As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been re-watching the Beatles Anthology 8-part documentary that the BBC did back in 2002 to celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary. I remember learning a lot the first time I watched these shows and, despite having done fairly extensive reading about the group, the individuals, and their histories, feeling like I came away understanding them (and the phenomenon of Beatlemania) even better. I didn’t expect to have the same experience again with this re-viewing of the material … but it turns out I was wrong about that.
I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that I’m ten years older, or that I was still putting the Fab Four up on a pedestal as being … well … Beatles … but I’m finding that this viewing is really helping me to see “the lads” as people and, more than that, as creators. They really were just a working-class rock band that had popularity, fame, and international hysteria swell up around them as they were just merely trying to play some music and write a few songs.
It’s so clear, looking at the recordings of their early concerts and TV appearances that they were pretty amused by the whole thing themselves. They hadn’t set out to be “Beatles” (in the modern sense), they were just following their muses. They were so deep in the middle of it, they could only recognize that things were changing after they’d already changed.
The show makes it abundantly clear how hard the Beatles worked in those early days. They were driving across the length and breadth of the U.K. performing, writing songs while sitting in the back of vans or in crowded hotel rooms, recording till their voices were raw, then starting it all over again. Even when they started being hits, they were practically too busy working to even begin to notice how it was affecting their real lives.
Maybe it’s a weird comparison, but I’ve been thinking about the career of the Beatles (and of many hit music acts) in terms of how it compares to work as a writer, cartoonist, or game designer. It seems like there must be something to learn, even if the comparison is a false one.
I can certainly think of people I know who were so busy doing their creative work that they somehow missed the transition phase of their careers. They were so busy with their heads down over their writing or drawing that they didn’t notice their readers becoming fans, and their fans becoming legion. Then one day they looked up and the world around them had shifted. Suddenly, they were “somebodies” and their work and (more frustratingly, in most cases) their every public utterance became “important.”
I make no claim to be among that exalted number (and, really, happily so), but I do rub elbows with some of them. I think very few of them are very comfortable with the unavoidable consequences of being raised to that level, even on our relatively tiny stage … I can only imagine how uncomfortable it must have been for Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr.
To be clear, I’m not saying I feel SORRY for them (nor the people I know personally). But I am saying that I can see where there’s something that is lost when you become so popular that you cease being a musician (or writer or cartoonist) and start being a personality. There’s an interview in the show from George Harrison where he talks about the surreality of seeing the Beatles in the news each day—how he sees write ups about “George” and feels like they’re talking about some other person, some public figure that he can look at from a detached point of view, and only occasionally have to consider that it is, in fact, himself he’s reading about.
And, of course, the answer the Beatles had to all of this was to keep on working. (A very British answer, to be sure.) In the end, maybe that’s why they ARE the Beatles (in the modern sense).
More than anything else, it makes me want to spend more time working on my personal creative projects. I want to have the Beatle-ness needed to just shoulder through and write the next song (metaphorically).