Since Sirius Radio introduced a Beatles Channel in May I've been all about the Beatles...again. I say AGAIN because I was all about the Beatles when I was young and then, like almost everyone, I got over their breakup and got on with my life. But I decided that this new Beatlemania brings me back to the original question, "Why, oh why, did the Beatles breakup?" Ultimately, I have decided, that is the question people want an answer to and yet no answer is adequate because, after all, whatever the answer they never got back together.
Several years ago a married couple whom we were good friends with suddenly got a divorce. We were in shock. We didn't know anything was wrong with their marriage, yet they were unwilling to reconcile and that was it. We were devastated. It was as if we were thrown out at the same time as the divorce. Of course we looked around to blame someone for our loss and decided it was the wife's fault, since she had been unfaithful to her husband. Whoever was guilty, the relationship was over and we never had any chance at a good resolution as far as our friendship was concerned.
I tell this sad little tale just to remind myself that is what happened to most of us when the Beatles broke-up in 1970. None of us saw it coming and we weren't prepared for it. We loved all four of the Beatles but we needed to blame someone so for many people it was either Paul's fault or John's. We let our anger reside on that person and looked around for confirmation of our position. I decided that I needed to read about the Beatles to find our what I could to answer the breakup question once and for all.
When the boys returned to England, George because he was too young, Paul and Pete (their drummer) because of fighting, followed eventually by John, they played the Liverpool scene and caught the attention of Brian Epstein, who became their manager and was the one who got a recording session organized. And the rest is history.
Here are a few other things I learned as I listened to this biography:
- None of the boys could read music. John and Paul would write the words to their songs down on a scrap of paper and compose a tune which they would teach to George and Ringo. The producer, George Martin, of the music studio where they recorded their music was the one who wrote out the music and the orchestration. This blows me away. Such talent and yet no musical training.
- Brian Epstein was a closeted gay man and would act out on his impulses, which caused him great anguish. He also took tons of prescription pills like amphetamines. Ultimately it was these drugs that killed him on August 27, 1967. His death was probably the beginning of the unraveling of the Beatles since they tried to operate without a manager after his death placing responsibility on Paul's shoulders to keep the Fab Four together. This caused resentment
- Both John and Ringo married their first wives because of pregnancy (Cindy and Maureen), Paul dated Jane Asher for five years but they broke up due to his infidelities after they had announced their engagement. George asked his first wife, Pattie Boyd, to marry him the first day he met her, on the set of "A Hard Day's Night."
- Drug use really did play a role in The Beatles demise. They were introduced to pot by Bob Dylan in 1965, LSD by a dentist who had them over for dinner and he "spiked" their dessert with it. cocaine and uppers were common as was alcohol. John and Yoko were smoking heroin around the final year of the Beatles. I have to believe that drugs played a bigger role in the breakup than anyone wants to admit.
- Song-writing jealousy and competition played as a wedge in the relationships. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison were all composing so many songs that there is no way all of them could find a way onto an album. Lennon-McCartney, the most prolific song writing duo of all time, weren't used to sharing the limelight with Harrison. That caused resentment, obviously. In the beginning Lennon and McCartney would compose their songs face to face, working out with guitars facing each other, later on they would compose a song and then get minimal tweaks from the other.
- Paul is credited with breaking up the Beatles, but he was really the last to go. Before that Ringo had quit and then come back (during the recording of the White Album); George had walked out and had to calm down before returning; John was now with Yoko Ono who pushed her way into recording sessions, etc., had told the group he wanted a 'divorce' but was talked into staying through the release of the album. When Paul finally threw in the towel over management of the group, he was the very last to want to go. It was just a three-on-one situation at that point and he was odd man out.
Lastly I spent a little time with a graphic biography called The Beatles: All Our Yesterdays. No new ground was plowed here and I am not even sure that all the facts are reported correctly but it was fun to "see" The Beatles according to Jason Quinn's imagination. One thing I did like was the lists of special Beatles stats. For example: at one point in April 1964, they had five songs in the top five slots on the charts.
I still have one book in the wings, Sgt Pepper at Fifty. Enough on The Beatles for one night. Do you have any good books on the Fab Four that you recommend?