Without Precedent

I often wonder about my love for The Beatles–why it is so inexplicable and embedded in my DNA and how millions of people, different from me in innumerable ways, feel precisely the same. Maybe this ingrained, intense feeling is why fans are so incredibly protective of the band’s legacy and equally critical of anything pertaining to The Fab Four, even if it is a feature-length documentary directed by an Academy Award winner named Ron Howard.

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John Lennon, with son Julian, visits Ron Howard and company on the set of Happy Days in 1974.

The producer of the film, Nigel Sinclair, who also produced Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison Living in the Material World, explained fans’ dual reaction to the announcement of the film: “Ron had people come up to him in the street and [they would] say ‘Mr. Howard, I’m so glad you’re doing the Beatles film.’ Ron said, ‘Of course the subtext is “And don’t screw it up.”’

From me to you (hey, I’m trying my zest here), he does not mess it up.

(My criticisms are few and minute, so let’s get them out of the way. I find the commentary from individuals not part of the Beatles’ circle superfluous, unnecessary, and rarely insightful. Do I care what Sigourney Weaver wore to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium? Not really. Do I care that Jon Savage’s parents wouldn’t let him go to a Beatles concert? Not really. What makes them different from the thousands of other ordinary people who loved The Beatles just as fervently? Oh, right, they are of some renown. Whatever. Get out. Secondly, the film’s tagline boasts that this film is about the band you know but the story you don’t…well, not really. I didn’t really learn anything new, but I did see lots of new photos and footage, and I got to see The Beatles on the big screen, replete with the entire Shea Stadium concert. Horrid snobby portion of this post over.)

Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years tells the story of The Beatles, using their live performances as its focus, which, on the surface, may seem odd, since The Beatles were never exactly synonymous with extraordinary live performances. They didn’t have pigs or light their instruments on fire or create auto-destructive art. Their audiences were not rapt in hearing the words of a lyrical poet, as Dylan’s fans were (a fact he was proud of in his early career, especially when The Beatles’ phenomenon surfaced). For much of their performing career, the music was secondary to the spectacle of seeing The Beatles. By choosing this least-regarded facet of the band, however, Howard is able to more fully reveal how the Beatles progressed and evolved by contrasting it with the circus-like atmosphere of their increasingly stagnant live performances.

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Foreshadowing in Hamburg, 1960: “Their name liveth for evermore.”

The Beatles’ stage performances weren’t always so stagnant, though, and their success was not an accident that happened overnight. Ringo states in the film that playing was the most important thing for the band, and their stints in Hamburg, Germany, allowed them the opportunity to perfect their craft while playing for eight or more hours every night—to unruly, difficult-to-please crowds or to an empty club (empty except for a bearded drummer from another Liverpool group, Ringo Starr). This was their apprenticeship, this is where they learned how to play in front of people–how to mach schau, and when they returned to England, they broke the jazz-only rule at Liverpool’s The Cavern Club, performing a total of nearly 300 times. Having dominated The Cavern Club and garnered a local following, the group was still looking to improve and to move the next step up the ladder.

That next step up the ladder was not what any of The Beatles expected: Beatlemania. Opening with color footage of the band playing in Manchester in November 1963, the film shows the excitement and the burgeoning mania: girls screaming, fainting, and the sheer joy John, Paul, George, and Ringo exude. The film illustrates this joy and excitement perfectly with its abundance of unseen (or, at least, under-seen) concert and interview footage. Fans debate the sexiness of the members (“Ringo’s got a sexy nose.” “George’s eyelashes are sexy.”) and declare their undying love for them: “Paul McCartney, if you’re out there listening, Adrian from Brooklyn loves you.” Fans’ adoration for the Beatles ignites laughter but is genuine—and contagious. Just as contagious and laughter-inducing is The Beatles’ humor—then and now. Just a few favorites: John introduces himself to a reporter as Eric, George uses John’s mop top as an ashtray, George thanks Ringo for his contribution to a fan club record and remarks “We’ll phone you,” and Ringo recalls his inability to hear the band’s music at their concerts, “I couldn’t hear anything. All I could see was Paul’s arse, John’s arse…” Ringo had the best seat, am I right?     

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After conquering Europe, the Beatles arrived in the United States, where the madness escalated to a whole new level. While the Beatles complied with the larger venues (and greater profits) and increasingly manic American crowds, they refused to accommodate the demands of segregated venues. In this regard, they were pioneers, standing for what they believed to be right. As journalist Larry Kane, who accompanied The Beatles on their 1964 North American tour, remarked, he was touched by The Beatles’ kindness, their genuineness, and their intelligence.

After 1964, though, The Beatles’ pioneering in the live arena stalled, except by breaking attendance records by playing in larger venues. The opposite was true of their recording career, where they continued to flourish. With each record, they progressed, wrote better songs, and experimented with new sounds and ideas, culminating with the release of Revolver in May 1966. Tellingly, the Beatles never performed any songs from Revolver live, demonstrating how the sophistication of their recording career had overtaken the circus that was their live show.

By 1966, the group’s rosy relationship with the public was fraying. Not only were their performances inaudible but touring had become a life-threatening situation, which escalated with John Lennon’s remark that The Beatles were, in fact, more popular than Jesus Christ. (Real talk hurts.) Even their relationship with the press, who had adored their wit and cheekiness, was verging on hostile. In a clip, one journalists asks The Beatles why they are so “horrid snobby.” Paul, irrefutably the most diplomatic Beatle, answers that they are not snobby but the journalists and their questions are not particularly nice and get what they deserve. (Again, real talk hurts.) Death threats, Beatle burnings, and exploding firecrackers at concerts became the new norm for The Fab Four. They arrived to their final concert, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, in an armored truck. They decided they’d had enough–of touring, at least. Still, in these tense moments, you can still see their camaraderie and the joy their music brings.

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Paul McCartney and George Harrison at The Beatles’ final concert in 1966.

Despite all the obstacles this band faced — touring was a money-making venture not an artistic one, their concerts lasted no more than thirty minutes and offered little variation in terms of set lists, and oh yeah, the screaming which made it impossible for them to hear one another — the film shows what a good live band The Beatles were. They could have easily not put any effort into their live shows at all, but they were often in tune and played as a cohesive unit. That unity is a testament to their closeness as individuals and their faith in one another, my favorite aspect of the film.

“I was an only child, and I suddenly felt as if I had three brothers,” Ringo states in the film. Paul gets emotional recalling the first moment Ringo played with the group, and George expresses how he was always glad that they had one another to lean on and share the experience, unlike an isolated Elvis or Sinatra, declaring, “We were very, very close to one another.” This is the band that went from staying in a single cramped room in the back of a theater in Hamburg to occupying the entire floor of the New York Plaza Hotel, where they found themselves gathering together in one room to get away from the pressure of being Beatles and just be with each other.

They loved one another and had faith in each other, just as many individuals around them had faith in them — notably George Martin having faith in their artistic vision to not touch the unorthodox structure and sound of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Brian Epstein sacrificing so much for them and maintaining his faith in them despite no measurable success for so long (John Lennon once said there was a period where the only people who had faith in the band were Brian Epstein and George Harrison). And by having faith in each other, they inspired others to have faith in one another — so that it didn’t matter if you were black or white, weird or popular, young or old; The Beatles were a uniting force, beautifully encapsulated by the chorus of grown men singing “She Loves You” to celebrate their football club’s victory season. And there it is — that inexplicable feeling of love swelling inside me. I love The Beatles like no other. They are, quite simply, without precedent.

The Toppermost of the Poppermost

I have read a lot of books about The Beatles, so many that I began to lose faith in ever finding another one that would teach me something new or let me see them from a different perspective. I have become more and more picky about which books I will spend my time reading, especially when it comes to the Beatles — so much so that when I am in the midst of reading one and an author refers to John Lennon as the oldest Beatle, I stop reading. Because if you can’t get something that simple correct, what else are you mucking up? So, this past holiday season, when The Fest for Beatles fans touted not just one but three books as essential for every Beatles fan, I was skeptical. But oh, was I wrong! These three books are, you might say, the toppermost of the poppermost when it comes to Beatles reading…

1. All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margotin 

I adore this book so much I’ve already read it twice, stuffing it with post-it notes along the way. As the title suggests, this book gives you the full story about every Beatles release. This first includes an overview of each studio album and EP, and then a delicious (yes, delicious) track-by-track dissection — we’re talking the genesis of each song (i.e. what inspired them to write the song or, if it’s a cover, when they started working the song into their impressive and extensive repertoire), discussion of each song’s production, technical details, who played what, who wrote what, recording and mixing dates, the technical team (bless ’em), and the number of takes (this gets kind of crazy around oh, I don’t know…”Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Bang, bang!). Oh, and there’s also little yellow boxes exclaiming “FOR BEATLES FANATICS” (…who else?), and they are packed with the tiniest, coolest tidbits…like how there is no bass after the first minute of “Strawberry Fields Forever” or the mono version of “She’s Leaving Home” is slightly faster and higher than the stereo version (boo, mono forever). Here’s what a typical spread looks like:

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Paul definitely has the best butt in the Beatles.

Isn’t it beautiful? The spread design, I mean — not Paul’s butt (although it is pretty great, let’s be real, people).

All the Songs is a great (albeit hefty) reference book that I know I will return to again and again. William J. Dowlding’s Beatlesongs has been my go-to when it comes to specifics about the Beatles’ music for years, but All the Songs just may replace it. 

I love that this book’s main focus is on the Beatles as musicians, songwriters, and recording artists with minimal personal information or defamation. I thought I knew it all, but this book taught me so much more about their songwriting and recording processes, and I came away with an even greater appreciation of and love for their music and the Beatles as musicians — who would have thought that was even possible? Not I.

2. The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970 by Kevin Howlett

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Again, the title gives it all away — this book digs into the BBC Archives and gives readers every available detail about the Beatles relationship with the indomitable BBC (who, eager housekeepers that they were, got rid of so many of their performances). The book comes with reproductions of some of the documents Howlett uncovered in his extensive research, including manager Brian Epstein’s application for the Beatles (which, at the time, still included Pete Best on drums) to audition for the BBC radio and the staff’s subsequent response to their audition: “An unusual group, not as ‘rocky’ as most, more C+W [Country and Western], with a tendency to play music.” The same staffer approved of Lennon as a singer but not McCartney (“Paul McCartney — NO.”).

The early years are fascinating because, like the recordings now available on Live at the BBC and On Air: Live at the BBC, Volume 2, they tell us so much about the Beatles as musicians and their personalities. First, the Beatles worked hard and often a relentless, frantic pace. Their first album (well, ten of its fourteen tracks) was recorded in about ten hours; this is seen as a remarkable achievement, but, as Howlett writes, their work rate at the BBC was even higher: “Apart from when they were performing in front of an audience for a broadcast, The Beatles had to complete five or six songs in a short session. They were not fazed by this requirement.” Furthermore, their radio performances were limited by the BBC’s equipment: they had to record on mono machines and any mistakes would have to either be edited out and replaced with a separate take or a lengthy overdubbing process. Thus, most of their BBC performances were recorded live, direct to tape, revealing their strength and talent as musicians and what exciting performers they were.

The other aspect of their BBC performances is that they offer insight into the Beatles’ as music fans — what they liked to listen to and what inspired them. During their radio program Pop Go the Beatles, 39 of the songs heard in the series were not available on the Beatles’ records by the series’ conclusion and 26 of those 39 would remain unreleased during the Beatles’ recording career. Of course, many of these are now available on the Live at the BBC series, and they tell us what the Beatles liked — lots of Chuck Berry, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and records and artists that remain rare and unheard to this day (“Devil in His Heart” by the Donays, anyone?). This large repertoire of songs that remained unreleased on record gives us an indication of what accomplished musicians they were and how much variety they were able to have in their set-lists in their early performing days. And not only did they cover these songs, they made them their own, they gave them the Beatles sound.

Then there were the interviews and on-air banter between the performers and presenters that tell us what naturally charming and witty people the Beatles were. Howlett’s book is full of transcripts of such banter, some available on the BBC recordings, some not (I would love to hear a recording of the 1964 interview with Paul by George, who, at the end of the interview, thanked Paul and told him he’d receive his “three shilling fee at a later date!”). They liked to call presenter Lee Peters Pee Litres (tee hee), and when presenter Rodney Burke introduced himself, “My name’s Rodney Burke, thank you very much!” John Lennon interjected, as only he could: “That’s your fault!”

Later, however, the Beatles simply had less time (and, likely, interest) to drop into the BBC and thus their final BBC session was in 1965. They still offered interviews and television appearances, and the details of these offer insight into how they were changing as a band and as people. For example, when interviewed for a program called The Lennon and McCartney Songbook, Howlett’s transcript indicates McCartney’s diplomatic nature, while Lennon is subdued, grumpy even, showing how he was becoming restless with being a Beatle (and likely very stressed and nervous about their upcoming tour of the US, who didn’t take kindly to his “more popular than Jesus” remark).

Interesting also is the interviews of 1969 and 1970, when relations between band members were very tense and strained at times. In 1970, George was asked about the split of the group and answered, in part: “It’s the end of The Beatles like maybe how people imagine The Beatles….I can see this year us all doing a separate album each and by that time people will probably think there’s no chance at all of there ever being Beatles again. And then suddenly, there’s Beatles again.” Only eleven days after this interview was broadcast, Paul McCartney announced he had quit the band (well, basically). Jerk!

The BBC Archives is a fascinating examination of the Beatles as recording artists and people, demonstrated by their recordings and interviews given to the BBC. I’d argue that the following statements made by Howlett are some of the most important to be written or uttered about this most-written and most-uttered-about band: “The brilliant innovations made by The Beatles in their latter years are, quite rightly, regarded as pioneering achievements that continue to influence musicians. But if you did not experience the group’s musical progression as it happened, listening to The Beatles without that chronological context can distort an historical view of their career. The picture on With the Beatles may not seem so now, but in 1963 it was extremely radical. So was the album’s music: energetic, visceral, and cutting edge. Indeed, the initial years of The Beatles’ success, 1963 and 1964, may well be their most revolutionary.” Yes, yes, yes!

This book, coupled with the Live at the BBC recordings, shows just how revolutionary and fun they were in those early years. In a BBC Audience Research Report, a solicitor, self-described as “definitely over-twenty,” wrote:  “How can anyone fail to like them? Their music is so gay and uninhibited, and they themselves are so full of joie-de-vivre.” Amen, brother.

3. The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn 

When Mark Lewisohn, renowned Beatles scholar and author, told the late Neil Aspinall that he was beginning a three volume biography about The Beatles, Aspinall responded, “Does the world really need another Beatles book?” Yes, Neil, it does, and this is it!

This first installment of Lewisohn’s trilogy takes us up to the end of 1962, just on the cusp of Beatlemania. In other biographies, this section of the Beatles’ story is glossed over — not here. The book is just over 1100 pages (and there is an extended version of the book but it’s currently only available in print in the UK, what gives? This is the 21st century, where is our global village?). Other biographers, too, make this period of the Beatles’ story somewhat dry — not here. I couldn’t put this book down. I even dreamed about it. That’s normal, right? And other biographers — still, here, now, in 2014 — repeat (or even create) myths and legends that simply are not true — not here. Lewisohn is a scholar. He has source upon source upon source. And as a result, his writing is scholarly but, at the same time, engaging.

Lewisohn gives the full facts and truth about so many parts of the Beatles story — how they finally got that coveted recording contract, where those haircuts come from, and yes, not only did Pete Best have zero drumming talent but zero personality. It’s so refreshing (…especially after the headache that was Larry Kane’s When They Were Boys).

Similarly refreshing is how Lewisohn portrays and discusses the Beatles’ individual faults without making them out to be horrible people. He does not excuse their faults (John and Paul’s early views on women, Paul’s jealousy, John’s strange fixation with cripples, etc.), but he does put them in perspective by putting them in context of their lives and times, allowing some understanding of why they were the way they were.

Reading this book, I came away with a greater appreciation of how hard the Beatles worked and similarly how hard the people around them worked — specifically Brian Epstein, bless that man — to make their career happen. I appreciate how certain people, whose lives had run parallel to their own, had to come together with them to make it happen. The Beatles always had the potential to be the greatest, they always had the talent and charisma, and they certainly always had the belief that something would happen…but without certain people and opportunities, it would not have happened, and we would still be listening to Pat Boone records.

One of the most interesting things I learned was how Decca didn’t necessarily reject the Beatles — well, they kind of did, but they also offered to assist Epstein in getting the Beatles on a record. But Epstein, amazingly (albeit thankfully), refused. Lewisohn explains Epstein’s thinking: “The bottom line seems to have been that Brian couldn’t accept the Beatles’ records being made by someone who didn’t appreciate them and was doing it only for money. In a perfect world they would come under the wing of a man who, like him, could see their potential and was interested in adding his talents to theirs.” That man, of course, was George Martin who was actually forced to sign the Beatles! Oh, what stories are in this book.

I especially love Lewisohn’s thoughts about a recording of the Quarry Men’s evening performance the day Paul met John. Writing of the tape and this early Lennon vocal performance, Lewisohn hits so many things about Lennon (and by extension, the Beatles) that make them so remarkable:

“And this, even more than its highly improbably existence, is the most extraordinary thing about the tape: it is unmistakably John Lennon. Although inspired by Elvis and Lonnie, he’s not attempting to imitate their voices or their style, and more strikingly still he’s not adopting any phoney American or mid-Atlantic accent. Singers always start off as impersonators, mimicking whoever made the record they’re performing, some perhaps going on to develop their own voice. That John Lennon already had it at Woolton, that he was so audibly himself, is the mark of a true original. Not only does he have a great rock voice, it’s an honest one.”

Influenced, yes, but unmistakable an individual, an original — a natural, honest original, not painstakingly groomed for prime time but just being himself.

I just finished this yesterday, and I am so depressed. I just wanted it to keep…going. It took Lewisohn ten years to research and write this volume, and he hasn’t written the remaining two volumes, and I don’t know if I can sustain the will to live long enough to see them written and released. I hope so.

Good Ol’ Freda (Ryan White, 2013)

When it comes to The Beatles, there are plenty of myths and legends. There are the tell-all books and exclusive interviews of close and loose associates of the band that sometimes create or perpetuate these falsehoods, distorting the truth in the process. Then there are the words, memories, and opinions of the Beatles themselves – and sometimes even they contradict themselves! (See their recollections of receiving the MBE in The Beatles Anthology!) And then, rarest of the rare, there are the untold stories of those who were actually there.

Good Ol’ Freda tells such a story.

Freda

Freda Kelly had the dream job of countless teenagers (and adults, too, I’m sure!) in the 1960s: she was head of the Beatles’ fan club…and personal secretary to the Fab Four themselves, placing her in their coveted inner circle and giving her a front-row seat to the madness that was Beatlemania and all the crazy, wonderful stories that went along with it. There are so many stories — and kinds of stories — in Good Ol’ Freda.

There is the story of her close relationship with all of the Beatles and their families — how George’s father taught her to ballroom dance and how Ringo’s mother eventually influenced Brian Epstein to give Freda a raise. There is the story of how John Lennon’s laugh once saved her job. There is the story of how George, sweetheart that he was, got her all of the Beatles autographs. There is the story of how she made John Lennon, who moments earlier had declared she was “sacked”, get down on his knees and beg her to once again serve as his secretary. What a sight that must have been!

Then there are the stories of how she took care of the fans because she was, first and foremost, a Beatles fan, and she knew what that meant. She understood the intense devotion, admiration, and love the Beatles inspired in their fans. And so when fans wrote requesting locks of hair, she scoured the floor of the barbershop and sent them real locks of their hair. When a fan sent a pillow requesting that Ringo sleep on it and send it back to her, Freda made sure that Ringo slept on that pillow. And when scores of fans wrote for autographs, she did her best to make sure that they received genuine autographs. (She — like John Lennon — disliked the use of the stamped autographs Brian Epstein tried to make standard practice because, quite simply, they weren’t the real thing. And she understood the disappointment and frustration that a fan would feel when they received not only a stamped autograph but a stamped autograph that had smudged.) Even after the Beatles had disbanded, she gave away memorabilia worth literally millions to real Beatles fans in the mid-1970s.

And then there are the stories of Freda as a person — staunchly loyal, unfailingly trustworthy and honest, not swayed by materialism or wealth, and highly protective of the Beatles and their fans. Freda was kind, but she was not to be crossed, as the story of how she fired an assistant once she discovered she had cut her sister’s hair and tried to pass it off as the Beatles’ hair demonstrates. The situation was simple to Freda: she could no longer trust the assistant and thus she had to go. Freda was fiercely loyal. She was once offered money in exchange for as many bits of information she could fit into an envelope. Nobody would have to know — she could place an envelope through a door and an envelope, with a large check enclosed, would be returned. Looking back on the situation, Freda explains how everybody needs and likes money and often would like to have more money — but she did not want it that much. Her integrity was worth more to her. What a gal!

To Freda, fame and wealth do not mean much. Because, as she reflects on the deaths of those once part of the Beatles’ circle, all the fame and money in the world still can’t cure cancer, can it? Throughout the years, Freda has refused offer after offer to write a book and tell her story — and the only reason she chose to tell it recently was for her posterity, spurred on by the birth of her grandson and the death of her son who had often asked her about her memories of working with The Beatles.

Watching Good Ol’ Freda, it’s easy to fall in love with Freda. You recognize yourself in her because she, like you, is a Beatles fan. She has been one since she visited The Cavern Club during her lunch break one day and will forever remain one. And you appreciate that she was there, in the midst of all the craziness, to take care of not only the Beatles but also their fans. You see the genuine love she had for the Beatles, their families, and those other close associates she worked with. “I worked with a lot of good people,” she remarks toward the end of the film.

She, too, was one of the good people, and I am so glad her story has finally been told. Thanks, Freda!

Living in the Material World (Martin Scorsese, 2011)

This week was filled with so many inspiring events–Blur’s performance at the Brit Awards where they were awarded Outstanding Contribution to Music (and Adele getting her knickers in a twist because her acceptance speech was truncated so that the band could perform–boo freaking hoo), Kentucky kicking butt twice (…why were we down by 13 at halftime against Mississippi State, though? I still don’t understand!), and discovering that I have a new favorite Ricky Nelson song (“String Alooooong”, oh my could that boy sing or what). But today would have been George Harrison’s 69th birthday, and there is nothing so dear to my heart as my Beatles. And I decided to mark the occasion by viewing Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George, Living in the Material World, for the first time.

I had high expectations for this film. I loved The Last Waltz and No Direction Home, and I had no qualms about Scorsese tackling a subject as mysterious and complex as George. I must admit, however, that I was slightly underwhelmed by this film. When asked whether the film revealed anything new to him about his dear friend, Ringo Starr replied in this month’s issue of Mojo: “No…but I knew George really well.”

Of course I could never profess to know George as well as Ringo, but I found myself waiting for something more while watching the film. Everyone you can imagine is interviewed for this film–Harry and Pete Harrison (George’s older brothers), Olivia, Dhani, Paul, Ringo, Yoko, Pattie Boyd, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Eric Idle, the late Neil Aspinall, and on and on, but I’m not quite sure why some were interviewed, as they really had nothing to say–for example, Derek Taylor’s wife. You and your husband came to England, met John and George at the airport, and you all had LSD on the car drive to Brian Epstein’s house. And they were really nice to you. Cool. (This is the part where Wayne and Garth are all, “NOT!”) This is not to say that no one had any revealing insights–there were plenty but perhaps there were some that should have ended up on the cutting room floor, as should have the disproportionate amount of time devoted to the George-Pattie-Eric triangle. That was unnecessary and boring, augmented by Pattie Boyd reading from her insipid autobiography.

The film is sparse with details; there is no voice-over narration to guide you. You are expected to know who Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are without titles (as you should be, let’s be honest); you are expected to know the general details of the Beatles’ story. This allows space for what I think is the film’s greatest strength–the use of rare footage and photographs, many taken by George himself. My single favorite scene in the film is the footage that opens and closes it: George is in one of his many gardens, hiding behind the tall flowers, making faces that are simultaneously somber and playful. That footage, lasting only a handful of seconds, captures so much of George. I enjoyed the film most when Scorsese used footage like this, sometimes interspersed with the music of the Beatles and Harrison, and let it simply speak for itself.

George Harrison, Living in the Material World

Is there anything you would say to George if he were around today?
Dhani Harrison: Were have you been? I had a dream and that was what I said to him in the dream, so I guess that’s what would be the question. Where have you been since I last saw you? And he answered it, so I can tell you the answer as well, which was, “Here, the whole time.”

I loved Ringo’s recollections the most. He recalled how, in their early days of fame, they all stopped somewhere to eat. George was the first one back in the car–behind the wheel, in the driver’s seat. Paul, however, had the keys. And so a stubborn argument ensued. “I have the keys!” “I’ve got the wheel!” They finally left about two hours later. Ringo did not disclose who drove.

He shared how in the frenzy of Beatlemania, they often had an entire floor of a hotel to themselves. They, however, found themselves meeting in the central location of the bathroom–just to be together.

Ringo also shared this aphorism: “The Beatles had one day off a month, and on the day off, Paul would go to a beauty pageant.” Booyah.

Photograph by Astrid Kirchherr

Astrid Kirchherr shared another one of my favorite anecdotes. The Beatles arrived in Hamburg, only three days after the death of Stuart Sutcliffe, which they were ignorant of until she told them at the airport. Once she took them back to her home, John asked if he could see the place where Stuart used to paint. Once in the room, he was overcome with emotion, and she nudged George to stand behind him as she framed a photograph. George was just barely eighteen, but, she said, he had such a calm and strengthening presence. I love the emotion–and, as a result, the relationship between the two–she captured in that series of photographs.

Interviewer: He [John Lennon] was no angel.
George: He wasn’t. But he was as well.
Interviewer: Was he?
George: Yeah.

Olivia Harrison remarked that there is the saying or teaching that in this life, one must perfect one human relationship in order to truly love God–you practice loving God by loving others, and she felt that one relationship for George was with his music and by extension, the other Beatles and other close friends who were also his musical collaborators. This documentary gave a balanced view of George, showcasing both his faults and successes as a man, but what I took most from this film was what a kind, genuine friend he was to so many.

Interviewer: Are you individually millionaires yet? 
John: No…
Interviewer: Where does all the money go? 
John: Well, a lot of it goes to Her Majesty. 
George: She’s a millionaire. 

The Beatles actually were the most adorable, endearing, witty, talented, genuine group of people to ever grace this earth. Just thought I’d throw that out there. And it’s kind of scary that there are people who don’t hold them in the highest regard. That really, really scares me.

Back to the film, though.

Living in the Material World has much to recommend it–home movies from the early days to backstage on the Dark Horse tour to Dhani helping George in the garden to the Traveling Wilburys rehearsing in the kitchen, the warm memories from Ringo, the good and the bad memories from Olivia, including a detailed recollection of the night a man invaded their Friar Park home and stabbed George, Paul’s honesty about George’s contributions to the Beatles music and his own bossiness that stifled George’s creativity at times, Yoko’s generous words, and the inclusion of photographs paired with so many of George’s most beautiful compositions. I’ll probably be listening to All Things Must Pass constantly for the next few days as a result.

“He just lit the room.” –Olivia Harrison on George “leaving” his body 

As he did in life. Happy birthday, dear. Love and miss you always.