Thoughts on Get Back, Part 3

January 28, 2022

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days — almost a week.

I found part 3 unsettling. Not in a big way, in a small way. It was sad. Deflating tire sad.

Began great. Heather Louise See, soon to become Heather McCartney, is about six, when she bursts into the Apple Corp. studio on Saville Row while the band is recording, and she becomes the absolute belle of the ball for the first half. All of the Beatles indulge her, everyone making silly faces or letting her bang the drums. She climbs all over Paul’s head. It’s utter joy. And it is so, so fun to watch after all of the tension preceding.

It’s an interesting choice by Peter Jackson, to spend so much time on this, this little girl playing with these four young men. But it makes sense. We see that all of The Beatles, regardless of the drugs and the groupies, of decisions to be made in the immediate future and for years on end, of the stints in rehab, of the multiple album releases, are just sort of… guys. It’s very humanizing. It’s a gentle way to knock them off any pedestals they might have been placed upon. The Beatles, were, after all, just a bunch of guys who were very lucky. Lucky to have met each other, lucky to have met Mr. Brian Epstein and Mr. George Martin, and lucky to have stumbled into the 1960s at the head of the pack.

Paul married Linda Eastman shortly after Get Back was filmed, and adopted Heather. I understand this. I, too, have a stepdaughter, and she was about six when we began our journey together. Paul is already a dad — you can see how he plays with her. I wonder how Julian Lennon reacted to this segment. He lost these years with John, who wasn’t much of a father figure at this point. Julian was actually much closer to Paul, who used to come over to visit and spend time with him. Hey Jude was written for Julian. Paul McCartney is a deeply good human being.

John as a dad… he didn’t really have much of an example set. His own dad was a bum, his mother was a free radical, and he was raised by his aunt. It must have been a hell of a challenge to be John Lennon. To have all those smarts and creativity, and charm, and really be such an asshole in so many ways, and yet be totally aware of it, aware of it to the point that it leaked out in lyrics: “I used to be cruel to my woman. I beat her…”

After skipping out on Cynthia and Julian, John eventually skipped out on Yoko, and spent months running around with May Pang, who later married Bowie producer Tony Visconti. Eventually, John and Yoko reunited, and he settled into something that was at least calm, although there’s a lot of evidence that he spent most of his house husband days at the Dakota and in Laurel Hollow, NY, trying to kick a heroin habit.

To be clear, the house he bought on Long Island under the phony name “Warm Flesh,” although overlooking Cold Spring Harbor, was actually situated in the incorporated village of Laurel Hollow, down a long and winding driveway. And I know this because I grew up in Laurel Hollow. I drove past that driveway a lot, hoping to catch a glimpse of The Beatle.

I did finally. It was in the fall of 1980. I was a senior in high school, and I had a brown Ford Pinto, which was nicknamed The Hamster Mobile. Because we used it to transport the band gear, because I was in a band called The Angry Hamsters. It’s a brilliant name but it’s awful at the same time.

Three in the afternoon. High school, Cold Spring Harbor High School, had just let out and I was headed home. I came down Lawrence Hill Road, and stopped at the light. Cold Spring Harbor (the body of water) to my right, the Fish Hatchery up a bit to my left, Cold Spring Harbor labs across from that. A piece of shit yellow Toyota Tercel or some thing — a Corolla — pulled up on my left. There were two people in it, both in hats, both in sunglasses. The driver was a woman with thick black hair. In the passenger seat, wearing a sort of flat brimmed cap and granny sunglasses, was the man himself. There’s no mistaking that nose. I stared, my mouth open. He must have felt me staring. He turned to me, sort of gave me a sneering smile, stuck his tongue in his cheek — just like he does in films you see of him, then brought up his right hand in a peace sign, except the back of his hand was towards me: the gesture meant “Up Yours.”

There are worse things than to have John Lennon tell you to stick it up you ass. And he was laughing. He meant it in a nice way. He was just sort of an asshole.

The light changed. Yoko floored it. I followed them up the road and through the meandering roads of Laurel Hollow. I have no idea what they thought — that I was angry or a maniac or a smitten kid. Whatever. They went down their driveway and I kept going to my own house further down by the water in the wilds of Laurel Hollow.

I never saw them again. A few weeks later John was killed. I remember waking up for school. My grandmother, who lived with us, was already up as well — she was in her early 70's, still commuting to her job in NYC. We had a brief conversation over Cheerios:

Grandma: Did you hear Jack Lennon was killed?

Luke: You mean Jack Lemon, the actor? That’s so sad. He was a great actor.

Grandma: Yes! And he was in The Beatles.

Well, that popped a balloon… that popped a balloon.

I had an earlier, Six Degrees of Separation event with Yoko.

I was probably eleven or so. In Laurel Hollow, near my house, was the remains of the Tiffany Estate, where Louis Comfort Tiffany (he of stained glass and jewelry fame) had his home and one of his ateliers. By the time my family moved into Laurel Hollow, in 1967, the Tiffany Estate had burned down and was mainly wreckage, but a portion of his atelier remained standing. It was a big, vaguely “Oriental” brown building, overgrown with a gate across the courtyard. Forbidding. Eventually it was owned by a man named LaVerne, and eventually sold and torn down. But for about a year, there was a family from Japan living in it.

The father was a sculptor, and evidently well known. His name escapes me. His wife was named Yoshiko, and they had a little boy, younger than me, named Tah. And I would on occasion play with Tah — there was a language barrier and an age difference.

Yoshiko was rather lovely. She invited my family over one day, and we looked at her husband’s huge sculptures, which he was cutting out of solid blocks of concrete using an angle grinder. And Yoshiko fed us, and she and my mom talked.

Yoshiko had gone to school in the early ’60s with Yoko Ono, and was a friend — really just a bit more than an acquaintance. Yoko had a daughter, Kyoko, who was a baby at the time. And Yoko would stop by Yoshiko’s apartment and ask if Yoshiko could watch Kyoko for a few hours while she (Yoko) went shopping. And then Yoko would vanish. For weeks. And weeks. And this happened more than once.

There’s a song on a Plastic Ono Band album called, “Don’t Cry Kyoko. Mummy’s Only Looking for a Hand in the Snow,” ostensibly about Yoko’s custody battles with Kyoko’s dad. The court sided with the dad.

Yoko in the '60s wasn’t Linda McCartney. Kyoko was out of Yoko’s life until the 1990s. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. Yoko and John were nascient heroin addicts during the filming of Get Back. Some sources say Lennon’s habit was instigated by Yoko. I don’t know. And I try not to judge. The two of them look so in love during Get Back. How can that be a bad thing?

Life is hard. One figures out how to live with one’s self. If one gets the chance.

The ending of Part 3 is the mythical rooftop concert.

Mythical. The last time these guys ever played together. Up on a roof, on a cold January day in London, in a business district. People out on the street, gawking up. Most seemed to love the idea, if the film footage is to be believed, although a few spoiled apples didn’t and called the police.

After a few songs, two very young looking constables showed up at Apple and attempted to shut the concert down. The staff at Apple stalled them, feigning uninformed incompetence, which might not have been a feint. Apple, the Beatles business entity, was notoriously fucked-up, or haven’t you been watching the logistical mess that is most of this documentary? Looks to me like most of the staff had really no idea what was going on.

Eventually these two “I shaved for the first time this week” police officers made it to the roof, and managed to pull the plug on the proceedings. Good god. Imagine being the person that shut down the Beatles’ last concert: do you brag about that or do you hide it deeper than your porn habit?

Poor Mal Evans. Mal was the Beatles road manager when they toured, but by 1969 he was more their main assistant and Guy Friday. He was a big fellow, with a simple, open face. He was with The Beatles for their entire career. He died at age 40, a few years before John, shot by the police in Los Angles. Poor Mal Evans.

In Part 3, Mal is pushed by the police to unplug The Beatles’ amps. He blunders about, playing the fool, unable to find power switches or power cords — obviously he knows how to unplug a guitar amp. He finally switches a few amps off. George Harrison promptly switches them back on. But, “The Man” always wins and the Beatles are shut down for the last time, for all time. They retreat off the roof, down to the studio, exultant.

The concert itself… they only played five songs: Get Back, Don’t Let Me Down, Dig a Pony, I Got A Feeling and One After 909. And they basically played three of those songs over and over again. Multiple takes for the camera I suppose…. nine cameras on the roof and no one seems to have managed to get a camera on Billy Preston for a close shot.

The Beatles were a fucking great live band. They were tight, they were locked up, they were in tune. There’s an energy and a posture to their live playing. And the rooftop concert makes it clear that they hadn’t lost anything since their last gig back in 1966. There are a lot of bands today that couldn’t pull off a set like the Beatles did on the roof. Heck, most bands today can’t even tune up their instruments without apps and clip-on tuners, but there are the Fab Four, on a roof in the middle of a city in the freezing cold, tuning up BY EAR, off a note played on an electric piano. This is actually hard to do. Guitars in the cold do not hold their tuning at all. And then they proceed to rock out. And it is distinctively The Beatles — everyone on the street listening knows who it is, down to who is singing lead on what song.

Mythical…? It isn’t much of a concert really. By the third song they’re all freezing. Each successive take gets looser. It deflates by the end into amateursville, albeit The Beatles’ amateursville is better than most bands’ best night, but it is… disappointing.

I’ve heard a lot about this concert, and it doesn’t live up to the hype. Maybe this is why Peter Jackson knocked the four of them off the pedestal earlier with Heather McCartney. After all, these are just four guys who were lucky. There’s definitely something thrilling about the first time they run through each song — really, these are excellent songs, but then it peters out.

If you want to get an idea as to what the Beatles could pull off live, go to YouTube and search “The Beatles Blackpool Night Out 1965.” Oh my god, were they good. They nail everything — the vocals, the harmonies, the groove, the guitar parts. The Rolling Stones were NEVER this tight, never this good. The between song banter is hysterical. They’re consummate performers and they steamroll through their set like a four-headed machine.

Don’t use the rooftop 1969 concert as your yardstick. Use Blackpool Night Out.

From the rooftop the Beatles descended to the basement. The Get Back project fell apart and eventually the tapes were given to Phil Spector, who overdubbed strings, cut in bits of chatter and came up with probably the most uneven Beatles album of their oeuvre. I like it, but it’s a mess. Still, even a shitty Beatles album has something wonderful about it. They managed to keep it together, or get it together, enough to release one more album, Abbey Road, which is as great a record as can be made. They started making it a few weeks after the end of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.

Abbey Road is the ultimate swan song. What is especially gratifying, for those of us who sat through Get Back Part 1, shaking our heads at the way poor George was being treated, is that the star of the record is… George! Aside from contributing phenomenal guitar playing and synth parts all over, he drops Something and Here Comes the Sun, songs as good as the best written by Paul or John. By the time Abbey Road is released, the Beatles have broken up.

The four of them never are all together in the same room at the same time ever again.

I’m tearing up over that last sentence.

I cannot describe what The Beatles meant, or still mean, to me. All my friends who are musicians, the millions of musicians all over the world, for generations, have been… perverted? Is that the word? Our lives forever changed, our plans and dreams set by the compass of these guys? And most of us condemned to never even get close to what those fellas pulled off. Why did I ever see Help? Why did I ever buy Revolver? Why did I ever ever listen to Norwegian Wood more than once? What have I done to myself? You may think I’m being melodramatic, but there are a bunch of us out there who know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you don’t, I can’t decide if you’re blessed or cursed.

Get Back… It’s a blessing of a curse. A magic moment in a downwards fall. Worth the hours, to see your heroes as plain old people and recognize that they’re still your heroes. I’m 58. I don’t suppose I’ll ever grow up enough.