~by Karen and Erin
Some time ago, Erin and I began a discussion about how the perception of conflict between Paul and the other three Beatles, particularly in the days prior to the band’s demise, has essentially been characterized by many biographers as an outcome of Paul’s perfectionism. In our opinion, however, the “Paul was too bossy” trope–a view often promulgated by the other three Beatles, as it happens–was simply too convenient and in its gross oversimplification of creative conflict, woefully inaccurate. It seemed more likely that the conflicts within the group, and between Paul and George in particular, were due–at least in part–to their innately different creative and interpersonal styles. The Beatles are not unique in assigning false attributions to one another in conflict situations; as a matter of fact, many people have a tendency to assign pejorative labels to behaviours which they don’t understand, find frustrating, and get in the way of their own creative needs.
But what exactly is creativity? Psychologist Robert Franken, in his book Human Motivation, defines it this way:
Creativity is….the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others. In order to be creative… you need to be able to generate new possibilities or new alternatives. The ability to generate alternatives…is linked to other, more fundamental qualities of thinking, such as flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity or unpredictability, and the enjoyment of things heretofore unknown.
Myers-Briggs Type Inventory
The ‘fundamental qualities of thinking’ which shape the creative process also include the way in which energy is obtained to facilitate the creative drive, how information is organized in the development of the creative product, and how all of that is communicated to other participants in the creative endeavor. Collectively, we refer to these elements as introversion/extroversion, judging/ perceiving, feeling/ thinking, and sensing/intuiting. These concepts were developed by two psychologists, Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs, who based their work on the works of psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
First, some quick defintions of the concepts:
Introversion/Extroversion continuum: to what extent energy is drawn from the outside world or from within.
Judging/Perceiving continuum: to what extent you need order and structure or are more comfortable going with the flow. ‘Judgement’, in this regard, should not be confused with ‘judgemental’. It’s simply how one prefers to organize information and respond to it.
Feeling/Thinking continuum: to what extent you make decisions based on how people feel or what you objectively think.
Sensing/Intuiting continuum: to what extent you pay attention to the concrete world or meaningfulness in patterns.
Since the inventory was developed for use in psychometrics, there have been validity concerns in its application as a psychometric instrument. In its original conceptualization as a psychological measurement, these concerns–particularly in terms of consistency and replicability (i.e., achieving the same profile over time) may be valid, particularly if administered and interpreted (improperly) as a static measure of personality structure. In its use as a tool and general guide, however, the Meyers-Briggs provides a handy framework to understand interpersonal styles in working groups.
So how are the Myers-Briggs concepts applicable to the interpersonal conflicts and working styles of Messieurs McCartney, Harrison, Lennon and Starr? Here’s the preliminary discussion Erin and I had:
KAREN: 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.
ERIN: 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.
I’ll turn the discussion over to Erin now, who will share more of her thoughts about how the characteristics and preferences of introversion and extroversion, in particular, potentially shaped the interactions (and conflicts) between George and Paul.
Thanks, Karen. First, a little background on introversion/extroversion. 75% of the population are what we would label extroverts, although people can fall anywhere on the scale from an extreme introvert to a lesser extrovert. That means that 25% of the population qualify as introverted — which makes the Beatles a classic representation of that introverted/extroverted percentage breakdown with George, the one introvert, representing 1/4 of the Beatles. Like extroverts, introverts range across an entire spectrum of introversion, from seriously introverted to more moderate introverts.
Let’s dispel some myths: Introverts aren’t anti-social. They’re not shy. They’re not snobby, or withdrawn, or low-energy. Introversion and Extroversion are, at their core, about energy. Extroverts gain energy from being around other people: from social activities, to big group meetings, to rock concerts. It recharges them. Introverts are the opposite. They need quiet — and often solitude — in order to recharge. “Extroverts spend energy freely and often have trouble slowing down … Extroverts may experience loneliness and a feeling of being drained when they are not in contact with people or the outside world. Introverts are energized by the internal world … They need a quiet, reflective place where they can think things through and recharge themselves.”
When I first read works by Beatles authors such as Ray Coleman and Philip Norman, I was struck by their almost universal depiction of George as a mean, sour grump; someone who was “born bitter,” and seemingly resented the majority of his experiences as a Beatle. I found this depiction of George suspicious: it conformed too readily with his “A Hard Day’s Night” caricature, allowed George’s contributions to the band to be overlooked and dismissed by avowedly pro-Lennon writers, and overlooked the wealth of testimony from numerous individuals — who weren’t reporters — attesting to George’s generosity, dry wit, and ability to maintain deep, personal friendships. Neil Aspinall, Derek Taylor, Tony Barrow and other crucial Beatles insiders all attest to George’s warmth; it seemed that George connected better with people one-on-one, rather than in large groups.
This piqued my interest, as this is a classic sign of an introverted personality. As an introvert myself, the theory of George’s introversion intrigued me. Introversion and extroversion are hard-wired into our brains from birth; they impact our personalities, characters and decisions throughout our entire lives. More, introverts in general have long been mis-characterized as grumpy, snobby, shy, withdrawn, and rude; all qualities which had been ascribed to George.
George acknowledges his own introversion in a 1964 interview, and his life and work display many introverted qualities. In her memoirs, Chris O’Dell, a female Apple employee who lived with George and Pattie for a time, notes George’s differing reactions to something as trivial as gossip. On one day, George would join in a gossip session with good will, trading information and having a great time. The next day, he’d dismiss gossip as inane, and criticize Chris and Pattie for indulging in it. As trivial as this might seem, George’s seeming hypocrisy on gossip is another signal of his introversion: introverts have to have the energy and willingness to engage in small talk. When that energy is present, they can enjoy and participate. When that energy isn’t there, they have no use for “small talk.”Ringo discussed in Living in the Material World how George was very “black and white,” and his wiring as an introvert may have encouraged those aspects of George’s behavior.
George’s introversion has been, as I see it, criminally overlooked by his and Beatles biographers. Not only did this fundamental aspect impact George’s entire life, it impacted Beatles history to a staggering extent. Once George’s introversion has been established, the reasons behind his loathing of touring — the crowds, the incessant noise, the screaming fans, the endless demands of the press, the terrible performances — becomes blindingly clear. George, more so than any other Beatle, was fundamentally hardwired to find all those aspects of touring uncomfortable, frustrating, and deeply exhausting. Every minute on stage, every press conference, every inane interview, took more effort and energy for George to get through than it did the others. No wonder he gained a reputation as the grumpy one: he was perpetually being drained of energy on tour. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t enjoyable moments; that George didn’t have fun either on or off the stage. It does mean that the demands of being a Beatle were fundamentally at odds with the basic precepts of George’s personality and character.
Thanks Erin. I’d like to piggy back on your discussion by adding that introversion and extroversion aren’t likely the only elements at work here; also shaping George’s response in your gossip example is his preference for structure (Judgement) and his intolerance for ambiguity (Intuiting.) I see his contradictory behaviour as an intolerance for the nuanced, flighty nature of gossip, which he sometimes can engage in, but as many times cannot. Saying it another way, an extrovert like John could find solitude rejuvenating one week and isolating and horrible the next, and so on.
When we turn our attention to Paul and his differentness to the other band members, it gets really interesting. Paul’s approach to the creative process is entirely on the judgement continuum: this is how Geoff Emerick described Paul’s approach to the creative task:
Paul was meticulous and organized: he always carried a notebook around with him, in which he methodically wrote down lyrics and chord changes in his neat handwriting. In contrast, John seemed to live in chaos: he was constantly searching for scraps of paper that he’d hurriedly scribbled ideas on. Paul was a natural communicator; John couldn’t articulate his ideas well. Paul was the diplomat; John was the agitator. Paul was soft-spoken and almost unfailingly polite; John could be a right loudmouth and quite rude. Paul was willing to put in long hours to get a part right; John was impatient, always ready to move on to the next thing. Paul usually knew exactly what he wanted and would often take offense at criticism; John was much more thick-skinned and was open to hearing what others had to say. In fact, unless he felt especially strongly about something, he was usually amenable to change.
When you consider Paul’s approach to the creative process as compared to the other Beatles (and if you want a really interesting example, read the Maxwell’s Silver Hammer post on my In Their Own Words blog), it’s clear how different and potentially conflicted their creative styles were.
Erin and I would like to now turn the discussion over to our readers. What are your thoughts and speculations about the Beatles’ interpersonal conflict as it relates to the psychological elements we discussed here? We’d love to hear from you.
48 thoughts on “Introversion/Extroversion, and Beatles’ Conflict: A Dialogue”
So excited to see this post. Another neglected axis for Beatles discourse! Paul is, I’d say, not only clearly the only one of the Beatles who truly enjoys performing and absolutely loves being on stage, he’s one of the few people in the world who seems to love it at this level. The others were far more ambivalent, George most of all. It absolutely shaped their lives and there is so little discussion of it.
Hi Anne; If there was an exemplar of Paul’s extroversion, it would be his singular love of performing on stage. I think the ultimate drawback of performing during the Beatlemania years though, was that the music couldn’t be heard, so there seemed to be no point. Add this to the general insanity of touring you can see why the others wanted to pack it in–and why Paul ultimately agreed.
Thanks for your discussion of introversion/extroversion. I’d like to get back (pun intended) to the opening paragraph: “In our opinion, however, the ‘Paul was too bossy'” trope is oversimplified vis-a-vis the group’s demise. I agree. And I also take seriously the other three’s complaints about that particular song’s recording, and their feelings (expressed elsewhere, too) that McCartney sometimes went too far in pursuit of perfection. The demise of the Beatles was complex and no one factor was the decisive one in the dissolution.
I often tell my Beatles class that McCartney’s telling the other members what to play (say, during the Get Back/Let it Be sessions) came at the same time he wanted the Beatles to “get back” to being a real group again. But to get back to being a real group would require getting back to letting every member have input into the shaping of a song or recording. Ironically, McCartney was going in the opposite direction of his “get back” ideal, in part telling Harrison and Starr what to play. To me, McCartney’s pursuit of perfection and his having worked out all the parts himself were undercutting his “get back” impulse.
By the way, I am in awe of McCartney and find his Beatles music to be fantastic.
Nice to hear from you, Carl.
I find Paul’s discussion of his bossiness in Many Years From Now very interesting in that regard. He basically argues 1. He didn’t realize he was being bossy then. 2. He can understand, now, in the mid-to-late 90s, why that would have ticked the others off, but 3. he also defends being so demanding because: (his words, not mine) “I wanted to get it right!” That claim that he didn’t realize how the others were emotionally reacting to him is particularly interesting, because we have Paul and others discussing that aspect of his personality various times over the years. There are time when Paul seems oblivious to how others are reacting to him.
I think its important to remember, regarding the discussion of either Paul’s bossiness or other character traits, their discussion during the lunchroom LIB tapes. You have John and Paul discussing George’s departure, and mentioning how even when they’re not trying to be critical/condescending, etc. George is still interpreting it that way, because that’s what he’s come to expect from them. I imagine there are other moments where we can look at the tapes as outsiders and don’t read a particular behavior — such as bossiness — from Paul, but the other Beatles might have, because that’s what they were inclined to hear.
On a personal note, I find George’s reaction sort of irritating. George Martin said that for most of the Beatle years, George Harrison’s work was inferior to John and Paul’s, and that his contributions required a lot of work.
If he was treated as less than an equal over those years, it was because he wasn’t in the same league as Lennon/McCartney. And his later work followed the same path, except for those occasions when he wisely surrounded himself with superior performers (Geoff Lynn, et al.) If you review the success of his albums, the albums which he created solo floundered compared to the ones in which he worked with the top guns of his industry. Conversely, Lennon and McCartney didn’t require that sort of top tier support to be successful.
I’m not suggesting that George was a slouch, mind you; but I think it’s erroneous for biographers (or George himself) to suggest that he was at the same level as Lennon/McCartney as was held back without reason.
It’s Jeff Lynne .. Karen.
I disagree with your assessment that George’s work in subsequent years was inferior whether he had help or not. I believe from 1968 onwards he was on a par with Lennon Mccartney.. and it became a matter of personal taste from then on.
Thank you for the spelling correction….Ascot.
I was speaking to George’s earlier years, when, according to Geoff Emerick and George Martin, George Harrison’s attempts were not up to par with Lennon and McCartney. Here’s Geoff Emerick, with one example:
From the late 60’s onward, George came into his own, but the Lennon/McCartney enterprise was fairly well entrenched, and it was hard for George to get a foothold.
Thanks for quick reply.
I was referring to this part of your answer
“And his later work followed the same path, except for those occasions when he wisely surrounded himself with superior performers (Geoff Lynn, et al.) If you review the success of his albums, the albums which he created solo floundered compared to the ones in which he worked with the top guns of his industry. Conversely, Lennon and McCartney didn’t require that sort of top tier support to be successful.”
With all due respect my point was that from 1968 that people’s like for each of the 3 main songwriters was more about personal taste as they’d each reached a pretty high level of commercial skill.
What you’ve pasted is a recollection from a recording session of a non George Harrison song in 1964 which was pretty early period Beatles for mine …………which had nothing to do with my comment.
If anything George was well known for having the same crew of guys that he liked to work with. He was a collaborative person who enjoyed being part of a band but he also enjoyed playing music with his mates. Admittedly All Things Must Pass did have Derek and the Dominos et al. but I could easily listen to demos of those sessions and Living in the Material World and still be mightily impressed. He wrote great songs… and he continued to.
He still had reasonable crews of musicians for his remaining 70’s albums. He was always good at building and keeping relationships. That may be a good topic for later on.
The declining commercial successes were more due to personal issues, hectic work schedules, perhaps declining motivations with the music world. And perhaps he was making music to please himself and to reflect his spiritual path.
Are you also ascot, Brendan? Just to be sure I’m talking to the same person. 🙂
Anyhow, I think we’re talking at cross purposes here. In my original comment, my point was simply that George’s anger was misplaced, since his early work was indeed inferior to Lennon and McCartney and Martin justifiably prioritized Lennnon and McCartney’s work over his. By the time his skills were developed, however, the Lennon/McCartney enterprise was so fully developed he couldn’t get a foothold, and that would have been justifably annoying.
I think our point of disagreement is with respect to the relative importance of George’s solo work with top tier musicians. I agree with you that George enjoyed the collaborative process and sought out those musicians (with whom he became friends) for the creative and personal rewards it provided. But I also think that there’s a correlation between George’s collaborative efforts and his commercial successes, where perhaps you do not. (As an aside, I prefer George’s collaborative efforts–LOVE the Travelling Wilburys–over many of Lennon or McCartney’s solo efforts.) Maybe we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.
Yes, sorry my name is Brendan …. it came through as my business email.
Thanks again for replying. Its much appreciated!
And yes I acknowledge your points about George’s collaborations and it probably also said a lot about his ego that he could take other ideas on board for the greater good of the music.
When I talk to other George fans they also point to how his music had a vulnerable sensitive side which resonated. I’m not sure if that’s an introverts characteristic to be able to do that? Or maybe it was something about his voice or the topics he chose to pursue through music.
We’re veering off the whole introversion topic here but I guess it happens.
Thanks again. I found out about this blog through SATB Podcast. I’m glad I did as you guys are great!
No worries re the name, Brendan, and thanks you for your kind words. I’m glad you found us on SATB.
Absolutely–and the fact that he became firm friends with whom he collaborated is further testament to how well those collaborative efforts went.
George had a wonderfully developed spiritual nature and I think it just naturally found expression in his music. One of the major criticisms of Paul’s music, compared to George’s or John’s, is that Paul’s music (with some exceptions, of course) isn’t an expression of his feelings and experiences. He’s more guarded, I think.
Thanks for your insightful perspective on McCartney and Harrison. It adds nuance to my view of the “bossiness” situation.
I hope you and your family are doing well,
Thanks for the good wishes, Carl, and, as always, for commenting. I hope your semester is going smoothly.
We’re fighting the typical fall colds, but other than that we’re doing fine.
I enjoy reading your and Karen’s discussion, and the various nuances both of you are acknowledging and bringing to the table. I find the lunchroom tapes fascinating for a variety of reasons, including the reality that they evidently didn’t know they were being taped. And there’s an impressive amount of self-awareness (in certain areas) from John and Paul here: they know why George is frustrated with them, to an extent (although John won’t acknowledge the tension caused by Yoko’s speaking for him) and they express an honest desire to change their approach to George, but also admit that they’re going to find it hard to do that after the patterns they’ve developed with him and with each other over the past fifteen years.
Then you have both of them claiming that they’re not trying to be overly critical, but George is interpreting it that way, because that’s what he expects from them at this point. Now there could be some convenient self-justification on the “we’re not being overly critical — George is just reading us wrong” aspect, but I think that’s an element in all of their behavior regarding each other, even if this specific instance has to do with George. There’s a very sibling dynamic there, where an outsider might not pick up on the cues that a fellow sibling/insider would: we may or may not see it, but they see it, because they’re attuned to it. So is George genuinely reading their criticism wrong, because that’s what he expects from them, or are they being slightly oblivious to their behavior and justifying themselves? I think the question is ultimately unanswerable, because we’re wrestling with both intention and interpretation. Does Paul intend to boss the others around so much he makes them mad? I would assume not. But perhaps behavior that he doesn’t see as bossy, the others do, because that’s how they’re inclined to see it.
Thank you as always for you nuanced analysis. Groups like the Beatles are indeed like families and so much of what we know about family dynamics can be applied.
I need to remember to avoid the either/or binary trap. (McCartney was either bossy or an artistic perfectionist, for example).
A personal experience from my workplace (which was a mental health workplace, which goes to show you that even when you have a group of mental health professionals together, interpersonal differences can still be problematic): We brought in an assessor trained in Meyers-Briggs profiling. The profiles created were quite amazing, and shed light on how different we each processed information and approached tasks.
The example you give of Paul being oblivious to how he was affecting others rings true, in particular when the person is also operating strongly from a thinking vs feeling, judging vs intuiting position. Assuming our profile of Paul is correct, I totally identify with him; we may be clueless–or unconcerned–about how our need for perfection and order in a task may affect others. What’s important to us, to quote Paul, is ‘getting it right’.
I have this fantasy that I could swoop in and administer the M-B, in the hopes of decriminalizing behaviours that are simply just a person’s inherent style. In my workplace, it made a huge difference–we no longer got as angry at each other and tried to find ways to work together, in spite of our different styles.
Certainly being a perfectionist can be demanding and exhausting on those around them. (Just ask people who’ve worked with me; I can drive them crazy. 🙂 )
However, If you read Sulpy and Schweighardt’s book, there’s no indication that Paul told anyone how to play anything (other than sharing how he envisioned the song in his head). As a matter of fact, Paul and George discussed how differently they approached the creative process in that telling one-on-one scene which ended, unfortunately, in frustration for George. What was clear to me was that Paul’s creative process was so markedly different than George’s that they often clashed. And, since John had already forfeited his role as leader/mediator, it was left for George and Paul to fight it out. Paul was no more capable of changing his style than George was capable of changing his.
Interestingly, this idea that Paul told others what to play only comes up with his own songs, and I think that’s because his musical vision comes out fully formed, reflective of his creative process. What I’m getting at here is that it’s not “bossiness” per se that’s at work; it’s the manifestation of an individual’s creative approach.
Hi Karen! Great to hear from you.
You write: “However, If you read Sulpy and Schweighardt’s book, there’s no indication that Paul told anyone how to play anything.”
What do you think of these examples?
The incident in which McCartney wanted Starr to play a particular drum part, and when Starr couldn’t play it to McC’s satisfaction, McC played the drum part. MC later said: “I’m sure it pissed Ringo off when he couldn’t quite get the drums to back in the USSR and I sat in. It’s very weird to know that you can do a thing someone else is having trouble with.”
—Walter Everett, The Beatles As Musicians (part 2) p. 165
Harrison: “But there came a time, possibly around the time of Sgt Pepper (which was maybe why I didn’t enjoy that so much), where Paul had fixed an idea in his brain as to how to record one of his songs. He wasn’t open to anybody else’s suggestions.” […] “It became stifling, so that although this new album was supposed to break away from that type of recording (we were going back to playing live) it was still very much that kind of situation where he already had in his mind what he wanted. Paul wanted nobody to play on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!’”
—George Harrison in The Beatles Anthology, p. 318
And of course, the famous exchange in the Let it Be movie in which Harrison says he’ll play what ever McCartney wants him to play, or not at all.
Carl, I’m not Karen, but I’ll jump in in hopes of clarification. The Sulpy book Karen referred to is about the Get Back sessions, which is also when Paul wanted them to “get back.”
George’s “I’ll play whatever you want me to play” comment is from those sessions, but Paul wasn’t telling him what to play. They were discussing the best way to quickly get their songs ready for an audience, and Paul wanted to nail down the basic structure before adding embellishments. George favored another approach that Paul thought would take too long.
thanks Lauraleestoll. I included the excerpt from the book in a response upthread as well.
An interesting sidenote: In an interview which I don’t have at my fingertips, Paul commented on George’s frustration with him and said (I’m paraphrasing here) but although it must have been difficult and maybe he could have made things easier, sometimes George just didn’t have the correct input. For example, George wanted to add a guitar riff after every phrase of Hey Jude. Hey Jude (waa waa) Don’t make it bad (waaa waaa) take a sad song (waaa waaa waaa)…you get the picture. Paul had to stop him and tell him that that wasn’t how he envisioned the song. Given the success of Hey Jude, I think Paul was right.
For those who are interested, much of the material regarding the behaviors and patterns of introverts and extroverts comes from Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (newsflash; introverts hate open-space floor plans at work) and The Introvert Advantage, by Marti Lani. Lani also discusses how introverts, more than extroverts, benefit greatly from a sense that their contributions are welcomed and/or will be listened to fairly; its harder for introverts to offer up material for scrutiny or appraisal if they feel their contribution is not going to be met with an open mind.
Cain also makes clear, as does Lani, that introvert/extrovert relationships can be beneficial; there are countless married couples, etc. with one of each, friendships, etc. The extrovert in the relationship can persuade the introvert to move out of their normal routine, seek out new experiences and opportunities to socialize, while the introvert can impact their extroverted partner by persuading them to pay more attention/thoughtfulness to the individual. But its crucial that each pay attention to the other’s limits and expectations.
Also, that statistic that I mentioned above — that 1/4 of the population is introverted — is based on the United States, so it doesn’t exactly fit into out Beatles application, (they didn’t have the stats for England). But Cain does say that the United States is one of the countries with the highest percentage of extroverts (and they offer interesting theories on why, but that would be digressing) so presumably England’s would be similar, if not higher. Also, George explicitly, I believe, refers to himself as an introvert in a 1964 interview. I can’t recall exactly which one (there are, well, lots of 1964 interviews) but it may be the one in which George discusses how the personalities of all four Beatles mesh well — something that Pete Shotton also observed and noted.
In fact, the “opposites attract” phenomena is kind of proof of that in a lot of ways. We tend to be attracted to others who have qualities we perceive in them that we admire, and feel we are lacking. The Lennon/McCartney friendship and partnership is probably the exemplar of this.
Great examples, Carl. Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute.
In the first example, Paul presumably sat in to play a drum part that Ringo could NOT play. That, in my view, is evidence of getting the job done, not simply taking over for some sense of personal ego gratification.
In the second example, Paul was working on one of his OWN songs, and had a definite idea of how it should be played. While George might have found that frustrating, perhaps he should have respected Paul’s point of view–it was his song, after all, and Paul’s track record–writing hit after hit, having the support of George Martin, et al–was superior to George’s. And George was also quick to point out that, when it came to HIS work and the work of the other Beatles, Paul was creative and supportive. (I’ll have to find the quote for that; I came upon it recently.)
The conventional belief that “Paul took over and told people what to play” is an pejorative oversimplification, in my view, and ignores the creative process (and conflicts which arise) when four people have vastly different appoaches to the creative task. Could Paul have been more politic in his dealings? Probably. Would the end result–the song–have been improved by allowing the input of George and the others? Maybe. But I think we need to push back on the conventional narrative because it ignores so many important aspects of creativity and the interpersonal dimensions of the creative task.
I offered those quotes because of your statement “However, If you read Sulpy and Schweighardt’s book, there’s no indication that Paul told anyone how to play anything.” I certainly don’t think that McCartney was “simply taking over for some sense of personal ego gratification.” Not at all.
I’m saying that he did sometimes tell the others what to play, and I’m not imagining his motives (which I think is all too common in rock and jazz writing). Certainly, the composer should have the last word in decisions; no argument there.
In my first example, McCartney had an exact part/feel that he wanted Starr to play. That’s McC’s right. In the second example, Harrison says “he [PM] already had in his mind what he wanted.” Again, that’s McC’s right.
Harrision said: “It became stifling, so that although this new album was supposed to break away from that type of recording (we were going back to playing live) it was still very much that kind of situation where he already had in his mind what he wanted.” To me, he’s saying that McCartney’s “get back” ideal was at odds with his ultra hands-on approach.
Contrary to the paraphrase of Sulpy and Schweighardt, clearly McC sometimes told others what to play. And they sometimes felt their input was not valued or needed. Bands often have to try to work through similar dynamics.
It’s a pleasure to correspond with you who thinks deeply about music and the Beatles!
To quote myself, I said: However, If you read Sulpy and Schweighardt’s book, there’s no indication that Paul told anyone how to play anything (other than sharing how he envisioned the song in his head).
That’s still true–with the exception of the Ringo example, in which he perfected (in Paul’s view, anyway) the drum part.
Moreover, in my previous response, I spoke to the George/Paul incident wherein the different creative styles were discussed.
Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics, but telling someone “how to play” would be akin to putting a music sheet in front of someone and say “play this.” Paul didn’t do that; he shared his view of how he envisioned a song and whether it required more or less instrumentation, etc. I think the difference matters, but to the receiver (George, et al) probably not.
I’d also suggest that speculating on motive is the reason for this post; we are hypothesizing, based on the research and available evidence, that what drove the disagreements between the band were differences in creative approaches and interactive styles innate to each participant.
Hi Erin and Karen H.
This is Karen R. and I first want to say how much I enjoy your site and your posts and all the thought and work you put into it. As a first generation fan, who has obsessed about many of these interpersonal dynamics in the group for years, I’m really enjoying this discussion. I have long thought that George’s resentment of and anger towards Paul was the result of this extrovert/introvert difference in their personalities. One non-musical example that I recalled while reading your post was a moment in the Let It Be film where Paul starts mugging for the cameras and George flashes him a look of great disgust. I think that Paul saw this as part of the job of being a Beatle and George, as you say, came to despise that sort of performing. I also think Paul has always seen this public relations/performative aspect of fame/stardom as both the price of doing business — i.e. making music on his own terms and cultivating an audience for it — and a mask or disguise around his innermost thoughts, feelings, and self — i.e. ” a mask that [s]he keeps in a jar by the door,” indeed.
Thanks for the comment, Karen, and I’m glad you enjoy the site and discussion.
“I have long thought that George’s resentment of and anger towards Paul was the result of this extrovert/introvert difference in their personalities.”
When I first started reading Beatles books, it was, to me, glaringly obvious but completely unexplored, as an aspect of Paul and George’s interaction. The older brother/younger brother dynamic had at least been mentioned by both, but nothing was mentioned by either of them, or anyone else, regarding the introversion/extroversion issue, and I was surprised by that. I had read Cain relatively recently prior to delving into the Beatles, and it seemed clear to me 1. That George was an introvert and B. Paul was the most extroverted of the four, and therefore the furthest away from George on that scale. And that, frankly, can lead to issues.
I’m drawing from personal experience here, and I want to make that very clear, so filter it as you will. But as an introvert who has a best friend (one of several; I’m very blessed in the friend department) for the past twenty-five years who is a classic high-energy extrovert, my experience is that as much as you love them, enjoy spending time with them, love and admire some of their extroverted qualities and acknowledge the benefits of them, they can simply be exhausting to be around. We can have a great time together — every minute fun and enjoyable — and when she leaves, I still breathe a sign of relief that now I can recharge. That’s with no negativity between us. For George, given the demands of touring, on his time, of the press, and other areas on his introverted nature, I’m speculating that there were times when being unable to escape a high-energy, primarily extroverted Paul would have simply been exhausting. And the sad part is that neither one was at fault here: Paul was wired to be primarily extroverted, George introverted. That’s how they were born. Paul could have exhausted or exasperated George just by being himself, with no intention of bugging him, and being completely unaware that he was bugging him. You can’t blame them for it, but I’m inclined to think it did play an element in their relationship with and interaction with one another.
I really like your comment regarding Paul’s PR personae, too — that P.R. is simply the price of being in the business. I think that’s a practical way to look at it, which is why I find criticism of Paul’s P.R. efforts simplistic. One, its been overemphasized, esp. during the breakup era, as we’ve discussed. And second, if you’re the biggest band in the world, you have to have a P.R. guy in the band. John ran hot and cold on it, George loathed it, and Ringo wasn’t high enough up on the pecking order to be it. So Paul filled that role.
I also want to add the element of birth order to the mix of interpersonal dynamics in the group. Ringo was an only child and John was raised as one. Paul was the older child. Only George was the youngest child; furthermore he was the youngest Beatle. I also think those dynamics played a large and not sufficiently explored aspect of the intragroup politics and dynamics,
Good points, Karen, for another relatively unexplored area of Beatles discourse.
Birth order is another interesting element in the behavioural mix. There are often behavioural patterns that are so deeply ingrained that in other social groups those patterns continue, almost subconsciously.
It annoyed George no end that Paul referred to him as his “baby brother” although there was only a nine-month difference in age between them. Similarly, John, by his own admission, saw George as this “bloody kid” who was always “hanging around“ and it took him “years to see George as an equal.”
I completely agree, Karen.
After introversion/extroversion, birth order is another area in which I have a rudimentary understanding, in that I’ve read more than a few books on the subject. We know certain children are generally associated with certain characteristics based upon their order in the family: oldest and only children are driven, over achievers, leaders, etc. Youngest children are associated with traits such as charm, attention seeking, manipulation, and, to borrow one that always bothered me as a youngest child (because it certainly wasn’t true in my family) being spoiled.
That’s certainly not to say every child exhibits those behaviors consistent with their birth order, but the pattern is employed. You can read the significance of birth order in the situation with John and Paul, as well as Paul and George (which as been more widely acknowledged by both men as having an impact). As you said, John was raised as an only child; as a consequence, he expects to be in charge, and lead. Paul was an oldest child, and has the same expectation. (How much John’s situation was complicated by his half-sisters and not living with his mother is certainly up for discussion). Ringo doesn’t seem to fit that mold, although he had already played a supporting role to Rory Storm, and would presumably have known his place in the pecking order on signing on with the Beatles; he wasn’t going to make a grab for leadership over John and Paul’s heads. There are no middle children in the Beatles; no negotiators. You instead have two born oldest children, who will, by their nature as expectant leaders, tussle for varying levels of control, an only who isn’t going to enter that fight, and a youngest who is certainly impacted by that position. That can be a volatile mix.
And hence we run the risk of boilerplating characteristics based upon conventional thinking, which we know isn’t necessarily the way things happen.
I, too, am the youngest, with my siblings being 4, 5, and 13 years older than me. I never hung around with them, as they were closer in age to each other than me, so I kind of grew up like an only (more like John than Ringo, I think.) As a consequence, I exhibit more of the oldest child traits than youngest.
I’ve always thought birth order affected George’s attitude in the Beatles more than it did the other 3. In his own family, he was not just the baby of the family but utterly doted on by his parents. George’s mother was his biggest fan and catered to Little George’s every whim. So he was raised in a context where he was very used to being the absolute center of attention and getting his way. George as a kid did what George wanted to do, and not much else.
So then George joins the Beatles and he’s still the baby of the family and he still thinks he should be the center of attention and do whatever he likes. But all of the attention is on John and Paul, and George has to do things he doesn’t want to do. No matter what George does in those early Beatles years, he is outshone by John & Paul. Their work and their views count; his don’t. I’ve always thought that helped account, in part, for the rather large chip on George’s shoulder.
I didn’t know that, Louann; that’s kind of fascinating.
I’ve been in working groups (more academic in nature, but the need for creative recognition and input is kind of similar) where the lesser skilled members really bristled at their perceived secondary status. I see George’s reaction as similar to that.
George Martin was very clear that, in the early days at least, George did not have the creative chops that John and Paul had. Ringo didn’t have it, knew he didn’t have it, and accepted his status; conversely, George wanted it, thought he had it, and didn’t accept his status. Your observation that his birth order status (and subsequent treatment) may have contributed to his frustrations is an interesting one.
Firstly I want to say I greatly appreciate you and Erin bringing this discussion to light. As someone who is very interested in George’s introversion and his relationship with Paul, it’s unfortunate that these topics are regularly ignored.
However, I disagree with your analysis of George here. From interviews I have read, the impression I’ve gotten is that, if anything, George was very hard on himself in the early years of his songwriting and felt he needed to work extremely hard so as not to be a burden on the others. What bothered him was that once he was bringing in an abundance of strong material, it didn’t make much of a difference in how his work was treated. He wasn’t expecting special treatment, but it seems to me he thought of the band as a meritocracy and was disappointed when he realised it wasn’t. It didn’t help that artists such as Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan were much more receptive to him and his songwriting at this time.
It’s also worth acknowledging that unlike Ringo, George was with John and Paul from the beginning, and in fact knew Paul before John. I think this is a major factor in why he didn’t feel the same need to always to defer to them like Ringo did. Before The Beatles were signed, the three of them were all extremely close and much more equal in terms of the number of songs they sang. Even after they signed, George was largely in control of his own guitar parts and contributed ideas to Lennon/McCartney songs. It was only in 1967 that this system changed as Paul became increasingly prolific.
I believe George’s frustration came from a feeling that this was not the band he signed up for, on top of his songwriting being dismissed. He was notoriously rebellious and went from being in a group of like-minded friends to back at the whims of an authority figure (Paul). From that point of view, I think he was actually patient for a surprisingly long period of time — probably in part because he was so accustomed to the little brother role.
I respect George Martin’s opinions, but he was not always right and has himself admitted to falling into the same pattern of not taking George seriously enough that Paul and John were in. I certainly wouldn’t say George was always on the same level as Lennon/McCartney, but I do believe his songwriting was better than they and many others give him credit for.
Apologies for the rant. This is a topic I’m quite passionate about!
Hi Tash; You weren’t ranting at all and thanks for your comment.
I think you’re right that George wasn’t expecting special treatment but an equal kick at the can, creatively speaking.
Unfortunately for him, the Lennon/McCartney formula had become so firmly entrenched and was so successful that George wasn’t provided the opportunity to grow.
There’s a story told by Geoff Emerick about the recording of Taxman, where George struggled for hours with the lead solo. After 2 hours of this George Martin tactfully suggested to George that Paul give it a shot. George was initially angry, but in later years said that he liked Paul’s work on the song and thought he did a great job.
Probably the Beatle to benefit the most from the breakup was George, who finally had the space to develop artistically, with artists who had the time to mentor him.
I don’t feel your comment was at all a rant, Tash. I thought it was very interesting, and forces people to look at the triad of John, Paul and George from a slightly different angle.
One of the striking things for me is that I’d argue that Lewisohn, for the most part, appears to agree with your interpretation for much the first volume of Tune In. Now that’s not to say that “the Chain” still wasn’t there: that John didn’t demand the 1A slot, with Paul asserting his own authority in other ways, and George’s younger age placed him lower on the totem pole — but your point about the Beatles, esp. once they got a recording contract, not being the band he had originally signed up for, is a powerful one. George could be the third guy down on the totem pole prior to the recording contract and the codification of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership into canon, but he could also write songs with Paul — and get credit — and John — and get credit. He could and did influence decisions, directions, and the zeitgeist of the group — Lewisohn emphasizes how, when Brian kept coming back with record company rejections, it was George, more so than John or Paul, who would keep rallying the group. They weren’t equals — the hierarchy was clear — but you could make an argument that George was heard more in the earlier, pre-contract days, and that the gap really became evident, and insurmountable, once you had the two legal contracts in place: the recording contract with Parlaphone, and the Northern Songs agreement.
That discussion John and Paul have in Hamburg when they essentially decide to keep the songwriting partnership — with all its financial, legal, musical and hierarchical impact — between the two of them is, you could argue, a fulcrum point in George’s relationship with the band. How much of that is Paul and John refusing to give an inch of their own territory to George, even when it appeared merited, how much was influenced by Brian juggling both his favorite (John) and his efforts to keep the other key songwriter (Paul) happy, leaving George, again, third on the mind of the manager (George talks in a 1970/71 interview about how Klein was the first manager he felt really paid attention to him) and how much was influenced by the significant power of George Martin locking in almost immediately on John and Paul and deciding they were the two he saw the most promise in, is a complex mix. I think Martin’s role here is a crucial one: I don’t think its anything he did maliciously, but it had enormous implications, and I think George Harrison believed that. I remember how, in early 1980, Martin went on a “This is your life” show, and the TV show asked George H. to do the intro. George refused, but the show got lucky when Paul had his pot bust, got home from Japan much earlier than expected, and Paul recorded the intro. for George M.
I hadn’t thought of the contract angle, Erin; thanks for raising it. The band would certainly be under pressure to produce. The first album took 10 hours, if I recall, and they were kind of rushed through it given the limited amount of studio time they were given. This would narrow the opportunities for George’s creative growth even further.
I think the contracts would have played a role in cementing the switch, for George, from the band you signed up for, as opposed to the band you found yourself in. (And stratospheric fame, obviously, would also have been an element in that, too). You could argue that the contracts — both the recording contract and the Northern Songs contract — and the professionalization of the Beatles made the gap between John and Paul on one level and George and Ringo on lower levels legally overt. It certainly made the gap financially overt, and George, who was always the most interested in finances during the band’s existence, was very aware of that. There’s a great quote from Paul’s 1966 Maureen Cleave interview where he throws out: “If you want to know how much money I have, ask George.”
Hi Erin and Karen,
Thank you for initiating such a thought-provoking discussion. I think it’s very useful to apply new frameworks to the analysis of the group’s dynamics as it may get us to some new insights. So much of the current discussion is just recycled thinking.
I would like to offer, for discussion, a different take. I have read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and I don’t see Paul as an example of a pure Extrovert. While he may fall into the Extroverted side of the spectrum, based on what we know of him, I think he may be a borderline Extravert/Introvert in the same way that John is.
While Paul may thrive on performance and have good social skills (and can be a shameless ham), he also seems to need to spend a lot of time alone, in his mind, writing, painting, playing music — and he seems to draw energy and inspiration from this time. Paul is endlessly creative and while he can create with people around him, he seems to originate and even develop many of his ideas on his own, drawing from his own fertile inner landscape. It is true that once he has created a piece of work, he seems to like to share it with others, and he clearly derives great joy from the performing of it, but even John Lennon, in 1969 said that he liked to write songs to perform them.
People have observed and remarked upon how surprisingly quiet, thoughtful and focused Paul is when composing and working through an artistic project. Further, he himself has said that he spends a lot of time on his own. He has recounted how as a child he was independent and liked to go into nature on his own, doing solitary activities like bird watching.
Paul seems to need to commune with nature, on his own or with a small group — recharging in quiet and tranquility (much like George). He is the one that retreated to Scotland repeatedly throughout his life and chose to live outside the city, preferring to spend more time in nature away from the social circles of London. He was also not surrounded by a social scene once he was married (except when on tour), whereas George’s house is described as being full of people at all times, and certainly John, and later John and Yoko always had people around them — especially journalists.
I understand that the E/I label helps classify how people’s energy is recharged or drained. And while Paul seems to have a very social side, and get a charge from social interaction, he isn’t one of those traditional extroverts who loves socializing 24/7. I think behind the buoyant exterior is a serious artist that thrives on connecting with his inner landscape and gets a great charge from that as well. Paul is so complex that I’m not sure “Paul the Pure Extrovert” explains him! But it’s certainly fun to debate and discuss.
Also, I think this discussion about creative/learning/work styles is important as well.
Bella, I’m glad you like the discussion. I had read Cain prior to really delving into Beatles research, and that provided a baseline for looking at the four from this unexplored angle. Again, that so many authors — many of them press — were so quick to dismiss George as grumpy, without acknowledging what were, to me, his glaringly obvious introverted qualities, and how that would have impacted his behavior, was a pretty startling omission.
I think you make a great argument regarding Paul’s more introvert qualities: I also remember thinking about the nuances of Paul’s bike rides and escapes into nature, which he utilized even as a young teen, when I was typing up the post. Originally, this was supposed to be a more fleshed out, well-rounded post, with more material included, but real life got in the way, so Karen and I decided to run with what we had. And much of the discussion was framed by the contrast between what Karen and I saw as the Beatles furthest apart on the introvert/extrovert spectrum: with George the furthest one on the introverted scale and Paul the furthest one on the extroverted scale. I’m curious, given you said you’ve read Cain: would you agree with that assessment? Not that Paul is a pure extrovert, but that he would be the most extroverted of the four? And that that would then, along with the issue of birth order brought up by another poster — Paul used to being the oldest brother, George the youngest – would have added the potential for some extra disagreements along the way?
But you make a very strong case for acknowledging the existence and importance of Paul’s significant introverted qualities. On the general subject; what did you make of Cain’s work?
I really enjoyed Cain’s book and have recommended it to multiple people! Her title says it all actually: it’s a wonderful defense of the power of introverts.
I too have used Briggs-Meyers in the workplace and find it helpful. I am really split about how they would fall out on the spectrum because while Paul was the most gregarious in public, George went home to a house full of people (multiple people attest to this, at least in the 60s), and John and Yoko were always surround by journalists, so none of them really retired to a place of quiet and tranquility to recharge — except Paul in Scotland. But it’s also difficult because we are looking at guys in their 20s, and I think that period is probably not reflective of their true nature (i.e. it is more typical to be surrounded by friends in your 20s). If I had to put them on a spectrum, ranging from I – E, I would be put George slightly on the Introverted side, but close to the center and then I would put John and Paul right on top of each other, slightly to right of the center on the extroverted side, and I would put Ringo slightly right of them — as the most “extroverted” of the group. However, I’m not a Ringo expert, so I could be corrected there! That’s my take anyway, pretty similar to what you and Karen suggest, I just wonder about Paul being a true extrovert, and while I agree that George is probably an introvert, maybe he is more towards the center? (He did decide to be a performer at….14! 🙂
Nevertheless, it’s fun to consider, especially in terms of how they work creatively. I think extroverts will ideate in groups, while introverts prefer to concept on their own. But even this is confusing because Paul and John will develop songs as a group, but they develop them initially on their own (or with each other). Anyway, they are more extroverted than George!
*Sorry Meyers-Briggs, I can never remember which one goes first!
My response was much like yours, Bella. I had a vague understanding that I was an introvert, but little to no informed analysis of what that meant, beyond some fuzzy idea that it meant I was shy in large groups. Reading Cain was almost revelatory: yes, I hate working in forced groups; yes, I hate open floor work plans; yes, I’d much rather sit at a party and have an in-depth one on one discussion with someone than move around and mingle with everyone. I also suggested it to some introverted friends of mine, and they appreciated the book, greatly. And its nice in that its not just a book for introverts: it does a good job explaining to extroverts what introverted qualities are, and what their strengths are.
Your comment on Paul’s extroversion possibly being overstated reminds me of information regarding Johnny Carson. I can’t recall whether it came from Cain or elsewhere, but the anecdote was that Carson, the gregarious, witty, warm TV host, was also rather introverted, which was more evident when he was not on camera, working on his show; at parties he’d be more likely to sit in the corner and converse quietly than mingle, and when someone noted the contrast to him — how gregarious he was on the show, as opposed to times in real life, he declared that its easier on camera because, and I’m paraphrasing, “I’m in control on the show.” While I do think that Paul’s obvious appreciation and energy he derives from performing is an obvious demonstration of his extroversion, there’s also no doubt that Paul is in control at his concerts. And when that introvert controls the situation/audience, they can easily work the crowd. I once off-handedly mentioned to a student of mine that I was introverted, and he was stunned; replying “but you’re so open and energetic in the classroom,” and I said the same thing Carson did: “Yes, but there I’m in control.”
And your note about them being in their 20s is such a good point, too. That’s when your peers/social group are at their most important, and as a consequence, you spend more time around groups of people.
Yes, the lead singer of my favorite band (that is not the Beatles lol) is notoriously introverted and quiet to the point of curmudgeonliness, but also does a great job on his podcast where he’s the host. And it’s definitely because he’s in control and does the planning and decides what will be discussed.
Bella, Erin et al–I feel like the discussion might be heading toward a more binary understanding of the extroversion/introversion continuum here. If I am misunderstanding your comments, feel free to correct me. 🙂
Extroversion and introversion are not binary, but exist along a continuum, and don’t exist in isolation from other interactive preference styles. While there are those whose preferences fall at the extreme ends of the continuum, most fall somewhere closer to the middle–which is desirable, because different situations call for different skills and prompt different responses. If you are exclusively introverted or extroverted, inevitably you will find yourself struggling in situations where the lesser developed preference is required.
An extrovert who needs solitary time is still an extrovert, as much as the introvert who needs social time in the company of others is still an introvert. If extroverts are isolated too long, they get depressed; if introverts are around people too much, they get overwhelmed. It’s a matter of degree.
In as much as we’re all speculating based on Paul’s past and current behaviour in the public eye, I would hypothesize that his prefered way of being in the world is inherently extroverted. He still needs to perform on stage and stay in the public eye, even as he approaches 80 years old; he continues to seek creative liaisons with other artists, both in music and in the arts; he’s established a lifetime of directing his energy toward meeting new people and forging new relationships rather than removing himself from those encounters and choose more independent, solitary pursuits. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t have introverted needs and tendencies; it just means that’s not his default.
Hi, and welcome, Bella.
I think you’re making a good point in underlining the importance of the continuum aspect of the introversion/extroversion concept.
We know that these psychological characteristics and prefered ways of interacting are not binary; they exist along a continuum, with people falling somewhere along the line. We also know that different situations may “bring out” different interactive styles. (It’s amazing, for example, how many comedians and other types of performers identify as introverted.)
The other thing I’d like to mention (and I probably should have included in the introduction) is that introversion/extroversion preferences don’t happen in isolation; in addition to being situation-specific, it also exists along side of the other interactive variables of feeling/thinking, judging/intuiting, etc. What may be perceived as introversion or extroversion may in fact be illustrative of the other elements (judging/perceiving, thinking/feeling) at work.
The Meyers-Briggs Inventory requires that the interpretation of its standards not be so dogmatic to pigeon-hole someone in any specific category, and to view the entire profile, with all the elements. Here’s a link to the chart of the various profiles, and here’s a link for anyone interesting in reading more about the inventory.