John, Paul, And Maternal Loss: An Exploration

–by Karen Hooper

Over the past 30 years, there has been a growing body of research demonstrating how maternal loss psychologically impacts children and can shape their relationship patterns later in life. Historians agree that the deaths of Julia Lennon and Mary McCartney were among the most tragic and significant events in their sons’ lives, and that the loss of their mothers changed both John Lennon and Paul McCartney in fundamental ways. The purpose of this discussion is to review the anecdotal evidence about John and Paul’s experience of maternal loss within the context of this research. Continue reading

The Beatles and the Phenomenology of Fame

To declare that the Beatles were, from 1963 on, famous, is a mind-numbingly obvious statement. For all of Beatles historiography’s numerous debates, the Fab Four’s stratospheric amount of fame — both as a quartet and as individuals — is unquestioned. Countless anecdotes, stories and direct comments from Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr, as well as others close to them, reinforce that fame impacted them as individuals and as a group; influencing their friendships, their family relations, their attempts to live semi-normal lives, and their futures. Fame was also an element contributing to the tragedies of the stabbing attack on George Harrison and the murder of John Lennon.

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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.

You Live With Straights: An Excerpt

Lennon’s identification of himself as anti-establishment and McCartney as straight or square was not the only way Lennon infused politics into the issue of the Beatles breakup. The primary legal and personal schism between the two men involved McCartney’s refusal to support the appointment of Lennon’s choice, Allen Klein, as Apple’s new manager. Lennon and Klein repeatedly maintained that McCartney’s refusal to accept Klein was motivated not by legitimate concerns regarding Klein’s legal and financial dealings, but by an emerging middle-class snobbery which, fostered by his new wife Linda, disdained the working-class, and self-professed “anti-establishment” figure, of Klein. This claim was seemingly reinforced by McCartney’s preferred candidates for Klein’s position: John and Lee Eastman. The Eastman’s were wealthy, well-regarded New York entertainment lawyers whose clients included established artists such as Hoagy Carmichael; they were also, by virtue of his March 1969 marriage to Linda Eastman, McCartney’s new brother and father-in-law. McCartney’s preference that the Eastman’s take the managerial position obviously opened up accusations of nepotism from the press at large, Klein, and fellow former Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison.

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Count me out/in: Ray Coleman’s McCartney: Yesterday and Today

With the possible exception of Philip Norman’s 2016 Paul McCartney: The Life, there is no book in Beatles historiography which better exemplifies a jarring interpretive and narrative shift by a single author than Ray Coleman’s 1996 McCartney: Yesterday and Today. A semi-McCartney biography and in-depth examination of the history and legacy surrounding his song “Yesterday,” Coleman’s work is considerably less valuable for the limited amount of new evidence it reveals, and more for its stunning demonstration of authorial re-interpretation and hypocrisy. Examined absent of any authorial and historiographical context, Coleman’s McCartney is a largely lightweight, primarily complimentary, incomplete portrait of an artist and his signature song. Read in a vacuum, Coleman’s work would presumably be quickly read and, a few morsels of new information aside, just as quickly forgotten.

However, when evaluated as part of both Coleman’s contributions to and the overall arc of Beatles historiography, Yesterday and Today reveals the fundamental narrative shift occurring within the band’s story as the predominant Shout!-era version of both the breakup and Lennon/McCartney partnership began to crumble. It also prompts essential questions of how and why authors change their views on individuals and events. What motivates authorial re-interpretation by authors who have promoted singular narratives? What should motivate drastic authorial and evidentiary re-interpretation? And what tools does historiography provide to navigate and make sense of such jarring reversals?

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The Advance of Beatles Academia: “New Critical Perspectives on the Beatles” Book Review, Part One

A compilation of essays by academics and self-taught Beatles scholars, Kenneth Womack and Katie Kapurch’s brand new work, “New Critical Perspectives on The Beatles: Things We Said Today,” follows a similar approach to previous compilations such as “The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles,” and “Reading the Beatles.” However, several elements distinguish this work from its predecessors.

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