Friday, January 14, 2022

Beatles Get Back 10: January 14

Today’s footage starts with Paul expounding on his version of music theory to one of the crew, including a demonstration of “Martha My Dear” om the piano. Ringo arrives, and the two break into a four-hand party piece, as if it’s one of their regular routines. Paul moves on to “Woman”, which he wrote under a pseudonym for Peter & Gordon in 1966 to see if he could get a hit single without his name to drive it. (He could, and did.) The crew member asks how he writes, and Paul displays what he has so far of the newly started “The Back Seat Of My Car”, which would be a highlight of Ram two years later; for now, he does Beach Boys impressions over it for Glyn’s benefit. Meanwhile, Ringo occupies himself with the cameras trained around the set.
Both Paul and Ringo seem to be in jocular moods, even though there’s not much to do. As they watch sets being brought in for use on The Magic Christian, they joke with Michael, Tony, Glyn, and Mal about the characters they’d play in the impromptu film they could make with all the free time. As John plus Yoko are busy elsewhere on the site granting an interview for Canadian television, Paul offers to be rigged up into chains to rise above the soundstage.
After the footage cuts to the next scene, John is sitting near Ringo and Paul in the directors’ chairs, and the three engage in a series of in-jokes and asides obviously familiar to themselves. Peter Sellers, in the company of Denis O’Dell and likely there in preparation for The Magic Christian, visits their corner of the set and is immediately at a loss to keep up with John’s non-sequiturs. He voices his confusion as to what the Beatles are trying to accomplish at this moment, and their own voiced befuddlement doesn’t ease his discomfort, and he soon crawls away.
With nothing else to do, seemingly, they discuss the absurd possibilities of the camera documenting their own maladies. John openly informs those present that he had to leave the interview he was giving earlier in order to be physically sick off-camera. Paul is alternately amused and uncomfortable with this candor, even while drinking from a glass of wine; Ringo mostly tries to stay awake. (George Martin can be seen briefly, joining the boys for a tea break.) But whatever had inhibited John earlier in the week is encouraging him now, and his side of the conversation consists of recited Beatles lyrics, along with his trademark absurd asides, familiar from his published works, delivered directly to the camera trained on his face.
Soon the boys are shown at their instruments. First we hear John playing “Mean Mr. Mustard” at the electric piano, and this leads into his otherwise unfinished “Madman”, which is in the same key and tempo. This is apparently all they had the energy for today, and Michael asks whether they want to stay at the film studio or move somewhere else. Since they’re due to meet with George tomorrow to get him back into the fold, they decide to stop filming, and the day is wrapped.
***
As the Twickenham stage of the Get Back project comes to an end, some notes:
• All of the Beatles had been fans of Peter Sellers since his days on BBC Radio’s The Goon Show. While they had already been acquainted for a few years, and Ringo was about to co-star with him in The Magic Christian, they might not have known that the man’s personality often left him aloof in crowds. Sellers was the type of actor who was only comfortable when he was “on”, performing as a character with outlandish quirks—see Inspector Clouseau or Dr. Strangelove—so ordinary conversation was stilted, and improvisation was impossible if he wasn’t leading it. Therefore, his discomfort in the setting above was not necessarily exacerbated by the Beatles’ own japes.
• While Jackson’s edit provides some evidence, it is not made explicitly clear that during the first part of January, John was actively using heroin, which not only affected his leadership potential, but made him lethargic, unresponsive, and certainly less than productive. Reports differ as to when exactly he started using it, but certainly the media backlash from his drug bust the previous October (a setup by corrupt policemen that would lead to years of struggle with American immigration authorities under the direction of the Nixon administration) as well as the critical reception of their Two Virgins album—both the audio content and the nude posed photos on the cover—and Yoko’s miscarriage in November all weighed heavily on their daily lives. Feeling persecuted, misunderstood, and utterly alone, they drifted into the junkie lifestyle. (John would also say they used it as solace from the rude treatment the other Beatles paid them, and insist he never injected it, only snorting it.)
• The heroin angle is a lot clearer when we see the footage of the interview John and Yoko were giving in the early part of this day’s installment. As can be observed, both are sluggish and distracted, and after trying to stifle oral emissions for a few minutes, John excuses himself so he can go somewhere to throw up. After he returns to the interview, he’s in better shape, and eventually his mood and his humor return to the level we see following the Peter Sellers encounter.
• Clearly, John’s dependence on heroin, as well as his deferring to Yoko in group discussions, as mentioned before, did not encourage George into putting any further effort into the Beatle thing, and conditions would need to be met before they could continue, whether as they were or in any manner.
• Unfortunately, John and Yoko would continue to struggle for several years to overcome their addiction to heroin. John would write and record “Cold Turkey”, written in the wake of a horrific weekend attempting withdrawal from the drug, as a solo single by the end of 1969, and it’s been suggested that they were still using at the time of his Rolling Stone interview in December 1970, and even into the summer of 1972. Yoko allegedly had a relapse of her own in the summer of 1980, while John and pre-school Sean were vacationing in Bermuda, right before they completed the music that would go on to be released on Double Fantasy. John’s candor and Yoko’s guardedness have clouded the whole truth, but the drug was undoubtedly a factor in their lives, and affected those around them.

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