Who Has a Crush on Ringo?
(Or how I re-fell in love with The Beatles, and their creative life lessons while watching Peter Jackson’s GET BACK film).
My sister has a crush on Ringo, that’s who — or at least she did when we were kiddos (“I liked the underdog!”), and once swore she saw him driving a mac truck on the highway (she was five, we laughed hard).
These are the kind of anecdotes that populate our childhood, and there are so many more where those came from. Our Beatles memories are deep. One year, as a gift to her, I constructed a board game painstakingly painted by hand — loosely modeled on Candy Land — with destinations such as Strawberry Fields, The Fool’s Hill, Nowhere Land, The Octopus’ Garden and so on. The player characters? Lovely Rita, Bungalow Bill, Rocky Raccoon, Sargent Pepper. You could actually play this game, roughly, using questions and answers that I’d copied onto index cards from a small novelty book that told stories about nearly every Beatles’ song and why it was conceived. My aunt got pissed that we knew more than her, which we relished.
Her era, our group. Ha!
The Beatles are my friends, that’s what it feels like, and I know it feels that way to so many others that the odds of one other person reading this line and agreeing with it is quite high despite the fact of my blog’s historically low readership. Like any one of us, I knew them through their characters on the screen (Hard Days Night and Help!, in particular), but I also knew them through the nuances of their songs: John counting down “sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy” on the demo version of “A Day in the Life,” or sneaking in “and then a na” under that emotive, nonsense-worded anthem that carries “Hey Jude” — a little signature snark, but still lovely, as our John was.
It feels like a bit of a spiritual rip off in some way that everyone (give or take a few) feels this way about The Beatles so they can’t be your favorite band, but of course, they really are your favorite band the way your sister is your best friend.
They just are.
The Beatles feel so easy. So always-good. So instantly recognizable to the initiated.
Ever since my cousin grew up to play every song in their catalog on piano, a group singalong has broken out each holiday gathering. Their music lives among our love. It was the soundtrack to my most formative relationships.
Even now! My brother-friend, the rapper and DJ, texts me as we swap Beatles stories, in some bizarro other world I bet our parents would have been friends.
Indeed, my friend. We are the offspring of Beatlemania!!!
But I didn’t know them like this, the way they appear in Get Back, the new six hour documentary in 3 parts that I watched this past weekend with such emotional investment I surprised myself. I hate to make statements like “the best” because it’s so boring to compete great art against itself, but given the familial nature of this particular soundtrack I do begin to wonder: have I taken for granted the immense and lush and shapeshifting success of The Beatles’ musical career as just a fact among facts of this world?
Have I not allowed myself to be sufficiently astonished by the ever-changing but smoothly consistent quality of their creative output for the years they lasted?
I mean how rich they were in the currency of just flat out wonderful songs that I want to listen to again and again — just consider the sheer amount of times I want and have wanted to hear them!
HOW DID THEY DO THAT?
But really. How? And I mean in such a sustained way.
Let me scramble the timelines a little bit, for fun. It is now last week, just for this paragraph. My sister-friend, the rockstar, laughs in the other room where she has taken a phone call. I am tucked in bed reading, where the other half is still warm from her sleep. Our bellies are full of Turkish candy and coffee. Our partners are across the world.
A few days earlier she was across the world, too, and I opened my eyes to this text message in New York, seven hours into her day: I woke up this morning from a dream where I was hugging you. I felt your hair on my face. That sentiment lingers in my psyche and keeps a flame warm inside me.
From this recent-past self stance I call past-past bullshit on Lennon when he raked Paul publicly after the group broke up. In Peter Jackson’s retelling anyway, I could see that those two loved each other so deeply that no one could ever take it away, as obvious and clear as the need for a new pair of socks. That kind of love is certainly not uncomplicated (or full of holes), but all that karmic investment always holds the potential — however elusive — for the love relationship to be full of creative accelerant and eternal by nature.
But I had never realized it — as foolish as it sounds, for surely I know that only deep emotional proximity can make that kind of collaboration — just how intimate John and Paul were. The lover-worthy looks exchanged between them when dropping into the groove of their co-creation took my breath away and made me blush. And also the level of trust, the electricity, the biting frustration, the gentleness that persisted while living into the knowledge that they were changing, they were breaking — all of this, plus a heavy dose of sheer fun and play — propelled the catalogue of just-ripe songs that emerged as a pretty long career for a couple dudes with long hair and guitars.
What was the secret?
It sounds hokey now, and overdone, and don’t mind me as I secretly swoon while I put my finger down my throat: “all you need is love,” but really when you boil down all the great teachings, there it is, and The Beatles, I think, really tried to get inside it and to believe it.
Before you start the argument: yes, sure, of course, we are vibrating together in the sweet, warm sap of a collective cultural nostalgia that we inherited from our parents and our specific nostalgias developed over own own personal timelines but also… Nah.
This documentary helped me see it — certainly not all of it, but a big piece of the picture of their success: They quit being famous.
When The Beatles quit touring in 1966, they left behind the screaming fans, the enormous stage. They became more artistic after reaching the apex of fame, not less, as most “artists” would and do when they reach that level of visibility.
They — four individuals at the height of fame — chose to evolve into artists over statue-ing as pop stars. Four young men with funky teeth at the height of fame, at the very same time, decided, together, to leave the road and go to the canvas.
What are the odds of that happening in your friend group, or among your collaborators? For real though.
Think about the enormity of seductive undertows each of the cute-cuz-they’re-talented among them were facing in that powerful current of fame: money, drugs, pussy, as the story goes.
Instead: meditation. You know what I’m saying?
That’s a powerful choice to make, and together.
It just hit in a different way watching this film.
Another way to say it: what happened when they reached the peak, when they could no longer go up, could no longer get bigger? They went sideways.
But even The Beatles had to evolve beyond The Beatles, eventually. The box, as flexible as it’d been, was still a box.
“Yoko Ono broke up The Beatles:” A teeshirt slogan at this point. Well, that is a flat picture, isn’t it?
It’s such a bittersweet love story, John and Yoko. A little claustrophobic for my tastes, but still, pretty powerful as far as two artists in love goes — mythological in proportions, Frida and Diego style. Sure, Yoko could have, you know, not done her finances or whatever she was doing smack in the inner circle where songs were being born, but even if she wasn’t there in the physical moment of creation, I think she still would have been there, you know what I mean? She had gotten inside John and made him want to expand.
Others wanted to expand, too. When George foreshadows the big end by quitting for a few days, ready to explode with his own catalog of beautiful songs, we see the turn coming. It couldn’t last forever. While watching, I just thought, simply, beyond any cultural narrative about the how or why and all those big feelings behind the act of breaking up: here is life.
All things must pass. All things must pass away. (George Harrison)
How could The Beatles have lasted?
I watched Get Back and remembered when an old friend came to New York City to record with a very famous hip hop group we all revered. “I’m bummed it didn’t come off,” he texted me at the time, but when the album came out his crisp verses were on my two favorite songs.
Sometimes I just want to ask the special people I know things like: you made music with DOOM. What was that like?! But I don’t want to be annoying.
Besides I already know the answer: all those idols of yours are just people.
What I got from Get Back is that Paul and John had it and, couldn’t anybody have it then, I mean, in their own way? In their own expression and life?
Now, many who aren’t tapped into their own immense creativity would scoff: no way! I could never! But they aren’t superhuman, as much as we like to project that artists are. Watch Get Back and you’ll see. There are four decent humans trying to locate flow and harmony and hitting the right notes. Think of that as a metaphor rather than a direct correlation in your own swing.
As my friend said to me the other day, I want to take up more space in my own life.
That’s the lesson I took from this beautiful, one of a kind, sticks-with-you film: you gotta live and you gotta love it and you gotta let it go when it’s time to let go.
I don’t want to give all of it away (not that I could, it’s all in the nuance of interpersonal interaction in this film), so I’ll leave it here: especially in the context of all the hours that came before it captured on camera, that last performance on the rooftop was one of the most inspired moments I’ve ever witnessed. The context whittles it to a sharper arrow. Clean through the heart. That choice. That delivery. Impeccable.
It’s a Neil Young-age old question with rockstars — burn out or fade away? — but what if there was a third option? You could do like The Beatles, who even at the height of their discontent and restless spirits found their way towards gentleness, play, joy. Under those terms, yeah, totally, why would you fade out slowly when you could end with a crash on that perfectly formed note?
… And then pick up a new instrument.
Sure, the story isn’t that clean but also, what if it is? 🙃