Monthly Archives: August 2013

Jan. 7: Taking the easy way out, now

We pick up the scene where we left off from the last post, Jan. 7: On our own at the holiday camp, as The Beatles and film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg wrestle with the question of the band’s motivation in the post-Brian Epstein era and struggle to find a live-show venue amenable to all parties.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg continues the discussion by posing a question to John, Paul, George and Ringo that seems like it has an obvious answer. After all, since Candlestick Park in Aug. 1966, The Beatles quite famously haven’t staged a concert, instead embracing all the luxuries being a full-time studio band offers.

“But do you still want to perform to an audience?” he asks. “Or  do you just see yourselves as a recording group.”

That’s a simple enough question that really does cut into their motivation, not only for these sessions but for their own reason for existing at this point in their history.  Paul responds, speaking over the director, saying that an audience indeed should be involved with whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish with this project.

“I think we’ve got a bit shy,” Paul says before the cameras. “I think I’ve got a bit shy of certain things, and it is like that.”

Lindsay-Hogg, who so badly wants to stage a grand return before an audience for the group, again suggests departing from their past experiences. Get back to where you once belonged? Not now.

MLH:  Maybe the difficulty is also getting up in front of an audience with all you’ve done in front of audiences, and trying to get something as good, but maybe not the same thing. And that’s a very hard thing to get back. In other words, you mustn’t think of getting back what you had.

The audience has indeed grown up along with the Beatles — who are all in their late 20s by now. Paul says they’re all searching for a  “desire” to perform and achieve.

And just then, Paul comes out and reminds everyone how little they enjoy working together.  After all, just three months earlier they were together at EMI Studios to finish up the White Album sessions, so the memory’s fresh.

“With all these songs, there’s some really great songs, and I just hope we don’t blow any of them,” Paul says. “Because, you know often, like on albums, we sometimes blow one of your songs cause we come in in the wrong mood, and you say, ‘This is how it goes, I’ll be back,’ and we’re all just ‘chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga’ [sounds of guitars].”

So there’s just a little more proof that the Get Back sessions weren’t the specific spark that led to The Beatles’ breakup. They had already been known to mail it in on occasion for a few years now, and Paul wasn’t shy to admit it.

But Paul’s remarks didn’t drop like a bomb — they were simply acknowledged silently as the conversation resumed, with Lindsay-Hogg’s continued insistence to use a specific live-show idea as a rallying point.

1968, White Album sessions: " ‘You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.’ " (Photo by Linda McCartney)

1968, White Album sessions: “You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.” (Photo by Linda McCartney)

George Harrison wouldn’t bite. His response is damning, striking at the essence of the debate of what The Beatles are, post-White Album. Are they a cooperative? Each others’ backing band? Something in between?  And what should they be, in their eyes?

What they definitely aren’t, according to Harrison, is an effective live group.

“Really, I don’t want to any of my songs on the show, because they just turn out shitty, ” he says. “They come out like a compromise. Whereas in a studio, then you can work on them till you get them how you want them.”

So for a live show, George just wants to be the band’s lead guitarist, nothing more.

Paul, audibly disgusted at that remark, is having none of it, still believing in The Beatles.

Last year, you were telling me that ‘You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.’ … But you’re saying before the show is finished, and before we’ve done it … letting forth this word of, ‘They’re going to come out a compromise.’ …

I really think we’re very good, and … if we think that we want to do these songs great, we can just do it great. Thinking it’s not going to come out great, you know, that is like meditation. Where you just get into a bummer, and you come out of it, you don’t go through it.

Paul hits George where it hurts, referencing his beloved meditation.

Paul continues, hitting home the point that even he’s fed up, too, but it shouldn’t mean avoiding whatever challenge they’re setting up for themselves.

Paul: [Presumably to Ringo]: So you’re sick of playing the drums, we all got to say, ‘We’re sick too, pat pat.’ It’s all the same and go through it. There’s no use just saying, ‘Well, fuck it.’

MLH: … What’s wrong about doing the show here [Twickenham] is it’s too easy. Like, when we were in the car looking at locations at the glorified boutiques … then Dennis [O’Dell, film producer] said, ‘Why not do it at Twickenham,’ and Neil [Aspinall, Apple manager]  said, ‘Why not do it at Twickenham, because it’s so easy.’ … I think that’s wrong.

I don’t mean we should put obstacles in our way,  but also in a funny way, like you were talking about Brian [Epstein]. … We should have some force to resist.   But just doing it  in the backyard …  it’s too easy.  And we’re not fighting it. There’s no balls to the show at all, I’m included. There’s no balls to any of us at the moment. And that’s why I think we’re all being soft about it.

Credit the director for recognizing the dire straits at hand. He’s right: Without a show at this point, the sessions would effectively have no real purpose and would cease. Obviously, no one wants to be there merely to start recording a new album, with the possible exception of Paul.

“If you all decided to do a show, it should be the best show,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “You are The Beatles, you aren’t four jerks.  And that’s really my job. Because when you’re playing your guitar, they’re not going to be thinking about those millions of unwashed.

“I think we’re all being soft. It’s all too easy.”

Laughing, Paul asks what kind of obstacles would the director suggest the group face.

Well, I don’t know,” Lindsay-Hogg replies, “But that was the pep talk for the morning.”

With hindsight, we can call out Lindsay-Hogg’s instincts. The Beatles had the knack to make the “easy” way work and deliver something iconic. After all, a little more than three weeks after this conversation, the band merely climbed from the basement studio at 3 Savile Row to the roof of the five-story building for the much-debated live show. George, as he suggested on this day, was just the guitarist, and none of his songs were played.

Later the same year, The Beatles took the easy way out again, naming their subsequent album after the street they recorded on — Abbey Road — and shooting their cover  just outside the studio’s door.

For The Beatles, sometimes easy worked.

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Jan. 7: On their own at the holiday camp

Some time passed on the morning of Jan. 7 between when “Get Back” made its debut and when Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — plus director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and John Lennon, who had just arrived for the day’s sessions — returned to the much-needed discussion of what exactly they were doing at Twickenham Film Studios.

The arguments of the day before that culminated in George’s “just want to please you” line may be the moment etched in cultural history of these sessions, but the next 45 or so minutes did far more to define the vibe at Twickenham.

The tapes pick up the discussion already in progress, but the message and motive is clear: There’s a serious movement to abandon the documentary and live show, and, by extension, these sessions, which are only just beginning its fourth day.

From the Get Back book.

From the Get Back Book.

“If we cancel the show now, we’d still be throwing it away,” Paul said. “That’s the way we tend to do (it)… that’s where all the money goes.”

Lindsay-Hogg tries to rally the troops, suggesting the worst-case scenario is the group is left with a documentary, which is something the group could still sell, since money is being made something of an issue here by George.  John agrees, saying a documentary of the group making an LP isn’t the worst if they can’t find a gimmick for a show.

With big dreams of an African adventure still flickering, Lindsay-Hogg continues to insist there should be a show anyway. He’s not crazy about the term “gimmick,” either.

Very quietly, George shares something every Beatles fan knows in retrospect when we look back and put the pieces together.

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

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

It’s a fascinating exchange for several reasons, starting with how they refer to their former manager. Both Paul and George still call him Mr. Epstein, not Brian, nearly a year and a half after his death. The formality of the business relationship never broke.

More of note is not only the ease at which they’re willing to discuss their current state and lack of motivation, but how severely Paul views the band’s state. There’s “nothing” positive in it. And so we’re at the group’s climacteric moment.  These four men seem ready to walk away from at least their present phase as a four-piece. Now’s the time to find a new way of continuing as a band, return to the old way they would record and perform together or just walk away. It’s a distillation of the same conversation they had the day before, but spoken with more urgency.

It bears repeating — this strife and breakup talk isn’t at the end of a grueling, unhappy month, or after a several weeks of early mornings on the cold Twickenham soundstage, as the fable of the Get Back sessions relates. This is after the group has been back together in January for a period that can be measured in hours.

John — lacking sleep, sobriety or both — simply suggests the group just needs a little incentive.

“All the things that we do, the whole point of it is communication. And to be on TV is communication. We have a chance … to smile at people, like (in the broadcast for) “All You Need is Love.”  So that’s my incentive for doing it.”

(Interestingly, there’s very little smiling at the camera in their above “Our World” segment)

With John referencing another Beatles television production, the director’s wheels begin to turn.

MLH: Both “All You Need is Love” and  (his own production) “Hey Jude” did communicate.

Paul: Of course, they did, course they did.

John: We need to think of an incentive, the inventive is to communicate.

Paul: You know, there really is no one there now to say: Do it.

And thus we return to Mr. Epstein’s ghost. No one is there to make them get up at 8 a.m. now, Paul says. They have to get themselves up at 8.  And this is part of growing up.

These men range in age from 25 to 28 at the time of these sessions and have been professional musicians since their teens.

“Your daddy goes away at  certain point of your life, and you stand on your own feet,” Paul continues. “And that’s all we’ve been faced with. Daddy’s gone away now, and we’re on our own at the holiday camp. And I think we’d rather go home.

“Or,  we do it.”

So it’s crystal clear to Paul here, he’s fighting uphill. The fresh lyrics of “The Long and Winding Road” are playing out moments after he introduces the song. This here is one of the many times he’s been alone.  And he’s still waiting by his bandmates’ door.

Paul continues.

It’s discipline we like. We all agree — for everything you do, if you want to do it well, you got to have discipline, we all think that. But for this, we’ve never had discipline. A slight, symbolic discipline by Mr. Epstein. And he sort of said, ‘Get suits on,’ and we did … And so we were sort of always fighting that discipline a bit.

But now it’s silly to fight the discipline because its our own self-imposed, these days. So we put in as little as possible. But I think we need  bit more if we are going to get on with it.

Lindsay-Hogg acknowledges the decision to work at all is the group’s, not his own, but that they have indeed started work and should maximize it.  Paul, meanwhile, equates what Lindsay-Hogg is dealing with to his own work on the Jackie Lomax LP.

“Any other director in the world would say, ‘Fuck off. Get off my set, you cunt.’ I mean, wouldn’t you?” Paul asks. “I couldn’t operate. … if Jackie in the middle of the album said he won’t do it, (we) wouldn’t have the album.”

Paul suggests to George that the group used to “do it,” be “fully switched on.”  And he hearkens back to their feature film career.

“Those films, look at it, that was us doing it.”

“Well, if that’s what doing it is, that’s why I don’t want to do it,” George retorts. “I never liked that.”

Like the day before, George’s matter-of-fact, deflating response draws a pause followed by nervous laughter and a stammered response.

Paul (talking over George):  See nowadays, you’ve grown up and you don’t have to do that anymore. You don’t have to put the pancake on and go out in front and sweat and shake our heads because we’re not that anymore. We’ve grown up a bit.

George: And we’ve done that anyway.

Paul:What I mean is, we did it, the but it doesn’t mean to do it again means to do all that. For him (John) to do it, he has to do a thing in a black bag with Yoko. And you’re doing it.

Several voices correct Paul.

“White bag,” he says.

“You know you’re doing it then, on this level.”

Paul’s argument, that doing something is tantamount to doing “it” isn’t flying. Lindsay-Hogg changes course and questions just what the Beatles are, circa January 1969 and what is it, since we’re talking about “doing it,” that  they really want to do?

“But do you still want to perform to an audience?” he asks. “Or  do you just see yourselves as a recording group.”

That’s a simple enough question that really does cut into their motivation, not only for these sessions but for their own reason for existing at this late stage in their career.

And its a question we hope to answer next time here at They May Be Parted!

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