You Live With Straights: Excerpt II

In numerous interviews, from 1969 through the end of 1971, Lennon, Ono and Klein explicitly labeled McCartney and his in-laws “conservatives,” “bourgeoisie/middle class,” and establishment figures, while identifying themselves as “counter-cultural” or “anti-establishment.” As the official, singular Beatles narrative splintered into opposing versions, this politicization of the breakup impacted press coverage, prompting the rock and roll press in particular to choose sides. In addition, during the breakup’s most fraught period, Lennon argued that McCartney’s establishment leanings essentially caused the schism which led to the band’s end. In this interpretation, the Beatles primarily broke up not due to heavy drug use, leadership struggles, contrasting musical differences, or increasing personal tensions. Instead, the argument was that McCartney’s middle-class sensibilities and political conservatism encouraged his “selfish” and “unreasonable” refusal to follow Lennon’s lead in accepting Klein as Beatles manager.

This version was promoted by Lennon, Ono and Klein throughout the crucial breakup years of 1970 and 1971, and initially went unchallenged by everyone excepting McCartney, who argued that his aversion to Klein was motivated by legitimate concerns regarding Klein’s legal and financial affairs. By 1972, Lennon was quietly retreating from many of his 1971 claims. By 1973, drastic changes in the American political scene, as well as in the lives of the ex-Beatles, and their respective relationships with Klein, abruptly ended this official politicization of the band’s split. In 1980, perceptions remained that class tensions had inspired animosity within the Beatles, but Lennon’s initial claims that these political differences caused the band’s split had largely been forgotten. Although significant contemporaneous evidence indicates that the straights vs. establishment political issue initially played a key role in framing the reasons behind the Beatles breakup, this crucial political element is rarely to never identified as a primary cause in the majority of the band’s post-1973 literature. How and why did this politicization first become a cornerstone of Lennon’s version of the Beatles break up? And how and why did it then essentially vanish from Beatles historiography within such a short period of time?

In 1971, the press and many fans were ubiquitous in their belief that the tensions between Lennon and McCartney resulted, to a significant degree, from political differences: “Rolling Stone” reviewer Ben Gerson attributed at least part of the motivation for the “character assassination” in “How do you Sleep,” to “the traditional bohemian contempt for the bourgeoisie.” 1972’s Apple to the Core is the first book to attempt to chronicle – and assign blame for – the Beatles breakup. In the work, for which Lennon, Ono, and Klein provided extensive interviews, (McCartney declined), author Peter McCabe blames the Eastman’s and McCartney’s middle-class sensibilities for the band’s split, and concurs with the widespread accusations in the rock press that McCartney had betrayed the counterculture: “Paul made no attempt to defend himself against the accusations of the underground press.” Nicholas Schafner, author of the influential late 1970s work The Beatles Forever, concurred: “Most of them [rock critics] were already inclined to take John’s side in the Beatles Civil War; Paul was viewed as a traitor to the counterculture who had broken up the Beatles.”


Works Cited:

  1. J. Lennon “John Raps Paul,” Melody Maker, December 4, 1971, The Beatles Interview Database, http://www.beatlesintervieworg/db1971.11jp.beatles.htlmel (accessed February 7, 2018).
    2. Wenner, Jann. Lennon Remembers. New ed. (London: Verso, 2000)., 129.
    3. McCabe, Peter and Robert Schonfeld. Apple to the Core: The Unmaking of the Beatles. (London: Martin, Brian and O’Keefe, 1972)., 151.
    4. Frontani, “The Solo Years,” The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles, 164.
    McCabe and Schonfeld, Apple to the Core, 139.
    5. Ibid., 168.
    6. Numerous examples include Lennon’s testimony at the Beatles March 1971 Trial, the December 1970 Lennon Remembers Interview, Peter McCabe And Robert Schonfeld’s Apple to the Core, Lennon’s December 1971 letter to Melody Maker, The John Lennon Letters, which includes personal correspondence with McCartney, John Lennon’s November 1971 St. Regis Interviews, Allen Klein’s November 1970 Playboy interview, and “How Do You Sleep.”
    7. Peter Doggett’s essential evaluation of the band’s breakup, You Never Give Me Your Money (2009), acknowledges the growing political differences between Lennon and McCartney but does not identify them as the key reason for McCartney’s resistance to Klein or the band’s split. Numerous group and individual biographies, including Joe Goodden’s Riding So High (2016) and Peter Brown’s memoir The Love You Make (1984), argue that Lennon’s heroin use was a key factor. In The Beatles Anthology, the band’s producer George Martin identifies the introduction of Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman into the band’s orbit as spurring the breakup, because they altered the previous core relationship within the band: “They [Yoko and Linda] were more important to John and Paul than John and Paul were to each other.” (The Beatles. The Beatles Anthology, (Apple Corps, 2000)., 352). McCartney argues in his semi-autobiography Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now (1997) that Lennon’s psychological issues and heavy LSD and heroin use, along with his consuming artistic relationship with Ono, prompted the split. Jonathan Gould, Ian MacDonald, Bob Spitz, Mikal Gilmore and Mark Lewisohn, among others, also all offer versions of the breakup that reject the original, politically motivated narrative.
    8. McCabe and Schonfeld, Apple to the Core, 202.
    9. Doggett, Peter. There’s a Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars, and the Rise and Fall of the 60’s, (Canongate, New York, 2007)., 395.
    10. Frontani, “The Solo Years,” The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles, 162.
    Ibid., 164.
    11. Nicholas Schafner, The Beatles Forever, (Common House, Harrisburg, Pa. 1977)., 151

This is the second excerpt from the MVHC presentation/paper I presented in March. There should be other excerpts; hopefully posted soon, my grading schedule permitting. For anyone who’s particularly interested in this topic but has not yet had a chance to delve into it, I highly suggest Doggett’s “There’s a Riot Going On” as a well-researched analysis of the intersection of the politics, the rock press, and the counterculture occurring within the same time frame as the Beatles’ breakup. However, Doggett’s view of the issues extends beyond the Beatles. Thoughts and comments are welcomed.

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12 thoughts on “You Live With Straights: Excerpt II

    • Karen Hooper says:

      All fixed. 🙂

      I find that when I go into html mode rather than visual mode, it’ll let the spaces in. Have no idea why.

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  1. Karen Hooper says:

    “By 1972, Lennon was quietly retreating from many of his 1971 claims. By 1973, drastic changes in the American political scene, as well as in the lives of the ex-Beatles, and their respective relationships with Klein, abruptly ended this official politicization of the band’s split. “

    The other event which moved John away from that narrative was, I believe, his failing marriage to Ono. There’s a clear pattern here: when John’s relationship with Ono faltered, his narrative about Paul/Beatles/etc became demonstrably more positive and fair-minded.

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    • Erin says:

      “There’s a clear pattern here: when John’s relationship with Ono faltered, his narrative about Paul/Beatles/etc became demonstrably more positive and fair-minded.”

      And when Yoko and/or Klein wasn’t present at certain interviews or during certain times during other interviews, you can also see a more generous tone coming from John.

      I believe the general conclusion is that John and Yoko’s overt political activism ended on/around election night 1972, when Nixon (sigh) won and John responded … less than graciously. It’s interesting to me that the collapse of their political activism — which had been one of the defining elements of their all consuming relationship — contributes, seemingly, to their later separation. From 1969 – 1972, political activism, drugs, Klein, an anti-establishment stance and artistic and musical collaboration were among the major underpinnings of the Lennon/Ono relationship. By the end of 1972, almost all those are gone; they’re out of politics; Klein’s on his way out the door, and in both Yoko and John’s bad books; after the critical drubbing of STINYC, they’re not collaborating together (and won’t again until Double Fantasy, and Jack Douglas has raised some questions regarding how collaborative that was). While they were both still doing drugs, it didn’t’ seem to unify them the way heroin had in the breakup period. They no longer have the Eastman’s as omnipresent boogeymen. (Although, they do have the unwanted attention of the Nixon administration).

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      • Karen Hooper says:

        It’s interesting to me that the collapse of their political activism — which had been one of the defining elements of their all consuming relationship — contributes, seemingly, to their later separation. From 1969 – 1972, political activism, drugs, Klein, an anti-establishment stance and artistic and musical collaboration were among the major underpinnings of the Lennon/Ono relationship. By the end of 1972, almost all those are gone.

        Such a good point, Erin. John was searching for a partner and creative outlet for his artiste persona, and what better choice in 1968-69–arguably one of the most political periods US history at that time–than an all-consuming relationship with Yoko Ono.

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  2. Erin says:

    For those of you who may be interested and will not be taking care of an infant in November 2018: https://www.njarts.net/pop-rock/monmouth-university-to-host-symposium-on-the-beatles-white-album/

    This is, of course, the follow-up to the Sgt. Pepper conference hosted by Walter Everett at the University of Michigan last summer. That conference focused heavily on musicological analysis, while this one, at least according to the submission suggestions, may lean more towards telling the band’s story. And the keynote speaker is someone that, if you’ve read a few Beatles’ books, you may have heard of.

    If anyone who reads this blog is interested in attending and/or presenting at this conference, please let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

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  3. Rose Decatur says:

    I wrote this for the first part of the thread but it never went through, but it goes a little bit better here, since the subject is classism…particularly John’s phony war over it. Aside from the obvious, John’s continued harping on Lee Eastman’s class status and name change (which I agree, was no doubt spurred on by Klein) is annoying for the hypocrisy and the sheer ignorance. John, after all, was middle class turned upper class, and Yoko was upper class (including the brief time her family lived in New York). Lee Eastman, while not having the tragic childhood of Klein (who was orphaned) was still just as much of a self-made man.

    “Americanizing” one’s name -which John harped on – was not unusual for the time, not least due to discrimination. Lee Eastman (born Leopold Epstein) was born the son of poor Russian immigrants and he worked extremely hard at academics to attend City College, which at the time catered to the gifted children of immigrants who couldn’t pay for college. (I’ve read before that he entered college at 16). He attended Harvard Law at a time when there was an unofficial quota against Jewish students, and didn’t change his last name until the late 1930’s, a time when not only the Holocaust was being implemented in Europe but there was rampant anti-Semitism in the U.S. To quote Wikipedia:

    “Antisemitism in the United States was also indicated by national public opinion polls taken from the mid nineteen thirties to the late nineteen forties. The results showed that over half the American population saw Jews as greedy and dishonest. These polls also found that many Americans believed that Jews were too powerful in the United States. Similar polls were also taken, one of which posed that 35–40 percent of the population was prepared to accept an anti-Jewish campaign.

    In a 1938 poll, approximately 60 percent of the respondents held a low opinion of Jews, labeling them “greedy,” “dishonest,” and “pushy.”[25] 41 percent of respondents agreed that Jews had “too much power in the United States,” and this figure rose to 58 percent by 1945. In 1939 a Roper poll found that only thirty-nine percent of Americans felt that Jews should be treated like other people. Fifty-three percent believed that “Jews are different and should be restricted” and ten percent believed that Jews should be deported.[26] Several surveys taken from 1940 to 1946 found that Jews were seen as a greater threat to the welfare of the United States than any other national, religious, or racial group.”

    There’s no indication that changing his last name was part of Lee being ashamed of his heritage, instead of, for example, an attempt to “Americanize” his name as his career took off. It’s worth noting as well, IMO, that Lee also encouraged his little sister, Rose (Linda’s aunt), to follow him into higher education and pursue her fascination with science. Rose Epstein ended up going to Smith College on a scholarship from a Jewish foundation which helped underprivileged youth. Dr. Rose Frisch (her eventual married name) then worked as a human computer for Richard Feynman on the Manhattan Project, and later became a pioneering geneticist at Harvard who is credited with discovering the scientific link between female body fat and fertility and diseases like breast cancer.

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    • Karen Hooper says:

      I wrote this for the first part of the thread but it never went through..

      Are you experiencing some glitches in posting, Rose? I noticed some duplicate posts, but don’t know if that’s a problem with connectivity at your end or a problem with WordPress at our end.

      Aside from the obvious, John’s continued harping on Lee Eastman’s class status and name change..

      Sigh. Yeah. Using non sequiturs to bolster an argument and justify his anger seems typical of John during this period.

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    • Erin says:

      “I wrote this for the first part of the thread but it never went through,”

      Rose, I’m sorry to hear there were problems with your post going up. I always look forward to your comments. Karen has bee noticing some issues recently; hopefully we (really she, since I’m such a luddite) will figure out what’s going on.

      “Lee Eastman, while not having the tragic childhood of Klein (who was orphaned) was still just as much of a self-made man.”

      Which makes George’s Anthology-era comment — that part of the reason he chose Klein over Eastman was because Klein was a self-made man — particularly interesting. Did George really not know, by the early 90s, that Lee Eastman was born just as working class as Klein, or was he still trying to justify his choice of Klein along this anti-establishment framework, regardless of the facts?

      One of the elements that interests me are the surface similarities between John Eastman and Epstein. Both were relatively young, well-dressed, polished, urbane, upper-middle class businessmen from Jewish backgrounds. Certainly it would have been easier to draw surface similarities between Eastman and Epstein than between Klein and Epstein. It’s pure speculation, but I wonder if Eastman was simply too much in the Brian mold for the other three, especially since you have Ringo in the November 1971 Playboy interview flatout saying about Klein that he wanted a “hustler; someone who would be hustling for me.”

      “There’s no indication that changing his last name was part of Lee being ashamed of his heritage, instead of, for example, an attempt to “Americanize” his name as his career took off.”

      But that level of nuance certainly wouldn’t have been allowed in an interview like “Lennon Remembers,” which very much set the tone for the perception of the Eastman family among the counterculture. I wish we had more sources from the Eastman family but, to my knowledge, their interviews are highly limited. There’s 1972’s Apple to the Core (in which his agreement to be interviewed doesn’t work out well for John Eastman); There’s a 1976 Time magazine article on Paul; there are the interviews with John Eastman in the new Norman Paul bio. So far as I know, that’s it regarding their interview imprint on Beatles historiography. They’ve played an immense role in Paul’s life/the breakup period, but they’ve kept a very low profile when it comes to overtly shaping the band’s story (and their own involvement in it).

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  4. Rose Decatur says:

    I was having problems a couple of weeks ago posting, but they seem to be going through fine now, so no worries!

    ” I wish we had more sources from the Eastman family but, to my knowledge, their interviews are highly limited. There’s 1972’s Apple to the Core (in which his agreement to be interviewed doesn’t work out well for John Eastman); There’s a 1976 Time magazine article on Paul; there are the interviews with John Eastman in the new Norman Paul bio. So far as I know, that’s it regarding their interview imprint on Beatles historiography. They’ve played an immense role in Paul’s life/the breakup period, but they’ve kept a very low profile when it comes to overtly shaping the band’s story (and their own involvement in it).”

    Well, that’s one of the many factors unexplored in an actual, comprehensive Paul biography. John Eastman was not only apparently close to his sister growing up, but became one of his brother-in-law’s best friends and closest advisors once Paul and Linda got together. I think of John Eastman as Paul’s consigliere – yet his influence is hardly ever mentioned or explored. Once the tumult of the Beatles’ split is over, John conveniently disappears from the narrative.

    It’s especially galling when you consider that John’s influence continues to this day. After Linda’s death, Paul bought an estate in Amagensett, Long Island to show his permanent allegiance to the Eastmans (previously the McCartneys would rent a house in the summer). John’s son/Paul’s nephew, Lee, is a higher-up at MPL and seems poised to take over his dad’s role whenever John retires. John was supposedly the unseen architect behind both Paul’s divorce and Stella’s building of her fashion empire (Stella also frequently quotes and references her grandfather Lee in interviews).

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    • Erin says:

      “Well, that’s one of the many factors unexplored in an actual, comprehensive Paul biography.”

      I’m trying to think of an author that would be capable of producing such a biography (one who isn’t otherwise engaged). Turner, perhaps — I’m not overly familiar with Turner, although I found I liked The Beatles ’66. Ray Connolly? Paul do Noyer’s “Conversations with McCartney was good, but more of an updated MYFN than a biography.

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  5. Rose Decatur says:

    I think it may take someone who is not already a Beatles author; someone who could examine Paul’s life in the context of a true autobiography rather than simply as a subset of Beatles literature. I’m envisioning someone like a young Peter Guralnick and what he did with his two volume scholarly Elvis biography (Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love).

    In the world where I win the lottery, of course, I would commission one of the top female music journalists around – like Adrienne Day or Stacey Brooks – to write a comprehensive Paul bio providing both a female and a younger perspective. There needs to be a writer who treats the Beatles as part of Paul McCartney’s story rather than simply placing him as part of the Beatles – and the older, Baby Boomer critics may just be too overwhelmed by the proximity to the Beatles’ legacy to do that.

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