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.
“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.”
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.
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!