let it be an alternative reality

Editing the Narrative

"Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson is said to have poured through 150 hours of film to come up with 9 hours that told the story that somebody wanted to tell differently than how Michael Lindsay-Hogg had told it in the original "Let It Be" film.

Hogg's film, edited from that same large trove of recordings, had an organic feel to it, albeit not a particularly upbeat one as it seemed to incidentally capture the demise of a legendary quartet.

Jackson's film, driven by the machinations of "Sir Paul McCartney", ostensibly sets the record straight. The Beatles, who seemed dour and sort of fed up with the whole Beatle thing in the Hogg film, are more like what we in the public remember them to be as Fab Foursmen in the Jackson remake.

So, what exactly are these two films? 

The Creative Culture Journal takes a look.


George Harrison joking on the Dick Cavett Show about being only one of many Beatles.

Why was "Let It Be" Made Initially? 

"Let It Be" was filmed in 1969, three years after The Beatles final tour, and it was designed to remind the world that the band was still around. 

Things changed dramatically for The Beatles in 1966. John Lennon's remarks about the band's popularity next to Jesus Christ created a backlash that made it unsafe for the band to tour in the United States.

The band had been worked unmercifully hard, putting out eight albums in four years, touring internationally, and doing constant promotions. Their concert management routine had been abysmal, to the extent that they would show up with minimal gear, perform for 30 minutes into whatever sound system was available in each venue they played, fewer and fewer of which were actual music venues, and they sickened of the abuse. They played their last show in a ball park in San Francisco and returned to England, never to really work as a band again.

Moreover, the individuals in the band changed. Still in their mid-20s, they were marrying and developing their own individual adult lives, growing up as people do, and to varying degrees they began to behave as individual artists.

That is pretty much the way The Beatles story ends, in the standard narrative. It is essentially what was captured in the Lindsay-Hogg edit of the "Let It Be" footage. 

Peter Jackson was brought in, by Paul McCartney, to tell the story the way Paul McCartney wanted it told. After all, it was his film.

A Likely Story

The take here at the CCJ is that the change that overcame The Beatles - largely out of the public eye after 1966, which was the reason for the TV special "Magical Mystery Tour" and the "Let It Be" film - was a natural process of maturation coupled with a marketing campaign desperate to extend The Beatle's reign as the world's premiere rock band.  

From 1966 on, The Beatles story is all conspiracy theory, though people prone to that way of thinking often suggests that the mystery behind The Beatles began long before that.

Here is our take.

In 1966, following their return to England, the boys were fed up. John went off to France to play a part in a movie ("How I Won the War"), leaving the others behind to consider their next move. Touring was out of the question, everyone seemed finished with the whole Fab Four era, and people were out of sorts.

In the midst of turmoil, some disastrous choices were made, and a band member was lost - a critical band member.

Though the details of what exactly happened remain lost to mystery and time, clearly something happened that made everything change for The Beatles - even the band members themselves.

A story circulated around London that Paul McCartney had been killed in an automobile accident. Newspaper reporters got the accounts and stories briefly appeared in the press, but rather like the Roswell incident in America in 1947, initial reports were immediately replaced by updates indicating the initial reports to be false.

Just days after the supposedly fatal crash, Paul McCartney showed up at an awards ceremony, but people wondered if it was really Paul. The Beatles were known to use doubles, even sending them to cover photo ops, which today makes a review of Beatle photographs a "Where's Waldo" adventure. There have been so many impersonators hired to portray Beatles - so many who are similar in appearance - that it can become difficult for the uninitiated to tell the imposters from the real deals.

London music insiders started talking about the "new Paul", which was something to be kept on the down low.  But it wasn't made easy. Paul McCartney lived with his fiancee Jane Asher's family, and the two of them were the "it" couple of London. 

Suddenly, Paul and Jane weren't a couple anymore. In fact, Jane had been replaced by a rock photographer/groupie, Linda Eastman, who seemed like B-list material next to the British television sweetheart Jane Asher. It never seems to have been explained how McCartney exited the Asher household and seemingly overnight fell in tight with this other woman, whom he would soon after marry. It is not someting Jane Asher has ever discussed, to my knowledge.

Fixing a Hole

After 1966, everything The Beatles did was dictated by Paul McCartney, or at least the guy we know today as "Sir Paul".

Around the time that change took place, another critical event occurred: Beatle manager Brian Epstein died from an overdose of sleeping pills.

It was pitched as a tragic mistake, too many pills taken to address a sleep disorder, but Epstein was also said to be deeply depressed over the end of The Beatles touring days. This, supposedly, left him with nothing to do, which is absurd given the stable of British Invasion bands that he was managing. Running Beatles tours would have been only a part of the empire he had created.  

More than that, Brian Epstein was a huge success and a major figure on the London social scene, where he was living as an openly gay man. This seems to indicate a level of courage, and perhaps insulation against the coarse world, that would seem to bely any notion that Epstein was lost without a touring Beatles.

This publication suspects there were other issues plaguing Brian Epstein and keeping him up nights, the way deceptions do.  

Paul McCartney put together "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", which even on its face was an obvious attempt to recast The Beatles right down to their physical images. He put them in costumes as good as masks, complete with facial hair that hid from the general public the fact that Paul McCartney, the "cute Beatle", didn't look anything like how he had looked before. 

Lennon, who wrote the greatest tunes on the album, practically disavowed the work, hardly participating in the recordings. Ditto for George Harrison, who contributed one great track himself ("Within You, Without You") and dismissed the album as Paul on piano and Ringo on drums. For McCartney's part, he reused "When I'm Sixty-Four", an early McCartney song The Beatles had been performing on stage since their Hamburg days. He would go on to use other partially completed McCartney tracks ("Fool On the Hill") in subsequent album relases. (Voice analyses reveal that there are two "Pauls" singing on that track, both quite different from the other.)

SIDE NOTE: It is with Sgt. Peppers that The Beatles' music takes on a completely different focus. They become something of a piano-based operation, owing primarily to Paul McCartney's facility on the instrument. His skills on piano seem to explode around the time that "new Paul" showed up on the scene.

The other thing that happened was that McCartney began spending hours developing, recording, and re-recording dynamic bass lines for which he would develop an additional fame. There are people who believe him to be one of the greatest bass players of all time, but a lot of determination went into creating that narrative. McCartney began taking control of The Beatles recording process, recording his bass parts last so he could spend huge amounts of time recording parts that he would never play live, making them more recording artifice than instrumental genius.     

George Martin's Long Game

Another critical event happened in that tumultuous 1966-67 period for The Beatles. EMI producer George Martin, who had shepherded their recordings from the beginning, left EMI to work full-time as The Beatles producer, eventually expanding his role to other bands and his own studio in the Caribbean. He and McCartney would put together a lifelong partnership that would constantly rewrite Beatles history while promoting Beatles-related products, such as "The Beatles Anthology" and the "Love" show produced by Cirque de Sole, and this more recent Peter Jackson film. George Martin's son has taken over from his father, which keeps The Beatles story in the hands of a select few mythmakers.       

A Magical Mystery

The Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour" TV special was another Paul McCartney vision brought to life, and a spectacular fail as a film entertainment. As always, it did feature extraordinary material from John Lennon, and a likeable George Harrison track, but the McCartney material continued to show a sharp decline from the days of "Michelle" and "Yesterday". People started to notice that McCartney's lyrics didn't make a lot of sense, as if he is just randomly fitting in words to match a melody. You can try to sound like another person when you sing, and you can try to look like another person, but you can't fake songcraft and a faked personality comes off as inauthentic. Mediocre songcraft and inauthenticity would mark the rest of Paul McCartney's life and career.

Sir Paul McCartney seems to have brought something else in to help with the ride: drugs. 

By most accounts, The Beatles were a little slow to warm to the drugs that became popular in the later 1960s. They had been hopped up on speed and hopped down on qualudes during their Hamburg days, but Lennon and Harrison had to be dosed on the sly with LSD, which began a pattern of usage. Bob Dylan supposedly got them smoking pot and Lennon later had a dalliance with heroin, but only Sir Paul was out front about drug experimentation and the promotion thereof. His entry into the band signaled a whole new approach to recreational drugs, and after Sir Paul's involvement with the Monterey Pop Festival, where LSD was promoted like candy, he would become forever associated with that indulgence.

The spaced out Beatles sought sanity in India and a meditation retreat, supposedly hoping to create a closer bond with Sir Paul than they had been previously open to. Lennon by this time had planted all kinds of bombs in his lyrics and in the back-masking of his recordings, all revealing to the world the truth about these new Beatles, whose name was a mere ghost on the "White Album" that resulted from their trip to India.

Again, Lennon contributed brilliant, clever material, filled with subtext, and Harrison continued to show tremendous development as a composer. Sir Paul contributed kitsch, for the most part, along with some standard rock knockoffs and a lot of red meat meant to trigger the most easily triggered among us ("Helter Skelter"). This is a pattern he would carry on into his Wings glory days and beyond. 

Let It Be, Won't You

A lot of people had a lot in stake in trying to keep The Beatles alive and relevant, and so their final years were caught up in legal wranglings and corporate intrigues. The Lennon & McCartney label had become an artifact of history, and so Sir Paul devised one last ruse to breathe life back into his deflated balloon, for The Beatles had become his. Lennon had abdicated and been replaced. Epstein the kingmaker was dead.

That film was predicated on the ridiculous premise that The Beatles - who could have, and had used, all the recording time they wanted, with all the engineering help required - had only three weeks to come up with an album of all new material.

Who is the authority figure who so owns this band and is forcing this penance upon them? Nobody, of course, it's just made up for the film.

One senses that Sir Paul dreamed up this flimsy storyline for the sake of holding the band together, but nobody was into it, and this is largely what was captured on the Lindsay-Hogg film.

The Beatles, who as the Fab Four made their fame on a sort of Marks brothers interplay, like precocious teenage punks in a constant combat of wits, seem to have been called upon to recreate such bonhomie for "Let It Be". The results are mostly dreary, which shines a special light on the omnipresence of Yoko Ono in those sessions. She was John Lennon's security blanket, his comfort companion at this time of extreme discomfort.

The songs that came out of the "Let It Be" sessions are mostly songs that would have never become known to the public were they not released as Beatles material. That said, they are still Beatles tunes (of a stripe) and the Beatles promotion machine is intense. The re-release of the "Let It Be" album is currently at the top of the LP charts 50 years after its initial outing.    

John Never Said Anything Nice

Today, as Sir Paul makes the rounds rewriting history, he complains that his close friend John Lennon never said anything complimentary to him.

One suspects Lennon didn't have that same trouble with the real Paul, who he had a close relationship with that lasted for years. They were a real songwriting team, not so much crafting each song together as contributing sections to each other's material, collaborating in that way.

The remake of the the "Let It Be" film attempts to portray that collaboration that created The Beatles greatness, but it is just for show. It only makes sense that Lennon wasn't particularly enthralled with his business partner's sketchy contributions. It just wasn't the same as it had been for John and Paul, the real one.   

John Lennon, family and friends, sing the entire McCartney "Band On the Run" album at a 1975 Christmas party.