Beatles Anthology Revisited


Beatles-John-Lennon-Paul-McCartney-George-Harrison-Ringo-Starr-4WARNING: This post will be full of unpopular opinions and observations. I have warned you, so if you read on and disagree, please leave me alone.

Beatles Anthology Revisited (by Justine Mara Andersen)

I’ve been rewatching the Beatles Anthology, and have regrettably come to the same conclusion, though this time with even more conviction. I wasn’t sure I should mention it, not as much as it will open fire on me, but the unpopular conclusion I’ve come to is that Lennon and Harrison can be real buzz-kills at times, and Yoko, well… yeah, I’ll handle that in a moment.

So, here’s the rub. The Anthology is a remarkable document, it’s full of amazing stuff, and biased as I am I am so thankful for McCartney’s sunny disposition and Ringo’s loving and sentimental attitudes. They are much needed to take the edge of Lennon’s bitter axe-grinding (an axe he seems to be grinding endlessly against McCartney’s skull) and Harrison’s dour, frowny, and very (very) unforgiving and grudge-spewing attitude. In fact, every time a Lennon clip comes on I cringe, knowing he will once again be grinding his axe, dismissing McCartney’s every contribution (while being, no surprise here, quite fond of his own contributions). He’s not terribly subtle about it if you’re paying attention. When one pays attention to other subtle moments his negativity seems rather evenly distributed, one example being his smug response to the question of whether or not the Maharishi was “on the level,” in which Lennon mutters some cryptic bitter nonsense… and in the background you can hear McCartney saying brightly, “He was on the level.” Lennon comes across as terribly unhappy, angry, and petty. Frankly, Lennon seems at times to have been wallowing in a mire of anger and bitterness, even his tone of voice is often angry and scolding. Knock McCartney all you want, at least he’s roundly and fairly positive about everyone in the group. He does not dismiss or disrespect anyone’s contribution, at least not in retrospect, though he certainly (and admittedly) kept Harrison down while in the Beatles.

Harrison’s so-called honesty and “humor” starts to come across as self-righteous and rather bitter. In fact, even in vintage clips (especially around 1967) he looks often quite disgusted, bored and scornful. This, of course, contrary to his belief system, flies quite in the face of the generally loving and forgiving philosophy he struggled to live by. Harrison should have had the wisdom to find the joy in what he was doing. After all, it was his duty (in the spiritual sense) to be doing what he was doing… and so far as jobs that get in the way of meditating goes, trust me George, there are a lot worse ways to make a living than being Fab! Additionally, he spoke a lot about forgiveness and love, but seems quite ready to pass judgment on John and Paul. I know now that Harrison is considered quite “cool,” but that’s more of a statement on our times and culture, times and a culture in which bitterness, sarcasm, and anger are seen as positive “real” traits while positivity, hard-work, and kindness are seen as suspect. Shame, ’cause I love Harrison, too, but I was surprised watching it again how many negative things he had to say. Then again, perhaps I myself could learn a lot here considering much of the bitterness and anger I carry in me towards the comics industry. Also, I understand that life in the Beatles no doubt opened a lot of wounds and created a lot of scarring, and though I can understand where Harrison is coming from… it’s still a drag to have to listen to it.

Let’s talk about Ringo, who quite admirably comes across as the great sage of the group. He’s so even-tempered, sentimental, honest and loving that he comes across as the most well-adjusted, real, and honest of the lot of them. Then there’s Yoko, well as a Lennon fan for years (which I still am, though with far less doe-eyed innocence) I tried to pretend I got it and liked her… but DEAR GOD I just want to slap her every time I see her attached to Lennon’s side during Beatles recording sessions. Johnandyoko come across as simply pathetic, even vaguely creepy. And moreso, imagine for one second how Lennon would have reacted had another Beatle brought her in to every session. Seriously, Lennon fans, pause and think about that…

Do you really think Lennon would have understood or tolerated that same behavior from ANYONE else in the group for a split second? Hell no! Simply put, she had NO business being there. Period. The Beatles were the Beatles… THAT IS IT! I can’t imagine being an outsider, girlfriend, or guest at a Beatles session and thinking that it would be in any way appropriate to interject or involve myself. The Beatles did not need ANY help from Yoko-fucking-Ono!

Wow, so I know it’s now open-season on Justine, as one thing I have learned is that Lennon fans can say all the nasty shit they want about McCartney without any recoil, but dare a McCartney fan do the same and they really get their knickers in a twist. But all I am doing is making an observation, and I think if you really pay attention you will see a sadly surprising amount of bile and venom flowing from both Lennon and Harrison as the Anthology plays out.

The real shame is I LOVE Harrison and Lennon, and I even love their solo work… right down to the deep catalog b-sides and lesser known albums. As songwriters and musicians they still stand as 2 of my very favorites (of course Paul and Ringo being 2 of the others) so this is a bummer of a conclusion to come to. And even at that the moments when Harrison is positive are positively heart-warming. And, of course, at his best Lennon may be not only one of the great songwriters, but one of the most brilliant entertainers of all time. His vocal characterizations are almost as brilliant as Mel Blanc’s, and his physical comedy is Pythonesque in its brilliance. Yet I wish to hell they would have left his bile out of the mix when editing this thing. I really do not need to hear Lennon and Harrison dismissing Sgt. Pepper. What a rotten authoritative statement that makes on what was not only a major artistic accomplishment but a profoundly important cultural event… and that’s without relying on hyperbole. Their negativity diminishes something that should not be diminished. Of course, we all know Pepper was basically McCartney’s brainchild, so why wouldn’t they hate it? I hope that had Lennon survived, his take on things might have softened and become warmer. At least Harrison seemed to have mellowed and was, at times, fairly ready to remember things warmly. Of course, all the things I have said here are generalized and highly personal emotional responses, but it’s my blog, I’m allowed to do that… right? And, of course, I also realized as I watched that there was plenty of positivity, warmth, and love coming from Lennon and Harrison as well, I was simply annoyed with the number of negative and angry comments that made their way into the final product, and this is what this blog is about, something that bothered me emotionally after repeated viewings of the Anthology.

So the point here is really not to insult Lennon or Harrison (they were spectacular) but I find their curmudgeonly comments to be a serious buzz-kill. Simply put, they turn what should be one hell of a great trip into a bit of an anticlimactic bummer. When I watch something like the Beatles Anthology I do not watch it to be brought down and experience the long-lasting strife that seemed to be a part of the trip, I watch it ’cause I love the Beatles, I love Sgt. Pepper, and I want to sit and revel in my happy place without Lennon and Harrison shitting in it. Certainly, the trip of being Fab was hard and complicated, emotionally trying and scarring, and certainly it is good to get the whole story, but sometimes, as I said earlier about Pepper, the amount of negativity coming from Lennon and Harrison deflates and diminishes a body of work that should be celebrated and beloved. I know some readers might lecture me on how they liked this “honesty” being a part of the Anthology (as I do and said… but only to a point), but I’m not sure that resentment, anger and bitterness are always genuine honesty. Sometimes I think real honesty comes from learning to let go, forgive, and smile about things that deserve to be smiled about… and great works of art deserve to be smiled about. Hm… maybe I can put that to work in my own life, we’ll see… but until then…

Lennon and Harrison be darned… long live Sgt. Pepper!

5 responses »

  1. Wow. I only read the first third of this. So spot on. Harrison always gets a pass. But look at Let It Be the film, where McCartney is asking George to not play guitar. (His guitar part did suck by the way). And he asking him kindly. People point at that moment as McCartney being a control monster. Quite the opposite. George knows full well he is on camera and purposely plays the lost puppy role. Lennon…no comment other than he was a dick. Ha

    • What people do not get is that McCartney was ALWAYS the musical director, that was his job in the Beatles from the start, so he was just doing what he always was supposed to do, And, they had no leader… look at John by the time of Let It Be… he’s barely even in the room, let alone leading. McCartney stepped up to be the grown up, and people who are in hippie lalaland do NOT like that. And, it was Paul’s place to decide how he wanted HIS song played, George damn well knew that. However, as a musician and artist I’ve learned from this, when someone has a suggestion that isn’t what I want (if there is a collaboration), I always say, “Let’s try it both ways and decide after we’re done.” I’ve never found the conflict to survive that as each party ALWAYS has come to an agreement based on the final results.

  2. I do agree. What is worth noting is that almost all of Lennon’s comments in the Anthology are sourced from his 1970 Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner. Lennon was particularly bitter at that point (late 1970) with McCartney (as Paul had just announced he was “leaving the Beatles”). If you listen to any 1973 interview onwards with Lennon his stance has softened considerably. Harrison does come off bitter too. I don’t think he was particularly happy to be involved with the Anthology project (I read he only did it as he was in financial trouble at the time).

    • … Though Lennon’s stance was no less bitchy and whiny during the Playboy interviews. Harrison was never able to fully embrace the teachings of his spiritual system. I blame the editors of the film as much as anyone.

  3. Interesting take on how each Beatle came across. I agree with previous comment that the reason for a bitter sounding Lennon is primarily due to 1970 Wenner interview or other 70’s interviews when the context was probably being asked about a Beatles reunion. Lennon has a much warmer demeanour during the 1980 Andy Peebles and 1974 Dennis Elias radio interviews. Alas had he lived I’m sure there would have been much more positive recollections.

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