- From Faith Current: “The Sacred Ordinary: St. Peter’s Church Hall” - May 1, 2023
- A brief (?) hiatus - April 22, 2023
- Something Happened - March 6, 2023
Frequent commenter @meaigs recently expressed some thoughts about sexual politics and public perception of Paul McCartney, which I asked her to expand into a post. I hope you find her insights as interesting as I did; for me, some things snapped into place that had never made much sense.—MG
Paul McCartney is a man who gets treated as though he were a woman, and that is weird and bad. Not because being a woman is bad, but because women get treated badly.
Before watching Peter Jackson’s Get Back I was a casual Beatles fan. I didn’t have strong preconceived notions about the band members, their interactions, or their breakup. I hadn’t heard the claim that John was A Great Artist trying to escape the stifling environment of The Beatles, and that Paul was a showbiz-besotted control-freak who drove everyone crazy and wrecked the dream. The Beatles were simply a band I quite liked. I was about to start a wild ride.
From the moment Paul walks into his first scene he exudes masculinity. Not the fragile masculinity of puffed chests and barked orders. Something much more subtle and deep. It’s partly the luxurious beard, but it’s mostly the way he moves. “Swagger” is the wrong word, that would imply an attempt to display, to be seen. Maybe “saunter” is better. He comfortably strolls in, swings his coat aside, and grabs his guitar.
I was immediately struck by his easy physicality. That first time watching, as I saw him swing and climb, nonchalantly hopping over chairs and scaling walls, all I could think of was how male it was, but like, in a hot way.
I’m a bisexual woman, but I rarely find men attractive. I joke with my husband: “I’m straight for you and Paul McCartney.” All this to say that gender and sexuality were live issues for me as I began my descent into Pepperland. I was surprised to find myself attracted to Paul, and alert to his gender presentation. There was nothing in Get Back that hinted to me that Paul was womanly, or might suffer for being perceived that way. But then I expanded my reading.
The first word that caught my eye was “bossy”.
It’s impossible to read about the Beatles for any length of time without seeing that label applied to Paul. But it’s such a female-coded word, with connotations of power usurped (rather than legitimate). Once you notice that linguistic sleight-of-hand, you start seeing it everywhere: Paul is “pretty,” “cute,” “motherly.” He is “jilted,” “vacuous,” “a diva,” even “shrill.”
Why would this patriarchal language of female oppression be applied to Paul? If he were stereotypically effeminate this would be a familiar story; sadly no-one would be shocked to see him treated as inferior for his womanliness. The effect I want to highlight is not so obvious, but it is pervasive. (That said, you should try Googling “immovable heterosexuality”).
Let’s be honest: as much as I was originally struck by Paul’s masculinity, there is something ambiguously feminine about him. I can’t quite put my finger on it, maybe it’s the Disney Princess eyes, or the lips so often described as cherubic. It comes and goes, sometimes he couldn’t be more masculine, and sometimes facial hair makes him look like a woman in drag. His vocal range goes considerably higher (and considerably lower) than mine. My point is he doesn’t come across as an effeminate man, but he does sometimes trigger a “that is a woman” response in whatever part of the brain is desperate to categorize people in those terms.
No doubt Paul would put it down to being a Gemini.
Maybe what I’m getting at is that “effeminate” isn’t the same thing as “feminine.” Effeminate refers to a (much maligned) set of male behaviors that have been associated with femaleness, homosexuality, and by all-too-predictable-extension, weakness. But they’re not actually female behaviors and characteristics, they’re male.
Whatever signals Paul is giving off (be it facial structure or micro-expressions or something else), they are more like actual female signals than effeminate male signals. My contention is that the subtlety of this effect has meant that he’s been unconsciously categorized as a woman by many people who treat him with misogyny, but not necessarily homophobia.
I am by no means the first person to notice this. It’s a common theme on tumblr (where the demographic skews female, so familiarity with the mechanisms of misogyny is high).
One of the ways this manifests is how often Paul is considered an unreliable witness. In several ancient law codes the testimony of women was explicitly invalid (or multiple women’s testimony was required to be equivalent to one man’s). This was a codification of an existing prejudice, one that continues to this day. Women are not believed, especially when they are speaking alone (I won’t go into loads of examples, but Bill Cosby comes to mind). I haven’t seen anything to suggest Paul is particularly prone to lying. He’s conservative with what he reveals for sure, and his memory is about what you’d expect for an 80-year-old with a history of drug abuse, but he’s certainly no less reliable a witness than Ringo. John, who codes male, freely admitted to making things up, but it is Paul who consistently gets accused of “rewriting history.”
For example: many people discount Paul’s story of his inspiration for the song “Blackbird.” Some time in the early 2000s he started recounting that it was originally about the Civil Rights movement in the US. Rather than assuming that Paul had simply never publicly mentioned it before, many people accused him of making it up. That Paul has no need to bolster his credibility as a supporter of African-Americans should be obvious to anyone who’s at all familiar with Beatles history, but there has been a lot of sneering and eye-rolling about this claim. Well, there’s a recording from 1968 in which Paul tells Donovan:
“I played it for Diana Ross the other day. She took offense [laughing]. Not really [smiling] [Donovan laughs]. I did mean it like that originally! I’d just sort of read something in the paper about riots and that.”
This evidence might convince the eye-rollers that he’s telling the truth in this specific instance, but I can guarantee that it won’t change their minds about how believable he is in general. Their problem is not what he says, but who is saying it.
As for rewriting history:
“Revisionism is a part of historiography, and simply because a narrative has been revised does not mean that the new, revised version is incorrect.” – Erin Torkelson Weber, The Beatles and the Historians
We know that John “I said that but I lied” Lennon was very successful in establishing a particular narrative about the breakup of the Beatles. Despite the cognitive dissonance required to believe everything John said, some people seem determined to try. Why shouldn’t Paul be given room to correct the record as he sees fit?
This phenomenon—Paul being interpreted as a woman—might be key to why Allen Klein so completely misread and “mishandled” Paul. I think he had bought into the idea that Paul was feminine and weak. He tried to bully Paul, calling him The Reluctant Virgin (which is not only female-coded, but sexually threatening), expecting him to be cowed. Which is not to say that no woman could have stood up to Klein the way that Paul did, rather that Klein was the kind of man who thought no woman would.
It’s also an undercurrent in the PR campaign against Paul that started in the early 1970s, and is still haunting him. I’m not old enough to have read hit pieces about “granny music,” and “insipid lyrics” when they were written, but they all soaked into the wider cultural understanding of Paul as an artist. Under that narrative John is lauded for his honesty in expressing anger and regret, but Paul is soft and weak for singing about domestic bliss and for empathizing with women, for suggesting that music is for grannies too (including grannies who like “Check My Machine”).
Can we take a moment to acknowledge how fucking sad that is? We as a society prefer Lennon-style toxic expressions of masculinity—lashing out in violence, giving full vent to anger – over Paul’s self-restraint, meeting personal responsibilities, caring for your family.
Patriarchy sucks. For all of us. Under patriarchy everyone is restricted from things they might freely choose, and subjected to things they don’t want. Misogyny is perpetrated by men and women, in ways that are sometimes subtle and often unconscious. Is it manly to have angst over having hurt loved ones and anger over them hurting you, but vacuous to enjoy fatherhood? Fuck that noise. When we laud John’s honesty for admitting he hit and hurt people, shouldn’t we admire Paul even more for not having done that? If we laud John for coming around to the joys of family and fatherhood in 1975-80, shouldn’t we praise Paul even more for having those values seemingly from the beginning?
In many (most?) accounts of the Beatles, John is the protagonist. We talk about The Day John Met Paul (not the day Paul met John, or the day John and Paul met). I think Paul is interpreted as John’s wife, in a metaphorical marriage. That makes it sound much less subtle than the actual effect I’m trying to describe, but I think it holds up. For example—and this still blows my mind—some people went so far as to say in public that it should have been Paul who died. Perhaps it makes narrative sense to them that the woman should be fridged to advance the man’s story, not the other way around.
I do wonder if Paul’s empathy with women, his remarkable ability to tell a story about a woman as though she were a fully realized human, stems from this direct experience of misogyny. Is he (consciously or not) able to put himself in women’s shoes because the world has insisted on putting him there for so long?
There is also something to be said about the subtle collective androgyny of the Beatles, which threatened adults right from the start of Beatlemania, but this is already long, and my thoughts on how that relates are underdeveloped.
Obviously Paul benefits from the privilege of not actually being a woman, so the misogyny aimed at him is less consistent and pervasive, but I do think it sheds an interesting light both on his mistreatment by the rock press, and on patriarchy as a phenomenon.
Paul is in many ways very masculine, but he is often treated like a woman in the language and narrative we use when we talk about him and the Beatles. By thinking carefully about how that negatively impacts him, we can learn something about what gender means to us, and what we do with that meaning. It gives us a new perspective on the pervasive misogyny in our society, and the many ways patriarchy drags us all down.
I think the reason Paul has been seen as “womanly” is that to the baby boomers of 1964 John was their dad and Paul was their mother. John upset the neighbours, Paul smoothed things over; John hit you, Paul hugged you; John got drunk and insulted the waiter, Paul said “It’s OK, he doesn’t really mean it”. Those roles were set in stone for all time in the minds of that generation.
@Dan, if we’re going to bruit this theory, let’s really go into it: Father-John also supported people fiercely, protected them from outsiders, took them into the wide world, gave them license, showed them how to be their own person. John’s rage is also definition of the tribe, protection of his own.
It seems there’s some truth in this paradigm, for the Boomers and even older Gen X. But it wasn’t John’s flaws that made it stick. It was the other stuff. People of those generations really looked to Lennon.
This is very thought-provoking, meigs — thank you for writing it!
You write: ” I do wonder if Paul’s empathy with women, his remarkable ability to tell a story about a woman as though she were a fully realized human, stems from this direct experience of misogyny,” and that is certainly a possibility.
I in turn wonder if this sequence may have worked in reverse — if McCartney’s affinity for telling stories about women is part of what leads him to be coded as “feminine” in some respects. It’s the old “you’ll get cooties from playing with / talking to girls” playground taunt.
Excellent post. As you say, this topic has been in focus elsewhere (e.g., a recent episode of Another Kind of Mind) but you bring in a lot of new angles and insights.
“In many (most?) accounts of the Beatles, John is the protagonist.”
A key point. “Protagonist” is the male role. A caveat: I do think that the 1957 fete is commonly described as “the day John and Paul met.” But it’s always “John asked Paul to join the Quarrymen,” never “Paul agreed to join the Quarrymen.” He had the most talent, knew the most chords. He had choices.
And this ties in to something I’d been thinking about:
There’s a well-known Lennon quote about how Paul and Yoko were the only two people he’d chosen as partners. It’s cited and discussed in the context of his putting the two on an equal footing as creative forces, and as his life’s “partners” in general. But is it ever mentioned that this formulation accords neither Paul nor Yoko any agency in choosing John? The discourse follows John himself in envisioning him as a sovereign potentate choosing first one consort and then another. The ultimate patriarch.
I don’t think that image accords at all with what’s observable about his relationship with Yoko. But that’s not directly pertinent to this topic. With regards to his relationship with Paul — well, it’s a real two-edged sword.
There’s of course a mountain of evidence for how highly John rated Paul’s talents, the quote referenced above being one data point. But over time an unhealthy tinge appears. There’s tape of him telling Paul that he had to constantly manage his jealousy for him in order to continue the partnership. (This is part of the “flowerpot conversation” from the Get Back sessions that wasn’t included in Jackson’s edit.) And then there’s his complex about “Yesterday,” his allowing Klein to claim that much of Paul’s most admired work was actually John’s, etc., etc. In other words, evidence for both massive admiration and equivalent insecurity — since I think “jealousy” is a manifestation of insecurity in this instance.
Which to me suggests that Lennon had internalized the notion that his partnership with McCartney was a one-way choice — and therefore HADN’T internalized what it meant that McCartney valued the partnership and wanted to preserve it. If he couldn’t understand that McCartney had “chosen back,” that it was a two-way choice, then he couldn’t understand that the admiration also went two ways. How much did this insecurity play into his behavioral disintegration during the pre- and post-breakup period, with all the grandiosity (declaring himself a genius, and a crucified one at that) and the publicity stunts intended to bolster his status in realms OUTSIDE of the one in which Paul was a competitor. I think of him as a fragile male, not a toxic one, and the grandiosity was a token of the fragility.
@Katya, one thing I think often gets lost in these discussions is just how difficult it would be to be Paul McCartney’s partner in terms of pure music-making; and how difficult it would be to be John’s partner in terms of audience connection or cultural importance. Of course John had a complex about “Yesterday”–any songwriter would. It was the most popular song of that generation, an instant classic, an instant standard, and something that Paul didn’t need a single other Beatle to pull off. There isn’t a creative person alive who wouldn’t look at their partner differently after that. Paul’s prodigious musical talent was John’s cross to bear, as much as we might want that to be different (for their sake, and ours).
Drawing on my own long experience in a creative partnership, far from competition being the hallmark of Lennon/McCartney, I think that partnership is extraordinary in its long period of collaboration/helpfulness/support. After about 1965 or so, Paul goes on this huge run of genius, culminating in Pepper–or “Hey Jude”–or Abbey Road? Any partner would have to be extraordinarily secure/patient/supportive to remain connected through that, and John did. But eventually he also pivoted to his own area of strength, which was audience connection, individual experience, and cultural significance.
Lennon’s “Yesterday” was the totality of his adult life in the public eye. Paul McCartney, God bless ‘im, is never going to be seen as culturally significant as John Lennon. Paul McCartney is a genius songwriter; John Lennon is a genius songwriter PLUS a political and cultural icon. (Only Dylan is comparable, and I suspect Dylan falls short as well. Lonnon’s not-just-a-musician status was recognized even before The Beatles broke up–he was anointed one of three “Men of the Decade” in December 1969. The outpouring of grief when he died was akin to a political figure, not a musician. None of this is meant as a criticism of Paul, but forty years after Lennon’s death, it’s really undeniable.
The appropriate stance as appreciative outsiders is empathy for both men. John, when confronted with Paul’s genius, did what most people would, which was hang in for as long as he could, then pivot to doing something slightly different than what Paul was clearly the best in the world at doing. That’s not a flaw in John’s character, it’s completely understandable and, to some degree, psychologically healthy.
Paul, on the other hand, turned towards pop music success even more intently, and has done this for fifty years. As with John, understandable, and no shame in it. Paul’s turn in the dunk tank came after December 8, 1980, and lasted for probably 20 years after that. Just as Paul’s zillion-sellers between “Yesterday” and “Let It Be” pushed John’s buttons, John’s elevation ‘way above mere songwriter/entertainer similarly put Paul on the back foot. That’s why Paul then tried to reverse the song credit, etc.
Nobody wants to be the Garfunkel. And if you’re guys as talented as Lennon and McCartney, eventually the knives are going to come out for each other, to make sure you’re not the Garfunkel. As a pure pop songwriter–as a Beatle, defined as Beatledom was in 1964–by 1969, Lennon was McCartney’s Garfunkel, or felt like it. And occasionally throughout some of the 1970s, and definitely after 1980, McCartney was Lennon’s Garfunkel, or felt like it. And both men acted badly under those conditions, as one would expect them to.
I’m just glad they held it together as long as they did. That also is a kind of genius.
Jumping in here to make a few points, which I hope doesn’t offend you.
First off, I’m not sure how Katya’s post denies empathy to both men, ie. to Lennon. Recognizing that John had insecurity which affected his behavior during/after the breakup does not mean that John is a bad person, but human. From your response, it seems like you believe Katya is implying this?
“Any partner would have to be extraordinarily secure/patient/supportive to remain connected through that, and John did.”
-From his own words, Lennon wasn’t any of those things. He felt resigned, depressed, and lacked confidence. Alongside other causes, it was McCartney’s success that directly sparked and fed his depression.
“Lennon’s “Yesterday” was the totality of his adult life in the public eye.”
-The public does not take into account the totality of Lennon’s adult life in the public sphere. What they see is his music and activism from 1969-1975 as reported and maintained by the Lennon estate. Lennon’s naked album covers, post-modern art shows, baggism, and erection movies are not generally considered to be part of his brand. Which is to the point, John’s “Yesterday” was not the ‘totality of his adult life’, but the establishment and creation of the Lennon brand. And this brand was partly created by capitalizing on the Beatle-fame he had already (derived from his partnership with Paul/Beatles) whilst putting down his work in the Beatles/ denigrating his partner, McCartney.
“John, when confronted with Paul’s genius, did what most people would, which was hang in for as long as he could, then pivot to doing something slightly different than what Paul was clearly the best in the world at doing.”
-Lennon did more than pivot by jumping into activism. He put down McCartney’s genius in a long campaign using interviews/songs. He and Ono pushed for the public to see McCartney as conservative and not a real artist on the level that he was.
Lennon’s behavior to me reveals his insecurity. Which is to say, he was a deeply troubled human. I don’t think saying this robs Lennon of any empathy.
A few other points:
“Paul, on the other hand, turned towards pop music success even more intently, and has done this for fifty years.”
-I think its more accurate to say that he turned towards music as much as he ever did in times of trouble. He has had success because he is a good songwriter.
“John’s elevation ‘way above mere songwriter/entertainer similarly put Paul on the back foot.”
-This and also the fact that Beatle biographies at the time were writing him out of his own history. For example Shout (“John was three quarters of the Beatles”).
“He put down McCartney’s genius in a long campaign using interviews/songs.”
What songs? How Do You Sleep? When will people acknowledge the song was a response, particularly to Paul’s line in one of his songs about his being John’s lucky break.
Your take on them taking on different roles struck me as very similar to a family, specifically siblings in a family — where one sibling is the smart one, one is the funny one, etc. It’s very much an ensemble deal. Of course, that’s also part of showbiz management of an ensemble — like in That Thing You Do, when Tom Hanks sets up his doppelganger character (can’t think of his name at the moment) as the “cool” one or something like it.
@marian, it’s this type of thinking that has always made me view the Beatles through the roles of the alcoholic family matrix.
Yes! And in dysfunctional family systems, the roles tend to be fixed. As the Beatles’ roles were.
“And occasionally throughout some of the 1970s, and definitely after 1980, McCartney was Lennon’s Garfunkel, or felt like it.”
Personally I don’t have high thoughts on most of Lennon’s solo work. In fact I would prefer an album like Ram to f.e. Imagine anytime. In fact I find a song like “Imagine” very banal; it is clearly short of the artistic subtlety of his best work in the Beatles (which often had McCartney’s fingerprints on it).
If there is a post-Beatles Simon, I might actually choose Harrison…
Personally, @Anders, I agree with you. I never listen to Lennon’s solo stuff, and frequently listen to RAM and McCartney II; and occasionally listen to ATMP and Living in the Material World (and even occasionally Extra Texture).
@Michael While I do like a lot of Lennon’s solo songs, what his material lacks compared to the Beatles, or compared to McCartney through the 70s, is imagination. Being convinced by Yoko that Art required a direct and serious expression of self-experience -no word salads, no frivolity, no witty or surreal turns of phrase- was the death knell for much of Lennon’s creativity. On ‘Plastic Ono Band,’ it worked, but it led him down a cul-de-sac he never really escaped. When Paul was asked what he thought of ‘Walls and Bridges’ in 1974, he said it was good, but it wasn’t very adventurous when John was capable of making songs like ‘I Am The Walrus.’ Paul really hit the nail on the head, I think. For all John’s BS about being an underground artist, he was very middle of the road for most of his solo career. The spirit of exploration that animated his best years in the Beatles is just not there, even if now and then he wrote some excellent songs. By contrast, Paul in the 70s still sounds enthralled with music and trying new things. Not everything he tried worked of course, but Paul always sounds like a guy who loves his job. By contrast, John’s work is largely joyless, and even when it’s good, it sounds like it was an effort.
Well, to be fair he tried the political angle on Some Time in New York City, but no one really liked it. But yeah, for the most part, middle of the road is a good way to put it! I don’t dislike his solo music, but most of it doesn’t grip me in particular. Especially, as you say, coming from the guy who’d written I am the Walrus, Strawberry Fields Forever, etc.
The funny thing is that is a bunch of Yoko’s art involves playful, even surrealistic aphorisms, and she’s famously produced a fair bit of experimental music. Creatively they don’t really seem to have matched on their strengths.
Anders, I have to comment on your Polly and Ester cartoon. When I was 9 my dad had my siblings and I record an anti-Goldwater song (Goldwater was running for president). Fortunately the recording went missing – all I remember is Barry-o Barry-o – but I did like the name he gave our trio: Polly, Ester, and Rayon. (Sorry to go off topic!)
I’m pretty sure I would have made an anti-Goldwater song too 🙂
The cartoon in my avatar is just taken from a comic strip that parodies Winnie the Pooh. It is supposed to be the tiger, and the text explains that it’s made of polyester…
Oh God, another Lennon vs McCartney debate. Can’t anyone laud Paul on his own merits without dragging John’s negative aspects into it?
I consider myself a strong feminist. I don’t like John for his “toxic masculinity” but for his kindness in spite of not being pampered like Paul was growing up. He had many sides to him. But I do like masculine men, of which John was one. Does it always have to be toxic?
Man, this take has been everywhere the last year or so and it makes me uncomfortable for reasons I have a hard time putting my finger on. I will say this is a beautifully written article, so thank you for sharing it, but I do wanna push back a bit. While I agree there’s an undercurrent of misogyny and homophobia in the way certain sections of the Rockerati were just WAITING for a reason to hate the member of The Beatles their little sisters all had taped above the bed, by that metric every member of the Backstreet Boys experienced misogyny too, not to mention guys like Leonardo DiCaprio or whatshisface who played Edward in Twilight (sorry I don’t know much about specific celebrities lol). Like, is there any reason to think that Paul’s trip through this particular social wringer is more akin to actual misogyny than what’s happened with any other teen idol popular with women besides the fact that he, well, *y’know*…. looks a bit girly, doesn’t he? Unusually and notably so, in fact.
It’s a fair point to make re: how he was talked about in the 70’s, but I don’t know if there’s evidence this is something that gave him some sort of special insight to the female experience or even that it affected him this way at all. I do tend to wonder sometimes if he faced homophobic bullying from a young age due to his effeminate aura (it’s not just his looks; it’s his body language). John also was, from various sources, a highly effeminate child, but he constructed an aggressive, masculine facade for himself around the age boys start to get bullied for that kinda thing (in his own words: the Marlon Brando front, and the velvet Oscar Wilde inner self). Paul seems to have gone in the opposite direction, and leant into the female-coded social tools of diplomacy and appeasement (likely due to growing up in a two-parent household where the mother was the bread-earner; Paul’s relationship with his father is complicated, vs his relationship with his mother being aspirational).
Despite this, however, there is something deeply masculine about him – not in his surface presentation, as you suggest here, but in his attitude. For a very long time (up until his 60’s, honestly) Paul was a pretty straightforward 1950’s style guy wrt gender relations, and had very parochial expectations of his women. This is a fairly benign form of sexism, and he was to his credit a devoted husband and father, but there is nothing exceptional about his perspective on women (in fact, I find his songs about women…. well, they raise my blood pressure, lmfao; if I were Jane I would have dumped him after the songs he put on Rubber Soul. He was nearly 40 when he released Temporary Secretary, yeesh)(I love Temporary Secretary don’t get me wrong). In fact, I think his ideas about gender were significantly behind his contemporaries in the 60’s and 70’s (society slid back to meet him in the 80’s), but he gets a lot of credit for engaging in less abominable behaviour than your average rock star of the time, and for actually seeming to LIKE his wife. I wonder sometimes if people’s marveling these days at the McCartney’s marriage as something “ahead of its time” or “gender breaking” is just bc of how Paul enforced “working class values” on his family, and we haven’t seen many “normal” marriages in celebrity culture (and certainly won’t commonly in the near future either, now that music is largely the providence of rich heirs and heiresses buying vanity careers).
I guess what it is that makes me uncomfortable is when the valid observation of how celebrity press treats Pretty Boy idols (often due to resentment of their teen girl fans) crosses the line into saying that Paul himself faced “misogyny”, in the sense that a woman would, if that makes sense? It’s possible he has hang ups about this, re: his on record complaint about the band being treated as pretty boy idols by female fans who were always “looking at their legs” (vs having the ~~respect~~ of male fans), but that seems to be more about him being hit in the masculine pride rather than developing any sense of what it is that “women go through”.
Adjacent to this, however, I don’t think that the “toxic masculine John” construct should be taken as some cosmic benefit to John either, esp since the Rough Lad image from the Beatlemania days was something he was desperate to shed (people who were close to John described him as being rather soft and feminine when at peace). John and Paul were both kinda weird, effeminate dorks who struggled with insecurity and embracing/rejecting this aspect of themselves. I should note that there’s actually been some nice analysis in the last few years suggesting this is one of the core frissons of what made their music so unique (Rob Sheffield elucidates on this in his comments re:, I believe, ‘I Call Your Name’? It’s been a while since I’ve read this book; I think the ‘Something About The Beatles’ podcast discussed this as well in the first episode they did focusing specifically on the Lennon/McCartney partnership; off the top of my head). The sort of easy, unconscious gender play in art is something I find really fascinating (the idea that in a love song, the singer is addressing an imaginary girl/boy, but aren’t they also the girl/boy? They’re singing to someone else by singing to themselves, or singing to themselves by singing to someone else. This is one of the reasons I love ‘Thunder Road’: Mary is the eternal Girl, dress swaying, who the singer is always trying to get into his car, but isn’t she also Bruce Springsteen? Isn’t HE the one who was desperate to hitch a ride out of town?). On this matter, the insecurities and obsessions of male rock journalists who hate anything with the stink of femininity can be soundly dismissed imo.
Thanks Tactical Orange, you’ve made me realise how much I left unsaid.
I definitely don’t want to portray Paul as some kind of Feminist Icon (lol). I love Temporary Secretary too, but I cringe when I read fans claiming he wrote it as an indictment of the patriarchy. That’s not how he talks about it. He thought it was funny, and doesn’t think he’d get away with it now.
To be honest I’m a little disappointed that you thought I was suggesting his masculinity is “surface presentation”. I suppose I gave more space to my main point, and I find it difficult to express, but he reads as *extremely* masculine to me, and very confident in that masculinity. Easily the most masculine of the four of them, in my opinion. But I do have a really hard time unpicking my feelings about gender-essentialism and patriarchy-imposed stereotypes.
With respect to his empathy songs: I’m not suggesting he has very enlightened attitudes about relations between men and women (and certainly didn’t when he was controlling Dot Rhone or cheating on Jane Asher). But many men don’t really think of women as people. The lyrics of Another Day are a great example. Paul had imagined a lonely, high-functioning-depressive _woman_ to the point where he could write “she finds it hard to stay alive”. He wasn’t interested in her as an object of desire or scorn, he was interested in what she felt. It was dismissed as “light”, “inane”, “meaningless”, but I reckon that’s because blokes heard enough to know it wasn’t about how hot she is and switched off.
Then again he wrote
“If when she tries to run away
And he calls her back, she comes
If there’s a next time, well, he’s okay
Cause she’s under both his thumbs
She limp along to his side
Singing a song of ruin, I’d
Now I guess he says nothin’ doin’
I’d call it, call it, I’d call it suicide”
at the age of 14, so maybe he’s actually got some ghost feeding him lyrics 🙂
“I don’t think that the “toxic masculine John” construct should be taken as some cosmic benefit to John either”
I *totally* agree. Patriarchy hurts everyone. It puts us in these stupid little boxes, and normalises unhealthy respsonses. Paul has said that John was the softest guy he ever met, and I’m so sad for little sensitive John, building armour that he spent his adult life dismantling. In fact I’d say John came out of the whole deal much worse, though everyone who loved him had a lot of fallout to deal with too.
Nicely written meaigs.
I like your observation as to how Paul, in Get Back, arrived on the set and got to work. His compartment bespoke a deep competence and confidence. I don’t mean a “smartest guy in the room” confidence, but one that was borne of being a master at his craft combined with the mental and physical expression of creation.
Great piece @meaigs. I think the topic of patriarchy is especially relevant today. Isn’t that what overturning Roe v Wade is about? And gun control? White males are desperately trying to hold on to power.
Anyway, with regards to Paul, personally I have never gotten a feminine vibe from him. I always have thought he was very attractive, but also he seems nice. Like a guy you could trust to take you home, and not be worried he’d try and do something against your will.
Maybe being respectful, kind, friendly and open are considered by some to be more female characteristics. Add to that good manners.
Definitely not macho.
I agree that the rock press of the 70’s (especially Jann Wenner) were the ones who put it out there that Paul was “soft”. And definitely his having Linda and the kids with him on tour was not cool at that time.
Paul just doesn’t really fit the “rock star” personna. He always said he wanted to be like Fred Astaire, so maybe that’s another reason he seems more feminine to some.
I think the rock star persona is so self-limiting as to be a straitjacket. There’s only a few things you can do (strut and preen onstage, make noise, trash hotel rooms, be judgmental about every other musical form that isn’t rock) because if you try to do anything beyond that you risk becoming … Uncool. And that’s a fate worse than death to your typical rock star as well as most white male rock fans.
I think Paul wanted to be like Fred Astaire because Fred could do everything. Sing, dance, act (comedy and drama) and just about anything else. An all-around entertainer. Paul appreciated this, which is why I believe he’ll look less ridiculous to future generations than all the pompous rock stars who took themselves way too seriously.
I so agree Sam. (Baboomska). 🙂
Paul is a born entertainer, and no matter what era he’d have been born into, he would have found an outlet. I could see him being like Duke Ellington or Glenn Miller if he lived in those times. A big band leader who wrote popular music, led his band, played piano and drums.
“I believe he’ll look less ridiculous to future generations than all the pompous rock stars who took themselves way too seriously.”
I agree, and even though after Johns death Paul has worried about being seen as “less than”, he will live on by his longevity and productivity. Plus being a genius. 😉
Lennon pushed back against the rock star persona as well. Writing a book of cartoons and stories, acting in a movie (without the other Beatles) and then later his non-rock collaborations with Yoko.
What a wonderfully written piece. Just a few thoughts.
Paul’s softer features, (I mean just look at that button nose!) to my eye, are well, pretty and appealing.
Also, with all due respect, making a declarative statement that ‘Paul is the most masculine’ is an utterly subjective POV.
George’s prominent cheekbones, strong nose, and sharp jawline will forever make him the most masculine, Beatle or otherwise.
It is worth noting that on the first day of filming, for whatever reason, Paul was forty minutes late. This would account for ‘getting right to work’ since rest of the band was already working.
I agree, to me it’s a tossup between George and John for most masculine.
To add: I just don’t get how someone as cherubic looking as Paul would be pronounced “clearly the most masculine.” Yes, some of his behaviors are manly like fixing a table at his farm. I wonder if John and George have anything that is uniquely theirs anymore, or has Paul taken over all their characteristics and traits? He’s even the toughest Beatle now, not Ringo. I think Ringo is the confident one of the band. And to say that someone as sexist as Paul is the victim of misogyny is rather offensive. That goes for all the Beatles.
What about poor Ringo? Because he is little? Can’t all of them be masculine? Or not masculine? Four men out of billions of men on the planet all to be sorted into various degrees of masculinity. The defensiveness of some of these comments clearly illustrate the point Meaigs was trying to make in her well-written post. That Paul must never ever be seen to be masculine; that people find him attractive only because he is “soft and pretty”, an insult to Paul and to his fans. Broad shoulders, a strong butt chin – to put it crudely – and a heavy five o’clock shadow. I’m not seeing femininity. A strong nose? That’s a new one on me. A nose is a nose. I’m with Meaigs on this.
“People find him attractive only because he is ‘soft and pretty’.
It’s true, though. They’re all masculine to some degree, but this is exactly the reason why Paul was everyone’s favorite. The teen idol, perfectly coiffed look. It’s silly to deny it. And he didn’t seem to complain until he got old, married and less attractive.
I did mention Ringo – noting he was tough, confident.
Is it Occam’s Razor that suggests going for the simplest answer? Because yep, Paul was pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty. I was eight years old when they did their first Ed Sullivan and he was my favorite from the start. Maybe because his “softer” appearance was more likely to appeal to little girls, which many of their early fans were; you’re not really specifically looking for a macho man at that age. Paul was cute. What’s an 8 year old going to do with a manly man? But someone cute you could sit next to at school.
I think maybe later, with the beard and the hair and the scruff and all, he came across more manly. Also, I think he may have had more variations of his singing voice – the sweetness of “Yesterday” versus the more manly tones of some of their later work.
As uber-masculine “rock critic” Lester Bangs would say: boy howdy. Given that the concept of of “masculinity” is not stable, and perceptions of it are idiosyncratic, “which Beatle was the most masculine” is an absurd thing to debate. It’s not like anyone is going to be convinced of the error of their ways.
In this light, I’m struck by Michelle’s suggestion that if someone assigns a quality to Paul it’s being taken away from John or George. What? If one person, motivated by their individual experiences, perceptions, and preferences, assigns +5 masculinity points to Paul, are -5 points deducted from the Lennon account? There is no Lennon account. Michelle’s vision of Lennon belongs to her, and remains entirely intact. It’s not a besieged castle that may fall if enough people envision a different Lennon. In other words, de gustibus.
John was no slouch in the broad shoulder department. Again, I’d rank it John/George, Ringo, Paul.
“What about poor Ringo? Because he is little?”
You have no idea what I consider macho.
Michael, you wrote:
“Paul McCartney, God bless ‘im, is never going to be seen as culturally significant as John Lennon. Paul McCartney is a genius songwriter; John Lennon is a genius songwriter PLUS a political and cultural icon.”
I wonder if this is changing. Meaning, I think Paul is seen also as a cultural icon. For different reasons of course. I’m wondering this because I read an article commemorating Paul’s upcoming 80th Birthday. It’s from the U.K.’s Evening Standard:
“Caustic Lennon appears to have been cancelled by the younger generation, mainly for admitting to domestic abuse. An article on news website Vice in 2015 began: “To celebrate the anniversary of the Beatle’s beloved album Imagine, we recount some of the terrible things the famous asshole did during his life.” I recently asked a large class of 17-year-old music students who their favourite Beatle was. No one said Lennon.”
This tracks with my nephew who is 26 and loves The Beatles. His favorite is George, and he thinks Paul and John were both assholes to George and Ringo.
I think John is an icon for the reasons you stated, but Paul is one for his productivity and longevity.
@Tasmin, perhaps, but I’ll believe it if Paul is still being debated 40+ years after his death. People dislike Lennon today because his actions didn’t always match up with his beliefs; Paul is an entirely different figure in our culture, more like Stephen Sondheim or George Gershwin or Cole Porter, a consummate craftsman–a genius–and judged on their work, not the person they were.
I think the fact that Lennon is discussed for who he was, not what he did, is indicative of the fact that his significance as a “political and cultural icon” has evaporated. His story unquestionably has an enduring triumph-and-tragedy (and maybe there would have been more triumph except …) appeal. But it’s an appeal that’s actually premised on his not being an “icon.” His willful (and arguably short-lived) attempt to become one, post-breakup, is part of the tragedy side of his life. The attempt of the Lennon Estate to refurbish the icon is just dumb, because icons are boring and no one’s buying granny’s icon.
“I think the fact that Lennon is discussed for who he was, not what he did, is indicative of the fact that his significance as a “political and cultural icon” has evaporated.”
That’s what I was wondering @Katya. Will Lennon still be considered an icon after the Boomers are gone? The younger fans certainly don’t see him the same way.
I think Michaels point is correct for NOW, but I guess we’ll have to see how he’s perceived in a decade or so.
Gotcha. That makes sense. He is like a Gershwin or Sondheim. Plus, like we’ve talked about here, John was cool, magnetic, a cultural force: the leader.
Hope you are feeling better after your bout with Covid. 🙂
So, there are three Beatles then. Nice development. He admitted to domestic abuse. How many of their idols were abusers and never admitted it, if anyone even knew about it. Some of them probably love the music of Lindsey Buckingham, I’m sure. How much does Paul actually have to do with John being cancelled? I mean, as an artist.
The younger generation doesn’t like Elvis either.
I guess we would all have to agree on a definition of masculinity (and femininity). Are we just talking about appearance–facial features, clothes, etc.? Or is it appearance and actions? When I watched Get Back, I was struck by how none of them lined up with the current-day definition of masculine. Flowing fanciful clothes, soft movements, kind of swishy, indirect conversations. Yet somehow they were all very masculine or that’s how I see it anyway. Certainly, they were all very appealing to women.
Well @maia, this demonstrates how difficult it is to interpret things like gender and sexual mores as practiced in the past. The safest way is to listen to people’s own contemporaneous statements and recent memories. Anything else is loaded with bias.
With John, it was his voice (for starters). Thoroughly masculine.
Interesting discussion, but one that makes me uncomfortable because of *just how much* it involves projecteing our attitudes as (mainly) Americans living in 2022 onto young men living in Britain in the Sixties. In the Sixties, weren’t *all* the Beatles considered androgynous? Between the hair and the clothes? That was one of the reasons they made older generation (and younger, conservative people) so uncomfortable, right? Then, the rock culture they helped create *did* frame John as being more masculine and Paul more feminine, which also is inaccurate — not for nothing was John referred to as “Paul’s princess” around Apple.
As for John being the protagonist, I don’t think that’s just sexism. There’s currently a “correction” from the deification of John and minimalization of Paul that also corresponds with the cultural reckoning with abusive, violent men. BUT–the Beatles were John’s idea. We talk about when “John met Paul” because John already had a band and already seems to have had some vague idea of becoming **John Lennon**, Bigger Than Elvis. Meeting and inviting Paul McCartney to join him was crucial to that idea becoming what it was, but the Beatles as phenomenon came first from Lennon’s drive, brokenness, vision, and ability to connect. That’s why we talk about those years in John’s terms–just as no one talks about Sgt. Pepper in terms of “when John first heard about the idea.”
According to Michael McCartney, Paul became obsessed with music and the guitar after the death of their mother. He started writing and composing songs at 14 at the expense of his school work. This was all before he met John. In Paul’s own words in 1967, music, money and girls were a way to get out of the sticks. Much is made of the stars and planets alignment of the day John met Paul, and if missed the moment would have been forever gone. No Beatles. But the music scene in suburban Merseyside in 1957/58 made up of a handful of teenage boys in bands would really not have been that large. They would have met. In an alternative universe Paul could well have formed his own band at 16. We know George was in a band with his brother and Arthur Kelly and that both boys knew each other already. It’s not improbable that they could have joined forces. Then there would be John with his band of not particularly talented members competing against Paul and George’s greater skills at the time. All three boys could have seen those magic qualities in each other, formed a separate band of their own, and the rest would still have proceeded as history. Without Paul, John wouldn’t even got as far as Gene Vincent. Art school for him and teachers college for Paul would have been the trajectory. After that, who knows? John without Paul or Paul without John is pointless speculation.
It happened the way it happened and I’m glad. John and Paul in the immediacy of their meeting recognized a kindred spirit in each other that others around them did not possess. A real and profound love of music and what it could do for them.That was what made their musical collaboration and relationship so unique and so widely and endlessly analyzed and discussed.
@Lara, the point is that neither Paul nor George were broken in a way that made them determined to become THE BEATLES. John was. Musical talent was required to get there, yes, but there’s a weird type of revisionism going on if we’re now looking at this as though John had no musical talent — Paul’s facility for melody or no, John was the most prolific and, measured by A-sides and major album tracks, successful Beatles songwriter through 1965. John in 1957 was *determined* to do something other than go to art school. Paul and George were not. I think it’s far more probable that John would have assembled a gang around himself necessary to make it to London in 1962 with a recording contract than Paul or George, because Paul and George didn’t need to. But, to Michael’s point, which I agree with completely, it’s far more likely that John’s non-McCartney career combusts in 1963 or 1964, possibly because he beats the shit out of someone or something else to do with alcohol and speed, leaving us with some version of “Please Please Me” and questions about where pop music might have gone.
@Michael Bleicher. It is not weird revisionism – bearing in mind revisionism has become a dirty word in itself where the Beatles are concerned. I did not say or imply that John did not have musical talent, rather that the original members of the Quarrymen did not serve him well. I dislike the word facility. Paul has no more facility for melodies than John does for words. It harks back to the dismissive attitude held towards McCartney during the 1970s. His little tunes just pop out of his head, y’know. George was not broken, obviously. He came from a stable family. Paul had the trauma of his mother’s death and nobody has the knowledge or the insight to determine from his outward behaviour what psychological state he was in at the time and what motivated him. Only Paul knows that. His stoicism is legendary but above all he has shown great loyalty towards his parents. You won’t get any what they did to me stories from Paul. No amount of reading Lennon’s diaries and journals, or the copious amount of articles and books written about him AFTER his death will
change what we know or don’t know about Paul. Yet. I have no argument in John being the most determined for the band to be THE BEATLES. But that was after he met Paul and George not before. The whole reasoning behind Alfred Pobjoy’s encouraging John to go to art school was because his great energies were so scattered, so directionless. That was his desperation. Not to find a band of boys to play music with. He didn’t go out and find Paul. Paul was introduced to him. So if they’d never met how likely was it John would go out and find someone else? And in 1957, John was almost two years older than Paul. As far as John being more prolific than Paul up to 1965, then that is statistically incorrect. Most of the early songs were cowritten and many of the songs on the first two albums were covers, several by George. Does that make George more prolific than Paul as well? It was marketing. Brian Epstein and George Martin decided the band was not yet strong enough for home grown material. Many of Paul’s songs were given to other artists, a good many of them superior to what was selected for WTB and PPM.
The only album John dominated was A Hard Day’s Night where he complained that Paul was not pulling his weight because he was mooning around with Jane Asher. Ironically, an odd reversal of John and Yoko during the Get Back sessions. And there has NEVER been a proper explanation of How Dreamers Do, a song written by Paul in 1957, became instrumental in securing the Beatles contract with EMI. The standard tale from both Epstein and Martin has sufficed for over 60 years.
“he has shown great loyalty towards his parents. You won’t get any what they did to me stories from Paul. “
Spot on, @Lara. And Mike is just the same, which is why we get such gems as this from his latest book:
“One of Dad’s hobbies at the time was gambling. Not that Dad was an insatiable gambler, he just didn’t know when to stop.”
So a fair amount of reading between the lines is necessary.
Paul at 21 is one thing. But in the ensuing 60 years he’s shown himself to be one of *the* most driven humans of his generation. And he still has hoarder impulses to this day.
Lara, everything about John Lennon forming and leading the Quarrymen suggests that, and his actions from 1955-1966 in general, suggest that yes, he did already have some vague idea of what the Beatles would become. Obviously, it took Paul, George, Stu, Astrid, Hamburg, Brian, and Ringo to make it happen. And no, it wouldn’t have been as successful or successful at all without all that. And no, John wasn’t recruiting people for a supergroup a la Jimmy Page with the New Yardbirds in 1968. But that’s not my point. My point is that John had some vision he pursued and honed in on that the others didn’t have before they met him. There is no primary source saying otherwise, as far as I’m aware.
As to songwriting, it’s well documented that the Beatles never recorded “mostly” covers, and the authorship of their 1963 and 1964 original material (about 30 songs) tilts heavily to John. Paul had some important songs, to be sure, but I’m surprised it’s even arguable that musically, Lennon drove the group’s first period. (I would argue that Lennon and McCartney were equally musically important in the middle period for different but complimentary reasons, and that in after India Paul becomes clearly the most important.)
Michael, as I said before, John without Paul and Paul without John is pointless speculation. But as far as your perception of John’s greater role from 1962 to 1966 I can only assume you’ve reached your conclusions from the American pressings of the Beatles recordings. John’s role was slightly greater but not significantly so. I grew up with the Beatles from the start of Beatlemania – and before the Ed Sullivan debut in the US – and I can assure you that the early songs were very strongly perceived as Lennon/McCartney. Eyeball to eyeball.
So from the Parlaphone/EMI pressings in the UK, Europe, and British Commonwealth countries: Please Please Me, released in March 1963, comprised of 14 tracks, 8 of which were Lennon McCartney, the rest were covers; With The Beatles also comprised 14 tracks, seven by Lennon/McCartney and one by Harrison, and six covers. Of the 15 tracks on Beatles for Sale, only seven were written by Lennon and McCartney. The rest were covers. Help, which included Yesterday, and Rubber Soul, which included In My Life, had roughly equal contributions from John and Paul, and two from George, with cover songs assigned to Ringo. Whether one considers certain album tracks to be stronger than others is subjective opinion. George Martin, Dick James, John and Paul decided on what what were to be singles or album tracks at all times, and I suspect during the early years the nod was given to John because of his natural leadership and personality. During this same time period, Paul wrote four songs for Peter and Gordon, three for Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, and one for The Applejacks, all of which charted well. More importantly, they were still marketed as Lennon and McCartney and received extensive publicity.
Conversely, I do not think Paul became more important after 1967 either, irrespective of his assumed leadership. Both wrote excellent songs during this final period.
Regardless of what stage John and Paul were at during the Beatles, both were brilliant creative artists who displayed a natural ebb and flow in their output, dependent on their physical, social and mental state at any given time. This applies not only to them, but to all highly creative people. It’s the way it works and it would have likely continued that way had the band not broken up. Who was more musically important at any stage is meaningless.
@Lara, those assumptions aren’t correct. I grew up with the CD reissues of the Beatles’ music in the late 90s and early 2000s, all of which were the UK versions, and did not listen sequentially. My impressions about many things relating to John Lennon–his post-breakup narratives about his own life, his marriage to Yoko, his parenting of Sean, his drug use and recovery, and his death. One thing that has not changed is my impression that John led the group musically until 1965 and was generally looked to as the leader for quite a while after, although Paul developed at lightning speed and saved the Beatles from breaking up in 1966/67. That’s based on how much his voice, attitude, and songwriting dominates the Beatles’ first two-plus years of recorded output. Incidentally, Beatles for Sale has 14 songs, of which 6 are covers.
@Lara wrote: “I can assure you that the early songs were very strongly perceived as Lennon/McCartney. Eyeball to eyeball.”
Some of them were composed like that. Hold Your Hand, From Me to You… what else? All My Loving? Can’t Buy Me Love?
Actually, it was Paul who was referred to as “John’s princess”…
Not for nothing did John play Thisbe to Paul’s Pyramus, however. For comic effect more than anything.
“the Beatles as phenomenon came first from Lennon’s drive, brokenness, vision, and ability to connect”
Nothing I’ve read or posted here for 14 years has changed the veracity of this statement. Might it have been possible for Paul McCartney to have started his own band, had he never met John Lennon? Sure, it’s possible. But it’s just as possible, IMHO, that he’d have followed the family pattern of having a straight job and weekend musician. For lots of reasons we’ve discussed ad infinitum, John was DESPERATE in ways that Paul was not, and has never been, and you need that kind of “I will accept this and only this” type mindset to make something as unique and special as The Beatles happen.
And you need a type of discipline, dedication, and willingness to work inside a system for The Beatles, once constituted, to thrive. Paul had all that in abundance, and John did not. Without John, there would’ve been no Beatles; but without Paul, John Lennon’s story would’ve probably been a lot like Gene Vincent’s–a short-lived, influential “what if?”
Great points Michael G and B. I agree totally and wasn’t suggesting otherwise.
What I found interesting in the article I referenced, was that the younger generation is not as enamored of John as the Boomers. Yes, he started the band and was it’s leader. He became a legend because of his achievements but also because he was killed young. The younger Beatle fans are looking at him through eyes removed from that tragedy. He doesn’t mean as much to them as the Boomer generation.
I think Paul’s musical genius and his continuing to play concerts for 3 hours at the age of 80 is also to be revered. I do think he will be talked about in 40 years. Not in the same way as John, but as one half of a partnership that changed the world. In my mind, you can’t call John an icon, but not Paul. They needed each other to make the Beatles succeed, as Michael G said.
I have noticed that the drop-down menu is no longer on the main Hey Dullblog page. This had the option for recent comments.
Anyone else with this issue? It was definately the best way to not miss a comment.
@Neal, I’m still getting “Recent Comments” on the main page, but not as a drop-down.
In honor of Paul’s 80th Birthday, here’s a story and video of Sean playing “Here, There, and Everywhere.” Just found it today.
Rock on Paul!
Sean is so sweet. Did you see John’s Instagram yesterday? Lots of pics of him and Paul, with the lyrics to “In My Life” – complete with hearts. It got the McLennon community in a tizzy.
I thought it was so sweet too! What he wrote to Paul was also very nice.
I’m not on Instagram, but I’ll try and check it out!
I bet the McLennons were going crazy!
It just makes me happy the Beatle family is all in harmony.
@Michael. Perhaps listening to the music non sequentially is part of the problem in how the Beatles today are perceived then. Again, nobody is denying John’s leadership up to 1966, but to imply Paul only developed musically and ‘caught up to John’ after 1965/66 is absurd. I think we are at cross purposes. There were two styles of leadership at play. Paul post 1967 was about getting things done. John 1963 to 1966 was in how he presented himself to others, privately and publicly. More caustic, outspoken, and aggressive in his stance on stage. The one reporters naturally gravitated towards in interviews. But neither style had anything to do with the actual songwriting, the music. It’s known that there were tensions within the band over Yesterday, possibly before. John did not have veto over what was to be included in Help and Rubber Soul. If he wanted to explore his Dylan side that was fine but he did not direct them musically because of it. If one thinks that, then is it because of…well, His Bobness? Both John and Paul by this stage displayed insecurities towards the capabilities of the other. Conversely, getting the other three into the recording studio to meet artistic and contractual obligations post touring is a different matter to Paul directing The White Album or Let it Be musically. He didn’t. Abbey Road only very marginally as John was more interested in his projects with Yoko.
If the 2022 internetty/emotional needs comment is aimed at me, then no. My distaste for the John/Paul polarization was established well before the internet. It seems to be very fashionable over last few years for aficionados to apportion John albums and Paul albums. They were not perceived that way at the time. The highly subjective critical evaluation during the immediate post Beatles years has distorted and skewed the creative history of both writers. It’s a disservice to both John and Paul. Leaving certain individual biographies aside, I think it is generally agreed that the Beatles literature up until now, including Mark Lewishon, has been biased towards John. I believe a full and balanced picture of the Beatles will not be achieved until Paul dies. Until then, I prefer to keep an open mind. Whatever you and I think, it’s a case of agreeing to disagree.
“I think it is generally agreed that the Beatles literature up until now, including Mark Lewisohn, has been biased towards John. I believe a full and balanced picture of the Beatles will not be achieved until Paul dies.”
There are many fans today who feel this, though I look at Paul’s career in toto and find it difficult to see much bias, apart from a few years in the early 70s. The historian in me says that we will not have a full and balanced picture of the Beatles until 100 or 500 years after the last Beatle is dead. I think that full and balanced picture will go somewhat like this:
“John Lennon and Paul McCartney, two members of the music group The Beatles, were childhood friends who became the most successful English composing team since Gilbert & Sullivan. After The Beatles achieved worldwide stardom, Lennon became increasingly interested in politics and his own personal experience, while McCartney wrote tuneful, romantic pop. Both became masters of their respective styles, but the tonal difference inevitably pulled Lennon and McCartney apart, leaving Beatles fans thinking “What might have been?” Lennon was murdered by a deranged fan in 1980.”
@Michael. I guess it’s easy to group us all into John defenders and Paul defenders, which can be tiresome,
I agree. But why are people defending either John or Paul though? How did it eventuate? Have we all missed something? I’m completely aware of the hierarchical structure of the band and as far as I’m concerned I’ve also been critical of all of them. In the end it IS the songs however much you want to emphasize the cultural/historical/sociological aspect here. But it’s your blog and I respect that. However, if we talk about little bias against Paul, then to me you are not seeing what I and many others are seeing.
Looking back through your site, I’m aware that the Revolver/Sgt Pepper divide has been brought up a few times and met with criticism amongst contributors. None of us are so tone deaf we can’t recognize the recognize the differences between the two but even so….don’t we all like to believe we are resolutely right?
As for how John and Paul will be viewed in 100 or 500 years time – assuming that Western culture will be still dominant which it well may not be – then I could be very cynical and ask what is the point of an historical record anyway, except for those overly invested in the band or in any particular member. Let’s face the uncomfortable truth – there is not a great appetite for the Beatles out in the big wide world even today. Even more so, we know interest in the Beatles received a huge shot in the arm after Lennon’s murder. A sad and tragic twist of fate. So here we have it: one man dead and unable to speak for himself or even refute what has been written about him; the other an old man accused of rewriting history for opening his mouth about his own life and career. A no win situation for both. As a selection and cataloguing librarian for public libraries for most of my life, I can vouch that any new publication on Lennon met with increasing lack of interest amongst my colleagues for inclusion in the collections from the late 90s into the 21st century, and reflected in borrowing statistics. Thanks Beatles historians and authors. Perhaps we should have just listened to the music after all. We reap what we sew it seems.
“However, if we talk about little bias against Paul, then to me you are not seeing what I and many others are seeing.”
I have said many times that what I see on this site is
1) female fans identifying with Paul;
2) female fans claiming there is a single dominant story (“the Standard Narrative”) which glorifies an angry abuser, and quite understandably seeing this story as a product of, buttress of, and a stand-in for, patriarchy;
3) fighting against that “Standard Narrative” as a way of living under patriarchy without going insane;
4) fearing that, unless it is resisted, this oppressive “Standard Narrative” will be used to silence/injure/belittle their stand-in Paul, and by extension, them.
None of this is meant to be a criticism, AT ALL. I cannot imagine what torment it must be to live as a woman in our society, I just know I couldn’t do it, and if having Paul-centric fights on silly Beatles blogs makes that even a tiny bit better, I’m happy to provide that service. Truly.
But I really do believe that in society as a whole, and certainly among Beatles fans, Paul is utterly revered. He is commonly considered one of the most successful living persons in the history of showbiz, and is met with universal respect bordering on reverence. His many successes are praised, and his few failures are forgotten.
On the internet, some ignorant people say shitty things about Paul, in the same way that some ignorant people say shitty things about John. But that’s a tiny minority even of Beatles fans.
The idea that Paul has been injured in some meaningful way, and must be defended–when he is an 80-year-old billionaire who enjoys a kind of respect that no other creative person I know receives–that’s not reality. That’s something happening inside the hearts and minds of Paul fans, which is not something for me to judge. It exists. But it’s also not something that can be soothed by blog posts or comments.
This is my opinion, but it’s one worth paying attention to, because I’ve read all the posts and comments here for 14 years. Dullblog is truly a one-of-a-kind core sample of intelligent Beatle fandom. When I ask “Where has Paul been injured?” it’s usually something shitty someone said in 1972, or (tellingly) the application of female-coded insults on the Steve Hoffman message boards. Internet idiots or reviewers in 1987 can call Paul “bitchy” or “a diva” all they want; he’s fabulously rich, fabulously well-respected, and will die having achieved his dreams in a way 99.99999% of people have not.
Who those insults hurt are his female fans, who remember all the times some mediocre male authority has used those terms and strategies to diminish and dismiss them. That makes perfect sense; the problem is, as long as we’re talking about Paul McCartney, we’re not talking about what’s really causing pain, and can’t soothe it. Maybe it cannot be soothed.
@Michael. With due respect, I find your response and interpretation of Paul-centric female fans funny more than anything. A good old wind-up here and there never hurt anyone. What is it about the sensitivity over the ‘standard’ narrative being challenged anyway and why should it matter? Why is it so reactionary? That’s the nature of debate, isn’t it? Seriously, reading some of the posts and comments on this blog by intelligent erudite women, I don’t think any of them are losing sleep and sobbing into their pillows each night over supposed ‘injuries’ to Paul, real or imagined. The supposed sex divide is strange to me: much of discerning insight into McCartney, both musically and culturally, (YouTube and its ilk excepted) have come from men. I dislike the reverence of McCartney as much as I do Lennon and Harrison. It is simplistic and unrealistic. I believe the comments I’ve contributed have supported John AND Paul but if they’ve been interpreted negatively, then I’m not sure what I can do about that.
@Lara, I don’t think anybody’s interpreting your comments negatively. I am certainly not. I like them.
My “sensitivity” about the Standard Narrative debate on this site is
1) It’s a straw man. What is it? Hunter Davies? Philip Norman? Wenner/Rolling Stone/The Lennon Estate? The Anthology? Each of these narratives are slightly different, products of different times and pressures; but they are glommed together as “wrong ideas.” The Standard Narrative is constantly referenced by a certain type of fan, as something that needs revision, and it gets blurrier and blurrier as time goes on. Is Vivek Tiwary’s comic about Brian Epstein part of “The Standard Narrative”? Who knows?
2) It privileges current discourse over the discourse of the past, and when dealing with an historical phenomenon, discourse closer to the time of occurrence should be given more weight, not less.
3) It plays into the internetty paranoia that “they don’t want you to know the truth!” They–journalists, editors, publishers, even The Beatles themselves–are manipulating the narrative in a coordinated and nefarious way. This is simply not true, and I’m speaking as a guy who really disagrees with the MSM take on lots of things. This attitude is great for getting views of videos and listens to podcasts, but it’s not a balanced, nuanced, or accurate model of how journalism or publishing or celebrity works.
4) It is an example of “fan as customer,” where the mass of raw data (footage, outtakes, interviews) now available can be cobbled together to support really anything that makes a fan tingle. And that’s fine–truly–but it’s not history. History is created by a mass of data winnowed by criticism to create judgment; there’s something fundamentally undemocratic and uncommercial about history, and ideas that become popular suddenly (like McLennon or PID) with no obvious external cause–a verified love letter, unimpeachable testimony of Paul’s death in 1966–should be viewed not as alt-history, but a type of fanfic.
I guess what this all boils down to is, the history of The Beatles shouldn’t be determined by what any one era’s fans like and will pay for. And sequestering everything pre-2010 as “The Standard Narrative” and starting fresh, confident that you as a fan have the reading, judgment and training to remake an established and vetted story in some fundamental way, is an attack on the very idea of History. It’s a drag that everything didn’t happen; many’s the time I wished I could rewrite History. But accepting that one cannot is the starting point to any kind of wisdom, and I see less and less of that kind of humility in online Beatles fandom. I see more and more people treating these real people and real events–a real TIME–as the Beatles Cinematic Universe.
So that’s why I’m “sensitive” about it. It’s fine, of course, but it does work me a bit.
As to the gender breakdown of Paul fans, I can only tell you what I’ve observed. I have no opinion about it. The people who are incensed about Paul’s treatment have been predominantly women; I told you my working theory as to why, but the preponderance is a fact. And as I said, I’m happy to provide a release valve.
Michael, I agree with much of what you’ve said in this thread about the “Standard Narrative” of the Beatles (and more specifically, of Lennon’s and McCartney’s contributions to the band). However, I may be defining this narrative differently than you do, at least in terms of when it held sway. And I definitely think it had real power for decades — less so now. I’m going to use my own experience to explain what I mean.
As someone on the leading edge of Gen X, I got my information about the Beatles from books and magazines. And in the 1970s-1990s, those books and magazines had a cultural power that’s hard to imagine now. I read The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Robert Christgau’s Consumer Guide, The Trouser Press Record Guide, and Rolling Stone and Creem. And those sources spoke with a pretty united voice: McCartney was a lightweight not really worth mentioning beside Lennon. The apotheosis of this view was Philip Norman’s original version of Shout! and the Rolling Stone 1982 book The Ballad of John and Yoko.
In the 1980s grief for Lennon was raw, and McCartney was also putting out what I consider to be his weakest work (ahem, Give My Regards to Broad Street and “Ebony and Ivory.”) In my experience it wasn’t until the later 1990s — and Anthology — that the view of McCartney in the media started to shift. And with the advent of the internet and fan-created content, as well as with McCartney doing better work and performing regularly, it’s shifted still further now. But I look back and there’s a reason my first post for HD (way back in 2010!) was about the reassessment of Ram that was underway then.
I want to stress this because I think it’s important to keep in mind both that: 1) the “Standard Narrative” was a real thing for a time, pushed by men with media megaphones who wielded a kind of cultural power that now I can only compare with people like Joe Rogan or Tucker Carlson; AND 2) that it’s not nearly as powerful or widespread as it once was. McCartney is getting his due now, in my opinion.
@Nancy, that’s a good point; it also highlights my confusion about what “standard narrative” we’re discussing here. There’s certainly the Rolling Stone/Philip Norman-80s through 2000s view that John was The Genius and Paul was the romantic lightweight who for some reason was John’s best friend and closest collaborator. I think that’s been amply deflated in the last twenty years or so.
However, there are other arguments that I see online, here and elsewhere, that are taking issue with elements of the Beatles’ story for which there’s way less or no evidence of that kind of severe, biased, editorial whitewashing by Boomer rock critics. An example of that is whether or not John Lennon was the band’s leader up until about 1966. John being the leader doesn’t mean Paul was unimportant, or a lightweight, or anything else. It means that the band, including Paul, considered John to be its leader. As Michael G. notes, virtually every primary source agrees on this. The new information from the last twenty years is that, from early on, Paul took a leadership role in the studio. Unsurprising, and crucial. But if you’re discussing who the Beatles thought of as their leader in those years, they apparently didn’t think it was Paul. John being the leader in Hamburg, Liverpool, on the road, on stage, and in press conferences mattered more *to the Beatles*, and those around them. That’s not failing to give McCartney his due, any more than it’s failing to give Lennon his due in recognizing that after touring ended, things flipped, and Paul was the one who was saying “this is who the Beatles are, and this is how we will do it.”
Yes, I see the current arguments you’re describing as distinct from the “standard narrative” I was talking about. To be clear, I don’t think giving McCartney his due entails seeing him as the band’s leader before “Pepper.” It seems clear that the Beatles saw Lennon as the leader before then, and that includes McCartney’s own view, which he’s expressed in interviews.
But I also think it’s folly to underplay the power wielded by the 70s-90s narrative of McCartney as a second-rate talent at best. Norman spent the intro of his recent bio of McCartney apologizing for his role in pushing that narrative.
@Nancy, that’s a great comment, but at the risk of beating this dead horse into a paste, I would like to offer my own experience of the same time, and a little data.
I think it’s really easy to overstate the influence of “men with media megaphones.” I never, not once, allowed the opinion of any rock critic to tell me what to think about Paul McCartney or his music, and I don’t think I was an outlier; Paul was MASSIVELY popular throughout the 70s, when the slagging was at its heaviest. You’d hear the single, or some songs from the LP on the radio, and buy or not buy based on that, not what Robert Christgau thought, because the act of preferring Paul over newer acts forced you out of step with the rock world. Paul sold out huge tours in America in 1976; had the fastest-selling UK single of all time in 1978 (“Mull of Kintyre”); and Wings, however reviled by people like Lester Bangs (fuck Lester Bangs), was a commercial force as big as all but the biggest acts of the decade. Paul’s biggest sin in the 70s was his refusal to become a nostalgia act, as the other three had by 1980. The reason that tracks like “Ebony and Ivory” and “Say Say Say” were such targets for critics was that people were buying them. “Ebony and Ivory” spent seven weeks at #1 in the US, was a UK #1 as well, and was the fourth-biggest single of 1982. “Say Say Say” was also a US #1, a UK #2, and a million-selling single. At Paul’s supposed nadir, 1983’s “Pipes of Peace”–an LP which I bought–he was still going platinum.
When I was skulking around the mildewy basement of the O’Hare Hilton for Beatlefest ’84, there was no perception of Paul being unloved, unappreciated, or lesser than John. Different from John, sure; a musician, whereas John was something more, something more like…a world figure? This is not the same as undervaluing Paul, and as Lennon’s feet of clay have come to the fore, there’s a sense that this status is all fake, or he didn’t deserve it. But that’s like saying people shouldn’t make a big deal about Princess Diana–they did, and do, and that intensity of connection is simply an historical fact. Will it continue? I suspect it will burn out, but who knows?
In the early and mid-80s there was a TON of grief for John, a TON of sadness that the group was now ended, but people were happily reading Norman and then Goldman without their opinion of Paul being permanently lessened, and I think it’s because people recognized the degree to which all this was grief for Lennon and the passage of his era. Yes, John was considered a genius, but Paul was still there giving us what we all craved: tuneful pop music. If Paul was considered lesser, that was as much because rock had ceased being the world-shaping force it had been. If Paul was considered less interesting than the latest thing, it was because he’d been in the public eye since 1962. And there was a sense then that Paul’s story was far from over, whereas John’s (and George and Ringo’s, really) was over.
Lennon epitomized the Sixties in a way that Paul did and does not, and so a lot of people’s feelings about John are really feelings about the Sixties–and slagging Paul, the supposed square, is a way to lionize the counterculture that was lost. That loss was felt especially keenly in the Age of Reagan. But the impact of such talk on Paul even among Beatles fans is vastly, vastly overrated, if any external measure is to be believed. Paul didn’t stop recording; he got massive distribution; he was massively popular; he was even releasing movies! Yes, Rolling Stone was working hard to deify John Lennon, and tended to undervalue Paul McCartney–but so what? Yoko was saying shitty things, too. It didn’t matter, plenty of people liked Paul and bought his records. Plenty of them happily went to see that awful Broadstreet and read every interview and cried when his wife Linda died. Dead icons and living rockstars are treated differently. This perception of Paul as injured and needing protection is, I submit, a sweet heartache of Paul fans. Sometimes he was treated unfairly by the critics; sometimes he’s been treated too generously; but it hasn’t mattered much, and it’s probably evened out.
Paul’s sales during the time of his supposed suffering leads to one of two conclusions: either those critics/the rock establishment had vastly less power than we think they did, or record buyers weren’t paying attention to them, which amounts to the same thing. People have always loved Paul, they’ve always loved his music, and they always will. They haven’t always thought he was cool, but that’s entirely different. People thought Sid Vicious was cool. Dead guys are always cool. I’d take that trade any day, and I suspect Paul would, too.
I think this is a case of YMMV. I at least was influenced by what I read, and was surprised when I finally dug into McCartney’s catalog. Did the “men with megaphones” that I’m talking about control perceptions entirely? Of course not. But I think it’s implausible to argue that what they said didn’t matter.
It’s also worth pointing out that popularity and critical recognition are very different things — Thomas Kinkeade sells a lot of paintings, but no serious critic would praise his work. And for the critics I was talking about, McCartney’s very popularity was proof he’d sold out (see the 1976 Creem cover featuring McCartney in a McDonald’s uniform).
I don’t see the need to take up cudgels for McCartney at this point: as I said, I see him as getting his due now.
I think I was influenced by the “men with megaphones”, even though I’d never heard of any of them before this year. I absorbed the dismissal of McCartney without ever noticing, or thinking very hard about it.
I’m reminded of a discussion I heard on some podcast. One guy (let’s call him Dude) was recounting a conversation with someone doing a Masters on the way Paul McCartney was mistreated by the rock press in the early 70s. Dude laughed at the idea of this Masters, saying “of course Paul McCartney was mistreated by the rock press in the early 70s, everyone knows that” (or words to that effect). But there are loads of experiences of Beatles fandom that don’t include
1) was of reading age in the early 70s
2) was reading the Rock Press
3) was reading critically.
I don’t mean to imply that you’re being as dismissive as Dude, Michael, but I do think you’re homogenizing a bit. It’s great that you were able see past the bullshit, and it’s great that Paul still had commercial success. I think it’s almost miraculous how successful Paul’s life has been in so many important ways. But I’m firmly of the opinion that the narrative propounded by Men With Megaphones has ongoing negative effects in the real world.
meaigs, I wasn’t intending to suggest my experiences were universal or to say that those who grew up later weren’t influenced by the critical views of the men I mentioned. Rather, I was attempting to ground my explication in my own experience and be specific about the sources I encountered.
Sorry for the confusion Nancy! I was really replying to Michael.
WMeaigs, thank you for not lumping me in with Dude! 🙂
I’m not holding myself up as some sort of paragon of independence–quite the opposite. I’m simply telling you how I–and most of the other music fans I knew–found and consumed music back then, and the role Paul played for us. I was firmly a John Guy, but Paul was great. If you liked Beatles music, Paul was the closest thing you could get to that. He wasn’t as good as when he was a Beatle, but none of them were, and since there were no new Beatle LPs, I was content to buy and listen to Wings Greatest until the grooves wore out. I don’t think I was unique or special in this AT ALL. Paul–by far of all the ex-Beatles–was a musical force in the 70s; Lennon was a cultural force, not a musical one, and it was only in the year after his assassination that John attained anything like Paul’s omnipresence. In the 70s and 80s, you’d hear Paul in the grocery store, the dentist’s office, everywhere. Not so Lennon, Harrison or Starr.
I’m sincerely trying to figure out what irks contemporary Paul fans so much, and apart from the gender issues I’ve mentioned, the only thing I can think of is that many contemporary fans are vastly overstating the power of criticism in the Seventies. They are taking the empowered-fan media ecology that they know and have grown up with–an environment where a single tweet can be shared 500,000 times and reach an aggregate audience of many, many millions; where a handful of male fans pissed off at an all-female Ghostbusters can raise such a stink that the movie is really injured; a digital, immediate, meme-driven culture–contemporary fans are quite naturally projecting that experience back onto the very, very different media environment of, say, 1980.
It wasn’t like that. Criticism was simply not that important for an established, major artist, because you’d actually hear the music and decide for yourself. I loved the single “Coming Up.” I bought it and played it to death. How did I hear it? FM radio. Paul McCartney never had any trouble getting airplay–not in 1971 with RAM (“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” was a HUGE hit, as he was being slagged by Wenner/Christgau/Lennon), not in 1976 with “Silly Love Songs” (another HUGE hit, particularly reviled by critics), not in 1978 with “With a Little Luck,” and not in 1980 with “Coming Up.” The critics–no part of the rock press–had anything to do with my hearing his music, liking it, and buying it–and I think that was a pretty common experience. And yes, I read Rolling Stone regularly. Lots of people did; but people like Christgau and Greil Marcus were constantly trying to shove Bruce Springsteen down your throat, because he serviced some weird idea of authenticity. Whatever, dude. “Coming Up” is better.
Remember, no critics liked disco, either, and disco absolutely dominated popular music for the back half of the Seventies.Their opinion of the music, and the culture, simply didn’t matter.
Paul was treated unfairly, to some degree, by some critics and outlets–but by 1976, when he was doing the Wings Over America tour, this had simmered down to the same kind of mistreatment all public figures receive on late-night shows. He was lampooned as a square, as easy-listening, as a pothead (after his bust), with a vegetarian wife–while at the same time being freakin’ omnipresent. Yes, people made fun of “Wonderful Christmastime”–which you heard all Christmas long, and still do. I bought it because I heard it and liked it.
Paul was as popular as any other major artist–for example, Stevie Wonder or ELO. Barry Manilow, for example, was lambasted much more viciously than Paul ever was. I’m not saying that people on the internet don’t dismiss Paul, say shitty things about him, devalue him with regard to Lennon…but that’s people on the internet. I have been interacting with Beatle people since the mid-70s, and running this blog for 14 years, and it’s simply been very rare in my experience that anyone with a lick of sense dismisses Paul McCartney. They might prefer John; they might think Paul’s lyrics can be a little undercooked, or that he’s a bit too prolific for strict quality control, but…Paul’s great, and everybody I know thinks he’s great, even if they prefer other Beatles, or other music entirely. And since I don’t see the Paul-hate, I naturally think, “It must be about something else.” And nothing I’ve read on this site makes me think otherwise. I don’t mind talking about it, or reading others talking about it, but I do wish that we’d get to the “something else” that’s driving this perception of anti-Paul conspiracy, because I think it is more interesting territory.
This is really interesting to me. I don’t know if this is more to do with geography, or proximity to the Beatles fandom, but I’ve only learned this year how well-respected Paul McCartney is as an artist.
An early draft of this article had the following line:
“I had also bought that weird lie about Paul McCartney, the one that says he’s soppy and uninteresting with a few sentimental classics to his name, but otherwise not worth bothering about.”
Maybe that lie is less common in the US? The cultural position of the Beatles seems to have taken wildly different paths in the US versus the UK/Ireland, especially through the 70s.
Or maybe it’s less obvious if you’re in constant conversation about the Beatles and their solo careers.
In December of last year I *literally* only knew of Wings as a punchline to “how terrible were the 70s?” jokes. Now I love most of their output. I feel almost like I was robbed of decades of being a hardcore fan of McCartney by my experience of his cultural position.
So while I think your interpretation has merit, I also want to defend Paul’s reputation because he has so much good music that many people aren’t listening to.
@meaigs, I’m reminded of the old Steve Coogan/Alan Partridge joke, “Wings was the band The Beatles could’ve been.”
Paul’s cultural position is absolutely unassailable; that’s why he’s a punchline. He stands in for a lot of stuff because he’s an institution.
I can’t speak to the difference between the US and UK. People interested in the identity politics of rock music–a small but vocal group–decided Paul wasn’t cool in 1972, and have played variations on that theme ever since. But these are the same people who thought T. Rex was changing the face of pop music; or Brian Eno; or the Pistols; or Bauhaus; or The Smiths (and here I lose the thread because I got a life). Those are all fine bands, but…they’re just bands. It’s not 1964 anymore. The culture isn’t determined by musicians…and that’s what they’re really mad about. They want THEIR thing, who/whatever it is, to change the culture like The Beatles did. Paul stands in for the group.
Paul is Rock’s Grandad, and for people looking for something to rebel against–but not really rebel against–he’s a great stand-in. It’s precisely BECAUSE Paul is an unassailable genius that people can still make fun. I don’t pay them any mind and don’t think anyone else should, either.
@Michael. I would like to get a few things straight here, if I may. Firstly, I did not refer to any sensitivity regarding the Standard Narrative as ‘your’ sensitivity. I referred to sensitivity in general whether it is found on YouTube, forums, in books and articles, and, yes, even on blogs such as this one. I apologize if you think that was the case. Secondly, in my case I don’t follow McLennon or PID; or What Happened in India; I am not seeking for the TRUTH to be unearthed. What I meant by a full and balanced picture of the Beatles emerging after Paul’s death is the possibility that people may come forward with other information that is not known to us at the present time. It could be in the form of letters, memoirs, or personal experiences. Information that MAY become available – or it MAY NOT. It may not even exist. We just don’t know. Whatever, it has little to do whether McCartney is revered as a cultural icon post 2010 or not, although one could ask why it took so long. It’s more than obvious that mega billionaire, hyper successful McCartney still has issues that eat at him. Whether he doesn’t deserve to have any issues because of his success is not for any of us to decide.
I don’t treat the Beatles as in real time: I grew up with them in real TIME, and post 1970, had access to literature, perceptions and opinions of them in real TIME. To point out that Paul was not a purveyor of simple tuneful love songs and other things leveled at him does not validate me a passionate defender of the faith. It is reflecting what Paul himself said: that he also wrote rockers, screamers, experimental songs, psychedelic songs, baroque songs, story songs, AND love songs. And in his own way so did John, who also expressed irritation at being typecast. That was THEIR reality, not ours, as evidenced and heard in their catalogue, in real time or not, from 1960 to 1970. Neither of them were lying. And if they verbally stated at the beginning about joint decision-making regarding songs – straight from the horse’s mouth – then that is what THEY said, not us, however much we want it not to be so, or whatever side of the fence we choose to sit on because of notions of leadership.
Why go to all the trouble you might well ask. But that could be said of anybody famous (or infamous) and successful. If facts about them are incorrect – well correct them. What has that got to do with gender? What I dislike is your observation, dispassionate or not, that to supposedly ‘defend’ Paul is a) because I’m female, b) I have emotional issues that I need to vent. I can’t speak for other women but personally I find that obnoxious.
@Meaigs. Lennon’s Beatles and post Beatles output was widely accessible immediately upon his death and the years following; the wide variety of McCartney’s output wasn’t. That it skewed and colored not only the perceptions of both by Beatles fans, but also the wider public perception, was the reality of the times. It is something that can’t really be undone. If it had been Paul who had died it may have been the other way round. But it didn’t happen that way.
“What I dislike is your observation, dispassionate or not, that to supposedly ‘defend’ Paul is a) because I’m female, b) I have emotional issues that I need to vent. I can’t speak for other women but personally I find that obnoxious.”
…and if I’d written, “Lara, you’re only defending Paul because you’re female, and have emotional issues you need to vent,” that would indeed be obnoxious. But I did not write that. You recharacterized what I said in a narrow, chauvinistic, belittling way, then got mad at ME for supposedly saying it! I don’t think any of that, about your comments or anybody else’s.
Commenters aggrieved at Paul’s supposed mistreatment at the hands of the (white, straight, male) rock critical establishment have been overwhelmingly female. Commenters determined to push back against the perception of Paul’s being in any way subservient to John pre-Pepper–and have insisted upon a co-leadership structure as a more accurate reading, as you have–have been mostly female, too. This is simply how the blog has gone.
Conversely, commenters who tout the “Lennon as sole genius” line, or see the Beatles as a hierarchy with John on top until Pepper, and Paul on top after that, are usually male. Gender doesn’t usually make itself felt so clearly in our comments, but in these cases, it really does. Why is anybody’s guess. For example: could it be that the extremely hierarchical way males are socialized makes them more apt to see The Beatles (a group of men) as a hierarchy with SOMEONE at the top? Seems reasonable, but who knows? Why are Paul’s defenders on this site overwhelmingly female? Who knows? I am happy to provide a forum for all reasonable, well-expressed opinions.
My observing the gender breakdown of certain opinions–and it’s not 60/40, but more like 80/20 or 90/10–is not designed to invalidate one opinion or the other but, occasionally, in a tentative surmising way, try to figure out why this breaks the way it does.
I really try to stop replying once someone gets pissed off. Apologies for any part I’ve played in that; it was not intentional. I’ve heard your opinions and think they are interesting, well-reasoned, and well worth hosting. Thank you for them.
@Michael – To be fair, it wasn’t just that Paul was mistreated by the white, straight, male rock critical establishment. I can’t really speak for public opinion in America, but I also grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and I remember very well what people in the UK thought about Paul. In the 1970s, people’s perceptions were that he had broken up the Beatles to form his own band. He had his fans, of course, but he was also disliked in a way that I have never known any other musician to be disliked either before or since. When John was killed, people’s perceptions were that John was not replaceable, whereas Paul was. In other words, if Paul had been killed, the Beatles could have found someone to replace him and carried on where they left off. He was resented and pretty much hated then, and I don’t think Give My Regards to Broad Street had anything to do with that – it just reinforced the perception that Paul was the lesser talent and “John was the Beatles” (which I remember hearing all the time).
To compound things, everyone who worked with Paul shit all over him – John, George, everyone who walked away from Wings (despite how they now try to spin it), and especially Denny Laine, who was bought up by the Mail or the Mirror (or one of the tabloids) to sell Paul out and who only managed to reinforce what most people already believed. Which is completely understandable as no one had a good word to say about Paul, apart from Linda, and she didn’t count.
My point is it wasn’t just the rock critical establishment who hated Paul in the 1970s and 1980s, it was a significant proportion of the UK public as well, and I don’t think he has ever really managed to turn that round, though he does get a lot more respect these days (from other musicians at least). It will be interesting to see what sort of reception he gets at Glastonbury, which usually attracts a virtuous, open-minded and progressive type of person who hates any white, working class northern man who isn’t George Harrison. I hope it goes well for him, but I think he’s very brave to even contemplate it.
Fair enough, @Elizabeth, but then who was making “Mull of Kintyre” the biggest UK single to that date? I’m not disagreeing with you, but if “a significant proportion of the UK public hated Paul,” who was buying all the records, going to the concerts, et cetera?
The Guardian ran a piece (on 6-18 of course!) on Paul’s critical and popular reassessment. It covers a lot of what you guys are debating, and notes that he played Gastonbury back in 2004.
The thing is @Michael, when someone is as famous as the Queen, everyone has an opinion about them. Yes, Mull of Kintyre was the biggest UK single to that date. It sold something like 2.5 million copies. But it was an anthem for Scotland, so a lot of those copies were likely sold in Scotland, where 5 million people lived in 1977. The population of the UK as a whole was 56 million in 1977, so even if 2.5 million of them did buy Mull of Kintyre, that still leaves 53.5 million people who didn’t – all of whom had an opinion about Paul McCartney.
Maybe you have to be British, or maybe you had to have been there to really get it. For all his mistreatment by the rock music press in the US, Paul seems to be publicly revered there in a way that he just isn’t in the UK, where he is still largely considered, well, embarrassing. I personally don’t think it has anything to do with the ‘standard narrative’ that was invented by the likes of Philip Norman. I just think that’s what happens when all someone’s mates turn on them – everyone assumes that it must be their fault, especially when it happens over and over again.
@Elizabeth, his bandmates turning on Paul would have made him a villain. Not an embarrassment. There was something about him that people found embarrassing. Maybe because he was too eager to please (I get the impression that’s not as frowned upon in the US as in the UK). I agree with Michael. The anti-Paul hate is completely overblown to the point of conspiracy, and has gone on well after mountains of accolades and reverence has been directed at the man. I like the Barry Manilow analogy. Another popular musician that people found embarrassing. But no one is on a crusade to rehabilitate his reputation. Well, Bob Dylan once told Manilow to “keep doing what you’re doing” or something to that effect, which poor Barry wasn’t sure was a compliment.
No, @Michelle, his bandmates and THEIR mates (or hangers on to be more precise) told the world he was embarrassing and ‘uncool’, and this made him defensive, nervous and insecure in interviews, which was uncomfortable for people to see. It wasn’t just that people didn’t understand what Linda was doing in his band; they also couldn’t work out why she was there holding his hand every time he was interviewed. I don’t doubt that he needed her there at the time, and he obviously couldn’t help how he was coming across (he probably believed those things about himself deep down, which is why John said them – because isn’t that what bullies always do? Pick on someone’s deepest insecurities?), but it really damaged his public image.
Anyway, I think he redeemed himself last night in the eyes of the British public. He was brilliant, whether he can still sing or not. None of the others, including John, could have pulled that off, and think that most people now understand that.
The reviews of Paul’s Glastonbury appearance have overall been positive. After reading the comments in the Guardian that praise or defend Paul, I haven’t noticed a preponderance of female over male supporters. Some comments are reverential and silly, as to be expected, but John and George receive those as well. Noticeably though, there are STILL detractors determined to undermine Paul’s success and talent and pedal the same prejudices from 50 years ago. Why? If one wants to talk of conspiracies then perhaps it could equally apply here.
We can’t always blame internitty shittyness. The Guardian is a reputable publication and one would assume its readers to have some modicum of intelligence. Barry Manilow is not a good analogy at all. To begin with
he does not have a songwriting partner to which he is constantly compared, obviously, nor does he aspire to be anything else than an entertainer and writer of pleasant tuneful songs. He probably doesn’t give a damn what rock geeks think of him. Paul can be embarrassing, which weed has a lot to answer for, and his sometimes unfortunate impressionabilty has often led him to channel others: that infernal peace sign of John and Yoko’s for a start.
But others are embarrassing too, believe it or not, yet none of them have had to deal with the ignominy Paul faced from the brutal and highly publicized criticism he received from his bandmates during the court proceedings to dissolve the band.
@Lara, The Guardian is a general-interest publication. Its readers are not hardcore Beatles fans, but the general public (of which a few are hardcore Beatles fans). Weird ideas that come into vogue among Beatles fans are unlikely to be revealed in the comments section of The Grauniad.
Here on Dullblog, I have noticed a significant uptick in comments asserting that Paul is actively denied his due. Not was, but IS. That people “hate” him. Not what Nancy posted in 2010–that RAM was unfairly judged, which is undeniable–but assertion of a general, ongoing, widely held bias against or animosity towards, Paul. And I have also noticed that most of the people most committed to this line of argument seem to be (if screennames are any guide) female. So I have concluded–perhaps wrongly, but not illogically–that there is a vocal, mainly female, subgroup among serious Beatles fans who believe that Paul McCartney not only was, but continues to be mistreated, undervalued, demeaned and diminished, in some sort of systematic, or at least persistent, way.
Particularly given our recent post about Paul being female-coded, I suspect that there are some interesting issues at play here. But the discussion seems to stall on *proving* Paul’s been mistreated, which–all I can say is that by the standards of showbiz, he’s gotten a pretty smooth ride since Anthology. Some commenters clearly disagree, but it’s all either stuff like Shout! (published 40 years ago), or like what you wrote above, criticism literally 50 years ago during the Beatles lawsuit.
I tried to move this into the realm of hard data–to me, sales are the only really unbiased and unambiguous measure of popularity and cultural reach possible in this discussion–and when that didn’t work, gave my own lived experience with some context to explain my opinion, which also cut no ice. You’ve suggested I’m siloed, and cannot see the truth; or interested in “shutting down” discussion–even though there’s this little “Trash” button beside every comment that I almost never, ever push. (I used it last week, because one of you sent me some Beatle porn.) Dullblog is far from perfect, but we don’t shut down a lot of discussions.
As ever, I’m interested in why people care, not whether I agree with them. Opinions differ, that’s the beauty of it. Let me grant for a second that Paul’s been unfairly maligned. Why should any of us care if there are “detractors determined to undermine Paul’s success and talent”? Who does this injure, and if the answer is Paul, where is the injury? Paul seems healthy, happy, successful, and uncommonly beloved, at least since Heather Mills, and that’s why I don’t share the Paul-fans ire. Why do YOU care? You all are adamantine in your beliefs, and fair enough–but I am tiring of the roundabout. So let’s have our final summations, please. The little “Trash” button is calling to me. 🙂
Okay, here’s my attempt at a final summation, sorry it’s long.
I don’t see a conspiracy, but I do see patterns of prejudice (some weirdly familiar, in a hall of mirrors kind of way — hence this post).
Inside Beatles fandom you get people (apparently with a straight face) comparing Paul to Barry Manilow, and defending How Do You Sleep? (with a whiff of victim-blaming). Outside Beatles fandom you get a lot of people who have no idea how broad and deep his output is, and would never think about seeking out his music (ask me how I know).
I don’t really worry about how Paul feels about it all, he seems to have counted the cost early in his career, and be happy with the trade-offs he’s made. I think he lost out artistically when he no longer had the editorial skills and camaraderie of the Beatles, but it wasn’t a death-blow to his career or artistic output. I think he has suffered personally at various times too, but I hope and believe that he’s processed it all pretty well at this stage.
But if I think about Paul being “denied his due” I’m thinking of people like me a year ago. People who have never read an article by Christgau et al, or even heard their names, but through a long-running game of Telephone have absorbed certain ideas about Paul. There doesn’t have to be a conspiracy, just the same cultural mechanisms that perpetuate all kinds of prejudices. Jokes that reinforce norms, claims that are implied rather than stated.
I’ve tried to introduce his music to family and friends, without much success. Not because they’ve listened and didn’t like it, but because they won’t even listen. No one ever sat them down and explained that Paul McCartney is a lightweight, it would probably be a much less powerful lie if it were explicit. But it makes more sense to them that I’m this obsessed over something they wouldn’t like, than that the story they have in their heads about Paul McCartney (of which they’re not even conscious) is wrong.
Summarising how a person is seen across a society is kind of a fools errand. Different subcultures, different individuals within those subcultures, the same person at different times, are all going to have different narratives. But there are undercurrents that are worth drawing out.
I’m reminded now of Hillary Clinton. There’s a generation who spent their entire lives with HRC under “clouds and shadows” because of a decades-long effort by conservatives (as well as the mainstream) to discredit her. It began when she was first lady and continued up to and through her 2016 presidential run. There’s a generation that never knew a time when she wasn’t constantly criticized and attacked by folks on the right, left and middle.
And so people who never read a word from right wing influencers still had a bad feeling about her from a political game of Telephone, because “there must be fire somewhere behind all that smoke” etc.
Both HRC and Paul may have contributed to that distrust at times. Paul releasing a pop song with Michael Jackson and HRC praising Henry Kissinger, for example. Not cool, as a boomer rock critic might say.
In one hundred years the negative Rolling Stone stuff may be forgotten and only Paul’s great music will remain.
It’s happened in comedy. People today who idolize the Marx Brothers regard Horsefeathers and Duck Soup as their greatest achievements, while audiences and critics in the 1930s rejected those two films, and were happier when A Day At The Races was released. But now almost a hundred years later the bad reviews are forgotten and we love the Marx’s old Paramount crazy comedies as much as their more conventional MGM films. And maybe one hundred years from now Hillary will be remembered only as the candidate who could have saved us from a long nightmare.
A quick postscript: I happened to start reading Truant Boy by Martin Shough today, and his opening chapters are excellent on this phenomenon.
Right! And while there was undoubtedly actual intentional propaganda used against HRC, a lot of the work was done for free by widely held, unarticulated disgust at the idea of a woman enjoying power.
@Meaigs – I completely agree with this.
I don’t think the opinions of Robert Christgau, Greil Marcus (whoever that is) or even Philip Norman have had any influence on the UK public’s perception of Paul McCartney. I think the UK public has a love-hate relationship with Paul for many reasons, but primarily because he didn’t grieve for John in the way they expected him to.
Looking back, I think that John’s murder damaged the nation’s psyche in the same way that Kennedy’s assassination damaged America’s psyche. People were devastated and angry, and when Paul didn’t give them the reaction they were looking for, they turned that anger on him. Somewhere along the line, they lost sight of the fact that they were grieving for an image, whereas he was grieving for a real person – and not only that, he was grieving for a person who had hurt and betrayed him. His feelings were obviously very complex, and they were on display for the world to see because his grief was played out in public over many, many years.
He would have been better off taking time away from the public to properly grieve for John, and to try to deal with his feelings of hurt and betrayal in private – get therapy for them or whatever. And he definitely should not have put himself in a position where someone had the opportunity to stick a camera in his face the day after John was killed and ask him what he thought about it. Because anyone who did not have the maturity to understand how vulnerable he was in that moment (which was probably anyone under the age of about 30 watching that on the 6 o’clock news along with the rest of the UK that night), immediately decided he was a cold-hearted bastard, who only cared about himself. And his behaviour for the next 20 years or so, as he came to terms with his grief, only reinforced that view.
So I think it’s a lot more complex than Paul being misrepresented by the ‘standard narrative’. It’s taken a long time for the UK public to start to forgive him, and a lot of people still haven’t.
@Nancy, I’m in full agreement with you here, having also read the books and magazines you mentioned. And yes, Give My Regards to Broad Street was a misguided and badly timed clunker and difficult even for Paul’s most ardent fans to give him a pass on that one. I also believe the term ‘standard narrative’ is an awkward one. Perhaps popular or populist narratives may be more suitable and less loaded semantically.
I really wish he’d had more of the right kind of help with Give My Regards to Broad Street. If you read it as a dream sequence I think it has very interesting things to say about Paul’s personal experience.
I often joke that he was given a strong desire to make visual media, and no talent in the arena, to keep him humble 🙂
(9 out of 10 of his music videos are bad enough to put you off a great song).
There appears to be a big disconnect in how Americans and non Americans view Paul. Irrespective of how many albums Paul sold, or how many people cheered him during his appearances on British chat shows, during the 80s and the 90s and beyond, it was almost embarrassing for anyone to admit they liked McCartney. Partly it was his own fault of course, but I’m not alone in observing this. Sure there were those who bought and listened to his music on the sly, including the cool musos of the day who outwardly cold-shouldered Paul’s uncoolness but nevertheless nicked his ideas at the same time. Mud sticks; it damages long term, and it still lingers. True, this has lessened considerably into the 21st century, largely due to the huge respect Paul receives NOW from other songwriters and musicians past and present, but that wasn’t always the case.
The media does control how artists are perceived after their deaths. When Elvis died in 1977, did we see images of young rock and roll Hound Dog Elvis with his quiff and sexy on-stage gyrations, everything that actually made him famous in the first place? The very Elvis who so impressed the young teenaged Beatles? No, it was fat Elvis in his white sequined jumpsuit, a figure of fun, and that portrayal has lasted for years. Despite being the biggest selling solo artist to date in 1977. It’s easy to say people are big enough and important enough to be made fun of but it doesn’t always translate well.
How about John? When he was killed, we didn’t see househusband John on our screens and in our newspapers. No, that would have been too boring. Instead we got political John in his Che Guevara getup, or peace and love John at the Amsterdam Hilton, despite the fact that John had already rejected his earlier political beliefs.
Paul? Probably old bloke with dyed hair. And Ringo too.
@ Michael. “Commenters determined to push back against the perception of Paul’s being in any way subservient to John pre-Pepper–and have insisted upon a co-leadership structure as a more accurate reading, as you have–have been mostly female, too. This is simply how the blog has gone.”
But I’ve never said that. The other Beatles, including Paul, regarded John as their leader. They still did in 1969, even Paul. John led the band to succeed; Paul led the band to keep going. I have never said anything to the contrary.
But unless anyone can produce documented written evidence that in 1963, John said to Paul and in 1967, Paul said to John: these are the sort of songs I now want you to write and how I want you to write them, now go off and write them, then the notion of any MUSICAL leadership or direction is meaningless. As in directing or deciding melodies, lyrics, riffs, solos, orchestral arrangements, guitars, drums, whatever – in the studio, at Kenwood, at Cavendish, in India, on holiday… . Where is this evidence? I’d like to see it. And evidence, not interpretation.
I have no idea if this is what you mean, but…
I think it’s pretty clear that musically, the writer of the song was the final arbiter on the arrangement and presentation, and that lasted from 1962-69. But as the group shifted away from the stage, and simple music that can be performed onstage, McCartney’s facility with, and interest in, the studio made him the de facto arranger of the band, especially given that he was the closest to George Martin. And as this stage-to-studio process accelerated, it made Paul increasingly first among equals–the leader, if you like–which annoyed the other three, who were used to the original way, which seems to have been John setting the tone for the band, and Paul interacting with George Martin most during the sessions. But in 1963 or even ’65 the material wasn’t so complex that a less musically- and instrumentally-adept Lennon couldn’t assert himself during the sessions, which made Paul’s closer affiliation with Martin less of a flashpoint. There are moments, like “Yesterday,” where the future is augured, but mostly things hold in place.
By Revolver, however, John’s handing a lot of stuff over to Paul and the engineers. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” for example, where the engineers were tasked with a vague description from John, and they got to work with their Leslies and their condoms. And then Paul comes in with his tape loops…By Pepper this is even more pronounced: When it came time to conduct the orchestra for “A Day in the Life,” it was Paul leading that group on behalf of The Beatles. And rightly so; could we see any other Beatle doing that?
Is Lennon bored? Intimidated? High? By his own admission he “stopped doing all the little things [he] used to do.” Paul stepped into that void, which exacerbated things even further. Especially after Brian died, I don’t think Paul had any choice, but by the time of MMT, you’re seeing the others acting increasingly like schoolboys with Paul as their teacher. Paul doesn’t tell them “these are the sort of songs I want you now to write” but by showing up with a bunch of songs, he habitually set the tone for the later LPs. And by vetoing things like “What’s the New Mary Jane?” or “Cold Turkey” certainly Paul is driving what is Beatles content and what is not in a way that the other Beatles seem less prone to do.
By White, Lennon is so antagonized by Paul’s leadership that he’s increasingly moving towards “simple no-bullshit rock and roll”–i.e., what HE likes and understands– something that reached its final flower in the Twickenham Sessions, where the band runs into a wall trying to be something it’s not anymore, simply to appease Lennon.
As to directing or deciding melodies, I think that’s exactly what infuriated George about Paul, and led him to be resentful over “Hey Jude,” and later walk out during the filming of “Let It Be.”
To sum up, I think musical leadership of the band was an essential flashpoint, and John’s abdication round about the time of Pepper made it only a matter of time before Paul had to begin directing solos, orchestral arrangements, drums, etc, to get the work done. And the moment Paul did that, there was a leadership crisis in the group which–among many other things–led to the breakup. That may not be the level of receipts you want, but I think it’s a pretty solid reading of the internal workings of the band.
@Michael Gerber. We seem to be seriously at cross purposes here. I didn’t say or imply the Grauniad was a dedicated site for hard core Beatles fans. No, it is isn’t Dullblog, but my comment only attempted to point out that not only females but males ‘follow our type of argument’, and it’s something I’ve also noticed on other intelligent Beatles sites. You are right. Paul has not been mistreated or injured NOW, but it’s not so much ‘mistreatment’ anyway, rather than what is said about him that is incorrect and misleading. As in: we know the facts, you don’t, so don’t rock the boat. Why should it matter? Why should anything about anyone matter? That’s why I find the term ‘conspiracy’ emotive and defensive. I haven’t accused you of anything and if I have then I apologize. I respect your site, Michael, and I enjoy reading the comments here, I really do, and it’s not my intention to upset you. The reviews of Paul’s music and his performances, despite his voice issues, have been overwhelmingly positive over the last 15 years. He has great write-ups in magazines like GQ. His iconic status is secure. But the public perception of him still isn’t likely to change in any meaningful way until he dies, at least in Britain and elsewhere. Of course McCartney has mellowed. He’s 80. He has come to terms with his past (note: come to terms with) and no doubt if Lennon had lived until 80 he would have as well. But I would argue that any positivity shown towards McCartney latterly has also spurred predominantly male led Lennon fans to engage in a pushback of their own to ensure that McCartney is not seen as Lennon’s creative, artistic and influential equal. Why do THEY care? Why should IT matter? I don’t see this as a figment of my imagination any more than you see it the other way round. It’s indisputable in my opinion, that the Beatles have been defined by straight white males with English degrees. They have written most of the books and biographies, and they make up most of the body of music reviewers, and to some extent they still do. Why should it matter what they think? Why write them in the first place? They must serve an end for someone. But as a demographic they don’t have ownership on the Beatles. The very reason for the Beatles phenomenal success was because they crossed lines of gender, class, language, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, and ethnicity. They belong to everyone. If there has been a pushback from female fans, well about time.
By the way, is there any evidence that Paul attempted to direct George’s melodies and lyrics? Or John’s? Is anybody able to provide actual examples of songs where he did this, other than his own, including Hey Jude? Why should John and George’s gripes, hearsay, be believed more than Paul’s? Yes, he was pushy and driven to get work completed. But this isn’t ‘mistreatment’ of, or ‘injury’ to Paul; they are tiresome petty charges and the irony here is that people are still harping on about them 50 years later. Including on Dullblog.
@Michael Bleicher. Nobody knows who Marcus and Wenner are and younger people wouldn’t be seen dead reading anything as unhip as Rolling Stone. But that’s hardly the point. Their opinions and attitudes have been cut and pasted for decades. Most of the literature on the Beatles is cut and paste. Read any review of any book on the band over the last 20 years and it will invariably start with ‘is there anything left to say about the Beatles?’ The charge that Lennon’s songs changed the vanguard of popular .music is a nice little example of Paul not getting ‘his due’. I’d argue that McCartney’s orchestral glissando was as pivotal in A Day in the Life as John’s verses. It blew everyone away because it had NEVER been heard in a popular song either before or since. As far as changing popular music, was it always for the better? The very same commentators and writers already mentioned were the men who sneered at the immediate pre-Beatles music scene, describing it as vacuous and girly. Despite many songs being produced by the legendary Joe Meek, the true precursor of psychedelia. Despite the beautiful contralto voice of 16-year-old Helen Shapiro and the talented songwriter Lesley Gore. There were plenty of others. All artists that the Beatles themselves admired. Just swept away. Couldn’t there have been room for everyone? Instead, we ended up with 70s bloated prog rock with fancy lyrics and arrangements.
Lara, your point about “cutting and pasting” is very pertinent, and also seems in line with meaigs’ comments about how opinions can pervade spaces without their origins being acknowledged or known. At this point we are indeed talking about historical events (“events” including commentary) and their aftermath.
I’m reading a book that just came out, “Everything I Need I Get From You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It,” by Kaitlyn Tiffany. It’s a very interesting analysis of online fan culture written by someone who is sympathetic to it.
In one chapter she explains what “deep-fried” memes are — memes deliberately copied and reproduced to look overused and faded out. She says this about them: “The joke is that we have talked so much about these people that we no longer have anything to say that isn’t totally absurd” (p. 62). Sounds to me like the kind of self-awareness that inspired HD’s tagline “People who think about the Beatles maybe a little too much.”
We’re all using public figures/performers to understand and express ourselves, if we’re involved in anything that can reasonably be described as “fan culture.” I see awareness and a sense of proportion (directed at both ourselves and others) as the saving graces.
First, @Lara, love your comments! And btw, all your points apply to the US. I don’t think there is much difference between the US & UK experiences. Certainly, my experience was the same.
Second, why is this group so obsessed with the “leadership” of the Beatles? And what does this mean? Was John the CEO of the Beatles? What exactly are the duties of a “leader” of the band? Selecting members? Choosing musical direction? Venues? Creative direction? If so, how many of these duties was John responsible for without equal input from Paul?
Regarding member selection. John chose Paul. He said this in ’80. Paul was the only member he chose. Paul chose George. George chose Ringo.
Then there is musical direction. This was equally shared by Lennon and McCartney. The same goes for creative direction. Their look, their sound, their attitude. This was all created together. Also with George.
Their vision and ambition? This was also between the two main architects, John and Paul. No one is more ambitious than McCartney or Lennon. They dreamed this dream together.
From the day Paul joined John’s group, the two of them made all creative decisions together.
Also, there was no leader in the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership. No one has ever disputed this.
Did John have the ability to rally the troops, yes! But that’s mostly bc Paul was keen to do everything.
And yes, there were many people who thought John was the “leader” in Germany, but there were also many people who thought Paul was the leader, especially on stage. Even Astrid said this. The same goes for Liverpool when they returned. There are many comments from people who said that the leadership of the Beatles seemed shared and interchangeable, especially on stage. So this “leadership” idea is quite elusive to me. I think it was always shared, from the start to the end.
I agree completely!
Good post @ Lily.
@Lily, I can tell you why “I’m obsessed with the leadership of the Beatles.”
Because I lead creative teams for a living, and have done since 1989. 33 years. I’ve led big groups and small groups, men and women, talented and untalented ones. All ages, 18-90. I currently lead a team of about 300; it’s insanely difficult and I’m an expert at it. Creative groups are particularly tough to lead because there’s no org chart; they have to like and trust you and believe in your vision and think you can achieve it.
I’ve led teams to success, and I’ve led them to failure. One of the things that I’ve learned over and over is that perfect democracies do not exist in artistic endeavors; individuals will be given areas of expertise, but someone has to be the final arbiter, which is what I’m calling “the leader.” Furthermore, creative groups obsessed with equality do not produce very good work. The Beatles famously used the “best idea wins” method precisely because they had a strong leader (first John, then Paul). In a group where leadership is blurry, every decision is a new referendum, and so good ideas die.
Some of the most successful teams I’ve led don’t even realize I’m actively leading them. Decisions just get made (by me, behind the scenes), and they are free to create. That is an extremely effective way to lead, and what Paul should’ve done after 1967, but was too young and full of his own talent to pull off — the best leaders are not necessarily the most talented member of the team. In fact, they usually AREN’T the most talented. When I was young and full of my own talent, I could not lead the team I do today.
If Beatle fans, for whatever reason, interpret the history of the group as either a flat hierarchy, or one where authority was always shifting, temporary, and provisional, those of whom who find themselves in creative groups (be it bands or theater troupes or anything else) will likely produce worse work–be less successful–in the early part of their careers. This may be a very expensive lesson; it may be a heartbreaking lesson; they may fail and quit. Most people do.
That is why I spend the time talking about this. It’s not preferring John over Paul; it is trying to teach the readers of this blog something valuable, something true about successful creative teams that may make the difference between there being another Beatles and not. I’m a romantic, you see. 🙂
So that’s why I talk about it; why others talk about it, I don’t know, because they don’t share that with us.
Respectfully, I would make the point that your experience of leadership is not universal. Experts in the field of organizational management (and public policy, which is my field) have made the opposite argument about the existence of flat organizational structures, to say nothing of other professionals. Many duties of leadership are often split to different members and no one person can truthfully be considered the leader. Often dysfunctional organizations become so because one person has decided that they want more leadership/power.
Further it is unlikely that you or anyone is adept at every form of organizational efforts/leadership as what role someone takes is influenced by someone’s own personal strengths and characteristics. Moreover there are different ways to characterize/organizational conflicts that having nothing to do with assigning who is a leader or not. (This also includes analyzing people’s internal beliefs about the structure of the group/their role vs objective fact)
The ideal that the best idea wins, I’m not sure how/why that should definitely disprove that there wasn’t alternating leadership (which for me hasn’t been adequately defined in terms of the leadership of the Beatles) or equal creative collaboration.
Lennon claimed that his leadership was during the early Beatles, but all songs in general then were written more eyeball to eyeball, ie collaborative. There is no reason to assume that Paul wasn’t contributing ideas that changed the nature of the sound and feel of the Beatles music just as much. This is likely, particularly as he had been doing this since the days of the Quarrymen. John had a few more songs than Paul, but why is that taken as a measure of leadership than burst of prolificness? We know that Paul helped write them just as John helped Paul write his songs.
Also Paul has allegedly a form of leadership that also placates to John’s need to feel like the leader, so why don’t more people make the opposite argument? The reason, I speculate, is because poeple have internalized John’s characterization on seeing it as a battle for leadership. This despite the fact that John’s comments were made during a period of personal turmoil. And despite the fact that the Beatles were also family/friends which complicates analysis of the Beatles purely as a form of hierarchical leadership.
There is also the matter of George Martin who also functioned as arbiter of the songs for commercial release, so even if you presume that John was the leader, that role did not fall solely to him. There is also the matter of Epstein who also pushed them to adopt a different look/style. So even if you think John was the leader his leadership was undermined by these two poeple.
George Martin also made the point that Paul seemed to teach John a lot musically. A vast amount. John himself said he would not write the way he does without Paul. So why should he be taken to have creative leadership?
Another note on the arbiter, as you think of it and define it, say John was the final arbiter on his songs which is likely. There is no evidence that he was final arbiter on Paul’s songs.
Final thoughts, while you have interest in analyzing the Beatles in terms of competing leadership because of your personal experience and John’s own feelings on the matter, it does not follow that this is the best or even the right way to analyze the Beatles.
@Kari, a creative unit like the Beatles is fundamentally different from any type of organization that’s the subject of organizational management studies. I can’t speak for 100-person creative teams, but a a creative team of 4, 5, or 6 people, most of them close friends and all of them within a fairly similar age range, is not an “organization” comparable to any work team or something similar. It’s more like a kind of marriage.
“And despite the fact that the Beatles were also family/friends which complicates analysis of the Beatles purely as a form of hierarchical leadership.”
-I think you’ll find if you reread my post that we are actually in agreement that analyzing the Beatles purely as an organization isn’t the best way to understand the full complexity of their group dynamics, beyond the shared leadership of John and Paul. The Beatles were a family and John and Paul were, in many ways, like a married couple. I think the problems between John and Paul have less to do with a fight for leadership than an interpersonal conflict.
I will also make the point that you’d be surprised what these organizational studies study… And also that the results are applicable in analyzing all kinds of groups because like the field of psychology, the results/principles uncovered are applicable beyond clinical case studies. And this includes creative teams.
@Kari, as longtime readers of this blog know, I’m convinced that the alcoholic family matrix is tremendously helpful in explaining The Beatles group dynamic. Check it out, see if it resonates.
Yes, @Michael, and also so much is unspoken–and inexpressible via words. Creative teams often employ strong hierarchies because so many decisions are completely subjective. Once a creative product has a lot of different peoples’ fingerprints on it, who makes the million final calls on indefinable matters of aesthetics? The “leader.” This allows everyone to work more harmoniously…as long as the leader is trusted by all. The moment that fails, then every little decision becomes a potential flashpoint.
In other words, The Beatles after May ’68.
@Kari and @Michael Gerber
I am really enjoying this discussion. Although I worked neither in a corporate structure nor in the creative arts, I have long harbored a keen interest in how leadership is exercised in non-hierarchical groups.
I once heard a lecture in which the speaker was stressing that one of the most important tasks for a leader is to be constantly scanning over the horizon, almost like a back-scatter radar, to assess threats and opportunities. Obviously threats would be for a military leadership, but for other endeavors the leader needs to be fully engaged in possible new directions, products, or ideas pertinent to that orginization.
The COO should be running the day to day operations of planning, budgeting, staffing, marketing, etc. to free up the CEO to re-evaluate direction and opportunities.
Granted the Beatles were neither Proctor-Gamble nor the Royal Navy, so my question is which one of them was constantly peering over the horizon? Who looked around 360 degrees to fully understand what other bands were producing? Who set the creative goals? Who gave the others the impetus? It certainly could not have sprouted organically merely by them showing up in the studio. Were they all subconsciously doing this and then compared notes?
Now I am sure someone could reasonably tell me to open my eyes and watch Get Back again and review Paul’s energy behind the Pepper project. Paul , after all, was the one out and about in London and soaking up any an all influences while John was in his haze in Surrey. What, seemingly, could be more obvious?
As @Michael Bleicher remarked however, John walked in, up until the end, with some pretty remarkable music. Is this not leadership? Do we even have a grammar to describe this? Was John just as much setting a definate tone even if Paul was ablaze in orginization activity?
Not a perfect cognate of course, but I think of Jim Morrison living in an abandoned building in Venice Beach (or was it Santa Monica?) with a camp stove, a blanket, and a heavy supply of LSD. Yet when the moment arrived he was ready to provide artistic direction to those who gathered around him. Was Lennon the same? Was he, as a leader of a different type, always tuning his artistic antenna so as to capture elements that would serve as guiding beacons to the creatives around him?
Lots of words here I know, but I appreciate the thoughts you all are putting forth as I don’t think we in fandom have yet fully processed the subtleties of the Beatles leadership dynamic. Not that we need to make it complex (we do have lives after all), but I feel as if the takeaways from what we saw in Get Back, for example, are too simplistic. There’s more here than meets the eye.
@Neal: Thoughts on your thoughts
“Granted the Beatles were neither Proctor-Gamble nor the Royal Navy, so my question is which one of them was constantly peering over the horizon? Who looked around 360 degrees to fully understand what other bands were producing? Who set the creative goals? Who gave the others the impetus? It certainly could not have sprouted organically merely by them showing up in the studio. Were they all subconsciously doing this and then compared notes?”
While not diminishing the creative roles of everyone else in the band, it’s been established that Paul did this throughout his history of the Beatles. Both with himself and John listening to songs on the radio trying to anticipate and figure what musical sounds would be popular and to write songs in that style. This also occurred with Paul’s rivalry with Brian Wilson, his competitiveness with the The Who, his interest in Stockhausen, the avant-garde, and incorporation of other classical instruments in their music.
I will argue that what probably did happen before the ‘rot set in’ is that each of the Beatles showing up to the studio with enthusiasm and pitching their favorite things during a jam session was a large contributor to the musical variety of the Beatles.
“The COO should be running the day to day operations of planning, budgeting, staffing, marketing, etc. to free up the CEO to re-evaluate direction and opportunities.”
This sounds like Brian. And part of the issue was that Paul found himself having to take on many of Brian’s duties, as well as his own. Everyone, including Paul, getting more involved in the business affairs of the Beatles brand/company as opposed to the creative affairs of the band was part of the problem that led to the break-up.
“John walked in, up until the end, with some pretty remarkable music. Is this not leadership?”
This sounds John becoming a better team player, especially compared to his other behavior. Bringing in good energy and good material as part of the team is important; see how George’s own material and attitude also had the power to either lift the group or rob it of energy; see how the temporary addition of Billy Preston gave the group a lift for the similar reasons.
Without a clear definition of leadership in the context of the Beatles, one that doesn’t also adequately describe the behavior of other members as shown above, we are all more prone to confirmation bias. People will be much more apt to choose their favorites allegedly because of some quality or unmeasurable idea such having ‘artistic antenna that capture elements that serve as guiding beacons to other creatives’. You can say this, but as it is a claim not based in material fact, it can neither be proven nor disproven.
“Do we even have a grammar to describe this?”
Yes, I would argue that we do have words to describe/define it.
“Was John just as much setting a definate tone even if Paul was ablaze in orginization activity?”
Paul was ablaze in creative activity throughout the Beatles then swamped in organizational activity when Brian died. To say otherwise is to deny Paul’s own creative importance in the band. Paul also walked in, up until the end, with some pretty remarkable music and energy. Why are you classifying his work as organizational and John’s as artistic/creative (via antenna analogy)? Given your distinction earlier between the CEO/COO, I’m assuming that you are attempting to argue that John had greater creative importance, whereas Paul was better suited to organizing the band. However, if so, the facts do not line up with your analysis.
“but I feel as if the takeaways from what we saw in Get Back, for example, are too simplistic.”
Not sure which you are referring to, as I’m late entering this conversation.
However up until the point when John fell into addiction/depression, I will argue that both John and Paul were co-leaders.
I appreciate that things are more complex between John and Paul and the other Beatles than leadership issues, interpersonal and the like, if that is what you mean?
Good catch. I let my prolixity get in the way of explaining what I meant about the takeaway from Get Back being too simplistic.
What I was trying to express is that for the eight hours of Get Back I was afforded a view of the Beatles at work. I made a number of conclusions that are now revealing themselves to have been pretty simplistic and I should have been a bit more astute. I won’t bore you with where I came up short but suffice it to say that the discussion here has brought to me a better appreciation for what was going on.
As for my arguing that John was the more creative I plead innocence. Buried in my aforementioned prolixity, I am striving to approach this leadership question with curiosity and not maintaing who was predominant in artistic contribution.
For me, arguing who was the more creative of the two is dangerously close to having a favorite Beatle–a question, were I ever asked, to which I would be inclined to answer Curtis Mayfield, Lionel Hampton, or John Dunsmore. Itn other words I have no fave and I would be well out of my depth trying to argue who was bringing more to the table.
My career is almost the polar opposite of the creative arts– there is zero overlap when it comes to goals and tasks. We spend a great deal of time working on leadership/follower skills that we hope never to use. Frequently we can only define what leadership is by noting when it is absent. This is why I am so curious as to how creatives work and how they collectively lead, manage, set and achieve goals, provide a motive force to keep things moving, etc. To me it seems like a daunting task.
I am sure Michael, Nancy, and others are cracking their heads against the concrete wall for they probably covered this ten years ago, but I appreciate their patience as well as the thoughts here. They are exactly what the non-creatives like me need to grasp how the art flourishes.
@Neal, go get some friends and make something! You’ll understand a lot of these issues instantly–the need for a final arbiter, the carving out of various spheres based on pleasure or aptitude, how personality comes out in one’s art, the ebb and flow of addition and subtraction (not to mention influence; a good group is quoting each other, teasing each other, trying to please each other all the time).
“Leadership” in a creative team is often first conferred upon you; it can’t really be demanded–those are the groups that peter out. You have to have the personality to want it, and then the talent to back it up, but also high emotional IQ to share when you need to share, and step back and let the others have their moments to shine. It’s a complex and beautiful and really rare talent, in my experience, and something I’ve devoted my life to doing, and teaching.
Because The Beatles were my first instructors in how this can be done at a high level, and a model I constantly refer to in my work, this blog is part of that teaching effort. But my affectionate intentions are so out-of-step with the endless attack-and-defend of internet culture that I fear it may not be possible to connect with strangers in this way–regardless of our shared love of The Beatles.
But if you want to love The Beatles more–really understand them–go grab some friends and make something!
@Michael Gerber “You have to have the personality to want it, and then the talent to back it up, but also high emotional IQ to share when you need to share, and step back and let the others have their moments to shine. It’s a complex and beautiful and really rare talent, in my experience, and something I’ve devoted my life to doing, and teaching. ”
This is all true, but you also have to have attributes that the group will accept in a leader (sadly, for many groups, that includes having a penis). I’ve had two major experiences in my life where my leadership abilities really got to shine, both groups were mixed gender and age, and for whatever reason oddly low on patriarchal assumptions. In both cases I got wonderful compliments on my leadership style (including a high-level manager in the tech industry who said I had a major influence on his understanding of what makes a good leader). I really relish taking a bird’s eye view of a project, recognising people’s strengths, delegating, resolving conflict by encouraging empathy.
But as you say, you can’t demand a position like that, the group has to be willing to recognise your value as a leader, and some people (male and female) will not be led by a woman no matter what she does.
I am wondering if “hierarchy,” to some people, communicates something about worth rather than meaning occupying a particular role.
As someone who’s worked on teams completing large projects that I at least consider “creative,” I see the necessity of both collaboration and a clear arbiter of ultimate decisions.
An effective team leader doesn’t dictate but does decide. And in the absence of clear decision making, there is, in my experience, a lot of churn and bad feeling. “Consensus” can easily cover for a battle of wills in which the questions become who will give up first and who will hold out the longest.
And the leader isn’t always or necessarily the one contributing the most creative, or greatest amount of, work to a project. I think this is why I’m not too invested in the question of leadership in the Beatles. Seems pretty plainly John to me until Pepper and then an unstable Paul and John dynamic after that.
I appreciate that you’re sharing your thoughts! And perhaps I was too hasty in assuming what you were saying in terms of creative contribution. Fun having a conversation with you.
@Neal, I think there is a lot of magic in these hierarchies–call them creative balances, alchemic mixtures–and when the balance fails or the mixture changes, the magic ends.
Morrison’s a really good example (I think he was mostly in Venice and West Hollywood–Santa Monica was too sleepy and suburban for ol’ Jim). Morrison the person couldn’t “lead” a picnic, and yet whatever The Doors were, wanted to be or became, it sprouted first in Morrison. And those guys? They had a totemic belief in Morrison, similar to how The Beatles felt about Lennon. Just as The Doors would put up with almost anything from Morrison in the throes of addiction, so too The Beatles extended Lennon the same privilege. Can we even imagine McCartney getting fucked up on heroin? Of course not; he had to make the music–Lennon had to make the MAGIC. Seems overly romantic, but it fits.
@Michael Gerber Except that Lennon on heroin struggled to make anything period, let alone magic,hence the paucity of his material on Abbey Road; or even Imagine, when Spector helped him polish the previous three years scraps; or the last five years of his life, when he made nada. It took either great upheaval (Primal therapy) or brief respites from H (Walls and Bridges; Double Fantasy) for him to create; or the miracle of a Paul McCartney (1969) or Phil Spector (1970-71) to furnish his off-cuts into diamonds. And what a disaster it was when that job fell to someone like Elephant’s Memory.
Whatever the intentions when Brian took John to Spain, Paul interpreted it as a surreptitious move to change the partnership from McCartney/Lennon to Lennon/McCartney, decided behind his back, and to which he only agreed on the premise the order would alternate. If John set the tone, then that tone would have established the name order from the very beginning. I, for one, am not even disputing that Paul, George and Ringo looked up to John. They were in awe of him; they looked to him during interviews and press conferences. His was the dominant voice, the dominant personality. And I suspect, as happens with people we admire and are in awe of, and particularly when we are young,
we fall in behind them simply because we don’t want to be on the wrong side of them. That the relationship is deemed important enough not to jeopardize. None of us were there in the recording studio at any time. As far as creative teams go, who was the leader, Gilbert or Sullivan, Rodgers or Hammerstein, Lerner or Lowe? It would be helpful to know. Granted that one was the lyricist and one was the composer, what came first? The chicken or the egg? Lennon and McCartney were a team within a team, which muddied the waters, but they were still a team of two.
This from an interview between David Frost and Paul in early/mid1964:
Frost: How do you judge a good song when you’ve written it, by what?
Paul: by us liking it, if John and I like it, if it’s a good ‘un, it’s a combination of what we like, what we think is commercial, and what we think other people will like’.
This strongly suggests (and it is not the only example) that the Lennon/McCartney partnership was viewed as a collaborative effort, in real time, at the time. Irrespective of John being perceived as the leader, or was the leader, regardless of Paul letting him hold fort in public appearances, he was not viewed as the dominant force within the writing partnership at that time. From everything I’ve read, the two of them, as writers of songs in a team of two, despite their fights -it was never harmonious -regarded each other as equals. “If they had been co-leaders, they would’ve said that…and they didn’t., “. Absolutely correct – within the structure of the band. Paul did see himself as #2. He wasn’t interested in being the frontman. As he said he was happy to shut the gate behind John. But within the Lennon/McCartney team itself, of two, Paul was not John’s #2. And if Paul concededto John (or coerced), it was because that was HIS personality: to smooth things over, not rock the boat, if that’s what you want, John, then ok. An example of reverse psychology at work.
And after years of press hammering, I very much got the impression that Paul was just plain worn out fighting his corner: I’m happy with the arrangement (if that’s what you want, then I’m happy to go along with that).
It’s disingenuous to imply that John allowed Paul to be the ‘music man’ fiddling with a few knobs in the control room for his ‘contributions’ which ‘benefited’ him. How very big of John.
@Lara wrote: “If John set the tone, then that tone would have established the name order from the very beginning.”
Oh, but it did. When John and Paul began writing together as kids, Paul would scribble in his notebook, “Another Lennon/McCartney original.” He even wrote that above his handwritten lyrics to Two Of Us, as seen in the Get Back film. It was a tradition going back to when they were just starting out.
I remember reading somewhere that the ‘McCartney/Lennon’ credit was a misprint during the pressings of the Please Please Me album. Is there another source besides Paul for the story about John and Brian conspiring to change the order of the songwriting credit? Sometime in the ’80s, I heard an interview of Paul on Beatle Brunch in which he said – word for word, as I recorded all the episodes being the Beatle nerd I was – “John and I wanted to be another Rogers & Hammerstein… Except of course, I wanted McCartney/Lennon, but John was so bossy [laughs] and said, ‘Oh, no no. It sounds better the other way, Lennon/McCartney. So I gave in.” He said this with amused affection, not a hint of bitterness as with his later story about John and Brian double-crossing him. Which story is true? The one closer to the event, or the later version when he was preoccupied with the credits to “his” songs?
They may have kicked around the idea of alternating the credit based on whose idea it was for a song, but that’s not feasible when it comes to brands. And they saw Lennon/McCartney as a brand.
All that being said… One of their names had to come first. Whoever it was does not mean he was the dominant writer in the partnership.
The following is from Lewisohn’s Tune In about an agreement made in September 1962:
There was only one proviso: they agreed that the order of the song’s credit would indicate its principal author. They’d continue to work on songs together, one bringing his ideas to the other, but where John was main creator, it would be Lennon-McCartney, and where Paul was main creator, it would be McCartney-Lennon. The credit for 50:50 collaborations would be decided if and when there were any – there’d been none since 1958. Accordingly, as Love Me Do and PS I Love You were mostly Paul’s songs, Brian took a pen to the Ardmore and Beechwood contract and amended part of the inserted clause: 11. That were [sic] sheet music, records, publicity etc is concerned credit will be given to “McCARTNEY/LENNON”. [a crossed out “LENNON/McCARTNEY” appears right before “McCARTNEY/LENNON”]
Perhaps the change arrived too late for Love Me Do and PS I Love You, but the existence of the paperwork Lewisohn found explains how McCartney/Lennon cropped up on the next two singles as well as on all originals on their first UK album.
We may learn more if the second book of Lewisohn’s fabs bio ever materializes, but apparently Brian and/or John changed their mind(s) by the spring of 1963.
Songs come with all manner of credits, and they certainly could have used Lennon/McCartney and McCartney/Lennon on a case-by-case basis with a bit of effort, but the McCartney/Lennon credited disappeared until Wings Over America in the mid 1970s.
@Michelle. The misprint referred to the misspelling of Paul’s name McArtney. There were also the EPs under the McCartney/Lennon name order. Brian Epstein and George Martin dodged around the issue of the Beatles’ contract with EMI, and if both of them wanted to keep John on board, then perhaps it had something to do with this. During the 80s, what Paul said privately (to Hunter Davies) and publicly (mindful of not stepping on a dead man’s legacy), are two different things but again it buys into the Paul as liar and rewriter of history of trope. Irrespective of name order, neither was viewed as dominant in the collaboration, which was the point made. @LeighAnn. The world was a dangerous place in 1962 and female coding of Paul existed in Hamburg and Liverpoo[ onwards before abortion and homosexuality were legalized first time round. With such pressing concerns it’s amazing how the Beatles have been discussed for so long. I don’t think what aboutery is particularly useful.
Thanks for the clarification on the misprint, and to Laura for the Lewisohn citation.
One can avoid stepping on a dead man’s legacy without inventing cute stories about dreams of Rogers & Hammerstein. I didn’t realize that there was a statute of limitations, if you will, when it comes to stepping on a dead man’s legacy. John is as dead now as he was in the ’80s. If not rewriting history, it does indicate that the private Paul is very different from the Paul he wants the public to see, and that the John/Paul bond was perhaps a fabrication.
Michelle, it just seems bonkers to me to say that “the John/Paul bond was perhaps a fabrication.” Both men, and many others, including George Martin, spoke clearly about their friendship and creative partnership. The band’s breakup and the sniping both McCartney and Lennon did in the late 60s and 70s do not alter an earlier observed and stated reality. Their partnership has, in my opinion, often been romanticized and overstated, but it also makes no sense to erase it.
I also think that meaigs’ most interesting point is getting lost in this thread, in general. Coding a man as “feminine” is very much being used in political discourse today (see the right’s use of “soy boy,” etc.). Anyone coded as “feminine” in any way is easier to dismiss.
This does not, to me at least, entail seeing McCartney as a victim or as a feminist champion. I think the dynamic is worth talking about as it can help us consider the way gendered language and assumptions operate in culture.
Discussions about leadership in the Beatles always strike me (perhaps unfairly) as a very male preoccupation. Early interviews often include a “who’s the leader?” type question, and it always seems to me that the four of them are reluctant to think of the group in those terms. They tried on “Johnny and the Moondogs” and left it behind. There are duties and responsibilities (as well as privileges) that go along with “leadership” that don’t seem to have been straightforwardly invested in any one of them. I’m not convinced it’s a particularly useful lens for examining their dynamic (except, I suppose, in discussing the way people insist on using it to examine them).
None of my friend groups have ever had a “leader”, there’s no “leader” in my marriage. Family, friend-group, marriage: these are words they used for themselves, and better than “team” as a concept for understanding them.
I had a longer reply typed earlier, but I’ve abandoned making it all make sense. Maybe someday. But part of my thoughts involved wondering WHY people are concerned with who the ‘leader’ of the Beatles was. Thank you, Michael, for explaining your interest above and tying it to the band trajectory as you see it. 🙂
But yeah, @meaigs, I’ve always assumed it was a guy thing, but then I’ve read published fan-fiction wherein the author states that she chose John as her fave because he was the leader of the band. I mean, okay? Is it a past thing, that all those groups with “so and so and the so-and-sos” made people keen to know who was leading the group? I can honestly say I don’t think that I looked at any of the bands I was fangirling on MTV in the 1980s and wondered, “Is Simon the leader of Duran Duran?”
I see John as being a gang-leader, and that was something I’d never assume for Paul — he doesn’t have the same relationship with the Beatles gang as John did. But does that equate to some divine right for John to do what he wanted with the band that he created with Paul and their shared songwriting, not to mention George and Ringo’s accomplishments? I do see it framed that way, that Paul deciding to take his skills elsewhere and leave the band was an act of treason and that ending the Beatles should have been John’s decision. I’ve seen plenty of takes on Get Back that involved men congratulating themselves that John was such a leaderly leader during the sessions – when what I saw was John participating at last in music-making, and doing personality handling of his friends (and them handling him in return, to be honest, and being the one whom both George and Paul are trying to get some attention out of). I dunno. What emotional work is John-as-Leader doing for Beatles fans? The published fanfic writer got an admitted thrill out of fanstanning the Big Banana. But what is Captain John doing for Allen Ginsburg’s psyche?
@Kristy, my guess is that Allen Ginsburg wanted to fuck John. From a review of The Letters of Allen Ginsberg: “Notwithstanding the occasional (and brief) moments of self-deception, Ginsberg was in all respects—sexual, personal, social—fundamentally drawn to strong, heterosexually-inclined men.”
Ironically, I suspect sexual dominance–“topping”–was a burden for John, given his eventual relationship with Yoko.
John as leader–John as gang-leader, you’ve got it right there–was a function of John’s youth and drive. Once those were blunted by time and drugs, he changed. And that was why the old hierarchy collapsed.
@meaigs, the thing is, the Beatles were a group of men. And not just that, but men in their early 20s who came from an extremely chauvinistic/patriarchal background. I don’t see any evidence that they were “reluctant to think of the group in those terms.” To the contrary, it was extremely important to John that he be the leader, and the other three, as well as Brian and George Martin, are documented as acknowledging the same. I’d appreciate seeing the interview footage you’re referencing so I have a better understanding of what you’re referring to. Certainly, I don’t think the fact that they abandoned “Johnny and the Moondogs” shows a reluctance to think of the group in leadership terms — it’s a terrible name that captures none of the artistic sensibilities that informed the band (originally via John, through Stu).
My remark about a marriage was in response to the suggestion that management training courses cover the benefits of a flat leadership structure. My point was that a band, or any similar kind of group, isn’t like a workplace with a manager who has direct reports. It’s more like a group of friends or a marriage. BUT you are still working on a project and producing something, so in that respect, yes, there will be a leader in my experience.
“I don’t see any evidence that they were ‘reluctant to think of the group in those terms.'”
What about the press conference where they said there was no real leader?
On Brian and George Martin: Brian said that the Beatles work so long as there is balance between Paul and John. George Martin said John and Paul were equal. Whatever they said about John’s need to be seen as the leader, they also spoke about the reality of the situation.
“artistic direction (originally via John, through Stu)”
-So Stu’s artistic direction is attributed to John’s leadership? Why? Are the musical contributions of Ringo, Billy Preston, or Eric Clapton attributed to George’s artistic direction? It seems more correct to say that some of the artistic (musical?) direction of the Beatles, in the early days (whatever it was) was because of the artistic leadership exerted by Stuart Sutcliffe.
“To the contrary, it was extremely important to John that he be the leader”
Yes, after the breakup, and before as well. But that does not imply that, because it was important to him, that proves that John was the sole band leader. It means that he required emotional placation. This, I believe, is where Brian was helpful.
I think Kristy makes a great point that John was likely the gang-leader of the Beatles/the loudest personality of their group of friends. But that dynamic often gets confused when talking about the leadership of the band, ie. how things worked between John and Paul.
Insisting that John was the ultimate leader, the only leader, and Paul was a subordinate implies a lot about their artistic partnership that we either don’t have any evidence for or is false. The narrative of “John-as-Leader” has more to do with whatever emotional work that it is doing for Beatles fans than the reality of the situation.
“My remark about a marriage was in response to the suggestion that management training courses cover the benefits of a flat leadership structure. ” I think this is in response to me. I’m not sure what you mean here as I never said anything about management training courses. (And I will say, on that topic there are more org. structures beyond hierarchical and flat.)
“yes, there will be a leader in my experience.”
I think an important question is how do you define the leadership in the context of the Beatles.
@Michael Bleicher – It’s not true that the Beatles came from a chauvinistic/patriarchal background. If anything, Liverpool (and the North of England in general) was and is the opposite of patriarchal. The stereotype of the Northern Man who demands his tea on the table at 5 o’clock, and kicks off if he is served egg and chips on the day he expects steak is a fictitious construct. In reality, he would end up wearing his egg and chips. Northern women are very very strong. Think Aunt Mimi, Auntie Jin and Heather Mills.
I do agree with you though that the Beatles viewed John as the leader. The hierarchy in the group was established when they were boys, and when the age difference between them really mattered. They related to each other as childhood friends so the hierarchy and the age difference continued to matter, as it does with any group of adults who were childhood friends or any group of siblings. Anyone who says the Beatles did not view John as the leader is surely missing the point that George sided with John because he automatically deferred to him. That’s why they could consider bringing in Klaus Voorman to replace Paul; John, as the leader, was irreplaceable, whereas Paul, as the deputy, wasn’t.
Someone made a comment on here a few weeks ago that Paul was clearly the ‘alpha’ member of the group. I don’t see that at all, and especially not in the Get Back footage. It’s obvious that Paul was the grafter – he was doing most of the work and the others were happy to let him. But he wasn’t getting any respect for it – not from John, George and Ringo, at least. It was just his accepted role within the hierarchy.
I’m not sure whether Paul viewed John as the leader. He obviously knew the others did, which put him at a disadvantage, but at the same time, he knew what his own contributions were. You can see from the footage that he worked hard to handle John, and he probably had to do this to achieve anything because the others would defer to John when push came to shove. I’m sure that took an enormous personal toll on him – it must have been exhausting, frustrating (infuriating even) and demoralising. And at some point, he either stopped being able to handle John (because Yoko had her claws too far into him), or he realised it was going to kill him to keep trying, so he walked away. But if John hadn’t been viewed as the leader by the rest of the group, he wouldn’t have needed handling in the first place.
“That’s why they could consider bringing in Klaus Voorman to replace Paul; John, as the leader, was irreplaceable, whereas Paul, as the deputy, wasn’t’. @Elizabeth, contractually, John had no authority to hire, fire, replace, or extend band members. During Get Back, when John said we’ll get Eric Clapton in when George left, Paul was heard to say very firmly: ‘No John’.
In actual fact there was nothing to stop John, George, and Ringo, and x, from continuing after Paul sued them. The Stones did it all the time with ever-changing line-ups. Of course Paul was irreplaceable. The Beatles were finished.
@Lara – Yes, the Beatles, without Paul, were finished. But John, George and Ringo did consider bringing in Klaus Voorman to form another band, and George was still trying to persuade John to do this as late as 1973. That John said no was probably more to do with his fear of being compared unfavourably to the Beatles (Paul) than his determination to only be in a group with Yoko, but it is telling that they considered it. When John was killed, it was unthinkable that Paul, George and Ringo would form another group. But a band without Paul was seriously considered, which says quite a lot about the group dynamics and the pecking order as they saw it.
Had John, George, Ringo, and Klaus formed The Ladders — that was a name that was kicking around, though I think it was a joke — after recording “I’m the Greatest” for Ringo, I don’t think the band would have lasted long. Mutual animosity at Paul post-Ram and post-lawsuit would smooth some of the interpersonal issues between John and George, but John would eventually say something dismissive about a George song or he’d treat George too much like a sideman than a creative partner. It probably explodes spectacularly after an album (like Blind Faith), though I could also see a scenario where The Ladders become a looser supergroup, sort of like the White Album, where they record a little bit together and a little bit more individually or with their favored sidemen (like Billy Preston, Jim Keltner, Jesse Ed Davis, etc.). A loose supergroup Ladders would, come to think of it, eventually generate an album with Paul in some capacity, because Ringo would eventually bring him in for a song or two.
Indeed — why were they trying to keep him under contract in the first place? Why did Paul need to sue if he was “replaceable?” There’s ample evidence that Klein and “his” Beatles were stunned that Paul didn’t knuckle under; none of them thought he was really out. Witness the “How?” “Why?” postcard John sent in response to Paul’s multi-page letter asking him to agree to dissolve the partnership. Or John’s many forecasts as to how long it would take Paul to get sick of his kids, dump Linda, and get back to where he once belonged. Two years? That’s what Klein thought, but on reflection John would accord him five.
@Katya – No, I think you’re right; the comment was badly worded. It’s probably more accurate to say that Paul wasn’t replaceable within The Beatles – that they couldn’t carry on making Beatles music without him. However, they did consider that he was replaceable within the group (or gang if you like), because George was pushing for them to form a new group in 1973, and was even making statements to the press that he could form a new group with John tomorrow, but could never work with Paul again.
John’s refusal to do this probably had a great deal to do with George’s anger towards him in the 1970s. I suppose John was worried that the world would make unfavourable comparisons between The Beatles and The Ladders and conclude that Paul had been the visionary all along. George didn’t care, but he had less to lose.
John had what I don’t think would be unfair to characterize as a visceral antipathy toward Linda, and I wonder at times if that might be an underapprciated factor in the band’s dissolution.
John felt that Linda wasn’t smart, wasn’t pretty, and wouldn’t hold Paul’s interest, and it probably blew his mind that not only was Paul completely smitten with her, Paul clearly felt like he was unworthy of her. (“Maybe I’m Amazed” is a song by a man who knows he’s outkicked his coverage. And he’s a freakin’ Beatle.)
John, if he weren’t emotionally damaged as he was, if he weren’t as insecure as he was, might have been able to take Linda in stride the same way that Paul took Yoko in stride. Paul had come a long way since Hamburg, when he felt threatened by Stu’s relationship with John (as documented in Tune In). On some level, was John threatened by Linda? Did John see his best friend having a deep, emotionally intimate relationship with his girlfriend (and later wife) and feel that his own deep, emotionally intimate relationship with his best friend was endangered? Did John feel that Paul was abandoning him?
I go down this path — and it’s all speculative, to be clear — and I look at 1969, and I almost wonder if John was testing Paul and forcing him to choose between Linda and the band, only Paul wasn’t going to give up on either, until John started working outside the band and announced he was walking away, leaving Paul to feel that the decision (Linda or the band) had been made for him, and sending him spiraling to the farm in Scotland and the depressive funk. Even at that point, things might have been salvaged, but Paul had developed a “Me against the world” attitude that probably made the final break (the McCartney “interview”) inevitable.
What were we talking about again? John’s dislike of Linda. Yeah, that. Everyone loved Linda — except John. And that’s conspicuous by its oddity.
No one is universally loved. I assume you mean that Linda was well liked by people who actually met her. Because she was ripped by fans and the press almost as much as Yoko was. If John had antipathy toward Linda, perhaps they clashed because they were too much alike in some ways, or John thought she was groupie. I always thought Linda was more John’s type and seemed like a typical John fangirl, and she was before she met Paul. Paul took Yoko in stride… well, initially he hated her, didn’t he? He accepted her, but by then it was too late.
I don’t think Alistair Taylor and Hunter Davies were too fond of Linda, either.
Interesting point and it caused me to think of the phrase “who’s in charge here” that one heard/saw in films but also in real life so often back in the day. It was based on the baked in concept that the leader was also the person in charge.
Today this phase sounds trite and inaccurate… even more so as I mull over your comment Is the person “in charge” the leader? Does he/she need to be? Or, as you mention, is there any need to have a leader at all.
Maybe I am making this more complicated than I need to and perhaps this concept of a leader is indeed a male blindspot. I appreciate the nudge in looking at this a new way.
Yeah, but @meaigs, none of your friend-groups were responsible for running a huge creative business. It’s not the act of being friends that sorts people into hierarchies, it’s the necessity of creative production. With my non-work friends, there is never any hierarchy; how weird! But with my work-friends, there invariably is, because people fall into roles, jobs, areas of expertise–out of necessity.
I assume this is not a gendered phenomenon; when it’s time to knock something together for money, my female colleagues drop into hierarchy as readily as my male ones. Men are certainly socialized to default to hierarchy, but I don’t think that’s the heart of it in this case. YMMV.
Okay, so I definitely overstated my case. In searching for the clips to back up my point I found many examples of one or other Beatle flat-out saying John was the leader (including their first radio interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJeaoHe3Bus). I was also reminded of the lunchroom conversation from Get Back where Paul says John was always the “boss” (which John pushes back against, but then concedes).
I didn’t find either of the examples I was thinking of:
a) a press conference where they are asked who is the leader and Paul and John both explain that there isn’t really a leader, it’s more democratic
b) a different press conference where Paul starts to say John is the leader, John objects, and there’s a little bit of back and forth.
I’m glad @kari remembers the former, so I know I’m not imagining it 🙂
I agree that people fall into hierarchies when getting work done. Some of that is appropriate division of labour, and some of it is “ape games”. I don’t think men are more prone to ape games than women, though the rules one is subject to depend on one’s status. I think what I was trying to get at with my comment about gender is that men seem to me *more interested* in who is the leader in a group, and more prone to assume that once a leader is established they have some moral right to the position.
In situations like a band, where leadership is an emergent property of behaviour and personality, I’d expect it to shift with energy levels and interest (among other things). And I think a healthy group would be fine with that kind of shift. Many (mostly male?) Beatles fans seem offended by the idea that Paul might take over leadership responsibilities, as though he were usurping John’s divine right. But how is he supposed to respond? Should he leave things undone when John isn’t doing them, because they “belong” to John?
One more thing I found on my fruitless search was an interesting suggestion that Paul preferred being number 2. (Like Riker repeatedly refusing offers of command). When John shouts “sing, Paul!” during Get Back, Paul hops to it. Who else did he ever have that relationship with? It certainly jibes for me with Paul’s discomfort during the “I can’t do it on candid camera” scene, and with some of the things I’ve heard about his experience with Wings.
If you haven’t worked inside a team of artists, it’s almost impossible to comprehend the extremely idiosyncratic and nuanced ways authority ebbs and flows, or even what “authority” is. It’s clearly not what you think it is, and I think it’s beyond me to try to explain. Go get a group of artists and try to make stuff, and you will find that authority, leadership, does exist; the fundamentally subjective and personal nature of artistic endeavor makes it exist, and whereas each single artist working alone is the authority, when they come together in a group, a person is picked–someone they all trust, usually the founder of the group–to act as the tone-setter, the tie-breaker, to say “yes” in general ways and “no” in others. That’s what John was, and what all the others acknowledged him to be.
Paul’s being given (or taking!) specific important areas of expertise is completely consonant with the group having a strong hierarchy, and John being at the top of that. If you would like to call that “alternating leadership,” be my guest, but that’s your term, not The Beatles’, nor is it a particularly clarifying one; it makes binary something that was not, could not be. Similarly, anyone who would posit “equal creative collaboration” is simply not seeing this discussion in the nuanced fashion it demands. “Equal creative collaboration” does not exist; the interchange is so vigorous, so shifting, that such restrictive terms make no sense–but they do clarify why you are so reactive to the idea of “John as leader.”
As I tried to explain, a strong, clearly defined hierarchy (“John is the leader, Paul’s his number two, George takes the solos, Ringo is a friend all three of us”) actually makes it much SAFER for a group of strong, talented artists to be able to carve out their respective spheres of authority/expertise within the group. If #1 is never in doubt, the #2 can have success, the #3 and #4, and there is no danger of palace intrigue. It’s a very efficient and stable method. Clearly defined hierarchy is a way for talented people to work together with MORE freedom, not less. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is precisely because John was acknowledged within the group as the top dog, that Paul could be so forward in the studio, even in the early years.
“There is also the matter of George Martin who also functioned as arbiter of the songs for commercial release, so even if you presume that John was the leader, that role did not fall solely to him.”
You are not getting this, which is surely my fault for not being clearer. John’s leadership of the group existed WITHIN THE GROUP; it was a kind of deference that the other Beatles showed him, and even after the studio-focus made Paul the de facto leader, they continued showing deference to John until the group broke up. (Witness: Allen Klein.) They to some degree coddled John; why they did it is another conversation, but they did. George Martin was the producer, Brian was the manager–these well-defined roles did not impact the well-defined hierarchy within the Beatles, except that both George and Brian would need to 1) make sure John was still committed to the group endeavor, and 2) make sure John was on board with decisions they wanted to make, because the other Beatles would generally follow John’s lead. Which is likely why Brian took JOHN to Spain with him, not John and Paul.
John indeed internalized the entire story of The Beatles as a leadership struggle, but here’s two important things about that:
1) John was a Beatle, and we weren’t. We have to privilege his lived experience over our second-hand interpretation; John Lennon knew more about how The Beatles functioned than we can surmise ex post facto, and his claiming of leadership has been consistently confirmed by the other members. That we don’t like it, that it offends our sense of fairness, or to think that we can somehow out-argue all four Beatles based on management theory or amassing datapoints is, to me, elevating ourselves to a kind of peer, and in this limited way–Beatledom–we are not. They are The Beatles, and in things only Beatles can know–like whether there was a hierarchy, and who was where in it–we must defer to what they tell us. Unless there is some pressing reason to disbelieve them, and is there in this case?
2) No, there isn’t; the story John tells maps closely onto the facts as we know them, and is largely corroborated by George and Ringo, and often even by Paul–as in this 1984 Playboy interview: “But, yeah, I definitely did look up to John. We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader…He was certainly the one I looked up to most–definitely.” This was not difficult for me to find; if you simply dismiss quotes like that, I question your judgment on this issue.
“Final thoughts, while you have interest in analyzing the Beatles in terms of competing leadership because of your personal experience and John’s own feelings on the matter, it does not follow that this is the best or even the right way to analyze the Beatles.”
What is the “right” way to analyze The Beatles? You seem passionate, certainly, but not passionate to find the truth; you’re passionate to prove a point, that John and Paul were “co-leaders.” That is your hill, and you are going to die on it, darn it! But if that point denies what John, Paul, George and Ringo said–consistently, all members–there is something deeply flawed with your analysis. It’s not “the best or even the right way.” I know you WANT co-leadership to be how it worked, but the people who were there said something else.
You are arguing with yourself. You first define “leader” as something much too authoritarian; and then you find data that confirms that your definition is indeed wrong. John Lennon wasn’t ruling The Beatles with an iron fist; he wasn’t “Long John and His Silver Beatles”; you are correct! But he was indeed “the leader” of the group…because they all said he was. The only responsible “analysis” is to figure out what they meant, not pretend they didn’t say it, or we know better than they did.
There is a contemporary distaste for strict hierarchies; they seem old-fashioned, male, patriarchal. And to have this discussion without acknowledging fan desire for The Beatles to transcend their time and place, to be of OUR time instead of their own, seems somewhat self-deceiving to me. This self-deception, this wishing, is shot through Dullblog comments these days. But this blinds us to the miracle that WAS: it was extraordinary for these four men to have arranged themselves into as light and flexible a hierarchy as they did. It was extraordinary that two titanic talents like John and Paul found any way to collaborate at all; and to get the best out of George and Ringo, too! But to assert that John and Paul were co-leaders–while it makes no never mind to me, it’s not my band!–seems like a desire to make John and Paul contemporary in a way they were not. If they had been co-leaders, they would’ve said that…and they didn’t.
The others deferred to John and looked up to him; as long as he embodied this role the group was more or less harmonious; when he abdicated, it began to function more poorly, and eventually collapsed. That is a very common, very stable arrangement for creative teams, not least because it gives other members huge areas of authority and some autonomy. If you are truly interested in “analyzing” how The Beatles and other creative teams work, go get a bunch of artists of varying aptitudes, interests, and abilities, and try to make something. I feel certain many of these issues will become crystal-clear to you, very quickly.
I’m done with this topic, thank you for the conversation.
If I have upset you, which from your post I feel that I have, then I apologize. I have thus far enjoyed this blog for its civil conversation, which I feel it has despite whatever passion we all have. I would like to share a few final thoughts before I too finish with this conversation.
“You will find that authority, leadership, does exist”
I don’t deny that leadership existed in the Beatles. This is a different argument to the one I am making, namely over the nature of the shared leadership/creative collaboration of John and Paul
It comes down to several questions: How did the Beatles define leadership? Did their definition match ours? Was their definition really referring to the nature of the friend group as opposed to the band? Is there a difference between “leadership” of the friend group and [creative] leadership of the band? How can leadership be objectively defined in the context of the Beatles? As I argue below, these questions and answers are important in addressing the narrative of leadership within the history of the Beatles.
“[John acted] as the tone-setter, the tie-breaker, to say “yes” in general ways and “no” in others.”
I’m not sure what you and others have meant by tone-setter. It could mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. I have always been of the opinion that loose definitions often lead to confirmation bias.
In terms of tiebreaker, we have to reason to suspect that for instance in the decision to stop touring, Paul was the one who held out. And we don’t really have evidence which proves that John consistently was the tie breaker of the group.
In fact, we don’t have a lot of evidence/information on what was yes/no to by the different members of the band, particularly in the earlier days, and what we do have challenges John’s sole authority.
“‘Equal creative collaboration’ does not exist.”
This goes to another point, which is the creative collaboration between John and Paul in their songwriting. We have no evidence that pre-1968 John was the arbiter, final decision maker in Paul’s songwriting anymore that we have evidence that Paul was the final decision maker on John’s. We do not have the evidence to support the idea that either of their artist visions eclipsed the other’s in their songwriting, or in the studio direction/arrangement with the rest of the band. In fact, it is highly likely that each had creative leadership over the creation of their own songs. We do know that John wrote a few more songs than Paul, but not by a large margin, and is also a different issue than creative leadership/or lack of equal creative collaboration.
We also know that Paul and John influenced each other in their songwriting, but it is a matter of speculation and opinion that one had greater influence over the other. We have some information that John influenced Paul’s lyrics, and we have testimony from George Martin that Paul influenced/taught John a lot in terms of the musical construction of songs. Over the many times both referred to their creative collaboration as a musical marriage and partnership, we have many reasons to consider the John and Paul partnership as equal creative collaboration.
“John’s leadership of the group existed WITHIN THE GROUP”
In that respect, we seem to agree: I can definitely consider John the group leader; ie. the most charismatic personality within their circle of friendship. However, is being the group leader/influencer the same thing as being the bandleader? I would argue not, and that there are reasons to think that the role of bandleader was shared with Paul.
My characterization of John was that he definitely the figurehead of the group, but that is a different thing than being the leader. The Queen of England, for example, is the figurehead of England, but in terms of function she is not the leader, her role is ceremonial.
“(Witness: Allen Klein.)”
Ringo and George had emotional/financial reasons to sign with Klein. They were impressed with the idea of conman on their side for a change. George in particular had reason to be upset with given that Paul vetoed the 4/4/4/2 arrangement which would have given George more album space. Paul also often dictated what George’s guitar part should be. With Paul often recording songs by himself, both Ringo and George had reason to think that Paul didn’t appreciate or respect their musical contributions. And at that point in time, the alternative was accepting the Eastmans’, Paul’s in-laws, a move Ringo and George distrusted. All of which is to say, there are other plausible explanations in their choice to sign with Klein besides John’s leadership/influence, all of which should be considered equally important.
“They to some degree coddled John; why they did it is another conversation, but they did.”
-I think it is relevant to the topic of the perception of the leader vs reality.
“both George and Brian would need to 1) make sure John was still committed to the group endeavor, and 2) make sure John was on board with decisions they wanted to make, because the other Beatles would generally follow John’s lead.”
Do we have evidence that George Martin took certain actions for these reasons? I’m not sure, but I think we do not. I do believe Brian probably did, but I consider that indicative of something else, as I argue below:
“Which is likely why Brian took JOHN to Spain with him, not John and Paul.”
From a variety of accounts, including Brian’s, Brian was infatuated with John/loved him first before he came to love the group members as a whole. From Pete Shotton’s (John’s childhood best friend) account something sexual did occur between John and Brian in Spain. Furthermore, Paul’s repeated explanation for John accompanying Brian to Spain was that John was a political animal, determined that Brian come to him first with band matters.
(This I consider to be an example of John maneuvering, which is significant in this conversation as I argue below).
There were effects to the rapport that John built with Brian that we know of according to Paul’s and George Martin’s testimony: the issue of Lennon-McCartney credits not being interchangeable, the marketing of John, and the blocking of Yesterday as a single in the UK.
Is it plausible that Brian saw John as the leader? Yes. Is it also plausible that his judgment was clouded, to the point that he, at times, treated John with favoritism? Yes. Is it plausible that such treatment sometimes led to a shift/unbalancing in power between Paul and John that Paul objected to? Yes.
One plausible interpretation of this event is that John maneuvered Brian so that he could out-maneuver Paul.
“We have to privilege his [John’s] lived experience… John Lennon knew more about how The Beatles functioned…”
Perception of group dynamics is an important skill. However, we have reason to doubt John’s perception of the group dynamics. John has accused Paul of subconscious sabotage of John’s best work. John/George appeared to view Paul as maliciously taking command of Beatles for his own ego which Paul has denied. John also characterized George as a puppy dog who followed him around Liverpool when they were young. George H. objected to this characterization/perception of how George saw John, saying that John misread him.
(Subjective perception is also influenced by time/circumstance: In Lennon Remembers, John had strong emotional motivation to say that he was leader, but we have the instance in Get Back and one or two interviews while they were still touring where John says he was not leader of the group. Perhaps he was being modest, or accommodating, but even so.)
All of which to say, subjective interpretation of group dynamics is not foolproof.
For this reason, I value data more than anecdotal evidence, objective reality more than subjective perception of reality, and focusing on the events/actions then seeing if they match/contradict what people have said.
On Paul calling John the boss in the Get Back sessions: This occurred in the same conversation where John confessed feeling so frightened that he didn’t object to Paul’s contributions to ‘Strawberry Fields’. He also said that, in order to work with Paul, he found he always had to smother his jealousy for Paul. And Paul responded. If we can agree that John was coddled, another plausible interpretation was that Paul was attempting to handle John here when John was explaining his feelings.
On Paul’s 1984 Playboy interview, this was a few years after John was murdered and his image well on the way to deification. This occurred when Paul generally feels like he has to justify being the surviving member.
I’m not dismissing his or John’s words but placing them within a larger context. In an interview when John was alive and they were still touring, there were times when Paul did not say John was the leader. He argued that sometimes it was more about who shouted the loudest.
“You first define “leader” as something much too authoritarian”
I think you’ll find that I didn’t define it at all. Overall, I have been reacting to the definition’s others have proposed. My most consistent point throughout my posts was that leadership in the context of the Beatles has been poorly defined. And such loose definitions often lead to confirmation bias.
“The only responsible ‘analysis’ is to figure out what they meant”
In this I agree, because leadership is not simply a question of who founded the group, was the loudest/most charismatic person in their friend group, and who was the oldest-deemed coolest-boy when they were growing up. What I and others have said is that John can still be considered the ‘figurehead’ of the [friend] group whilst in reality sharing leadership with Paul in the band.
So what did they mean by leadership? Was their definition of leadership clouded by this?
On that note, John himself once had something very interesting to say about the nature of leadership:
John stated that he maneuvered people, which is what leaders do, ie turning the situation to benefit himself. He specifically referenced bringing Allen Klein into Apple. Another example of maneuvering was John working to build a strong rapport with Brian as I have argued above. And arguably, another possible maneuver is John championing George having more album space to make George side with him/Klein.
What all three plausible maneuvers, that we know of, have in common is that they functioned in ways that allowed John to go over Paul’s head. These are examples where John could not make Paul fall in line, where he instead shifted the balance of power to fall more on his side. This more clearly points to John pulling one over his partner rather than his deputy. If John and Paul did not have equal power, if in reality John did not have co-leadership with Paul, why would John do these things?
Furthermore, why would John characterize leadership in this way? (It has not come up in any of definitions/nebulous ideas others have proposed.)
In a private phone conversation Paul has referred to John as a maneuvering swine. This is not indicative of Paul’s recognition of John’s leadership over him. This was also a private conversation as opposed to his comments made to the world press. (I would argue that historiography: analyzing sources and when and where and under what circumstance they came from, also has a place in this conversation.)
“There is a contemporary distaste for strict hierarchies; they seem old-fashioned, male, patriarchal.”
I understand that you have an assumption, based on a person’s age and gender, that their argument is in fact disguised emotional projection. I disagree with that assumption.
For my part, I will say that my issue has always been that what I have seen when it comes to the facts of who did/contributed what to the group doesn’t match or isn’t concrete to what I have seen claimed about the group. (Leaving aside the vague definitions of leadership!)
I first came to doubt the narrative of the leadership of the Beatles when I came across accounts of the Quarrymen. (The days when John’s influence over Paul were at their peak).
The Quarrymen have attested to the synergy between the two of them. In practice, even the in the days of the Quarrymen, both John and Paul were running the show. Paul influenced the look/sound of the Quarrymen in the way that John grudgingly accepted. Is this a sign of John’s leadership? Deferring to Paul? Or is this John accepting the leadership/vision of his partner? People’s milage may vary and may depend on previous opinions of Paul and John.
Paul and John had a very strong friendship. (John in fact believed in a mental connection/telepathy with Paul). They had a shared dream/passion/vision for the band since the days of the Quarrymen. This bond and connection may well have been the reason Paul and John were able to co-lead.
“What is the ‘right’ way to analyze The Beatles?”
This was part of a larger statement that the best way to analyze the Beatles is as a friendship/family dynamic. (You have recommended that I look for the post describing the Beatles as having an alcoholic family dynamic which I am interested in checking out.) I also believe that we should consider the role that drugs and mental health issues played into the breakup, as equally important to the idea of leadership.
“As light and flexible a hierarchy as they did”
Now I don’t know what you mean. Perhaps we are arguing over semantics? A flexible hierarchy, particularly between Paul and John, seems to point to the idea of alternating or co-leadership.
“when he [John] abdicated…”
Perhaps this is, again, semantics. But the word abdicate implies choice. Did John choose to have depression or fall into an addiction which sapped his energy, self-confidence, and diminished his productivity? The word ‘abdicate’ implies an acceptance of John’s subjective characterization/perspective of the break-up.
I also saw in another post you made, where you said (and I am paraphrasing) that Paul brought the music while John brought the MAGIC. This interpretation may well say something about who people prefer, and preference can affect analysis.
“I’m done with this topic, thank you for the conversation.”
Thank you as well.
Michael, just as an aside, has the comedic writing community thought of some fun regarding the deificication of Paul in the modern era? Sort of a combination of Life of Brian and The Ruttles. All in good fun of course.
I am glad that fans are having, this very year, the opportunity to hear and see Paul in concert. The very same Paul who alighted on our shores nearly 60 years ago.
Yet reading the comments from the videos on these concerts is something that I don’t quite understand. People saying that they knew the purpose of their life when they first heard Paul at age nine! Some better this and recount their shaken-to-the-core experience of seeing the Four on the Ed Sullivan show for example, at age 5! Others testify to Paul and/or The Beatles to being the most important thing in their lives, their sustenance, and their guiding star. I find it at times, without wishing to be disrespectful of the listeners’ enjoyment, being a bit disconcerting. I will admit however, the I have not yet read of anyone having received the ultimate inspiration while still in utero although that might be true.
It seems as if someone could take this all for a very gentle sendup.
@Neal. Paul being treated more positively and respectfully doesn’t mean he’s being deified in the modern age. And definitely not defied at John’s expense. He still is a figure of fun in many quarters regarding his age, his marriages, his music,
his hair, his looks generally, or anything trivial to be picked up on. @Elizabeth is right: the British tabloid press has had it in for Paul for decades and it still does – albeit in now using hyperbolic praise knowing it will invite derision. As I see it, the current hate towards John is fundamentally different to that displayed towards Paul. People are calling John out for his BEHAVIOUR and ACTIONS: how he treated his wife and son, and his violence and aggression while maintaining to be a man of peace. People don’t understand the nuances of John’s life and character of course, but I don’t see anywhere near the derision pertaining to any of the above that dogs Paul. Well, apart from Yoko, and it’s nearly always her fault not his. People say they love John’s music, appreciate his genius, but dislike the man. We know Paul is far from perfect and he’s often acted unwisely at times, but it seems that if Paul is disliked, then everything about him is disliked. I’m not seeing this with the others, and today, if anything, it’s George who dare not be sullied.
Critics and haters may well be idiots and trolls, but they’re insidiously influential. They know how to push buttons. As for the hyperbole one reads on YouTube videos, they not only apply to all of the Beatles but to all rock stars. Please, for a bit of comedic fun, let’s target rock music in general, not one particular individual. Or has rock music become such a sacred cow its just too hard?
Spot on with your last two sentences. Pretension, in a just universe, should automatically merit the quick rapier of the skilled comedic writer. Not to slash wildly at an individual or group of course, but to keep things in balance. I would argue that this corrective is actually good for both the artist and the audience as navel gazing becomes a friction that dulls the art for all involved. Undoubtedly however, this comedic corrective is more enjoyable for the latter than the former.
I hope my original question did not sound disrespectful to fans who are enjoying the concerts or to the many who have been genuinely inspired artists such as the Beatles
It certainly wasn’t meant that way. I was just knocked for six by the emotionally wrought comments. I found them to be ripe for a gentle and good-natured ribbing. I like your idea better however, of expanding the target.
Fans in concert are always excitable and extreme. Many people report being inspired by the Beatles when they saw them on Ed Sullivan, which fits into the larger pattern of Beatlemania we are familiar with.
I hesitate labeling any particular modern effusive praise for Paul as part of a larger systemic deification of Paul. Firstly because it is not as universal as you may assume. Secondly, and more importantly, because I have yet to see anyone label Paul as Jesus Christ/Jesus Christ figure in the way John’s fans and professionals (such as the actors in the film Nowhere Boy) have done.
@Neal, I think the destruction of monoculture prevents such things today.
I think Lara made some good points. Following from her thoughts…
The notion of leadership as it is commonly understood is outdated, organizations don’t function as simple hierarchies. There are many forms of leadership/systems of shared responsibilities.
And in terms of the Beatles, it’s important to define what we mean by leadership. What decisions were made that required leadership? Musically speaking, McCartney expanded the repetoire of songs since the days of the Quarrymen. He pushed for better get up on stage during that time too. Quarrymen members noted how in sync Lennon and McCartney were. Both he and Lennon wanted success so making it to Hamburg, booking gigs, and writing songs were goals and tasks shared by both of them because they both went all in with a shared dream. So… What do we mean by leadership when we talk about the Beatles?
Given the type of ‘leadership’ the Beatles as a band seems to have required, the idea that Lennon and McCartney were (perhaps sometimes volatile) co-leaders does not seem so preposterous to me. The badge of leadership may have been given to Lennon in the beginning, but in practice the role seems to have fallen to both of them.
As I noted on another recent thread, I am intrigued by this idea of leadership within the Beatles and how it was both assumed and practiced.
I would submit that it is not necessarily leadership that is no longer hierarchical, but rather management. A rather good example from the 90s was Nucor Steel’s extremely flat vertical structure.
I know this sounds as if I am splitting a hair, but I suggest it only because I am wrestling with the question of where leadership, management, and collaboration started, ended, and overlapped within the Four.
In some of the examples that others have provided, I see them as being a management issue and something that could be parceled out to anyone within the group competent enough to carry out the task.
On the other hand they were certainly master collaborators and freely exchanged ideas. What I wonder about is how the leadership role shifted around within that collaboration. This is where I accept your last sentence about both John and Paul wearing the leadership badge. I wish we could have sat in on everything pre Get Back to watch the fluidity of that leadership.
This is definitely an interesting conversation where we need some definitions in order to continue fruitfully.
How are you defining leadership? How are you defining management? (abstractly, then in context of the Beatles organization). Which examples do you see falling under management and which do you see as falling under leadership?
I would love to have some footage of their dynamic during the recording of their first album.
@Neal, it seems like Paul led proceedings in the studio from the early days, but there was almost surely a sea change when John started showing up on heroin (1968/69), or even burned out from tripping on acid all the time (1967/early 68). I don’t think John minded when the Beatles were recording mainly *his* songs, according to *his* vision of what the group should be doing, and featuring *his* voice, and they were also on the road and TV.
“I do wish that we’d get to the “something else” that’s driving this perception of anti-Paul conspiracy, because I think it is more interesting territory.” There is no conspiracy, Michael, and I’m sorry to be harsh, but to me, that charge is one way of shutting down voices. The reason you have not encountered any anti-Paul hate is surely because you have associated with like-minded diehard Beatles fans at Beatlefests, etc? I wouldn’t expect to come across any anti-Paul attitudes either. Paul was heard everywhere, in grocery stores and dentists – which is why his songs were dismissed as elevator music, wasn’t it? Paul has been around since 1962. Sure, so have Dylan and the Stones. Why ‘supposed’ grievances? It is critical praise and recognition that artists crave, and you can reel off as many million sellers of Paul’s as you like (the run of which ended in the mid 80s) but that doesn’t change a thing. Long after Jann Wenner et al in America and Charles Shaar Murray in the UK, and long before the advent of the internet, McCartney was subjected to a constant stream of poor reviews, snide remarks and insults in the press, and unfavorable comparisons to Lennon. I agree with @Elizabeth. Nobody is inventing this stuff to satisfy some misplaced umbrance on Paul’s behalf. If Lennon can feel wounded and van Gogh and Beethoven and countless other artists can feel wounded, there is no reason why McCartney shouldn’t feel wounded either. But he’s a popular lad so it doesn’t matter.
“I do wonder if Paul’s empathy with women, his remarkable ability to tell a story about a woman as though she were a fully realized human, stems from this direct experience of misogyny. Is he (consciously or not) able to put himself in women’s shoes because the world has insisted on putting him there for so long?”
I enjoyed this article very much and I think you made some great points. However, I think it’s more likely that’s Paul’s empathy towards women is a combination of his character and his idolization of his mother. We know that he used to make friends with the old ladies around the area he was growing up in: getting their shopping, staying and talking and learning how they made their homemade radios, etc. In Hamburg, Paul was friends with an old lady called Rose/Rosa? Empathy for the ‘Eleanor Rigbys’ of the world fits into a larger pattern for him. Paul seems to respect working class mothers because his mother was one, and since her death he likely crystalized an idealized version of who she was. Once he has those strong emotional connections, I think its understandable how/why he was able to further this to write about women as full human beings the way he did.
I’m not sure I would classify what Paul experienced as misogyny per se, but I take your point on the sexist thinking mixed in definitely! Many parts of your article rang true for me.
Re: Paul being embarrassing or not cool or lightweight. I wonder if Paul’s biggest sin is being happy. Or at least “acting” happy, rather than wallowing in misery.
Rock (capital “R”) culture loves a victim. “You’re in misery? Cool! You’re hopelessly addicted to heroin? Excellent, very cool! You’re a murder victim?? Well played, sir!”
I’m reminded of James Taylor. So grim-faced in the 1970s, every interview a discussion of his addictions and his stay in a mental hospital. And cool as hell, the critics loved it! But what happened? He didn’t do what was expected of him and die. Instead he got on antidepressants, and now he tours with a big grin on his face. Very disappointing.
Maybe I’m too critical of new showbiz/rock culture. It just seems unhealthy to me. Because in terms of rock culture popularity and reputation, Kurt Cobain did the right thing. You can get any cooler than Kurt.
If Paul never smiled, if he’d attempted suicide after Lennon’s murder (or before), if he spoke endlessly of addictions and rehab centers, then he might get more respect from the biographers and guys who write about Rock (capital “R”) for a living.
The worst sin is to smile and give a thumbs up to someone like Lester Bangs.
Have you ever looked at Rotten Tomato scores? Sometimes a movie will rank very high with audiences and rank very low with critics.
Paul gets good reviews now and he fills auditoriums. But critics in the 1970s, whose words remain and get reprinted again and again in biographies, they were all “Everybody hates Paul McCartney, he’s too popular.”
You alluded to movies. It’s not just the rock press. Movie critics love dark, some would say depressing, films. Especially about real people. Comedies rarely win Academy Awards for Best Picture. When they do, like ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Educating Rita’, the movies feature neuroses and/or addiction. For the record, while I love humor in films, I don’t much care for straight comedy features. They tend to be forgettable.
Excellent comment Baboomska. I think you’re right; drama, drug addiction sells. Being a happy family man does not. That’s the story of the MSM: fear, drama, chaos, death = more readers = money.
I just want to say I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on this topic. Lots of great points made.
I also had a subscription to Rolling Stone for years. As a young adult in the 80’s, I read plenty of Paul bashing stories. That’s when I first realized how the Rock Critics were NOT fans of Paul. But nonetheless, he persisted. 😉
@Lara, I also was happy to read The Guardian review of Paul at Glastonbury. Loved that Springsteen and Dave Grohl performed with him. It seems like Paul is finally “cool”. But he’s always been cool to me.
Serious question: is anyone still listening to these rock critics? I see this argument a lot on Dullblog, and while I don’t disagree with it, I do wonder how true it still is in 2022. Does anyone read Rolling Stone? Does Rolling Stone still push this stuff? The last time I looked at a Rolling Stone was probably 2013 or 2014, but I don’t recall seeing a circa-1975 anti-Paul bias in it. I’m not sure who would be looking to Greil Marcus or whoever in 2022 to shape their understanding of rock music, or who even thinks rock music still matters. To the extent there are still people who believe this garbage about McCartney, it’s doing something for them or speaking to some personal issue they have that has nothing to do with Paul, or Rolling Stone, or whatever.
Personally, I think we’re getting close to needing a correction toward Lennon, who in the last 6-7 years has been downgraded to “worst Beatle” by the Internet. Much of the first correction was a necessary evaluation of Paul’s genius and the hypocrisy of the Saint John image Yoko tried to sell, but the current thinking on the Internet obscures the fact that nobody, including Paul McCartney, was able to write songs like the verses in A Day in the Life, and that as important as Paul’s contributions were, including after John abdicated leadership, it was Lennon’s songs that often were in the vanguard of “the Beatles changing people’s conception of what popular music could be.” Paul’s compositions are often perfect, like a Bach or Mozart composition, where you can see that someone would need to be a true genius to come up with something so beautiful and symmetrical and well placed. John’s compositions are *also* perfect, but in the sense of “I cannot understand how a person comes up with this.” Like, if Paul’s melodic facility is closer to Brian Wilson’s, John’s way of writing songs is like Brian Wilson saying “okay, the backing track for God Only Knows is going to be a banjo, sleigh bells, a French horn, tack piano, and two bass guitars.”
@Michael, I ended my subscription to Rolling Stone in the late 90’s. After the 80’s, I just didn’t care for the majority of music coming out. (Hated grunge)
I rarely read it now, and if I go to the website, it’s usually for a political story.
That’s an interesting question: Is there a must read music source anymore? It seems like since the Internet, the answer is no.
I think Greil Marcus may be one of the few rock critics of the cohort we’re discussing who’s still part of the musical discussion in any significant way — and that’s as a long-form essayist, not as a periodical critic. The present-day Rolling Stone certainly isn’t pushing Jann Wenner’s old agendas, and I don’t think it’s very influential at all in terms of shaping the musical environment. It’s pretty fogey-ish. My impression is that the once mighty weekly music press in Britain (NME, Melody Maker) has either folded or faded.
But — I and several people here have now testified to how the critical environment of the 70s and 80s — for which “the Rolling Stone” can be considered a synecdoche — directly influenced how we viewed the Beatles’ solo careers, and McCartney’s in particular. It directly impact what we listened to. If I didn’t listen to any of McCartney’s solo albums for decades, didn’t even listen to Ram, it wasn’t because I was reading the wrong websites or had committed to the Lennon side of a Lennon/McCartney beef on some toxic discussion board. I was a teen/young adult in the 70s; I watched the breakup and its repercussions as they happened.
Which is to say — the impact of “the Rolling Stone” and the Shout! narrative were historical events. This is part of the history of the Beatles, and and IMO it should be discussed here as such.
As historical events, they’re not snugly bottled up in their respective decades; they do echo — but the echoes fade. On the one hand, I don’t have any doubt that there are young guys writing “granny music” comments on McCartney YouTube videos who haven’t been rooting around in Rolling Stone archives — they just picked it up from somewhere. Maybe from their parents! On the other hand, McCartney’s decades of eclecticism and DIY experiment stands him in good stead for listeners who take genre mixing and remixing for granted, and for whom rock fundamentalism isn’t just quaint but practically incomprehensible — while for the moment (but not forever) Lennon the songwriter is trapped behind Lennon the discredited (or unconvincing, or uninteresting, or irrelevant) icon. Maybe this can be seen as the standard narrative ricocheting back on its one-time beneficiary? It was ultimately Lennon himself who created the idea of a value-weighted Lennon/McCartney dichotomy.
In light of Glastonbury, I think fans have to be careful in not putting Paul on a pedestal of his own. Not regarding his music or his character, but his lifestyle and opinions. The Beatles in their early press conferences stated quite firmly that they weren’t role models, nor did they want to be. It wasn’t their intention. What happened? The idea of celebrity as role model took hold in the eighties once the excesses of rock music lifestyles came in for criticism, and is firmly entrenched today. Therefore, Paul as happy family man sending his kids to state schools despite his millions and promoting vegetarianism equals good and honorable man equals good music. But such moral relativism is no more applicable to Paul than it was and is to John. Once we put idols on pedestals then at some stage they’re going to fall off. And that isn’t fair. It’s true that a great deal of Paul’s music is happy and upbeat, but many of his Beatles and post-Beatles melodies and lyrics are deeply melancholic. It’s the reason so many people identify with him. That’s the real Paul McCartney not the celebrity Paul McCartney.
Wow. I don’t know if this will get posted, but while this conversation was interesting in the beginning, now it seems to have devolved into a sort of contest as to who will “win” the argument.
Seriously, in the large scheme of things, does this question of who was the leader of the Beatles matter?
As we approach the 4th of July, our country is in big trouble. We have a right wing Christo-Fascist Supreme Court who has taken away womens rights, put more guns on the streets, and are looking to take away the rights of LGTBQ folks to marry. Unless we all get busy and help Dems win the midterms, we are going to be a Fascist country.
I sincerely hope that everyone here is as passionate about saving Democracy as they are arguing about who was the leader of the Beatles.
I agree, Tasmin. It’s truly frightening where this country is headed. Unfortunately, the average voter cares more about the economy than about human rights, which is how the Nazis came to power. People always think it can’t happen here, but the separation of church and state has already been done away with by the Trump Court.
To get back to the topic:
I have often noticed female-coded language leveled at Paul as a means of denigrating him as a collaborator. When John expresses himself, he is showing leadership. When George does it, he is being assertive. When Ringo does it, he is making a contribution. When Paul does it, he is being bossy. George said that John was the leader b/c he yelled the loudest, but that he’d never work with Paul again, b/c he is too moody.
These discussions of leadership seem to illustrate the point rather than refute it. Paul seems to be the only person who has successfully collaborated with many people who speak about the experience positively but then turn on him. We only seem to credit those who say negative things about his collaborative process, but there are many who say he was great to work with. So many male artists can be difficult to work with and still have their genius lauded. Where there is disagreement on this point, it is chalked up to clashing working styles and some many get along better than others– which is what I think is going on with Paul. But he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt; it’s not seen as an interpersonal clash, he’s seen as somehow deficient or tyrannical. I see Brian Wilson stopping a take to correct a mistake. He is praised for “knowing what he wants”. I see Paul collaborating and asking for input from others, but he is bossy and controlling.
It is true that Paul has benefited greatly from male privilege (I don’t think he could’ve ever accomplished what he has a woman), but I don’t think it is at all insulting to suggest that he has suffered from misogynistic attitudes directed at him. I think it is true. I think that the insecurity and pain this has caused him can never be known, b/c he won’t tell us. But Paul is riddled with hang-ups. He said he was embarrassed by crying over the death of his wife. He said he worried George might hit him for holding his hand on his deathbed. WTF? I would argue that perhaps his deep-seated chauvinism is itself a reaction to this misogyny. If he can’t be secure in his gender expression then at least he can be secure in his gender role. If he has to be the woman among his peers, he can at least be the man at home.
In view of the fact that women in the US have just lost the right to autonomy over their own bodies, comparing a globally successful billionaire who receives multiple praise and respect with in his industry, been awarded and recognised in his field, was knighted by the Queen of England, and is beloved by a large portion of the public to the point that he just headlined a Glastonbury as an 80 year old man – when most female performers end at 40- to being “womanly” and a victim of “misogyny” and the “patriarchy” is a choice. I mean is the argument really that a man not receiving more praise and respect – even though he receives far more praise the many female performers- or people praising his male partner is comparable to misogyny and patriarchy? This seems like a really uncomfortable take on the Paul vs John debate.
I respectfully disagree, LeighAnn.
I’m not so interested in how these things affect Paul (who seems happy and stable, and is undeniably successful in many ways) as I am in what it means that people do these things. The point of this article is really to highlight something about the nature of misogyny. If we can see the ways that deep-seated prejudices and tropes get applied to a successful man, it might help us understand something about the nature of patriarchy (see my concluding paragraph).
I have no interest in the Paul vs John debate, really. Each is a very interesting character, their relationship is fascinating, but I’m disappointed whenever fans feel that uplifting their favourite requires putting down his partner. I think by introducing John as contrast here I may have muddied those waters a little, and for that I apologise.
My ideal is that even one person would read this and think “huh, that is weird that Paul gets treated that way” and as a result start noticing things. That they would become aware of how weird (and bad) it is that women get treated in these and worse ways all the time.
My apologies if I came in hot. For me, personally, eliciting sympathy for Paul for experiencing trolling comments on the internet- and women, both non famous and famous experience far worst and usually violent trolling on social media- being tantamount to misogyny and patriarchy is just not an argument I personally can be convinced on, nor do I as a woman think I need a man’s experiences to help me understand or reflect on patriarchy or misogyny. Especially when I just don’t think the criticism Paul may get as being all that egregious.
If the discussion is that Paul didn’t get the respect as an artist he was entitled too or even about toxic masculinity in rock and roll, that’s probably more a discussion I’m interested in having. But I think the whole misogyny and patriarchy and relating Paul’s experiences to female oppression just is hard pill for me to swallow when I’m bombarded lately with stories about 10 years olds being denied abortions.
Put another way, I’m white. If I were to argue Paul being called bossy, or controlling or a diva on the internet is similar or a reflection on the micro aggressions or racism minorities face daily, I imagine that some people would be offended by that as well as it is two very different things and it’s just not relatable or comparable at all.
Paul is not just naturally privileged given he is a white male, he is also privileged in terms of his wealth, status, position, power etc. And I think any of the commentary about him is more par the course for being famous and a public figure in that praise and criticism goes hand in hand. And again I honestly don’t think Paul really experienced the worst scrutiny.
I mean I look at someone like Britney Spears- that is someone who was and is a celebrity example of misogyny and patriarchy and still to this day has trolls saying she’s “not okay” or maybe she deserves to be in a conservatorship just posting videos of herself dancing in the privacy of her own home.
We live in a very sad society if, during a current war on women, in order for people to recognize the horrors of misogyny a male has to be the victim. I wonder what Paul would think if he found out he was the unwitting protagonist of the feminist equivalent of Black Like Me and Gentleman’s Agreement. On the other hand, A Voice for Men might find this whole idea intriguing.
@Kari @Michael Gerber @Nancy
I know you all would like to bring the thoughts on leadership to an end, but at risk of belaboring the point, if I might be allowed one last thought.
I would like to take all of the points above!
Kari, I second your call for a clear definition of leadership within the context of the Beatles–a context that is completely different from the team scrambling to get Apollo 13 back on the ground, a sports team, or the Four creating music. What exactly do we mean when we use these terms?
Michael, Your points about the totemic person at the fore/core/helm are well taken as is the appreciation for the magic. There can be 1001 leadership schemas, but that magic, most often indescribable, is the necessary ingredient.
Nancy, you said: “I see the necessity of both collaboration and a clear arbiter of ultimate decisions. An effective team leader doesn’t dictate but does decide. And in the absence of clear decision making, there is, in my experience, a lot of churn and bad feeling.” This has very much been my experience in a technical field. There ultimately needs to be the final arbiter. The best situations are the ones in which that arbiter is fostering a free and productive exchange of ideas in the collaborative process, perhaps not even playing the leading role at any one moment, but can still make the decisions that are necessary. Perhaps not an example that beset overlays into the musical field, but Sully Sully putting his aircraft down in the Hudson was a classic example was one of those moments. Gather info and idea and then make a decision.
I’ve very much enjoyed this thought trail.
@Neal, I’d say that Nancy’s definition is exactly what I’d suggest.
“Leadership” of a creative team is really difficult to define. It is an aid to collaboration, not a brake on it; it not only allows but encourages everyone in the group to bring maximum talent to the venture. Is it hierarchical? Sure—but for me, the surest sign of a well-functioning creative team is success, acclaim, fame enjoyed by several members of the team. Ideally everybody has the things they do well within the team, and each has their moment(s) in the sun.
As I’ve said recently, I think it’s utterly impressive that Lennon was able to continue collaborating with McCartney after “Yesterday,” when it was clear that he was going to become a true genius of popular songwriting. Very, very few creative people of Lennon’s caliber are able to handle that level of ego-threat, and that speaks of a very light, respected-and-respectful kind of leadership on his part. In creative teams, the best leaders are ones where the work gets done, everybody’s happy, and then afterwards there’s a realization of, “Oh,I guess x person was setting the tone, keeping us turned towards true north.”
@lara for some reason I can’t reply to your comment directly. You may wish to view it as a whataboutery but I’m unable to not find myself being slightly offended or feeling like I’m being asked to feel sorry for Paul for being a victim of misogyny, when he’s just not. Nor is that a definition that can even accurately be applied to men.
Again if discussion is about toxic masculinity and behavioural expectations put on men that’s a discussion I’m open to. And I admit I’ve not read all the comments in this thread. But I’ve yet to read any compelling evidence to convince me that Paul was treated like a woman subjected to misogyny and oppression either back in 1962 or now. Cause if it’s just that people thought he had feminine features or Paul writes too many love songs or walking away from the Get Back documentary left people with the impression he was bossy- those are just opinions, possibly unfair ones, but not examples of misogyny.
@LeighAnn I can’t help feeling that you’re responding to what you expected me to say, rather than what I actually said. Let me try once more.
a) a resilient system. It has survived wave after wave of resistance, and every attempt to dismantle it is met with fierce opposition (nearly all of it unconscious, or at least unarticulated)
b) extremely complex. It emerges from learned behaviours, and infinitely many personal interactions. (Again, the vast majority of which are unconscious).
When you combine a) and b) it makes a lot of sense to keep finding new ways to explore, discuss and examine misogyny. Each new insight can help undercut the power of the system, and maybe some day we as a society can move past it.
Misogyny as a system is built out of the things people do, because of the things that they think. And the things that they think are largely built out of the things they’ve seen other people do.
Wouldn’t it be really interesting if some of those behaviours were m “leaking out” and getting directed at a man? I find it interesting, that’s why I wanted to write this article. If this were a phenomenon that only I saw I’d assume I was just being weird. But *loads* of people have noticed it, or recognised it when it was pointed out to them.
The reason I went ahead and published the article is that I think I found pretty good arguments to say that people sometimes act in misogynistic ways towards Paul. He is the target, but he’s not the interesting thing. It’s that people are behaving that way towards a man. What makes them interpret him as a woman? Why don’t they realise that’s what they’re doing? To what degree does their knowledge that he is a man curb their misogynistic responses? I have so many questions. It makes me think.
If you don’t think I succeeded in making the argument that people sometimes act misogynistically towards Paul, well, fair enough. But would you agree that if they did it would be interesting, and worth talking about?
Misogyny by definition is ingrained hatred, prejudice and contempt of women. It can not apply to men. Nor should a man- especially a famous successful increasingly privileged man- be a conduit to reflect on misogyny or to be used to mansplain misogyny to me as a women. And I guess I find it confronting as someone who has had experiences in my life with that personally in both minor and harsher ways.
If the conversation is that Paul was not given the respect as an artist he was entitled to, or the criticism against him is unfair or hypocritical and not equal in comparison to the other Beatles, I just personally feel that conversation can be had without trying to bolster or legitimise the argument by labelling it misogynistic.
But I really have no wish to have round in circles arguments and this is something I’m probably too uncomfortable about to have a discussion on without taking personally so I’ll agree to differ
@LeighAnn, thank you for being so honest and clear about where you’re coming from on this issue. I personally can see both sides. I found @meaigs idea provocative enough to publish, but there’s a lot of truth in what you say.
In general, Hey Dullblog comments discussions go round and round because everybody’s pretending to be a Very Serious Data-Driven Beatles Scholar, rather than a fan with a opinion. Everybody trots out their idée fixe, and days are lost. The comments I like best of all are the ones where commenters share personal experiences that make them feel the way they do.
Here’s the difference, using my own pet theory:
Option 1: “The Beatles fit into the alcoholic family matrix because John was an alcoholic, and anybody who doesn’t see this is ignoring [data data data].”
Option 2: “Coming from an alcoholic family myself, I realized that The Beatles seem to fit into the alcoholic family matrix, and here’s how I’ve found that illuminates the story for me. And I’m determined to spread this gospel, because lack of awareness of addiction causes people great pain. If they can see it in The Beatles, they might be able to see it in their own lives.”
The whole point of HD is communication between fans. Locating it in opinion-with-personal-context allows for lots of varying opinions, all legitimate and interesting, and gives us all a baseline of honesty and respect. The data-dumping is OK–after you’ve given us context for your viewpoint.
It’s really unlikely that there will be the One True Fact that convinces anybody of anything, because we’ve all read the same books. As I say often, it’s not really about winning the argument, but building self-knowledge through our shared interest in this topic.
Respectfully, I would suggest most posts on this site are provocative, and deliberately so, as your tag line implies. Which is also the reason why I find the site interesting and informative. If presumptions or theories about one or other of the Beatles are aired, however valid, I’d still expect alternative or differing views or opinions. I don’t see attack and defend as the initial impetus for vigorous debate, although I see how it can descend to that. I don’t think anybody is blind to the misogyny of the Beatles themselves, all four of them. Paul, as a man, is not the recipient of misogyny. Rather, it’s misogyny directed at Paul by fans and nonfans who USE him to attack and denigrate women. The usual suspects: soppy love songs, granny songs, bubblegum pop, in other words, the type of music suitable for girls and women. The assumption that women only like Paul because he is ‘pretty’ and ‘soft’ with the implication that not only are they incapable of deep thought, but he is as well. Apart from the credence of such snipes generated by the rock patriarchy over several decades, they are nevertheless examples of everyday ingrained misogyny perpetuated not only by men but by women as well. They are worthy of discussion, because they affect me, as a music lover, not only of the Beatles, but music in general. Trivial? Perhaps they are to other people, and compared to some of my other personal experiences of misogyny, one being the very real economic impact of being denied a mortgage unless a male family member could sign and vouch for me in the 1980’s. Hardly the dark ages, but within my lifetime and yours as well, as far as I can tell from the age groups who contribute here. That has little to do with winning arguments, but if misogyny is to be fought then let’s start from the bottom up. l see no need to sidestep the issue because of McCartney’s wealth and status. A valid comparison could be made of JK Rowling, a billionaire who amassed her wealth in a far shorter time than McCartney, who also has several honorary degrees and awards, and recognized by the British honours system, and has had far greater power over young minds than the Beatles ever did. Twitter wars aside, should accusations of gender stereotyping (bossy Hermione) in her writing be passed over, irrespective where one sits on the issue?
@Lara, a note on your first sentence, in case anyone is interested:
This site started as the collected thoughts of a bunch of friends in the publishing business who found they were obsessed with The Beatles; we all tended to use J/P/G/R as exemplars in conversation, artistic models, etc. The idea that anyone–much less strangers–would reply to any post on HD with actual anger would’ve struck Ed, Devin, and I as very weird indeed. We each had our opinions, and occasionally felt them reasonably strongly, but a big reason we started HD was the topic didn’t matter. It matters even less today. We all had professional writing/editing lives talking about things that really mattered, and this was a place we could discuss a harmless mutual love and fascination in an intellectual way. Provocation, especially of strangers, was 180 degrees away from our intent. And I think certainly for the first five years, the commentariat was lauded for reflecting that very lack of provocation.
Speaking personally, the idea that I would want to “provoke” a stranger on the topic of The Beatles is…strange to me. My opinions have been formed by my experience; others’ opinions have come from THEIR lives. How could I possibly change their mind? And if I could, why? When I latch onto an opinion and defend it, I try to show you guys what’s going on behind it, so readers can see my intent, and take whatever is useful to them. I don’t care AT ALL whether a fan thinks John was the leader, Paul was the leader, John and Paul were co-leaders, or anything else–except what I said in that thread: I’ve discovered some things in my decades of running creative teams that you might find helpful. I’m often defending something I’ve learned (painfully), or a vision of what history is or should be, in the face of information overload, cultivated chaos, and a kind of conspiratorial thinking that is actively dangerous for people (“THEY don’t want you to know the truth about The Beatles!”).
As the internet has changed (I would say toxicified)–and as that overstimulated, activated state has dripped steadily into the “real world”–the discussions on this site have become much more personalized, and much more confrontational. I cannot change this; sometimes I even fall prey to it. As an ameliorating hope, I have tried to model a kind of honesty…the kind that you show in your comment. “I think X about The Beatles because of Y that happened/is happening to me.” That’s really helpful and interesting, and I thank you for it. You’re revealing how this group of musicians works in your own psyche, and that’s the intent of this site.
But Hey Dullblog is not really for “vigorous debate,” because the topic isn’t worthy of vigorous debate. Vigorous debate about The Beatles was never really appropriate, but it’s certainly not appropriate 52 years after they’ve broken up. When we descend into that, the site is not really being used as intended. The site was not intended to be a loud, lively message board with occasional posts; it was the musings of a group of friends which slowly gained like-minded readers. We do not seem to attract like-minded readers today, but people looking to explain their chosen truth via our platform. This is a huge change, and not one I’m particularly comfortable with; I don’t wish to host these kinds of discussions, much less pay for them–because as I said to Nancy today, I think it’s bad for people. If someone, like @meaigs or Faith Current or anybody else, writes something I think is interesting, I’m happy to work with them on a post and post it, because that’s what the site was launched to do.
I am hoping that we can ride out this phase of the internet.
@ Michael “a big reason we started HD was the topic didn’t matter. It matters even less today. ”
Wow, I think *that’s* the most provocative statement you’ve made made on here! I actually gasped a little when I read that. I wouldn’t say the Beatles are the most important thing in my life, or even top 5…but probably top 20, at the lowest. I make no apology for admitting that being a Beatle fan is a significant part of my identity.
@Richard, I didn’t mean to make you gasp, but of course I am always chuffed when someone has a physiological response to my writing. That’s how I make my money! 🙂
If the internet were a sane place, I’d say it a different way–perhaps even the reverse, emphasizing how big a part The Beatles and their story (and their era) play in how I look at the world. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t connect something happening now to something that happened then. It’s not just nostalgia for me, it’s actually the scrim through which I perceive my life, and it’s actually rather terrible for my career. Media decision-makers not only glaze over when you drop a 50-year-old reference, they begin to trust you less.
But because the internet tends to increase attachment to such things, I wanted to emphasize that Devin, Ed and I began this site to heighten our own pleasure in the topic, not for any serious reason; it was as if we were starting a magazine about the 1920’s in 1968. Which meant that when we applied serious thought to this long-ago time–Devin from his critical perch, Ed from his literary one, and me from a sort of half-historian half-comedian one–there was created a frisson that people enjoyed. A frisson that I think leaves whenever things get too serious; when it begins to MATTER whether Jann Wenner was unfair to Paul, or whether John was really enraged at Maharishi or was just looking for an excuse to skedaddle, the flexibility and fun tends to dissipate.
I personally think John was enraged at the Maharishi AND was looking for an excuse to skedaddle! The Maharishi was the beginning of his rest-of-his-life quest for someone who had all the answers and could make him whole, and he was furious that in fact, he was feeling *more* uncomfortable there. But he was also just sick of it and Yoko was screwing with his head with her love letters and it was a good reason to leave.
Sorry, just been a while since we had that conversation.
@Michael, I seemed have worded my comments rather clumsily, for which I apologize. What I meant by provocative referred to posts about the Beatles themselves, for example, the McLennon topic, or any other different or unusual angle on the band, or any one of its members , which haven’t been touched upon by some of the more mainstream Beatles sites. As I said, that makes your blog interesting and never boring!
But I do see many of the posts stimulating a wide range of responses, which I would regard as a positive not a negative.True, comments can get a bit strained at times, even heated, but I don’t see your writers in any way setting out to provoke or annoy actual fans who visit the site.
@Lara, I’m glad you enjoy the site.
It’s not as much that Nancy or I as writers, or I as editor for our other posters seek to be unusual, it’s just that we’ve already talked about all the usual stuff. Often when I’m interacting with commenters, I want them to read from Post #1, and then come back to the discussion–because then they’ll get a truer sense of what I think. But I know that context is impossible for people.
Within the microcosm of a single reply, certain aspects or angles get overemphasized–I want to give an opinion its best day in court–but I’m always coming at this from a more global perspective, which is both bigger and more flexible than it might sometimes appear. “Could be!” is my truest opinion.
@LeighAnn, I’m sorry that the article and comments made you so uncomfortable. As I’ve mentioned above in the discussion about leadership, I’m no stranger to the realities of misogyny. I’ve experienced everything from being fully ignored to sexual assault (and throw in for good measure internalised misogyny that meant it was years before I interpreted some incidents as assault).
I personally find the kind of analysis I did in the article helpful in processing my experience of misogyny, but I don’t at all blame you for not doing so.
I hope this doesn’t sound like one of those shitty “I’m sorry your mad” apologies, That’s why I gave up on it last night, but Michael’s message prompted me to give it another go. I do think it’s ok for me to explore and examine the topic of misogyny in ways that I find helpful, but I am also genuinely sorry that you were upset by it.
It’s a hard world to be a woman in, so here’s to Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.
Brava, you two. This is exactly what I want to read on this site.
The Beatles are a place where we strangers can meet and shake hands.
@Nancy sorry for some reason when I click on the link for the comments it’s not taking me to them to reply so apologies for not replying directly. If the point is that Paul was dismissed because he appeared “feminine” I’m just not seeing how he was dismissed. The Beatles were the biggest band and biggest celebrities of their era, Paul was tremendously successful personally both while in the Beatles and after the Beatles. Wings was tremendously successful. He is from my perspective treated like a God, no more obvious then in the James Corden carpool karaoke.
But celebrity doesn’t come with universal praise. I get that Paul was maybe not given his dues by some rock writers and that people have opinions on if he’s bossy, cheesy, not cool enough or too “soft” for rock etc. But I just don’t see how that was or is the overall or dominant consensus on Paul when he’s been mostly been revered his whole life. Or that it has had any material impact on his life or his ability to be successful. Especially not to the point to use as an example to reflect on how women or women voices are dismissed generally.
And really if Paul and the Beatles were female performers it’s very unlikely they would have had the same success and Paul’s career would have the longevity that he has enjoyed.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that ALL the Beatles were described in feminine/androgynous ways, and that this was a — and arguably, THE — thing that early detractors focused on. Their “long hair” was a big deal, and they didn’t put on a “tough” image in the way the Stones did, so the Beatles created a lot of anxiety around gender. The fact that screaming female fans were getting a taste of sexual autonomy and cultural power through their collective engagement with the band was a big reason for the right-wing hatred of the Beatles (see William F. Buckley for a leading example).
All this sits beside the Beatles’ great fame and success. In fact the success is what drove the gender panic and the backlash. What I find interesting, and part of what I take meaigs to be getting at, is the way that people or cultural phenomena that get coded as “feminine” can help us think about misogyny.
I think McCartney is doing just fine and is no sort of victim. But I think it’s worth analyzing how gendered language has been used with him and with all the Beatles.
“But I’ve yet to read any compelling evidence to convince me that Paul was treated like a woman subjected to misogyny and oppression either back in 1962 or now”. I didn’t interpret Meaigs post in that way at all but I can only speak for myself. Personally I never thought Paul looked ‘womanly’ or displayed feminine characteristics. From what I’ve read, I can’t recall anything about Paul as child being referred to as girly or sissy. I can’t recall any such attitudes towards him from teachers and students at the Liverpool Institute. I can’t recall any snide remarks or mocking behind his back from the other three or George Martin and Brian Epstein, or others in the circle (yes, I’m aware of the John’s princess comment LATE in the Beatles career). What I do believe is that feminine coded attitudes directed at Paul were deeply ingrained in class attitudes. And they increased the more successful and popular Paul became, irrespective of what class his critics came from. Working class boy made good. Get back to where you belong. This was first expressed in Hamburg and in Liverpool with Paul demonstrating his songwriting and musical chops. He had asserted himself. Whether from jealousy or annoyance, those around him picked on SOMETHING to rein him in, so why not his facial characteristics and personality? Because that’s what people do; they are hard wired to chop down tall poppies clutching at anything they can think of. Yes, Paul is revered. So are many celebrities. That’s the nature of fandom. I’d argue that Paul’s longevity exists because he put the hard graft in and because above all he is gifted. Whether people like him or not, or his music, it has little to do with perceptions of privilege.
Here’s a song about Paul I’d never heard before. I don’t imagine it got much airplay back in the day:
One thing I know from ‘Beatledom’ is that if your a Paul person – you will forever be a Paul person and if you are a John person – you will forever be a John person so I am not looking to move anyone off their hill. I am a 37 year old Beatle fan and like most of you, I’d assume, didn’t experience first hand any of the late 60s or 70s ‘Paul is just a bit player’ narrative that the press ran with after the break up and especially after Rolling Stone’s Lennon Remembers. I, like most of you, read and have read many books on The Beatles (too many books) and wow, there is so much to take in and so many conflicting stories and yet there are consistencies that we have to cling to because what else to we really have apart for Paul and Ringo who pretty much repeat the same stories over and over again. From my reading and watching and listening, I have landed firmly in being a Paul person many reasons. His music makes me happy, makes me weep and just evokes feelings I have never really experienced with music before. I’ve read a few times on this site that Paul had a ‘pampered childhood’. Well, that is just not true. There are just too many accounts that claim Paul and his brother Michael were physically abused by their father. The most compelling account of this is from the book The Macs, by Mike McCartney. Mary, their mother having a very horrible childhood of her own, was very strict and did not easily know how to show affection toward her boys. She did not often kiss or hug her boys. After Mary’s death, Mike and Paul were often sent to live with their Aunts / Uncles as their Dad could not face the death of his wife. It has also been widely documented that Jim McCartney was suicidal for quite some time following Mary’s death. Paul was sad, confused and felt lonely, lost. He could not display these feelings openly and was told to hide his emotions. How is that pampered? If anything, John had a better go of it early on. His Aunt Mimi and Uncle were considered upper middle class (considering the times and in comparison to the McCartney’s). John had the better neighborhood, better clothes, better food on the table, etc… Not suggesting he had an idyllic childhood at all but since you brought it up, I think it is worth noting that it is just another misconception about Paul which happens a lot due to his way of presenting himself with the angel smile and giving the thumbs up façade of ‘everything is fine nothing to see here but a smile’. Underneath it all, he had his own demons to face which I think left him very closed off in being able to show his affection with the people closest to him. Again, well documented that Paul let few people close to him and even those he did, he was also suspicious of them and displayed and still displays trust issues. Unlike John, Paul faced his demons more privately (like he was taught to after his mother’s death) and unlike John who made his demons part of his image – the sad, disturbed artist as it spun a more interesting story-line. Still does today…John the broken, genius artist and Paul the cute pampered best friend of the genius. John’s lyrics are more deep and haunting while Paul’s lyrics are happy and sweet with no substance. What a bunch of BS!
For me personally, it is difficult to admire John the person. I know there are good qualities there – of course, but as an example, this is a man who screamed at his toddler son (Sean) so loudly he broke one of his ear drums. That is the act of a very disturbed man who needed help badly for all of his adolescent and adult life. Too bad he never received the help he needed. I really believe that Paul (and probably Cynthia and Ringo) were the only people who truly loved him and didn’t use him, didn’t worship him (like George-a whole other story). John was weak. Paul was not. John’s weakness allowed for the wrong people to rs get in his head, abuse heroin and lead him to make perhaps the biggest misstep of his life in letting it all go – letting Paul go, choosing Klein and Yoko over the ones that really loved him. John, of course, regretted it almost immediately in late 69’. The Divorce was not really what he wanted – we all know that by now. What John wanted was a reaction from Paul. He wanted Paul to fight for him. When Paul didn’t fight John tried through interviews and using the press for months to communicate he wanted the band back to Paul, but Paul never did bite. Paul was probably exhausted, done with the whole scene and who could blame him. Being a Beatle and John Lennon’s best friend had to be beyond exhausting and of course, toxic in the late 60s.
The Get Back documentary series as really elevated Paul to new heights (thank you Peter Jackson) which as Paul person I say, FINALLY. More people now, including rockers of old and new can see and hear Paul’s immense talent, drive and leadership. John, although portrayed sweetly in Get Back, comes off as weak, sad, depressed and overtaken by Paul’s non-stop hit making greatness. I have so much sadness when I think of John Lennon. Over time, John has become less admired and much less deified to the younger generations. A lot of older Beatle fans have a hard time with that, but it’s true. Time really did heal some wounds and although, there are many questions, we have more answers now concerning the relationship of Paul and John. It was beautiful, exciting, crazy and at times toxic!
@HollyM – I don’t think I’ve come across anyone on here who has described Paul’s childhood as ‘pampered’. That would be a ridiculous statement, really. I think Paul had a typically Northern English working class childhood. He had parents who were not perfect (who is?), but who loved him and who did their best, and a large, close-knit extended family. His childhood seems to have been happy for the most part, but there were obviously money worries in the family that caused some tension. Again, absolutely typical of every Northern English working class childhood. Yes, his dad ‘gave him a hiding’ from time to time, but rightly or wrongly, it was called ‘discipline’ in those days, not physical abuse.
I do agree however that he was profoundly messed up by his family’s mishandling of him during his mother’s illness and after she died. For him to have had no idea that his mother was ill, be suddenly told that she was dead and that what’s more, he was to bury his grief, not be a burden to his father, keep calm and carry on – there isn’t a 14 year old in the world (either now or then) for whom that level of trauma wouldn’t have life-changing, character-defining effects. That’s every bit as awful as anything that happened to John in his childhood.
That said, John was damaged at an earlier age to Paul, and early childhood trauma that is undiagnosed and untreated alters a child’s brain development. Mimi provided a level of stability for John, but she couldn’t undo the damage that had already been done, and then she probably caused more damage by not knowing how to help him. My own view is that the damage was caused when he was made to share a bed with his mother and her lovers, and not when his father left him or when his mother was hit by a car, but that’s controversial and obviously deeply upsetting to think about if your name is Julia Baird.
I’m not surprised that John and Paul understood each other or had such a deep connection, however. It must have been like looking in a mirror and seeing themselves reflected back.
@HollyM “One thing I know from ‘Beatledom’ is that if you’re a Paul person – you will forever be a Paul person and if you are a John person – you will forever be a John person” – well, that is not true and I am a living proof of that. I used to be a John girl, then I left the ‘Beatledom’ for many years and now Get Back got me back :), but this time I am absolutely fascinated by Paul – his talent, his voice, his physical attractiveness, how he was soft on the outside and hard as steel inside, in other words: I am freshly in love :). I don’t agree however that John in Get Back “comes off as weak, sad, depressed and overtaken by Paul’s non-stop hit making greatness”. I may think some of that because of what I know (or have just learnt) of John, but it is not the impression I get from Get Back. How do you know that John “screamed at his toddler son (Sean) so loudly he broke one of his ear drums”? (It’s a real question, I never heard anything like that, so I am curious where this information comes from).
here is the link when it explains the damage to Sean’s ear from John’s yelling. Also reported in a book I read with more details.
Pleased you have embraced Paul. He is tremendous talent and all around (Beatle business dealings aside) likable fellow. A blessing to have him still so active and spreading his special brand of joy.
“George is whole other story?”
Thank you for not sharing any musings about George and/or his relationship with John.
Paul soft on the outside and hard as steel on the inside? I don’t think so. John and Paul weren’t mirror images of each other. This was very much a media construct influencing over five decades of Beatles fans. They were much more complex and nuanced than that. John and Paul reacted to tragic events in their lives by wearing different suits of armour. Get Back, a film about a working band for a period of three weeks, didn’t give us any real glimpse into their inner lives any more than A Hard Day’s Night did. As I see it, politeness and diplomacy together with the possession of a powerful creative drive are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
@Lara, I’d go so far to say that “politeness and diplomacy” are often actually encouraged by a powerful creative drive; once the creative person realizes how important other people are to getting things out to an audience.
I don’t think I ever said they were mirror images (if this is a reply to my post), my remark on Paul being “soft and hard” is a quite innocent statement that goes no further than its own “cutie-pieness”, I simply said that returning to the Beatles (after many years of complete lack of interest in them), I found Paul very attractive. And Get Back fascinated me – I’d never seen the Beatles in such environment before, I’d only ever seen the photos (mostly) or the films. So – yes, FOR ME this film was absolutely brilliant and it did show them in a completely different light. I don’t know about their inner lives, but it showed them in a way that I had never seen before and I loved it.
That’s very true. It’s very noticeable how polite John, George and Ringo were in the early interviews. Once their success was established they didn’t have to bother any more. Polite persistence by one member of a band can result in big payoffs for other members of the band as well. Letters and phone calls (or emails and texts today) to venue managers etc. for bookings don’t get done by themselves. I think John recognized these qualities in Paul, and valued them, despite his cynicism, and, some would say, his hypocrisy during the later years.
Oh 100% agree, @Lara. I think 1971 John believed, for a lot of reasons, that his success was inevitable, and that people like him didn’t have to “play the game.” But of course they did, especially at the beginning, and any misstep along the way — or a powerful enemy — would’ve derailed the Beatles career right quick. To have a member of the group who really worked the media in a pleasant, accessible way was a HUGE advantage for them, right up until April 1970. And even when John was using controversy to further his own profile (Two Virgins; the Bed-Ins and Peace Campaign), he was drawing on a bank of press friendliness and goodwill that had, in part, been filled by Paul.
I just wanted to say that I discovered your blog last week and for the last few days I’ve been binge reading it, including of course the comments. I love it, as a new comer I feel a bit shy and also my impression is that so much has been said that already I don’t know what is there left to say at all… But what I really want to say (and please don’t take it as sycophancy) is that I abolutely LOVE your writing style, not just what you say, but the rhythm and the flow of you narration. And of course the comments and the discussions are brilliant as well, and I’ve learnt a lot, had lots of food for thought, enjoyed it all immensely and neglected my ownn work (which is bad but I regret nothing 🙂 .
@Bai Lang, that is always such a lovely thing to read; thank you. Much much practice over the decades–a certain easiness of voice and rhythm is at the heart of comedy prose, that’s what you’re hearing.
I hope what comes through is my genuine affection for these guys as people and their music, and a deep, deep fascination with that era. In a more sensible world, I’d be happily holed up in some Ivy-draped university teaching a course on the period 1960-73. What I try to do here is kindle engagement, and it looks like in your case I’ve succeeded! I think I like everybody else’s posts better, probably because they don’t stink of my own sweat.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, HD makes me neglect my own work, too! 🙂
Here is my take on the general premise of this article.
I, as a man, take great pride in trying to be gentle and understanding, and I believe I would identify with many of the things that are defined as effeminate or feminine if I understand this article correctly. In other words, in order to be a “real man”, it would seem I would have to be tough, unfeeling, cynic and so on (as Lennon). But for me it is not about male or female, but about individual personality and trying to do the best you can. Surely male and female stereotyping exists, without doubt, but isn’t it often a matter of culture – Paul being “effeminate”, because his behaviour and music is culturally defined as such?
All this may very well have a say in the way Paul McCartney has been treated as artistically inferior to Lennon. But I believe it is also largely because Lennon fits better with a romanticist ideal of the “suffering” artist who has experienced a lot of tough things, which are reflected in his art – and so his work is thought to be more authentic.
The early Beatles were extremely sexually wild having sex with tons of young women groupies and many were the teen girls screaming in their concerts ironically they did this the most when they had their totally fake cleaned up image wearing their suits and ties during their touring years of 1963-1966,they were typical socialized,(even worse to a degree,)men into the social constructed ”masculinity”, not ”feminine”.
In reality they were like pimps playing the part of priests! It’s no coincidence that in The Beatles Anthology video series that Paul, George and Ringo made ,the story that is reported of The Beatles being thrown out of a US hotel in August 1965 because Paul was found in his hotel bedroom with an underage girl, that is included in the first great Beatles documentary from 1982 The Complete Beatles which none of them had any involvement making, is completely left out of The Beatles Anthology.
Paul McCartney also said in Hunter Davies 1968 first edition of the only authorized great Beatles biography called, The Beatles, that he had sex at age 15 with a girl who was older and bigger than him, and most 15 year old boys weren’t having sex in 1957,and he said he bragged about it to his classmates the next day and that he was the first one in his class to have sex. Paul also said in this book, that he would go into strip clubs at only 13 and he was the lad in his class that drew nude women. He also got another girl who was his girl friend, pregnant when he was 17 and she was 16,and Paul’s father and her parents wanted them to get married but she had a miscarriage.
Hunter Davies says in his 1985 update of his Beatles biography, that The Beatles were no different from any other rock band when it came to groupies and he said they just had more to chose from. He said it was up to the road manager to say to these young women, you, you and you 5 minutes later which is really sexist and disgusting but it’s totally typical for every rock band which is what they always were.
Why I Didn’t Tell The Whole truth About The Beatles by Hunter Davies
Here is my Beatles Pinterest Board and my Blogs,The Beatles Were Never A Boy Band,& John Lennon Became A Feminist & Nurturing House Husband & Father Thanks To His Relationship With Yoko Ono
The Beatles Were NEVER A Boy Band They Were Always A Great Rock,Pop Rock & Rock n Roll Band From The Start