“It is all so silly anyway, all the way through. Ringo’s story was funny, you know. We were talking about school once and he said that he had been in hospital so much, that when he want back to school he had to get a note, an official note, to say that he had left and come back from hospital and the school said to him: ‘you never went to this school’ and he said: ‘yes, I did. I’ve just been in hospital a lot.’ Then, he said, a couple of years later, they were saying, proudly, ‘This was Ringo’s desk. The great man sat here.’ Madness. There was always plenty of that.” – George Harrison
“I don’t want to be one of those people meeting around the Messerschmitts and the Spitfires reliving World War II” – John Lennon
Just so there’s no mistake: I have been a serious Beatles fan for forty years. I own, at a guess, over thirty Beatle recordings on vinyl albums, 45-RPM singles, cassettes, and CDs; a similar number of Beatle-related publications, including Philip Norman’s Shout!, Ian MacDonald’s Revolution In the Head, Roy Carr and Tony Tyler’s The Beatles: The Illustrated Record, and George Harrison’s I Me Mine; the first concert I ever saw was Beatlemania; I routinely play a wide selection of Beatles songs on my guitars (lately I’m into “I’ll Follow the Sun,” “She’s a Woman,” and “Because”); virtually every one of my nine published books makes some reference to the Beatles, and Out of Our Heads: Rock ‘n’ Roll Before the Drugs Wore Off is particularly focused on their influence; I have walked across Abbey Road and spent a few hours wandering the streets of Liverpool. I have even met an ex-Beatle and got a signed photograph from him (it was Pete Best, but still). So when I call time on the Beatles, as performers and as products, I am not kidding around. I am more of a Beatlemaniac than most casual listeners, but I have my limit, and the recent three-part Get Back series has exceeded it.
Let It Be, the 1970 album and film project from which Get Back is sourced, contains some great songs and moving scenes. Shouldn’t that be enough? Apparently not, since, like so many other artifacts of Baby Boom entertainment, the raw materials that made the originals can be endlessly, profitably recycled as reboots, remasters, and Special Editions. The tapes and the footage have always been there; the market for every last demo track and deleted scene from classic records and movies justifies digging them up and putting them out at least as much as any artistic value. Enthusiasts often tout the significance of bringing the forgotten outtakes to light, invoking comparisons to a rediscovered first draft of Moby-Dick or an unfinished Beethoven symphony. Yet it’s hard not to sense the purely commercial motivations behind reissuing copyrighted works from the 1960s and 70s – yes, even works by the Beatles – that aren’t there with reissued literature or music from the Nineteenth Century. The older finds can be considered as a sort of archaeology, but the latest output veers perilously close to advertising.
Admittedly, I have purchased and enjoyed many Beatles collections released after the act disbanded: the great 1962-66 and 1967-70 compilations from 1973 (the “Red” and “Blue” sets), the Hollywood Bowl live album from 1977, Love Songs from the same year, and several others. These too, presumably, both enhanced the growing Beatles legend and then capitalized on it. The 1995-96 issue of the Anthology DVD, CD, and print archives was a huge media-slash-merchandising event which I eagerly bought into, although I never scooped up the Beatles Rockband gaming system when it was launched with much fanfare in 2009 (I can play their music on real instruments, thank you very much). All of these, though – and certainly Get Back today – have ultimately diluted the Beatles’ legacy by making it difficult to distinguish their core achievement from its subsequent exploitation. Many other pop canons have likewise suffered from this kind of curatorial overexposure: think of how numerous sequels and spinoffs, despite or because of the massive publicity attending them, somehow make Star Wars seem less special than it first did in 1977. How will future generations appreciate that the Beatles were a talented rock ‘n’ roll band before they became a permanent commemoration?
An integral part of the Beatles’ appeal was their nonchalant attitude towards their own success, and towards fame and show business generally. Other entertainers were politely modest; the Beatles were charmingly irreverent. They were conscientious about their music, but they always dissuaded fans and critics from reading too much into it and they didn’t expect to see their slightest gestures mythologized the way they’ve been. The Beatles of 1969 would be the first to debunk what the Beatles have become in 2022. I have written previously that though today’s junk may be tomorrow’s treasure, accelerating the transition with reverent and heavily hyped upgrades (while reaping a big payoff) will ultimately hasten the decay of treasure back into junk. In a culture where any organic connection between artist and audience inevitably becomes a formula to be milked, it’s a shame that the historic connection the Beatles made with the world is now subject to the same imperative. Which is why I won’t Get Back: I don’t need to binge-watch yet more exhumed, exhaustive coverage on a streaming service to affirm a private response that was long ago imprinted on my soul. It’s a love that lasts forever, it’s a love that has no past.