A wandering discussion ostensibly about the staging of a Beatles live concert prior to the full-band session on Jan. 7, 1969, was light-hearted no longer as the conversation eclipsed the half-hour mark.
The pressure of the clock and calendar is very real if this thing was going to pull together the way it’s being planned — insomuch as it’s being planned at all — and Paul makes clear to everyone else just how dire the situation is.
Start caring. Now.
Paul: If we’re going to do the show here, we’re going to have to decide today. …If we’re going to do these songs, we’re going to have to learn the chords. … We’ve got to learn the words, certain basic things we’ve just got to do if we’re going to do it.
There’s only two ways. And that’s what I was shouting at the last meeting we had. We’re going to do it, or we’re not going to do it. And I want a decision, because I’m not interested enough to spend my fucking days farting around here while everyone makes up their minds whether they want to do it or not.
I’ll do it. If everyone wants to, then all right. It’s just a bit soft. It’s like a school, you’ve got to be here. And I haven’t. We’ve all left school, and we don’t have to come. But it to a scene where you do have to come.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg: The first thing to get together is yourselves totally. And then we all follow with our kit bags and our cameras.
It’s not the first time this conversation Paul compared the experience to school. And as made clear in the Beatles’ biography, we know how much these four men cared for their responsibility to the classroom.
Things are right back where the discussion started out the “Get Back” introduction earlier that hour. Paul loves this band and doesn’t think anyone else has nearly the level of commitment anymore. And he’s right.
Keeping the Beatles as a performing unit, much less determining how their live show would come off, is not a small issue here, but a minor mystery — the band’s initial, planned timetable for a live show – does become clear in this exchange as Paul continues.
“Five days before [the show] is a week from now,” Paul says, “and that means by the time a week from now comes, all these songs we’ve got we’ve got to know perfectly. And then five days, we really, really get us to know them.”
Beautiful! The early timeline is clarified and confirmed: Five days from this is Jan. 12, a week before Jan. 19. Falling within the estimate drawn from their discussion the prior day — Jan. 18-22 — this pinpoints the original plan for concert day.
Flash forward to the rooftop, when they ended up playing just five complete songs. Do the math, and the Beatles end up on the same timeline originally proposed here.
(Turns out they already know those five songs by Jan. 7 — the just-written “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909” and “Dig a Pony.”)
A conversation between Georges Harrison and Martin about a Jackie Lomax session is held as Paul and Lindsay-Hogg’s continuing discussion on the urgency of the schedule.
As far as the director is concerned, the session’s first day – the abbreviated gathering on Jan. 2 – was the best musical day yet. So at least to him, the entirety of the sessions so far as been a study in deterioration.
“If people aren’t interested, I lose interest,” Paul says.” We can’t blame our tours … and so on and so on.”
“The past couple of months, its been this. The [White] album was like this. The album was worse.”
“What, agony?” Lindsay-Hogg asks.
“Just the whole idea of, “Do you want to do it?’” Paul says.Paul relates a story of every Beatle phoning Neil Aspinall individually, with each asking the Apple Records manager and band confidant to reassemble the group.
“Instead of asking each other, we went to Neil asking what are the lads doing. You know, we should just have it out.”
It’s a damning indictment of where the band’s interpersonal communication — a reflection of their desire — stood post-White Album in late 1968, before the sessions at Twickenham would even begin.
George steps back into the conversation with a key admission and seemingly parameters for an endgame for the Beatles.
George: Like you said, ‘Well I’d like to do this, this and that. And I’d like to do this … and I’d like to do that, and I’d like to do that. And we end up doing something, again, that nobody really wants to do.
Paul: If this turns into that, it should definitely be the last for all of us. Because there just isn’t any point.
MLH: That would be sad, as an audience.
Paul: It’s stupid. But it’s even more stupid the other way. To go through it.
George: ‘Cause this time you could using for what you want to be doing: creating, instead of doldrums, which it always is.
The word struck a nerve with Lindsay-Hogg, who was keeping a diary of his recent experiences. “‘Doldrums’ is the word I used. The doldrums have been coming like to a ship on a calm sea.”
“The Beatles have been in doldrums for at least a year,” George says.
Thus, at least to George – and no one disagrees – The Doldrums include the launch of Apple, the trip to India and the entirety of the White Album sessions, and could well stretch back into late ’67. How about Aug. 27, 1967, when Mr. Epstein died, as the genesis?
Today, Lindsay-Hogg – only seven months John’s senior — opts to step into that vacuum as manager/father figure.
“We all need you,” Lindsay-Hogg says as George cheekily accompanies him with an off-the-cuff rendition “What the World Needs Now is Love” in the background. “And it is communication. If you all can’t get it together, that’s really very sad. Maybe what we should do now is let you play a little and you all have lunch together.
“So should we leave you for a while?”
(The lengthy discussion leading up to this point, as covered in the last few posts, was distilled down to a few minutes in the 2021 Get Back docuseries in the January 7 segment).
With Lindsay-Hogg gone, the group fiddles around, seemingly ready to begin the day’s work, musically. Then George steps in and steps up for himself.
“What I was saying about the songs is … I’ve got about 20 songs from 1948, because I knew very well at the moment I’d bring them into the studio that [splat sound] there its gone. And slowly I can bring a couple out because I can get it more like how it should have been then.”
“It doesn’t matter what’s going wrong as long as the four of us notice it,” Paul says as George, now incredulous, sure thinks it does matter what is going wrong as he’s so often wronged.
“And instead of just noticing it, to turn it to put it right,” Paul finishes.
But George is done.
“We should have a divorce.”
Paul admits he’s almost done.
“Well, I said that at the last meeting. But it’s getting near it.”
A deadpan John — mostly silent in the exchange so far — injects a laugh line, asking in the context of the divorce, “Who’d have the children?”
“Dick James,” answers Paul, referring to Northern Songs’ co-owner. (The music publisher would, coincidentally, make an in-person appearance at Twickenham about 72 hours later, immediately before George left the group).
Paul gets in one final point, and directs it squarely at John. He would have liked more input beyond the well-timed zinger.
Just because it’s so silly of us at this point in our lives to crack up. It’s just so silly, because there’s no point. We’re not going to get anywhere we want to get by doing that. The only possible direction is the other way from that. But the thing is, we’re all just theoretically agreeing with it, but we’re not doing it.
You’re doing it with your thing with you and Yoko. But it’s silly to come in and [be] talking down to us, when actually your way out is not to talk — rather than talk down to us, which you’d have to do. And you wouldn’t. And remember, I think I’m talking down to you, too. … We’re sort of talking down to each other.
George wants a divorce. Paul is desperate for John to show up. Nobody wants to be there and they’re running out of time to salvage what time they’ve already spent working on their product at Twickenham.
This moment, right here on Jan. 7, would be the moment that would make the most sense for the Beatles to break up, go on hiatus, something, anything. Everyone’s tugging at the band-aid. But no one is willing to provide the last rip.
All the arguing, backbiting, rash decisions they would be so well known for in their eventual breakup wasn’t second-nature yet. So they do the only thing that really is: play music together.
“OK,” Paul continues, and picking the song most obvious to begin with. “‘I’ve Got a Feeling.’ One-two-three-four…”
And John immediately goes into “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” as the take quickly breaks down in laughter.
“How does it go?” John asks.
And then, astoundingly, the day’s sessions begin in full, starting with about 20 minutes (on tape) of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
What on earth to make of all of this?
Having “compared it to a marriage a million times” (John, from 1976, as quoted in the “Anthology” book), it stands that the band’s ultimate split would be a “divorce.” George asked for it Jan. 7, 1969, and eight-plus months later John would ask for the same thing.
“I want a divorce, like my divorce from Cynthia,” John is famously quoted as saying late September 1969 in Phillip Norman’s “Shout!” “It’s given me a great feeling of freedom.”
The Beatles were Paul’s band, by the time they were at Twickenham, after first being John’s. The Beatles weren’t George’s — as critical and brilliant he was — and thus it wasn’t his place to ask for a divorce. He could just leave — which he would a few days later — and in that way he absolutely held sway over the band’s future, engineering Billy Preston’s arrival and the shift into cozy 3 Savile Row. Conceding to George things nobody else was wed to but having him in the Beatles beat not having George in the Beatles. But there was no getting around his junior membership, in a sense.
Even in suggesting a divorce, George was immediately met with Paul basically saying, “Me too.” But since Paul wasn’t ready and John was silent on the issue, the divorce wasn’t going to happen.
It’s clear the group’s momentum and motivation as things stand on Jan. 7 is founded on nothing. It sounds as if getting anything done post-Sgt. Pepper was a miracle. Epstein is missed, and it’s become plainly obvious. Based on their brutal descriptions of the White Album sessions, it’s amazing, in retrospect, they finished the LP, much less recorded as many songs as they did for as many months as they did.
Paul’s right — these guys are indeed “on their own at the holiday camp.” They’re four men pushing 30 who don’t know life beyond the extremes of childhood and being a Beatle. A day earlier, in the wake of the “I’ll play if you want me to play” argument, it sounded like it was an option for the group to remain as one in name, at least. Now, even that seemed out of reach.
The Beatles reached a pivot point on Jan. 7 to commit or bust, and, against all reason based on their arguments, they chose to commit. To what, nobody seemed to know.
25 responses to “Jan. 7: Have a divorce”
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@Andrew: Dianne (that’s my wife to those who don’t know her) made that exact point offline to me, about the four of the basically being in a stage on mourning over the death of the band (actual or forthcoming). That they’d individually mourn Epstein is obvious, but how they did collectively is a great question (to which the answer does seem yes). How Epstein figures still (and how open they were about it) was one of the bigger surprises for me at this point in their history.
@Lance: Thanks for the very kind words! I always wondered just how chaotic the schedule was, since there never really seemed to be any documentation or references to it in anything I’ve read about the sessions. But this is as clear as I’d ever seen, right from Paul’s lips. Very satisfying. And again, so aggressive a timetable.
@CW: Thanks, as always! You’re right. Listening to it all (this day’s tapes and the rest overall) I can’t get over the dramatic buildup. The story of these sessions really could have been written as fiction. Terrific plot twists, four incredibly defined personalities, iconic moments and a happy ending rooftop and the band stays together) that opens up the door for even more drama to come.
Amazing post! Suspenseful, even though we all know how the story ends. I do sometimes wonder what would have happened (or not happened) had Epstein survived…
Excellent piece, Dan. Linking the rooftop concert date to this discussion (“early timeline is clarified and confirmed”) is news to me.
I hope Mr. Lewisohn finds your analyses as he researches Volume 3!
Great post. I was thinking of the classic (cliched?) Kubler-Ross stages of grief while reading this, wondering if the Beatles had some form of group depression after Epstein’s death and if they’re going through the stages of mourning his death and then the death of the group itself– Paul is bargaining, John may be in denial, and George sounds like he’s all the way to anger and perhaps acceptance…