Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

Amidst a few months of significant John Lennon anniversaries, there's this melancholy one for the Beatles as a whole: it was forty years ago this month that the band officially broke up. Dan Charness has a piece on this at the Atlantic in which he says that the breakup was well on the way to happening as early as the recording of the White Album:

"With more time and experience in the studio, each of the Beatles had developed a stronger opinion of how a certain song should be produced. Quarreling became so commonplace—and heated—that at one point drummer Ringo Starr abruptly left the studio during the recording of "Back in the U.S.S.R." Paul McCartney is credited for the drumming on that track. At another point, George Harrison brought guitarist Eric Clapton into the studio, in part to record the solo for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," but also to help temper the band's intense fighting. Many of EMI's engineers and studio workers, professionals who had worked alongside the Beatles since the earliest days in the studio, began to resign, stating that they could no longer tolerate the band's infighting. Can you imagine what it would take to make you walk out of a Beatles recording session?"

I haven't read elsewhere of that kind of conflict in these sessions, although these songs were written soon after Brian Epstein died, which some (including John I think) dated as the point the band fell apart. If memory serves, Paul dated it even earlier, at when they stopped touring. Certainly the conflict was evident in the Let It Be sessions (captured in that seldom seen movie,) but as Lennon pointed out (and Charness does not), their actual last days together in the studio were making arguably their greatest album: Abbey Road.

But Charness certainly has a point here: "As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' breakup, don't dwell too long on its cause. Rather, consider the simple miracle that a band like this, with two-and arguably three-of the greatest and most unique songwriters of the 20th century, could have co-existed as long as they did."

And I'm not even sure it's arguable: George Harrison belongs in the conversation as one of the greatest and unique songwriters of the 20th century. (Frank Sinatra thought that "Something" was the greatest song of the century.) That the Beatles broke up--that there was a period of anger and hostility, followed by a period of silence--makes human sense.

The tragedy of course is John Lennon's death in 1980. When I crossposted my piece here on Lennon at 70, a commenter at Daily Kos questioned why I would say, "Undoubtedly we would have more Beatles music"if Lennon had lived. It's because there were plenty of signs that they would get back together to at least record. John and Paul were hanging out with each other again. Everyone was speaking. And it was only a few years later that the Beatles Anthology project prompted the then three remaining members to collaborate on songs that Lennon had written but left unfinished. It would have been as natural for them to get back together in their 40s as it was for them to separate in 1970.

For the boomers who grew up with them, they charted our young lives with their music. We miss the companionship of the music that might have expressed more of the later lives we would have shared.