going on with Paul in 68-70 is waaaay more complicated than him “growing up”; I think the “growing up” was a result of his split with John, not the cause of it. I’ll explain:
A lot of what Paul did re: his relationship with Linda was fairly reactive to JohnandYoko (bringing girls into the studio in the first place, making his wife part of his “brand” even though she was uncomfortable with it, and after how careful he was to keep his and Jane’s professional lives separate and personal lives private; very out of character). If you look at what ppl adjacent to the Beatles were saying in ’68 – before it was apparent that the John-Paul rift and the John/Yoko relationship were serious matters that were going to have long term consequences – it doesn’t paint a picture of a “maturing Paul” vs a “de-maturing John”; instead you get a spread of opinions that both of them were getting on people’s very last nerve, and were totally inside their own heads while doing it.
Paul firebombed his engagement with drugs and philandering and had descended into high-functioning alcoholism before hooking up with Linda (and for a while afterwards too). His maturation came *through* his relationship with her, in stages (abruptly becoming a father, the professional support network her family provided, and the reality check she finally gave him when he was drinking himself to death in Scotland), not the other way around. John’s fury at Linda, imo, is because she’s the one who gave Paul the perspective and permission to walk away from the no-win situation he’d put Paul in. Whatever sparked off John’s anger at Paul likely had nothing to do with either Yoko or Linda, and given John’s acceptance of the Paul/Jane relationship (despite never getting along with Jane and in fact being quite horrid to her) also had nothing to do specifically with “settling down” in abstract. It was probably simply the breaking point re: years of accumulated resentment based on the ambiguity of their pseudo-romantic friendship, and the strain that their mostly-friendly-but-sometimes-very-not rivalry put on his crippling insecurity.
Now – in the broad strokes, it *is* absolutely a factor; I just don’t think it was the only factor, the biggest factor, or the conscious drives either were operating on. I tend to think of John and Paul as being like one of those overly close teen girl friendships: all the possessiveness and performative exclusivity of a romantic relationship, but none of the clearly defined social lines to “justify” that exclusivity. Jealous of each other, but also jealous of each other’s *other* friends. This is pretty common in artistic partnerships as well (Simon and Garfunkel, for example, also failed to mature out of this dynamic). These kind of friendships do tend to implode the moment one of the girls gets their first serious boyfriend.
John and Paul’s immature relationship benefitted from the last days of “separate spheres” gender relations (which was a driving factor behind the Victorian phenomenon of “romantic friendships” in the first place). They were sheltered in this sense, by the ability to have their “band partnership” vs. their “home partnerships” without one interfering with the other, something that John clearly thought about explicitly, since he stated in plain words that his whole problem was that he wanted those spheres merged (WHATEVER HE MEANT BY THAT); for John it was a untenable state of affairs; Paul did not seem to understand the contradiction. Their lives were certainly going in opposite directions approaching 30. Paul seemed to be thinking he ought to settle down, and John seemed to be thinking that if he spent one more second being a married man in the “straight” (in the 60’s sense) world, he was going to go completely insane. This subtext runs through the breakup, and is reinforced by John’s smearing of Paul as un-bohemian in the 70’s. However, Paul did not appear to be drifting away from the Lennon-McCartney partnership, and in fact seemed to be at one of his peaks of commitment to it in 67/68. Remember: Paul thinks JOHN is the one who ditched him for a new girlfriend, and views HIMSELF as the one who had to reorient his entire life to “find something new” (and doubtless the Jane breakup had a lot to do with this as well; the Asher family was a huge part of his identity in his 20s). This is the problem with trying to figure out what actually happened in 68/69, bc both of John and Paul view the other as the one who messed it all up and signed the death warrant.
Honestly; I think it’s less that Paul had become mature than it is that he *wanted* to be mature but couldn’t face that his over-investment in his relationship w/ John was holding him back from that, and I think it’s less that John was mad Paul grew up and found a woman (he said after the fact that he’d simply expected that Paul would marry Jane Asher & seemed unbothered), than that John was mad Paul found a woman whose influence on him superseded his own. John ironically freed Paul from the thing that was holding him back FROM growing up by trying to force their relationship back to an earlier state of affairs (one in which The Beatles was “his” band, not “Paul’s”).
(Anyway, sorry if this came off as aggressive or argumentative; I don’t think anything I’ve said here is exactly incompatible with what you said, I just wanted to unwind the various factors as I see them bc I think Paul’s behaviour in 1968/9 tends to be under-analyzed and simplified or dismissed when it does come up, meanwhile there are Tolstoy length novels speculating on whatever the hell was going on in John’s head, lmao. These are just things I’ve noticed that fascinate me but which I rarely see dug into the way John’s psychology is).
Thanks for this post Nancy, I especially appreciate the way you call out the erasure of women in the telling of Beatles’ story.
This might be a bit long, but I Have Thoughts.
I became intrigued by the Beatles after watching Get Back. After my second watch through I watched the whole Lennon/McCartney YouTube series mentioned above. At the time I thought “wow, this person is really pushing an agenda that John and Paul were lovers”. (I always have half an eye on the agenda of a filmmaker).
As it happens, I had decided to give myself free-rein to indulge my newfound obsession with the Beatles, which is a new experience that I am still really enjoying. But I started finding it hard to let go of the idea of John and Paul as lovers. I have a (hopefully healthy) suspicion of my own obsessive tendencies, but every time I would convince myself it was probably nonsense, I’d come across another lyric, or another scene in Get Back that would start the cogs turning.
Like a lot of others, I found this blog through searching for this topic. It was such a breath of fresh air! I’m not interested in smut or stretched interpretations of lyrics (to my mind there’s no question: Maybe I’m Amazed is about Linda). I was looking for somewhere I could ask reasonable questions and get reasonable responses. The job you and Mike do here (apologies to any other mods I haven’t noticed) is very impressive. You are clear thinkers who pull the conversation back to reality in a very generous way.
I don’t fully understand why I care so much about whether these two men were lovers, but it stirs some deep emotion in me to think that either they were, or they would have been if social mores were more like they are today.
I’m not going to go into the lyrics that I find suggestive unless someone’s interested in hearing them, but I would *love* to hear an anti-McLennon interpretation of what on earth John is doing going down on the mic in the India conversation at the end of episode two of Get Back (around the 2h16m mark).
As for Paul lying about it, I think you might be being unfair there. Let’s just imagine for a moment that Paul and John were lovers in some way or another. As what point would it be right for Paul to reveal this? What if he had sworn secrecy to John? He’s notoriously cautious about revealing personal things, and I don’t begrudge him that at all, I think it’s one of the reasons he’s still with us. He seems like the kind of person who might decide to keep a secret if he felt it was protecting someone. If he were to come out as bi now he would be fielding direct questions about his relationship with John forever more, and be asked to answer for all the (in this imagined scenario) little white lies that he told throughout his career, when it definitely wasn’t safe to come out.
I’m glad for Elton John that in the long run coming out has gone well for him, but he didn’t owe it to us.
Anyway, thanks for providing a venue for nuanced discussion of this topic!
“I don’t fully understand why I care so much about whether these two men were lovers, but it stirs some deep emotion in me to think that either they were, or they would have been if social mores were more like they are today.”
This is really the most interesting aspect. Why do so many Beatles fans care about this issue now? They didn’t seem to, before, and I’ve associated with a LOT of them. Is it internet culture? Is it increasing acceptance of LGBTQIA identity? Are we attempting to impose our fascinations with what people dismiss as “identity politics” on a past that had different obsessions? I have no fixed answers to any of this, but I hope that McLennon folks will ponder where the fascination is, for themselves personally, and share it in ways that feel safe for them.
For example: my early interest in the assassinations of the sixties is related to some sad personal history of my own. So now, when I address that history, I know where the itch I’m trying to scratch comes from, and how it’s impossible to scratch it that way.
As to the “blowing the mic,” consider that Lennon could be referring to any time he gave a blowjob to any man, at any point in the Beatles’ history. It’s an inside reference not just to Paul, but likely to all four Beatles — otherwise, wouldn’t George or Ringo say, “Wait wait wait — are you guys FUCKING?” To me, it seems more likely that it refers to a much less threatening bit of experimentation; obsessing over McLennon flattens everything into “clues.”
There’s a certain extent to which it’s a fascination with tragedy. “If they were living now maybe they could have expressed their love in a healthy way and stayed together” (back of hand to forehead).
It’s also worth noting that the discourse around the Beatles has long been what I call “a sausage fest”. I’ve put some effort into finding female voices, and have found some podcasts, and Erin Torkelson Weber’s book is on my (ever growing) list. But I wonder if in fact it has fascinated female Beatles fans for a long time/always and you weren’t hearing about it? Would the fans you associated with necessarily have told you if this is something they thought about? Especially considering the shame our culture has around female sexuality.
@Meaigs, I think the fascination with tragedy is an application of the John and Paul friendship into a trope of romance fiction. (Which is not to say they weren’t lovers.) When I read this stuff, I feel that incessantly; it’s being turned into a story that readers of romantic fiction find more satisfying.
McLennon is a story about two men — so by definition it is about male, not female, sexuality. Unless — and I’m not saying this — one feels that the socialization of women in our society gives them a kind of Spidey-sense about emotional states/romance/sexuality that men do not have. This simply hasn’t been my experience; some men are very tuned in to those aspects of life; and many women are not. The idea of women as emotion-whisperers is, I think, a stereotype. Flattering in some way perhaps, but still a stereotype.
What I think is just as likely is, given the socialization of women, they are shaping the story into a narrative emphasizing emotional states/romance/sexuality, because that’s the turf they feel more comfortable in. If gender roles continue to soften and morph, it may be that the gender of the viewer will have less to do with their take on the Beatles’ story, and I think that’s a good thing.
But I always come back to: we’re talking about two men here; so the discussion has to foreground THEIR gender, and THEIR socialization, and THEIR modes of expression. It’s a story about them, right? It’s not about me and my socialization, or you and yours, and to slyly foreground that as so many recent “researchers” do feels like a kind of hijacking. As I say incessantly, I have no problem believing that John and Paul had sex. But where I balk is when commenters create versions of John and Paul that don’t feel like cishet men from Liverpool in the ’60s, but American women doing podcasts or commenting on the internet in 2022. That codeswitching is absolutely okay with me, but it’s not doing history. To make heads or tails out of any of this, I think one has to really acknowledge the vast, vast differences between those two viewpoints, them then and us now, and show a kind of historical humility that the internet doesn’t encourage.
Oh and PS — Of course I can’t know what people don’t tell me, but the person (b. 1951) who introduced me to the Beatles and nurtured my fandom most is female. When I have mentioned that my blog is full of fans positing John and Paul having sex, she just shakes her head. So does my mother (b. 1949). These are not women with hangups about gayness, trust me. First-generation fans just don’t seem to buy the theory, in my experience.
As I said upthread, the McLennon idea that “THEY won’t let you know the truth” — whether that’s male researchers or gatekeepers, heteronormativity, or patriarchy — is one of the weakest aspects of it, to me. It is fundamentally, sloppily conspiratorial in a way that feels very, very contemporary. And it can’t be refuted. I’m completely open to the possibility that John and Paul had a romantic/sexual relationship, but after reading hundreds of comments here on that specifically, and engaging with tons of McLennon people, there’s just not much besides speculation. Among many there’s a burning hope that it is true; and that, to me, is becoming as important as whether John and Paul actually had sex.
“fascination with tragedy is an application of the John and Paul friendship into a trope of romance fiction.”
But isn’t romantic fiction an application of normal human social responses to an art form that expresses them?
“McLennon is a story about two men — so by definition it is about male, not female, sexuality.”
But women’s responses are, at least partly, about their own sexuality. Like, I’m embarrassed to say this (in public, with my face attached), but part of what’s going on for me is definitely my sexual responses. It’s difficult to discuss because women’s sexuality is taboo. As someone said above, it’s sort of widely accepted that many men find the idea of two women together arousing. As women have more and more opportunity to discuss these things in anonymity, it’s becoming clearer that the reverse it also true.
Which is not to say it’s not problematic. It’s uncomfortably close to fetishizing a marginalized group. But that’s not the whole story, and it does seem that there is something “normal” about it (for some meaning of normal).
“If gender roles continue to soften and morph, it may be that the gender of the viewer will have less to do with their take on the Beatles’ story, and I think that’s a good thing. ”
I 100% agree with this. I would love it if the sex/gender of a podcast host was irrelevant to what I’d be likely to hear from them. But we’re not there yet.
“But where I balk is when commenters create versions of John and Paul that don’t feel like cishet men from Liverpool in the ’60s, but American women doing podcasts or commenting on the internet in 2022.”
This is why I come *here* for this conversation. I find some of the stories that people tell themselves, where there were periods John and Paul were living as though they were married, just too ludicrous. And the stories that dismiss their wives as beards are dehumanizing and offensive.
Whatever did happen in India (and in the years leading up to it), it seems plain that Paul and Linda had a strong healthy marriage. John and Yoko’s relationship is more complicated, but certainly not simply a facade.
But I as I mentioned in some other thread, Paul loves ambiguity in his lyrics, and it’s endlessly fascinating to me to consider what combinations of ideas he’s communicating. I suspect John also spent some time pondering them — I think he said as much.
One interesting example: the song No Words seemed like it had a bunch of John references, until I read that it was written by Denny Laine. Having an example where I know I’m reading too much helps me keep my interpretations in perspective.
FWIW, I’m not convinced either way myself. I try to do a reasonable amount of self-examination about the whole thing. Hopefully as you say I can learn something about myself in the process.
“But isn’t romantic fiction an application of normal human social responses to an art form that expresses them?”
I don’t think I understand what you’re getting at? Here’s my response to what I think you’re saying:
As a super-successful writer of things designed to elicit certain specific physiological responses in strangers, I have a very jaundiced view towards things like this. Romance writing uses certain well-worn structures and tropes in order to elicit a certain specific physiological response; it is a stylized form of communication entirely tailored to the needs of the audience. And that audience’s “needs” are not “natural” in the sense of being unchanging; they change over time and are to some degree learned. As with comedy, the audience for romance writing is specific to one time and place and set of assumptions. Comedy — romance — horror — erotica — these are not solely, or even mostly, reflections of human biology; they are taught, even coded as gender; I know no man who gets off on “pining” as commonly expressed in romance novels, and know lots of women who do. That seems like learned behavior, taking one type of erotic stimulation and reifying it, teaching people at 12 to respond in a certain way to a certain thing. And when I talk to McLennon people on here, a lot of them speak of the delicious sadness of these two men not being able to love freely. That, to me, is turning the Beatles story into a romance novel. Which is OK! If you cop to it.
So what I’m saying is that fans of the first and second generation largely do not seem to have needed J/P slash. Some of it surely was written by someone; but if the audience was anything like the size of McLennon, it would’ve been formalized and monetized in 1965 or 75 or 85. What seems to be happening is that the prevalence of McLennon seems to be training a certain type of person to get off on McLennon. That, to me, is interesting, because it says something really powerful about how sexuality seems to be changing in the internet age, and how the internet is shaping sexuality.
“As women have more and more opportunity to discuss these things in anonymity, it’s becoming clearer that the reverse it also true.”
That’s fascinating. I’ve made a bit of a study on human sexuality, and recent research is showing a pretty distinct difference between men and women. Men’s sexual response seems to be much more specific, and limited — men, straight or gay, like what they like and nothing else. Lesbians are more like this as well. Bisexuals are more varied in their responses to stimuli, and the most variable of all seem to be straight-identifying women. Plus there is variation in female sexual response which tracks with menstrual cycles, use of hormonal birth control rather than barrier methods, and so forth. TL;dr — people are fascinating, and women are particularly fascinating. 🙂
For the record, I’m totally comfortable with discussing McLennon as erotica. I don’t share the attraction, but when it’s put into that realm, not only does discussing it feel empowering and fun, it also genuinely does allow for a kind of freedom in discussing the vast emotional power of The Beatles. Where I get impatient, and it’s only impatience, is when people characterize their attraction as truth, or as a Something Important, like blow against patriarchy.
“John and Paul were living as though they were married”
And yet…all four of them did live with incredible intimacy and shared even sexual experiences with each other. It’s absurd to look past the erotic charge of four teenage boys fucking together, even if they weren’t (we think) fucking each other. Where I get impatient (again) is with the lack of imagination. I constantly try to imagine what it must have been like for them, and really try to avoid changing them into versions of myself.
McLennon as erotica, or as self-examination? All for it. It’s very Beatles to do that; freedom and self-examination are what the Beatles were all about. But as history? I feel differently about that. John and Paul could’ve lived as gay — people were gay in 1964 — but they didn’t, at least not openly, and that choice must be acknowledged and respected as what actually happened.
@meaigs wrote: “As someone said above, it’s sort of widely accepted that many men find the idea of two women together arousing. As women have more and more opportunity to discuss these things in anonymity, it’s becoming clearer that the reverse it also true.”
No doubt. I myself am not ashamed to admit that I’m always on the lookout for romance movies involving two men, anything from the award-winning Brokeback Mountain to the corny Making Love. It’s all appealing to me.
“One interesting example: the song No Words seemed like it had a bunch of John references, until I read that it was written by Denny Laine. Having an example where I know I’m reading too much helps me keep my interpretations in perspective.”
Yeah, this one is cited a lot by McLennon: An apparent reference to “All You Need is Love” and the favorite “it’s only me” anecdote that Paul likes to tell. No Words is actually credited to McCartney-Laine, though who wrote the lyrics is anyone’s guess. It’s not a very good song in my opinion. It sounds musically flat, much like Paul’s collaborations with Elvis Costello (though I love the lyrics of those songs). Seems John was the only one that Paul could collaborate with that enhanced his music rather than overpowered it. The McCartney-Costello collaborations sound like Costello, “No Words” sounds like Laine, etc.
I wonder if the co-credit on ‘No Words’ wasn’t Paul’s way of deflecting and hiding in plain sight.
From what I’ve read No Words was a Denny Laine song that Paul helped him with. There was a quote somewhere from Denny Laine expressing appreciation for Paul’s help with it.
By the by, isn’t “Denny Laine” a weird pseudonym for a collaborator with Paul McCartney?
I like some of his collabs with Elivs Costello. But I have heard him say he found it very hard to push back against others musically after the way the Beatles fell apart.
@michael “And that audience’s “needs” are not “natural” in the sense of being unchanging; they change over time and are to some degree learned. ”
What I was trying to get at is that these tropes don’t come ex nihilo. They certainly can be manipulated, but my gut tells me there must be something innate that they manipulate. I’m not claiming that’s something straightforward or obvious, btw.
I’ve personally never had any interest in Romance as a genre, which is one of the reasons I’m so interested in my own responses to McLennon. Nor am I under 40, American, or straight fwtw.
“I’ve made a bit of a study on human sexuality”
This is a very interesting topic, but it strikes me as possibly *the* most difficult thing to study objectively. In The Subjection of Women John Stuart Mill talks about how impossible it is to theorise what we would all be like absent the patriarchy (those aren’t his terms, but I think it’s a fair summary). Our interactions under patriarchy are so complex and intertwined we can’t study what women and men would be like in a more equal society. I think that goes an order of magnitude more for what our sexual responses would be like absent patriarchy *and* absent shame and taboo around sex.
The results you describe are still very interesting though 🙂
I’m a verbaliser, I think better in conversation. I’d love to find a place where I can theorise about song lyrics and so on without either being written off as a weirdo, or affirmed in absolutely every suggestion. If anyone knows of such a space let me know 🙂
meaigs, I’d like to reply to your comment that “I’d love to find a place where I can theorise about song lyrics and so on without either being written off as a weirdo, or affirmed in absolutely every suggestion. If anyone knows of such a space let me know.”
HD has always aimed to be a place where the conversation is open but where evidence, sound reasoning, and respect for others’ opinions are also valued. However, some threads and topics consistently tend to produce more heat than light. The John/Paul conversation is one that got so personal and heated we had to shut down comments on the original thread. Now this thread — on a post which I wrote ABOUT the response to that other thread — appears to be trending that way. To be clear, I’m not saying this about you personally, I’m saying that as someone who’s been part of this blog for over ten years I’ve become able to identify trends in threads.
I want to reiterate and emphasize this statement from my post: “I believe we have the responsibility to discuss the lives of real people with care.”
What is inherent in desire and what is culturally specific or learned, is almost impossible to pull apart, in my opinion. My interest in human sexuality came from (in addition to being a human with a sexuality) a desire to understand ancient Rome and its sexual customs. Very complex.
If we talk about this in terms of comedy (I’m on firmer ground, having learned how to manipulate strangers in that way), there are certainly general principles that can be used. But (for example), the use of taboo as an accelerant for a joke — you take an average joke, add some shock, and it delivers a bigger laugh because of the discomfort in the listener related to taboo — what is taboo is entirely culturally dependent. Similarly, I sense that “two men who cannot show their Great Love” is an artifact of our current culture, because you just don’t see it in Beatles fan culture prior to 2000. If McLennon tapped into something really deep and primal in women — and once again, this is interesting; it would make more sense to me if gay men were promoting this fantasy, but they don’t seem to be — it would’ve existed from the start. What existed from the start, fiercely and visibly, was hetero female fans imagining themselves as partners; that’s all over fan behavior and memories. And I’ve read some gay men (Ginsburg for example) fantasizing about the Beatles; and some lesbians being inspired to BE a Beatle. But straight women casting Beatles as women and leading them through a same-sex affair? That’s new.
BTW, I have a theory why McLennon isn’t a gay male phenomenon: because they know what men act like when they’re fucking. Both sides of McLennon — the vision of John, the vision of Paul — don’t read as male to me, much less as gay men. They read as women. In McLennon, both John and Paul act like women in love not, in my experience, men in love.
I would be happy to set up an Open Thread where people who wanted to theorize about song lyrics and such could do so; would that scratch the itch? I’m all for discourse, but the problem is that McLennon theorizing takes over threads and crowds out other topics.
Speaking of No Words, another song on that album, Bluebird, has the line “All alone on a desert island”… Now, that is a very general thing to say and could be used for anything, but it reminds me of John’s desire to buy an island in Greece where only the Beatles and their families would live. Paul thought it was a terrible idea, naturally. It was a fantasy. John ultimately went from wanting to live on an island with the Beatles alone, to wanting to cut himself off from the Beatles.
@meaigs- I’m a second generation Beatles fan myself, around before the internet, and I had suspicions of McLennon before it was called McLennon.
Well, all I can say is this:
We had been running Dullblog for ten years, exploring every nook and cranny of Beatledom, entertaining all sorts of theories and topics, including ones involving homosexuality. THOUSANDS of fans came through here, reading and commenting. And while we all knew stuff like “John’s Little Princess,” the idea behind McLennon — that John and Paul carried on a torrid sexual affair for years while in the public eye, communicating through song lyrics, glances and stray touches, with the tolerance or ignorance of all the other main players in the story — was never mentioned.
Now, Nancy and I have to actively moderate against McLennon, if we want to talk about **anything else.** That’s something to note, and I don’t think it’s because we have a bunch of new and irrefutable data supporting this theory. I think a certain vocal subset of fandom is bored with what they call “the Official Narrative,” think that it’s male-dominated, and desperately want to create a new, queer version of John and Paul which doesn’t belong to 1965, but 2022. I don’t think there’s a bit wrong with that — it actually shows continued interest in the group — except when it crowds out the actual historical record. I would love a new version of John and Paul where they are not alienating to me as a disabled person. But they were who they were, not who I want them to be. History is not a consumer good (mostly).
That’s my honest guess as to what’s going on; Nancy and I are utterly puzzled, and it makes us want to shutter the site. Unless you’re fascinated by McLennon, it’s simply not that interesting, because it’s neither provable nor does it change the story much. If you always believed that John and Paul loved each other deeply, whether they had sex or not is…details?
And I never cared for romance novels. When I think a song is McLennon, I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. I used to think “Maybe I’m Amazed” might be about John, or partly about him, because of the lyric “You hung me on a line” which Paul said was an ugly turn from the mood that begins the song. So I thought, maybe he means that John hung him out to dry. But someone on here suggested that it’s an allusion to Linda’s photography, and she hung his pictures on a line (as in a darkroom). I thought it was a great interpretation. Of course, Howard Stern blew when he asked Paul if that one was about John.
@Michael, do men and women really act that differently when they’re in love? I know that men’s jealousy when it comes to their partners is said to be different from women’s jealousy, i.e., a woman tends not to worry so much about the sexual nature of her husband’s extramarital affair but rather the possibility that he is in love with the other woman. A man tends to obsess over the sex if he hears his wife/girlfriend is having an affair. But that is more attitude than behavior.
@Michelle, YMMV but in my experience, there are observable, reasonably common differences of behavior in courting, and especially sex, keyed to gender and orientation–especially in people of that generation. Physicality, aggression, overtness. It’s only recently that the genders have seemed to really narrow these differences; to my mind, this is a good thing — but it was not common in 1965. Both Paul and John were highly sexed, aggressive men; they kinda had to be, to make the Beatles happen. The idea that they’d suddenly turn into impish flirts, communicating in code? That doesn’t sound like Paul or John in 1965 to me; that sounds like how women court, gay and straight. And no shame there, but it’s different from how straight or certainly gay men seem to prepare for sex.
Variation is the norm in human sexuality, but…gosh, how do I say this? Everything I know about young men and sex suggests that if John and Paul were having sex in their early 20s, there would’ve been no hiding that. The frontal lobe isn’t developed enough for that kind of impulse control. Someone would’ve been caught doing something undeniable to someone, and it wouldn’t have been brushing pinkies, or longing looks, or communicating in songs. It would’ve been FUCKING. Never having had a female brain or body, I can’t speak to what a constant bath of flirting does to women; but having been a young man in my early 20s, all that flirting would’ve been followed by a TON of sex, or a lot of frustration and anger.
The Beatles really had NO privacy; and they had a gay manager compromised by the underworld; and a world press, not all of which was friendly. If John and Paul had been having sex, they would’ve been blackmailed; or if that had been suppressed, the price would’ve been so high and the story so explosive, we would certainly know about it now.
@Michael wrote: “BTW, I have a theory why McLennon isn’t a gay male phenomenon: because they know what men act like when they’re fucking.”
I think you’re right, at least about it not being a thing among gay men. I remember visiting DataLounge (often hilarious gay celebrity gossip site), and someone there started a John/Paul thread (“The Beatles were Bi”, I think was the title) that ended up being an enormous four-parter (one of the longer discussions as happened on your blog). Many of the regulars, presumably gay men, immediately detected that posters offering their McLennon “gossip” were probably straight girls and were kind of annoyed. It didn’t help that a lot of the posts had links with pictures of John and Paul and squeeing about how hot they were in their prime, so of course they were fucking. But who knows, some of the “believers” could have been gay men. It’s an anonymous site so it’s hard to tell. I remember Paul’s line from Tug of War (“In another world, we could stand on top of the mountain with our flag unfurled”) raised some giggles. Recently, in his book Paul said that the song isn’t about John. He wrote it in the months before his death. That surprised me, because George Martin who produced the album compared John and Paul’s relationship to a tug of war. But then Paul went on to say that he understands why people would think that because it does capture their relationship well.
Also? “Unfurled” rhymes with “world.” 🙂
I always assumed that “Tug of War” was about John, but that was because it was released after John’s death and everybody was JUST…SO…SAD.
Ironically, I suspect that J/P was fervently hoped-for among the London/NY gay demimonde in the 60s — but it never became a trope for a reason. It’s the lack of sources from then, or the 70s, or the 80s, that makes me so dubious. Yes, there’s the scrap about Lennon having lovers, but that’s not J/P. John’s bi-curiosity is, to me at least, well-proven.
Then or now, men who have sex with men are not known for the demureness of their desire; and gay men of that era were not known for their discretion when it comes to talking about celebrities in the closet. So I think J/P would’ve been exactly as well-kept a secret as Brian Epstein, which is to say, not a secret at all.
@Michael, but why not unfurled in THIS world? 🙂
Someone on the DataLounge thread concluded: “I don’t know if Lennon and McCartney had a sexual relationship, but they were certainly obsessed with each other.” Seems even the gay community can agree on that!
@Michael – I don’t really agree that we would know about John and Paul because no one would have kept it quiet.
People in the entertainment industry do keep secrets, and usually quite well. It’s a completely different thing, but look at Jimmy Savile. Everyone in the media had known about him for years, but they managed to keep it hidden from the public.
The other thing is that people in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were generally better at minding their own business. Society in general was more homophobic then, but at the same time, most people had a live and let live attitude. If there were rumours about John and Paul, I think it’s absolutely plausible that they would have been industry rumours, and that the public would not have known about them. Had the public found out about them, I suspect the prevailing reactions would have been, ‘So what?’ or ‘None of my business, I don’t want to know’, as they were when the John/Epstein rumours came out.
Outside of Beatles fandom, I doubt whether most people would care if they found out John and Paul were lovers. No one cared about John and Epstein, not really, just as no one cares about John and David Bowie.
@Elizabeth, I think that’s a reasonable opinion, though I differ.
I work in the entertainment business, as does my wife, as do many of our friends, so I can speak to this a bit.
Yes, secrets get kept, but they are secrets for current stars or execs — people still making lots of people money — and secrets *so terrible* that their revelation would utterly destroy the reputations of the people involved. A gay affair between two men in the 1960s, one of whom is decades-dead, and the other who is about to turn 80…that would not be more than three days on the news cycle, IMHO. It would be as if Mick and Keith were revealed to have been screwing in 1965. That’s so who cares I can barely type it.
I know only the barest details about Jimmy Savile (and yuck!), but Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson were all the subject of much, much rumor before the rumors were confirmed. But the rumors were confirmed.
Besides there being no current crime here, John and Paul differ in several important regards from these guys:
1) The Beatles ended in 1970, 52 years ago, and John died ten years after that.
2) There was a period in the seventies where not only had the rock world largely moved on from The Beatles, it was actually good for a male rockstar’s career to be known as bisexual. If McLennon had been a real thing, there would’ve been great commercial pressure to reveal it then.
3) The decades since have seen a vast amount of information released about The Beatles, and in none of these releases do we have anything definitive. If McLennon had been a real thing, John and Paul would’ve had their version of John’s holiday with Brian. (And if you want to say John and Paul’s trip to Paris was that thing, I would agree with you — once again, I think they probably DID fool around as teenagers; where I push back is an ongoing affair.) Ongoing sexual affairs, especially between two of the most surveilled people in human history, and during the time where plenty of people thought they were crypto-homosexuals just for wearing long hair, would’ve been rooted out. Did something happen in India? Maaaaaybe? But the fact that all this attention on this topic, and all these people fascinated with it, can only come up with meaningful glances and interpretation of song lyrics strongly suggests there’s nothing there.
4) Finally, people from Apple monitor the internet; they listen to podcasts, they read this site. “Queering” the Beatles via a John/Paul romance is something clearly deeply in tune with contemporary youth culture. Yes, some older fans would be outraged, but you’ve already gotten their money, and they’re going to be dead much more quickly than some 16-year-old watching YouTube videos.
So all these things inform my opinion. YMMV.
BTW, people here in the States very much cared about John/Brian; that was the crux of the battle over Goldman’s book, and Rolling Stone devoted basically an entire issue to refuting it. (Yes, there were other things (drugs; the Ballad), but John’s possible bisexuality, and his supposed affair with Brian Epstein, was what offended people the most. But 2022 is not 1987, and a queer John Lennon would rehabilitate John in the eyes of many under-30s, as well as give Paul McCartney a cultural relevance that he hasn’t had since “Mull of Kintyre.”)
As a part-time McLennon “truther” who also tends to also be a little frustrated with the specific kind of romantic narrativization that’s making it into the mainstream rn, ime the fandom over-romanticization tends to, ironically, come from corners who are uncomfortable with the potential sexual aspect.
Sure, there’s a lot of young people just having fun (and that’s fine! and good tbh!), but weirdly I find that it’s the actual fanfic authors who are good at separating their romantic fiction from what they actually believe, whereas its the self proclaimed counter-historians who make the more “fanficcey” logical leaps which boil the whole relationship down to “romance” under the auspice that they’re NOT saying they ever had sex. You’ll notice that both the ULM youtube series and the AKOM podcast (openly discussed, and I believe alluded to, in this conversation)- the main vehicles filtering this theory into the mainstream – are very committed to the whole thing being a one-sided sexual fixation from John’s end, with Paul being a straight guy with “romantic but platonic” love for him. This allows for a safe space to be like “they were in love and that’s what it’s all about!” without committing to the “extreme” position (ie: the one that feels invasive to speculate on, and which would upset “normies”) that mutual attraction, sublimated through their musical partnership, was a driving force in the relationship (although certainly not the only force).
I tend to have the same position you do – that if anything happened, it was that they fooled around when they were younger, and perhaps sporadically afterwards but with decreasing frequency as they got older; ofc, growing up at a time where jerking off the lads at boarding school wasn’t considered queer, and wherein working class (and lower middle class) ppl didn’t rly have any access to gay identity (which was largely an upper class and/or lumpenprole/bohemian thing). A change in perspective on this internal identity issue (John, being more “bohemian” minded; Paul, remaining mentally “working class” to this day) might be at the core of the Lennon/McCartney breakup, but there are many, many other fissures that do not necessarily rely on it.
I don’t think it’s so much that younger people are trying to find their way into the Beatles myth as that it’s just actually extremely obvious that these two guys were obsessively pre-occupied with each other, and the “kids” just have no context for the historic class/identity factors involved (which is I gs p much what you said, but I think it has to do more with the way the AIDS crisis destroyed the continuity of Queer history; the current popular view of LGBT identity is frankly ahistoic). For older people into “McLennon”, it’s that they don’t want to commit to saying they think these guys were sexually attracted to each other – or at least they’re uncomfortable questioning Paul’s sexuality; I disagree that the focus on “John was closeted” is about rehabilitating him, since this proposed scenario does not make him come out smelling like roses except to the kind of politically conscious straight people who think they have to treat being gay is some kind of virtue. When I explain the John/Paul relationship to my own gay friends, the reactions tend to be along the lines of: “woof, I had one of those [undefined dramatic non-relationship relationships] when I was 16. What a nightmare!” I think its a combo of, like, the fact it’s obvious there was something going on with John’s internal conception of his sex/gender, and also that it’s easier to believe that “degenerate bohemian” John would be covering something like that up. ie: there’s actual evidence for it from John’s own mouth, but also John fits our cultural stereotypes of a “homophobic bc he’s gay” guy, or a “try anything once!” guy. Yeah, yeah, most of us have read Phillip Norman’s dubiously attributed to Yoko “bohemian experimentation” quote. I do believe that John’s complicated relationship with his sexuality is a missing factor, perhaps even a rosetta stone, in the historical analysis of his life and the terminal degeneration of his mental health, but I also think that’s in many ways a separate factor from his relationship with Paul and also has angles and complications to it not often considered by “McLennons” (your “was there at the time” female friend thinks the suggestion is absurd; my “was there at the time” mother – who is gay and has known a LOT of closeted queers – thinks that John might have been trans and not known it; it’s true that we all see things based on our personal experience).
In that light, I will also say that I think there *IS* some merit to the idea that maybe women are seeing something here men aren’t, not in the sense that women are more ~emotionally intuitive~ (I think this is a VERY conveniently unassailable authority to assign to yourself tbh, lmao), but bc these kind of jealous, possessive, “familiarity breeds contempt” rival-friendships tend to be more common in teen girls than teen boys due to gendered socialization. It’s absolutely not unheard of in men, ofc, its just that “BFF necklaces” aren’t exactly marketed to both genders if you get what I mean. John being raised in a feminine environment is an overlooked factor here, I think. He had a life-long pattern of picking out “special friends” and engaging in a Performance Of Partnership with them, as part of his own ego-protection tactics, but also as a way to socially control his “gang”. For all the rigours and violence of his over-exerted (and sometimes genuinely terrifying) masculine exterior, John was also a – self professed, even – master of feminine-coded “mean girl” mind games.
Honestly, I think that Bob Wooler and Phil Spector’s comparisons of John and Paul to Leopold and Loeb might hold some indirect truth despite obviously being derogatory and actively shit-stirring respectively. Not in the “gay murderers” way, but in the sense that they had a particular combination of unique one-of-a-kind respect (they were both on pedestals in each other’s eyes), resentful jealous competition (obvs moreso on John’s end, but oh boy Paul was in it to win too), and erotic fascination (explored or not), which made them simultaneously close but wary of each other, and drove them – bolstered by each other’s support, desperate to “prove” something, and completely high on sniffing their shared farts- to extreme actions they otherwise wouldn’t have been capable of on their own. Only in their case, instead of committing a murder what they did together was create a deeply beautiful, innocent, inspiring, and historically significant piece of art (the Beatles songbook). Personally, that’s why I’m so obsessed with it: the fact that what they created is so tender and joyful despite having a relationship with valleys as deep as the peaks, and a breakup with the blast radius of Hiroshima.
Anyway, I’m definitely narrativizing too, lol, but since you seem so eternally vexed but also genuinely curious about this, I thought I’d explain a different side of “McLennonism”, since what you mostly get on this blog IS the “fully romantic” angle. I thought you might be interested in the “so, you’ve got this Dungeons and Dragons group, and there’s two people whose characters are dating, but THEY’RE not dating. Anyways that’s why you don’t have a Dungeons and Dragons group anymore” angle.
@Tactical Orange, this is a fascinating comment which I must respond to but will not do justice because I am likely coming down with COVID (mild case! wife sick all week, she’s fine now, MG healthy but typing with a tickle in his throat).
I am indeed “eternally vexed but also genuinely curious” about the McLennon subculture for a couple of reasons.The first is that when I study something historical, I look for the points of change. I sense that something’s up with McLennon, that it is a change, a marker of something new. Something very digital, something different in how post-internet fans are interacting with this cultural artifact The Beatles, why they love them and what they use them for. My twigging to McLennon in this way is similar to how I am “eternally vexed but genuinely curious” about the persistence of Paul Is Dead. Both PID and McLennon were aspects of Beatle fandom that certainly existed from 1978-85 when I was deepest into it — when Beatle fandom was my life, and life raft — but neither notion seemed to exert such a hold on a segment of the fandom. They did not, in the term I overuse these days, do important emotional work for lots of fans then, whereas they definitely seem to today.
So, as a lay historian: What does McLennon say about who Beatles fans are today? What does McLennon say about how the world is today? We need this new story precisely because 2022 is not 1962 or 1972 or 1982, and it may tell us something important about what has changed.
But there is a second reason McLennon stirs me. My own Beatles fandom is inextricably linked to two related things: 1) my own bohemian boyhood in the 1970s, which included lots and lots of exposure to directly post-Stonewall LGBT sexual culture/mores, and 2) my fascination with the massive, worldwide cultural changes from 1959 to 1980, which basically ended with AIDS. When I get impatient with the McLennon tribe it is in part frustration over my inability to explain what 1) and 2) were like, and how different they were from today. And, to be blunt, my sense of grief over what was lost.
You get to this point quite nicely: “the AIDS crisis destroyed the continuity of Queer history; the current popular view of LGBT identity is frankly ahistoric.”
YES. YES. YES.
If we’re having a serious discussion of male sexuality as practiced by two guys raised in Liverpool in the 1940s and 50s, we have to start from where they started from, not from where we are now. The things they feared and what attracted them, the idioms in which they’d express themselves, what they hoped to achieve via free expression of their sexuality–all these were generational. In 1965, when John dressed as Elvis–or in Hamburg, when they were in leathers–what was being conveyed? How can we tell?
And then we must address the rockstar bubble. The Beatles occupied a position, sexually speaking, that no more than a handful of human beings ever have. They had access to endless numbers of willing partners of either sex and any gender presentation; recent and temporary medical advancements made them immune to any serious health consequences for indulging in sexual behavior; the circumstance of Hamburg meant that they were aware of, and probably experienced in, the widest possible range of sexual practices from the very beginning of Beatlemania; and they existed within an era where free sexual expression was considered both culturally appropriate and politically essential. Whatever John and Paul’s personal sexual journey might have been, this rockstar overlay supercharged it. As did the drug culture.
My frustration with McLennon is that it often feels like contemporary fans are insisting that The Beatles “be like them” in terms of sexuality, which we can know for sure that they were not. Most McLennon people seem to be heterosexual or bisexual women and, mirabile dictu!, the story is of a beautiful, sensitive, deeply talented but misunderstood human being the semi-willing object of an obsessive, angry, often violent human being’s desire. In other words, a description of the conundrum faced by heterosexual or bisexual women.
To make John and Paul into something we know they were not–either het/bi women; or us, today–not only is it denying their personhood, who and what they actually were, it also denies us the broadening, humbling and ennobling effects of studying History. There is alienation inherent in it, and overcoming that alienation is where the riches reside.
Finally, this sleight-of-hand threatens to paper over the great cultural, artistic, and personal cataclysm that was AIDS. Beatle-world is on the far side of that; we’re over on this side, and we can’t cross the gulf if we can’t see it.
This stuff changes, we must always be aware of that. I keep thinking of three movies I saw recently–“The Queen,” “The Boys in the Band,” and “Wigstock.” The first two films are glimpses of American male homosexual culture as ti was during the late Beatle era. The third was released the same year I moved from Seattle’s Capitol Hill to the West Village; it is a slice of Gen X homosexual culture. Very, very different; and today’s LGBTQIA culture is different still.
I remember the culture where John Lennon–like so many of his generation–seemed to be coming out a bit; whether he was bisexual or merely growing, that kind of male unarmoring was rampant throughout the culture, and it was deeply, deeply threatening to many. There was a tremendous backlash, and the loss of people like John hurt because he wasn’t there to call bullshit. Then AIDS hit, and changed everything.
I’m rambling. Good points, @Tactical. I’m going to go take a nap! 🙂
“the AIDS crisis destroyed the continuity of Queer history” @Tactical Orange
This is so terribly sad, but also fascinating. The Beatles had multiple connections with British gay culture; Bob Wooler from the very beginning, (though it’s unclear to me when they found out he was gay), Brian Epstein (obviously), later Robert Fraser, to name just three. See also Mike’s comments above about Hamburg. But your point, combined with the secrecy required at the time, might make it very difficult to discover how they talked about it.
I’ve been very curious recently about what the “discourse” would have been like in the late 60’s, and wondering who to ask about it. I’d love to know how old the phrase “love is love” is in gay circles (cf Things We Said Today), or how people would have related to the word “nature” (cf Mother Nature’s Son and Child of Nature). Were people in the late sixties explicitly rejecting the idea of homosexuality as “unnatural” in their conversations? In my more “tin-hat” moments I imagine John and Paul discussing gay liberation in India.
“And if that was America, post-Sexual Revolution, I can only imagine that 1950s Liverpool was as much or more buttoned up, not less. ” @Michael Gerber
I think this assumption might be a mistake. American culture is very heavily influenced by puritanism in a way that doesn’t necessarily apply in the UK. (I’m going to take a risk and speak of that which I do not know. The following is all from the perspective of an outsider, and I really hope it doesn’t appear to diminish anyone’s experience of homophobia). I have the impression that there are old mores where a blind eye would *generally* be turned if you keep discrete — especially in the entertainment industry. For example, when Nigel Hawthorne played King George he was “outed” in American newspapers. I wish I could find the quote, but he expressed surprise that anyone cared that “two old puffs” were living together. You were still at risk of severe consequences if you upset the wrong people (eg Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing), but there were to some degree ways of being quietly gay.
There’s also a fascinating hint in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu0irAmKspw around the 19:40 mark, that Paul’s family might have been fairly enlightened on such things. The video is from Paul McCartney and Wings 1979, and it’s a section where Paul’s family are having a get-together. Two men have, what looks to me like, a slightly defiant romantic kiss for the camera. I don’t think that’s my imagination, but I’ve never seen comment on it.
@ Meaigs quote: The Beatles had multiple connections with British gay culture; Bob Wooler from the very beginning, (though it’s unclear to me when they found out he was gay), Brian Epstein (obviously), later Robert Fraser,
Don’t forget Joe Flannery, or Victor Spinetti; or even Jurgen Vollmer, who was in love with George, and arguably the first fan to hold up signs proclaiming “I Love George!”
Royston Ellis, who told the Beatles that 1 in 4 men is gay. To which Paul later recalled thinking, “That means one of us [the Beatles] is gay!” Between that and his statement that John couldn’t have been the least bit gay because he never made a pass at him, Paul is clueless when it comes to gay people. Or maybe he’s just playing dumb.
Rumor has it that the real reason John beat up Wooler was because he made a pass at him. Makes sense. The John/Brian rumors, jokes and innuendos were rampant already. Why would it suddenly make John fly into a rage? Wooler once said that John reminded him of Kirk Douglas and that, like Douglas, he was adored by both sexes.
Exactly! Your mention of Spinetti reminded me how much queer coding is in A Hard Day’s Night. I’ve heard that the novelisation includes more, stuff that was presumably cut from the original script. I’ve ordered a copy, but it hasn’t arrived yet.
@Alicia Mills – See, this is why I think it’s … naïve, to say the least, to think that there couldn’t have been a sexual element to John and Paul’s relationship because they were a product of 1950s Liverpool and because Paul was ‘immovably heterosexual’ and ended up having 10 kids. So what?
Yes, they were a product of 1950s Liverpool. They also had a homosexual manager, who turfed out the one band member who refused to have sex with him. Who knows, maybe Pete Best really was a rubbish drummer. Or maybe that wouldn’t have mattered if he hadn’t turned Epstein’s proposition down. Let’s face it, John didn’t – because he knew the score. There is literally no difference between him agreeing to go to Spain with Brian Epstein, and some young actress sleeping with Harvey Weinstein to get a role in a film. The Beatles came from nothing, all of them. It’s utterly naïve to think they didn’t do whatever they had to do to make it big.
Sorry if any of this offends Epstein’s fans out there. I know there are quite a few of them. God knows why. A creepier individual is hard to imagine – just looking at photographs of him sends a cold shiver down my spine. I’m not at all surprised that he liked ‘young boys’, though I think it’s a bit depressing that no one ever talks about what that statement means.
@Elizabeth, Brian had sex with John, Paul, George and Ringo? And got Pete fired because he wouldn’t have sex with him? “They also had a homosexual manager, who turfed out the one band member who refused to have sex with him.”
I’m right there with you that Brian and John were probably lovers, and that Brian propositioned a lot of his talent, and that it’s gross and unethical behavior–but nobody’s ever come forward to say that Brian refused to represent them or destroyed their careers because they wouldn’t sleep with him. That’s a big claim, and a new claim, and I think we’d have to really see a lot of data to accept it. ( look forward to hearing more.
If Brian had been a monster, The Beatles would’ve extricated themselves from him at their first opportunity, no? And if he’d been a pedophile, surely that would’ve come out in the years after his death, right? I don’t claim to know Brian’s heart, and frankly my vision of him is pretty dark. But I think being a drug addicted, swindled, multiply blackmailed gay man interested in rough trade was about as risky as his life could’ve been without it preventing him from being able to do what we know he did — helping create the most successful act in the history of show biz. If there were any more skeletons in his closet, someone like the Krays would’ve stepped in.
@Meaigs…I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the book! I should also look that up on Amazon.
@Michelle…and even Dusty Springfield, though she was lesbian (not sure if she fits into the convo about the people known to be male and gay, who surrounded The Beatles.
“I think this assumption might be a mistake. American culture is very heavily influenced by puritanism in a way that doesn’t necessarily apply in the UK.”
This is an example of the ahistorical stance @Tactical mentioned. History answers this question, so let’s apply it.
You’re right, America is repressed, but it’s likely America’s English heritage that makes it so: the Puritans came from England. And not ALL of America is repressed, either: the areas of America NOT settled by English/Scots/Irish stock are in general more sexually free, even today. The Bible Belt (less free)? English/Scots/Irish. New Orleans (more free)? French/Creole/African. America’s big polyglot (read: non-WASP) cities, places like NYC/Chicago/SF/LA, created the modern Gay Liberation Movement, and have gay neighborhoods known worldwide: according to Wikipedia, “the annual gay pride festivals in Berlin, Cologne, and other German cities are known as Christopher Street Days or ‘CSD”s'”–Christopher Street being the epicenter of NYC’s former gay homeland, the West Village, and the site of the famous Stonewall Inn.
Between the Victorian Era and the 1960s — the same time that American cities were assumed to be boiling pots of vice, including homosexual activity — British sexual repression was so commonly assumed it was a punchline, like French people’s love of wine. Were there sexually adventurous Brits living in the UK between 1901-60? Sure, tons. There were also French people who didn’t like wine. But British culture’s anti-sex shorthand — “No sex, please; we’re British”–expressed something Brits themselves identified with, and found durably important. And not for nothing, people like Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden first went to Berlin, and then the States, to live freely as homosexuals.
There is a big caveat to this reading, which is the homosexual, and often S/M, subculture of the British public school. That did exist, and was tolerated–because of the social cachet and financial power of the upper class students involved. A rather weaker version of this existed in the States–our first openly gay celebrity, a man named Lucius Beebe, was a product of prep schools and Yale. But both in the US and UK, this subculture had definite limits, as you mentioned with Wilde and Turing. You could live closeted, like Brian Epstein. But if you were interested in living your sexuality openly, like Quentin Crisp, family money wouldn’t save you. You needed a society-wide change, a Revolution, for that.
At the dawn of the Sixties, the North of England was considered to be much more traditional, and much less hip, than London, and London was considered to be much more traditional, and much less hip, than big cities in the States. That was why The Beatles were so surprising, especially their success in America, “which already had everything.” That’s why the “Angry Young Man” books and plays were set in the Midlands — the protagonists are desperate to break out of a fundamentally narrow English provincial society.
The Sexual Revolution did in fact happen; the Pill was in fact invented; community standards did loosen. These were each big changes in how people lived, and taken together it was an earthquake. And so, after all this data, to entertain the idea that Liverpool middle- and working-class schoolboys in 1950 were less repressed, more accepting of homosex, and more worldly than their Chicagoland counterparts thirty-five years later is…well, it argues against the entire settled history of those thirty-five years in both the UK and US.
TODAY, kids in Liverpool, England, UK may or may not be hipper than their counterparts in Oak Park, IL, USA–which is what spurred your confusion. But we are not talking about contemporary sexual culture, which is to a large degree flattened and universalized by the internet. We are talking about the past, and when all the history says sexual mores changed in a certain way after 1960, we can assume that the mores of a rather conservative region of England pre-Sexual Revolution were less free than a rather liberal region of America after the Sexual Revolution.
“I have the impression that there are old mores where a blind eye would *generally* be turned if you keep discreet — especially in the entertainment industry…there were to some degree ways of being quietly gay.”
Entertainment has always been loaded with gay people, not least because (in general) if a person made sufficient money, they could pursue their sexual interests without penalty. (Which is why Christopher Isherwood moved to Hollywood.) But what happened in the 60s and 70s — what is meant by “the Sexual Revolution” — is that sexual mores loosened for normal people, not just Greta Garbo. Garbo could always have any lover she wanted, and this was equally true in Berlin or London or Hollywood; what happened in the 60s and 70s is that normal average people could, to some degree, have that same freedom she did.
Is this still true? Yes, although Fascist movements worldwide will attack it. They are aided by repression; they like the unhappy people it creates, the ability to grant special favors to Party members, and the possibility for blackmail.
“The Beatles had multiple connections with British gay culture”
As entertainers, The Beatles’ professional and personal lives were loaded with gay people. Sexual freedom is, in part, what drives people into entertainment, The Beatles included. Showbiz is very insecure, and filled with all sorts of nonsense; you need an extraordinary reason to do it. Often, one’s sexuality is that extraordinary reason.
There are certain fields–show biz, art–where sexual difference is the norm. The four young men who formed The Beatles needed that, craved it–they did not want monogamy leading to marriage, which is what was on offer in Liverpool in 1957–so they started a band. The sex was the point, and remained the point for years after that. It is sensible to consider The Beatles to be extremely sexually knowledgable, experienced, and tolerant, and that many, many people in their orbit were homo- or bisexual, whether or not history has recorded them as such. This fits with the common run of showbiz people from at least 1920, when entertainment was industrialized.
I’m actually trying to add historical and cultural context. Sure, puritanism came out of England, but they left because they were too extreme in their views for English culture. There was an _old_ gay culture in England, old enough to have their own language (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polari). Gay Pride likely couldn’t have come out of England, but there were established paths for young gay men between the extremes of total repression, and complete ostracisation.
And that culture was something John, Paul, George and Ringo had access to from very early on.
“ And that culture was something John, Paul, George and Ringo had access to from very early on.”
Based on what evidence?
I’m well aware of the existence of Polari (a combination of cockney slang, gypsy words and other argot used by gay men in the UK), but this very thing argues against your point.
Polari existed precisely to keep outsiders from penetrating the gay subculture. Because straight Society was DANGEROUS to gay people. The idea that pre-Hamburg Beatle boys knew ANYTHING about gay culture (past whatever might’ve leaked over from art school), there’s simply no evidence for it. This is precisely why Hamburg was so essential to their story.
Prior to the Internet, sexual subcultures were not accessible to people outside those cultures, and to get into them took significant work. This was for the physical protection of the people in the subcultures.
Polari is actually a really wonderful marker of how the Sexual Revolution progresses. From a secret language used for protection until the early 60s, it became more widely known in the 60s from the camp BBC comedy “Julian and Sandy” from 1964-68. After decriminalizion and Gay Lib, when gays were less under mortal threat, the use of Polari declined. Today it is considered similar to Yiddish, an interesting language formed by a specific historical time and place, that should be preserved as an historical object.
Britain’s tradition of camp Showbiz, which had its analogue here in the States, does not suggest that any of the Beatles were familiar with any significant sexual subcultures prior to Hamburg. And thinking that they must’ve been is a misunderstanding based on our contemporary culture of immediate access to vast quantities of information—especially sexual content.
In fact, it’s possible that none of the Beatles had even regular access to pornography before Hamburg. These were not soldiers or sailors; they were boys living at home with their parents, with access to condoms at best. They were likely not very experienced with straight sex, much less gay subcultures.
In the past, people were much more siloed; there was a well-defined mainstream and definite undergrounds. The Beatles were a combination of several subcultures into something so attractive that those subcultures became mainstream. And The Beatles’ mainstreaming of certain things (like rock and took, sexuality, art and less restrictive male grooming) both hastened and was informed by the Sexual Revolution that seems to have been cooking throughout the West since the late 50s.
@Michael Gerber – There are plenty of rumours about Epstein’s links to Joe Meeks, Alan Freeman and Lord Boothby, and it’s well known that the Krays were in the business of procuring young boys. Did Epstein proposition the other Beatles? Course he did. Why would he only proposition two of them?
On the other hand, maybe I’m just too cynical. Then again, if Lewisohn ever does finish his second book, maybe he will find an innocent explanation for Epstein’s links to paedophile rings. I’ll certainly be interested to read it.
“Why would he only proposition two of them?”
Because…he was only attracted to two of them?
“Rumors” of pedophilia were commonly used to smear gay men, and still are. So we should employ a pretty high standard of evidence here.
Attraction to rough trade and perhaps BDSM is a different constellation of attraction than pedophilia; pedophilia is a very specific sexuality, and was then what it is now: basically the “third rail” for the rest of society. Pedophilia, not just sex with men or getting whipped by Coldstream Guardsmen (to name first what we know, and then what has been rumored, about Brian’s sexual behavior) is basically the only thing that could’ve threatened a man in Brian’s position.
If he was doing that, we’d know about it by now; his life has been well-studied. One could with as much substance accuse anyone in the Beatles circle of being a pedophile; and this would be unlikely, for the same reasons.
@Michael Gerber – The rumours about Brian Epstein’s links to paedophile rings have nothing to do with him being gay. It’s unfortunate that gay men were accused of paedophilia, and of course very wrong, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Krays procured young boys for parties that Epstein attended or that several people have stated that Brian ‘liked young boys’. Cilla is one who springs to mind; I know there are others.
Being gay is not a get out of jail free card and nor should being the manager of the Beatles. Brian Epstein should be subject to the same scrutiny as everyone else, but he isn’t and it’s wrong.
@Elizabeth, nobody’s suggesting that Brian get a “get out of jail free card.” But that’s a heavy claim, and it needs heavy evidence.
To be clear, by “very early on” I meant post-Hamburg.
My point is that you said “male homosexuality was a Rubicon you had to cross, with your family and friends on one side, and only sexuality on the other” in the Midwest in 1985, and then “I can only imagine that 1950s Liverpool was as much or more buttoned up, not less”. I don’t think you’re comparing like with like. I obviously don’t know what level of awareness the boys had of gay subculture at what point, but by the time the Beatles were regularly sharing hotel rooms and hiding in bathrooms together they had seen a lot, and quite possibly done a lot.
By the time they made A Hard Day’s Night they were making in-jokes that (as far as I can tell) rely on gay subculture.
I’m *not* saying they were behaving, thinking or talking along the lines of modern tumblr fantasies, but I do think it’s possible that they were initiated into subcultures that are very opaque to us. And if they were they would have been very secretive about it (while reveling in they type of in-joke that would have meant nothing to the uninitiated).
@Meaigs, then we’re in agreement. And to be clear, my point about 1950/1985 is that anywhere in the US/UK in 1985 was more accepting of sexual behavior, especially forms that were considered non-normative, than anywhere in the US/UK had been in 1950. I wasn’t saying that Liverpool or the UK were particularly benighted, just that the Sexual Revolution and Gay Lib needed to happen, and did happen, and had certain effects that, if one was born long after them, one takes as inevitable. We shouldn’t take them as inevitable; that’s how they get whittled away.
Where are these gay subculture “in-jokes” in AHDN? I’d love to know! As you gather, I’m an appreciator of gay subculture of that time.
@MG that’s what I thought. I just wanted to add nuance 🙂
The main scene that I have in mind is in the makeup room (where Paul quotes Shakespeare and turns to camera and says “zap!”). The most blatant part is:
John (referring to Ringo): He’s reading “The Queen”. That’s an in-joke, you know.
Grandfather: It’s my considered opinion that you’re a bunch of sissies.
John: You’re just jealous.
Norm (the Epstein analog): Leave him alone, Lennon, or I’ll tell them all the truth about you.
John: You wouldn’t.
Norm; I would, though.
Someone on another website quoted the following excerpt from a review of the 1991 movie Hours and Times (about John and Brian’s vacation in Spain).
***Locating queer appeal in the mythology of the Beatles is not as idiosyncratic a choice as some may think. The anarchic attitude and easy intimacy of the band, especially as depicted in A Hard Day’s Night, has long offered a twinge of promise for the queer viewer. In that film, the four handsome mop-tops are themselves the queering agents, running roughshod over proper society (“Give us a kiss,” John says at one point to a straight in a suit). Meanwhile, followers of gay British culture might find Lester’s casting of Wilfrid Brambell, who plays Paul’s omnipresent, disconcertingly libidinous “grandfather,” of interest—the gay Brambell had been arrested in a public restroom in 1962 for “indecent acts.” (Queer cinephiles may also know that Brambell would later play Terence Davies’s elderly surrogate in his wrenching 1983 short Death and Transfiguration.) In fact, The Hours and Times, which uses the bathroom as a place of sexual initiation, seems to consciously evoke the playful homoeroticism of A Hard Day’s Night, in which a presumably naked John plays with submarine toys in the bubble bath, while George shaves in the mirror mere feet away.***
I’d love to hear a take on AHDN from someone from within that culture at that time. I’m at so many removes, I really get the feeling that I’m missing a lot.
@Michael Gerber – OK, so let me put it a different way. When someone like Cilla or Peter Brown or anyone else in a position to know the truth about Epstein says to a journalist, “Brian liked young boys”, the next question out of that journalist’s mouth should be, “What? What does that mean?” There’s no data because no one has ever asked that question. Why? Because they don’t want the answer. And nor do most Beatles fans, who read statements like that and pretend they don’t know what it means.
If Lewisohn wants to write the definitive Beatles story, he should go and do some research into what Brian’s ‘pink ballets’ actually looked liked, including what the ‘entertainment’ was and who supplied it. He is in a position to provide the data, but he won’t because he can’t because it would be too damaging.
@Elizabeth, I think you’re assuming a lot here—not every journalist was sympathetic—but if there is any fire behind this smoke, surely there are people with first hand experience still living. Someone must dig, and perhaps you are that person! It would surely be a correction to Beatles history.
Elizabeth: My understanding has always been that Brian fired Pete Best at the urging of the band, and that it wasn’t something he was especially enthusiastic about doing. Didn’t Brian offer Pete a spot in a different group? I think you may be attributing more power to Brian at this stage than he actually had. At this point, he was really just a guy who ran a record store that the Beatles had asked to be their manager, not someone who necessarily had a lot of clout in the music industry. That’s also why I can’t see him as a Harvey Weinstein type; Weinstein was a powerful industry insider with the power to ruin careers. At any rate, I think it’s clear that Pete wasn’t a great drummer or a good fit with the band–they seem to have kept him on for so long out of convenience. I won’t comment on the other stuff you say about Brian as I haven’t seen the quotes or anecdotes you mention, but I find it hard to believe that we wouldn’t have heard about it yet if Brian had propositioned the other members of the band. (I also suspect that they wouldn’t have stuck with Brian if they hadn’t basically liked and trusted him.)
@J.D. – I don’t think it matters whether Brian Epstein was like Harvey Weinstein or not. The point is he had power over them. Maybe he did only have a record shop at that point (well, actually, he must have been a lot better connected than that because he got them a record deal), but they saw him as an authority figure, which he was.
People talk about John’s trip to Spain like he had a choice. Well, I suppose he could have said no, but he was hardly in a position to. Brian had all the power in the relationship – he was even providing John and Cynthia with a flat. He ‘invited’ John to accompany him to Spain, but it was obviously more of an order than a request.
I think this power disparity is something John never forgot, and informed his business decisions from then on.
But we also should put it into context of such relationships at the time; managers of pop stars were notoriously rapacious fickle and crooked, and the casting couch was expected. Brian’s activities should be put in that context, and within that context, he is frequently singled out as less harmful rather than more.
Please understand: I’m not excusing or approving of any of this, only saying that this was the business at that time. The Beatles could’ve been ruined by their management, like Hendrix or Sam Cooke or Badfinger. They were not; indeed Brian’s often given as a reason for their success. The shift of power to the artist was yet another thing the Beatles (and indirectly Epstein) helped change.
There’s also the line in AHDN where Paul says, “No actually, we’re just good friends” when asked if he sees his father often. Someone on DataLounge, an anonymous gay forum, wrote: “Richard Lester never showed eye contact between Paul and John during A Hard Day’s Night. It was so absent you started looking for it.” Interesting; something I hadn’t noticed. There is one scene where they do get up close and personal in a corridor of the train, but I’m not sure that’s the kind of gay subtext we’re talking about here. Speaking of gay subtext, Paul recently gave an interview in which he talked about his love for the scene in Calamity Jane where a cross-dressing Doris Day sings ‘Secret Love’. That scene was featured in the documentary The Celluloid Closet as having defied Hollywood’s infamous Hays Code.
Just to add to what @Elizabeth has already said, John’s ‘cellarful of boys’ quip about was absolutely loaded and probably not half the joke people took it for. And there has always been a strange, disingenuous air to any Beatle discussion of Pete Best’s firing. Whether or not it had anything to do with the penchants of Brian, there is at the least a degree of subterfuge and obfuscation involved that makes it generally suspicious.
The novelisation of A Hard Day’s Night arrived. I’m only on p. 22 and it’s already fun:
“Don’t let our Paul have his own way all the time” he said. “If you do, he won’t respect you.”
Ringo shrieked and fell into Paul’s arms. George coyly minced around him. “Oh, Paul, you can’t have your own way!”.
“If I let you have your own way, you little rascal,” murmured John in a smoky Marlene Dietrich voice, “will you respect me?”
Paul, choked and furious, gave his grandfather one backward glance as he was waltzed away towards an empty table.
HOLY SHIT 🙂
@Michael Gerber – It’s not my job to dig; I’m not writing the definitive story of the Beatles. I’m just pointing out that any examination of ‘queer culture’ as it relates to the Beatles needs to start with an honest look at Epstein.
@Elizabeth, I was merely suggesting that someone like yourself who has such a strong opinion about this topic could, if they wanted to, find out the truth behind it even today.
Pedophilia has nothing to do with “queer culture.” This is how I’ve been trying to refine this conversation; male homosexuality, queer culture, and pedophilia are three distinct topics, requiring three different investigatory approaches. Pedophilia is a crime, requiring evidence, testimony, etc. These things are possible in the case of Brian Epstein, even today, but until we have that, it’s purely speculation. And since pedophilia is such an upsetting arena, I’m taking pains to keep our conversation friendly, as precise as possible, and less heated.
Everybody: unless you have something verifiable on this topic–an unambiguous quote, a link to a news story with a survivor–I’d ask that we move on. I personally find the possibility upsetting–as who would not?–and the proof seems rather thin (Cilla Black, Lennon’s quip). With actual Beatle crimes, I think it’s important that we hold our speculation to a high standard.
MG wrote: “@Elizabeth, I think you’re assuming a lot here…”
Assuming? More like making shit up. It goes beyond cynicism and into misanthropy to always see the worst in people, even things that don’t exist. She must have had some bad experiences in her life to project this kind of thing onto others. And whoever said that John’s “Cellarful of Boys” is a loaded quip – no it’s not. It’s an obvious parody of Brian’s book title, one that he put on a tee for anyone with a smidgen of humor. “Cellarful of Men” simply doesn’t rhyme.
@Michael Gerber – I realise it’s an upsetting subject, but it’s dishonest not to acknowledge that Epstein was a product of a school system where little boys were routinely brutalised and where they grew up to brutalise others. The boarding school culture “where lads routinely jerked each other off” was actually a culture of institutionalised abuse, and I think it’s dangerous, immoral even, to try and romanticise that as something people should celebrate.
I don’t really have a strong opinion on the rest of it. I think it’s pretty shocking that one of the comments essentially says we shouldn’t judge because 13 year old boys historically sought men out. I’d like to know what was meant by the statement, “Brian liked young boys”. I think it’s reasonable enough for anyone to ask what that means, even if no one wants to hear the answer, which they clearly don’t.
@Elizabeth, who is romanticizing English public schools? Who is being “dishonest”? You’re acting as though something is proven, or should be assumed to be true, and I simply disagree–in large part because pedophilia is so serious and despicable, and probably more common than anyone realizes.
As best I can glean from your comments, you
1) find Brian Epstein “creepy”;
2) think, given Cilla Black’s comments and Lennon’s quip, that he was a pedophile;
3) assume that he was provided underage boys as sex partners by the Krays; and
4) think BE picked up this tendency as a result of being raped in a British public school.
The problem here is simply that there’s no evidence that Epstein was a pedophile. There’s no testimony, no police records, no investigations, no nothing. “Boys” could just as likely mean young-looking males of 18 or 21 (or 25 for that matter)–that is, “twinks.” Or maybe it means people under the age of consent, trafficked into sex against their will. That is possible.
But it doesn’t seem likely, given ALL the journalists who’ve dug in and around the Epstein story, and dug up all sorts of other dirt in the process.
Compare the careers of Michael Jackson and Jimmy Savile; both of these men dealt with persistent rumors of pedophilia–decades’ worth of them. If we found evidence that Epstein was dogged by similar rumors, your theory would gain a lot of credence. But we don’t even have that.
Accusing gay men of pedophilia is similar to the “blood libel” employed against Jews. Your theory is your theory, but as another commenter has said, now that you’ve expressed it, you (or someone) must do some spadework for it to be taken seriously. For me, the absence of any testimony in the 55 years since Epstein’s death, in the midst of many other pieces of dirty laundry, is powerful evidence that he likely wasn’t having sex with underaged boys against their will.
@Michael Gerber – No one knew about Jimmy Savile outside the entertainment industry. It was covered up for years by the BBC and the police. Savile was a ‘national treasure’ before Operation Yewtree, along with Rolf Harris. I wouldn’t say that Jonathan King or Chris Denning were national treasures, but they weren’t investigated for sexual offences relating to the Walton Hop until 2014 (even though those offences happened between the late 60s and early 80s and the victims had been making complaints for years) and they were attending the same parties in the 1960s – the so-called ‘pink ballets’.
The ‘entertainment’ at these parties were kids. Not only that, they were vulnerable kids – runaways and kids from care homes. They didn’t have a voice and the police certainly weren’t interested in them. They would have been threatened by the Krays at the time and then laughed at or ignored if they tried to report it years later. The few who weren’t dead from drug overdoses by then that is.
I’m not saying that Epstein was a paedophile, but he did attend these parties and Cilla made that comment, as have others. He was clearly not a nice man and let’s leave it there if it’s too upsetting to discuss.
@Elizabeth, I’m happy to leave it here, but I want to say a couple of things first:
Savile, Jackson, Cosby, Weinstein — these were all “known within the entertainment industry.” Epstein has never been mentioned in that way. Not during life, not by Peter Brown, not by Goldman even IIRC (I could be wrong on Goldman).
“The earliest known complaint about Savile dates from 1963” <--from this article (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-21756150). Once again, there has never been such a complaint lodged against Epstein, during his lifetime or since. That must matter in some way, if we are trying to determine whether Epstein was inappropriately sexual with underage, nonconsenting people. We can’t assume guilt from both complaints and lack of complaints.
I usually enjoy your comments, but in this thread unless I have really misunderstood you, you have consistently intimated that you believe Brian Epstein to have been a pedophile. You’ve even surmised a reason WHY: his public school education. I don’t tell our commenters what to think, and I think you’ve been given a fair hearing; if you feel differently, reply how and I will consider it for future.
I genuinely do not have an opinion on this matter; but I do think that we should tread super-carefully around it. If any person was harmed by Brian Epstein in that way, it’s despicable and I hope they have healed. I also think we should recognize that when celebrities like Epstein rub shoulders with people like The Krays, the gangsters are looking to collect blackmail material, as much and as damaging as possible. We KNOW the Krays wanted a piece of The Beatles, as any gangster would. Do we think that if they had evidence of pedophilia on Epstein, they wouldn’t have used it? And Brian, being a gay man, surely knew that there was a segment of society (and Fleet Street) who would have pounced on that story, because it reinforced every malign stereotype about gay men.
So all in all: it’s a fair question, but I think at this late date we should consider it answered in the negative, at least circumstantially; and that short of actual positive victim testimony changing the story, I think it’s only fair we assume Epstein did NOT engage in this behavior–nor did any of The Beatles. Because if we’re going to indulge in speculation simply on who people associated with, and what parties they went to, the Beatles themselves surely were at parties where all manner of nefarious stuff went down. Do I wish this wasn’t the case? Sure. But this is the water performers swim in. And if you are deeply flawed in a certain way–as Savile, Jackson, Cosby, Weinstein were–that flaw plus that milieu combines in a terrible way. But there’s no solid evidence that anybody we talk about here was flawed in that way.
@Michael – My own view is that this type of behaviour had become normalised among the men who attended these types of parties. First off, these were men with lots of power, who were used to getting their own way and doing exactly what they liked – I doubt whether any of them had much of a conscience. Secondly, they probably didn’t view 14/15 year olds as kids. Jonathan King is even on record as saying he did the boys at the Walton Hop a favour. Savile was on another level – he was like the Krays, a fixer. I imagine the rest of them didn’t see any of it as a big deal. I’m absolutely sure they didn’t view it as paedophilia.
I have no idea whether the Krays would have blackmailed Epstein over something like this. It’s well known they were paedophiles themselves, or Ronnie was, I’m not sure about Reggie. There were also people a lot more high profile than Epstein attending those parties.
As for the police – what can you say? They were there to bury the evidence and they did a good job of it for 40/50 years. Even when they started making arrests, they carried on protecting people. There was a BBC documentary in the early 2000s where a camera crew were following the police as they arrested people who had downloaded child pornography. One of them was Pete Townshend, and not only did they record and show his police interview, they showed the police tipping him off the day before he was arrested. They told him ON CAMERA that they were coming the next day to seize his computers. The documentary is probably on YouTube if Townshend’s lawyers haven’t had it removed.
Obviously, people do assume that Epstein didn’t engage in this behaviour, and that’s understandable. But I don’t share that assumption, in the same way I wouldn’t assume that anyone attending one of Jeffrey Epstein’s parties was completely … innocent. That said, in both cases, I’m sure it wasn’t viewed as paedophilia.
As for the Beatles themselves, I think it’s far more likely that they were victims rather than perpetrators, and that’s what I was trying to express in my first comment – that they were exploited from the start.
From Clive James to Pete Shotton’s memoir, to Paul McCartney’s appropriation of the wank story in Pete Shotton’s memoir, there is a certain romanticization of boys in that era if not jerking each other off, then communally jerking pell-mell. I’m not saying this necessarily equals abuse, but you could at least posit a relationship between a culture where the circle jerk is de rigeur and the capacity for that openess being take advantage of, either by peers or elders in positions of power.
“aul McCartney’s appropriation of the wank story in Pete Shotton’s memoir”
Really? You think John only wanked with Pete and never with the three friends he spent infinite hours trapped in hotels with? The three friends *John* wrote a sketch about wanking together.
“Four in Hand”… John Lennon, Pete Shotton, Nigel Walley and Len Garry? Did John and the gang still hold wanking sessions during the Beatles touring years?
@Michelle Victor Spinetti mentions in his book walking in on the four doing just that.
@Meagis I’m not saying that John never wanked with Paul (or George, or Ringo), but in Shotton’s book, the ‘Winston Churchill!’ incident happens several years before Paul even met John, and it was singular and specific enough to recall a decade later when he wrote the Oh Calcutta sketch. For Pete (and presumably John), it was a definite memory, as opposed to something John was pulling all the time. When Paul tell the story (in ‘Many Years From Now,’ and twenty years later to GQ, resuscitating the story the year after Shotton died, incidentally) his language is very uncertain, to the point of not even being sure whether it WAS John who called out ‘Winston Churchill,’ which would fit with the fact that he wasn’t actually there and he was conveying the story second hand. Maybe Paul’s memory is genuinely unreliable after all this time, as anyone’s might be. But he also has a habit of jerking around with history, if not rubbing it out entirely, and this seems like an example of inserting himself into somebody else’s anecdote.
@Matt. “…happens several years before John even met Paul”. How old were they then? Ten? Instead of the ad hominem argument of Paul as relentless history changer, could it not be acid head and not particularly nice person Pete Shotton who is the one with the unreliable memory? Another individual jealous of Paul’s friendship with John in recalling this sleazy episode.
@Matt wrote: “When Paul tell the story (in ‘Many Years From Now,’ and twenty years later to GQ, resuscitating the story the year after Shotton died, incidentally) his language is very uncertain, to the point of not even being sure whether it WAS John who called out ‘Winston Churchill’…”
Another attempt to take credit away from John. Next up on the casualty list: It was Aunt Mimi who came up the “rattle your jewelry” line that John delivered at the Royal Variety Performance in ’63.
@Tactical Orange – I just want to respond to one of the things you’ve said here, and I’m sorry if it goes off topic a bit, but it ties in with what I’ve written about about Brian Epstein. You say that John and Paul “grew up at a time when jerking off the lads at boarding school wasn’t considered queer”. I don’t think you’re British (my apologies if you are), so you may not be completely familiar with the British school system, but there was a massive cultural difference between boarding (public) schools and grammar (state) schools of the 1950s (and beyond, obviously). Brian Epstein was a product of the former, John and Paul were products of the latter.
Boarding schools of the 1950s were places where 7 year old boys were sent to be raped by masters and older boys; where it was considered ‘normal’ for masters and older boys to be intimate with them. They in turn grew up to rape and terrorise younger boys. While abuse probably went on in grammar schools, it wasn’t endemic like it was in boarding schools. Children went to grammar schools when they were 11 or 12, and they lived at home. They also usually had parents who hadn’t been through the boarding school system and so were generally less fucked up, and more inclined to be protective. Well, caning was considered normal and proportionate, but sexual abuse was something else.
What grammar schools did do was separate boys and girls, so there probably was a certain amount of curiosity and experimentation, but this was a different thing to a boarding school culture where “jerking off the lads wasn’t considered queer”. Going back to my point about Epstein, I would bet a million quid that he was fucked up by his boarding school experience rather than his experience of being homosexual in 1950s/1960s Britain, though the two things were probably linked, as so many public school boys ended up ‘confused’ (and it’s not surprising).
I’m not really familiar with any of this about Epstein, other than the stories we’ve all read.
I just wanted to share an article I came across today about the movie they are making about Epstein, called “Midas Man”.
I’m looking forward to seeing it.
@Elizabeth. Very disingenuous of you to imply that the British public school system should not be judged or excused because13-year-old boys seek out sex with adult men. The vast majority absolutely do not. You have taken my comment completely out of context and it’s offensive. Nobody is denying the British public school system during those years was archaic, inhumane and brutalizing. My own father attended one. The accountability for these institutions lies fairly and squarely with the British Government and its succession of prime ministers who politically benefited from its old boys network – and still do. As it was with the Child Migrant Scheme from the 1940s to 1970s (which John Lennon was very lucky to escape if traumatic childhoods are to be compared). Don’t make Brian Epstein the whipping boy for a system he did not create. At this point it’s worth mentioning that although homosexuality was legalized in Britain in 1967, the age of consent was set at 21. It remained at 16 for opposite sex couples. Stonewall fought for years at this blatant discrimination and only recently has the age of consent been lowered to 16. You cannot judge historical events by 21st century standards. If you really want to find what ‘young boys’ meant in this context, why not do your own research?
@Lara – I’m a bit confused by this. First of all, I said no such thing. I wrote a comment in response to the statement that the Beatles “grew up at a time when jerking off the lads at boarding school wasn’t considered queer”. I stand by that comment – it wasn’t considered queer because it was part of a pattern of institutionalised abuse; boys who had been brutalised grew up to brutalise others. You made the comment about 13 year old boys seeking out men, which (1) I don’t agree with, and (2) has nothing to do with the public school system.
As for making Epstein the ‘whipping boy’, that’s just nonsense. It’s no secret that Epstein attended the ‘pink ballets’ – Goldman and Brown both wrote about them.
@meaigs, you mean stuff like “You gave me lovin’ in the palm of my hand” in a song that Paul conceded was done in a style that John was known for? 😉
@Michael, if the internet is anything to go by, the McLennon community seems to make up about a quarter of Beatle fandom these days, and the Beatles apparently gain new fans because of it. It’s at a point where I can’t imagine that Paul himself hasn’t gotten wind of this. I engage in detective work myself, obviously, because it’s fun. And it explains a few things, like why the heck the Beatles split up at the height of their powers after only a decade. So one of my theories is, perhaps fans need to believe this because it somehow makes their breakup less painful. Of course, it doesn’t explain why a love affair itself is the attraction in the first place.
If McLennon is a 25% of the fandom today, @Michelle, that is a HUGE change. Quite literally no IRL Beatle fan that I know — and I meet people occasionally because I’m known as the guy who does Dullblog — has ever asked me about it. And whenever I’ve spoken to first- or second-generation fans about the speculation (mostly female fans because, I must reveal, most of my friends are women), they are often shocked and sometimes appalled by the notion.
I’M not. but they are.
There seem to be catalysts for generations; for my generation, it was definitely Lennon’s murder and the massive amount of coverage in the wake of. Perhaps McLennon satisfies some similarly powerful psychological need for fans raised on the internet. I’m fine with it, as long as everybody is aware of the emotional service aspect. Where I get off the bus is when people assert McLennon as fact, or the key to the story. People made sense of the story without McLennon; a sexual love affair between John and Paul is not necessary to explain the acrimony of the breakup. It COULD, but it’s not necessary. Money, ego, fame and power is enough.
The “emotional service aspect” of the John/Paul sex theorizing is key. As we’ve covered here before, it’s not an accident that the John/Paul phenomenon bears an extremely close relationship to fanfiction “shipping” generally (Kirk/Spock, Holmes/Watson, the Harry Potter fandoms, etc. etc.). I’m also fine with all this as long as it doesn’t tip into the “this is fact” realm. Which it’s tended to, at least here.
Agreed. Though I would point out that this is the one place I’ve seen it discussed with any pushback. It’s wild to theorize about someone else’s sex-life and then state it as obvious fact. But most of the spaces where this is allowed as a topic are echo chambers full of unsubstantiated rumour and weird interpretations of lyrics. I’ve purposely avoided delving too deep in most of those spaces, because that’s not what I’m interested in.
Well, to start, I would not equate people trying to decipher the nature of John and Paul’s relationship with “assassination conspiracy theories” or “Paul is Dead” stuff. Most conspiracy theories are obvious bullshit once you start looking at legitimate sources and use your brain.
The John Paul relationship theories are built on legitimate information gathered from biographies, interviews, and films. People use these resources to as evidence to connect the many missing puzzle pieces in the Beatle’s story. There are big holes in the Beatles’ break up story, and the emotions expressed between John and Paul do not fit the simple money/business explanations that are pushed as the main reason for the breakup.
Considering whether they were lovers is important. It “stirs such deep emotion” because, if true, provides a clearer understanding of the Beatles story in general. John and Paul being lovers provides a more complex and actually REASONABLE answer to the many, many weird emotional issues around the breakup, as well as insight into their songs. Their relationship is the key to best understand what they created together.
For example: the song “And Your Bird Can Sing”. For the longest time, I was like – what the hell is that song about? We’ll, after reading, researching, gathering information, and getting familiar with the good sources available (like any type of research project), I was able to form a theory.
Looking at the history of Paul and John communicating to each other through their songs (no doubt they did this), it is reasonable to assume John wrote the song (in his metaphoric self-confessional style) to communicate an issue that was on his mind- possibly to Paul. John really avoided explaining this song because it would give away too much about something personal to him, but it is his song, and he must have had some emotional investment in it. It is NOT just a throw away song.
So, what may solve the mystery of the song? Looking at John’s influences and relationships (aka research). While there were many things going on in John’s life at this time (a sad, detached family life) – his primary world and focus was still on the Beatles (and Paul).
But Paul had a life too! When he was not spending huge chunks of time with John and the Beatles, he was seeing Jane Asher and checking out the art scene in London with various friends and artists.
To explain the song, we are back at the nature of John and Paul’s relationship. It is well known that John was a jealous guy. Knowing that John and Paul spent MASSIVE amounts of time together for YEARS and were VERY close, it is not a big stretch to see that Paul spending time with Jane (when she was actually around – she was often away for months acting) and the art crowd would make John jealous (Jealous Guy was for Paul).
The possible meaning of “And Your Bird Can Sing” now makes more sense when it is put into context with what was going on in John’s life.
In the song, John appears to be talking about someone (Paul obviously) seeing all these great things with his Bird (Jane) and not being with John, but “you don’t get ME”, “you can’t see ME”, “you can’t hear ME”. Then for “when your bird is broken, will it bring you down”. Paul and Jane were apparently not always on good terms with each other (ex. sad Paul songs – I’m looking through you – for no one – I’m Down). Then the “you may be awoken, I’ll be round” part is John waiting for Paul to get back to spending time with him. To top off this song of jealousy, love, and possessiveness, John also adds the “AND” to the title to mock the Paul penned song to Jane “And I Love Her”.
No surprise John avoided explaining this song.
I sometimes wonder if Jane knew something about John and Paul’s relationship, and that’s part of the reason she had remained quiet for years! One of the few things she said was that she was jealous of the spiritual experiences John and Paul had together.
Also, Ringo and George totally knew there was something UNUSUAL about John and Paul’s relationship. They were not blind. But maybe they rationalized it as that’s just John and Paul being John and Paul. Who really knows, but back then if there was any sign of them being too close, I think John and Paul would have been good at deflecting it or turning it into a joke. It wouldn’t surprise me if the illicitness and secrecy was part of the fun for John and Paul since they lived in a fame bubble and could have anything they wanted – except that. It worked until it didn’t, then it exploded into tragedy. Epic!
With the mic blowing incident, I go with the simplest explanation within the context of the conversation. “What WERE we doing?” Looking at Paul, blowing the mic. it’s pretty straight forward. It would be more of a conspiracy theory to think it’s some kind of secret code for something among the Beatles.
This is just one example. So once again, never underestimate the John and Paul relationship (love, sex, jealousy, and possessiveness). It really is the key to understanding many, many things about the Beatles.
With all respect, @av, I have to disagree with some of your points here. Take all this FWIW.
“Most conspiracy theories are obvious bullshit once you start looking at legitimate sources and use your brain.”
There is a massive, massive difference between obvious bullshit like Q-Anon and exhaustively researched, substantive, politically important stuff like the JFK/RFK/MLK/Malcolm X assassinations, and the fact that the latter is lumped in with the former speaks volumes about the seriousness of political discourse both on the internet and elsewhere. The “conspiracy theories” in those cases of political murder come from precisely the same sources that you cite for McLennon — biographies and reputable public journalism. There’s a lot of bullshit out there, but the central tenets of disagreement come from evidence that I would argue is actually much MORE substantial than McLennon stuff. Ballistics, wound location, and sworn testimony. There is a level of these murders which is McLennon-y, emphasizing the emotional states of a lot of people, gleaned from their statements and actions, but it’s not the main thrust. First comes the science-y stuff, then the more emotion-based interpretation.
1. “The shelving on the bone, plus the position where the fragment was found, indicate the shot came from the right front.”
2. “The motorcycle cop to the right rear of the motorcade was splashed with blood, indicating a shot from the right front.” and so on…Then!
7 or 8 or 9 or 200, depending. “JFK was livid about the CIA’s failure with the Bay of Pigs, which he felt he’d been led into. So he privately said, ‘I’m going to smash the CIA into a thousand pieces.'”
The assassination conspiracies meant a lot to the Boomers, and as an honorary Boomer, they mean something to me too. McLennon is beloved by another group, because the emotional needs of that group, and the world it lives in, are different. All I’m saying is, don’t be so sure your hidden history is rational and that other stuff is “bullshit.” Malcolm X’s killers were just exonerated; some of us suspected they were innocent decades ago. To me, that matters more than whether John and Paul had sex.
” the emotions expressed between John and Paul do not fit the simple money/business explanations that are pushed as the main reason for the breakup.”
Oh certainly they do. Vast amounts of money, vast egos, vast amounts of power — sex isn’t NECESSARY to explain the acrimony of the bust-up, though it could be a part of it. There is a peculiar diminishing that McLennon does to John and Paul; fans, being normal people, cannot imagine the pull of that much money/fame/power/ego, so they think, “Well, they must’ve been fucking” because that, in their normal life, is the only thing that would cause such rawness of emotion. And sometimes I’m right there with the McLennon folks! But if you genuinely, truly think that money/fame/power/ego isn’t enough, I would just ask that you read more biographies of notable people. Folks do all sorts of insane stuff to/with people they’re not having sex with. Sometimes because they’re not having sex with them. Maybe the acrimony of the breakup was because John and Paul SHOULD’VE had sex, and never did? Is that also not possible? Does that not also fit the agreed-upon facts? Not the interpretations of glances and lyrics, but the facts?
As to your “And Your Bird Can Sing” theory: that’s interesting, but it’s what we call a “just so” story — cool, but utterly untestable. Actually, I take it back: you might be able to ask Paul if that were so, and he might say yes or no. But given that he’s been adamant that there was no sexual relationship between John and himself…doesn’t that end the theory? (Which I like, btw.) Or do we then pivot into the “oh well Paul would never, he could never admit, they could never risk the money blah blah blah”…?
I’m not dismissing any of this — I don’t know any more than anybody else — but we really must acknowledge that it’s all unprovable speculation, utterly untestable, and something that a lot of fans raised on the internet desperately love to think about for their own reasons. That doesn’t make it true; and furthermore, the assertion that McLennon is some sort of necessity — the ultimate key to understanding the Beatles story — is really a sign that one should back up and engage with the Standard Narrative some more. The Standard Narrative is itself an AMAZING story. It doesn’t need secret sex to be incredible, and it should give every McLennon-head great pause that prior to the advent of the internet, Beatles fans didn’t seem to need it to be fascinated with the group. There is the McLennonite article of faith that “everybody know it or suspected it but THEY (the gatekeepers, heteronormativity, J/P’s own hangups) didn’t allow the truth to come out then! Now, we with our access to information and healthier attitudes, WE can let the truth be known!”
All good fun. I get the appeal. But I say unto thee: pump thine brakes.
Again and again, I think McLennon says much more about our contemporary culture, and the internet, and fans under 40, than it does about the Beatles. I can engage with its possibility, and see it as the driver of interesting theories like yours about “AYBCS,” without being convinced of it. Because in the end, I don’t really think it changes the story much; John and Paul loved each other, created beautiful stuff, parted bitterly, and never really reconciled…whether or not they had sex. Insisting that they MUST HAVE because REASONS…well, for one thing it makes Paul into a liar and everybody else into accomplices. Is that really a good thing?
Anyway, just food for thought.
Paul is adamant that John wasn’t gay, and he’s been consistent with that. He described spending time with John in hotel rooms, sharing beds, and there was never a hint that he was gay. He never hit on him, in other words. But I don’t think anyone has asked him outright if he had a sexual relationship with John. So he’s been less than adamant about that (unless there is a statement he made that I’m unaware of), preferring instead to address the rumors of John’s sexuality.
The original lyrics to George’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” are interesting: “I look from the wings at the play you are staging” kind of describes the band dynamics. And he says “inverted” (in the official version as well) which at one time was used by sexologists in the (ignorant) past to describe homosexuality. As for Ringo – this could be hearsay because I don’t have a source for it other than tumblr – he said John and Paul were like an old married couple with their two kids (which is totally Ringo’s style). Interesting about “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “And I Love Her”. I hadn’t thought of that. Nice catch. Funny thing is Brian Epstein comes up when people attempt to interpret John’s song. But yours makes sense. In that way it’s similar to Nowhere Man (“can you see me at all”) which Paul thought was about him (initially, but then reconsidered) http://www.beatlesebooks.com/nowhere-man
Oh, and about John fellating the mic, he did it after saying, “Yeah, what WERE we doing, Paul?” If memory serves. That suggests it wasn’t about a random male groupie that John came across at the ashram.
Why is that, @Michelle? You don’t think they could’ve been getting blown by other people? Don’t we KNOW that happened in Hamburg, Beatles having sex with others in each others’ presence?
If we know x happened — it was in their comfort zone together — that’s a lot more likely than assuming that y happened, especially if y was as potentially destabilizing to the entire group as John and Paul having sex with each other.
But this is all speculation.
Generally, yes. They were accustomed to that. But India was far removed from Hamburg. They had grown up and were raising families or planning to soon. They had their wives/girlfriend with them and an entourage that included some famous celebrities. Of course, that wouldn’t be the ideal setting for a gay liaison between the two famous Beatles either. But before the “what we were doing”/mimed blow job, John talked about writing songs in Paul’s room. They still had some privacy. And the group WAS destabilizing with the main tension being between John and Paul.
Exactly! It’s on film. It is what it is.
Also on film is John switching out the lyrics to “I’m A Loser”. He changes “I lost someone who’s near to me” to “I LOVE someone who’s near to me” in the last verse with Paul next to him. Paul hears the switch. Paul knows. This is in Paris 1965 concert. he does it on other concert versions of this song. If you watch enough concerts and interviews, there’s a lot of insight to be gained from John and Paul’s body language and interactions. Even George and Ringo look annoyed occasionally because of John and Paul’s weird erotic bubble. It’s all on film, and a lot of it is not too subtle. Also, the more you know, the MORE painful the breakup becomes. The extreme emotional craziness of it is what fascinates me.
@av, Lennon was notorious for forgetting/switching lyrics while singing live.
If you watch the 1965 Paris concert – it’s looks like he knows exactly what he’s saying. It wasn’t switched out of confusion. John was pretty sharp after all and would probably get a kick out of slipping that in in front of everybody! He does this for the same song in other concerts too.
Another fun one to watch is the Beatles singing “This Boy” from the Ed Sullivan show from Feb 16, 1964. John is VERY fixated on Paul. Not looking at George or Ringo like that.
Also see the “RAI TV Interview at ABC Cinema, 30 June 1963” and “live on shindig! // oct. 3, 1964” shows. “Shindig” has “I’m a Loser” (Paul’s got his eye on John, and “lost” switched to “love” 2nd verse) and the always enjoyable “Boys”. They are enjoyable to watch, and everybody can draw their own conclusions.
And yes, I don’t think Paul would ever come right out and tell everybody if he and John had been lovers.
What would be the point? Besides, Paul drops enough suggestive hints in his songs, interviews, and other writings to where it’s like he’s saying -draw your own conclusions because I’m not going to say anything to YOU.
When asked about John being gay, I think Paul just gives an easy blanket denial. If he said ANYTHING beyond that, it would only lead to many, many, many more VERY awkward and painful questions. I wouldn’t blame Paul for lying – I would if I were him! There are times when lying is not a bad thing to do.
The public doesn’t have the right to know everything, and I imagine there is a lot of personal stuff that Paul would not want to dredge up for public consumption.
Glad you liked my song theory! Here’s another tidbit I think is interesting. For “All Together Now”, I am always amused by Paul’s line “E, F, G, H, I, J I love you. It may be a stretch, but it comes off as shorthand for “John, I love you”.
It’s also worth watching the concert for the 1965 NME awards. It contains the bizarre incident where John decides to give Paul a massage in front of thousands of people in the middle of the show, and Paul reacting like – what are you thinking doing that here? John also gives him the hug when they get their awards. I can’t help but see that John had a more difficult time keeping the lid on his feelings, while Paul was good at keeping his feelings under control.
Fun comments from everybody, and lots of great points of view to consider!
Oh gosh, I just watched that NME awards video, and it really looks like John wants to be publicly affectionate and Paul is brushing him off because they’re in public 🙁
@av – It’s not a stretch (J I love you), because I caught that too. And isn’t it interesting that Paul later put L.I.L.Y on the cover of RAM. Then John sends a postcard to Julian of the picture of him holding a pig’s ears that he included with the Imagine album, this time including the caption, “Farmer J wrestling with an agricultural problem” (LOL)
In this interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9v7gHXjlsg Paul gets asked about how private he is, and says loves putting private things in songs (the question starts around 32:45).
Funny you should mention All Together Now, I listened to it yesterday for the first time in … maybe 30 years? I don’t remember noticing “can I take my friend to bed” before 🙂
I think that is one of the reasons John continuously shoved the PDA with Yoko in Paul’s face (and the making love tape, and nude album cover). It’s like he was making up for the YEARS (in my opinion) that he had to stifle his affection for Paul in public. It is well known, he felt that Yoko was like a “mate” (male friend) and looked like a man in drag.
He lets a little more information slip in a bed in interview saying, “It’s a plus, it’s not a minus. It’s a plus that your best friend can hold you without… (John catches himself here, and I wonder what the “WITHOUT” is in reference to. Perhaps without having to hide it, and PAUL? Because- next, his mind immediately jumps to Homosexuality.) … “I’m not homosexual, or we could have had a homosexual relationship, and maybe that would have satisfied it – working with other male artists”. The “WE” is obviously Paul, his BFF till Yoko. Since John also believed everybody must be bisexual and had an extensive conversation on this topic with Yoko, it can be concluded that there was something more going on between John and Paul than meets the eye. Hey, you’ve got to hide your love away! That song is totally about John and Paul.
Back to the awards show- Everybody in the British music scene was at this awards show. I think it says a lot that John massaged and hugged Paul. It may not seem like much now, but in 1965, and in front of all those people, it was a bold move!
You brought up Paul’s songs! Great!
I have a theory on his song “Dear Friend”. I’m trying to keep it short, so only some basic thoughts. Oops! It’s long.
Paul has stated this song was written for John. Paul was writing RAM, but it was not released till after John’s Imagine album. Paul has said it’s him asking John essentially “What the Fuck? Why are you acting like this? Do you really mean all those horrible things you’re saying? Is this really the end of our friendship? Let’s not fight anymore.” I think there’s still more to interpret from this song, and what the vague lyrics may be referring to about John and Paul’s past history and relationship.
As an aside: That is the BIG question. What did Paul do? Why was John so hurt and angry that he couldn’t continue with their friendship, lucrative songwriting business, and banished Paul from Beatle Land and Beatle friends?
Back to analysis: This is a song for John, and Paul is slipping in stuff that’s personal to their relationship which will remind John of the loyalty and love they had for each other. In demos, Paul sings like a wounded animal. There’s really something deep going on in this therapy song.
To start: I agree the first verses are pretty straight forward about “what’s the time” and “is this the border line”. Paul explained that part.
“Does it really mean so much to you?”: What is “IT” that Paul is referring to? I interpret “it” as Paul’s marriage to Linda. Paul was always afraid of marriage, and I think John enjoyed Paul being an available bachelor. He was finally going to commit to Jane (then married Linda- suddenly). Paul getting engaged to Jane then married to Linda spurred John’s extreme jealousy. So, he’s asking does me being married end our friendship? Is it really that important to you? (Or “IT” could be sex, or power?) John was furious with Paul WAY before Klein and the Apple business stuff.
“Are you afraid or is it true” – I actually think this is Paul asking this of both himself and John. Another IT. Hmmm.
“Throw the wine” – I kind of think this means getting drunk. Perhaps a reference to Paris- a special place for John and Paul.
I don’t think the line “I’m in love with a friend of mine” is for Linda. Paul mumbles, and sometimes it also sounds like “I made love with a friend of mine”. This is not for Linda either. The whole song is about John and Paul. What is this part referring to? It ties in with the next line: “Really truly, young and newly wed”. I think this is actually referring to John’s FIRST marriage. It comes off to me like Paul is reminding John of how long he has loved him, and John getting married didn’t change their intimacy, so why should Paul’s marriage ultimately hurt John? Especially if John is so truly in love with Yoko, they should be able to at least be friends. They are both settled with wives. Paul loved him in the past, but they moved on to new relationships. So, if you’re so happy, why are you still so angry and mean?
“Are you a fool? or is it true” – again I think he’s asking this of himself and John.
Just to throw it out there – I also see the awkwardness of John and Paul having an affair while John was married to Cynthia. It’s a lot to go into, but the short version is that John’s first marriage was terrible. He was not a good husband or father, and he was really just going through the motions and playing the role (and feeling like a selfish bastard). John and Paul knew each other well before John knew Cynthia. John picked Paul (and only Paul) to go to Paris for his 21st birthday. Cynthia was NOT invited. If Cynthia had not gotten pregnant, John would not have married her. Paul visited Cynthia out of guilt when John broke up with her, then only got in touch with her again 17 years later. John was far more emotionally connected with Paul, and they had more of a marriage in many, many ways. I think it was bizarre situation where John and Paul were NOT going to give up enjoying their relationship just because John had to get married. They were bohemians.
These are some interesting thoughts! “Dear Friend” is a tough nut to crack. The line, “Are you afraid or is it true” always had me wondering, Afraid of what? Is what true? Most listeners fall on the side of “I’m in love with a friend of mine” being about Linda, even though the song was confirmed by Paul as being about John. Because he switches from first person to third person? As I mentioned in another post, he did something similar with “And I Love Her” (third person and then suddenly “as long as I have YOU near me”). And if John truly was distraught about Paul marrying Linda, how would Paul’s declaring his love for her assuage him? Unless Paul thinks that John believes that Paul’s marriage to Linda was a sham, and Paul was telling him, “No, it’s real.” And I don’t really think that – it seems John knew he was serious about Linda. I also don’t think that John was upset about Paul’s engagement to Jane, by the way. In the St. Regis Hotel interview in 1971, it sounded like John thought Paul eventually marrying Jane was a given, and it wouldn’t have surprised him the way his marriage to Linda did. Anyway, Paul says about “Dear Friend”: “I was listening to it the other day [during the re-mastering of the Wild Life album] and got choked up. Oh God, that lyric: ‘Really, truly. Young and newly wed.’ It’s true!” Is what true? I’m thinking he means the line that precedes that in context, which of course is “I’m in love with a friend of mine.” He never references Linda when he talks about this song.
A cute note about “Dear Friend”. You know how the song closes with Paul playing a chord on the piano repeatedly? Being the obsessive I am, and wondering why so many in a row, I actually counted the number of times he presses the keys. You guessed it – Nine.
I think it’s fairly obvious that John lost the plot when Linda arrived on the scene. That seems irrefutable. However, John’s anger towards Paul really started when Paul wrote Yesterday, and John perceived that (1) he wasn’t needed anymore and (2) he couldn’t keep up if he was. So his panic about losing Paul to Linda might have been as much about his own insecurities and lack of belief in his own talent when measured against Paul’s as anything else. He had a very big reputation to live up to after all.
That said, it’s impossible to dismiss what Stuart’s sister implied about the John/Paul/Stuart triangle, and given the amount of sex in all its permutations on offer to John and Paul, and the fact that they masturbated together and had slept with two women in the same bed before they even left Liverpool (according to Lewisohn), I think it’s highly highly unlikely that they didn’t experiment. But so what, really? Why is the idea of John and Paul having sex any more unlikely, or more of a big deal, than say, John and David Bowie? No one finds that pairing hard to believe and nor do most people care.
To me, the ‘McLennon community’ is a bit like a modern day version of the 1960’s Beatle fan clubs. It’s a ‘safe space’. I’m sure Paul and Yoko love it, by the way, because it appeals to a youngish fan base, which helps to keep The Beatles relevant to that age group, and it’s ‘controversial’ in a way that is totally acceptable (even desirable) and ‘cool’ in 2022. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out they were driving the whole thing. In some ways, it’s similar to Paul is Dead. Not in terms of believability, but in its quest for ‘truth’.
What I find frustrating about ‘McLennon’ is the reluctance of the community to talk about anything too uncomfortable. The majority of ‘believers’ (from what I can see) are smart, witty, extremely articulate, but also extremely carefully to be politically correct at all times. Yoko is a taboo subject, and any comment about her is always preceded by the disclaimer, ‘I like Yoko, but …’ Well, what’s the point? John’s disintegration into total madness starts and ends with Yoko. How can you possibly have a quest for truth while being afraid to examine that fact in case someone calls you racist?
McLennon is the fairy tale version of the real story, which in truth is pretty ugly. But fairy tales are a lot safer.
Being only a year or two into the deep dive of matters Beatles, I am left stultified at the obeisance that must constantly be payed to Yoko. As you mentioned, nearly every mention of her has to be prefaced with a phrase of homage as to how one actually likes her art, likes her as a person, etc.. Why is this?
Most individuals, with an IQ over room temperature, should realize that a critique of someone’s behavior does not equate, one for one, with an assault on that person’s character. One can, to borrow a phrase from English football, play the ball without playing the man. I can find her public facing behavior abhorrent and distasteful without attacking her as a person. Very sad the discourse, in all too many quarters, does not allow that without the right code-worded preface.
Sure Lennon invited Yoko into his sphere, but by golly did she ever pick up the baton and run fast with it. She pushed herself into view and with that is an invitation to honest and frank assessment.
Just sort of reinforces by slightly cynical view these days (OK, maybe more than slightly) that people really are not seeking the dry and dispassionate facts of history, but rather a filter through which they can project their opinions/hopes/etc.
@Neeal – And the really frustrating thing is, they are lying.
In the kindest possible way, there isn’t anything remotely likeable about Yoko: she is a person with few redeeming qualities, none that I can see. Maybe it’s not her fault, maybe her early childhood experiences turned her into someone who is able to inflict hurt on other people without feeling any guilt. That doesn’t make it OK, and it certainly isn’t anything to admire.
Goldman got a quote from her first husband, which I am always reminded of when I read this obsequious rubbish from people who are intelligent enough to know better. He said, ‘She is like ice. She could kill.’
She isn’t nice, she isn’t likeable, and her mental illness does not absolve her of guilt for the hurt she has inflicted on other people. She’s got away with it, which is bad enough in itself, but the pretence that this is anything other than a travesty is sickening.
Yoko was the worst thing that ever happened to John Lennon, but I believe he chose his fate with her when he was severely mentally ill and in crisis. Like I said before, the story becomes sadder and more tragic the more you know.
Also, I think John was upset about “Yesterday” because he and Paul were close, and a solo success was a threat to that closeness. John was insecure, and probably needed as much assurance from Paul as Paul needed from him. Like the many arguments and issues, they had over the years – we can work it out – they managed to work that out. What they couldn’t ultimately work out is a way for their relationship to mature without being overwhelmed with possessive jealousy and essentially moving to the next stage of marriage and family.
I suspect Paul still has as little to do with Yoko as humanly possible. She is toxic.
Also, I really am just trying to put together analysis as based in what is considered true about the Beatles’ story and John and Paul’s relationship and history. It is a good mystery, and I go back and forth all the time on whether they were or were not lovers.
@av – I have no issue with analysis, and in fact, I agree with some of the speculation about John and Paul’s relationship. I just hate the refusal to examine Yoko too closely and the rush to hand her the get out of jail free card because she’s ‘been a victim of racism and misogyny’. Has she? Really? I think her claim to victimhood has been wildly exaggerated to silence her detractors, and it’s worked. Especially nowadays, people are afraid to criticise her for anything.
I think this is a travesty and deeply unfair to John. It prevents him from getting any justice at all.
I have to say that I am glad to read the frankness in your reply as it is something I have been wrestling with since I have plunged into listening/hearing/reading matters regarding the Beatles. Not here obviously, but in that wide world of Beatle commentary (not talking about the cranks of course, but serious views) I find it almost creepy how one is not granted the freedom to take a factual and critical look at Yoko Ono–as if she has been venerated as a saint and no variance of opinion is allowed as to her holy status. Why is she off limits to a rigorous examination? Are known Podcasters and writers so cowed by the aura around her not to pose rational and fair questions?
One could, in fact, stand up a cottage industry in recording the phrases that must preface mention of her. They really do devolve into the comical don’t they?
Anyway, I am further confused why, in 2022, we can’t seem to admit that some people do not gel and some people will simply dislike others because, drum roll please, they don’t find much to like in them. Is it really beyond our collective intellectual ken that some people are more likeable than others? That some people exhibit controlling and selfish behaviors? Maybe George Harrison disliked Yoko because he didn’t find her likable and didn’t interpret his role as being a courtier to her in the studio. That’s the life we all learned to deal with around middle school age.
Thanks for your thoughts as they served as a nice tonic to the contant Yoko as the venerable saint narrative. The bottom line, as you state, is that it decants from a clear look at John.
Do you think this will change when Yoko passes, or become more solidified?
@Neil: “I find it almost creepy how one is not granted the freedom to take a factual and critical look at Yoko Ono–as if she has been venerated as a saint and no variance of opinion is allowed as to her holy status. Why is she off limits to a rigorous examination?”
I suspect people are waiting for Yoko to die for two reasons.
One, to take a deep dive into Yoko now and reveal her secrets, especially about her relationship with John, would put Paul and Ringo, to greater or lesser degrees, in the bad spot of having to answer questions in future media interviews about any revelations about their business partner. Paul has a habit of ending up on the losing side of any public friction between himself and Yoko — I think back to the McCartney/Lennon credit fracas after the Back in the US album, a minor thing that somehow blew up in his face — and questions about a controversial Yoko bio may well play the same if she were still alive.
Two, she’s famously litigious. How many times has she sued Fred Seaman? Sean, as her heir, may not care to silence Yoko’s critics after her death to the same extent that she does now.
I would not be terribly surprised if various people in the Beatles circle have given interviews on Yoko to biographers and journalists with the caveat that the material can only be used after her death. There might even be material in these interviews about John that necessitates a hold until after Paul and possibly even Ringo are gone. And there are undoubtedly things that Paul and Ringo know that they’ll take to their graves.
@Elizabeth, a couple things. Where does the idea that John was angry about Yesterday come from? The only time he showed anger related to Yesterday is when a violinist in a NY cafe would play him the tune, as far as what I’ve read. And are we sure that John and Paul had sex with girls in the same bed, even the same room? Because Paul tells a story of accidentally walking in on John and reacting like any normal person would, with an “oops, sorry!” Who told Lewisohn this? Brother Mike? Paul himself?
As for John and David Bowie not being a big deal – Bowie was known to experiment in the glam era (he denied being ‘bi’, calling himself a closet heterosexual) and John long had the Brian Epstein rumor. Maybe the shock comes from the possibility that Paul “immovable heterosexual” McCartney might have ventured into the dark side?
I must say Michael that you have the patience of a saint. I admire the openess that you and Nancy exhibit in welcoming fresh insights when they are factual or evidentiary based, but it must grow extraordinary wearisome when your disinterested and rigorous approach to history is met with yet more modern filtering. I get the feeling that you, Nancy, and many of your contributors want your explorations into The Beatles and their era/context to be, as history should be, served straight up no matter where that might lead.
As I mentioned a few months past, should you, understandably, decide to shutter the site, press keep us apprised of any future projects that you and the others might be working on. You have a great archive of content here and it is very much appreciated.
Thank you, @Neal. I only mind it when it wearies me; I have some chronic conditions and a lot of work to do, and so when I have to cover this ground for the millionth time, I feel I’m “losing spoons” I should be spending on my own work.
My magazine is about to launch a big podcast; and the only HD-related idea that’s really stuck with me over the years is a podcast where I interview people from the period 1960-1975. It was an extraordinary time, and when I’m engaging with commenters here, I’m drawing on many, many conversations and books read, not just about The Beatles (actually, mostly not about The Beatles these days). For example, I’m fascinated with gay culture in the 70s, in part because I grew up around it (in St. Louis), but also because AIDS really changed the world vastly. It’s hard for me not to live in a world of ghostly scrim — when I lived in the West Village for example (1995-2001), the incredibly vibrant gay culture of the 70s was still slightly visible, and thrilling. Not because I’m gay, but because I remember the incredible burst of freedom and happiness that came from gay people being able to be themselves in public for the first time. It was incredible; the art was great, the culture was so lively. So when I walked past Boots ‘n’ Saddle (now gone), or The Fedora, or Julius’, or The Cubby Hole, I felt echoes of that freedom, along with all the men and women who’d died from the plague.
When we talk about The Beatles from the vantage of 2022, there is a vast, vast gulf. Why was John Lennon fascinated by assassinations? Because of that time; many people were — the kind of talk we do about MDC was dinner-table conversation more times than I can count (not about him, however; it was by that time too sad). Why is it so unlikely to me that John and Paul were secretly fucking? Because everybody was PUBLICLY fucking back then. People of John and Paul’s era didn’t usually do secret ten-year-long affairs; and as with Elton and Bowie and Lou Reed, “x pop star comes out as bi” was deeply woven into the culture of the Seventies. John’s statements should be read in that context; if he and Paul had been lovers, it would’ve helped both of their careers massively in 1975 to admit that. And you can’t really feel the truth of that conclusion without really knowing what it was like in the Seventies.
If we know about John and Brian Epstein and Mick and David Bowie, then I’d say it stands to reason we’d know SOMEthing about Lennon/McCartney.
@Michael Bleicher John and Paul may not have been sleeping together, but given what is known or strongly suspected about John and Stu, John and Brian, John and Bowie, or (from May Pang’s book I got the very strong impression) John and Harry Nilsson, it certainly seems like Lennon would probably TRY to sleep with Paul (possibly being scorned in the result), unless of course he just considered their relationship sufficiently precarious, complicated, or familiar that Paul was out of bounds.
To throw another spanner in the works, Christopher Sanford in his biography of McCartney claims or strongly implies that Paul slept with Yoko in 1966 when Yoko came to his house looking for manuscripts. (Sandford also wrote that Paul, to John’s annoyance, was not above trying to get fresh with Cynthia.) Now that certainly wouldn’t sit well with a possessive guy like John if and when he found out, nor would it fit will into the kind of narrative John and Yoko decided to double down on when they became John&Yoko.
(But just to add to this and complicate things some more, I also seem to remember an author, Giuliano maybe? claiming that Linda gave John a blowjob or a handjob.)
@Matt, yes let’s talk about Harry Nilsson. He and John shared a house in LA, which is not untoward in and of itself, but there is an interview with Harry in which he says that frankly he fell in love with John (may be a platonic love, who knows). He went on to say that John’s only love was the other Beatles.
P.S. According to the author who divulged that John and David Bowie had a fling, it was likely that John viewed Paul as a brother and therefore any relationship would feel like incest to him.
As for John and Linda, it might have been reported by Guiliano, who supposedly got the info from John’s stolen diaries. We know that he was her favorite Beatle before she went in 100% with Paul the way Yoko did with John. Paul mentions this in at least two interviews I’ve seen, with good humor.
But the John and Brian Epstein thing has never been confirmed to be anything beyond an intense relationship that was never consummated (per John) or Brian having a crush on John. Was Mick and David Bowie an urban legend as well? Maybe not. Thought I heard conflicting reports on that one. Here’s the thing: Many, including Michael G, believe that John was probably bisexual. If we’d know SOMETHING about Lennon/McCartney had it really happened, why isn’t that standard used when it comes to John’s supposed bisexuality in general? What man has come forward to say they had an affair with John? Or just a time where he was caught in the act?
Michael and Nancy,
I share your frustration with the McLennon topic. It is alarming that our society is currently experiencing an “alternative facts” epidemic.
Q-Anon, “stolen” elections, anti-vaxxers; it’s insanity! Now, Beatles?!?
Personally, I think both of you are doing a service in keeping it REAL, and not allowing unsubstantiated rumors to be written as fact. I don’t know what the hell has gotten into people, but it is not healthy.
If we as a society are going to survive, and move forward from this current craziness, then we all must address and correct misinformation and lies. Even if it’s something seemingly benign, as the question of “Were Paul and John lovers” topic.
I don’t mean to be preachy or condescending, but I am truly worried about what the internet and “alternative facts” is doing to us as a society.
Where the hell is logic and critical thinking skills?
Can we keep the Beatles out of this crap?
I love this interview that John did for Melody Maker in ’74: https://amoralto.tumblr.com/post/74986762326/we-talked-of-the-imminent-beatles-fans-convention
He closes with this: “It wasn’t all that pie and cookies being a Beatle, there were highs and lows, but the trouble is people just wanted bigmouth Lennon to shout about the lows. So I made a quick trip to uncover the hidden stones of my mind, and a lot of the bats flew and some of them are going to have to stay. I’ve got perspective now, that’s a fact.”
What those bats were are anyone’s guess. The whole passage in the above link is great. John was so lovely during this time, when he was in good spirits.
Yeah I was just thinking that as I read the quote, @Michelle. John’s use of language was so goddamn wonderful — and that 1974 period is the only post-India time where, to me, he really feels like a Beatle again.
Also, can we all just take a moment and applaud Amoralto? What a wonderful site, and service to Beatle people everywhere.
Yes, a wealth of information there that I’ve never read before. Great resource for Beatles fans!
It’s the ‘women as beards’ insinuation I find disrespectful. I thought the ethical reflections of John and Paul thread was supposed to address this. The women throughout John’s life may have dropped their hints and clues, but there has been nothing as forthcoming from Paul’s wives and girlfriends from 1957 until the present day. It’s 99.9% likely there was nothing to tell but it’s something the McLennon community manipulates: if such a deafening silence from Paul’s end, then it must be true. Perhaps if Linda had outlived Paul she may have told her story. Who knows? But I doubt she’d ever seen herself as some second choice while her husband polished off pleas and yearnings in his songs to his unrequited male lover. In the 1960s,70s and 80s, women may have turned a blind but unhappy eye towards infidelities their men may have had with other women; if with men, even the merest hint, they’d have walked straight away.
Paul has said that his song “Got to Get You into My Life” is about his love for marijuana. While this can fit, I theorize that he was being deflective in his answer. I think there is more to this song.
I can’t help but see the connection of this song to John’s “In My Life”.
Paul and John would write similarly themed songs based on an idea to spur their creative competitiveness. This would result in them both coming up with a great song. For example: Mother Nature’s Son/Child of Nature, Strawberry Fiels/Penny Lane, and other examples I can’t think of offhand.
So, John wrote “In My Life” in 1965 for Rubber Soul, and Paul helped provide the melody (from what is known). So, the general theme for “In My Life” is reminiscing about the past, and that love is what matters the most in the end. I believe the “I love you more” part is directed to Paul. (or if Paul had written it, he’d say it’s about marijuana- ha ha.)
So, I believe Paul was influenced by “In My Life” to write a similar song about remembering the past, but Paul gives it his own different spin. “Got to Get You into My Life” was written in 1965-1966 for the “Revolver” album.
Looking at the lyrics, I interpret the song as about Paul first meeting John. It follows the theme of remembering the past like the song “In My Life”. If you know how John and Paul met, it actually fits the theme of the song and the lyrics very well. I believe this is a song to John in appreciation of their meeting and becoming an integral part to each other’s lives.
I think Paul had to disguise it behind the “marijuana” theme because it is quite a romantic song. Apparently, John was really excited and enthusiastic about Paul’s singing of this song in the studio. John probably knew this song was for him.
As Paul sang – John was in his songs!
Just one quick little further connection about “Got To Get You Into My Life”.
As far as specific lyrics go:
“You didn’t run, you didn’t lie, you knew I wanted just to hold you” feels like a response to John’s “If I fell” which asks “don’t run and hide”. And of course, “holding” was a theme in many of the songs they wrote. (Not to mention John’s statement about “holding your best friend without…” as stated previously).
Another interesting line is the “you were meant to be near me/ I want you to hear me”. Explains itself.
The rest of the lyrics just come across as about Paul meeting John. Also, another road reference in this song – cue “The Long and Winding Road”.
Just thoughts! Alot of it is a stretch, I know, but it is fun wondering if there is more to a song, especially when John and Paul give very vague explanations.
One thing is certain, “Got To Get You Into My Life” sounds like it’s about more than marijuana (if it’s about marijuana at all). John and Paul answered each other in song all the time, something Paul himself noted in the Get Back film. One funny instance, and it could just be a coincidence or a subconscious thing, was the “I Feel Fine/She’s a Woman” single. John sings “…that her baby buys her things, you know he buys her diamond rings” and Paul sings, “My love don’t give me presents. I know that she’s no peasant.”
I’m sorry AV, but while you are having “fun”, you are also insinuating that Paul has been lying all these years.
I just think it’s disrespectful. To me, you are trying to perpetuate “alternative facts.”
Paul has said that fans and listeners are free to interpret his lyrics however they like, so I don’t think it’s disrespectful to speculate.
Speculate – absolutely. What I don’t like is when someone says, “Well, Paul HAS to be not telling the truth,”because they are determined their interpretation of his lyrics is correct.
@av – I don’t think Paul is a saint. No one is.
I meant to write I think it’s fine to speculate.
@av This is really interesting. When I read that P said the song was about marijuana that didn’t make sense to me at all. I think there is a Klaus Voormann drawing that depicts J and P during the making of Revolver and they’re staring at each in a very intent way. Your analysis makes more sense. Besides marijuana doesn’t run off or hide. It sounds to me like he’s singing about a person.
I always liked If I Fell and I read with interest that John said it wasn’t about Cynthia (poor Cynthia). He didn’t really explain who it was about and I naively thought oh, must be some other woman and then I realised it must be about Paul. In AHDN John starts singing it to Ringo as a joke, then he forgets about Ringo and mostly looks over at Paul. I think it was the 1980 Playboy interview where John said Paul was his first love, Yoko was his second, and he liked being with someone he could be physically affectionate with. This tends to make me think the connection was intense and emotional but not physical. From reading amoralto I get the impression that P was better at compartmentalising things and possibly he was happy to have a John compartment with a number of others, but John didn’t want to be in a compartment. But it’s all speculation.
Maybe the line, “She will cry when she learns we are two” is about Cynthia (yes, poor Cynthia). John apparently wrote the lyrics down on the back of a Valentine card (hey, Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone) on a plane and handed them to Paul. This item went up for auction some time ago.
I don’t think the “Paul was [the] first love [of my life], and Yoko [the] second” was said by John in the 1980 Playboy interview. I’m not sure where John said it and I’ve tried to track down the original source, to no avail. It appeared in the 1986 McCartney biography by Chris Salewicz, but he didn’t give a source.
Joshua Shenk in his book ‘Powers of Two’ wrote that while he didn’t see John as a closet case in the typical sense, there was “weirdness between him and women.” He also said that John and Paul and women “had been mixed up for a long time.” I remember a quote from Thelma Pickles, one of John’s girlfriends in art school (she also dated Paul at one point) in which she said that John compared sex to a 10-mile run. She found it strange. When they were at the college and he was feeling amorous, he’d say to her, “Do you want to go for a run?” And then they’d sneak off to a private spot to have sex. To me, this gives a whole new meaning to Paul’s last track on the Electric Arguments album: “Silent lovers… angels smiling…don’t stop running.”
@lara, totally agree with your comment. I couldn’t reply to it.
Good point @Allyn. Yoko’s predilection for litgation might have authors waiting until she is no longer among us. If she lives to be 105 though it might be a wait.
I’m not too optimistic from my reading however, as to what can be factually answered I think we are going to be left with a bushel full of all the unknowns that have accumulated and accreted over the years.
If Paul outlives Yoko, hopefully we hear what “juicy stuff” he has to say about John, which he told Hunter Davies in his “off the record” interview in 1981 he might as long as Yoko – and Cynthia (RIP) – are no longer alive.
I think it is interesting that people think that Paul wouldn’t lie or obfuscate the truth. He’s not a saint. He would not be where he is in life if he wasn’t…tactful. I think there is way more to Paul than meets the eye.
Unfortunately, I think it is likely that Yoko will outlive Paul, but who knows! Or maybe Ringo will outlive them both and answer all our questions – ha! But really, I agree that we will be left with lots of unknowns.
I love the “I Feel Fine/ She’s A Woman” observation! It makes sense that this would be a writing combo. They played these together in the same show set in 1965. Going to go all conspiracy theory now…, but if you observe Paul and John’s interactions in shows, they find a quick seconds to catch each other’s eyes. It is an interesting dynamic to observe. Since they had to play the same songs at shows over, and over, and over again, perhaps this made it more fun. I think they played a lot of games on stage and had their inside jokes. George seems to have been left out of some of this fun – another weird dynamic.
Yes, “If I Fell” was totally for Paul. Paul liked it a lot apparently. I love the pronoun ambiguity because it often sounds like they are together, and “she” will cry when she learns they are two, and that he will love him more than her. No doubt John did this on purpose. I love the original Hard Day’s Night set up for this song. There’s a wonderful picture where John is on one knee singing “If I Fell” to Paul. Yes, they had to break that sexual tension by having him sing to Ringo instead!
Song thought – What is the HARM in “I’m So Tired” and “Oh! Darlin”? They only use this word in these two songs. “it’s doing me harm” then “I’ll never do you no harm”. Call and response song pair, and obviously meaningful to each other. Also, I read that Paul never sings “Oh Darlin” and didn’t include it in his Lyrics book. Is that true?
Why are you so sure Paul lies? Because what he says doesn’t match with what you want to be true?
I think Paul and John’s sex lives in the 60’s were quite flexible and open – to say the least. As far as ethics goes, the truth is, that they were not very ethical in their treatment of women – especially when they were Beatles (George and Ringo included). It seems like Paul changed once he committed to Linda, but before that “anything goes” as the song sings. The simplicity of Linda must have been nice for Paul after juggling Jane, John, a few secret girlfriends, groupies, and who knows what else. John didn’t call him a sex gladiator for nothing. No one is being used as a beard. They most likely had open relationships. I do think ultimately John may have become too possessive and jealous of Paul and the arrangement blew up in their faces. Just speculation!
@av, never underestimate the sexism of the Sixties. An “open relationship” in the Sixties was, “I, as a man, can fuck anyone. You, as my woman, must be monogamous.”
John said something similar regarding what fans want to interpret, which is why he wrote I Am the Walrus (gosh, it’s about Paul). I love If I Fell but personally I find the lyrics immature. Whoever he’s talking about, ‘would you promise to be true’ seems like an ultimatum (no promising on his side, then) and wanting to make a former love cry. This seems more the thinking of a 17-year-old not a 23 year-old-man. I’m sure at times Paul does lie, or more specifically, white lie. So what? People lie for all sorts of reasons. For someone so famous as McCartney, I’m sure self-preservation and loyalty to his children may count. But if he’s that happy for fans to interpret ‘she’ as ‘he’ in his songs for the sake of maintaining interest in the Beatles, then that would indicate a strong streak of cruelty in his character in my opinion. Then again, some fans may want to think that of him.
If critiquing lyrics is what this is about, no song is more immature than “Another Girl”.
“They were not very ethical in their treatment of women”. Well, that’s something we can all agree on. To imply that Dot Rhone, Cynthia Lennon and Jane Asher all had open relationships (presumably Pattie and Maureen as well) to accommodate John and Paul’s supposed bisexual proclivities is one way of circumnavigating the issue, I suppose. Then for John and Paul to cover it all up by marrying Yoko and Linda within two weeks of each other to divest themselves of suspicion. Umm…What I find really weird about McLennon is how they are treated, not as two adult men from Liverpool, but seemingly like a couple of naive 16-year-olds mooning over each other… one could be forgiven in thinking it was straight out of some Mills and Boon bodice ripper.
“What I find really weird about McLennon is how they are treated, not as two adult men from Liverpool, but seemingly like a couple of naive 16-year-olds mooning over each other.”
Basically, their early lyrics were like that but worse – they seemed like a couple of naive 16-year-olds mooning over their fangirls. Paul himself said a lot of the early songs were directed at their fans. So how can you blame McLennon?
“So how can you blame McLennon?”
I’m not blaming McLennon for anything; I am pointing out a level of romantic immaturity, and a willful ignorance of how the complex process by which artists actually create stuff, because they’re infatuated with a vision of John and Paul’s relationship that has no hard evidence to date, 60+ years later, but that they, McLennon, desperately desire. Do you not see the disrespect to the artists in this?
“We had this theory that lyrics with simple words, ‘you’ ‘me’ ‘love’ etc, were more effective”
“NO YOU WERE SINGING IN SECRET MESSAGES TO EACH OTHER BECAUSE YOU GUYS WERE SECRETLY FUCKING”
“X song is about marijuana”
“NO IT’S A MESSAGE SONG TO JOHN BECAUSE YOU GUYS WERE SECRETLY FUCKING”
“There was no hint of gayness from John”
“NO NO YOU’RE LYING LOOK AT HOW JOHN LOOKS AT YOU IN THIS VIDEO, YOU GUYS WERE TOTALLY SECRETLY FUCKING”
McLennon is simply the other side of PID; it’s a fun, and mostly harmless, theory. But at some point it tips over into kind of a shitty thing to say about people you supposedly admire. And, to me, it feels really young and immature about adult work relationships, love relationships, and the creative process. But let a thousand flowers bloom.
Thank you Michael.
I don’t think the McLennon true believers will ever be convinced otherwise. John Lennon could appear in the clouds and say it wasn’t true, and they would find a way to dispute him. Frustrating as hell.
Paul could appear anywhere in the press and deny it. He could say, “What is this crap I’m seeing on tumblr about me and John?” About the only Beatles-related biopic he said he enjoyed was Two of Us, a fanfiction. I don’t know if true, but Paul supposedly told Ron Howard that if he wants to understand Lennon/McCartney, he should watch John/Paul videos that fans put together on YouTube.
Well explained, Michael. I’d add that when McLennon is treated as a historical reality to be proved, it often seems to be treated as THE explanation of everything and actually crowd out other “flowers.” Many of the people who posted on the original “Lovers” thread only posted on that thread, and only seemed interested in that topic.
It’s Romantic with a capital R, where sexual love is the only thing that motivates and where hidden passion and secret messages reign supreme. Works to create a powerful and popular form of fiction, doesn’t work when applied to real people navigating years of complex situations and relationships.
Yoko orchestrating John’s murder is treated like a historical reality to be proved, and that’s something that everyone, not just ultra-conservatives and bigots, can agree would constitute an evil act.
At least mooning over their fangirls is a step in the right direction rather than mooning over each other. Seriously though, I’m a little cynical about some of the Beatles commentary, and the Beatles themselves, towards their young girl fans once they considered themselves ‘artistes’. John’s suggestive stance at the microphone, Paul and Ringo’s moptop shaking, and George’s cutsey dance steps were all performed to elicit screams.
Yes, I think that’s 100% right, @Lara.
I meant John and Paul had an open relationship. Thier wives/girlfriends, of course, do not under the double standard – there was some wife swapping on George’s end though.
I am not romanticizing anything. John and Paul’s relationship was very complex, and that complexity influenced their art. By not exploring this facet of the Beatles story, so much of what happened and what they created will be misinterpreted, ignored, or never fully understood. The evidence exists, and it is there to consider.
I always find it interesting when responses consist of simplistic overreaction or general outrage instead of some kind of counter evidence or theory. For example: If “If I Fell” was not for Paul, who was it for? In fact, (who, what, why) was John writing many of his songs for?
If evidence supports what Paul (or anybody) says, then it gets moved closer to the category of “truth”. If words say one thing, and documentation of events and actions say another, then there’s room to question things that are incongruent.
None the less, short of Paul confirming it, or a secret confessional tape of the two of them from 1964, all other evidence will apparently be rationalized away.
This assessment just isn’t accurate, av, as a reading of the original “Lovers” thread demonstrates. What constitutes “evidence” is part of the problem, and the “Lovers” thread includes plenty of counter evidence and theory. But it’s worth noting that it is virtually impossible to prove a negative; that’s why our legal system is set up the way it is.
Asking who “If I Fell” is “about” is an example of the kind of question that I think can lead to forced conclusions. The reality is that songwriters don’t always write a song “about” a specific person. Some of Lennon’s songs are very clearly about particular people or situations (“Oh Yoko!” and “How Do You Sleep” being leading examples), but others aren’t so obviously about something or someone specific. Treating songs as if they are thesis statements about a discernible historical reality is often a mistake.
And I am really, really tired of anyone who doubts the historical reality of an ongoing sexual relationship between Lennon and McCartney being accused of “rationalizing away” hard evidence to the contrary. I also believe that the evidence I was addressing in my previous comment needs to be taken into account: we had a lot of people on that thread who only came here to talk about that one theory, and who seemed to only be able to see any song or situation through the lens of wanting to believe in it. It’s also no accident that the McLennon theory overlaps so closely with other fanfiction “shipping” narratives — strong evidence, in my opinion, that it fulfills similar emotional needs.
I’m going to stop talking about this now because I’ve said everything I have to say on the subject.
I would argue that it is YOU who is doing the rationalizing. There’s a term for that, it’s called cognitive dissonance.
There is evidence to disprove McLennon. For instance, the fact that Paul has stated a number of times that John didn’t show any hint of being gay. I’m not sure if everyone who believes that John was, in fact, bisexual (such as Yoko) agrees he’s telling the truth there. Another possibility is that John simply didn’t fancy Paul, which by definition disproves McLennon. Other evidence includes Paul’s constant proclamations that he had a huge sexual appetite for women, any woman. But the fact that he needs to remind us of this even to the present day, such as in his Lyrics book, may be interpreted as overcompensation for some doubts he (or others) might have. And I see Nancy is being pushed to the limit with this subject, so I’ll end my part in it. Thanks.
“For example: If “If I Fell” was not for Paul, who was it for? In fact, (who, what, why) was John writing many of his songs for?”
This is exactly where McLennon folks make the crucial mistake. If you’re creating stuff, especially if you’re making a lot of it, under immense time pressure, basically everything in your life becomes grist for the mill. It has to be. Sometimes it’s your relationship or a partner, sometimes it’s a cereal commercial or something on TV, sometimes it’s a stray comment you hear from a stranger.
I’ve had periods where I’ve had to produce a ton of written comedy very quickly, for money. Everything is grist for the mill, even dreams.
Lennon and McCartney were professional songwriters; they answered your question very bluntly: “Let’s go write a swimming pool.” So who what why? Often it was for money. Surely it was for pleasure. Sometimes it was, as Lennon said, because Paul had come in with five songs and we needed to put out an LP. Or competition, or boredom, or a fan asked, or or or…
McLennon starts from a false premise: that the Lennon/McCartney songbook is a secret conversation between Lennon and McCartney. The songs that were that, we know — and they seem to be mostly post-breakup songs, when the two aren’t seeing each other regularly anymore. You don’t need to have secret conversations if you can have IRL private ones. But most of their work — just like most of the work of every artist, especially in their most fecund periods — is a melange of motivations, influences and inspirations.
With that founding distortion in place, what’s the point of engaging with every theory? What possible “evidence” could disprove one’s pet theory? A different set of “clues” proving the opposite? It’s like bailing the ocean, and while I don’t mind it so very much, McLennon folks surely do seem to be only interested in McLennon.
I think this is a testament to their charisma.
The fact that fans see these professional songwriters who bang out product for albums, and think “these lyrics are special loving messages to each other and to us.”
Or the endless debates over “Paul said this” or “John said that” as if J&P had rolled out of bed just bursting with things they wanted to share with us, vs. the fact that they were simply responding to reporters’ microphones shoved in their faces.
Or the conjecture in the other thread about why John was talking so much about his life on his last day; as if he woke up that morning full of sentimental love for us, his fans, and wanted to tell us everything, rather than just obeying a contractual obligation to promote a new album. It was easier for a lazy man to have a couple of adoring radio DJs up to the apartment to hear him ramble, rather than to sit in the green room of the Carson show and share a stage with Shecky Greene. The DJs weren’t his friends and we weren’t his friends, no matter how much his music moves us.
The most charismatic entertainers make us feel like it’s just them and us. They look into our eyes and we forget the entertainment industry they’re working in. And so we weave tales around every lyric and every public comment.
Excellent comment HS.
This is so good, @Sam, and Lennon was the consummate master at generating that kind of faux-intimacy.
” It was easier for a lazy man to have a couple of adoring radio DJs up to the apartment to hear him ramble, rather than to sit in the green room of the Carson show and share a stage with Shecky Greene.”
SPOT ON ^^^
Outstanding reference to Shecky Greene. I really had to laugh at that one. The comparison to Boswell in the other thread also merits points.
Yeah, great comment. Also, as much as I wonder about John/Paul, we have to accept the fact that they probably had people in their lives that we have no idea even existed. Or is every Beatle friend, girlfriend etc. known to us? If it’s not each other they’re singing about, then who? It could be anyone. Or no one in particular. I have to be realistic. The two of them were a very important part of each other’s lives – John said in 1980 that he only had two partners, Paul and Yoko, and in Paul’s lyrics book it notes that besides Linda, the person who features most prominently is John – so it would be surprising if they DIDN’T turn up in the other’s songs at times.
Not saying If I Fell is proof of McLennon, but I knew I’d read something that started me thinking about it.
John talking to David Sheff in 1980
JOHN: That’s my first attempt at a – at a ballad. Proper. That was the precursor to ‘In My Life’. It’s the same chord sequence as ‘In My Life’, but – just about ‘round D, and B minor, and E minor, those kind of – things. And uh, it’s… semi-autobiographical, but not that conscious, you know. It’s really about – it’s not about Cyn, my first wife.
While I’ve been persuaded away from thinking Maybe I’m Amazed might be about John, he does include a sentiment from If I Fell, namely “help me understand”. When he says he’s in the middle of something that he doesn’t really understand, does he mean the Klein situation or what? His relationship with Linda is very understandable to me (maybe not to John, lol). I don’t see the confusion in that. And he had no choice but to take legal action to dissolve the Beatles. What’s not to understand? Only he knows, because I don’t get it. He told Howard Stern that the “afraid of the way I love you” bit had to do with thinking he wasn’t good enough. Good enough for Linda? Seriously, did he think he was that unworthy?
Anyway, the If I Fell line, “I must be sure from the very start that you would love me more than her” has always made me chuckle and I’m not alone. Same with the ambiguous “I love you more than any other guy” line in No Reply. There was a No Reply appreciation thread on the Steve Hoffman forums where some posters, presumably male, said that this ruined a great song for them. I just think it’s probably poetic license, and it wouldn’t sound right to sing, “That you would love me more than she [does].” It was convenient for Evan Rachel Wood’s character in the Across the Universe movie to be able to sing, as she broke into If I Fell and watched her love interest dance with another girl, to sing “love me more than her” because it fits perfectly in that instance. I think John liked the double meaning with these various lines, because he sampled something similar from an Elvis song, “I’d rather see you dead than to be with another man.” Then later in a song called Name and Address, Paul does a spot on Elvis impersonation as he sings, “Maybe I’ll hate to think of you with another man.” I can’t help but thing these two conducted a running gag with their songs.
My last comment was directed to av.
I recently read somewhere that Paul said he had learned a lot about John over the last few years. Which makes me think he has read the same books, articles, and online docs and discussions as everyone else has. And then subconsciously personalized what others have interpreted rather than relying on his own actual experiences with John. I think that is part of grief and loss. How well did Paul really know John? How well did John really know Paul? It’s weird. If John had not been killed, would any of the information brought up by his biographers surfaced? There was an undoubted bond there, but neither of them seemed to want to get under each other’s skin during the ten years after the split, apart from meeting up occasionally to chat and play music. I may be quite wrong, I don’t know.
I was just reading an article about limerance – which is a state of infatuation or obsession that can be quite overwhelming. It can be quite intense “in relationships where other factors — genuine friendship, shared experience, mutual artistic or intellectual admiration, kindred calling” also exist. It can subsume existing relationships, so that the object of this limerance, and the person feeling it, can struggle to “to disentangle one context from the other in order to salvage and reframe in a non-limerent context what is at bottom a deep and valuable connection.”
It struck me that perhaps, given that Paul and John had a deep and valuable relationship, John was in a state of limerance where Paul was concerned, which became unsustainable and in ending this, maintaining a meaningful relationship with Paul was just too difficult.
Maybe there’s a psychologist who has some thoughts on this.
This is interesting and the first time I’ve heard of limerance. Ian Leslie, the author of the upcoming book I mentioned called ‘John and Paul, a Love Story in 23 Songs’ mentions on his website that he will posit that John and Paul had what is known as a romantic friendship. This seems like a new way to describe these intense friendships but there are actually examples going back centuries. Romantic friendships can include love letters, holding hands, cuddling, hugging, sharing a bed and even kissing! But it stops short of sexual intercourse. Personally, when it comes to my female friends, I would stop short at a lot of the other stuff long before it got to sex. It sounds like repressed sexual desire to me.
Yes, I saw somewhere else their relationship described as a romantic friendship. And that seemed a good description, too. Maybe a little like Emily Dickinson and Susan Gilbert. Except I gather the intensity was stronger on Emily’s side. And I suspect John was more intense about it all than Paul.
Oh this is very very interesting — anybody?
“Limerance”. I didn’t know there was a word other than “bromance” which can describe male relationships of great love/no sex friendship, with the “love” part meaning ‘admiration’, ‘respect’.
‘Limerance’ as ‘platonic romantic friendship’, even if sexual desire is present in one or both… okay, that sounds logical and descriptive regarding John and Paul at least to me, and I’m not a psychologist, just a lay person.
My thoughts on ‘McLennon’, a word John Lennon coined if I’m’ not mistaken (going by the postcard that he sent to Ringo from a trip he and Paul were on), is:
The Lennon-McCartney partnership was a ‘marriage’ as described by both John and Paul, the break up, a ‘divorce’, as described by both. “McLennon” was the “symbiotic creative state” they were both in to ‘make their babies’… the songs we all love.
The McLennon postcard had a comical drawing of happy, smiling, plastered groom (3 sheets to the wind) strong as ‘Popeye the sailor man’, as he carries an irate, mustachioed chauffeur, over the threshold, leaving the gobsmacked bride in the limo desperately trying to get his attention shouting: “That champagne was STRONG darling!” It’s signed by John: “To the Starky’s from the McLennon’s!”
I couldn’t resist using the word ‘gobsmacked’ in a sentence for the first time.
Good word gobsmacked, and used well. Yes, that is an amusing postcard. And it would seem Paul and John thought of McLennon first …
Actually, I believe they used McLennon because they (John and Yoko) were writing Ringo from Scotland, so it is a JOKE to put “Mc” or “Mac” in front of the last name to make it Scottish. There’s good evidence out there, but this ain’t it.
[Hey @av, as per our new commenting guidelines, we aren’t going to be delving into McLennon stuff anymore. Feel free to post about other things, though.–MG]
I mean the Lennon-McCartney partnership was: “LIKE a marriage”
the break up was: “LIKE a divorce”. That’s why the break up was so painful for all of them. The Beatles were a “family”.
I agree Waterfalls. I think it’s cool that the Beatle kids refer to each other as “family.” They really do care about each other. That’s a great legacy.
@Cazz, I’m not a psychologist, although I majored in it in college, but didn’t finish. So my opinion is strictly as an amateur.
I think this makes such sense! It could explain why their relationship gets portrayed by some, as lovers.
I honestly would love to read a psychologists opinion on the Lennon/McCartney partnership/relationship. A perspective from a professional looking through a critical, impartial lens. I don’t know if that’s even possible.
@tasmin I did a little psychology at college, but just dabbled really. I tend to think they were lovers in every sense except perhaps the physical because those needs could easily be met elsewhere. Many years ago, I listened to a multi-part radio show that really got me interested in The Beatles and it told their entire story. The one line that is still clear to me, decades later, is someone saying about the break-up – I suspect John – that things changed because previously they had “saved all their intimacy for the group”.
More musings centred on Help!
Title track: a jaunty tune John later said was an actual cry for help
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away: Plenty of speculation around already on that one
It’s Only Love: This track has puzzled me for many, many years. Even a decade ago, when my Beatles fixation was largely dormant, I thought this song was beautiful and puzzling. It’s a plaintive song of tortured love, of odi et amo obsession. Who was he singing about? It made no sense to me because he was married. I’d guarantee you it’s not about Cynthia. By 1965 he’s prince of the world, so who’s he singing about with such longing?
Always loved It’s Only Love and so have my Beatle fan friends. John hated it with a passion because of the lyrics. Who cares? It’s a lovely tune. I suspect that it wasn’t the lyrics per se that he had a problem with, but the vulnerability he displayed. I wonder what song, if any, he did write for Cynthia. When I Get Home and that’s it?
@Michelle When I Get Home for Cynthia – that made me laugh. Poor Cynthia, she probably deserved more than that. Do you think John felt that in marrying her he had done his duty and apart from paying for things, he didn’t owe her anything else?
I think you could be right that John hated It’s Only Love because it revealed too much, not because it’s a bad song. I think it’s a great song, and it captures something of being obsessed with someone who perhaps isn’t good for you, but you’re in thrall to them anyway. It’s quite possible I recognise this state …
I think John had complex and changing feelings about Cynthia. I’m reading Lewisohn’s Tune In at the moment, and it seems clear that John needed people to push back against him for him to maintain respect for them. I’ve been on the receiving end of need like that, and it can be exhausting. I’d speculate that if they hadn’t had Julian they might never have married, but I don’t think it’s as simple as him feeling he didn’t owe her anything else. She wanted a nice quiet life, where they both settled into easy stereotypes (I think it’s Paul who said she just wanted to bring John his slippers etc). He probably never could have given her that.
Even statements like “John hated X song” are too simplistic, because he was nothing if not mercurial. He may have hated it with a passion the day he gave an interview, and then been able to see some of its charms another day.
At Cazz, why would the the very thought of the song, ‘When I Get Home’ being for Cynthia, make you laugh? How is it in any way funny? Why is it ludicrous to think that John would write that song, or any song to, for and about his first wife Cynthia? I think he has written a few songs for her. Love songs in the Beatles catalog. Maybe not all of them but certainly some.
It seems to me that ‘John&Yoko’, (not John and Yoko) but ‘John&Yoko’, “two bodies one mind” (controlled by Yoko) along with their willing, sycophantic allies in the rock music press throughout the decades, did a superb job in convincing people (especially Beatle fans) that John never loved, or cared about Cynthia in any way. Like she was a ‘one night stand’ he married, “to be nice, because she got pregnant, because he’s a stand up guy”. The fact that she was an artist, his main girlfriend, and they had a sexual love affair for four years, before they married, he wrote heartfelt love letters to her from Hamburg before her pregnancy, and during Beatlemania tours, confessing his love, how he missed both her and his “little rocker” (Julian), and that early in their marriage, they were happy… well that doesn’t mean anything to some Beatle/Lennon/Yoko fans. Still, if John wasn’t as happy as he wanted to be, it’s because, John was NEVER as happy as he wanted to be with ANYONE, including Yoko, because John was mentally and emotionally ill, and wanted a fantasy ideal of what he thought ‘happy’ was.
Some Lennon fans, and certainly Yoko fans (in her very tiny niche spot) seem to love to mock/ridicule or even feel a pale pity for a “poor pathetic Cynthia”, mythologized as a “dull boring girl”, who seduced, then roped an “unwilling, reluctant, blameless John Lennon” into marrying her, by saddling him with the “result of a bottle of whiskey on a Saturday night”. That’s deliberate, well thought out, LASTING 1980 poison pen PR, (another ‘row duck’ on the “Lennon-kick-the-bucket-list”?) because J&Y found it was necessary to publicly separate and designate their sons into categories, the purpose being what? To let the public (Beatle/Lennon fans know that Sean was “longed for, wanted, planned, (although Yoko admitted that she was ready to abort Sean if fickle father John [fresh off his ‘Lost Weekend’], chose to terminate if that would save their marriage) and Julian was an “accidental mistake” J&Y wanted to wish away? The public needed to know this, Why? Before Yoko showed up, John never spoke publicly derisively or dismissively of Cynthia and Julian. That little quirk showed up after Yoko entered the picture, hooked John on heroin, then she (as Mother-who-must-be-obeyed…or else!) and John both began to mythologize their “marvelous pairing and mighty love” and belittled all others who were before Yoko, essentially practicing “ends justifying the means” logic or “we’re madly in love!” to excuse themselves for bad behavior.
I think John wrote several songs about Cynthia in the Beatles catalog. AHDN is one, cause it ain’t about his mom Julia, Yoko, Maureen Cleeve, Alma Cogan, some nameless groupie, or Paul McCartney. I think there are other songs too. In his post Beatles catalog, ‘Woman’ is for Cynthia, May, Julia, Mimi, Yoko female fans and any other females that loved or helped John in his life, he said so. But Yoko and sycophantic allies in the rock music press and literary press emphasized that it was written ONLY for Yoko (to make her seem always-evermore-special)It was not!
“… ‘Woman’ is for Cynthia, May, Julia, Mimi, Yoko, female fans…”
@meaigs and @Water Falls- I agree that John loved Cynthia deeply at one point and she was hugely important to him. Correct that ‘Woman’ is probably a composite of the women in his life, as he said, and Cynthia may have been one of several subjects of ‘Jealous Guy’ as well.
@Cazz, I think that in any pre-Rubber Soul Lennon song with some emotional weight to it, he’s unconsciously singing about Julia. Those emotions were grafted onto the pop song boy/girl format, but that’s where the themes of reunion (“It Won’t Be Long”), unconditional availability (“All I Gotta Do,” “Anytime At All”), and confused hurt (“I’ll Be Back,” “Not A Second Time,” “It’s Only Love”) and possessive jealousy (“You Can’t Do That,” “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl”). John more or less stopped writing this way after Rubber Soul because of drugs, and by the time he started writing about romantic love again, the songs were about Yoko and, with few exceptions, far less compelling.
That’s great insight Michael. I hadn’t thought about that. Even if John didn’t consciously realize he was thinking about Julia; of course he was! That is pain that doesn’t go away.
@Michael Bleicher Interesting angle. There’s a lot of grief tangled in his relationship with Julia. Hmm, the Yoko effect – definitely less compelling
I confess I went down a Beatles “fan fiction” rabbit hole at one point in my life, but Paul’s recent “Winston Churchill” story and the Plaster Caster book made me wonder if there might be some truth to the more taboo tales about him and John? Did they really “touch tubes” as they say, or was it only John and Mr. Epstein?
[Hey @Sr., this topic tends to overwhelm the comments so we’re calling a halt to the “touching tubes” discussion; there’s a post called “Were John and Paul Lovers?” which has 800 comments and discusses this from surely every angle. — MG]
“I tend to think they were lovers in every sense except perhaps the physical because those needs could easily be met elsewhere.” @Cazz, I know enough about psychology to know that this sort of thing hurts people terribly if their partners are “in love” with other people, and that they feel an enormous sense of betrayal even if there is no physical or sexual element involved. It also affects their children. When and how did Beatles fans become so insensitive? I think people are reading far far too much into John and Paul’s lyrics. They’re songs and not all of them were personal. Many of them were written to meet contractual obligations, nothing else.
[Hey @Lara, as per our new commenting guidelines, we aren’t going to be delving into McLennon stuff anymore. Feel free to post about other things, though.–MG]
Just being honest here, but could limiting these discussion topics make things a little technical and boring? Could not being able to discuss these things actually limit interesting responses, thoughts, ideas, and communication? With all due respect to you, of course!
@av, I’ve thought about this long and hard — we’ve been dealing with the onslaught for several years now. It’s not that the topic isn’t worth discussing, to a point — it is. Almost anything that Beatles fans are thinking about, I’m interested in. But McLennon is unresolvable; it is simply speculation — it is the Beatles-equivalent of the JFK assassination. There is no bottom to it, no proof that will decide the issue.
Also the commenters that populate those threads really only post about that one issue. And they tend to move to other threads, and post about McLennon on that thread, too. So we are faced with a blog that has hundreds of threads about all sorts of things relating to the Beatles, from the serious to the silly, which is turning into a discussion not about any of those things, but of one thing. Which, like I say, can’t ever be resolved, so people fascinated by the possibility are never going to stop.
We have tried to limit it to one post/thread; didn’t work. Then Nancy and I tried to engage with people, and move them gently to other topics; didn’t work. I have attempted to get McLennon people talking about WHY they’re fascinated by it, so we can talk about Beatle fan psychology — but they don’t want to do that. Restricting dialogue is quite literally my last thought before simply turning off comments altogether, which I don’t want to do because I love hearing what people have to say. I’m just beyond bored with that one topic which, if you’re not fascinated by it, vastly narrows the scope of what we do here.
Cynthia ends her book about John by saying if she knew what was ahead of her when she met him, she would have walked away. She also said that the Beatles were what he truly loved, and that if she hadn’t gotten pregnant, they would have drifted apart, and never gotten married. John mostly neglected her and Julian, occasionally felt bad about it, then totally lost interest.
On a positive note, I love a song demo John does called “I’m In Love” from 1963. https://youtu.be/Lq_fsGdvugg (if the link works).
I like this little tune. A lost Beatles song.
I tried responding to you @av, but apparently frivolous opinions about how much one likes a song get shitcanned as well!
@Michelle, I’m looking for every comment to add something of substance to the conversation; one or two lines about “I like this” or “I don’t like that” will usually be trashed. Not meanly, but to try to encourage longer, more thoughtful commentary.
Faith, this is so interesting! I know you have mostly commented on Lennon-McCartney, but in your longer post will you be writing about the others? I am REALLY curious to read your take on George Harrison!
So, there is a lot of speculation about India and the Beatles’ break up, but I think something that happened on the New York Apple trip (from May 11th to May 15th 1968) that may have been the final straw for John and got the ball rolling on the Beatles’ break up.
This first well-known interview (based on clothing it was the day they arrived in New York) from May 11th, everything still seems alright. (John has a band aid on his chin.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qp0i90n0BP8&t=51s.
By May 14th and the press conference at the Americana Hotel, something is very different in the dynamic. John appears upset and angry, and it is obvious to me who his anger is directed towards. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lC5bUE2d_c0. He was not even this upset in his “Bigger than Jesus” press conferences. Something bad happened between the 11th and the 14th.
Next on May 14th, they give an interview to Mitchelle Krause for the local educational radio station. The whole interview is good, but a particularly interesting part starts about the 16 minute mark. They talk about censorship, truth, and -(you can’t even describe it/ that has nothing to do with the truth) part. Paul noticed they were asking serious questions for a change. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-ptdVHsf1A.
Last on May 14th, the do the infamous Tonight Show interview. Paul still seems dazed by the “serious questions” from the previous interview. I think this is the last video interview the ever do together. It is mostly lost. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9ksrH6DEdE.
On May 15th, they leave New York back to England. On May 18th, John loaded on drugs, calls an Apple meeting, announces he is Jesus, then invites Yoko over that night. Whatever happened, it seems that very soon after this trip, John gets with Yoko, leaves his wife and child, starts using heroin, and is very mean and angry towards Paul. The White Album sessions started at the beginning of June 1968. A miserable time was had by all because of John’s anger. I wish there was more information about this trip to New York!
@Av This a very interesting post. I do concur that John seems to become more agitated and hostile as the New York trip progresses. The problem I have with New York as the ground zero is that that John began his stupendous and would-have-been-lethal-to-anyone-else drug binge immediately on return from India. In fact, he got completely loaded on booze (and goaded Cynthia) while he was still on the plane. So whether it had anything to do with Paul McCartney or not, something is already very wrong inside his head before the Apple trip. I also have trouble believing that a guy as worldly as John Lennon decided to write himself off and react to everyone in his life with exponential hostility because he thought that the Maharishi was getting laid. In fact, that seems like the kind of thing John Lennon would laugh at. John’s physical appearance in that first interview is also quite telling. Compared to the photos taken in India where he looks quite healthy, he has deteriorated significantly in the time between returning from India and going to New York. Whatever was wrong may have been exacerbated or made worse in New York, I just don’t think it started there.
@Matt, that type of behavior is consistent with “spiritual emergency,” at least in my experience. You feel very profoundly uncomfortable in your nervous system and while drugs and alcohol don’t fix what’s going on they do dull the uncomfortable sensations a bit, and distract you a bit, which feels like relief.
If John was that upset about the Maharishi’s sex life, think of how uncomfortable he must’ve been in the Reeperbahn. 🙂
(OK, in fairness to John, he could’ve had unrealistic views of the sex lives of holy men, but you know who could’ve set him straight on that? George. Surely one of the many established Hindu gurus George had cultivated since 1966 would’ve talked to him about the tendency for sexual intimacy between guru and acolyte. So, I’m still not convinced.)
Yeah, the Maharishi probably preached against earthly desires, so it was the hypocrisy that John didn’t like, and maybe the sexual harassment of someone he cared enough to write a song about? This wasn’t about getting laid and having a sex life.
Well, as we know that’s what John said, @Michelle, but I personally find that likely only part of the story. John Lennon, famous married rock star surrounded by groupies — veteran of many affairs — castigating the Maharishi on those grounds seems…blindingly hypocritical? It wasn’t impossible that his own behavior would be scrutinized as a result, and he had a lot more to lose than Maharishi.
If there was a kernel of truth in what he said to the Press, that perhaps John thought of the Maharishi as more than human, and so when the scales fell from his eyes, it was a shock. But as I said, licentious behavior with comely followers is pretty standard guru behavior, especially in the more charismatic sects, like Transcendental Meditation circa 1967-68. I’d be shocked if George wasn’t hip to that; which explains why HE didn’t react was intensely as John did. But we’ll never know.
Here’s a day-by-day account of that trip on a Paul McCartney fan site: https://www.the-paulmccartney-project.com/1968/05/the-beatles-announce-their-newly-formed-company-apple/
I’ve seen speculation that Linda may have been the cause of the split between Paul and John and this juncture, and while she reenters Paul’s life during this trip, they don’t meet up until the 14th, when she attends a taping of The Tonight Show that afternoon. And the official story — Paul calls her on the night of the 14th and they talk for hours, she rides with John and Paul in the limo to the airport on the 15th — hardly seems like something worth getting bent out of shape about.
To posit that Linda was the reason… well, you almost have to imagine that something else was going on. Linda hadn’t seen Paul since May 1967, but she had been to England a few times between May 1967 and May 1968. Linda admitting that she preferred John to Paul, so had she seen John on those visits? Why was she at The Tonight Show taping? Was she there to see John, possibly hook up with John? Then Paul starts making flirty faces at her at the afterparty, she gives him her phone number, they start talking, and John’s now out of the picture. I can “see” this scenario in my head, but to start in motion the trashing of the band because Paul steals John’s “sure thing” on the New York trip seems wildly out of proportion.
I think the simpler explanation might be this from Paul himself about that trip: “I had a real personal paranoia. I don’t know if it was what I was smoking at the time, but it was very strange for me.” They were taking some bad drugs on that trip that were making them paranoid; Paul handled it better, John handled it worse, and the drugs exacted an unseen psychic toll that reverberated over the next eighteen months.
Always look to the drugs, they make people act in unpredictable and excessive ways.
It is interesting the intersection with James Taylor arriving in the Beatles circle in January 1968 and he claims he introduced John to opiates. So, by May John was on that journey.
Thanks for posting these interviews. I never heard the one conducted by Mitchell Krause. Very interesting! And I could listen to John and Paul talk all day, even if they were just reading the phone book. John does not sound agitated at all in this one, so it doesn’t really fit your timeline of something negative happening between May 11 and May 14. I don’t know. What could have happened really? John was mercurial by nature. I think it was a culmination of things over a longer period of time that caused him to pull away from the Beatles.
I totally agree with it being cumulative. I was just trying to show what was going on right before John took the final plunge into Yoko, heroin, and anger. I think something on this trip was the LAST STRAW of everything that had been building up since India – or even before. Also, I think there was probably a lot more going on in the radio interview than can be told by their voices. Looking at body language and facial expressions is always more helpful when trying to figure things out. Whatever happened, John’s friendship with Paul changed drastically and permanently after this trip as well as the fate of the Beatles. Seems like the beginning of the end.
This is a quick clip of the meeting held 2 days after the New York Apple promotion trip.
From what I can hear from the clip, it sounds like John and Paul need to discuss business matters with Dick James (owner of half of their song ownership stock) because the Lennon/McCartney song writing partnership is not going well on a personal level. Like I said before – something that happened in New York was some kind of final straw in changing their relationship permanently. After this meeting, John would have Yoko with him at all times (and more drugs), divorce his wife, and begin to sever his previously deep attachment to Paul.
Dick James is confused about why there is any concern about the future of the Lennon/McCartney writing partnership and says, “You’ve got the respect for each other’s ability and integrity. What then? I can’t think of any other requirements that business associates need? Tell me your problem.” (Paul’s face when he says this) Paul is trying to get things sorted out without telling him the problem between him and John. (I would like to know the problem too.)
John ultimately jumps in with, “It’s up to us whether we do it or not.” Also, John looks VERY upset, and Paul looks stressed to the max. The Apple business had just officially started and wasn’t losing money yet, so this was all personal stuff going on between John and Paul and the questioning of whether there could be a Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership in the future with all the weird emotional stuff going on between the two of them (their marriage was breaking up).
Ultimately, John and Paul stop writing songs together like they used to after this, but still get joint credit on individually written songs.
That’s John’s dog.
I guess whatever they were trying to work out at this meeting was never worked out. Ultimately, many months later, Dick James sells his shares, which is a huge deal since John and Paul lose control of their songs.
I always wonder what could have happened between John and Paul that was so bad.
@av, I think it’s impossible to “read” such a small snippet, but I don’t think this has anything to do with an internal Lennon/McCartney rift. It seems that John and Paul are asking Dick James to clarify a situation — or change a deal.
So what could this be about? What’s the this? In June of 1968, Brian was long dead, so Lennon and McCartney were decidedly minority partners in their own publishing company. Maybe they had been able to buy Brian’s 10% from Clive or Queenie, or whoever that 10% passed to. But that still left them short. This, from Paul’s Many Years from Now:
“There was always this voting share that could beat us. We could only muster 49; they could muster 51. They could always beat us. John and I were highly surprised to find that even though we’d been promised our own company, it actually was a company within Dick James’s company that was to be our own company. And we thought that’s not fair at all, but this was just the way they pulled the wool over our eyes. And we were on such a roll creatively, you couldn’t just take a year off and sort out the business affairs. We had no time. We never met this Charles Silver guy; a character who was always in the background. Jim Isherwood clued us in a little bit as to who he was. He was the Money, that was basically who he was, like the producer on a film. He and Dick James went in together, so Silver always got what was really our share! There were the two of them taking the lion’s share, but it was a little while before we found out.”
Back to the snippet: if I were forced to guess, it would be about this state of affairs, and John and Paul are attempting to reconfigure the deal, and James has said, “Make an offer, I probably won’t take it, but i’ll listen.”
Given the death of Epstein, a sensible businessman might be looking to sell out and book an amazing profit before The Beatles and their hippie cotillion ran the whole ship aground. So perhaps Dick James was considering selling his shares even then, and that people were advising Lennon and McCartney to make an offer for those shares (“we get all sorts of advice…”). And James is trying to figure out whether this golden goose is going to keep laying — ie, will the Beatles even be around in six months? The moment the group breaks up, James’ asking price for the material would plummet, because nobody expected those songs to become classics; no pop group’s work had done that. So when we enter the conversation, it seems that James is countering some suggestion that the group could break up — something John and Paul would be wise to say, if they wanted to lower James’ asking price. And he is saying, who says you’re breaking up? “You’ve all got respect for each other’s ability and integrity…” John intimates that they might not even WANT to buy James’ out. “We get lots of advice. It’s up to us whether we do it or not.” And then Paul says, Paul: “Dick–DICK–we now think that it’s time we sorted it out a bit more fairly.”
And then Paul says, quite forcefully for someone who’s a minority partner, “So, Dick, that’s it. You go away and you come back with something which you know won’t start this argument again.”
“This argument” doesn’t seem to be “a private argument between me and John” — what would Dick James of all people have to do with that? But an “argument” related to what Dick James’ relationship was with John and Paul, ie, a songwriting deal penned in 1962 which, by 1968, was completely unfair ethically, even if it wasn’t illegal. What leverage did John and Paul have in this situation? Well, they could say they’d stop the group; they could buy James and Silver out; they could say they’d sue; they could end that deal and make a new one perhaps.
This is where McLennon-style “emotional” history of The Beatles really goes wrong; it’s not about there being hidden currents between group members not being accounted for — although that’s true to some small degree; thanks to Lennon’s interviews and now decades more of Paul interviews, the Official Narrative by now has a lot of data on all the Beatles’ emotional states, almost month-by-month. Rather, “emotional” history shifts the topic from something boring (business) that requires a lot of specific experience (negotiations and intellectual property rights) that 99.9999% of fans don’t have, and don’t want to have, and would not listen to a podcast about, to a fascinating topic that everyone over the age of 12 can relate to and opine about, ie love and romance and backbiting and so forth.
I’m not invalidating that “emotional” line of inquiry entirely, nor even your theory posited above, but I think it’s really instructive how misleading this lens can be, and why it’s nevertheless so popular on the internet. It turns the Beatles into a secret soap opera only True Fans can perceive. And in this case, it turns a boring and incomprehensible snippet into something fascinating, The Key to the Story.
Michael, I really agree with your analysis here. The “business” concerns play a huge role in the tensions not only between Lennon and McCartney, but in the group as a whole, after Epstein’s death. The dawning realization that some deals weren’t what they’d thought (as McCartney explains in the quote you cite) and that they had to work things out for themselves was big. I think that’s part of why Allen Klein was able to appeal to Lennon, in particular, so strongly: he came off as a tough “business” guy who could fix everything.
It’s worth remembering that many, many marriages and romantic relationships end amidst tensions over money. Emotions are important, but those emotions are often entwined with, and can be about, money.
Thanks, @Nancy. I can just say that even in my tiny affairs there are a million business details, contracts, etc, that one ignores at one’s peril. What made Brian’s death so difficult is that, just as John and Paul especially were coming into their full talents, they didn’t have a trusted person to tell, “Go talk to Dick James and renegotiate that deal.” It is a crime that PAUL AND JOHN THEMSELVES are spending time wrangling this kind of stuff — even though they wanted to do it, at least for a time. If you’re fatigued, as Lennon surely was by late ’68, someone coming on strong and saying, “Let me take care of this for you” would be hugely seductive.
also, just because you really click with someone creatively, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be great business partners; you may not see/handle money in the same way, and it’s clear John and Paul didn’t.
That last point –that connecting with someone creatively doesn’t equal being effective business partners — is so true. And there are absolutely good reasons, the vast majority of the time, for the people involved in creative work NOT to be the ones doing all the business negotiating.
I also think about how much more work was involved in learning about business and negotiation in the late 1960s vs. today. We have access to so much information now, much of it for free, that it’s hard to imagine how opaque business matters could well have seemed 50 years ago.
Thanks Michael! I figured you would have more knowledge about what was going on in this clip, and what you wrote really helps clarify things better. The business stuff is complicated, but interesting. I’m not trying to turn anything into a soap opera, but there is an undeniable romantic drama in the John/Paul story that isn’t often looked at very seriously that permeates everything.
To me this clip still shows that John and Paul were in the unfortunate position of having to handle their new Apple business venture together, as well as their song stock renegotiations, AND work on the White Album while being in major crisis on a personal level.
This is June 18th, 1968, according to clip caption (Paul’s Birthday). If this is mid-June, it must be one of the rare times John is doing something without Yoko (they got together at the end of May), and has to be in the same room with Paul without Yoko around. By mid-June, John and Paul we’re working on the White Album and not getting along at all, so that makes more sense in the context of this clip.
I think Dick James can see there is a problem between the two, but Paul is trying to keep things together. John’s bizarre behavior isn’t helping, and I don’t think he’s acting that way over business issues.
I really appreciate your thoughtful responses!
I appreciate your thoughtful responses, too, @av.
Without question this period is pivotal in the last two years of the group. I just don’t think we’ll ever find any kind of smoking gun; John might’ve told us — he delighted in self-exposure — but I think we’ll simply have to wonder about much of John and Paul’s interactions.
I agree. John always hinted at stuff about him and Paul in the 70’s, and Paul has said some stuff that makes you go “Hmmm” as well (and their suggestive songs).
Like any history investigation, all you can do is piece together the content from the old interviews, press conferences, and the various perspectives from people who were there in person, and use what your own eyes and ears tell you. I obviously focus on the emotional aspects, and it is fun for me to watch the old Beatles interviews and press conferences, then read the body language and listen to the jokey, witty, and sometimes untruthful responses. With what we know now, it is interesting to watch this stuff with reasonably good hindsight. I’m sure if John had known we could still watch their version of “This Boy” from The Ed Sullivan Show 60 years later, he may have done less flirting with Paul during the song – or maybe not.
The “Get Back” documentary had some questionable editing. I was surprised to discover this info. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaZuMdfCjjY
Jackson edited Paul saying, “Then there were two”, out of context. Paul really said, “But I’m not, you know, I can’t be bothered doing all that.” I don’t think the original dialog makes Paul look bad, but that it is not his place anymore to tell John what to do. So, that’s annoying and now makes me wonder what else was taken out of context.
There are many things we’ll never know for sure, but it’s been fun learning all I can about the Beatles. When I was 12, I got ALL their albums for Christmas, and books with lots of great pictures. I was hooked. John was my favorite. I went many years without really wanting to know much more beyond the basic stuff. Then the “Get Back” documentary arrived, and I wanted to know more about why they broke up. I researched, read, watched, and got way more info than I ever expected, and their story really blew me away. There’s obviously still plenty I don’t know, but I know more than average. So much original source material available now!
I understand why people get defensive about certain things, but the more you see and learn, the more the pieces fit. No matter what is proven, or not proven, it’s just an enjoyable experience knowing more about a subject I’ve loved a long time.
“Like any history investigation, all you can do is piece together the content from the old interviews, press conferences, and the various perspectives from people who were there in person, and use what your own eyes and ears tell you.”
@av, you’re missing an ingredient — probably the most important ingredient, if education as an historian is any guide: reading scholarship about the era under investigation. Historians of a period read scholarly books and papers incessantly, because all that original source material must be interpreted within the context of that time and place, which is very different from our own.
Digital culture tends to flatten everything into “now” and that’s the opposite of history. If you’re primarily engaging with an era — any era — via the internet, “your own eyes and ears” are likely to mislead you, because you’re going to interpret those original sources with a strong, strong present bias; you will engage with them as if they were produced by people living today, because the vast mass of the internet is precisely that. Perhaps in 50 years this will be less prevalent.
For an example of how historians chew over these kinds of issues, check out this Wikipedia article on Abraham Lincoln’s sexuality.
I see what you mean, and I have read the material from historians that interpret the history, and of that time period in general (there are many, many books/ documentaries) – as you are saying.
This is obviously very helpful to put things in context and give various perspectives. You can’t interpret source materials without all the necessary background history. But once you’ve absorbed all that information, my point was that it is fun going back to the source material because you see things in a new light, and things you were blind to before. I am really not looking at this stuff with a strong present bias. I guess I was not clear enough in my statement. I assumed knowing good background history was a given to understanding source material.
Historians are providing their best interpretation based on their study and expertise of the subject, and it is essential to consider those conclusions. However, to just take their interpretation of history and not apply your own critical thinking skills is a mistake.
No opinion on the “Get Back” dialog context change?
Many people don’t see or understand certain things about the Beatle’s story and the John/Paul relationship precisely for the reasons you state above. It’s complex, so it’s not surprising that lots of what is obvious goes right over people’s heads.
@av, I just listened to that whole unedited video, and can you explain where you think the edit made a difference?
The Standard Narrative has been that Paul bent over backwards to defend John and Yoko during this period (for example, the Two Virgins liner notes). The unedited video you link to seems to confirm this reading — he says that they just want to be together, and that it’s wrong for people to try to make them act certain ways, and even if people try to do that John and Yoko are gonna do whatever they want, so we might as well just let them be.
“And then there were two” sounds to me like Paul is referring to him and Ringo; George has quit, and now John can’t be arsed to come into the studio in a timely fashion. But you could also interpret that as “John and Yoko” being the two, if you had a poetic turn of mind.
Anyway, what do you think Jackson was trying to accomplish? And how does this relate to the unedited video?
Watching that I just thought…wow. Lot of work to transcribe all that. That person must really enjoy Beatle videos! 🙂
@Michael – I don’t think Paul was defending John and Yoko when he wrote the Two Virgin liner notes. I think he was making a dig in a typically veiled way. The two saints had to be John and Paul, right? Surely, he was referring to either John and Paul the saints or John and Paul the Apostles? I think the notes were saying that Two Virgins was so far removed from the art that John had produced with Paul, that no one would believe it was the same person. In other words, that John was nothing without Paul. That’s my reading of it anyway.
For those of you playing along at home, the liner notes are:
“When two great Saints meet, it is a humbling experience. The long battles to prove he was a Saint.–Paul McCartney.”
That’s an interesting perspective, @Elizabeth, but two things:
1) Must a saint be male, much less referring to a specific historical saint? Cannot Paul be speaking of the concept of a saint, i.e., calling John and Yoko special and sanctified beings with powers and missions beyond that of the average run of person? (Seems pretty accurate, actually.)
2) One must ask that if Paul’s message had that aggressive a subtext, John (who was no dummy) would’ve likely gotten the message, and NOT used it, right? Whereas the more surface reading — that John and Yoko were two saints, and that Two Virgins was another effort in John’s long battle to prove he was a saint — both makes logical sense AND performs the function of a liner note (effulgent praise) without taking a backhanded swipe with the potential to explode something that Paul valued, that is, his friendship and writing partnership with John.
But I find your analysis interesting as ever!
I agree that John wouldn’t have included Paul’s liner note if Paul had such agressive intent to it, but I’ll note that John wasn’t above using someone else’s dig at him and Yoko on their album cover; Life With the Lions did include a “quote” from George Martin, “No comment.” (Whether Martin really said that or not, I don’t doubt it summed up his thoughts on the LP!)
I always thought John and Paul when he mentioned saints as well, because why else would he use that word? John never thought of himself as a saint, as Paul is quick to point out. However, I don’t see a veiled “John is nothing without me” statement in there. I do like his use of the word long, though.
Like Elizabeth, I read Paul’s liner notes as a dig as well. They are just ambiguous enough to ensure plausible deniability if John (or anyone else) interpreted them in that light. The potential to explode the relationship is there, but Paul took the chance in the same way he did with the “Jap tart” letter (which DID contribute to the deterioration of the relationship). The liner notes are the same, except in this case, he seems to have got away with it. It’s true, you would think John would notice the irony, but maybe at this point (Paul had put J&Y up in his house at St John’s Wood) John really wanted to convince himself that Paul was in his corner and was being earnest. It’s no secret that Paul had a problem with John and Yoko’s self-perception and public image. If you read the “saints” comment as a sarcastic dig, it’s consistent with other things like “Too Many People” a year or so later, or McCartney referring to John as ‘Martin Luther Lennon.’ It clearly bothered him, and taking little barbs like this seems to have been his way of venting frustration while trying to avoid outright confrontation.
Can we agree that acting like that is a hugely dangerous game for someone to play, if they want to keep working with a creative partner? Not impossible — Paul was on drugs too, and he could’ve impulsively hatched such a dig — but it’s not very sane. A Paul that puts one over on John like that is a Paul McCartney who doesn’t care about The Beatles continuing, and that’s a very very different reading of Paul in 1968-70 than anyone has ever posited.
“Jap Tart” originated with Francie Schwartz, correct? The blog The Beatles and the Historians has a lovely post about this issue, which I 100% agree with. I’ve never believed that anecdote, because 1) it doesn’t sound like Paul, 2) it sounds a lot like Francie, whose posts I used to read on rec.music.beatles, and 3) Lennon or Yoko never mentioned it. Lennon, who seems to have nursed every hurt and remembered every grudge in the years immediately post-breakup. Yoko, who endlessly lobbied public opinion. Are we really supposed to believe that this wouldn’t have made it into “How Do You Sleep?” That requires a Lennon that is simultaneously mean and petty as shit, but also holds back this one thing because…it’s too mean? “Jap Tart” is a dastardly thing to do, and if true, would’ve wrecked Paul’s nice guy image in exactly the way John longed to. If it had happened, he would’ve mentioned it.
John and Paul’s relationship deteriorated. It could not have been as caustic or untrusting in November 1968 (Two Virgins) as it was in November 1970 (when “Too Many People” was recorded). Nor is it fair to haul out “Martin Luther Lennon,” which was Paul’s opinion in 1985 of the image Lennon had been given post-assassination, not of Lennon himself.
Is it POSSIBLE that Paul was taking a slap at John in the Two Virgins liner notes? Sure. Is it LIKELY? In my opinion, no. That reading relies almost entirely on a very specific vision of Paul McCartney’s character and behavior — he’s a sneaky shit — rather than external corroboration. Paul may be a sneaky shit, but if that had happened, I believe it would’ve broken the partnership and as we see in “Get Back,” they were still working together.
@Michael – Lol, no a saint does not have to be male, though Saints John and Paul were, obviously. I think it’s quite a clever play on words, and I bet John wasn’t quite sure how to read it. He was certainly no dummy, but he wasn’t quite as well educated as Paul and he didn’t have a catholic mother.
John’s nickname (or his stage name) was also ‘Long John’ at some point. I think the liner notes translate roughly to: We were great together, but your new album is a load of old shit and no one will ever believe it was written by the same person.
Of course, that’s just my take on it, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. John and Yoko were not great saints (either historically or otherwise), whereas John and Paul were.
“John and Yoko were not great saints (either historically or otherwise), whereas John and Paul were.”
Yes, but that is us speaking now. John and Yoko circa late 1968 and into 1969 conceived of themselves as exactly that — mystical beings, holy fools, etc. For Paul to call them specifically “Saints” seems to me a clear attempt to curry favor with them both…which we also see in the unedited video @av pointed us to. There’s no knowing, but I believe that Paul really did try, in his codependent way, to live with and manage the upheaval in his partner’s life, so that the working partnership would survive.
I certainly think he was going for ambiguity, and it’s possible to put that type of spin on the comment (it’s how most people interpreted it), but I don’t think McCartney is quite so obsequious.
Thinking about it though, it’s possible that John recognised the comment as a dig and took it as a kind of victory. He was using Yoko to provoke Paul, after all. I mean, he would probably have preferred some sort of public meltdown, but he was never going to get that. Maybe this was the next best thing.
Here’s my take:
Paul can’t simultaneously be “the world’s greatest PR man” who gives endless blandly positive, mildly interesting interviews revealing nothing of his inner life/thoughts, the “thumbs up” guy everyone regularly shits on…and rock’s greatest Machiavel, laying traps, outwitting his famously verbal, acid-tongued ironic partner whom he wanted to keep working with, with deep, multilevel liner notes that seem kind but are really a vicious put down that Lennon approves himself! Ha HAH! This seems especially unlikely with the McCartney of 1968, who was practically boiling with projects. Did he have time to deal with more fallout from John? That he caused himself? Or was he already thoroughly sick of all of Lennon’s drama, as much as he loved him? I mean, John Lennon is one of the few people who could spend two months meditating and come back not happy, not peaceful, but royally pissed. John Lennon loved to kick ass and take names, and would make up reasons to do this if none were forthcoming. Is that the kind of guy you BAIT with a liner note, if you want to keep working with him?
If Paul writes something sweet and bland, he’d be called “saccharine.” He writes something snarky, he’d be called “big-headed.” He knew this. He knew how touchy John and Yoko were at that precise moment. So I believe that he simply wrote them a compliment in an interesting way — he told them what they wanted to hear.
To translate from the codependent: when you’re trying to maintain good relations with a volatile, rageful addict, you don’t play puzzle-games. They’re already paranoid as shit. You flatter them in exactly the way they wish to be flattered, so they will stay calm and whatever relationship you want to continue, will continue.
But this is just my take; yours may be correct, @Elizabeth.
Paul surely had mixed feelings about Two Virgins for any number of reasons, so I doubt he was going to write straightforward, glowing notes for it. Plus, it was 1968, such things were uncool. So his cryptic little note is his way of writing something that’s not not-nice, while also not doing something he couldn’t bring himself to do, like praising the album.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t claim to fully understand Paul’s liner notes for Two Virgins but I have some ideas:
In a show business where celebrities have a long history of taking themselves and each other WAY too seriously, I remember finding it refreshing when Paul wrote this in his intro to In His Own Write.
The intro starts out like one of those pretentious show biz tributes. “It was at [x] where I first met him…” and the reader thinks “Hoo boy, here it comes.” And then Paul continues the “tribute” by calling himself a fat schoolboy and Lennon a drunk. You really have to appreciate a tribute like that. It’s 100% Beatles 1964.
I believe it’s possible Paul kept the same sense of humor in his liner notes for Jock&Yono when he described feeling humbled by the “two great Saints”, and mentioning the long battles to prove sainthood.
Did he mean Lennon & Ono were trying to prove they were saints? I mean, isn’t sainthood usually assigned by someone else doing the canonization? Who canonizes himself?
I don’t see Paul being hostile here, just continuing in the Beatle tradition of taking the piss out of hoary, sentimental show biz accolades. We’ve all seen the kind of liner notes I think he’s spoofing.
From Ian Peel’s “The Unknown Paul McCartney”:
“McCartney contributed its [Two Virgin’s] sleeve note. In an act of randomness inspired by the music on the record, he clipped a piece of newspaper text, typed it up and handed it over. ‘When two great Saints meet it is a humbling experience,’ it read. ‘The long battles to prove he was a Saint.'”
Of course the choice of clipping would not really have been “random,” but the notion of a cut-and-paste sleeve note is a bit avant in itself, in the spirit of the times, and probably something that Lennon found amusing.
Who is the other guy standing with John and Yoko on this Two Virgins shot? If he were taller, I would think it was Paul. John liked it so much that he had it hanging above his fireplace (second photo), and in the first photo it looks like he’s pointing to the Exit sign. Judging from his Imagine era look, that one was taken during the height of his feud with Paul, so when I first saw it years ago in Ray Coleman’s Lennon biography, I thought it might be a message to Paul as if to say, “See ya!” Seriously, though. Who is that guy and why is he posing nude with John and Yoko?
Doesn’t look like Paul to me, @Michelle. He has a receding hairline as far as I can tell.
Per a Yoko interview quoted at this blog (which I recall seeing elsewhere too; wish I remember the source, as they didn’t include it), apparently some professor somewhere liked the idea of their cover so much that he did a photo-manip where he joined in. More than that, this magnificent loony sent the photo framed and poster-sized, as depicted in the pics Michelle linked. John thought it was hilarious and hung it above the mantle; apparently, Miss Conceptual Artist didn’t like it so much, proving one truly can dish it out and not be able to take it.
I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. This is now my favorite Beatles fact!
Also? I love that John loved it. That’s the John Lennon I love most.
@notorious Despite Yoko’s remark, I am skeptical that the third virgin is a photo manipulation. Surely, that would not have been an easy thing for the average person to accomplish in 1971; and in terms of dimension, depth, perspective, and tonal texture, it’s just too perfect and matches up too exactly with the original photo. It looks like it was taken in the same room on the same film at the same time.
By the way, it’s interesting to contrast how John’s attitude to that album cover changed in a few years. In 1971 he’s hanging it above his fireplace. In the late 70’s, he’s asking his assistant to buy up copies of the album to get it out of circulation.
“In the late 70’s, he’s asking his assistant to buy up copies of the album to get it out of circulation.”
Body dysmorphia springs to mind, right? Poor fellow. He was always just fine.
BTW, that kind of photo manipulation wasn’t so hard in 1971; you just needed to know what you were doing, or know someone who did. Today literally anybody with a Mac could mock up that photo, but back then, there were plenty of graphic artists who could.
Here’s an example of all the spoofs and parodies done at this level of quality, most of them done pre-1980, even.
Thank you, @notorious_g_i_b. Interesting! If that’s a photo manip, he did a fabulous job! Like Matt noted, it looks like he had his photo taken with them in the same room at the same time.
I was always under the impression that the third person in the “Three Virgins” photo was Jerry Rubin…
* one addendum to my post: the kind of relationship I’m trying to describe here is more common among young women in places where education, and so the teenager social sphere in general, has been gender desegregated. Although “it’s not gay to jerk off a bro” culture is, I’ve been told by men, still endemic in highly masculinized spaces.
@Tactical, to give you an idea of how complex this is, I personally had extremely tight male friendships all throughout boyhood and adolescence–inseparable, and emotionally vulnerable, too–which were not sexual. In fact, the emergence of any kind of sexual attraction forced a decision that, if you could possibly avoid it, you did. Those friendships didn’t last; they were too nervewracking! I always think of this whenever a McLennonite posts one of their exquisite torture surmises, like a video where J/P are “totally ogling each other.” If that level of sexual tension existed between John and Paul, in my experience, they’d have either turned into Joe Orton and Ken Halliwell, or broken up in 1959.
Male homosexuality was in no way a neutral state, if that makes any sense. It required great risks, and potentially great losses, of a kind that perhaps are less common today. I pray that is so; if McLennon folks tend to underestimate the insanity of the past in this regard, so much the better.
In the Midwest in 1985, male homosexuality was a Rubicon you had to cross, with your family and friends on one side, and only sexuality on the other. Judging from the young men who made the leap, I gather there simply was no choice; their nature was clear and distinct. In my big (4000 kids) high school, only a handful of boys every year were commonly known as gay. None of the women were out lesbians, though one did often get a sense of what subsequent years would reveal.
So much to say, today’s culture of guys kissing on Insta, or bros jacking each other off–male heteroflexibility was not expressed like that back then. At it’s farthest edge, it was much more likely to be the kind of group wank Lennon describes in “Oh! Calcutta.” And if that was America, post-Sexual Revolution, I can only imagine that 1950s Liverpool was as much or more buttoned up, not less.
Just one man’s experience, but perhaps it explains my viewpoint. And if the world has improved, that’s such a good thing.
* a second addendum, lol, because I realize this comment sounds quite judgmental. I do actually think its COMPLETELY reasonable to be more uncomfortable with speculating on Paul’s psychology and interiority than John’s, bc John made his psychology a matter of public speculation himself. I think the way he subjected himself to the panopticon of fame was deleterious to his mental health, but I also think he wouldn’t be terribly disturbed by any of this discussion were he still alive (or would at least have days where he wasn’t; he veered between wanting adulation and smashing his own clay feet), whereas Paul is far more private and image conscious. But it often makes discussions about the band in general completely uneven, bc fans can get very like “well Albert Goldman’s conspiracies are to be taken as probably true, but we can’t read too much into things people who have personally known Paul say about aspects of his personality that aren’t part of his Public Image” (I say this as someone credulous to the kernel at the core of some of Goldman’s claims; but I’m also credulous to the idea that Francie Schwartz wasn’t writing complete fiction in Body Count, y’know?) The lopsided nature of their respective public/private divides, and the vastly differing freedom people feel re: making statements about things that went on inside their heads 50 years ago, should be factored into analysis.
Were you able to find a source that Brian knew Joe Meek? I am sure that Brian carried records that Joe produced such as Telstar, but I have not been able to confirm that they had at least met.
I have however, not yet tucked into John Repsch’s bio of Meek as I am working through Barry Cleveland’s work on the technical aspects of Meek’s recording equipment and techniques.
@Elizabeth. Referring to your comment that Brian liked young boys, I always interpreted the comments of Cilla Black and others for them to be 16 or17-year-old boys, not children. Unsavory, yes, but even so. I think it should be remembered that Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans procured girls of the same age (they may have thought they were older) for the Beatles while on tour. Does this make the Beatles part of a pedophile ring as well? The expression of adolescent sexuality of boys and girls was quite different in the 1960s. It was not totally unknown for boys as young as 13 to seek out adult men. This was rare in girls of the same age, and possibly still is.
@Lara – The Krays were supplying the boys – I somehow doubt whether they had much choice in the matter.
@Elizabeth. All human sex trafficking of both males and females regardless of age is vile and despicable and particularly so for children. Nobody is disagreeing. In recent years, historical allegations of sexual abuse are being made against the Catholic Church in every corner of the globe. And rightly so. As with Epstein, many of those priests are now dead. If allegations can be made against an extremely powerful centuries-old institution such as the Catholic Church, then what exactly is it that’s stopping men coming forward about Brian Epstein? Instead of reiterating the nefarious activities of the Krays, is it possible for you to produce some actual evidence of Brian Epstein’s involvement in this aspect of organized crime? Does anyone else have evidence, and if so, who? If he was then it would be truly horrible, but I’d like to think any conclusions reached were not through trial by internet. Are the principles of the Magna Carta not applicable any more?
Signed marriage license:
In a timely manner, I received three anecdotes via email, from a George Harrison site I follow on twitter, the last two are relative to some of the discussions about Brian going on, above. From thateventuality:
“The conduit [for Royston Ellis staying at Gambier Terrace in 1960] was George, who (with nothing else to do with John, Stu and Paul were in school) was hanging around the Jac[aranda] when the wandering coffee-bar poet traipsed in, drawn by hip radar to ‘the happening place.’ Avowedly ‘trying everything,’ Ellis was an active bisexual in this period of this life and he took an immediate fancy to George: ‘He looked fabulous with his long hair and matelot-style striped T-shirt, very modern, which is why I deliberately spoke to him. I was nineteen and he was seventeen and we clocked right away.’ George took Ellis, his typewriter and his duffel-bag back to Gambier Terrace to meet John and Stu. A rapport was quickly established and Ellis was invited to ‘crash’ for a few days.” – The Beatles – All These Years: Tune In (2013)
“Jock McLean, who worked as an assistant to George Harrison 50 years ago, noticed the depth of the relationship between the Beatles and Mr. Epstein one August day not long before the manager’s death. Mr. McLean’s job was to pick up the singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, a promising new artist in those days, and drive him to a meeting with Mr. Harrison at the house he was renting on Blue Jay Way in the Hollywood Hills, Calif.
There was talk of Mr. Nilsson perhaps joining the Beatles’ nascent company. That’s when things went sour, Mr. McLean said.
‘George was talking about how wonderful the whole thing was going to be, trying to convince Harry to join the company,’ Mr. McLean recalled. ‘It was all great until Harry said, “The only thing is, I don’t think I could be managed by a gay man.”’ (Mr. Epstein’s sexuality was known by many in the industry at the time.)
Incensed, Mr. Harrison gave his assistant a nod.
‘In a heartbeat, Harry was out of the house,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘George, like all the Beatles, was extremely supportive of Brian. To them, Brian was the man.’” – New York Times, 17 October 2017
“Only once had Brian [Epstein] stepped over a line, and even then it was more of a matter of appearances than of any intent.
It had occurred almost a year earlier, in Liverpool, after a lunch session at the Cavern. Headed toward his car, Brian offered George Harrison a lift home, and somehow they ended up driving through the leafy environs of Childwall. This, in and of itself, wasn’t unusual. Childwall, where Brian grew up, was en route to Speke, and George thought nothing more of it when his manager stopped to show him around the lovely house at Queen’s Drive. According to an account George later gave Bob Wooler, it was an entirely innocent gesture. Proud of the estate and aware of the impression it was making on the council-house lad, Brian glided rather imperiously through the lavishly appointed rooms, annotating as though a curator at Versailles. It was only when his brother, Clive, showed up unexpectedly that anything untoward was insinuated. ‘Clive took one look at the scene and exploded,’ says Wooler. ‘The family anguished over Brian’s vulnerability, and here he was, alone in an empty house, with this quite adorable boy.’ With George standing there, smoking a cigarette, befuddled by the commotion, screaming broke out as the brothers, their faces white with fury, disappeared between closed doors to hurl and deny accusations.
Afterward, in the car, Brian was visibly ‘flustered.’ The remainder of the drive to Speke was uncomfortable, silent. It wasn’t clear to George what had occurred. The whole baffling incident seemed to have come out of – and to – nothing, and George, who had never seen Brian look so debased, couldn’t think of anything to say. Finally, he broke the awkward silence. ‘Clive’s younger than you, isn’t he?’ George wondered. Brian, seized with self-loathing, could only nod. ‘Well, he shouldn’t talk to you like that.’
George’s naïveté served to shade the undertones and rescue Brian from complete humiliation.” – The Beatles: The Biography (2005)
My own feelings are that Brian was more victim, than victimizer. Didn’t he routinely seek out dangerous situations, seeking out rough trade, those who would beat, rob and blackmail him? Yes, homosexuality was still illegal, but he could have quietly settled down with a nice partner. But he didn’t seem to want a nice partner, he was drawn to those who would humiliate him. There must be a sad reason behind all this, which would aid in the understanding of Brian’s temperament. I have read a few accounts of the musicians in Liverpool he propositioned, and they all say that once they turned Brian down, he backed off. He was not a predator, or a rapist; he respected if they told him ‘no’.
Where is the post about how Paul and George often fought in the press, yet got along well behind-the-scenes? Because I ran across this lovely quote: “There’s always a place in my heart for Paul… and Linda.” – George Harrison, Musician, March 1990—and would like to place it in its proper context. Thanks!
Alicia, it’s here: https://www.heydullblog.com/paul-mccartney/im-going-to-go-with-linda-on-keyboards/
A June 18 Instagram post from Denny Laine seems pertinent to this subject:
Happy Birthday and many happy returns to my old friend, Paul.
This is a verse of a song that I wrote about us which I feel explains that whoever thinks they know some things about personal relationships between friends, they only really know if they look below the waterline.
True or false
Right or wrong
A beating heart
still going strong
are all we have
Sometimes we cry
and then we laugh
Down below the waterline
out of sight of prying eyes
we see the world is doing fine
without the need of disguise.
On the surface it may seem
like a twisted mixed up dream
and words can’t say the things we truly mean-
So, look below the waterline.
Enjoy, DL x
Alicia, are you possibly thinking of my comment here on the “Linda on Keyboards” post, which built on some ideas here on Paul’s “Friends to Go”?
There is so much evidence of the love – we can all agree that was intense and real. There is zero evidence of it being a sexual relationship. IMO, John was so fearful of losing Paul (abandonment issues) to his desire to be married w/a family (first the engagement with Jane and of course Linda) that he left him first. He wanted control over that hence the divorce meeting. All John wanted from that meeting was a reaction from Paul! He wanted Paul to fight for The Beatles, for John but instead it completely blew up/backfired and Paul walked and never looked back. In a way I think Paul, after the dust settled, saw this as his OUT. He had enough of the mental abuse from John and negative energy from the…others and Paul saw this as his escape hatch. 68/69 for Paul had to be mentally exhausting! Maybe if he didn’t have Linda and the new young family he would have fought for John and The Beatles and even relented in signing with Klein but he has the support he needed to say goodbye. How that had to hurt and still does to this day. John and Paul, the greatest and most tragic love story in Rock history!
I realize this is an older blog entry, but as it makes some very interesting points, especially relating fan fiction, I wanted to share some of my reactions in turn. Thank you in advance for hearing me out.
First of all, I should probably give a little bit of an idea of what brought me here: I’m a writer; not of fan fiction (yet?), but of literary fiction. My reading of fan-fiction had been sporadic for a couple of years until I decided to plunge into Beatles fan fiction, and stories on John/Paul specifically, after watching GET BACK. My impetus for watching the documentary was simple: I wanted to see the Beatles at work. For hours. This expectation was met amply, of course.
Since this blog entry mentions “unacknowledged wish fulfillment” as a driver of both the writing and the reading of fan fiction, I want to clarify that I did not have any particular thoughts of theories about the relationship between John and Paul prior to watching GET BACK. And yet, I ended up googling, more or less immediately after watching the show, “Were Lennon and McCartney Lovers?” Which, of course, brought me to the similarly titled and wonderfully nuanced article on this blog, and from there, here.
Why did I type this question into Google? Not because I desired a torrid love affair between these two in real life. No, the reason was that their interactions in GET BACK made me wonder. And we (or many of us) thankfully live in a place and time where it’s okay to ask this particular question, as opposed to shut down the mere implication. I did think, and still do, that the exploration of romantic and possibly erotic feelings adds interesting information to the already fascinating story chronicling the Chaos and Creation in- and outside of the Beatles. That’s really all it is.
I certainly share your ethical concerns regarding any speculation about the private lives and feelings of actual living people, and I particularly appreciate your point against “writing out” the women. However, I was struck by this passage:
“In a comment on the “Lovers” thread, I noted that the “John/Paul” narrative closely resembles the slash fanfiction that is found in conjunction with many other pop culture phenomena. […] Writing fiction that is acknowledged as fiction and consumed as fiction is one thing. Presenting a narrative that is at best tenuously supported with evidence as reality is something else again.”
I take this to mean that there are “believers” out there who write fiction without realizing that this is what they’re doing.
I have no doubt that there are opinions, particularly in the realm of online comments, that are impossible to engage with because they have no receptors for arguments and facts that disagree with them. In this age of “alternative facts,” it’s indeed very important to be aware of and expose these tendencies.
However, I disagree when it comes to the role and influence of fiction on this type of thinking. Having read a fair amount of clearly-labelled-as-such John/Paul fan-fiction, I found that the writers of this work are highly aware of the lines between fact and fiction. Many stories I read (not counting smut/porn, which has no pretense to be anything but what it is, and I’m happy to go on record saying that this is just fine) are based on thorough research into the history of the band and their times. From that factual base, the writer then playfully imagines a fictional universe. In fact, this is the challenge that makes writing fan-fiction to rewarding: to take a body of known facts and extrapolate from there, ideally in a style that’s unique, beautiful and inventive. The line between fact and fiction is not something to be hidden or denied, it’s the exact thing that makes a successfully story such a joy: The triumph of invention. This was what’s there—this is what I made. Ask any writer of fiction, including myself, and they will tell you it’s impossible to write without being acutely aware that you’re creating. Making things up is the point.
Making things up so they feel true? Even better.
Especially considering that last point, it would be a pity to discard fan fiction summarily as “just stories.” Those who care might find interesting psychological dynamics in these stories, which traditional biographies, due to their (entirely justified) burden of proof, can’t yet address. I for one believe that hunches and daydreams can be part of the process of serious scholarship, as long as they ultimately guide the search for facts—all of them. I think it would be a pity to frame fan fiction as an exclusively misleading influence, or to dismiss flawed reasoning and willful ignorance (for instance regarding John and Paul’s marriages and love affairs with women) as “Slash Fiction Think,” when the latter can be quite nuanced, daring, and insightful.
This comment is getting long, and if you’ve read this far, I thank you. I wanted to briefly comment on another point you’re making, the fourth one.
You write: “Finally, buying the “love of each other’s lives” story about Lennon and McCartney makes them cowardly liars who persisted in falsehood for years.”
I’ll be honest, as the child of a closeted very probably bisexual man who could have come out to his family without being shunned, and still only found the courage to do so (barely and in vague words) when he was dying of AIDS in the late Nineties, I take issue with the terms “lifelong liars” and “falsehood.” While I agree that casting all women Lennon and McCartney were involved with as nothing but beards is hurtful and simplistic, not to mention probably dead wrong, I also think that a person has the right to reveal such intimate truths about themselves in their own time without it reflecting badly on them.
To cast a person as a liar for withholding this information means underestimating the still considerable homophobia even in the quote free West unquote, not to mention the existence of the vast grey area containing unlabeled (sometimes deliberately so) feelings, possibly for more than one person.
To go back to your last point, then: My opinion is that, just as it would be wrong to criticize a person for lying about their queer identity (if they have one), it would also be wrong to accuse any attempt at speculating about this identity of being motivated by the desire to level this criticism.
Was I tempted to write “John Lennon” or “Paul McCartney” instead of “person” in the paragraphs above? You bet. But after reading your article, I also have a better understanding of why people are reluctant to. Thank you for that, and for your patience in reading this comment!
Wonderful comment, @Stefani, thank you.
Certainly as time passes I think that speculative fiction is a perfectly appropriate use of a writer’s time. The only place I grow concerned is fic’s impact on history and culture, turning The Beatles from a socially cohesive thing to a socially atomizing one. I worry that just as we have politically atomized world, with violently opposed groups driven by fundamentally different ideas of what is true, I think we may well have this with The Beatles and other large-scale cultural items.
A growing number of people are so overwhelmed by the pace and data-richness of the digital world that they can no longer discern fiction from non-fiction. Some of this confusion is cultivated purposely to aid propaganda; much is simply a function of our fast-changing communication culture and the lag human brains have in the face of new tech. Because data is practically limitless, and time and brainpower is very much limited, many people have an understandable reaction: “I cannot parse all this data. Since our intellectual class, taking its lead from academia, now focuses its attention on the untrustworthiness of authorities (using terms like ‘gatekeeper’) and emphasizes the inevitability of bias, and prerogative of power to set agendas (using terms like ‘narrative’), what to believe has been thrown back into my lap. I can either 1) live in an uncomfortable world of not-knowing, or I can 2) be comfortable and pick the story I like the best and believe it, because who does it really hurt?”
Sorry to keep bringing this up, but my decades reading about the murders of the 60s seems really germane. When I realized WHY I was attracted to a certain type of theory–how this predisposition came from experiences in my own life–my judgment improved immensely. One of the reasons I love your comment is how you already know what aspects of your life might make a possible sexual relationship between John and Paul an especially resonant idea to you. This self-knowledge is probably 99% of the battle.
IMHO, I think it’s always a bit iffy to dismiss the fundamentally sexual nature of the J/P theory. I understand why people don’t want that to be used as a tool for blanket dismissal, but the story that seems to have gripped some of the fandom is a sexual one, and so MUST speak to readers in terms of their own sexuality.
J/P is a deeply attractive idea to a small group of very online fans. I worry that over time, that their level of commitment to an interesting story will eventually overwhelm a less interesting story that, year by year, fewer people are committed to because fewer people have any connection with life and sexuality as they were experienced in, say, England in 1965. (And most of those people aren’t online anyway; the digital world skews young, and probably more sexually outre.) And in a world where really ANY reading is supported by some data, because there’s so much of it, and that every reading is perceived as equally biased, in 2040 maybe the dominant narrative will indeed be that John and Paul were lovers. Which is fine…except for the absence of any statements from either of them to this effect; any definitive third-party admissions of same; and any photographic or audio evidence.
Indeed, I expect that within the next five years we WILL get photographic and/or audio evidence supporting this theory, because some people want it to be true very badly, and they are generally speaking very digitally adept and well-read on the topic. Perhaps that “evidence” will start out as fic, or parody…but it won’t stay that way. Just as we will get more and better “photos of JFK with Marilyn,” we’ll get them of John and Paul in flagrante, too. And precisely when detached judgment will be called for, its use–or even an acknowledgment of its existence other than as a prerogative of power, or norm-enforcement–will be absent.
Gaming this out a bit further, once it’s “proven” that John and Paul were lovers, once again The Beatles will be viewed as countercultural by the forces of repression. That may not be a wholly bad thing… if the Blue Meanies aren’t in control of the archives or your ISP.
Anyway, musings worth what you paid for ’em. Once again, wonderful comment.
Stefani, thanks for your comment. I’d like to respond to some of the points you make, and will be happy to hear what you think.
You wrote that “I take this to mean that there are “believers” out there who write fiction without realizing that this is what they’re doing.” I’d say it’s hard, sometimes, to know what people believe themselves to be doing. It’s clear that the vast majority of fanfiction writers know they’re writing fiction and acknowledge that up front. As I tried to make clear in the post, my argument is not with them, but with those who claim that Lennon and McCartney were long-term lovers in real life. [I distinguish this from the question of whether Lennon and McCartney ever had a romantic/sexual encounter, which I think is much more possible.]
To your point about the “longterm liars” description, it’s certainly fair to note that it’s still difficult for people (especially celebrities) to share their sexual orientation if it’s not cis and straight. I’m being too harsh in this post, I think. But it does bother me that the true believers dismiss what both men had to say about their relationship with each other and their relationships with their wives. The combination of idealizing their supposed romantic relationship while also giving them a pass about what would at the very least be overwrought PR about their wives grates for me. Lennon talked a LOT about his love for Yoko, and McCartney talked a LOT about his love for Linda.
I think it’s great when people “playfully imagine a fictional universe.” I love literature so much I got a graduate degree in the subject. Slash fiction as a genre contains multitudes, and I think most of it is positive for creators and readers. It’s when people take the conventions of slash fiction as an explanatory framework for a real-life relationship that I get off the bus.
I also consider it important to explore why slash is prevalent in fanfiction — why there are slash communities for Star Trek, Harry Potter, Sherlock, etc. etc. — and why slash seems especially attractive to cis straight women. (Not saying those are the only writers or readers of slash, just that available data shows cis straight women as the majority.) What psychological work is slash fiction doing? Exploring this shouldn’t entail labeling slash as deviant or bad; it’s a cultural phenomenon worth analyzing. Slash is pretty clearly speaking to something deep about sexuality/power/gender which goes beyond the details of any putative pairing. This seems evident to me since similar story dynamics turn up in different fandoms. I hope someone will write a respectful, deeply-researched take on the current state of slash fanfiction, similar to the 1991 book Enterprising Women about the Star Trek slash fiction community.
Thank you for responding, especially since this is an older blog entry. I really appreciate it.
First of all: I agree; it would be great to have a thorough and respectful book about the current slash fiction community. If such a book were written in an open-minded, non-pathologizing mindset, I’ll be the first person to read it. As an enthusiastic reader of slash, I certainly share your interest in the dynamics driving the creation and reception of this work, including those rooted in sexuality (in the broadest sense).
I think my main issue here is that, while you’re saying you don’t object to fan fiction as such, you still seem to imply that the arguments of those who claim there was a long-term romantic relationship between John and Paul *sound* like fan fiction—and that therefore fan-fiction and those who write it have something to answer for.
I can certainly see how it might look like this in extreme situations, where a person is ignoring everything but that which sparks their personal, slashy joy, and labels the remainder an objective proof of their theory. However, I think it would be a shame to label *every* investigation into a possible romantic or sexual relationship between John and Paul as fan-fiction or, to use a term from your article, “wish fulfillment.” Especially since, as you point out, many of those interested in that line of reasoning are women, who are probably well familiar with the claim that they’re too emotional to think clearly. (I know you’re not saying that here and would probably object to anyone making that statement, but it’s a conclusion I see looming on the far end of your argument.)
I would hate for anyone interested in a serious, empirical investigation of any facet of John-slash-Paul to be discouraged by criticism that casts a priori doubt on their ability to do said research. (On the other hand, a person truly gripped by passion for their subject matter will not be easily deterred; I bet that goes for the writers of any existing Beatle biography. Luckily for us.)
I’m not saying it’s unfair or too harsh to bring counter-arguments against the idea that John and Paul were (long-term/short-term/almost/one-off/platonic/secret/…) lovers, because, *sob* it would be so sweet if it were true. (Personally, I think it would make the split of the band and the aftermath even more painful, so part of me occasionally hopes, or seeks refuge in the likelihood, that they were not!)
I’m just saying it would sit better with me if these counter arguments were directed against the things the person claims, not who they are and what they might read.
I guess I don’t share @Michael’s concern above, about digitally versed people creating a new reality in which John and Paul are lovers, and that this reality will be accepted as the truth. I actually think that sounds really sinister! I mean, I’m aware of the very bad photo-manipulations of John and Paul “kissing,” or the good old “Brokeback Mountain” movie montages of them gazing at each other in slow motion, etc. The thing is, though, that most of these creations are made for fun, and not used as serious proof of anything.
The original materials, texts, statements, movies, and interviews are still there, and will not go away. In my mind, what’s happening is that there is a lot of relief that the *question* whether John and Paul were lovers can even be asked. Hence the overwhelming response to the original post on this blog. My guess is the idea, or question, has been around for a long time. If a new, gentler, more open-minded atmosphere allows for a new look at existing facts and events, that’s only a good thing. As long as there’s an opening of perspective, not a narrowing, and as long as the person doing the research is aware of their sources, I don’t see any harm.
Again, thank you for the discussion. (I need to get my hands on a copy of Enterprising Women!)
@Stefani, thank you for this comment.
“However, I think it would be a shame to label *every* investigation into a possible romantic or sexual relationship between John and Paul as fan-fiction or, to use a term from your article, “wish fulfillment.”
Why is this a shame? There is no pressing need for us to know whether John and Paul had sex, kissed, or had romantic feelings for each other. As I’m sure I said in the original post, it’s common for teenage boys to masturbate together, and experiment sexually. John and Paul, close friends from 1957 on, perhaps engaged in this kind of behavior. That didn’t make them romantic partners, and it doesn’t form a particularly important part of The Beatles’ story, or even their friendship necessarily. It could’ve been a source of embarrassment later, or nostalgia, or connection–or not. It’s an interesting question, but it’s not inherently a key, much less THE KEY, to anything. We already know that each man was deeply, deeply attached to the other. That’s not only clear from the historical record, it’s a basic part of any biography. But there is simply no direct evidence that they were romantic partners…and I would argue that it wouldn’t change the story we know if they had been.
It’s the focusing on sex–or romantic love–that moves this from the historical investigation it claims to be into something erotic, and until it’s acknowledged as something erotic, there’s a fundamental fudging here.
“Especially since, as you point out, many of those interested in that line of reasoning are women, who are probably well familiar with the claim that they’re too emotional to think clearly. (I know you’re not saying that here and would probably object to anyone making that statement, but it’s a conclusion I see looming on the far end of your argument.)”
The fascinating thing to investigate here isn’t “were John and Paul lovers?” but “why are most of the people fascinated by this idea straight women?” There are a million reasons why women might not wish to share honestly online. All I can do is provide a website which is, I hope, respectful. But that’s not the same as accepting as fact something that simply has no hard proof behind it. Mal Evans might’ve been murdered-by-cop, too; but once the speculation is done, it’s time to move on to the next topic. The unwillingness of some fans to do that is itself telling. Why is the J/P idea so powerful to some people? Sexual arousal is clearly part of the answer. And sexual arousal is a source of powerful bias; I think that’s the issue here–the fear that if anyone admits their J/P fascination comes from sexual titillation, people won’t accept their interest as legitimate or worth discussion. But the rest of us think that already. That’s not disrespect; that’s simply not sharing that fixation, so its intensity can be perceived. Have you ever run across someone who tried to convince you their main sexual interest is fascinating, and that it’s normal to be fascinated in that way? It’s not that you disrespect them or think they’re dumb; you just don’t share that fascination. “But, see, the reason a woman smoking a cigarette is so great is because cigarettes are phallic/smoking is transgressive/etc/etc.”
“I guess I don’t share @Michael’s concern above, about digitally versed people creating a new reality in which John and Paul are lovers, and that this reality will be accepted as the truth. I actually think that sounds really sinister! I mean, I’m aware of the very bad photo-manipulations of John and Paul “kissing,” or the good old “Brokeback Mountain” movie montages of them gazing at each other in slow motion, etc. The thing is, though, that most of these creations are made for fun, and not used as serious proof of anything.”
The problem here @Stefani is that once something is created and distributed, the intent of the original creator(s) is no longer present. There is a small-but-vocal subgroup of fans out there who would practically explode with desire and vindication at any solid video or audio proof of a sexual relationship between Lennon/McCartney. That evidence can and will be created; perhaps as a new type of “what if it was real” fanfic. And once distributed, that material will be stripped of its original context, and exist alongside historical information. What could possibly prevent misunderstanding it, willfully or otherwise? We currently have an historical record with no evidence that John and Paul were lovers. There is no positive admission in interviews; no photos; no audio; no third-party statements from inner circle or intimates. And even so, we have a group of fans not just writing fiction about that, which I personally have no problem with, but in some cases hunting for evidence, or claiming evidence. There are plenty of people who read this site that truly believe John and Paul were lovers; they write me. And my only issue here is that they could have been, but we don’t know it for sure, and at this late date probably can’t know it for sure, and anybody who’s obsessed with the idea should acknowledge the sexual nature of their obsession and stop pretending that it’s scholarship. That sounds mean, but I don’t intend it to be so. There’s nothing wrong with sexual interests, and if a person loves The Beatles of course their sexual interests will collide with their Beatle interests in all sorts of neat ways.
As the writer of the original post, I think it’s perfectly fine to consider the possibility that John and Paul had sex; and I think there’s no doubt that they were deeply emotionally attached to each other. But because the latter is so ingrained into the story we know, I don’t really much care about the former, and that’s where my hackles raise on the issue. Nobody in the J/P community is particularly upfront about why they care so very deeply about the sex lives of strangers sixty years in the past, and until that is acknowledged, I think it’s impossible to give it the kind of respect you’re suggesting.
The J/P people I know are smart, fiercely literate, extremely thoughtful, and deeply passionate about the topic. They are not, however, unbiased. And it’s that bias that makes the rest of us skeptical.
I have to say that I’m dismayed by the general tenor of the conversation here, how it feels prickly and potentially toxic for queer Beatles fans. We spoke at length about a year ago about fanfic, kink, writing, and Get Back – you may remember that conversation.
As a queer trans masculine person, I can assure you that it is not only “straight women” interested in this topic; in fact, many of the gay guys I know with any passing interest in the Beatles think there was something more going on. However, it’s difficult to impossible to discuss this with many straight fans. I’ve been told in the past, for example, that I could not discuss topics touching on Beatles sexuality on con panels as a professional writer who has devoted a significant portion of the last five years researching this (and not only the question of whether John and Paul fucked, but a wider range of topics related to this). because it would not be “family friendly” and would be “too controversial.” Books that discuss these facts are quickly labeled as gossipy or toxic. Your sense that it’s a narrow subculture interested in this is in part created by the fact that there is *literally no place else safe* to discuss this topic. This space here certainly doesn’t feel like one.
To a certain extent, couching our research – and it is research – in fictional terms gives us both license and safety to discuss, because we’re told that we’re perverted, malicious, or unkind in discussing these issues more directly. And that’s frankly homophobic. It is only ever queer sexuality that is taboo to discuss. I’ve yet to see anyone handwringing about discussions of Alma Cogan’s possible affair with John Lennon. Why are we so interested in that? Why is that okay to talk about? The fixation on the naughtiness of discussions of queer sex carries with it the connotation that queer sexuality is wrong, that it’s wrong and bad and perverse to believe that people have queer sex or queer romance.
I’ll say that I don’t know specifically what happened between John and Paul – but I do see a consistent and pervasive engagement with queer culture in their lives, and, more, I see two people who often use the queer shorthands that queer people of their historical era used. And this is the difficulty, to step away from fanfic and into analysis of history. Queer history functions on a different level and with a different vocabulary than straight history. Sometimes outright Polaris were used – rhyming cants, hanky codes – because it was unsafe to express these things outright. The glass closet was common. Secrets were tightly guarded within the community, sympathetically and for safety. People lied. Invented false histories. Compounding this, sexuality looked different and was understood differently depending on era and geographic region, and often expressed itself radically differently than it does today. The terminology was different. The identities were different. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Yes, homosocial group sex was a thing. But men also loved each other sometimes. And to deny that part of the historical narrative to queer readers of that narrative is frankly cruel. It makes us look monstrous, more perverse than we actually are, and forces the conversation onto purely sexual topics when we are not the ones interested in discussing purely sexual topics.
You say that you believe they loved each other platonically, that this doesn’t matter. I would always argue that it does; it means something to know that Oscar Wilde was gay. It means something to know Freddie Mercury was gay. And, if you can hold space in your brain for a thought experiment, it would mean something to know that some of the greatest love songs of all time may not have been written simply with some imaginary girl in mind, but rather may have been part of a great queer love story. In every generation, because of outright homophobia, queer folks have to rebuild their stories from scratch. Because we’ve been killed and silenced. The truth is that the queer quilt of history is much wider and more diverse and none of us are navigating it alone. It matters to me that Brian was gay, that many of their entourage were gay, that they moved in queer circles consistently from the time of Hamburg. And it matters to me to be able to point to Lennon’s words in Skywriting by Word of Mouth – “an interaction between two positive negatives, thereby producing an uncanny resemblance to his majesty the Queen” – and to be able to say authoritatively that this is an expression of queer thought, expressed the way queer people express those thoughts. Not a language for straights, but a language for us.
I wish I could express the real need many of us feel to be actually accepted within the discussion and the community. But we’re not. So we head off to places where we are. And then we’re told that these enclaves make us only less authoritative, sillier, childlike. Biased. It’s abundantly unfair, but I suspect most of us have accepted it. We do what we can to keep ourselves safe – just like queer people did in 1960.
Thank you, @Fox, this is a great comment, and it’s about a topic I’m fascinated by, so I want to respond to it at length.
But before I do, I’d like to remind you that my fatigue over this topic–and that’s all it is, fatigue–is due to the endless torrent of commenting upon it. If one applies the usual tools of history and journalism there’s simply not much we can say, concretely, about a possible sexual relationship between John Lennon, who the data suggests was at least bi-curious, and Paul McCartney, who has been quite clear that he’s straight. Paul may be lying, sure. And/or his definition of straight may be a personal definition that includes same sex attraction, and even some behavior–but we’re not privy to his personal definitions. We can only take the guy at his word, and assume that he’s playing by the same definitions we are. According to John when he was alive, he and Paul were not sexually or romantically involved; according to Paul, same; according to Inner Circle, same.
I have always found it interesting that while Goldman was all too willing to positively assert a sexual relationship between John and Brian, even down to specific times and places, there’s nary a whisper about John and Paul IIRC. For the muckraker nonpareil, that’s either the world’s biggest oversight or something worth noting.
Speculation that there was more to the story is of course completely appropriate on Dullblog, and Nancy and I try to engage with it respectfully. But we have a lot of fatigue. To me, it’s as if I wrote a post asking, “Was George Harrison a Hindu?” and then having years of refereeing people passionately arguing that he was or he wasn’t. I am constantly paring the discussion back to what we KNOW, not what we surmise or sense or feel or want. Surmising or sensing or feeling or wanting isn’t wrong; but strength of feeling doesn’t equate strength of evidence. If we had torrents of people saying John and Paul were 100% straight, Gold Star hets if such a thing exists, I would gently push back on that thought while letting them have as much of their say as possible without the site being one-topic all the time.
“As a queer trans masculine person, I can assure you that it is not only “straight women” interested in this topic”
My experience has been that the vast majority of people interested in J/P are female-presenting, and straight. I offer this simply as my experience. I’m intrigued by it because of the historical oppressive concordances between, and frequent allyship of, straight women to gay men. As someone who’s been engaged with out homosexual people since the early 70s, this concordance/allyship fits with my generational experience, and I find the possibility that the straight woman/gay man affinity is now expressing in Beatle fandom this way fascinating. I would have predicted, for obvious reasons, that gay men would be the most interested in a possible sexual relationship between John and Paul, but that has not been my experience, either on this blog, where most commenters on the topic have seemed to be (that is, presented themselves as) straight cis females, or IRL.
When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, my gay friends seemed singularly UN-interested in The Beatles, and John and Paul specifically, preferring musicians and groups with more overtly homo- or bisexual members or themes. Queen/Freddie Mercury; Bowie; Madonna; Melissa Etheridge; FGTH; Smiths. The Beatles were not being “read” as gay then, for whatever reason. And when I arrived at Yale–probably THE hotbed of Queer History in 1987, not only because of scholars like John Boswell (a dear professor of mine), and alumni like Larry Kramer–the extremely out, proud, vocal and self-aware queer community was not in the least interested in The Beatles. In fact, they were actively UN-interested in anything having to do with the Sixties–while being very interested in people like Oscar Wilde, or Christopher Isherwood, or Madonna or Derek Jarman or (controversial) Quentin Crisp. And when I lived on Capitol Hill in Seattle in 1994, or in the West Village from 1995-2001, or Boystown (Chicago) adjacent in 2001-2005, or in the historically gay-friendly town of Santa Monica from 2005-today, there has been no special connection with, or interest in, The Beatles, or John and Paul specifically, visible to me in queer culture. And when I was typing the previous sentence a lesbian friend called about a used car recommendation, and I asked her, “Do you get any kind of gay vibe from John Lennon or Paul McCartney?” and she said, “No. None. Are you kidding?”
All of this informs my opinion of the J/P phenomenon; it cannot help but do so. I think J/P a collision between contemporary queer culture as practiced by very online people, and Beatle fandom after the release of every scrap of video or audio imaginable. Though I have been uncommonly connected to queer people and queer culture all my life, I simply don’t encounter J/P IRL; I have NEVER encountered it IRL. I have only encountered it online. This has been my lived experience, and just as I can surely believe that maybe there were gay people fascinated by this issue before this very digital, very identity-forward era, I also can’t pretend that my experience is different than it has been.
“I’ve been told in the past, for example, that I could not discuss topics touching on Beatles sexuality on con panels”
That’s a shame, because it’s a fascinating topic, and one we discuss constantly here, as you know. Not just queer sexuality, but kink and a bunch of other aspects, too. Cons should be freer, IMHO.
“This space here certainly doesn’t feel like one.”
@Fox, I’m sorry you feel this way. We talk about J/P endlessly. Just because I don’t think J/P fucked–or, because I think they probably DID fuck, but weren’t longterm romantic partners, essentially a couple–that doesn’t mean I’m attacking anybody who does. This is an inherently speculative topic; what I try to do is engage the topic as I would another speculative topic, and try to show what in my lived experience leads me to make the judgment call necessary. Then others agree or don’t, presenting their viewpoints, and if they’re articulate and respectful, we approve them. There’s only opinion here, and it’s when people claim “research” or “proof” that I say, “Well, it could’ve happened, but what you’re calling ‘proof’ is not what I would call ‘proof’.” That’s not an attack, and if it is, how does anything like scholarship function? Words like “research” and “proof” have specific meanings, and confer weight. J/P people want the weight, but that weight comes from challenges successfully met, not simply assertion.
It’s terrible to be attacked, and it’s terrible to feel silenced. And if one is attacked and silenced one armors up. I can’t tell you how many people come to HD bitching about OTHER Beatle fangroups–Steve Hoffman board, or the cons, or whathaveyou. We have nothing to do with that; we can only give a forum to people who are articulate and respectful, and you are both of those things, so…you’re saying your piece on a Beatle-related topic you care about. Have at it. I’m glad for it.
“Alma Cogan’s possible affair with John Lennon. Why are we so interested in that? Why is that okay to talk about?”
We aren’t so interested in that. There is one post in 2019 by Michael Bleicher, with 17 comments; and a post from 2014 by me, with 15 comments. In contrast, the John and Paul Lovers post has 668 comments, and that’s only because I turned off comments. And I only turned off comments because Nancy and I have to read every comment to approve it, and–if you’re not obsessed with this possibility, 668 comments is quite a lot to slog through. If I could create a little area of the site where those interested in J/P could chat without my having to engage with it constantly, I would do so. And I suspect there are areas on the internet where people can and do just that to their heart’s content. And that’s GREAT.
“The fixation on the naughtiness of discussions of queer sex carries with it the connotation that queer sexuality is wrong, that it’s wrong and bad and perverse to believe that people have queer sex or queer romance.”
I don’t think there’s anything the least bit naughty about queer sex, or J/P having it. I’m just not fascinated by the possibility. I, in fact, think they had sex; I can’t know it, but I suspect it based on my own life experiences and interpretation of the data. But I don’t insist any reader agree with me! I think if they were a romantic couple–like, say, Brian and Dizz were–I think there would’ve been significant physical and third-party evidence of that. Now–and I’m going to really regret saying this–most of the people who would’ve been in the kind of demimonde a fucking John and Paul would’ve had to inhabit, are of the generations who died of AIDS. We can’t know what evidence may have been lost. All I can say is, “It’s possible, but the data we have, and don’t have, makes it seem unlikely.” I don’t feel I need to declare one way or the other; for me, there is no pressing need for that.
“a consistent and pervasive engagement with queer culture in their lives”
Showbiz is, was, and will always be, gay. Art, even more so. And The Beatles came along, and hastened, an era of Gay Liberation. They could not possibly avoid “a consistent and pervasive engagement with queer culture”–any more than I, a four-year-old growing up among hippies in the gay neighborhood of St. Louis in 1973–could avoid it.
“Queer history functions on a different level and with a different vocabulary than straight history…Secrets were tightly guarded within the community, sympathetically and for safety. People lied. Invented false histories.”
Yes, and I find this all FASCINATING. Not just with The Beatles, but in Weimar; ancient Greece and Rome; the period just before Stonewall; the era before AIDS…and so forth. But I think this is a very challenging type of human behavior to turn into history, not only because it’s so often hidden, but also because it’s just not clear what is biological and what is custom. To pick something at random: is the part of human sexual behavior currently expressed as a latex fetish an historical constant? If so, how would we know? What would it look like before the invention of latex? I personally think that there are massive parts of human behavior that “history” as constructed does not–and perhaps cannot–encompass. And I respond to this by saying, “We cannot know. Maybe it happened?”
“Compounding this, sexuality looked different and was understood differently depending on era and geographic region, and often expressed itself radically differently than it does today. The terminology was different. The identities were different.”
…and this is where the trouble begins, because the sexuality of the past requires a great deal of nuanced interpretation, and our only tools for doing this are 1) our own sexuality and 2) our perceptions of human sexuality formed by a present which is constantly changing. But my sexuality (or your sexuality) is not John’s or Paul’s; and our sexual culture today, especially online, is vastly different than the sexual culture that John and Paul swam in. So how on earth do we interpret this responsibility? How can we possibly attain any kind of impartiality?
I say unto thee again: I do not care whether John and Paul were straight, bi, or gay; I do not care whether they were lovers or not; my reading of the historical record suggests to me that John was bi, Paul was/is straight, and that they did not carry on an enduring romantic engagement. Sexuality aside, they were two of the most photographed, recorded and documented people on the face of the Earth, in a time where homosexuality would’ve been the perfect fodder for blackmail. Fodder on the scale of J. Edgar Hoover. One photo of Hoover and Tolson reputedly kept the FBI off the Mafia’s back for decades. A similar photo of John and Paul would’ve been worth millions in hush money annually until Lennon’s death, and probably millions more in a tell-all after. There was an immense financial motive to expose them as gay…and yet, nothing. Even today.
“But men also loved each other sometimes. And to deny that part of the historical narrative to queer readers of that narrative is frankly cruel. It makes us look monstrous, more perverse than we actually are, and forces the conversation onto purely sexual topics when we are not the ones interested in discussing purely sexual topics.”
@Fox, I think it’s clear that John and Paul loved each other very deeply, and if someone else feels differently, go argue with them. But in my experience, that’s not what J/P is about; it’s about a hidden romantic and sexual affair between two men, buttressed by lots of interpretation by people who WANT that theory to be true, for their own reasons. ‘Salright with me obviously, but it posits a great conspiracy here to Hide the Truth. And if there ever is proof of that–even if a Scotty Bowers appears and says that J/P was a thing–I’m here for it. I’d love to read about it, add it to the stew, and see what we have then. Just like I read Scotty Bowers’ book and film, and Hollywood Babylon, and all that. What is hidden is also human, and I’m here for it. That’s why I wrote the post, and engage with the comments. But to desexualize J/P–in order to politicize it–is not fair. J/P is fundamentally about sexual behavior; that is the new assertion here, not that they loved each other. No sane person denies John and Paul loving each other; the historical record is FULL of both of them saying they loved each other, and showing it. If that makes them queer, great. I have no argument with any of that, who could? But it’s the move into the romantic, the sexual, that is the pith of J/P, and where the pushback comes from. Not because straights have an “ick” factor, but because in this vast pile of data, there’s a lot of “maaaaybes.”
“You say that you believe they loved each other platonically”
No, I say that I believe they loved each other. And that they perhaps had sex, because people do, especially when they love each other. What I don’t believe is that they were a longterm romantic couple, hidden or open. I don’t believe they personally identified as gay, queer, or any other alternative sexuality. And that’s not because I don’t WANT to believe it–what business is it of mine?–only that we have no evidence of it. For John and Paul to have been a queer-identified longterm romantic couple requires a level of secrecy that I simply don’t think is possible. This is interpretation, and I freely admit it to be so.
“And, if you can hold space in your brain for a thought experiment, it would mean something to know that some of the greatest love songs of all time may not have been written simply with some imaginary girl in mind, but rather may have been part of a great queer love story.”
@Fox, I *already* consider some of the greatest love songs of all time to be John speaking to Paul or vice-versa. I believe that John Lennon and Paul McCartney were as connected as two people can be; loved each other deeply; and were creative soulmates if not romantic ones. Maybe they were romantic ones, too, but we don’t know that. Calling them “a great queer love story” is fine by me, except that it involves a conjectural leap, and assigns a modern conception of sexual identity to two people, actual people, who never claimed anything like that. So it’s not accurate, IMHO, to compare J/P to Oscar Wilde, or Sappho, or any other clearly gay figure from history. It is more accurate to compare them to Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, two close friends who may have been romantic/sexual partners, and whose cultural profile today makes that possibility attractive or heartening to queer people in a world that still largely wishes to expunge them. Abe and Josh? Could be. John and Paul? Could be. If it gives one strength and happiness, say they were. Especially after McCartney is dead, that harms no one, and could help someone; iF the J/P theory keeps one queer teenager from killing themselves, I’m all for it. But I can’t claim it as fact, because we don’t know it to be fact, and Paul says it’s not, so I don’t feel right denying him his personhood in that way. Do you see? It’s not about what I want/don’t want. It’s about believing that if that had happened, Paul would say it, and until he does, it’s a parlor game. And saying it FOR him is imposing on him in a deeply invasive way. I don’t wish to do that; I care for Paul McCartney, I appreciate him.
“Because we’ve been killed and silenced.”
As a disabled man, I feel ya.
“I wish I could express the real need many of us feel to be actually accepted within the discussion and the community. But we’re not.”
@Fox, from what I see, there is no “discussion” or “community.” There are many discussions, many communities; and one community is here, and we are having this discussion. Do you feel the acceptance I’m giving you? I’m not agreeing with you, but I’m not calling you crazy or perverted or childish or anything like that. I’m treating you with interest and respect. I don’t share your fascination, because I’m a different person with a different life, but I am happy to engage with you, and have appreciated your thoughts. That’s all a responsible moderator can do, given the state of the external world of facts and statements.
I think as a disabled person, I sometimes have a craving for my very particular point of view to be welcomed, or “accepted” by the larger culture; this is, for me, a residue of the many hurts and daily outrages I have suffered. Unfairly! I sometimes feel that if someone–“people”–would just validate my point of view, it would make things so much easier. But I have come to realize that each of us is locked into their own unique experience, and there is no–there can never be–a type of external validation that will give me the acceptance that should have been mine from the start–that is every person’s birthright. I think, in the end, we must each of us simply CLAIM that respect and acceptance. If believing John and Paul were lovers helps you do that–if you 100% claim it to be true, and by your lights have assembled enough evidence to convince yourself, and that helps you live happily and well–then of course you should do that. But other people are also on their own journeys; if the J/P idea proves true, some will bend towards it over time, myself included. But this is really the key to everything I say about the topic: there is a subgroup that believes that not agreeing with their as-yet speculative idea about the sex lives of two strangers sixty years ago constitutes disrespect or silencing of THEM, and that puts me in an impossible bind. The only humane way forward is to try to engage, and in doing so, recognize the hurts and injustice behind the fascination.
You are having your say, @Fox, and I’m glad you did and do, and found your comment quite wonderful, which is why I’ve spent my precious writing time responding to it.
Be well — thank you for commenting!
I’m going to mull over this, as I both have a migraine right now and find myself having a fairly intense (and honestly, negative) emotional reaction. However, I do think it’s prudent to say that I picked both Freddie Mercury and Oscar Wilde for a reason – namely that neither man was out during his lifetime (and in fact Oscar Wilde’s death could be directly attributable to his adamant insistence that he was not, in fact, a sodomite.) Without informed queer readings of their experiences and lives, we would not be able to claim their art as queer art at all. And again, Lennon’s own words – want a blog post on how almost every chapter in Skywriting by Word of Mouth is exceedingly and explicitly gay? I could write one – are really quite unequivocal.
Also, I have to say, frankly, having read through many of these comments, the pervasive homophobic thread here, because I think it’s worth bringing it to your attention, is the constant conflation between 1. receptive anal sex 2. submission 3. femininity, all of which are very different ideas and explored abundantly differently in m/m spaces. I feel like y’all need a chart or something.
Anyway off to go sit in a dark room and stew.
@Fox, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with a migraine (my wife has them). Feel better.
want a blog post on how almost every chapter in Skywriting by Word of Mouth is exceedingly and explicitly gay? I could write one
I mean, I don’t know how it would play here, but I’d love to read it!
When I read that line by @Fox, I thought, “Now that’s an ebook that would sell.”
Part of my frustration here is simply this: blog posts are not the proper method for excavating history. They are personal, informal, gossipy, and so forth. The J/P issue has gotten as far as blog posts are going to get it. If the J/P community wants the hypothesis to be taken seriously as HISTORY — and I understand why they do — then they must begin playing by the rules historians play by. At the very least, people being interviewed on the record, as themselves. It’s truly not such an outlandish theory, but to pass from rumor to something more substantial, different kinds of proof must be accumulated.
>My experience has been that the vast majority of people interested in J/P are female-presenting, and straight
This is only your experience, limited, and limited by your perception of the people you are interacting with; I see plenty of folks in this thread here using usernames with indeterminate genders. I interact daily in several spaces with folks who discuss these things – and these folks are not all women (there are gay men, trans men, non-binary folks) and far from straight. In fact, a significant portion of McLennon fans seem to be lesbians, but there are also aces, gay men, bi people, and pansexuals, and, yes, straight women. Then again, straight women have always comprised a significant portion of the Beatles fanbase. Can you believe a queer person, just this once, that we’re here? And that one lesbian’s perception that there’s nothing going on does not necessarily mean that the queer perspective on this is unanimous?
Because we’re here. Hi. We’re talking about this, and we are not all women and not all straight. In fact, it’s common in many fandoms where “slash” is discussed for there to be a significant portion of trans masc folks because fictional lenses are safe ways to explore these sexualities – and so to be told that we’re all straight women is not only incorrect, it’s invalidating and dysphoria inducing. It’s a known thing, and it’s invalidating to be here, talking to you, and to be told that I’m not here and that if I am, it doesn’t matter because I’m not here in any great number.
You may have not encountered it in real life but you are not a queer Beatles fan, fundamentally, no matter how much of an ally. I spent my new years with trans friends debating whether the she in “she’s leaving home” is a gay she. It happens! Wish you could have been there.
>There’s only opinion here, and it’s when people claim “research” or “proof” that I say, “Well, it could’ve happened, but what you’re calling ‘proof’ is not what I would call ‘proof’.”
When did I use the word proof?
I said that McLennon fans research. We do, and not exclusively McLennon, and more exhaustively than I’ve experienced research in just about any other fan corner I’ve ever been in. In the past week with McLennon folks in various places I have discussed:
-Alma Cogan! For real!
-Whether John Lennon had a pony as a child
-The timeline of the May 1968 trip and whether there was time for Linda to visit Nat Weiss’s apartment more than once
-The original lyrics draft to “I Saw Her Standing There” and whether there’s a reason for McCartney’s story of the lyrics to be different than the actual lyrics as they were written
-The Yoko/John sex confession tapes and the power dynamics contained therein
-the meaning of “manxcat” in skywriting by word of mouth
-Whether Mean Mr. Mustard is about Paul and Francie Schwartz
-John’s relationship with Bettina Derlien
-Whether Paul quit during the Kinfauns sessions
We’re talking exhaustive, impeccably sourced, *research.* And, frankly, it’s a shame the wider fandom shuts this out on the grounds that some of the folks conducting this research think John and Paul may have shagged.
And it’s a may! As I said, I don’t *know* what they did. In fact, my feeling is that all we can do is synthesize as many sources as possible about these guys as people and start to put together something that forms some semblance of a story. The problem, though, with this, the reason this is still of interest to so many of us, is that even having done that, there are holes in the story. Narrative holes. Inconsistences in the story that we’ve been given, places it doesn’t match up. We sense it – and i know you have your own India McLennon theory, so please don’t pretend like you don’t sense it too – and it’s very gaslighting to be told that we’re imagining this, that we must simply be looking at research to fit our theories. Most McLennon truthers don’t come in thinking they were actually together from day one of their interest in the Beatles. Rather, we sense that there is something odd here, and there’s actually a lot that’s odd here, and a queer story is one that very credibly *fits*, particularly for those of us with some experience with either queer culture or the closet. And we’re not projecting, we’re recognizing things that are narratively present and redolent of our own behaviors and experiences.
(As for what queer story, I don’t freaking know. Sometimes I think far less happened between them than you seem to!)
>But to desexualize J/P–in order to politicize it–is not fair. J/P is fundamentally about sexual behavior; that is the new assertion here, not that they loved each other.
Well, of course many of these fanfic writers are having fun with sexual fantasies about the beatles – like thousands of other people have since 1961. However, the primary function of J/P is not solely sexual and there are just as many people who want to imagine them as cute boyfriends drinking banana milkshakes in Paris. No fandom corner is monolithic, but it’s wrong to say that folks are only interested in the tingling feelings and not also the warm fuzzies, or a host of other feelings*. Just flat out incorrect.
>…and this is where the trouble begins, because the sexuality of the past requires a great deal of nuanced interpretation, and our only tools for doing this are 1) our own sexuality and 2) our perceptions of human sexuality formed by a present which is constantly changing.
There’s also an actual understanding of queer history and historiography, which (surprise!) many queer folks have, and I believe we spoke about this a bit a year ago but I’m happy to chat more about the way the closet worked for both those in the music business and working class MSM in mid-century Liverpool. The broad assumption of monogamy and general erasure of bisexual behaviors in these discussions among straight fans (and the belief that non-monogamy or bisexual behaviors makes one shifty, predatory, etc) makes these historical lenses difficult to even discuss adequately, though.
I will say, though – I must say – that it’s not other spaces that are the problem here, it’s not enough to just be open to speaking to queer people. As I said in my previous comment, there is a lot of problematic and ill-informed conflation of sexual practices, power dynamics, femininity, on this very thread. If you would like specific examples, I’d be happy to share them privately because this should really be a call-in, not a call-out. But I know many fans who perceive this space – your space – as an unhealthy one for them.
And because I know you genuinely want this space to be broadly welcoming. this is not about y’all not believing that, uh… Honestly, at this point I’m not even sure what it is you don’t believe, since you think they both schtupped and adored each other! You sound like a shipper! Shippers don’t all believe they were basically married! But it’s not about everyone agreeing. It’s about an underlying toxicity here, a sense that people are really worried that someone might see Paul McCartney as the girl and that folks need to stand up for the bullies who would do that. And those attitudes make it clear that some of us sissies really aren’t wanted.
*Me, I prefer to use the metaphor of their relationship to examine underlying power dynamics and tensions within the band in a hope to glean greater understanding as well as queer catharsis. toldja we aren’t a monolith.
If I may lend some support…
Hi, everyone. When not contributing some speculation loosely related to John’s death or writing an article for this very website using Tumblr fandom categories to classify Beatles bios, I’m known on two other platforms as gdelgiblueeyes. For those who already know what that means, nice to see you again, and I’ve noticed a few of you in the comments section here at HD over the years. For those who don’t, here’s the significance of that screen name… I am the current moderator/de facto proprietor of the largely fallow (at present) JohnHeartPaul community, formerly on LiveJournal and currently on Dreamwidth. I like slash, but I am also very realistic about the harmful effect it can have, especially for people who cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality, and indeed went to no small amount of trouble to combat this possibility about five years ago. (You may consider it a slap on the wrist, and you’re welcome to that interpretation. It was the best I could do, given the circumstances.)
Other pertinent info: I am a cis male, and I’m gay. Just to nudge the demographic needle on McLennon fans a touch. 😉
Lastly, anyone who has been a long-time member of that community knows I’ve been a part of the entertainment industry for almost 20 years. I’ve frequently alluded to it there, and in the comments section here as well. As such, I can tell you that I’ve heard many an older celeb either lament or remember fondly — depending on the person and the circumstance — that so much was swept under the proverbial rug and people today have no idea. (Shades of the number of McCartney-related pregnancies that, though ultimately proven untrue by DNA in years since, were just barely quieted with hush money at the time, whether out of convenience or necessity. Thanks for sharing, Peter Brown.) Unless you were involved in the business, either music or entertainment or gossip, the general public wasn’t going to hear about a lot of the stuff that went on. This was pre-TMZ and constant Internet surveillance, mind you, it’s not like you could log on and get your news and gossip with the touch of a button or key (you had to go searching for it, and even then, you could come up dry), and anyone who felt like talking had plenty of their own dirty laundry that could be aired in retaliation, so people kept shtum for the most part. (Suddenly I feel like Eddie Mannix is looking over my shoulder. How odd…) Just a little something to keep in mind when discussing any of this.
For the curious: do I think the relationship was, at the very least, sexual? Yes. Everyone in the industry I have ever spoken to, on the odd occasion when it came up, has talked about this as though it was something everybody knew, with not a trace of a wink or sarcasm about it. (And, from what I’ve gathered, the sex was just a small part of a very intense relationship. “Codependent” and “psychosexual” would not be inaccurate terms for it.)
Granted, these were occasions when all were exchanging gossip (there’s always at least one corner of a party that might as well be labeled the Sue Mengers Memorial Banquette), but it came up organically with little specific prompting. On one such occasion, the Sgt. Pepper box set had just come out, and everyone was talking about listening to the new mixes. It drifted naturally into whatever stories anyone remembered about meeting the Fabs or the role the music played in their lives, and then ebbed naturally into gossip as they discussed points of biography. (All celebrities start off someone’s fan at some point, and they never really lose that; they just get better at hiding it.) Some people had more details than others, in some cases way more details than I would expect them to know firsthand (which is why I always give the caveat that it’s just what I’ve heard, not that I can prove it), so I’d assume it’s been a topic of discussion for a long time.
Do I bring it up here? No. And I’d be lying if Fox’s POV doesn’t reflect — with some variations in nuance, no two of the queer community are alike — part of the reason why. So I’m pleased that they have brought this up, and I welcome further open and, hopefully, enlightening discussions that may result from it.
Thanks for posting this, notorious g_i_b. I appreciate your openness and your perspective.
@g_i_b, thank you for this.
Is there anybody out there collecting these stories? That would be a really valuable resource.
Your post reminded me of a book (and documentary) that I loved called “Room Service.” It’s about a man who, coming back from World War II, finds himself procuring–and sometimes providing–sexual services for Hollywood royalty. It is full of all sorts of funny and surprising stories, from ones we kinda already knew (Kate Hepburn was primarily lesbian) to others that were only collected there (Charles Laughton eating a shit hoagie is an image I will never forget).
Is it all true? Who knows? The degree to which Scotty Bowers is a fabulist is between Scotty and his God; but Room Service shows the all-important middle step that McLennon doesn’t have as yet. First, gossip is collected, and can be held as “stories or rumors about x topic.”
“The rumor around Hollywood was that Cesar Romero liked to stand in warm water and be pelted by orange slices thrown by handsome, totally naked young men.”
To me, that’s a legit data point, because it doesn’t claim to be anything more than it is. It’s a rumor marked as rumor. Then the second step would be
“In late fall 1966, I was at a bathhouse off Doheny and I SAW Cesar Romero standing in warm water being pelted by orange slices. It was clearly some kind of ritual, and it seemed to give him sexual satisfaction.”–Steve Jones
Once again, a legit data point, because the person is willing to put their own credibility behind it, and we then can judge the fact in relation to that. We can say, “Well, Steve Jones is a notorious liar” or “Steve Jones doesn’t seem especially prone to lie in this regard” or what have you. Books like Hollywood Babylon (mostly debunked by Karina Longworth) or Room Service are this step. Turns out people who were skeptical of Kenneth Anger’s judgment were right, but that’s not the point. Collection-attribution-context are an essential step in moving something from hearsay into the historical record. I have no idea whether Laurence Olivier and Danny Kaye had a longterm affair, but since that question has been taken up by biographers (some say yes, others say no evidence), the question has been moved from “everyone said that” to a part of the historical record.
When looking at McLennon, it’s simply not good enough to blame Dark Forces for the current lack of primary source material; nobody sincerely interested in proving/disproving that hypothesis should be satisfied with that conclusion. I would think that a workable–and very entertaining–action step would be interviewing these gossips, anonymously if necessary, but ideally on the record. Then you could see if there were commonalities and patterns to the story; you would have obvious next steps towards corroboration, and so forth. And if you could corroborate enough stories–or even get enough primary source on the record–McLennon could easily rise to the level of speculation around Garbo’s sex life, or Hepburn’s, or Grant’s. And their work could then be reasonably discussed from that angle. Personally, I think there’s already no issue in considering Lennon’s work to be queer, given today’s ever-widening definition of that; but to include McCartney, a man who’s been very clear about his sexual identity, I think you need more data. And after Paul dies, it’s a purely academic question, like discussing Caesar and the King of Bythnia.
Whenever someone assumes that McLennon is true, and leaps to the analysis stage, that seems like fan-thinking to me. That’s fine for them, but I personally am interested in McLennon as an historical hypothesis. Primary sources are still alive; the time to interview them is now.
If someone writes such a book, I’d like to suggest the title PEPPERLAND BABYLON.
Stefani, I appreciate this back-and-forth. I’ll respond to two of your comments:
“I think my main issue here is that, while you’re saying you don’t object to fan fiction as such, you still seem to imply that the arguments of those who claim there was a long-term romantic relationship between John and Paul *sound* like fan fiction—and that therefore fan-fiction and those who write it have something to answer for.”
I want to state clearly that I don’t object to fan fiction at all, as long as it’s created and taken as such. I get concerned when I see people taking the tropes of slash fan fiction and reading them back into a real-life situation. “Shipping” is such a common phenomenon now that it has genre conventions that are widely understood. I think it’s important to be very, very careful about applying literary conventions to real-life relationships, in general.
“Especially since, as you point out, many of those interested in that line of reasoning are women, who are probably well familiar with the claim that they’re too emotional to think clearly. (I know you’re not saying that here and would probably object to anyone making that statement, but it’s a conclusion I see looming on the far end of your argument.)”
I am absolutely NOT saying that women are too emotional to think clearly. In fact, my dissertation was about how depictions of female characters in Victorian fiction confronting the legal system contributed to the debate about women’s judgment and legal position. I consider the “emotional, nonrational women” trope to be straight garbage. But I also think we can — and really, we must be — honest about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what the potential effects of our actions are. And I’m quite concerned about people taking fiction for fact, not so much when it’s about the Beatles as when it’s about larger social issues.
This is in response to Matt who basically called John a lovesick idiot who was constantly mooning over and obsessed with Paul and Paul only cared about his music going downhill after the break-up, not anything having to do with genuine emotion. I would like to present these quotes from Paul over,the course of the last 40 years about that relationship-“it was like I was another girlfriend”, “we were all in love with John”,”it was very painful, a bad period, there were a lot of deep messages in all the stuff we did then. I was really writing a lot of songs to John”,”then also we were like married so you got the bitterness. It’s not a woman scorned, it’s two men scorned-probably even worse. And I had to make way for Yoko. My relationship with John could not have tema8ned as it was and Yoko feel secure” all of these comments are easily found online or in books just in case you think I made all of this up. Paul was every fucking bit as emotionally invested in their relationship as John was. Even more, in my opinion. Anyone who doesn’t see that is DEEP in denial.
@Gretchen This isn’t quite what I meant. I don’t doubt that Paul had genuine emotion toward John, then and now. What I’m saying is that Paul had other things to occupy his life, compared to John who for half the decade had nothing much to do but sit around in his room feeling jealous and wallowing over perceived slights. Paul worked relentlessly, and had a healthy relationship with his wife and family. I’m saying that Paul had other things to do, and people to turn to. He had Linda, who provided emotional support and encouraged the mending of bridges between he and John. John, on the other hand, had Yoko, who only sought to feed his animus and compound his neuroses. John’s preoccupation with Paul -whatever it’s nature- was objectively a lot less healthy than Paul’s was with John. This is the difference I’m getting at.
“Paul only cared about his music going downhill after the break-up…”
Again, this isn’t the meaning I intended. What I was suggesting is that throughout the 70s, Paul was spurred on by the conscious or unconscious desire to impress or compete with John Lennon -because John Lennon was the person he admired and considered his equal. Because until John died, I don’t think Paul ever gave up on the idea that they could work together again some day. My point was that after John died, Paul’s muse was deprived of a huge motivation, and I think it shows in his work. For Paul, John dying was like the sun going dark.
This post was forwarded to me by a friend as we both travel in the McLennon subculture. I find it interesting as this article reminds me of the hey day of LiveJournal in 2006, a good time to be a fanfiction writer/reader. This is the kind of article that we would have liked examining and discussing amongst ourselves. Alas, my LJ homies have scattered to the four corners of the world so I can only make comments here.
A few ground rules for this: I am not really interested in discussing “proof” for McLennon, that just seems kind of pointless. I’m just someone that’s been immersed in this subculture for a few years now in addition to being a Beatles fan and I see a lot of stuff in the OP that I just don’t agree with and I’d like to give my 2 cents on it. That being said, I can see that this post has gotten a LOT of engagement, some of it good and some of it bad. So I will do my best to keep this to the point so you guys don’t have to wade through too many words. I also see that this was written, God, three years ago so I’m not going to hold the author 100% to everything that was written in the OP. Opinions can shift and change or new perspectives found. (This may have even taken place in the comment section here but good God I am not reading all that.) Feel free to let me know if that’s true if you so desire.
With that out of the way I’m going to tackle the bullet points listed here and maybe we’ll get a conversation out of it.
1. “Alternative facts”
I find this fretting over “alternative facts” to be borrowing trouble and a little patronizing. It also ignores the unsavory aspects of Beatledom that has been around for decades that no one seriously complains about. There have been “alternative facts” and outright lies about the Beatles since the group was established. Many “alternative facts” were often perpetuated by Beatles themselves. “Lennon Remembers” was a one big book of “alternative facts” where John torched every single relationship he had (presumably because he was in the throes of a manic upswing) to jump onto the tugboat named ‘Yoko’. He even did the same thing that you point out here with the cherry picking of facts and avoiding pointed questions that poked holes in his story. “Lennon Remembers” is underrated for how apocalyptic it was for John’s professional life and to the professional friendships he had hitherto established in the music industry, much more immediately destructive and damaging for him then any “alternative facts” that might exist around John and Paul possibly being gay.
The people he went after the hardest have never considered to be anything but straight so there isn’t even a “closeted gay” angle to take into account here. No one was safe from his wrath. He dragged poor George Martin, Glyn Johns, other industry people whose names I can’t keep straight because there were so many that he put to the sword. In the space of one interview he destroyed those relationships and I’m sure he slowed or destroyed more than one career in the process. John spent the rest of his life having to apologize for his remarks over and over and I bet he lost a lot of friendships as a result of his decision to present “alternative facts” to an audience that wanted gossip. It dogged him to the point he referred to the interview as “Lennon Regrets” if my memory serves.
This concern of “but what if people really do think that John and Paul were actually gay?” has never held water with me for this reason. Hardcore Beatle fans know very well that John and Paul were writing songs together as late as 1968 and yet John gave interviews after that where he lied his butt off/spread “alternative facts” to convince thousands of Beatles fans that he and Paul had stopped writing together as late as 1966 or 1967.
“John and Paul actually hated each other, they messed up each other’s songs on purpose out of jealousy of each other’s talent, they were never real creative partners, John hated being a Beatle!” are a few alternative facts that John himself deliberately spread in one way or another after the break up. Despite the fact that we have ample evidence to the contrary, hardcore fans have had to live with these “alternative facts” and the way they distort the Beatles historical record for years. Where are the posts that are concerned about the ethics of John Lennon torching the Lennon-McCartney friendship and creative partnership?
John and Paul’s friendship and creative partnership was the heart of the Beatles. John putting a stake through that partnership’s heart by lying his butt off was a deliberate move to salt the earth and make sure that nothing would grow there ever again. This act of malice and bitterness from John is MUCH more destructive to Beatles history than “the ethics of McLennon” could ever hope to be. There are thousands of people right now that have no idea that John and Paul were best friends since they were kids, because those people were raised on the lies spread by Bag One/JohnandYoko. The Beatles music were John and Paul’s gift to the world, one that we know has had an incredible impact. Putting a stake through the Lennon-McCartney partnership is the shittiest thing John ever did as he tried to destroy a cultural touchstone that he helped create to spread hope and joy to his audience.
And yet John’s vicious attack on his creative partnership with his ex-best friend does not get the kind of airtime that handwringing about McLennon does. Even though it is, in my mind, much much much more pernicious and alarming than McLennon could ever hope to be.
On that premise, I must politely but firmly reject this concern about “alternative facts.” The spreading of “alternative facts” have been the Beatles bread and butter since Brian Epstein quietly paid escort services to keep their mouths shut about occupying the boys while they were trapped in their hotel suites. Let’s keep in mind what we’re talking about, shall we?
2. Unacknowledged wish fulfillment
Romance novels, whether fanfiction or original fiction, always follow wish fulfillment. That’s why so much McLennon fanfiction is about John and Paul working things out and riding off into the sunset together. Fanfiction is not fact and fanfiction writers know this. I think the premise of this particular bullet point follows the same erroneous thinking as the first bullet point, so I will direct you to my lengthy reply up there.
3. Writing out women
I have been immersed in this culture for years and I am going to tell you in the politest terms possible: this is a wildly outdated perception. Yoko and Linda are downright venerated in the McLennon subculture. In the past year I have had conversations with McLennon fans who have told me that Paul deserved to lose John to Yoko because he was homophobic and homophobes don’t deserve to be happy, and that Yoko was better for John anyway because she ‘was the only one who actually loved John.’ (Yes, this is something I have read from other McLennon fans with my own eyes.) When Paul’s bad behavior around Linda’s attempt at writing a biography is discussed (“There’s only room for one rockstar in this house,” I believe that’s what he said?) then Paul gets dragged and slagged for his misogyny and diva behavior. There is misogyny in Beatles fandom but it consistently comes from the other side of the house in Rolling Stone Magazine Land.
There are McLennon fans who will tell you that John and Paul were never going to work out because their theoretical romantic relationship was too juvenile; there are McLennon fans who will tell you that Yoko Ono is a saint and that all of the criticisms of her are fabricated by racist white people who are jealous of her talent; there are McLennon fans that have asked repeatedly “Why didn’t Yoko and Linda just run off to be lesbians together?”
I think that this assumption that slash fandom must be inherently rooted in hatred of women and desperate attempts to write women out of the narrative is outdated at best. It was more true in the 2000s but frankly fandom is older now and it involves a lot more women who are much more sympathetic and empathetic to what Yoko and Linda had to put up with.
4. Presenting Lennon and McCartney as lifelong liars
This is a false assertion that we should somehow be more respectful of Lennon and McCartney than Lennon and McCartney were of themselves. We already know that Lennon and McCartney are lifelong liars. John, in his myth busters period, spilled the beans about how wild their tours were. They lied to their fans about being single. They lied to their fans about being on drugs (at least for a while.) They lied about being swingers. They lied about all the women they slept with. They lied about the women they impregnated. They lied about their manager being gay. John lied about being happy with Yoko. Paul lied about the children he abandoned and refused to acknowledge. They lied and lied and lied and lied and lied and lied and lied and lied.
There is another name for the pop cultures images of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, as solo artists and as Beatles. That name is “façade.”
A façade is an outward appearance which is deliberately false and gives you a wrong impression about someone or something.
What is the other word to describe this thing?
This particular bullet point does not hold water for me considering John and Paul’s professional careers from 1960 onwards was built on lies.
I am not really interested in debating the “proof” of McLennon either way just because that seems a little pointless. Therefore I’m sticking to what I said up there because I think its more important to talk about the McLennon subculture as it actually is and not necessarily the preconceptions about it. I know my language is a little strong but I am approaching this in good faith.
Maddingway, thanks for your comments. Here are my (brief) thoughts, a bit moderated after three years but not much.
To the point about “alternative facts,” I continue to think it’s important to draw distinctions about what is provable reality and what is not. That the Beatles themselves engaged in mystification or lies doesn’t change my conviction on that score.
The key to my “unacknowledged wish fulfillment” point is the “unacknowledged” part. I’d amend your statement that “Fanfiction is not fact and fanfiction writers know this” by inserting a “most” before “fanfiction writers.” It’s that group I’m talking about here. It’s one thing to tell a story you and others enjoy about people who actually exist (or existed) — great! It’s another to insist that the fundamentals of it are true. For examples of that, take a look at some of the comments on the “Were John and Paul Lovers?” thread.
I think you have misunderstood what I mean when I say that John/Paul fanfiction writes out women. I certainly am not arguing that “slash fandom must be inherently rooted in hatred of women and desperate attempts to write women out of the narrative.” What I am saying is much more basic and observable: J/P fanfiction focuses on two men and not on the women those men were engaged in long-term relationships with. I believe the motivations for doing that are both various and complicated, and can’t be boiled down to “hatred of women.” I also believe those motivations are worth examining.
Finally, I think there are lies of varying seriousness. I agree that the Beatles told plenty of lies, for a lot of different reasons. Much depends on motivation and on whether the lie hurts anyone else. This is the point where I’ve moderated my stance the most.
Also, is there proof that McCartney fathered children he then abandoned? The only case I’m aware of is one where the claim was disproven. I’m genuinely interested to know if any paternity claims have been legally established.
I am disappointed in this reply. Here we go.
>To the point about “alternative facts,” I continue to think it’s important to draw distinctions about what is provable reality and what is not. That the Beatles themselves engaged in mystification or lies doesn’t change my conviction on that score.
“Provable reality” is a lot more tenuous than you might think especially considering you and Michael have both admitted that the Beatles worked very hard to make sure that their reality of being sex addicted pill heads was not provable. Just as an example, we only know that John was a heroin addict and emotionally dependent on LSD because he admitted that he was a heroin addict and that he was emotionally dependent on LSD. However his drug bust only found about 200 grams of hashish, a cigarette rolling machine with traces of marijuana, and half a gram of morphine. None of those things are heroin or LSD, therefore *they are not provable reality.* This is because the Beatles PR machine moved heaven and earth to keep these things under wraps. How do we know that George and John’s dentist spiked their drinks with LSD? Because someone told us about it, not because there was a pharmacological analysis of the coffee they drank. Without such a report the “reality” of their coffee being spiked simply isn’t provable, we only have their recollections to go on. And yet this is taken as “fact” despite there being no material evidence!
We only know about the heroin and LSD and marijuana because the Beatles themselves admitted to it. Otherwise there’s very little *provable reality* to back up that their drug usage truly happened. Yet everywhere you find a Beatles history nerd you will find chatter about the usage of these drugs.
Mark Lewisohn, God bless his pointed head, has been breaking his back trying to figure out what is true and what is not true and apparently he is the only person on Earth that is interested in doing so. Everyone else seems content to live off of Paul’s repetitive storytelling and accusing their rhetorical opponents of not behaving rationally.
And what is this all the result of? The “alternative facts” established by the Beatles themselves that were heavily promoted as part of their PR image as a band.
Once again, I must reiterate: you are borrowing trouble and being patronizing. It’s silly.
>What I am saying is much more basic and observable: J/P fanfiction focuses on two men and not on the women those men were engaged in long-term relationships with.
This is what shipping culture is about, Nancy. Check out X-Files fandom sometime, the Mulder/Scully fandom is still going strong there. Are you wringing your hands because Mulder/Scully fanfiction inherently excludes characters like Alex Krycek or Walter Skinner?
Here’s one more closely related to Beatledom and RPF as a genre: there is a very intense Current Year subculture of John/Yoko fandom that promotes a lot of Lennono garbage including tinhatting and writing fanfiction and creating silly little “proof posts” trying to verify that Yoko actually did love John and that she wasn’t using him as a walking wallet. Are you going to write a Very Special Episode about how John/Yoko fanfiction is inherently misogynistic because it writes out poor Cynthia? (which Lennono shipping does with great glee. Even in death poor Cynthia can’t catch a break.) Or, God, poor Alma Cogan, the woman who is alleged to be the actual love of John’s life and whose death sent him into a depression spiral in 1967? No one ever stands up for Alma Cogan even though she was a vital piece of John’s life. Where is the worry about all the other women who were important to John being excluded from his life?
That’s what the Lennon Estate has been doing for decades at this point, and yet there has been very little complaint about this besides some grumbling about how Julian has never been treated right. Where are the posts about Yoko contributing to the imminent collapse of the United States? Yoko has done very tangible harm and perpetuated many lies and yet somehow she doesn’t get linked to the profound political problems in the United States.
McLennon tinhatters are not using johnlennon dot com to sell dopey avante garde art projects and make money off McLennon. Yoko Ono does use johnlennon dot com to sell her dopey avante garde art projects and makes money off Lennono.
I find it interesting that this does not stir up as strong a reaction as tinhatters saying “John and Paul were gay and in love with one another and here’s a free story I wrote about it.”
>I also believe those motivations are worth examining.
That would be a neat post to read and respond to. I look forward to you writing that so long as you do research on your topic beforehand and avoid trying to link the behavior of me and my community to political upheaval.
>Finally, I think there are lies of varying seriousness. I agree that the Beatles told plenty of lies, for a lot of different reasons. Much depends on motivation and on whether the lie hurts anyone else. This is the point where I’ve moderated my stance the most.
All lies do damage. They’re not always equal in damage, that is true, but they always cause some measure of hurt and pain.
>I’m genuinely interested to know if any paternity claims have been legally established.
Either a) you’re playing games with me re: human biology or b) you genuinely don’t know about the paternity claims brought against Paul and the money spent on them.
More about a credible paternity claim brought against Paul during his Beatle years:
> But that was hardly the end to the complications of Paul’s love life. In the spring of 1964, during the shooting of A Hard Day’s Night, an even more delicate situation of the same nature arose.
A young girl in Liverpool had given birth to a baby boy she claimed was Paul McCartney’s son. Paul denied being the father, and the young girl was referred to an acquaintance of David Jacobs in Liver-pool, a man named D. H. Green. She and her mother visited Green’s office in late March. Green told Jacobs that he found them quite decent and reasonable. He felt that the girl had no intention of trying to hurt Paul and that her only concern seemed to be getting enough money to buy a pram for the infant.
> Jacobs was in the midst of negotiating a small settlement for this purpose when the girl’s mother confessed her plight to a friend. He knew how much the child was worth and intended to see the mother was properly looked after. He eventually made contact by telephone with David Jacobs in London.
Jacobs’ greatest concern was that even if they gave the girl a large settlement it would in no way ensure that the newspapers would not get hold of the story, or that more wouldn’t be demanded later.
Jacobs advice to Brian and Paul was that the less money they paid, the less culpable they would appear if the story did come out. Brian agreed that the best they could do was pay the girl a small sum and hope that the matter would be kept quiet.
> Jacobs drew up the agreement. For the mother, with the stipulation that Paul should continue to deny being the father of the child, and that this payment did not in any way represent an admis-sion, there was a four-figure sum. The deed stated that in the eventuality of a prosecution and trial that proved to the satisfaction of the court that the child was indeed Paul McCartney’s, the maximum payment the court could order for the maintenance and education of the child was £2.10s a week until he was twenty-one.
> In consideration for the money paid to her, she was never to make any claim against Paul in the future or allege that he was the father or disclose the terms of the agreement; otherwise she would be liable to return the payment.
> By this time, however, the newspapers had heard hundreds of all sorts of crank rumours and accusations about all four of the Beatles.
> Cynthia Lennon later summed it up: *It appeared from the evidence on the solicitor’s desk at this time that Paul had been a bit of a town bull in Liverpool. Claims for paternity suits rolled in. He found himself in great demand in more ways than one. Whether the claims were true is anybody’s guess.’
Brown, Peter. The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of The Beatles. London: Macmillan, 1983.
> The only sour note to the day came from the uncle of Anita Cochrane, who plastered Liverpool with 30,000 leaflets recounting his niece’s affair with Paul and its outcome. Anita, an 18-year-old Beatles fan, discovered that she was pregnant after partying with Paul at Stuart Sutcliffe’s flat in Gambier Terrace. Unable to contact him by registered letters and telegrams, she eventually retained a lawyer who threatened legal action… Brian Epstein is said to have intervened personally and offered £5000 in exchange for renouncing all claims on Paul (published figures vary depending on the source). The agreement said that Anita must never bring Paul to court or say or imply that he was the father of her child, Philip Paul Cochrane…
Miles, B. The Beatles diary volume 1: The Beatles years. Omnibus Press, 2009.
However I always found this long quote about the Australian tour to be much more illuminating rather than a single case out of Liverpool that was hushed up with brown paper bag money:
> The night was not entirely without its compensations though.
> That evening, and indeed every evening of the tour, the Beatles partook of one pleasure they had discovered in Hamburg as unknown teenagers and developed to an obsessive sport over the next three years.
> Lennon, in particular, must have been consumed with perverse delight by the grand confidence trick which he and his colleagues were perpetrating upon the whole western world. By day they won the hearts of mum, dad and the garden gnome with their cheeky, innocent charm and by night, according to more than a few observers, they hurled themselves in bacchanalian orgies beyond the comprehension of the humble folk who paid them homage. The “satyricon” scenes which John referred to in an Australian context in his milestone 1971 interview with Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner certainly did occur, though such was the wall of absolute secrecy that only those tour party members accepted into an exclusive inner sanctum ever witnessed them.
> Tour manager Ravenscroft carefully concedes, “They had girls in their room, yes. That was in the hands of Mal Evans, who was very good at picking the right girls. It was all very discreet and well organ-ised. When they were getting involved in that sort of thing I kept right out of the way.”
> “That sort of thing” is more frankly explained by journalist Jim Oram: “John and Paul, particularly, rooted themselves silly. A seemingly endless and inexhaustible stream of Australian girls passed through their beds; the very young, the very experienced, the beautiful and the plain. In fact, I can vividly remember one spoilt virgin in Adelaide who proudly took her bloodstained sheet home with her in the morning.”
> “Yes it all went on, and more,” admits Bob Rogers, “there were just so many women. The boys never, to my knowledge, repeated the dose. They’d rather have a less attractive woman than the same one
twice. They had become supremely indifferent to it all, as women and girls continually prostrated themselves in their presence. You see I’d always thought that the one great thing about womanizing was the challenge and I couldn’t believe it could be so casual. Rather than getting into hallucinogenic drugs, I was convinced that they would all end up homosexuals, out of sheer boredom with conventional sex. There was no pill in 1964 and with the amount of Beatle screwing that went on I just can’t believe that there wasn’t an explosion of little Beatles all over Australia in 1965. Maybe there was.”
> Jim Oram has a theory in that regard: “John once told me, ‘We’ve got the best cover in the world. If a girl comes home after being out all night and breaks down under the old man’s questioning and admits that she had spent the night with one of the Beatles, he tells her not to lie and goes up the road to kick the bum of the boy next door.’ It must have worked because there were no instances of angry parents on the tour, which was almost unbelievable.”
Baker, Glenn A. The Beatles down under: The 1964 Australia & New Zealand Tour. Pierian Press, 1985.
From all of this, there are two possibilities:
1) Paul has been pretending that he doesn’t have illegitimate children. All four of them did this. He has had sex with thousands of women through out his career as a Beatle. It is simply unthinkable that there weren’t any broken condoms, missed birth control pills, or other prophylactic failures. We have at least one case of a woman who had Paul’s baby and was quietly paid off out of fear that it was true. And before you try to assert “provable reality,” please keep in mind that civilians had absolutely *no idea* about the Beatles’ LSD usage before Paul blabbed on national television. The Beatles PR machine is unstoppable lmao. We don’t know about them because the people involved do not want it to be known. This is the power of the “brown paper bag money” that Mr. Gerber has discussed in other posts.
2) Paul McCartney has achieved what millions of men and women have desired for years: he has figured out how to have sex without accidentally knocking someone up. He can stop himself from impregnating women at will thus enabling him to have sex with hundreds if not thousands of women without ever producing an illegitimate child. He has transcended time, space, and the laws of physics and biology. Linda Eastman is the only woman he has ever had children because of his perfect control over his own sperm.
I have to be honest. Now that I’ve typed this all out… Option 2 really does seem like the most likely conclusion. I would delete all those quotes up there now that I’ve realized that Paul McCartney’s perfection extends to controlling his sperm count and not just his musical ability but I went through a lot of work grabbing them from my books so uh yeah they’re staying lol.
My conclusion to this reply:
I live in Ground Zero for political instability in the United States so I will say this: McLennon tinhatting is not even in the same league as the political instability that you cited at the end of your post. I find your linking my friends and community to this movement of “alternative facts” to be a repugnant one.
McLennon tinhatting can be cringy, eyebrow raising, or just plain weird, but it is absolutely not in the same realm as “alternative facts” and it does not hold a candle to the political problems you mentioned. It is remarkably insulting for these two things to be compared. McLennon tinhatters never incited a riot at the capitol building in Washington DC. The “alternative facts” crowd did.
After reflecting on this for the past week I think this is the part of your post that annoyed me the most. If you want to take a stand for “ethical standards” then you should really start there.
Maddingway, I’m officially done with this subject.
I don’t know how many times I can say that I have no problem with fanfiction about real people that announces itself as fiction, that I think it’s worth differentiating between what we can know happened (with all of the many caveats that entails) and what we’re speculating about, and that talking about how “alternative facts” of various types are significant in our culture amounts to saying that all “alternative facts” and their purveyors have the same level of seriousness. They obviously do not and I have never said they did.
I was also asking in good faith when I inquired if there was any legal evidence of McCartney having an illegitimate child or children. The one legal case I was aware of (Bettina Huebers) was dismissed as far as I know. It’s not a subject I’ve investigated in depth, and it would not surprise me at all if he does have one or more illegitimate children. I simply wondered if any had been legally established as such.
All I can say at the end here is that I’m not the enemy you seem to think I am. I’m not coming for you or your community, and if you find good things there I’m genuinely glad about that.
@Maddingway, Nancy responded to the overall thrust of your post, whereas I just have a few nitpicks/ questions about claims you made. (Perhaps you were being purposefully inflammatory to make a point.)
@Maddingway said, “When Paul’s bad behavior around Linda’s attempt at writing a biography is discussed (“There’s only room for one rockstar in this house,” I believe that’s what he said?)…”
I’ve never heard Linda attempted to write an (auto?)biography. Got anything to substantiate that – and Paul’s alleged reaction?
@Maddingway said, “They lied to their fans about being single. They lied to their fans about being on drugs (at least for a while.) They lied about being swingers. They lied about all the women they slept with. They lied about the women they impregnated. They lied about their manager being gay. John lied about being happy with Yoko. Paul lied about the children he abandoned and refused to acknowledge.”
John, on the advice of their manager, did briefly lie about being single – is that what you’re referring to? What did they ever say (or not say) about being swingers (or not?)? How do you mean they lied about all the women they slept with/impregnated? As in lies of omission? When did they lie about using drugs? More omission? When did they say Brian wasn’t gay? As for John lying about being happy with Yoko, i don’t think he was in their later years, but neither of us knows. (I’d say he was entitled to lie about his personal happiness unless he did so to sell records.) What proof is there that Paul abandoned and refused to acknowledge children?