The Beatles Bibliography Review: Part Two
In The Beatles Bibliography, Brocken and Davis contemptuously reject many of the primary and secondary sources which promote either the “Lennon Remembers” or Shout! narratives in Beatles history. Given the longevity of these narratives, this means both authors regard the majority of Beatles historiography as illegitimate, biased, poorly researched, and riddled with errors. While their decision to assess sources in alphabetical, rather than chronological order makes sense – as they note, chronological assessment would result in an enormous amount of sources for 1964 and dramatically less so for 1968 – it also prevents the authors from more clearly mapping out the greater overall picture. Interestingly, The Beatles Bibliography also emphasizes the extensive amount of post-Cold War Polish scholarship on the group: but, unfortunately, is unable to translate or evaluate the articles and books.
This rejection of both narratives continues throughout the book as both authors, and Brocken in particular, insert editorial comments arguing against the cultural transformation of Lennon into a popular saint, the mythologization of his contributions to Beatles music (which often come at McCartney’s expense), and repeatedly assert that McCartney’s solo material should be critically re-assessed.
Books displaying an unquestionable anti-McCartney bias, such as Ray Coleman’s Lennon and Philip Norman’s Shout!, are castigated for their partisanship; so are works whose partisan reputation is less entrenched. Alan Kozinn’s The Beatles: 20th Century Composers, in particular, which Brocken describes as “subjective, hero-worshipping twaddle masquerading as musicology,” draws authorial contempt and searing accusations of bias: “Many of McCartney’s most profound and inventive works receive scant analysis, while some of Lennon’s lesser works have imbalanced praise heaped on them: books such as this still (perhaps willfully?) ignore or underestimate his incalculable contributions to the Beatles canon.”
That McCartney (and, to a less obvious extent, Harrison and Starr) has been unfairly treated by some of Beatles historiography’s primary authors and narratives is, at this point, almost impossible to dispute. Brocken and Davis’s acknowledgement of this partisan imbalance is a crucial and necessary one, and underlies their assessments of numerous works. The primary question in The Beatles Bibliography is whether, in acknowledging this crucial and undeniable pro-Lennon bias, the book attempts to redress the balance by tilting too far in McCartney’s favor; dismissing in totality memoirs, such as Francie Schwartz’s, critical of the musician and seeing excessive partisanship where it might not exist.
Many of the assessments in The Beatles Bibliography conform to the assessments provided in The Beatles and the Historians, my own historical-methods evaluation of Beatles historiography’s most important sources and narratives. Writers such as Norman, Coleman, Wenner and Kane, popularly identified as having profound pro-Lennon biases, find the credibility of their works dismissed. Shout! is described as “the epitome of under-researched value judgment masquerading as Beatles and Liverpool histories,” Kane’s “Lennon Revealed” as “hagiography,” assessments which are difficult to disagree with. Tim Riley’s biography of Lennon draws criticism for both its description of the Beatles as “Lennon’s Beatles” and its soft, unquestioning approach regarding Ono’s behavior: Noting how Riley overlooks any aspects of sexual harassment in the May Pang case by arguing that wives appointing mistresses for their husbands is an old Japanese practice, or Riley’s failure to criticize Ono’s heroin use while pregnant. “The repeated miscarriages bring sadness but apparently no realization that heroin use might not be optimum prenatal care.”
Brocken and Davis demonstrate strength in their assessment of primary sources as well, and in particular “Lennon Remembers:” both authors acknowledge its vital importance to Beatles historiography but also note its questionable context and the fundamental errors in treating it gospel: “Like a spouse or a lover after an especially traumatic split, he demeans his former friends and bandmates, as well as their collective and individual artistic output unmercifully.” While both Brocken and Davis maintain professional objectivity on the subject of Yoko Ono, reading between the lines makes it clear that they regard a great deal of her behavior, and version of Beatles history, as suspect. Davis notes in her evaluation of “Lennon Remembers” that Ono’s presence may have influenced Lennon’s “toxic, yet infantile” criticisms of McCartney: “One wonders to what degree the interview was impacted by Lennon’s deference to her feelings and needs.”
Brocken, however, stumbles by applying personal and not professional judgment when evaluating Pang’s memoir, Loving John. While regarding much of the story as credible, Brocken describes himself as “exasperated” with Pang’s subservient behavior during her relationship with Lennon, and lumps in Cynthia Lennon and Pattie Boyd for similar behavior. “May Pang’s story echoes the usual narrative structure: Doormat, picked up, dropped, cheated, manipulated, used and abused, etc. … were none of these women ever able to stand up for themselves?” By ignoring that “standing up for themselves” may have resulted in a physically violent response from Lennon – at least for Pang and Cynthia Lennon – and the oppressiveness of a patriarchal society and culture which indoctrinated females from childhood with the belief that subservience to males was ideal, natural and required, Brocken, to an extent, blames the victims. (Having said that, I also find myself, like Brocken, exasperated at times with the behavior of Cynthia Lennon and certain other females in Beatles historiography, and their willingness to remain in unhealthy and abusive relationships and situations which negatively impact them and their children. However, as a product of a different generation, mindset, and happily free from any history of abusive relationships of any kind, I refrain from passing judgment on these women for the decisions they made).
The Beatles Bibliography endorses the credibility of works such as Jonathan Gould’s Can’t Buy Me Love, Mark Hertsgaard’s A Day in the Life, and Peter Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money. While acknowledging the transformational importance of Mark Lewisohn’s reference works, particularly The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Brocken also slips in subtle and not so subtle criticisms of Lewisohn’s colossal stature in Beatles historiography.
The overall question regarding whether The Beatles Bibliography, in an attempt to expose and redress previous partisanship, tilts too far in McCartney’s favor is difficult to ascertain. Certainly, Brocken and Davis demonstrate balance by also noting pro-McCartney biases in such works as Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head and describe parts of Ian Peel’s approach in The Unknown Paul McCartney as “sycophantic.” (Perhaps writers with the first name of Ian are genetically pre-disposed to like McCartney). Given the pervasiveness and depth of the biases, flaws and agendas rampant throughout Beatles historiography, ultimately Brocken and Davis’s work establishes itself as a necessary corrective, using a form of peer review to call certain authors and narratives to account.
74 thoughts on “Reviewing the Reviewers: Part II”
“Brocken also slips in subtle and not so subtle criticisms of Lewisohn’s colossal stature in Beatles historiography.”
Interesting…what does he say about Lewisohn exactly?
“Brocken and Davis demonstrate balance by also noting pro-McCartney biases in such works as Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head”
I’m really surprised by this. I’ve read MacDonald’s book at least three times and I fail to see a McCartney bias. I see no bias either in Lennon’s favor or McCartney’s. In fact his criticism of Let it Be and other major McCartney songs as well as his bravery in stepping out to criticize Lennon’s, Across the Universe as “boring”, are in my opinion examples of his strong non partisan attitude regarding both songwriters. Do Brocken and Davis explain this so called McCartney bias?
“Interesting…what does he say about Lewisohn exactly?”
Unfortunately, I’m at work, and don’t have my notes with me, so I can’t remember exactly what the criticism is regarding Lewisohn. It’s more of a “Yes, Lewisohn is a great researcher, and some of his work is invaluable, but we shouldn’t take everything he says as gospel.” More than anything, its a caution for readers not to develop a cult of Lewisohn.
“I’ve read MacDonald’s book at least three times and I fail to see a McCartney bias. I see no bias either in Lennon’s favor or McCartney’s.”
No, Brocken and Davis don’t specify why and how they believe that RITH is pro-Paul. I see how others could view a pro-McCartney bias, although I personally don’t see it; as you said, in my readings of RITH, I’ve always appreciated how even-handed MacDonald is — excepting his views on George, of course. What I noted in TBATH is that MacDonald, in his biographical sections on the Beatles, tends to believe Paul’s version of events over John and Yoko’s; he also rejects, in several ways, the impact of and altruistic motives of J&Y’s political efforts: he refers to them as “displaying a core of self-serving exhibitionism.”
Now, personally, I don’t view that as bias. In actuality, its a demonstration of source analysis, because MacDonald provides the differing versions and then explains in the text why he prefers Paul’s version over John’s. But MacDonald doesn’t cut John much slack — he certainly it isn’t nearly as forgiving as Norman or Coleman’s works. Plus, MacDonald ventures into risky territory, discussing John’s psychological issues by 1968 — “John was a mental wreck struggling to stitch himself together” — and generally offering greater and more specific praise for Paul’s overall musical abilities than John’s. All this combined might make some readers perceive bias although, again, I don’t see it, and Brocken and Davis don’t provide specific examples. That’s one of the primary failures of the The Beatles Bibliography, as I mentioned: they will assert a work is biased — and many times, will be right — but don’t provide the standards and, in cases such as this, the examples.
“What I noted in TBATH is that MacDonald, in his biographical sections on the Beatles, tends to believe Paul’s version of events over John and Yoko’s; he also rejects, in several ways, the impact of and altruistic motives of J&Y’s political efforts: he refers to them as “displaying a core of self-serving exhibitionism.””
Then I do see how some might consider MacDonald as being biased toward McCartney. However from what I’ve seen over the years authors who prefer to do their own thinking and not worship at John’s feet are accused of having a McCartney bias, even when what they say is based on fact. They don’t seem to understand that you can still be a huge fan of John but not approve of everything he does. There is no way of knowing whether MacDonald prefers Paul to John or vice versa. I agree with MacDonald that John and Yoko’s political endeavors did appear to have a ” core of self serving exhibitionism”. I also agree that John seemed to unravel emotionally from 1968….and I’m a huge John fan….always was. I just don’t understand why some people need to read only hagiography about those they admire. They have to love everything about an admired historical figure. If something unsavory is uncovered, they will deny the obvious, or blame someone they don’t like for the unsavory incident, or accuse the author of bias. I’m not only referring to John of course. I see this with all historical figures.
“Now, personally, I don’t view that as bias. In actuality, its a demonstration of source analysis, because MacDonald provides the differing versions and then explains in the text why he prefers Paul’s version over John’s”
Exactly. Sadly though, it’s not worshipful, hagiography so it’s rejected.
“However from what I’ve seen over the years authors who prefer to do their own thinking and not worship at John’s feet are accused of having a McCartney bias, even when what they say is based on fact.”
I’ve seen the pro-Paul accusation tossed out on forums at MacDonald, but I can’t think of many other secondary works that get that accusation. Certainly Emerick gets it, as does Bramwell, to an extent, but those are memoirs, not biographies. What other books have you seen get popularly labeled as pro-Paul?
Lacking specific examples from TBB, it is hard to see where, exactly, they got the bias in RITH from. I do want to stress that the book, overall, pushes back very hard on the pro-John anti-Paul tilt of Beatles historiography, and that they note, after their declaration that RITH is “undoubtedly pro-Paul,” that that could be viewed as a necessary corrective given the explicit biases in Norman, Coleman and Wenner’s work. Perhaps they believed there was a distinction: that RITH could be “pro-Paul” without being “anti-John.”
“I agree with MacDonald that John and Yoko’s political endeavors did appear to have a ” core of self serving exhibitionism”. I also agree that John seemed to unravel emotionally from 1968….and I’m a huge John fan….always was.”
In Shotton’s book, he does say that John told him that a lot of the political John and Yoko stuff was, in part, just to wind people up. And personally, I agree with you and MacDonald: I believe that J&Y’s political efforts were, to an extent, self-serving. They garnered them an enormous amount of publicity, even if not all of it was positive publicity, and it also gave the something to bond the as a couple — beyond their heroin use, of course. I don’t think many people would argue against the idea that John and Yoko in this time period craved publicity.
I think John’s psychological state in 1968 — both pre-and during Yoko, pre and during
heroin — is something that more Beatles writers are going to have to take into account when examining his breakup era actions. Any fair and responsible accounting of John’s actions in this time period has to account for his psychological state, which we know was fragile, and his drug use, which was debilitating.
That’s another instance where I don’t see MacDonald’s bias: I see him as drawing attention to an important issue: John was struggling psychologically in 1968, and that had an enormous impact on his views and decisions in that time period and beyond. MacDonald may have been the first — beyond Goldman — to really throw that in the readers face, which may be the problem some readers have with it. But its a valid point in that John’s psychology and drug use impacted his decisions, and therefore Beatles history. There’s a Civil War battle where Ulysses S. Grant got knocked silly by a concussion before the battle started, but refused to surrender command. When a responsible historian discusses that battle, they need to note that Grant was loopy when issuing orders, because it undoubtedly effected his tactics.
When a responsible writer discusses John’s behavior and actions in 1968-1969, they need to acknowledge that John was on heroin, because it undoubtedly influenced his decisions in this time period. To discuss John’s first meeting with Klein, for example, as Goodman does — and not mention that John was using heroin at that meeting — is beyond irresponsible.
“What other books have you seen get popularly labeled as pro-Paul?”
Wow….I thought long about this and then I realized I could only come up with Branwell and Emerick too! They’re not even biographers. Maybe I was thinking of commenters in forums and my memory played a trick on me. The only actual biographer that I do recall being called pro Paul was Spitz but to me that’s ridiculous. It seems the only reason Spitz was labeled that way is because he chose to give John a more well rounded portrayal, with perhaps too much emphasis on John’s bad side. So I’m guessing by contrast this made him look “pro Paul”.
“and that they note, after their declaration that RITH is “undoubtedly pro-Paul,” that that could be viewed as a necessary corrective given the explicit biases in Norman, Coleman and Wenner’s work. Perhaps they believed there was a distinction: that RITH could be “pro-Paul” without being “anti-John.” ”
Absolutely and this is extremely important. This is the entire point regarding the Beatles historical narrative. Any work large or small, that rejects the earlier narratives is going to be seen as “pro Paul”. A so called, “pro Paul” narrative is one that sticks to verifiable facts and reliable sources. It will only seem pro Paul by default. Pro Paul is actually pro Beatles. John was a genius. His talent was mind boggling and it seemed to come out of nowhere, like mind boggling talent usually does…..but all of that can be said for Paul as well. Any work that ignores that irrefutable fact, is merely poorly researched hagiography.
“When a responsible writer discusses John’s behavior and actions in 1968-1969, they need to acknowledge that John was on heroin, because it undoubtedly influenced his decisions in this time period. To discuss John’s first meeting with Klein, for example, as Goodman does — and not mention that John was using heroin at that meeting — is beyond irresponsible.”
Definitely…. Which recent biographies have you read that don’t discuss John’s precarious mental state and heavy drug use? I’m trying to remember. Does Doggett? How about Norman in John Lennon the Life? Spitz? I’m certain Doggett went into a lot of detail regarding that, but what about others? As for Revolution in the Head, I think that one book will become more and more important, and considered one of the best sources, as time goes on. It already is and rightly so.
“The only actual biographer that I do recall being called pro Paul was Spitz but to me that’s ridiculous. It seems the only reason Spitz was labeled that way is because he chose to give John a more well rounded portrayal, with perhaps too much emphasis on John’s bad side.”
I don’t see Spitz as Pro-Paul; he seems to veer between being condemning or praising each of the Beatles depending on the situation and Spitz’s own whims. By the end of the book, he seems more soured on all of them — with the exception of Ringo — than anything. I think that’s one of the underlying reasons Spitz is so deeply unpopular; its not just his errors, which are pretty ubiquitous across Beatles writers; its the way every interpretation, particularly by the end of the book, is filtered and presented in the most negative way possible. As you said, he does emphasize John’s bad side, but he’s just as harsh on Paul and George. Although he’s balanced on Linda, he’s unfailingly negative regarding Yoko; maybe some who regard criticism of Yoko as the equivalent of the criticism of John — which, of course, they are not — view that as being anti-John.
“Any work large or small, that rejects the earlier narratives is going to be seen as “pro Paul”
Which demonstrates how anti-Paul the earlier narratives were.
And, to a lesser extent, how pro-Paul works are also pro-George — and pro-George Martin — as you said, pro-Beatles. Paul’s not the only one whose professional and personal reputation was damaged by the deification of John; he was just the most obviously shortchanged. A book should be capable of being “pro-Paul” without being viewed as being “anti-John,” and vice-versa. They’re not a zero-sum game.
“Which recent biographies have you read that don’t discuss John’s precarious mental state and heavy drug use? I’m trying to remember. Does Doggett?”
Doggett definitely addresses it; and, more, notes how it impacted John’s statements and interviews, and how it impacts their credibility. He really braved the issue in dragging it out into the open. Spitz is so uniformly negative in his interpretations I can’t recall is he dwells so much on John’s mental state, but he does repeatedly emphasize how damaging heroin was, both to John’s muse and his relationships with the other Beatles. Norman severely downplays the heroin use in JL: TL. He argues that John wanted to take it because Yoko was taking it, continues to trot out the old tired chestnut that they inhaled it but never injected it, and fails to note how their heavy drug use damaged their family lives, inspiration, production, or relationships. He also ignores all the accounts of John’s drug use during the Dakota years, because that doesn’t fit with Norman’s preferred version of John’s final years. Goodman, as I said, utterly ignores it — he never mentions John and Yoko’s heroin use, throughout his entire book about their relationship with Klein. I don’t know about the new “Come Together” book about John and Paul in the 70’s, although the review I read of it was pretty abysmal.
“I don’t see Spitz as Pro-Paul; he seems to veer between being condemning or praising each of the Beatles depending on the situation and Spitz’s own whims.”
Oh yes I agree. He had this annoying habit of editorializing. His opinion was mixed into every single incident. He even editorialized when describing pictures. Paul has a “smirk” in the famous photo of him aged 9, with his brother, that foreshadows how Spitz sees him as an adult. A smirk? He tells you what John was thinking. Apparently John was “envious” of Paul because Paul didn’t need glasses and attracted more girls. How does he know this? Did someone who knew them, tell him this?? We have no way of knowing because he doesn’t identify a source. And he simply makes stories up. He tells of situations that started out as true but he changes them and puts his own little spin on them, until they no longer resemble the truth. He makes up conversations that never took place. The book reads like fan fiction. The stories are interesting…until you find out they were changed and embellished. No the book is far from “pro Paul”. Like you said, he doesn’t seem to like any of them very much. You almost wonder why he seems so disillusioned. Did he know nothing about them until he did his research? Did he think they were four mop topped saints, then he found to his horror that they were just people and maybe that turned him off?
Regarding Doggett, he is probably my favorite Beatles author besides Lewisohn. I’ve been getting rid of my Beatles books, mostly trading them for Amazon gift cards. But You Never Give Me Your Money is one book along with Revolution in the Head, and my Lewisohn books, that I don’t think I would part with.
“A book should be capable of being “pro-Paul” without being viewed as being “anti-John,” and vice-versa. They’re not a zero-sum game.”
Yes and the time is extremely long overdue for biographers to grow up and realize this. Hopefully Lewisohn and Doggett have set the tone.
“I don’t know about the new “Come Together” book about John and Paul in the 70’s, although the review I read of it was pretty abysmal.”
Would you be willing to post a link to that review? I’m intrigued.
Here’s a fan’s review of the “Come Together” book, which is less-than complimentary, to put it mildly: http://rnrchemist.blogspot.com/2016/09/book-review-come-together-lennon-and.html
“Did he know nothing about them until he did his research? Did he think they were four mop topped saints, then he found to his horror that they were just people and maybe that turned him off?”
I saw a youtube video once with Spitz, where he discusses how he cycled through each of the Beatles as his ‘favorite,’ while researching and writing the book; first Paul, who fell out of favor because he was too manipulative, than John, who was too nuts (my paraphrasing) than George, who was too sour and greedy, and so Spitz finally settled on Ringo. He can’t have gone into the project too naïve: he did defend Goldman’s book, after all. I don’t know why he soured so extensively on them.
“Apparently John was “envious” of Paul because Paul didn’t need glasses and attracted more girls. How does he know this? Did someone who knew them, tell him this?? We have no way of knowing because he doesn’t identify a source.”
And this is where documentation would have made a huge difference. I do believe that Spitz got this particular interpretation from actual sources: Cilla Black comments in her memoirs about how John could be very uncomfortable around girls, and how she believed John felt that, given Paul’s more obvious good looks and easy charm, he couldn’t compete with Paul for feminine attention. And overall, I agree with Spitz’s view that envy, particularly the envy John directed at Paul, was an important element in their relationship. However, Spitz makes it the all-consuming, most important aspect of their friendship, and I don’t see that in the evidence.
“Yes and the time is extremely long overdue for biographers to grow up and realize this. Hopefully Lewisohn and Doggett have set the tone.”
Perhaps someone should send Larry Kane a memo; he seems to be the anti-Paul standard bearer now that Norman has converted: he even repeated the discredited “Paul tried to push Stu out of the band to get the bass guitar” story in his most recent book “When They Were Boys.”
Regarding the review, good grief. Why on earth would anyone write and publish such redundant drivel? A book that’s supposed to be about their relationship but it’s really just a luke warm biography about the Beatles, and John Lennon in the 70’s???? I should have realized something was wrong when I saw the photo on the cover. How cheesy to put a picture of them from 1964, on a book that’s supposed to be about the 70’s. If there’s nothing new to say then why write this nonsense at all? Obviously a scam to swindle fans out of their money. Thanks to this review I just saved myself 10 bucks.
” saw a youtube video once with Spitz, where he discusses how he cycled through each of the Beatles as his ‘favorite,’ ”
Oh c’mon is he for real? What is he, 10 years old? So people really have to be saintly perfect or he just can’t like them? How about the music? Can’t he just enjoy the music and make peace with the fact that no one is inhumanly perfect? Whatever, Bob.
“do believe that Spitz got this particular interpretation from actual sources: Cilla Black comments in her memoirs about how John could be very uncomfortable around girls,”
I did read Cilla’s memoir and I very vaguely remember that. I also remember Bramwell saying it too. Although I don’t remember anyone saying anything about John feeling envy about Paul’s looks. More admiration than envy, in my opinion. It’s certainly within reason that John might have felt envy, but I don’t really buy into the idea that John didn’t do just great in the girl department as well. I don’t see how he would have had time to even notice that Paul attracted a lot of girls. John’s looks were so different from Paul’s and I think they both attracted the same amount of female admiration and attention. Anyway regarding Spitz’s comments, it would have been better if he had mentioned in the text where he got the idea. Putting it out there the way he did, made it seem too much like fan fiction….as if he had pulled the information from his imagination.
“I agree with Spitz’s view that envy, particularly the envy John directed at Paul, was an important element in their relationship. However, Spitz makes it the all-consuming, most important aspect of their friendship”
Most Beatles biographers seem to do this. They take one aspect of their relationship, usually the envy and competition between them, and magnify it. Then they proceed to make everything about that one aspect, while ignoring everything else. It’s extremely simplistic.
“Perhaps someone should send Larry Kane a memo; he seems to be the anti-Paul standard bearer now that Norman has converted: he even repeated the discredited “Paul tried to push Stu out of the band to get the bass guitar” story in his most recent book “When They Were Boys.” ”
What a joke. He definitely needs to stop cashing in on his brief experience with the band. He’s beginning to make a fool of himself.
I think Cilla Black’s observations are right on the money. In Lennon Remembers and in other interviews, for example, John confesses quite openly to being “shy with chicks.” (As an aside, this isn’t surprising, given his early life experiences with a hypercritical female figure.) Moreover, Paul has revealed that he was told by John to stay away from Yoko, fearing that Paul might lure her away (which always struck me as hilarious; I don’t think Yoko was Paul’s cup of tea.)
“I don’t think Yoko was Paul’s cup of tea”
I’d agree with that assessment. Given John’s self-acknowledged issues with jealousy and insecurity, it seems to me that his behavior via Paul and Yoko (impacted, no doubt, by his concurrent heroin use) was more of an elemental reaction rather than one prompted by actual, you know, evidence of flirting between Paul and Yoko. Given John’s jealousies and insecurities in general, it seems as if, in a lot of ways, Paul was the absolute worst person for John to tie his life to, as Paul became an instant measuring stick to which John continuously compared himself to in terms of looks, musicianship, self-control, female attention, even parenting — and found himself wanting.
OTOH, you do have Yoko, confiding to John Green in December 1980, that she was attracted to Paul, and believed he was attracted to her. (It’s the section where Green is discussing John and Yoko’s reaction to Paul’s Japanese pot-bust). Yoko evidently told Green that she liked Paul, and that she was initially attracted to him, but couldn’t get his attention and, after she became involved with John, believed that, while Paul was attracted to her, he wouldn’t make a move on his friend’s girlfriend. (I’m paraphrasing heavily, here). It’s the same section where she also claims that Mick Jagger was/is heavily attracted to her. Yoko then reportedly claimed that Paul only married Linda because he couldn’t get her, Yoko.
Now, there are issues with Green’s accounts. He’s incredibly self-serving; he writes remembered conversations with John and Yoko verbatim page for page; he appears to have lifted stuff from interviews in these remembered conversations; he’s one of Yoko’s disgruntled employees. Basically, all his stuff qualifies as hearsay unless verified by another source. But … if Green’s account regarding Yoko’s feelings of attraction regarding Paul are true: if she wasn’t exaggerating to emphasize to Green, in the response to Paul’s pot bust (that she got blamed for, by some) that she really did like Paul, and if she was/had been genuinely attracted to Paul — who, it has to be said, she approached for money and sponsorship and song lyrics well before she ever approached John — than perhaps John’s warning Paul off of Yoko makes more sense.
That woman was delusional, honest to god. I have no doubt SHE was attracted to him–it was to Paul’s house she went, not John’s, begging for some memorabilia to fund her “art” show. She was about as appealing to Paul as jock itch.
On Larry Kane, I checked his book out of the library, I’m not sure which one, it’s been a while, and I remember Kane describing how he was on the plane with The Beatles, but not in the same little area they were, but heard them kidding, laughing and talking amongst themselves, and that one of them (he didn’t name who) made an anti semetic slur or comment, that he being Jewish, didn’t appreciate. So he turns to them and lets them have it in no uncertain terms, how as a Jewish person, he didn’t like what was said.
He said they all had astonished looks on their faces as he stormed off farther away from them. He said everybody was quiet and soon Brian Epstein came after him to explain away and smooth over the situation, but Kane wasn’t having it and told Brian
“No he couldn’t fix it for the offender” (I’m paraphrasing all of this from my memory of the book mind you) Brian left him and then soon after John came over to him and they talked and Kane felt better and became a big fan and admirer of John Lennon who took the time to come talk to him when he was so upset. (Again I’m paraphrasing my memory of all this) I don’t know for sure who the “offender” was since Kane didn’t name, I don’t believe any of The Beatles were bigots in the true sense of the word, Kane adored John, (who had very un-PC moments) didn’t like Paul (who married two Jewish women) the guys sometimes teased Ringo about his big “Jewish” nose, and George was there too (couldn’t leave him out) so make of that what that what you will.
Next comment: Regarding John Green’s book Dakota Days, I am one who tends to believe it’s pretty much accurate. Long ago conversations Green had with the princinpals of his memoirs are not expected to be “verbatim” quoted gospel etched in stone, but “gist” of what was said by whom, to move along the narrative. At least that’s my take on it. In conversations with friends about long ago conversations, that’s what we go by, and if something said is especially noteworthy, we’ll ask, “Those exact words? Like that?”,
to clarify if it is gist or verbatim. Community, am I being understood or am I clear as muddy water?
Anyway, I believe Yoko confided to Green that she liked Paul (She approached him first, from outta nowhere, at Cavendish if I’m not mistaken, at a time she claimed she never heard of The Beatles.) I believe she took his ‘politeness’, as he liked her too.
She thought Paul wanted her but settled for Linda due to his friendship with John just screams “I’m-All-That-And-A-Bag-Of-Chips-Too (arm wave, fingersnaps) NARCISSIST!
I know Green wanted to sell books but I doubt he had any reason to lie about that. Why is it that anybody that was ever in Yoko’s orbit and came away with a negative opinion of her, was always described as disgruntled, self serving, jealous or picking on her because of their racism or sexism? (Which I know she had experienced just like other women, and people of color) but it’s her go to mantra whenever someone calls out her bs.
I have a question for one and all about something I noticed in the Spitz bio. He says Paul’s mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1948, not 1956. (Carlin’s Paul bio says the same thing, but he may have gotten it from Spitz.) Spitz quotes Mary’s sister-in-law Dill on the subject, and if true, it may have been known to very few people within the family. Mary’s family is rarely, if ever, mentioned as being in the picture.
It’s curious how assertions such as this will show up here and there, like Paul being born in a state of white asphyxia according to Lewisohn and at least one other book, though I can’t recall which.
The newborn condition was fleeting, but if the early but hidden cancer diagnosis is true, I have to wonder what impact it had.
We’ve had discussions on the timing claim in Spitz’s book, Laura, because you’re right: there’s a significant amount of difference between a 1948 diagnosis, happening when Paul is 6, and a 1956 diagnosis, occurring when Paul is 14. As abrupt and devastating as the 1956 timeline is, a 1948 diagnosis essentially means that Paul and Mike spent much of their childhoods and early adolescence under a cloud of uncertainty and potential grief in a household that, evidently, did not discuss things openly: Paul and Mike didn’t even know what Mary actually died of until 1967. Auntie Dill would seemingly be a very good source for this (of course, Mimi would seemingly also be a good source to recount the evening of John’s birth) but without buttressing evidence, it only qualifies as unverified eyewitness testimony. It’s a shame that such a crucial chronological issue — one that could potentially change our understanding of Paul’s childhood — hasn’t been checked out. In all honesty, that was one of the issues I had expected clarity on from Lewisohn, but to my recollection, he never addresses the potential disparity in “Tune In,”; he goes with the traditional 1956 timeline.
I’m baffled by the comment about Ulysses Grant. I’m not aware of any battle where this occurred. In no way should this be taken as implying anything less than wholehearted appreciation for your work.
I’m going purely off of a memory of a graduate school lecture with that reference to Grant, so there’s certainly a possibility that it was a different American Civil War General who fought for the Union; possibly Burnside. My memory says its Grant, but my notes are at my office.
Have you done a lot of reading on the American Civil War? It’s one of my favorite historical subjects. The treasure trove of sources we have on it is just astonishing. I’m especially interested in the diplomatic relations during the war; its a subject that doesn’t get too much attention in basic level American history classes, but the relations with England and especially France were important. I also find it fascinating how so much of the carnage of the Civil War foreshadowed WWI; one of the great ironies is that both the British and the French (but especially the British) were appalled at the casualty rates at battles like Shiloh or Antietam, declaring in their newspapers that civilized countries don’t fight these kinds of wars. Then half a century later you had the Somme and Verdun, which make Gettysburg look trivial in comparison.
I know; that was a long non-Beatles related tangent. But I find Civil War history and historiography fascinating, and I’m always hoping to find others who do so as well.
LikeLiked by 1 person
What you described seems to match the experience of Fighting Joe Hooker just before the battle of Chancellorsville – which he lost. Grant never lost a battle. And I LOVE your blog.
Ah, so it was Hooker. Thanks.
And thanks for the praise for the blog: I’m glad you enjoy it, and that you’re going through the older posts. If you find more things in the older posts you want to comment on, feel free: Karen or I will see it when we post it.
So, I typed up a long response, and wordpress ate it. Sigh. I’ll try to hit the main points before I have to leave.
In the author’s defense, the cover probably wasn’t up to them: the publisher’s marketing department probably said “We need a picture of John and Paul together, one that’s particularly cheap and/or copyright free, and instantly recognizable as John and Paul,” and that’s what the cover got. Once you surrender the manuscript, at least in my experience, most of the decisions on everything else are out of your hands.
I don’t know why authors continue to put out books examining the Beatles, and John and Paul, from these tired, exhausted old angles. So many exciting concepts — a biography of Klein, an examination of John and Paul’s friendship in the 70’s — are marred by poor execution, shoddy methodology, and an insistence on being locked into viewing Beatles history through tired old narratives.
“but I don’t really buy into the idea that John didn’t do just great in the girl department as well.”
Cilla mentions that as well; even though she speculates that John felt inferior to Paul in the looks and charm departments, she still notes how he was immensely attractive to girls. I don’t think we have enough evidence to declare that John envied Paul’s looks, although I do think we have enough to say that he certainly noted them.
On the subject of looks, here’s an article on which features people tend to identify as attractive, and the article mentions Paul: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/01/science/nothing-becomes-a-man-more-than-a-woman-s-face.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Larry Kane is another whose work has become increasingly disappointing. I genuinely enjoyed “Ticket to Ride;” they were somewhat padded memoirs, but were, for the most part, impartial and interesting, from an interesting perspective. His attempts to venture into more secondary works, however, have been methodologically shoddy and increasingly partisan and John-apologist, and demonstrate virtually no basic source analysis, either for credibility or factual accuracy: in addition to the Paul/Stu/bass story, he also repeats Yoko’s claim that she met John’s Uncle George on her first visit with Mimi, although George had been dead since before John met Paul. He does seem to be attempting to milk his somewhat tenuous connection to the band for all its worth — someone on the SHF declared that, for the Will Ferrel movie Anchorman (which I’ve never seen) Ferrell declares in the special features that they based the Ron Burgundy character on Larry Kane, because he comes across as so self-important and self-absorbed, but I can’t testify to that, since I haven’t seen the video.
“Once you surrender the manuscript, at least in my experience, most of the decisions on everything else are out of your hands.”
Oh yes I’m sure of that. I wasn’t blaming the author for that. It’s probably the publishers fault? In fact the subject matter may even be the publishers fault. The author may have been asked for a book dealing with this particular subject and he couldn’t uncover enough material to fill an entire book so he had to pad it out. Almost exactly like the analogy the reviewer used about the high school kid trying to pad out a paper to meet the page limit. I know next to nothing about this so correct me if I’m wrong.
. “I don’t think we have enough evidence to declare that John envied Paul’s looks,”
No we certainly don’t have enough. Actually we don’t have any as far as I know. I think Cilla and Bob Spitz were speculating and assuming that John had to be envious of Paul’s looks because Paul was so good-looking. What they don’t seem to notice is that John was just as good looking as Paul, and while we’re on the subject, so was George for that matter. John was just as handsome and sexuality attractive as Paul, but in a different way. Which means he was attractive to girls who wouldn’t necessarily be attracted to Paul. And again George would have had his share of female admirers. Even Ringo had his own separate group of female followers. For instance Maureen was never attracted to Paul. From the beginning she was always attracted to Ringo. I don’t think any of them had time to be envious of each other’s looks and ability to attract girls. That’s why I never bought the story that Paul wanted Pete out of the group because he was too good looking. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Most Beatles books contain these tired, silly, trite narratives that make no sense. You would think they were writing for an audience of sixth graders.
“genuinely enjoyed “Ticket to Ride;” they were somewhat padded memoirs,”
I enjoyed it too but with a lot of reservations. I have to disagree that it was impartial. I think Kane immediately established himself, almost from the first page, as a John fan boy. At first I thought, “Oh he probably got closer to John than the others, so naturally he has more to say about John.” John did seem to become very friendly with journalists. Kane isn’t the only reporter John seemed to get very close to. But after a while I noticed that he was subtly following the Lennon Remembers Narrative. John was the great one, the one Kane talked about the most and obviously admired the most, but George and Ringo were wonderful too. Paul on the other hand was definitely portrayed with a critical slant. At the Capitol Records garden party for instance, Larry emphasizes that
of course John, George and Ringo would rather have been anywhere but there, and of course they didn’t try to hide it. Paul however, made an effort to engage with the people he was meeting, especially (at least from my impression of the photos) the kids and teenage fans who passed by them. Larry Kane predictably labels Paul a phony or a slick p.r guy for his efforts. Hmmm…He wasn’t simply trying to make the best of a situation that they couldn’t avoid? Or maybe in spite of himself, he actually found that he was enjoying meeting new people, especially kids and teenage fans? As I’ve said before, I can’t stand when Beatles people try to fit them into meaningless characterizations based on Philip Norman’s book and John Lennon’s Rolling Stone interview. Every time Paul so much as smiled or didn’t look unhappy, he was a “p.r. guy” or a phony. Kane also practically calls Paul a racist. I also didn’t like the fact that Kane tells us about Brian supposedly hitting on him. Why would Brian hit on Larry Kane? It just doesn’t ring true. Did Brian go around hitting on reporter’s? Was he also in the habit of hitting on straight men? Finally Kane is guilty of what a lot of male, Beatles memoir writers do, especially ones that were reporter’s. They erase George, Paul, and Ringo from the story. Everything that was said, every joke made, every incident has John at it’s center. When he describes watching the Beatles on stage, he only describes John. There’s also an incident where one of the band jumped into a pool in Florida, with one of the Exciters (a black woman) and there was a small scandal in the local papers. The Beatle who jumped into the pool was Ringo, but for some reason Kane writes that it was John. Of course it just had to be John because John was the edgy, visionary one, who pushed boundaries and didn’t give a damn about appearances. John was the social warrior right? So it had to be him. It couldn’t have been Ringo. Ringo doesn’t fit the tired narrative.
Yeah, perhaps “impartial” wasn’t the most accurate description of “Ticket To Ride.” Less biased than his later works, perhaps?
What I find interesting is the reaction — or lack thereof — to Kane’s implication that Paul was/is racist against African-Americans. The first time I read that in Kane’s book, I paused and went back to re-read it, wondering if I had misunderstood what Kane was trying to say — surely he wasn’t accusing Paul, the Beatle with the reputation for being the most outspoken against segregation — with being secretly racist, (not even Coleman or Norman or Christgau did that) but the misinterpretation wasn’t mine.
But I’ve never seen any widespread discussion of that on Beatles boards: did people pretty much ignore it as Larry Kane ramblings, or it was it too volatile of a topic? I don’t see it mentioned on the reader reviews of Kane’s book on Amazon, for example. And in all the numerous interviews Kane did and continues to do on the Beatles — he’s in the new “Eight Days a Week” documentary, for example — does anyone ask him if he genuinely believes that Paul McCartney is/was secretly discriminatory against African-Americans, simply because Paul said a phrase — some of my best friends are African-Americans — that is a loaded phrase only in one particular nation and in later time periods? In “When They Were Boys” Kane emphasizes how Paul was the most outspoken, initially, against racial segregation in the United States: was that an example of Kane implicitly backtracking from his previous implications? Did he face any sort of backlash for it? There are so many questions I’d love to ask Beatles authors and journalists.
“Finally Kane is guilty of what a lot of male, Beatles memoir writers do, especially ones that were reporter’s. They erase George, Paul, and Ringo from the story.”
And this is where I’ve love to understand ‘why.’ When we’re dealing with retrospective accounts like Kane’s, than the John-adoration and biases of the 1970s and 80s and beyond have to be taken into account, but the pervasiveness of that perspective and their overt and obvious preference for John is something that I’d really like to get to the root of. Was there something about John that just strongly appealed to male journalists? All the Beatles were charismatic in varying ways — Lewisohn makes that very clear; they were always extraordinary, and John and Paul in particular were regarded as extraordinary human beings — but John’s charisma must have been off the charts. It’s interesting to me that its reporters and journalists that commonly perpetuate this view; not other musicians or studio employees who saw the Beatles together. Emerick gets a lot of flack for his pro-Paul memoirs, but its striking to me that the Beatles engineers did not all swoon over John: Ken Scott preferred George, where Emerick obviously preferred Paul, and Norman Smith seemed to change his mind depending on what day of the week it was. What is it about the occupation of journalists, and esp. male journalists — the Kane’s, the Wenner’s, the Christgau’s, the Normans, the Coleman’s — that makes them make excuses for John, tell the story from a John-centric POV, ignore John’s negative qualities, and leave out/ignore contradictory evidence in order to build up a cult of John?
“simply because Paul said a phrase — some of my best friends are African-Americans — ”
Correct me if I’m wrong Erin, because I don’t have the book or the accompanying audio in front of me, but I think the exact quote (or almost the exact quote) was, “If a black person were to sit next to me, I’d say ‘great’ ya know”? Paul was discussing the Beatles’ recent stipulation that if the Florida show was segregated they would not play. Before this particular quote Paul was discussing how, in England it makes no difference where black people sit or whether they are sitting next to white people. It makes no difference at all. He was describing the practice of segregation as unheard of in England. Then he followed up with this ‘ ya know’ comment. He was describing his thoughts about segregation through the eyes of an English person. All of this is very obvious on the audio interview but if I’m not mistaken, and again I’m going from memory, in the book Kane simply mentions Paul’s comment out of context, about sitting next to black people, then he simply follows this up with a comment of his own, that he can’t say whether or not Paul was racist. Well of course you “can’t say” if you’re going to print this one quote, taken out of context. However there is audio widely available of every interview, including this one, where you hear the quote in its proper context. Paul’s comment was rather inarticulate. All of the Beatles were in the habit of constantly saying, ‘ ya know’, after practically every comment and it’s very annoying. But why would Kane print this quote out of context and follow it up with his own editorial on who is “racist”? To me it seems he had an angle….the same angle Norman had in Shout. And personally, I think he dislikes Paul because Paul didn’t want to participate or help in any way with Kane’s book. I have to run right now but I will reply to your other points later!
My memory is that it was Paul’s use of the phrase “Some of my best friends are black,” not the “y’know” from Paul on the topic of segregation that made Kane suspect Paul’s thoughts on the issue. Here’s the excerpt from “Ticket to Ride,” although Kane may have discussed it elsewhere:
“(Paul’s) reference — some of my best friends are colored — was a tell-tale phrase of subtle prejudice used by people itching to profess their tolerance by claims of association with minorities. Did that coded meaning apply in Paul’s case? I can’t be certain, but his comments made me wonder.” Ticket to Ride, 2003, pg .40
And yes, after re-reading my “Ticket to Ride” notes, its level of objectivity continues to fall in my estimation; I was being too generous to Kane in my memory.
“He was describing his thoughts about segregation through the eyes of an English person.”
Precisely. Yes; “some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)” is a somewhat loaded phrase, today, for Americans. What Kane evidently doesn’t take into consideration is 1. Whether it was a loaded phrase for the English and/or 2. Whether it was a loaded phrase in that particular time period, or whether he is projecting the phrase back to a time period forty year earlier and across an Anglo-American cultural divide.
Just as importantly, Kane evidently doesn’t consider, at least in “Ticket to Ride,” that we have no corresponding evidence whatsoever that Paul was or has ever exhibited any sort of anti African-American prejudice: instead, you have other sources noting that he was the most outspoken against segregationist practices and is bluntly negative and condemning of such practices in his Maureen Cleave interview. There was another article, whose origin I can’t find, which discusses Paul’s support of one of Liverpool’s predominantly Black bands, and his close friendship with and genuine support of Jimi Hendrix. Frankly, I’m surprised Kane’s interpretation made it past his publisher’s editorial page; an accusation of ‘subtle’ racial prejudice against Paul McCartney — on the basis of such tenuous evidence and in the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary — is a pretty big one to make. Which is why I’m surprised I’ve never seen much of a fan reaction to it. But perhaps I just haven’t been looking in the right places.
“All of the Beatles were in the habit of constantly saying, ‘ ya know’, after practically every comment and it’s very annoying.”
Agree with this 1000x. 🙂 It’s understandable — getting pestered with questions, often inane ones, from morning till night — but the “y’know?” is annoyingly ubiquitous. Having said that, I have to do a lot of public speaking, and I prefer a thousand “y’knows?” to one “Ummmm…”
“My memory is that it was Paul’s use of the phrase “Some of my best friends are black,” not the “y’know” from Paul on the topic of segregation that made Kane suspect Paul’s thoughts on the issue”
I’m confused because I could have sworn that in the audio of the interview, Paul says, “A black person can sit down next to me and I’d say, great, ya know?” I can hear him saying it just like that, in my mind although he probably did use the term ‘colored’ instead of black. Everyone did in those days. Maybe before that he did say ‘some of my best friends are black’, but I really don’t remember. If he did actually use that phrase I can understand why Kane would have suspected he was racist.
“Whether it was a loaded phrase in that particular time period,”
That’s a good question. I’m not sure about 1964 because I was very, very young, but a few years later, maybe around 1968, I think it was already suspect. Maybe Karen or someone else who was old enough in 1964 can help. I’m curious about that.
“Whether it was a loaded phrase in that particular time period, or whether he is projecting the phrase back to a time period forty year earlier and across an Anglo-American cultural divide.”
You know my gut tells me this is exactly what he was inadvertently doing. That is if Paul even said it in the first place. Kane could have just mis-remembered and put that in his book before he refreshed his memory by listening to the audio. I wouldn’t be surprised. So many of these books are poorly put together. I should listen to my audio to refresh my own memory but I’d have to find it on my iPod.
“Frankly, I’m surprised Kane’s interpretation made it past his publisher’s editorial page; an accusation of ‘subtle’ racial prejudice against Paul McCartney — on the basis of such tenuous evidence and in the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary — is a pretty big one to make.”
It’s almost slanderous. I wouldn’t be surprised if perhaps it was taken out of later printings of the book. Maybe that’s why no one mentions it. Maybe only people who have much older printings know it exists. This brings me to another problem I have with people like Kane. Slightly off topic, but he knows nothing about the Beatles. All he knows is what he probably read in Shout or the Coleman book. He knows nothing about Paul’s comments to Maureen Cleave or his admiration for and friendship with Jimi Hendrix. Writing a memoir is fine, but he has no business writing a 400 page biography about the band.
LikeLiked by 1 person
” In “When They Were Boys” Kane emphasizes how Paul was the most outspoken, initially, against racial segregation in the United States: was that an example of Kane implicitly backtracking from his previous implications? Did he face any sort of backlash for it?”
Could be. It’s possible Paul got wind of it and was understandably angry.
“Was there something about John that just strongly appealed to male journalists?”
John was extremely friendly toward male journalists. He seemed to take them into his confidence, confiding in them and talking, late into the night with them, about introspective subjects. I think that’s what it was. He appealed to their vanity. They came away thinking they had a close friend for life in John Lennon. The others didn’t seem to be interested in reporters so by contrast they probably appeared aloof or just not that interesting. Paul seemed to latch onto women, especially slightly older ones or even much older ones. But John latched onto male reporters.
“It’s interesting to me that its reporters and journalists that commonly perpetuate this view; not other musicians or studio employees who saw the Beatles together.”
Exactly. Because John wasn’t overly nice to anyone else, only male journalists. Not that John wasn’t nice to everyone. I’m sure he was. I’ve read that he had lovely manners and could be very nice. But it seems he zeroed in on male journalists, thus earning their love and loyalty forever.
I find this discussion of race and the Beatles fascinating. I’m glad that (apparently) Eight Days a Week explores it a little bit.
I for one would also love to know more about the “scandal” between Ringo and the member of The Exciters.
Hi Rose. Apparently it was quite scandalous for a white man to swim alone, with an African-American woman in the Jim Crow south. Hard to believe. I guess being British Ringo had no idea of the cultural differences. Not that he would have cared if he’d known.
I was just going to ask if you’d seen the documentary, Rose, but the “apparently” in your post tipped me off that you hadn’t. If you or anyone else has, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’m finding the discussion interesting as well, although I don’t think there’s much more to explore down the Larry Kane avenue. I’m unsure whether his speculation regarding Paul’s theoretical prejudices made it past the first edition of the book — mine was a 2003 edition. I’ll try and find that article about Paul’s support for the Liverpool band when I get a chance, because it was a very interesting one.
As do I. And I confess that I’m not as charitable as you, Erin, in letting them off the hook, rightly or wrongly (and probably wrongly). There are plenty of women of that era who did not and would not subject themselves to abuse from their partners. Having said that, I’m not so much exasperated by their inability to assert themselves as much as I am by their refusal to accept responsibility for their own behaviour so many years later. But that’s a whole `nuther topic.
Kane is an idiot. Paul’s comment– “A black person can sit down next to me and I’d say, great, ya know?” is nothing more than an example of Paul’s characteristic glibness in the face of a provocative issue.
You can hear Paul’s discussion with Larry Kane about segregation at the beginning of this:
LikeLiked by 1 person
Could you direct me to the actual minute mark? I scanned the vid several times and couldn’t find the reference you mentioned.
Karen, it’s right at the beginning. Paul’s comment starts at :14.
It’s right at the beginning of the vid, Paul’s response starts at the :14 mark.
“I have no doubt SHE was attracted to him–it was to Paul’s house she went, not John’s, begging for some memorabilia to fund her “art” show.”
And its information such as this — coupled with Green’s less well – documented claims regarding Yoko’s initial physical attraction to Paul — that make me wish we could get a really in-depth look at the Paul-Yoko interaction during the breakup-period. If Yoko was attracted to Paul, as Green claims she was, she may very well have regarded his refusal to be her sponsor, or lover, as an implicit rejection. Certainly, one of the patterns we see in Yoko’s life is that she does not like to lose, or be regarded in the inferior position, or rejected in any fashion. There are enough pieces of evidence — her reported reaction to Klein’s criticism of her One to One performance, demanding John can Klein, would be one — to suggest that she can be retaliatory. We know Yoko initially pursued Paul (and Brian) as financial benefactors, and both turned her down, after which she turned to John.
By now we’ve gotten to the point where even authors such as Norman are acknowledging the obvious: Yoko did not encourage better relations between John and Paul and, after the split, did not want them to reunite: it’s no coincidence that Yoko takes John back at the end of the Lost Weekend right when John is on the cusp of musically reuniting with Paul. Green, as well as Seaman, make it clear that John and Yoko were both obsessive with selling “The Ballad” not only because it perpetuated their own myth, but because they were determined to be seen by the world as a greater, more loving, better couple than Paul and Linda. Given John’s insecurities, and tendency to use Paul as a yardstick, this makes sense for John, but less so for Yoko. What is her motivation?
Was any of this influenced by an implicit/explicit sexual rejection of Yoko by Paul? Or even a perceived rejection? At some point or another, Yoko abandoned her pursuit of Paul for her pursuit of John. At another, further point, Yoko evidently came to the conclusion that, in order for her to have the artistic and personal relationship with John that she wanted to have, Paul was her primary obstacle. And for decades, Yoko continuously supported a version of the breakup, and her relationship with John, and Paul’s contribution to the Beatles, that was not true, and which she had to know was not true. In 2000, she’s still pushing the “Lennon remembers” version with her sponsored exhibit at the Rock and Roll HOF. John’s Paul obsession at least makes sense; Yoko’s considerably less so.
I had never considered Yoko’s attraction to Paul until this very post, as a matter of fact. What a compelling issue. Indeed, if Ono was attracted to McCartney and was repelled, that would go a long way to explain at least a part of her decades-long acrimony toward him.
“I had never considered Yoko’s attraction to Paul until this very post, as a matter of fact. What a compelling issue.”
It’s not something that I’ve seen discussed, either; it caught my eye while researching in Green’s book because the quality of the evidence — hearsay — is exactly the same quality of evidence — hearsay — that Norman uses in the John bio to theorize that John may have been interested in sexually experimenting with Paul. Which, when I type it up like that, it sounds almost like the premise for a comic farce: John and Yoko together, complaining about how neither of them could get anywhere, sexually, with Paul.
This made me laugh, truly. 🙂
Erin, a few months ago I found on the internet an article which Yoko spoke of her net worth being “Almost as much as Paul McCartney’s but not quite.” It appeared like she was still in competition with Paul even in financial matters. Then she spewed some mumbo jumbo about how (I’m paraphrasing here) “People are always talking about money and giving it utmost importance when it is not important at all.” I had to scoff (and smh) at that comment, when I know she has trademarked John Lennon’s image and legacy into a commercial brand and is now selling John Lennon designer eyeglasses, clothes, tennis shoes, baby products and even a John Lennon action figure (the more expensive one talks and says “Power to the people” and “Give peace a chance” when you pull the string. I seen it on Ebay.
“It appeared like she was still in competition with Paul even in financial matters.”
I believe Goldman’s claim was that, when John and she were negotiating their contract for their 1980 comeback, John and Yoko refused to take any less than Paul had been offered for his last record breaking contract: Goldman quotes Yoko as saying “I’ll bury Paul.” (Or maybe she was saying “Cranberry Sauce,” which someone misheard … 🙂
Which …. its Goldman. But given the well-established pattern of John and Yoko obsessively comparing their wealth to Paul and Linda’s (and always being at least a lap or two behind, thanks to the Eastman’s) that quote does reinforce the pattern.
Overall, Charlotte, on Green’s general credibility, I agree with you. Personally and professionally, I find his version of John and Yoko’s final years more credible than Mintz’s, for a number of reasons. Green’s version at least doesn’t insult our intelligence by trying to argue that all of John’s well documented, longstanding issues: his addictive personality, his crushing insecurities and jealousies, his alleged psychological issues, and his conflicted feelings regarding parenting — magically vanished once John was secure in the love of a good woman, and that John was blissfully contented for five years baking bread and watching Sean.
But the verbatim writing does bother me, because Green attempts to validate them in the book’s intro. by arguing that he has a good memory and that his conversations with John and Yoko were very memorable. I’m sure they were, but unless Green has a legitimate eidetic memory, there’s no way he can remember, word for word, what everyone said. That means he’s putting words — which, because of the private nature of their conversations, are unprovable — in other people’s mouths, and that makes them hearsay.
Having said that, I agree that the Yoko conversation regarding her attraction to Paul — which I accidentally identified as occurring in December 1980, when it really happened in January — probably did happen, and it is supported by Yoko initially pursuing Paul, not John. And, as Karen mentioned, this could offer a new motivation and/or layer to Yoko’s behavior towards Paul over the years. If Yoko’s behavior regarding Paul were simply a breakup-era issue, something infused with Yoko’s own drug use, her avid support of Klein, and her desire to establish herself as John’s artistic partner, it would make a great deal more sense. But her sustained campaigning to re-write Beatles history in John’s favor while deliberately diminishing Paul — including but not limited to the R&R HOF exhibit — makes me, at least, wonder why she continued to nurse those grudges and, as you pointed out, always use Paul as the yardstick of her and John’s marriage and parenting and wealth. (Which Goldman also argues: he declares that John and Yoko were determined to get as much money out of their 1980 contract as Paul got out when he switched record labels in 1980, but they didn’t). In the segment I quote below, Ray Connolly cites Yoko’s ego, and I think that’s a big part of it — Yoko has to know that, regardless of her campaigning, the Lennon/McCartney partnership is going to be what endures, and that has to chafe — but perhaps sexual rejection played some role as well.
“Why is it that anybody that was ever in Yoko’s orbit and came away with a negative opinion of her, was always described as disgruntled, self serving, jealous or picking on her because of their racism or sexism?”
Because the best defense if a good offense? I do believe that the predominantly male journalists don’t want to run the risk of being accused of sexism, and so tread lightly, in some ways, on criticizing Yoko. Others, such as Coleman, seemed to view themselves as Yoko’s defenders; proving their own lack of racism and chauvinism by promoting hagiographic views of her and John, their relationship, and harshly attributing the worst possible motivations to the refusal of the other Beatles to welcome Yoko into the studio.
For my money, the best profile I’ve seen of Yoko comes from Ray Connolly. For one, he’s not an ideologue; he probably tilted more in the Lennon-Camp in the breakup, but he liked Paul, and Linda, and he wasn’t one to blindly regurgitate John’s exaggerated B.S. — When John told Connolly that he, John, had written 80% of the lyrics under the Lennon/McCartney credit, Connolly, correctly, blew it off as evidence of John’s ingrained hyperbole, whereas Wenner presumably would have made it the next Rolling Stone Headline and then promoted it as gospel for the next forty years. Connolly appears to have become more skeptical regarding John and Yoko over the years; he recounts an instance where John, disturbingly, turns to Yoko and launches a blistering tirade about her revealing clothes — certainly not the sort of thing you would ever get from the usual suspects — and offered a good article on her in his book. He refers to Yoko’s version of the ballad as “nonsense.” Here are some of his comments on a 2000 article he wrote:
“With the exception of a few terrific songs in their first years together and a couple of good ones at the end, John was less creative during his marriage to Yoko than he had been at any time in his adult life. In fact, far from encouraging his creativity, their union seems to have stifled it…in truth, Yoko began rewriting John’s history almost from the moment they got together … almost immediately, as she came between John and the other Beatles, it was as though John’s former life and achievements were being forgotten and downplayed … How much she is an artist of genuine talent, I’m not in a position to judge. But she certainly used her Beatles connection for all it was worth … Yoko liked nothing more than to be flattered by his attentions… Yoko’s ego was always massive… for decades, the world has been led to believe that the marriage of John and Yoko was a great love affair, but was it? As, over the years, news has leaked out of infidelities and John’s depression, that now seems open to question.”
A thousand times this. And it just aggravates me no end when I read contemporary accounts by Paul promoting the party line.
I think Paul gave an interview a few years ago — its in my notes, I just don’t have it with me — where he argues that he prefers, when asked about negative topics in interviews, such as the breakup., etc. to simply “block the shit.” He doesn’t want to dwell on negative subjects, or invest energy in frustrating subjects. He genuinely appears to have determined that feuding with Yoko in the press over old grudges is not worth it. Now, if either of them introduced some new ammunition into the feud — If Yoko, for example, declared publicly in an interview that John wrote most of the Melody to “In My Life,” I think Paul would dispute that — then I think that détente would erode. But he now appears to have decided that going along to get along — even if it means contradicting his previous, and presumably more accurate versions of events — is worth it.
And that seems to be his public M.O. when he’s in the midst of a public spat, whether it’s with Heather Mills, John, George or Yoko. Amoralto just posted a great excerpt from his November 1971 interview with Chris Charlesworth which illustrates this: its the Melody Maker interview where Paul criticizes the other’s choice of Klein:
“I don’t want to go putting the other three down particularly. That’s – that’s my trouble really. I probably should. I probably should, really, just rant and rave and call them the biggest shits on earth, you know, because they’re certainly not cool, what they’re doing.”
In some interview or another, Paul quotes his Auntie Gin’s approach to fighting as “Least said, soonest mended,” and that genuinely appears to be his method, at least in public. Karen, you have much greater understanding of psychology than I do: if a child learns, through nature and nurture, to argue in a certain way — to deal with conflict by waiting it out — how influential is that learned response going to be in later years?
“Least said, soonest mended.” I love that.
I admire Paul for his restraint and reliance upon those wise, home-spun ways. But that’s not the same as proactively re-writing facts. I’ve always wondered if these crazy interviews he does are the product of the latest business battle with Ono. Give her some sugar and she’ll go away.
I definitely agree that Yoko knows how to push Paul’s buttons. I’ve written about this on Hey Dullblog, but I found it interesting how – in the endless rehashing of the Lennon/McCartney credits debate that fans love to do – Paul’s comments to Rolling Stone about it were completely ignored, and how Yoko’s handling of the issue was tied into what Paul was going through at the time. Here, I found my comment from HD so I don’t have to repeated myself:
–In a 2001 interview with Rolling Stone, Paul told Anthony DeCurtis that he asked Yoko in 1996, while prepping Anthology 2, if they could switch the Lennon-McCartney names on “Yesterday” only. “This is when Linda and I were going through our real horror times,” he added, when Linda was battling breast cancer. Yoko said no. Then Linda also called Yoko and asked her to do it, as a personal favor, and Yoko said no again. Paul said it wasn’t just Yoko’s refusal to consider it that soured their relationship, but “the fact that Linda rang her personally during the height of her chemo shit and asked her, and Yoko said, ‘That’s never going to happen.’”
In December 1997, right around the time Linda was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, Yoko gave the infamous BBC interview where she said Paul was Salieri to John’s Mozart, a remark which clearly upset Paul (he mentions it in the DeCurtis interview as well) at what was already a terrible time in his life. Yoko, of course, couldn’t know the details of that, but to Paul it must’ve seemed like rubbing salt in his wounds. In her tribute to Linda written for Rolling Stone, Yoko wrote that she last spoke to Linda in January 1998, but not about the content of the conversation. So close in time to the Salieri comment, and considering Linda’s protectiveness of Paul, I don’t imagine it was a a necessarily friendly chat. Paul pointedly did not invite Yoko to Linda’s memorial service, stating that it was because they were not friends.
Clearly, the songwriting credits issue bothers Paul on its own, but circa 1996 it seems to have gotten intertwined along with his feelings about how Yoko treated Linda when she was ill.—
You can argue about whether Yoko is right or not about the credits issue, but certainly I think it would have possible for her to have more empathy and been more polite about it that time – especially not to do that BBC interview where she decided to revive the Lennon vs. McCartney thing at a terrible time in Paul’s life.
This also ties into a gripe I have about Paul biographers in general: whereas most Beatles writers bend over backwards to understand John’s mental state and background at various points in his life, almost no consideration is given to Paul’s. Maybe it’s because caregiver psychology is an interest of mine (I was a caretaker child for an ill parent growing up) but there seems little recognition that Linda didn’t just die – there was an approximate 18 month period where Paul was a caregiver to a severely ill person before the actual death, and that can change a person profoundly.
For example, most writers who bother to think about it at all, put down the Heather Mills situation to a mix of sexual attraction and Paul being clouded by grief. But there was a frightfully revealing quote from Paul at the time he was still dating Mills – I would have to hunt it down again, but essentially it was about how high-strung he was after “two years of horror” of being trapped in a medical nightmare, and how Mills just reduced his anxiety in situations. It was my first hint that Paul’s stubborness in regards to Heather Mills was not – as most biographers have since ascribed to it, to mere ego – but related to his psychological state and possible caregiver PTSD.
“You can argue about whether Yoko is right or not about the credits issue, but certainly I think it would have possible for her to have more empathy and been more polite about it that time – especially not to do that BBC interview where she decided to revive the Lennon vs. McCartney thing at a terrible time in Paul’s life.”
Ono strikes me as a profoundly self absorbed, narcissistic individual. She seems to have an extremely limited capacity to empathize.
“it was about how high-strung he was after “two years of horror” of being trapped in a medical nightmare, and how Mills just reduced his anxiety in situations. It was my first hint that Paul’s stubborness in regards to Heather Mills was not – as most biographers have since ascribed to it, to mere ego – but related to his psychological state and possible caregiver PTSD.”
It can be heard in the lyrics to most of the songs on the Driving Rain album. Heather was clearly an emotional savior for him, who came along at precisely the right time in his life, right after this tragedy and while he was in a deep depression and possibly suffering from PTSD. Given all that, it’s not hard to see why he thought he was in love with her.
Speaking of Salieri, I once googled the Salieri vs. Mozart situation and Salieri’s life in general. I was surprised to find out that Salieri was Mozart’s teacher and mentor, and was considered by his peers to be extremely talented. Mozart admired him and if I remember correctly, was influenced by him(?) They were actually close friends and there is no evidence of any jealousy on Salieri’s part, or any rivalry between them. This made me wonder why Salieri is portrayed as bitter and envious in the movie, Amadeus. Talk about re-writing history. But if this is true then, yeah I guess Paul was Salieri to John’s Mozart. And I guess John was Salieri to Paul’s Mozart.
“This also ties into a gripe I have about Paul biographers in general: whereas most Beatles writers bend over backwards to understand John’s mental state and background at various points in his life, almost no consideration is given to Paul’s.”
I wholeheartedly agree with this. I think there are buckets of reasons, both good and bad for this, the foremost being that if you don’t try to use John’s mental state to explain his actions, he comes across as a violent, selfish, narcissistic and pretty rotten personality, and that, in turn, makes it almost incomprehensible why Paul, George, and Ringo, etc., stuck with him and loved him so much. That, in turn, makes you wonder how the Beatles survived at all. When I’m confronted with an incident like the one in Hamburg, where John goes berserk and screams at the German woman Paul’s having sex with, shredding her clothes and then stabbing the wardrobe until she runs out of the room while George cowers under the blanket hoping John doesn’t start after him, that’s the sort of thing you have to explain; you can’t just let it hang there, and Lewisohn uses John’s speed use, as well as his grief over Stu, to try and explain John’s specific craziness in that instance and general craziness in that time period. (Of course, Norman displayed no such generosity to Paul in Shout!, allowing Paul’s infamous “What will we do without her money” to hang there, without context or explanation, as Paul’s ultimate reaction to the sudden death of his own mother).
But, with the exception of the aforementioned “What will we do without her money” you don’t have many such specific instances regarding Paul’s behavior which demand emotional or chemical explanation. The widely accepted default setting for Paul appears to be self-satisfied and confident: The psychological landscape of Paul in Beatles historiography was simplistic, to say the least, for decades: adored and secure as a child, smug and talented and charming as an adolescent, saddened but not destroyed by his mother’s death; jealous of Stu, jealous of Pete, difficult and ‘square’, superficial and smug as a Beatle, egotistical and manipulative and bossy, commercially and financially motivated and petty as a solo artist.
Part of this is because of Paul’s P.R. personae, and his reluctance to bare his soul in interviews: Biographers are more comfortable delving into John’s emotions because John spelled out what his emotions were. (And because John’s dead, and can’t contradict them, which is a crucial factor). But Paul didn’t admit until 1974 that the Lennon Remembers Interview hurt him, and still downplayed its impact; he didn’t admit until 1984 that the breakup was psychologically traumatizing for him to the point that he was lying in bed at night, shaking, feeling worthless.
But a lot of it can also be laid at the feet of Paul’s and Beatles biographers who refuse to analyze or go in-depth. Your example of Paul’s emotional state following Linda’s illness, and how it led to his choice of Heather Mills, is a great example of how it could be done, by a biographer, and I found that part of your post really interesting. I’ve never been a caregiver to a dying person, but it sounds like an exhausting and debilitating experience.
Your post examining Paul’s enduring emotional and psychological reactions to his mother’s death is another really good exploration. I’d love to see an exploration — or just an acknowledgement — by a biographer of how traumatizing it was for Paul to see John, George and Ringo trust Klein over him. Paul rants about that in the Hunter Davies ‘interview’ from 1981, and its a legitimate grievance: Paul complains about how the other’s believed he, Paul, was choosing the Eastman’s because he believed the Eastman’s would give him an advantage, and Paul discusses how he can’t conceive that the others believed that of him, that he was financially trying to screw them over. I’d also love to see an examination of Paul’s emotions as John withdraws from the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership, first by slacking off, then by repudiating it; that maybe Paul’s increasing productivity and control in the studio was prompted by the loss of control regarding his partnership with John. Or that Paul’s increasing ‘bossiness,’ particularly in the Sgt. Pepper period, coincided with his cocaine use: if we’re going to filter John’s decisions and less savory behaviors through his drug use, we should be able to do the same with Paul.
Excellent point about Paul’s cocaine use during Sgt. Pepper.
While John’s abandonment issues are excused by most Beatles biographers, Paul’s control tendencies take front and center yet are never connected to childhood trauma. It is just possible that part of Paul’s people pleasing personality and reticence to reveal problems is related to the fact that he witnessed his mother’s illness yet it was never explained to him what was wrong, that he even saw her dying in the hospital and was never told why she was there. Then, when she died, he wasn’t told her cause of death, wasn’t allowed at her funeral, lacked closure and the response to his deep depression by the adults in his life was that he must bury it inside and get over it. Maybe, just maybe, that may cause a person to have control issues and to try to frantically control their environment the more they feel a situation is slipping out of their control.
The irony about the “what will we do without her money” comment is that we would never have it without Paul. Mike told Hunter Davies that he remembered one of them making a dumb comment but couldn’t remember who or what it was. It was Paul who remembered and who volunteered to Davies that it was him who said, “What will we do without her money?”
“While John’s abandonment issues are excused by most Beatles biographers, Paul’s control tendencies take front and center yet are never connected to childhood trauma.”
You just said in a sentence what I struggled to say in a paragraph. 🙂 And I wish I could e-mail this post of yours to every prospective biographer of Paul and/or the Beatles. In addition to your analysis, which looks spot on, (and this is pure speculation on my part), I see significant aspects of Mary’s influence on Paul’s character and ambition overall, and I believe that almost every writer, with the exception of Spitz, has given this short shrift.
“Maybe, just maybe, that may cause a person to have control issues and to try to frantically control their environment the more they feel a situation is slipping out of their control.”
Makes sense to me. Maybe some one who gains a reputation for bossiness has underlying reasons for acting that way, rather than simply being a one-dimensional caricature designed by biographers to fill a particular role in order to suit a pre-determined narrative, in which only one of the key figures is allowed any sort of depth of analysis. Nah.
“the response to his deep depression by the adults in his life was that he must bury it inside and get over it.”
Not only did they say this for Paul’s sake — because that was what Northern boys did at this time period — but also for his father’s, who was evidently, for a short period, suicidal, and the relatives didn’t want Paul’s obvious grief and stress augmenting his father’s. So Paul learned at the greatest catastrophe in his life, to 1. Not express his grief and 2. Doing so could be harmful to people he loved and relied on.
I don’t know if you have ever seen the 9/11 documentary “The Love You Make,” about Paul’s organizing the 9/11 concert after witnessing the WTC towers collapse and him being literally grounded in NY, but there’s a very telling point where 60 Minutes is interviewing Paul and asks him if he has any advice for NY in general and people in particular, who were grieving, since Paul had experienced losses with John and far more recent one with Linda. Paul’s response is very telling: he says that people need to let their emotions out; that they will try and convince themselves that they can handle it; they’re tough, but you can only start healing once you allow yourself to acknowledge how much you are hurting. That seems to be a real revelation for him, and one which occurred in the wake of Linda’s death.
Paul strikes me, as does John, as a very emotional person who was instructed from a young age, by culture and upbringing, that expressing those emotions was unnecessary
and unwanted. Being affectionate and cutesy and playful is bad, unless its with a child or a pet. Grieving doesn’t need to happen. Anger is acceptable, but its not something that Paul’s parents would have approved of, particularly if it led to physical fights, and Paul himself discusses crossing the street to avoid Teds. No wonder Paul was forced to sublimate his emotions in to music — writing and performing not to become popular at parties, Walter Everett, but to release built up emotion in a socially acceptable and pleasurable way.
Great post, Erin.
It’s a common phenomenon: the crazier you act, the more likely others will seek exculpatory explanations for your behaviour, particularly when everyone identifies with you and wants to be you and projects their idea of masculinity on you.
Had Paul been the poster child for the fragile egos of rock biographers everywhere, I wonder how John would have fared.
Erin, you are correct about Mozart and Salieri, who were friends and peers in actual life. The pop culture version of them is courtesy of Peter Shaffer’s fictional play Amadeus (later turned by Milos Forman into one of my favorite movies). They weren’t besties and certainly had a rivalry, but there’s no indication that Salieri was an archvillian.
I found the quote I referenced above, it’s from a 2002 interview with Nigel Farndale for the Daily Telegraph: “‘Heather has made me feel more at ease with things. After two full years of horror and doctors’ offices and scares and diagnoses. . .’ He trails off. ‘In truth when you have been through that and come out at the end. . .’ He trails off again. ‘I’m grateful not to have to spend my days doing that any more.'”
Farndale was a perceptive interviewer and captured how, despite Paul’s positive face and spin on everything, he came across in person as moody and frightfully insecure (in retrospect, another symptom of his relationship with Mills, who we know constantly belittled him).
On the topic of his children’s chilly reception of Mills, Paul says: “‘I think a second marriage is hard for the children. No matter who it is. People in my position are told not to worry, that time will heal. But it’s very difficult. It’s difficult for all of us. They find it difficult to think of me with another woman. But it’s how it is and how it must be.”
Not so subtly referencing Yoko: “‘I became more comfortable that my contribution was being recognized, yes. And George’s. Sad that he had to pass away before people really saw it…There was a re-writing of history after John’s death. There was revisionism. Certain people were trying to write me out of the Beatles’ history, as well as the other two. George was reduced to the guy standing with his plectrum in his hand, waiting for a solo and, as John would have been the first to admit, George was very much more important than that, as a character, as a musician. And Ringo is now being sidelined because he wasn’t a composer. We all needed each other. We were four corners of a square. There were people close to John, saying, ‘Well, Paul just booked the studio,’ – which was galling. The trouble is, I became worried that the John legend would totally wipe out any of our contributions. I’m sure I got paranoid about it, but, hey, that’s normal for me.”
On the songwriting credits issue: “‘I didn’t want to remove John, just change the order round. I don’t mind Lennon-McCartney as a logo. John in front, that’s OK, but on the Anthology (1996), they started saying Yesterday by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and I said, ‘Please can it be Paul McCartney and John Lennon for the sake of the Trade Description Act? Because John had no hand in that particular song.”‘ He jiggles his knee up and down in agitation. ‘I recently went to a hotel where there was a songbook and I looked up Hey Jude and it was credited to John Lennon. My name had been left off because there was no space for it on the page. Do I
After being asked how he can feel insecure: “‘I know! That’s what people say to me. Because I’m fucking human. And humans are insecure. Show me one who isn’t. Henry Kissinger? Insecure. George [W.] Bush? Insecure. Bill Clinton? Very insecure….You said I have this thing about wanting to be seen as an ordinary man: well, I’m sorry but I am. It’s just too bad – I can’t be anything other. I’m a lucky ordinary guy, it’s true. I’ve done a lot of things and fulfilled a lot of my dreams, but it doesn’t mean. . .I assumed, like you, that when I met someone who had done well that they would be saintly and just say, ‘Thanks, I know I am OK now.’ But it doesn’t work like that.”
On whether he’d painted any portraits of Linda after her death: “No, I haven’t painted too much in the past couple of years. Well, I’ve done one or two and they are a bit disturbing. But they would be, wouldn’t they? I was disturbed.”
Sometimes, I think Paul is too damn nice and accommodating to people like Yoko, wrongly believing that she’d appreciate the gesture. I mean, I get it, I get that he wanted avoid bad press, fan backlash and upsetting anyone, and try to appeal to any (non existent) sense of fairness and appreciation at his being humble and approaching the widow Lennon and asking for her cooperation (blessing of sorts) in his desire to change the name credit listing to McCartney/Lennon on Yesterday only, not the entire Beatles catalogue. I bet Yoko got her
“entitled mentality” rocks off in a big way with the fact that Paul McCartney tried to get in her good graces before she lowered the boom…”Hell No!”
And what did he get? Linda getting turned down cold must have felt like his ailing wife got a slap in the face on his behalf, bad press, fan backlash, and his being considerate toward his late friends “professional merry widow” got him “egg in the face”. He should have just “damn the torpedoes” and did it from the get go.
Sure it would have been some bad press, aging hardcore anti Paul/Lennon rockers would have had some coniptions, some McCartney fans would have thought it was petty of him but most folks would have gotten over it soon enough because they have their own problems and more important things to worry about to care, it would have blown over soon enough. He had already done it on Wings Over America album while John was still alive and John didn’t have a problem with it. Yoko only got her feathers ruffled about it because he gave her a chance to do her “Long Suffering, Self Sacrificing For The Greater Good Of Humanity And Keeper Of John’s Eternal Flame” act and run to the press for some much desired attention.
Anyway he did it again on his Back In The U.S. tour and album and the merry widow threaten to have her lawyers check into it. That was back in 2002. Nothing happened, probably because there was already the established precedent. Google Lennon McCartney vs McCartney Lennon-Norwegian Wood, there is an interesting article about it complete with pictures of McCartney Lennon on Beatles records and set lists.
Well as I said Paul was being his “too freaking nice” self, when he should have known better. He allowed Yoko to get her kicks at his expense and now he is right back at where he started. Oh yeah and I read that she publically whined to the press how “hurt” she was to not be invited to Linda McCartney’s memorial service. I think, like Heather Mills, she is a narcissist, who believes everything is about her. Hating Heather Mean Mouth Mills and Yucko Yoko Mofo Ono are like two of a kind.
After reading Rose Decatur’s comment just above mine, how Paul describes some of what he went through dealing with Linda’s illness, how it pained him so that his voice trailed off a couple of times. How he felt Heather was there for him at that time, and his children’s less than warm reception of Mills (even though they were proven right in time) How Beatle and Lennon biographers seem to reduce and sideline all The Beatles not named John Lennon. It must have been weird and a bit frightening to actually see his name eliminated from his sole creation of one of the world’s most famous and beloved songs and credited soley to John Lennon because there wasn’t enough room for both names. I remember debating a Youtube commenter about that very point. I asked my fellow commenter how would he like it if everybody in the world brushed him aside and gave him the bums rush and credited all or majorly, his lifelong hard work to someone else, even if that person was beloved by him, would he think it was fair, and he could only respond with, “I just think McCartney is being petty.” Of course I said to hell with that, He should be properly recognized and Lennon fans can just get over it.”
And now here I am in my snippy snide comment above, also chiding Paul for being too nice! Will somebody give me an e-kick in my e-backside as I struggle to get my foot out of my mouth.
All the more reason NOT to be “nice”, IMO. After eating shit from Ono and his detractors for 40 years, I wouldn’t be mixing my words–but that’s me. Paul is a whole `nuther kettle of fish. 🙂
I’m afraid much of this post is going to be quasi-incoherent, but here goes:
Because of how young I am, I was aware of Yoko as a caricature before I ever knew anything about her as a human being. Even in cartoons I watched as a child, she was a comic, one-note caricature whose utter lack of talent, shrieking voice and crazed egocentrism (or sexuality) destroyed groups of male friends. There were Yoko references in “Tiny Toons,’ “Animaniacs,” “That 70’s Show,” and “The Simpsons,” where, in The Beatles homage episode, the nameless Japanese Conceptual Artist convinced Barney that a song that consisted of him giving his trademark burp and her reciting “Number 8” was the future of their band. Unsurprisingly, the band broke up almost immediately after she was introduced. That was who Yoko was, to me, for approximately 20 years: the woman who broke up the Beatles; that’s what popular culture told me she was.
So the hagiographic version of her promoted by so many Beatles writers — the Coleman’s, Wenner’s, etc., was a massive shock to me, once I started reading Beatles historiography. OTOH, I enjoyed not seeing her demonized and caricaturized, because that was all I had been exposed to up to that point, I have a reflexive distaste for interpretations that blame the actions of men on the manipulations of women, and caricatures are misleading. OTOH, there was no disputing that the authors were only capable of presenting this hagiographic view by adopting questionable and downright biased methods and interpretations and ignoring opposing evidence. The polarity surrounding Yoko’s depiction interests me just as much, if not more so, than what she actually did and/or does. Yoko is either the heroic victim or the villain in large part because of the initial version of events she and John promoted. The breakup-era narrative which they sold to the world presented themselves as victims, primarily of Paul and the Eastman’s, but also of larger forces: racism, capitalism, the bourgeoisie, conventional artists, squares, gender-roles, etc. Someone above mentioned that they perceive both narcissism and a lack of empathy in Yoko, and I’ll go further: I see those same qualities, to a varying degree, in John as well. Whether its typical for people with such similarities to seek each other out, I don’t know; my understanding of psychology, as I will readily admit, is rudimentary at best.
The victim trope worked before 1973, but cemented the polarizing feelings regarding Yoko. And John and Yoko contributed to this by refusing to acknowledge that the story was not all black and white, and that there were nuances. No, Paul, George and Ringo did not object to Yoko’s presence and participation in the studio because she was A. A Woman and B. Japanese. They protested to her because she was not, in Ringo’s words, a Beatle. And this is something that anyone who is not interested in promoting the Yoko/victim trope can understand, simply be applying empathy or looking at the hypothetical situation: We have NSP classes at my University, where two teachers from differing disciplines join to teach a course: say, a history professor and a business professor join to teach a History of Business, for example. If I were teaching a course like that, and the other Professor suddenly started allowing his/her girlfriend to give lectures/lead discussions and grade exams and papers, I’d be infuriated. It would have nothing to do with their girlfriend’s race/gender/anything, and everything to do with the fact that I slogged through years of post-graduate work, wrote endless research papers and thesis, took rigorous exams and stressed and sweated my way through years of education to get my degree, and all of a sudden this person who has not earned the right to be there apparently believes they are qualified to teach at that level. Maybe the girlfriend is an amateur historian, like Yoko was an amateur musician. Great. But they are not a Professor, the same way Yoko was not a Beatle.
That victimization locked Yoko and John into a version of events that they were still promoting, to an extent, in 1980, when circumstances, both political (the end of the Vietnam War) and financial (Klein’s firing) had eroded much of its support. Acknowledging that they were not the sole victims of the situation was difficult to impossible for them to do. Much of their version of events and the breakup relies on narcissism, lack of empathy, and a sense of victimization on the part of John and Yoko. According to Goldman, John and Yoko would vet interviewers by emphasizing to them how horribly Yoko had been treated by the press; how chauvinistic and racist much of the press had been, and how no one was willing to treat her fairly. The racism and chauvinism was there — the same way the chauvinism and anti-Semitism was there in depictions of Linda — and most members of the press were eager to bend over backwards to prove to the Lennon’s that they were the exception, and could and would give Yoko good profiles.
I don’t want to caricaturize Yoko, (and I don’t think anyone here has attempted to) partly because caricaturizations are obstructing, and because doing so feeds into the flawed breakup-era narrative that John and Yoko themselves promoted. Anything beyond a surface look at Yoko reveals someone who, you would assume, is and was grappling with her own psychological and manipulative issues. Just the basics — and anyone can correct me if I’m wrong, because my Yoko-background knowledge is pretty basic — could inform us a lot on her.
Born to a wealthy but largely unaffectionate family in pre-WWII Japan, to a father who was a frustrated artist and considered her a disappointment because of her inability to be a concert pianist and a mother who regarded her as a failure because of her lack of beauty. A childhood spent in Japan during WWII, when, for the last two years, American planes were bombing Japan to smithereens, and exile in the countryside may have rescued you from the bombs, but was incredibly harsh. Then American occupation, in which the United States forcibly introduced the idea of legal female equality into the Japanese Constitution. The U.S. occupied Japan from 1945-1953, and books have been written about the psychological impact of military occupation on national identity and perception of masculinity. Yoko experienced a formative world in which the political and economic structures were either in flux or upended, and constant maneuvering was required to ensure survival.
Nor was there stability in the family unit. Goldman’s book makes the case that the Ono family was one where they were constantly maneuvering to maintain or improve their position not only in Japanese society at large, but also where various family members themselves were constantly maneuvering for position, wealth, etc., and where actions such as buying presents could be considered evidence of subservience: Seaman backs this as well: arguing that Yoko informed John on their Japanese trip that he was being too financially generous to her mother, that her mother regarded this as evidence of John and Yoko’s subservience. In both Goldman and Seaman, the Ono family is presented as calculating, with Yoko feeling permanently exiled from her family’s good graces and affections, and everything regarded through the lens of power-dynamics. Certainly, the idea that Yoko sees relationships in terms of power is reinforced by none other than John himself. And she evidently came by it honestly.
When you look at Yoko’s relationship with Paul via a power-dynamics lens, rather than through the officially approved “Yoko as a victim lens,” her motivations and maneuvering makes more sense. As Connolly says, Yoko’s ego was always huge. There is enough testimony from people who knew her to argue that Yoko chafed at living in John’s artistic shadow in the 70’s, and resented being viewed as the lesser artist both to John and to John’s ‘ex,’ Paul. If Yoko regards power dynamics as a zero-sum game, than promoting her own work required diminishing the work of others, rewriting history, etc. Initially, in the LR era, this consisted of her and John devaluing the Beatles and John’s Beatles work.
But as the decades have passed, the Beatles have only become bigger and more legendary; arguing for the superiority of POB over Please Please Me might work for a select few, but the masses had decided that overall they preferred Beatle John’s work to non-Beatles work. Yoko gains more approval by appropriating Beatles John than by diminishing Beatles John, although diminishing Beatles John in favor of solo John is preferable. In this zero sum game, Paul is the greatest threat to her supremacy, because he owns Beatles John in a way that Yoko simply does not. (Professional aside here: I sincerely cringe when authors use Yoko’s retrospective accounts to speak for John: “John felt this way about touring in 1965.” No: John presumably told you, in 1975, how he felt about touring in 1965. They are not the same thing: anything Yoko has to say about John’s thoughts/feelings etc. for events she was not present for are hearsay. Period.)
It appears to me that Yoko does/did this because it is ingrained in her, and that Paul is often her target because ultimately, Lennon/McCartney is going to endure, whereas Lennon/Ono will be a footnote.
I wasn’t always so harsh in my opinion of Yoko. That came later, many years after John’s death.
I remember when John was killed how bad I felt for her, her son, all of John’s family. “His poor wife and sons I thought.” After I had become aware of how horribly mean she and John treated Julian and his mother and how so unnecessary it all had been, my “poor Yoko” sympathies began to evaporate and I wondered what made her tick. How did she go from being an innocent baby born pure and blameless to being an extremely selfish, conniving woman seemingly bent on manipulating everyone around her. What happened to her in life that it appears, to me at least, that the only person she cares anything about is herself. I’ve done some research on her, much of it self serving press releases approved by her, others, more negative revelations of her imperious manner dealing with people. Hardly anything about her growing up in Japan or surviving the war. Erin, your comment goes a long way in explaining what shaped her as a person.
I didn’t have the “Yoko broke up The Beatles” trauma when the band broke up. Although I had always loved their music, my knowledge of what they did socially as individuals or in their private lives was non existent. I had seen John and Yoko on tv doing their JohnandYoko thing, which I didn’t even know was a thing. I recall thinking they were odd, behaved strangely (I was clueless about their drug use) and they came off as “pretentious and weird” to me, much like other celebrities who did the rounds on tv shows. I was a black girl in Oklahoma, living in the black community and enjoying music by other groups, bands, I was mostly into “soul” and R&B genres, but I liked other white rock bands too. I had just entered into my teens when The Beatles broke up and I wasn’t even aware that it had happened for a couple of years, I thought their post Beatles music was still Beatles. If the radio DJ said; “That was Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney formally of The Beatles all I heard was Paul McCartney and Beatles. Same as with the others. I wasn’t listening that hard except for the music. Talk about “living easy with eyes closed”. When I realized that they had broken up, my reaction was “Aw shoot! Oh well”. Like I said, there was other music. I was having my schoolgirl crush on Jermaine Jackson of the Jackson 5, whose little brother Michael was knocking everybody’s socks off with his singing voice.
Fast forward several years. After moving to Texas and marrying at 19 having a baby a month before turning 22, marriage in shambles moving back to Oklahoma and getting a divorce by age 23, I was reeling and trying to build a stable life for myself and my daughter with no help from my ex, her father, who felt no need to do so. When John Lennon was murdered a year later, I was like everybody else, shocked. I felt so bad for Yoko and John’s sons. The narrative of ‘John the martyred saint’ had begun, starring Yoko as ‘his beloved chosen wife, long suffering, self sacrificing and keeper of his eternal flame’.
I bought it, didn’t question it, didn’t think about it really, until by chance I read a interview by Julian in a magazine article, describing how modestly he and his mother had lived, how they worked for everything they had, but so did everybody he knew, so it wasn’t strange to him. What was strange was how the local kids thought that as John Lennon’s son, he lived in a mansion in the lap of luxury, and how bullies wanted to fight him and take all this money they thought he had.
How amazed his friends were when they visited his house and discovered that he lived very much like they did, without a lot of extras. What stood out to me in the article was his impression when he visited John at the Dakota and saw really for the first time the lavish luxury in which his father lived. When he saw Sean’s bedroom, how it dawned on him who was “the prince” in the Lennon family and where he ranked in his father’s life. It broke my heart. In the interview, the voice of Julian had a kind of acceptance quality to it, a “It is what it is, but what can you do because John is dead now” so he couldn’t change anything about that.
The treatment of him and his mother by John and Yoko over the years, and then later by Yoko, especially right after the aftermath of John’s murder when a little kindness in memory of John would have been a healing balm, should have been the order of the day, Yoko IMO sank to the lowest depths. I don’t believe she was out of her mind with grief, I believe she was in her element, flexing her muscles, settling scores, getting even, with those who she felt didn’t give her, her ‘due’, recognize her ‘talents’, her ‘brilliance’, didn’t give her what she felt she was entitled to: Subservience.
What I get from my research of her life (as an adult up until she enters Beatles history as a “leading lady” thanks to John, is a woman who revels in machiavellian machinations using people as pawns, stepping on or knocking aside anyone who’s in her way (abandoning her own daughter to relentlessly pursue John Lennon, to gain fame for herself through him, without a feminist thought of “sisterhood” to his wife whose marriage she participated in destroying or his son, who was just another obstacle to knock aside. Yes I’m aware John was party to all of it, I blame him too, but this comment is about Yoko.
I’m glad that I have a better understanding of what she experienced as a child, how she was shaped by her parents, culture, historical events. I’ve always said that she didn’t deserve any of the racist, or sexist treatment she endured by those who where/are racist and or sexist. No female or person of any race deserves that. I do believe she does receives disrespect and much of that she has earned by her own behavior. It’s her cross to bear, and I believe she deserves much of it.
I do see her as a human being, an old woman who at least outwardly doesn’t seem to show much reflection or regret of what she has done to others in life to get what she has, I could be wrong. I see her as a sociopath who is capable of bringing great suffering to those around her, including children, even those that she loves like her son Sean, who has said on film that “Nothing and no one comes before Yoko and her creative process, her art, including me.” He giggled nervously and looked so sad as he said that in chapter 6 of the film The Real Yoko Ono, which can be viewed on Youtube.
I found the evolution of your thoughts on Yoko were really interesting, Charlotte. I’m always interested in the how the people who watched the Beatles story unfold regarded it, and I imagine that your perception of Yoko and changes in views mirrored that of a lot of other people.
“After I had become aware of how horribly mean she and John treated Julian and his mother and how so unnecessary it all had been, my “poor Yoko” sympathies began to evaporate and I wondered what made her tick.”
“What made her tick” — exactly. I mentioned it in my previous post, but I loath caricaturizations, because they obstruct accuracy and push people in to looking at both new and old evidence with preconceived theories, confining interpretations into tired, worn old ruts. If you want to find evidence to support Yoko the victim narrative, it is out there: parts of the press treated her deplorably, so did some fans, and she and John genuinely perceived themselves as the victims of numerous forces/people; even if much of that was paranoia. John and Yoko were right in that none of the other Beatles wanted Yoko in the studio or speaking for John in Apple’s meetings; they saw it as victimization, even if others regarded it more reasonably. If you want to find evidence to support Yoko the villainess narrative, that’s out there too — by the bucketload. My radar always goes off when supporting a narrative requires ignoring contradictory information and, its undebatable, the contradictory evidence that is most effective at undermining the Yoko/victim narrative — both for you specifically and for society at large — is John and Yoko’s reprehensible treatment of their children not named Sean.
I will be blunt: I can’t be objective about this topic. I currently have two children approximately the same age of Julian and Kyoko were when John and Yoko began their relationship and effectively abandoned their children in order to pursue their artistic and drug-infused relationship, and I find their behavior selfish, reprehensible and inexcusable. I’m aware of their own psychological issues and less-than stellar parenting examples and childhood traumas. I’m aware that both John and Yoko genuinely believed that they were in the midst or an artistic and romantic relationship for the ages which superseded all other familial and parenting concerns. I’m aware that we are dealing with two fragile egos, addictive personalities, and psychological troubled individuals. Ultimately, none of those things matter. They had responsibilities to their children which they self-centeredly refused to fulfill both at the beginning and throughout their later relationship; the continuing inequality that John demonstrated regarding Sean and Julian is simply heartbreaking.
I do believe Yoko takes a lot of heat for her treatment of Julian on social media and in forums: while I personally don’t follow her (or anyone, for that matter) on Twitter, I have seen people who do comment that almost any comment Yoko makes ultimately descends into accusations that she treated Julian terribly. And while her treatment of Kyoko gets less press, it further reinforces her egocentric image. Which is why it was ignored in the Lennon Remembers era, where you have Apple to the Core criticizing Linda’s mothering of Heather, but failing to mention Yoko’s abandonment of Kyoko, and the Shout! narrative, which presented a very Sean-centric version of John as a father. I do believe that Julians’ complains regarding his treatment have left him with a reputation of being whiny and petulant, but the way he was treated was simply abysmal, both before and after his father’s death. There is no way to spin that, so the pro-Yoko writers usually ignore it.
Erin, I can appreciate your loathing of caricaturizations, I will try my best at avoiding them or at least reducing my use of them when commenting. If I do use them it’s only because my writing style, my education only went as far as high school graduate (no excuse, but a reason) so if I do it, it may be unwitting on my part. I admire and respect you and Karen, as well as the other commenters on this blog, I learn from you all and I don’t want to be the one who drags down the level of discussion.
I realize both John’s and Yoko’s childhood experiences have shaped who they were/are, and I have some sympathy for them on that. However, I have more for Julian, who some, as you say perceive as whiny and petulant. My perception of his life, was that even before he was born, it was decided by Brian Epstein, and John went along with it, that Cynthia and baby Julian would be hidden away, like a dirty little secret, lest the female fans find out John was married, & ‘unavailable’ to them, eroding their fantasies of having a chance with a least one of the 4 hot studs, reducing the band’s overall appeal. To my mind, that logic is cockamamie, especially since John didn’t let a little thing like marital vows stop him from tom catting with female fans, and the willing female fans didn’t let a little thing like John’s being married stop them from lining up to be with him.
Soon after Julian was actually born, John blew off being with his young wife and newborn son to go traveling with Brian to Spain. Unfortunately for Julian, being born on the cusp of American, then worldwide Beatlemania meant that for the first year and a half or two of his life, his father was hardly ever home. And when he was home, much of John’s time was spent, resting, indulging in drugs, or staring at the tv, when he wasn’t working with Paul on creating new songs. If John was in a foul mood, well that’s more time he was not spending with his baby son. Babies can feel/sense the vibes of those who surround them. John’s spotty appearances in Julian’s early life, helped to shape who Julian was/is.
Being a busy, bachelor playboy (with a main girlfriend Jane Asher) didn’t stop Beatle Paul from making time to spend with Julian, playing with him, talking with him, doing things that John just didn’t bother to do. I know John’s own father wasn’t there for him when he was growing up, but for a time his Uncle George, who played with him was. His cousins, some close to him in age and played with him were. John knew how to play. He certainly played with Sean. For Julian as a teen or as a boy on the cusp of manhood to hear or read John say that basically “Julian was the result of too much from a bottle of whiskey on a Saturday night.”, can do so much damage to a young person’s psyche. If Julian internalized that comment along with John once screaming at him; “I hate your fking laugh! I never want to hear your horrible fking laugh again!” causing Julian to flee the room crying, if Julian internalized those two comments along with whatever other abuses John may have hurled at him, I’d say he has just as much reason to be “damaged” from things that shaped him as a child as John and Yoko had, and shouldn’t be caricaturized when he reveals some of the pain from his life at the hands of his parent and step parent.
Sorry for my incoherence: my discussion regarding loathing of caricaturizations was in no way directed at anything you’ve contributed the discussion, Charlotte, and I sincerely don’t want to give you that impression. It was intended as more of a general observation about Beatles historiography, which I probably conveyed very badly due to a serious lack of sleep. I guess I find the Yoko issue impossible to discuss without delving into caricaturization issue.
“Babies can feel/sense the vibes of those who surround them. John’s spotty appearances in Julian’s early life, helped to shape who Julian was/is.”
Yes, and this is something that I think Beatles historiography is really starting to delve into; how formative those early years were; not just, in this case, for Julian, but for all of them. Infants can, as you say, sense parental stress and anxiety, anger, etc. John’s mistreatment of Julian doesn’t start with his departure with Yoko; it extends all the way to Julian’s birth, and that had an enormous, irrevocable impact on the person Julian became.
And tying all this back into the caricaturization issue: I can see how others would and could perceive Julian as petulant. I don’t, personally. But if you’re going to excuse and explain John’s negative behaviors due to his traumatic background, drug use, unstable upbringing, and personal trauma’s, than you (and by you I mean Beatles fans and authors) damn well better be willing to offer those some excuses to people beyond John (and Yoko). That’s balance. So by all means, lets introduce those standards, but then lets apply them universally. If fans are going to accuse Julian of being petulant, than they need to take into account what it felt like for Julian to be neglected by his father, unwanted, abandoned, clearly relegated to second class status after Sean’s birth, and verbally abused and then have to live with the rest of the world (and your stepmother) lauding him as a near-saint and the two of them as the perfect couple while you know that Yoko refused to let your mother accompany you to your own father’s funeral.
Let’s take, as Rose said, into account how the trauma of Mary McCartney’s sickness and unexpected death (and the abysmal way that was handled) may have fostered in Paul a need for control in certain situations, and stop caricaturizing him as bossy. Lets stop caricaturizing Yoko as the victim or the villain and delve into how her own unstable childhood, surrounded by uncertainty, privilege but also constant political and emotional maneuvering prompted her to view relationships as power struggles and zero sum games. Let’s talk about how George wasn’t just a uniformly sour grump, but an introvert who doubtless felt exhausted, drained and irritable in part because he could never get a moment to himself. Let’s move away from all the caricatures: George was bitter because … bitterness. Paul was bossy because … bossiness, Ringo was amiable because … amiability, and Julian is whiny because … whininess, and start really delving into the issue of “why.”
I hope that was coherent; again, I’m running on little sleep.
I think I would have to disagree with a few of your assumptions, Charlotte.
John’s Marriage: It was not at all unusual in those days for a rising pop star to be presented as “available.” Serious relationships were typically kept secret or minimized in importance. (Indeed, Ringo’s serious relationship with Maureen Cox was presented as a casual one, almost until the time of their marriage in 1965.) I therefore wouldn’t be inclined to blame or criticize Brian Epstein or John Lennon for keeping the Lennon marriage a secret.
Paul and Julian: Adults, like Paul, who grow up in a stable, loving home environment develop a willingness and ability to emotionally connect that isn’t typically present with adults who have had early life trauma. Children with early life trauma, like John, often grow up with limited parenting and relationship abilities. Add to the mix John’s lifelong struggles with depression (and possibly bipolar disorder), you’ve got a seriously handicapped parent. (As an aside, I have my suspicions about the “Julian laugh” incident as not being the Joan Crawford moment that it has been portrayed to be.)
The bottle of whisky analogy: this has been the single most misquoted, misunderstood comment John ever made. John was commenting on how children, back in the day, were unplanned, “born out of a bottle of whisky”, as it were. He said he himself was, and so too was Julian–but that didn’t mean he loved Julian any less. It annoys me that this comment has been so terribly misunderstood and distorted by the media–a distortion, apparently, accepted uncritically by Julian.
As someone who worked in the field of children’s mental health for many years, I have to challenge the notion that Julian “had every reason to be as damaged” as John. Julian’s early years were stable and loving. John’s absence via touring, etc, was hardly the stuff of trauma. John also kept in touch with Julian after he and Yoko moved to America, via calls, cards, and gifts. Now, long distance parenting is hardly ideal, and the kind of long distance parenting John and Yoko engaged in even less so, but it doesn’t rise to the level of trauma John experienced as a child. Did Julian have a difficult childhood, particularly in his later years? Certainly. But not all of Julian’s struggles can be laid at the foot of his father. Julian lived with a mother whom I suspect had issues of her own, and he lived with a series of step-fathers who had their own influences on him.
I know I’ve asked this before Karen, so my apologies, but as someone with a background and training in psychiatry, how would you diagnose John? And would that diagnosis change over time, given his drug use? Is John a different person, mentally, after his rampant LSD/heroin use, as some people have claimed? For that matter, how would you diagnose Paul? I’d guess that all four Beatles would come away with varying levels of PTSD.
“I therefore wouldn’t be inclined to blame or criticize Brian Epstein or John Lennon for keeping the Lennon marriage a secret.”
To an extent, I think that’s spot on, but I don’t think there’s also any denying that John was all-too willing to maintain that lie in part because it suited him. Ringo evidently was also willing regarding his dating Maureen but, according to Tony Barrow, Paul wasn’t: Barrow discusses in his memoirs how, in 1964, Brian was attempting to reign in Paul’s public appearances with Jane; Brian wanted Paul, like the other Beatles, to appear ‘available’ and unattached, and protested when Paul started squiring Jane around London. When Brian protested, Paul told him point blank that he was going to go out where and when he wanted with Jane, in public, and Brian would just have to deal with it. Now part of that may have been the oft-repeated nugget that Paul dislikes being told what to do and/or his contentious relationship with Brian, but the fact of the matter is when Paul refused to follow Brian’s edict, Brian capitulated. Marriage and/or a child is of course different from dating but I think its a safe assumption to make that Brian preferred that Paul, of all the Beatles, appear as the most available. If John had wanted to publicly acknowledge Cynthia and Julian, he could have; he didn’t want to.
“Children with early life trauma, like John, often grow up with limited parenting and relationship abilities. Add to the mix John’s lifelong struggles with depression (and possibly bipolar disorder), you’ve got a seriously handicapped parent.”
And this is one of the reasons I find the house-husband story of the last five years of John’s life so difficult to believe. John had serious issues that needed therapy and medication, treatment which he never received. He was a neglectful and absent-minded, mercurial and occasionally verbally abusive father with Julian, in large part because of these childhood traumas and his own lack of stable parenting examples. Yet we are supposed to believe that these fundamental issues, which were never treated and resolved, magically vanished once he became a father to Sean? According to Norman, John suddenly became a wonderful father because Sean was a wonderful baby, whereas Julian had been a “charmless child,” but that’s an incredibly mythology serving and unbalanced version of events.
“He said he himself was, and so too was Julian–but that didn’t mean he loved Julian any less.”
I understand what you’re saying Karen, and I agree that the “whiskey bottle” statement was misconstrued, and may even have been an attempt by John to identify with Julian, but … while John uses the statement as an opportunity to declare that he doesn’t love Julian any less even though Julian wasn’t planned, as opposed to Sean, John’s real life actions don’t bear that out. Julian had real reasons to believe that John loved Sean more, whether the reason was because Sean was planned or not: John spent more time with Sean, lavished him with presents, remained married to Sean’s mother, waxed rhapsodic about how wonderful it was to raise Sean, and overall devoted a great deal more time, attention, money and affection to Sean than to Julian.
Hmm, yes and no. Remember the circumstances and era of the marriage and birth. John married Cynthia because he got her pregnant. That was during a time when the band had just secured a record contract. The baby was born in 1963, when the band was gaining a foothold in Britain. A marriage under those circumstances–pregnancy out of wedlock– would have been a career killer. A far cry from 1964, when the band was at its peak and Paul was the famous rock star dating a beautiful english actress. And, to John’s credit, he did mention his marriage a number of times during interviews as early as 1963, much to Brian’s consternation. But your point is well taken that a secret marriage certainly served John’s personal interests well.
A thousand times yes. John made a telling statement about his relationship with Sean in one of his last interviews. Paraphrasing, he said that he didn’t know how Sean would feel about his relationship with him but was hopeful. John went on to say that, as a father, he was sometimes emotionally present, and yet other times emotionally unavailable, which concerned him. This lability in mood, so common in bipolar disorder, was also noted by those closest to them during the Dakota years, like Fred Seaman. My sense is that while John clearly loved both his children, his emotional state made his parenting inconsistent at best and downright neglectful at worst. Norman’s depiction of John’s parenting reminds me of what people often say when they only see/hear about the good parts: the parent is just fine, thank you; it’s the kid’s fault when things go badly.
Make no mistake: I’m not defending John’s inattention to Julian or claiming that both children received equal love and attention. Clearly, they did not. What I’m challenging is the interpretation of the statement, which was has been misconstrued as some heartless statement when it clearly was not. John had just reconnected with Julian in the years prior to this death, and it’s a tragedy that he didn’t have the chance to make up for lost time.
I wouldn’t consider any of them as having PTSD–except for perhaps, John, due to his childhood circumstances and his early years exposure to Julia’s risk-taking behaviour. PTSD requires exposure to “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence,” which the rest of the band (to my knowledge) never experienced. I do believe that John’s alcohol and drug use was both a consequence of and a trigger for his depression and (hypothesized) bipolar behaviour. Ongoing alcohol and drug use would affect dopamine levels, which could result in sustained cognitive impairment and serious emotional damage. I guess it’s a question of how much and how consistently John consumed alcohol and took drugs.
As for Paul, I would hypothesize that he has some unresolved anxiety issues, likely originating from his mother’s passing and, perhaps, the pressures put upon him as the oldest son and exacerbated by stardom. His coping mechanisms have essentially been adaptive and healthy. I know that much has been made in certain quarters about his pot-smoking, but I find that to be pretty innocuous, really.
“A marriage under those circumstances–pregnancy out of wedlock– would have been a career killer. A far cry from 1964, when the band was at its peak and Paul was the famous rock star dating a beautiful english actress.”
Very true. And I’m sure that Brian ultimately realized that it didn’t hurt the Beatles P.R. that, while Brian wanted Paul (and all the Beatles) to appear available and unattached, the British press evidently adored Jane. The press response to the Jane/Paul relationship was universally complimentary — I’ve never seen a negative contemporaneous article about Jane or the Jane/Paul relationship, whereas both the rock and roll and popular press let Paul/Linda and Linda have it with both barrels. The closest thing that comes to mind was an article Mike McCartney wrote in 1965/66, where Mike wonders whether, not when Paul and Jane will marry. Contrast the almost gushing coverage of Paul/Jane to the early years of press coverage of Paul/Linda or Paul/Heather (shudder) and it makes for an interesting study. Nancy appears to have received very complimentary press coverage, although I’m sure her close relationship with press maven Barbara Walters doesn’t hurt.
“My sense is that while John clearly loved both his children, his emotional state made his parenting inconsistent at best and downright neglectful at worst.”
Probably the best summation of John’s feelings and actions regarding parenting I’ve ever seen. What a shame for everyone involved, though. So much of the tragedy with John is that he seemed to realize so many of his issues, and, at times, recognized how toxic and unhealthy they could be, but could never break out of the cycle of still doing them.
“Ongoing alcohol and drug use would affect dopamine levels, which could result in sustained cognitive impairment and serious emotional damage.”
Echoes of Goldman; as you say, it depends on John’s drug/alcohol intake.
“As for Paul, I would hypothesize that he has some unresolved anxiety issues, likely originating from his mother’s passing and, perhaps, the pressures put upon him as the oldest son and exacerbated by stardom.”
I’m happy to see your noting Paul’s birth-order: I think that’s another issue that’s been overlooked in the overall Beatles dynamic. (Particularly regarding George — like myself, a youngest child).
Certainly “Tune In,” as well as virtually every other Beatles book, gives the impression that, well before the Beatles were ever conceived — before Paul ever even picked up a guitar — his family’s expectations of him were sky high, and there was pressure on him to deliver: Mike recounts how everyone was immensely proud but also completely unsurprised when Paul got into the Liverpool Institute, whereas everyone was very surprised when he, Mike, got in. Now that might be Mike practicing self-deprecation, but …
Now part of that may be retrospective, but it certainly seems as if Paul’s vast extended family also viewed him as somewhat of a golden child; perhaps that has something to do with his being born to relatively older parents one of which, Mary, was aspirational for herself and for her sons. That’s a lot of expectation to place on the shoulders of a child, even pre-fame. Everyone, even today, remains in awe of Paul’s work ethic — his current manager called Paul the busiest guy he ever knew — and I think we can trace a lot of that back to Paul’s roots as a self-motivated oldest child whom much was expected of. I don’t know if anxiety and workaholism go together.
And where do you see each of the Beatles on the introversion/extroversion scale, Karen? I personally see a lot of explanation for George’s behavior, his loathing of touring and interactions with the other Beatles through my view of him as an introvert. (And I believe he referred to himself as an introvert as well, somewhere in a ’64/’65 interview).
Well crap. My answer disappeared into cyberspace. Let me try again.
For the uninitiated, a few words about extroversion and introversion. The popular understanding is that extroverts are talkative and outgoing, while introverts are shy and retiring. Introversion and extroversion, however, is also about the internal experience and not merely about observable behaviour. Introversion and extroversion exist along a continuum, with people fitting somewhere along the continuum or landing right in the middle.
Introverts draw their energy from the world of ideas, while extroverts draw their energy from the world of relationships. Paul I would consider an extrovert; he clearly requires contact with the outside world for his personal and creative needs. I think Ringo is also an extrovert, although maybe closer to introversion on our continuum than Paul.
George I would consider a classic introvert. He’d be positioned pretty firmly on the introversion side of our continuum.
John is interesting. While he has strong extroverted tendencies, he also seemed to require and draw a lot of energy from the world of ideas. I’m guessing he might have falling closer to the middle of the continuum.
“Well crap. My answer disappeared into cyberspace. Let me try again.”
It’s so frustrating when you type up a reply and it vanishes in the ether.
I’d agree with your assessments, Karen. John would be the most difficult to pin down as either/or, both because he seems to fall somewhere in the middle of the scale and because its difficult (for me at least) to separate his introverted/extroverted qualities from the psychological tangle of his other mental health issues and/or drugs.
Introversion/Extroversion is the one area of psychology where I have more than a rudimentary understanding; as in, I’ve read more than a few books on the subject, but I wouldn’t consider myself an expert. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool classic left-brained introvert, raised in family of introverts, married to an introvert, raising two future introverts. (We’re not purposefully trying to make them introverts; they are simply born that way). I’m not shy; I’m not anti-social, just introverted.
That distance between George as a classic introvert and Paul as the most extroverted member of the Beatles explains, for me, a great deal about their interaction and relationship as it unfolded over time. If George was a classic introvert, than someone like Paul — type A, energetic, sometimes bossy, talkative, bouncy, zooming around like a pinball and gushing with musical ideas (which, after 1966, were often fully conceptualized and therefore needed little input from George) — would simply become exhausting after a time. I can’t emphasize this enough (for the roughly 75% of the population who aren’t introverts) and I speak from personal experience, but it really, genuinely, does not matter how much you like and/or love a person; if you are an introvert, you need to be alone and or calm to recharge. John and Ringo fall more in the middle of the spectrum than Paul does, which would help their interaction with George considerably, particularly after LSD mellowed John. In fact, I’d guess there’s a post in here on the impact of extroversion/introversion on the Beatles somewhere, Karen — what do you think?
I think that would be a great post.
I’m an introvert as well, but with extroverted tendencies.
It would be kind of fun to hypothesize where each Beatle was on other dimensions of the Myers-Briggs: Feeling vs Thinking, Judging vs Perceiving, Sensing vs Intuiting.
Thank you Erin. Thank you Karen.
Yes, I always thought that Ringo had a serious relationship with Maureen, especially when it seem like he got married out of nowhere. I reasoned that it must have been ongoing for a while, but never talked about or examined in books. John and Cynthia’s relationship was longtime but marriage was presented hidden when the band made it big.
I read (not sure which book) where as a baby, John’s mother put him down to sleep for the night and left him alone while she went out partying. (Mercy!) Baby John must have woke up in the night, cried and cried and realized that he was alone, developing his lifelong fear of abandonment. Unless neighbors came to baby John’s rescue and reported to authorities thereby having this scenario on record, how could the author know? At any rate, if true, how terrifying, traumatic and sad for John and would explain a lot. I need to re-read some books in my Beatles library. I need to get back to reading Tune In.
I don’t believe John turned into a perfect, loving, nurturing parent when Sean was born. I believe he tried. He made more of an effort. I know Sean had nannies to do the heavy lifting and shit detail. I believe John still was John, doing drugs, spacing out, being who he always was…very humanly flawed. I read how Sean was rushed to the hospital because John got angry and screamed into Sean’s ear because Sean couldn’t cut up his meat or was playing with his food (read both versions: not cutting up meat and playing with food) I’m curious Karen, what do you suspect about the “Julian laugh” incident not being a Joan Crawford (No. More. Wire. Hangers… EVER!) moment?
I too believe that John loved Julian. But love is more than a feeling, it is an action and John’s actions toward both of his sons spoke volumes to both of them. As far as the misquoted “bottle of whiskey” statement, it was still a crappy thing to say even if John included himself as a result of such, because he included Sean in it to differentiate between his sons. Paraphrasing: Sean: planned and WANTED. Julian: conception was not intended, was an ‘oops’, accident, (inference) ‘MISTAKE’. Actual quote to be found in Playboy interview. It wasn’t necessary. It was cruel under the guise of being “brutally honest”. Teenage Julian accepting uncritically that distorted misquote is quite understandable. One hopes that now as a fully mature adult man with his own life experiences to draw upon, with information obtain from Paul, and others that knew John well, he is able to review his own life and his father’s, complete with John’s faults, the childhood traumas, fears, insecurity,
tough guy masks, drugs, bad decisions, mental and emotional health issues, everything with an honesty, an understanding and compassion that as a boy growing up, a young man beginning his own life’s journey couldn’t possibly have done without a long period of life experiences and maturity. Therapy probably would have and still can help.
Again thank you Erin and Karen, for helping me to see more clearly, be more fair, in my own on going research of those that inhabit the world of The Beatles. It intrigues me because although I’ve always loved the music, since I was a little girl, the back history, and the still unfolding story, of which I came to late is beyond fascinating
and I want to understand it with a hunger I didn’t know I had. I call it my much belated Beatlemania.
“It was cruel under the guise of being “brutally honest”.”
Charlotte, I’m really enjoying your comments, and I think you hit on a key note here: for me, one of the most important takeaways regarding the Julian/Whiskey bottle comment is how its evidence reinforcing that John’s interviews are less gospel, and more as John spouting off. As with so many of John’s interview comments, this appears to be an example of John letting off steam, in mid-rant, discussing something personal and degrading (intentionally or unintentionally) a loved one, and fully expecting never having to answer for this comment in real life. Just like in “Lennon Remembers,” of other parts of the Playboy Interview — his bashing of George Martin, his accusations of sabotage against Paul — John wanted to say something in the heat of the moment and then not ever have to account for what he said. There’s something profoundly adolescent in that.
I enjoy your comments so much, Charlotte. You put your heart into every one of them.
I do agree with you that John could have worded the whisky comment more tactfully, I was a whisky child, myself–well, not whisky, exactly. I remember my mother telling me about sitting on the toilet, expecting a period and having none, and thinking “uh oh, pregnant again.” Not exactly traumatizing, but didn’t warm the cockles of my heart either. 🙂
Too funny–I was hoping you’d catch the inference. 🙂 In my opinion, the incidents between John and his children have been grossly misrepresented in most readings. The “Julian laugh” incident, for example, reminded me of similar incidents which have been reported to me many times from overstressed parents. Many times, they interpret the laughter as ridicule, as react accordingly. Julian was a sensitive child in a newly re-engaged relationship with an emotionally challenged parent; shit’s gonna happen. (Note that I don’t want to underplay Julian’s interpretation; his feelings are his feelings, and having your dad react so strongly must have been hugely upsetting. I’m just questioning the spin the entire incident has taken over the years in the official narrative.)
I also think the ear-shouting vis a vis Sean, to the point of deafness, is a grand exaggeration (for many reasons, but primarily because it’s not physically possible. My hunch is that Sean had an ear infection/Otitis Media, and that was the contributory cause.)
All in all, I tend to take these accounts with a grain of salt. Most of us, in the retelling of our childhood hurts, would convey them much differently than our parents. It doesn’t take away from our hurt; our hurt is legitimate. It just means that the official “story” is usually different from the reality.
Erin- John spouting off. He certainly did of lot of that. Ha! I’ve done a lot of that myself in life. Thank God no one ever put a megaphone or a microphone up to my mouth when I have spouted off (usually regarding Okie politicians or national pols). Like you said, he’d rant to let off steam which can be a good thing, done in private. What is sad is when his rants were inflamed by others with agendas and/or he was being interviewed by the press.
Karen- Oh yeah, I caught the Joan Crawford inference. One of the best lines and funniest moments in cinema history IMO. Terrifying for Christina Crawford to live through (if lived through as portrayed) My daughter and I watched that movie when it played on cable, she was about 6 or 7. The movie was about 3 or 4 years old by then. Playing around after the movie I decided to recreate the wire hanger moment with my child, and grabbed a hanger repeating the famous line in my best Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford shrill voice, while welding the wire hanger menacingly, expecting my daughter to laugh at my performance. She jumped up and got the phone and dialed slowly as she recited “9…1…1…”, I had to grab the phone from her before the call went through as she cowered like she was about to get a whipping (spanking). I said, “Girl, you know I’m just playing with you!” She was looking at me like I had grew 2 more heads, and I realized that she really was frightened. I had to calm her down and reassure her that I really was playing, that I thought she knew it, and that I didn’t mean to scare her. I had to comfort my baby and felt bad as a mom in that moment. She’s brought that incident up when we and my granddaughters watched the movie again on dvd. She told her daughters, “I thought Nana had lost her mind!” We all laughed about it…now.
I see what you are saying about over stressed parents reacting to their children’s laughter, believing that they are being mocked or ridiculed. Believe me, my mom’s reaction to me and my sisters, if she thought we were being disrespectful to her, (sassing, which was back talk, side eye, rolling eyes, snort, hmph, bottom lip sticking out), was met with swift and severe “correcting” of attitude which was as she called it an “ass whipping”, and we knew she loved (loves) us dearly as we love her…but she was/is old school.
I suspect John Lennon was heavily influenced by his Aunt Mimi’s upbringing. She was very class (conscience right or wrong, or is it concious which is aware?) snobby, and Liverpudlian old school. I don’t recall reading that she ever spanked him as a discipline, but I read she threw things at him when he was a teen. I bet John was a handful to handle and he needed a strong guiding hand…but still. If he thought Julian’s laughter was mocking him, then he probably reacted very Liverpudlian old school and sensitive Julian got the brunt. So I see what you mean Karen.
Re-reading what you have said up thread Erin, “As Connolly says, Yoko’s ego was always huge. There is enough testimony from people who knew her to argue that Yoko chafed at living in John’s artistic shadow in the 70’s, and resented being viewed as the lesser artist both to John and John’s ‘ex’, Paul.”
Have mercy, I sure believe that. I have discussed on another blog that it seemed to me that Yoko demanded, and John agreed, that their relationship, marriage was to be completely equal in every way. He was famous, so she was famous. He performed on stages, so she performed on his stages. He was to be interviewed, so she was going to be interviewed with him, butting in to answer questions directed to him if necessary. The limelight followed him, so she was going to bask in it. If audiences and his fans didn’t want her performances, then he was not to perform. He was not to shade or outshine her in any way……Ever. Equality as defined by them.
I got the impression that it was not really about equality but about power dynamics and assigned roles.
One was boss, the other underling. One commanded, the other obeyed. One inquired “What?”, the other asked “Mother may I?” I think rarely did the rolls reverse. And that seemed to work for them both…and to the detriment of both. IMO.
Your post makes me wonder, Charlotte, if John was psychologically capable of having a relationship of healthy equality. It wouldn’t seem so.