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Is there, do you think, a secret history of The Beatles? In a private email, commenter Justin and I began talking about this Dullblog post—which, nearly ten years later, remains the best summary of my feelings on the breakup. (For those short on time: I think Lennon pulled away from Paul and the group impulsively, almost by mistake, driven by his pride, his manager, his habit and his wife, pretty much in that order; and then didn’t have the emotional tools to walk it back, even though he regretted it immediately and eventually realized it killed him creatively.)
The secret history of the Beatles is, to me, the four of them as people. I’m attracted to this reading of the breakup because it’s messy and lives in the emotional realm—if you pin me down, I’ll admit I think it’s more likely precisely because it can’t be proven. Because it makes the Beatles feel like human beings, not corporate entities masquerading as people. And because it rejects the simple narratives put forth by Lennon in 1971, Apple since 1970, and the Estate since 1980—all of which are based on none of the four guys (but Lennon especially) realizing how special The Beatles were. That Lennon, for example, really thought that his jams with Yoko were as epochal as Chuck Berry, or that George really couldn’t tell the difference in musicianship between Delaney & Bonnie and John, Paul, and Ringo. That the world’s reaction to the Beatles’ music was only teenybopper hysteria. Well, I don’t buy it. If you have the taste and ability to make all those great songs, you also have the taste and ability to hear what all of us hear.
That earlier post was kicked off by this even earlier post, detailing a bunch of surprising items once owned by Derek Taylor. That auction included a letter from George Harrison to the other Beatles, posted on the wall at Apple in 1969, asking them not to break up. “A flower on its own is pretty. A flower in a garden is beautiful.”
What? Famously let-me-outta-here George asking the others to cool it and keep the group together? That single memo changed my ideas about George during the breakup and as a person…which led to my thinking more seriously and analytically about who broke up the band, and why.
I bet the photo above—which appears to be genuine, according to the redoubtable BPB—makes you see Lennon a little differently. It did me!
Is there document or statement or such that’s changed your vision of the group, or the four guys? Could there be one? Share it in the comments.