Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Drugs and Differences

On the apparently unstoppable "How Do You Sleep?" thread, Peter Deville commented that "it's interesting to note that the growing differences within the band coincided with a divergence in their individual drugs of choice, having made the collective journey from alcohol to uppers to pot." He adds:

"Acid initially created that soon-to-be familiar fissure, with John, George and Ringo on one side and Paul on the other. I'm not suggesting that the drug divergence was responsible for the differences, but it must have exacerbated them. And going back to the 'sensitive' early 70s, Lennon and cocaine was truly a match made in hell, and not at all conducive to reconciliation and harmony! (c/f the notorious Rolling Stone interview.)"



This reminded me of reading, in an odd little book [Gods of Rock, by Rob Fitzpatrick and Mark Roland, 2005] a tongue-in-cheek piece called "Paul McCartney: How to Do Drugs Properly." Here it is, in its three-paragraph entirety:

     Some rock stars are more sensible than others. Take Sir Paul. In his mid-20s he was introduced to cocaine, but unlike so many others, he tired of it very rapidly. "I did cocaine for about a year around the time of Sgt. Pepper," he has said. "Coke and maybe some grass to balance it out. I was never completely crazy with cocaine. I'd been introduced to it and at first it seemed OK, like anything that's new and stimulating . . . but it got too fashionable, too fashionable, darling, amongst the record execs. I couldn't handle all that, being in the bogs with all those creeps!"

<more>

     Perhaps a little foolishly, McCartney tried to get almost a pound of pot into Japan in January 1980 and was busted and briefly jailed, but apart from that, he's never had a problem, never needed treatment, never been named and shamed. A hero, a knight of the realm, a beacon, if you like, for sensible moderation.

     In 2004, he revealed that he had tried heroin at the height of the Beatles' success. "I didn't realize I'd taken it," he told Uncut magazine. "It didn't do anything for me."

[I'm going to have to find this Uncut article and discover how, where, and with whom he managed to take heroin without knowing it.]

A few observations: what McCartney has lacked in progressing to harder drugs he has evidently made up for with consistent use of his drugs of choice, alcohol and pot. They may have fueled his creativity at points, but I think they've also weighed him down. There's a reason one of the (deservedly) scathing reviews of 1983's Pipes of Peace was headlined "Pipes of Pot." Pot, and alcohol, help explain McCartney's not pushing himself harder to do better work more often, especially in the 80s.

And that bust in 1980—seems like a passive-aggressive way to destroy Wings. Lennon tartly remarked in an interview after McCartney's bust that, at some level, Paul wanted to rebel and get out, and chose this back-door way of doing it. I doubt that McCartney thought it out that way, but he had to know that carrying around that much weed in his carry-on was going to create problems.

Michael observed, also in that earlier thread, that this kind of heavy, ongoing drug use almost always points to an underlying issue. As some of us were wondering in that thread, does Paul suffer from depression? In the sense of full-on clinical depression, I'd say probably not, given his almost compulsive productivity and ability to sustain apparently healthy family relationships. But it is quite believable to me that he has had/has a lower level of depression, and uses alcohol and pot to damp it down. And at least in the 1970-72 era, full-blown depression seems a distinct possibility.

As for Peter's observation about differing use of drugs increasing the rift in the late 1960s Beatles, I don't think there's much doubt about it. They were spending more and more time apart, and differences in what drugs the various members used could only underline the other divisions between them.


61 comments:

king kevin said...

I always thought that Macca used weed as a barrier against fame and pressure. As for using the bust as a way to destroy Wings, I don't know? He looks absolutely terrified and humiliated in the videos from the arrest. I tend to believe his story about not wanting to part with some dynamite grass. Why he would carry it in his luggage though, is another matter. He probably did that all the time and breezed through customs with a wink and 2 thumbs up.

Anonymous said...

Pulled from the other thread is this comment from Peter: "And going back to the 'sensitive' early 70s, Lennon and cocaine was truly a match made in hell, and not at all conducive to reconciliation and harmony! (c/f the notorious Rolling Stone interview.)"

Agreed. But I can see why cocaine would appeal to someone like John, who supposedly had a deeply lazy streak. Maybe, given that Paul was doing a lot of coke during Sgt. Pepper, John thought that cocaine would fuel an equally creative period for him. And I suppose some might argue it did, since his most prolific period -- album wise -- was during his "lost weekend," wasn't it, when he released Mind Games, Walls & Bridges, and Rock & Roll? It's just the other aspects of the drug brought out the ugliness in John's personally.

What surprises me is that Paul should have gone through an extended period of heavy coke use in 1967-68. The man was already energetic and hyper and restless and a workaholic. On coke, he must have been racing around 20 hours a day like a nut, and sleeping 4 hours a night. Once again, the photos of him offer proof: Paul is extremely thin in 1967. He wasn't eating which is typical of heavy coke users and not typical of heavy pot users, so he must have been doing a lot more coke than pot then. Really, Paul is the last sort of person who should do coke. And maybe, ego-wise, coke brought out the worst in Paul, too.

They both flirted with cocaine but ultimately they each chose drugs that suited them temperamentally. IMO, Paul's heavy reliance on pot is actually more surprising than John's reliance on acid/heroin.

Paul chose a drug that helped him relax and laugh and take the edge off -- which tells me that, for as often as people think Paul is Mr. Happy Optimistic Guy, he needed a boatload of pot to help him get there. That's why I agree with Michael that Paul used pot to self-medicate, to deal with his depression/anxiety or whatever his demons are that they refuses to talk to all of us about (as is his right!).

John chose drugs that helped him escape his life/mind (acid) or helped him find a place where he could feel warm, safe, and euphoric (heroin). But that's not really surprising given all we know about his levels of unhappiness, despair, etc.

-- Drew

Michael Gerber said...

Jeez, I wonder why Paul got busted in Japan? I wonder if we know anybody who liked to see him shamed and humiliated in public, and always resented his Goody Two-Shoes image? Somebody who knew that he'd be carrying, had traveled to Japan recently, and was feeling pretty darn low in 1979 in regards to his ex-songwriting partner?

Nancy, because I'm feeling frisky this morning, I will say that heavy, ongoing use of anything mood-altering is, BY DEFINITION evidence of a problem, a maladjustment to something fundamental. Where people go wrong is by thinking that this "problem" is anything special, but it's not. Life is very weird and difficult; we're a bunch of apes perched on a rock hurtling through space, terrified of our own mortality. Of course we compensate; it's just whether we can use something weak, like writing songs or making money or posting to a Beatles blog to distract ourselves, or need something strong like the blast of neurochemicals caused by heroin.

There's a book in the effect of drugs on The Beatles, but it probably wouldn't sell because rock fans have too much romanticism about drug use. Some of them think it's cool when a rock star dies--"the only way the story could've ended"--and that's not fandom, it's the same bloodlust as human sacrifice.

My visceral distaste for John's drug use is rooted in my affection for him, and my wish to see all creative people thrive. Booze, I think, was terrible for Lennon; it was certainly terrible for Ringo and George as well. Cocaine was bad for all of them, too, both as people and as musicians. (It explains much of the 70s nadir; cocaine seems to ruin every art form it touches.) Pot seems to have been good for them, individually and as a group; LSD seems to have been OK too--except for Lennon who really overdid it. Heroin seems to be a life-wrecker. Every Beatles biographer but the hated Goldman refuses to acknowledge the power of chemistry on John's creativity--how that splendid delicate mechanism of his was impacted by powerful drugs. It had to be; that's why he was taking them!

Anybody else think that McCartney's "bossiness" had more than a little to do with coke? And Lennon's "absence" more than a little to do with heroin? And doesn't that make drugs a large reason for the breakup?

Michael Gerber said...

Oh, and we shouldn't forget cigarettes, the only drug to actually kill a Beatle.

Peter Deville said...

I wonder how different things might have been had Paul shared the 'dental experience' with John and George that fateful night. Paul never took to acid in the way John and George did but he had to deal with his instinctive reluctance as well as the peer group pressure, while J & G were unwittingly thrown into the deep end without any of that baggage. (Although that kind of 'surprise' could, of course, lead to an even darker experience!)

But had the three of them shared the trip it might have strengthened bonds rather than create a fault line (albeit minor at that stage). George certainly seemed to believe the experience forged a new closeness with John.

Of course, the acid giveth and the acid taketh away. While it inspired John to produce some of his best work, you have to balance that with the damage it did.

But as you say, Drew and Michael, heroin and cocaine drove the deepest wedges, and without any positive effects whatsoever.

Nancy Carr said...

Michael, so true about us all needing our distractions from existential reality. Just a question of degrees.

Peter, that's an interesting idea about the rift forming because Paul wouldn't take acid with the others. But I think it's primarily that he wouldn't take acid with John that was the big deal. Up until the mid-60s John was the undisputed leader, and Paul's unwillingness to do what John did in this case was one of the first sings that that was shifting. George and Ringo followed John's lead, all the way through the breakup. Paul was the rebel.

I think you can look at a lot of things John did post-1966, but especially bringing in Klein, as bids to get Paul to step back in line and acknowledge his leadership. The version of the breakup that blames it on Paul has a grain of truth: Paul's refusals to defer to John kept raising the stakes, in John's eyes. It was inevitable they would get to an impasse. The drugs made it worse, but didn't cause it.

As for Paul's getting busted to break up Wings: I don't think he consciously intended that. But unconsciously, maybe. I get the sense from his interviews that Paul's good at hiding things from himself, and this might be one of them.

Drew, couldn't agree more that Paul's evidently needing such a heavy load of pot to be a cheerful, easygoing guy points to a nature that's not that way naturally. And God, I can believe he would be a total nightmare on coke. His using it during "Pepper" could be one instance of drugs contributing quite directly to the band's divisions, especially his division from John. One on coke, one on acid -- you could see that that wasn't going to end well.

Michael Gerber said...

Nancy: saying that Paul was refusing to knuckle under post-Brian is good as far as it goes, but the root problem was that, post-Brian, John would check out for long stretches of time, was admittedly unclear about the direction of the band and, after Yoko, was half-a-Beatle in his commitment level. In other words, I think that Paul was perfectly willing to fall into line when John was as committed and directed as he used to be (on "The Ballad of John and Yoko," for example). But when John wasn't interested, or stoned, or confused as to what he wanted to do, Paul's workaholism--which is really the guy's addiction, regardless of any others he might have manifested--wouldn't let him sit around and wait...so he took charge.

Paul is by choice and temperament a second banana, the power behind the throne. It's only after John abdicated that his "bossiness"--which was certainly present in the studio before then--began to be seen in other areas (Pepper, MMT).

As to the friendships, here were the customary rooming arrangements: John and George, Paul and Ringo. That's some of the magic right there, why The Beatles never became John and Paul and a shifting coalition of session men/bit players like The Eagles.

Peter Deville said...

Good point, Nancy. I wonder if Paul's initial lack of enthusiasm for LSD was more a case of what psychologists call reactance than reluctance.

His account of his second acid trip, with John at Cavendish Ave, certainly points to issues and anxieties relating to control:

"John had been sitting around very enigmatically and I had a big vision of him as a king, the absolute Emperor of Eternity...I could feel every inch of the house, and John seemed like some sort of emperor in control of it all."

And it's interesting to view John's increasing frustration/disillusionment as a symptom of losing control over Paul rather than being controlled by Paul.

matt m said...

Thanks for sticking up for weed there, Michael. (Though my extreme affinity for Fleetwood Mac's Tusk makes me debate your statement that coke ruins all art it touches.) I agree that pot, however, seems to have been very positive for all of them ("we laughed, and laughed..."), particularly for Paul.

Paul never gets the recognition he deserves for lifetime achievement in contributions to stoner culture. Some of his records are so thoroughly 'by potheads for potheads' that they're *exclusively* for potheads and don't make a whole lot of sense to those who aren't. I'm glad Nancy mentioned Pipes of Peace, as it's probably the most extreme example of this. Records like that one and London Town are the nascent wisps of the second wave of stoner culture, the one we're living in right now, the one that includes hip-hop and Judd Apatow. It's less about Cheech and Chong and the Dead and more about a vulnerable, introspective sense of being. Through the future, hazily, if you will. And just like listening to a stoner wax philosophic, these particular works of Paul's are often dismissed by outsiders as fluff. But they're really not, though you will likely need to be "on board" to really get to the substance within.

Probably unsurprisingly, it troubles me deeply that Paul has quit smoking. It's one more indication that he thinks life stopped being fun/worth it circa 1998.

Michael Gerber said...

Just calling it like I see it, matt m. I have a very warm place for stoners and stoner culture, given my distinctly hippie childhood. Tried cannabis for the first time last year (I have some neurological issues that make drug use...problematic) and though it's not for me, my sense of its relative benignity was confirmed--and my sense of its medical usefulness doubly confirmed. Much more to say on this topic, but remember matt that bodies change over time, and Paul at 56 simply might have been reacting to the chemicals differently--getting less of a lift, more other effects that he didn't like, or whatever. I actually think it's very positive for him that he (apparently) could set it down after all those years; just as I think Ringo's participating in 12-Step stuff has been positive for him. To quote Alan Watts on psychedelic drug use, "When you get the message, hang up the phone." It's the same with anything, really. Lennon's relationship with LSD seemed to be REALLY positive for him, but he couldn't hang up the phone, and eventually its overuse/abuse seems to have really knocked him off balance. Paul's always been much more "functional."

Peter Deville said...

By the way, re Paul taking heroin, here's the full quote he gave to Uncut (he doesn't give a lot of detail, unfortunately):

“I tried heroin just the once. Even then, I didn’t realise I’d taken it. I was just handed something, smoked it, then found out what it was.

“It didn’t do anything for me, which was lucky because I wouldn’t have fancied heading down that road.”

Anonymous said...

"Probably unsurprisingly, it troubles me deeply that Paul has quit smoking. It's one more indication that he thinks life stopped being fun/worth it circa 1998."

That's entirely possible. But I think there are 2 other reasons why he's quit: (1) His ex-wife is rabidly anti-drug and he would risk his part-time child custody if any photos emerged of him smoking weed. (Remind me again: Why on earth did he marry that woman? ) (2) His new wife had a brother who died at a relatively young age after years of drug abuse. In fact, her brother died in 2008 not long after she and Paul started dating, and around the time that Neil Aspinall died. And apparently, dealing with those losses brought them closer (I read about all of that in a story about Nancy in a New York paper). And Nancy has been active in supporting drug treatment programs. So it could be out of sensitivity for his new wife's feelings that he stopped smoking weed.

And it's entirely possible that Paul says he's quit, but is still puffing away in quiet moments when the wife and kid are not around. :)

Nancy: Your point about Paul being the rebel is fascinating. As Peter put it: "It's interesting to view John's increasing frustration/disillusionment as a symptom of losing control over Paul rather than being controlled by Paul." I've never quite thought of it that way. But I also think Michael is right: Paul only began to resist and rebel when he saw John refusing to lead or leading them nowhere.

Some terrific, thoughtful commentary here. This is why I keep coming back. :)

-- Drew

Anonymous said...

"Paul never gets the recognition he deserves for lifetime achievement in contributions to stoner culture."

Spot on. I wish someone in the major media -- like The Atlantic or The New Yorker -- would write a long feature about Paul and Pot. I think it would be a great piece. It really is astonishing to consider that, of all the Beatles, it's Paul -- not John -- who's been arrested 4 or 5 times for drug violations.

The British writer Taylor Parkes touched on this in an essay he wrote for The Quietus a couple years ago called "In Defence of Paul McCartney & Wings." Here's an excerpt that's relevant here:

Dope was another major factor in Wings' genial weirdness. McCartney's gluttonous cannabis consumption has always been a bit of a joke, as tired as cracks about Elvis' weight or Elton John's toupee. It's essential, though, to any understanding of his work — those first ten solo albums contain the most unmistakably pot-inspired music ever committed to posterity. Not because they're spaced-out, or laid-back. They reflect the reality of the everyday toker: lazy, whimsical, totally unfocussed, brimming with bright ideas, which buzz around for a moment or two before vanishing like burning paper. Macca in the Seventies — as settled domestically as any rock star could be, suspended securely in the amniotic fluid of his ego — abandoned himself to grass not to ease the pain of alienation (as with those contemporaries who hit the booze and smack), nor to plump up the thrill of being so special (like the LA cocaine crowd), but just because he liked it, and had nothing better to do. McCartney's relationship with pot was long and faithful, and by the 1970s he was deep inside himself — padding around in a grandad shirt, those famous brown eyes drooping at the sides, infantile and open to anything. That bonged-out lack of discipline encouraged the opaque solipsism of his worst post-Beatles music. It also helped enable those rather strange decisions which led to the very best of it.

I also love this funny bit in the article where Parkes describes Paul's "extraordinarily eerie" song Let 'Em In (which I love and Parkes does too): "There's a party at Paul McCartney's house. Who's invited? His family, Martin Luther and the Everly Brothers. And they'd better get a shift on — the lulled, loping feel of 'Let 'Em In' suggests that Paul started without them, at lunchtime." Ha!

-- Drew



-- Drew

girl said...

As to the friendships, here were the customary rooming arrangements: John and George, Paul and Ringo. That's some of the magic right there, why The Beatles never became John and Paul and a shifting coalition of session men/bit players like The Eagles.

Good point. It's been said by Paul and I think George, that John and Paul resisted their inclination to want to room together because they knew it would look like they were pulling rank. Also as you've implied here, it just wasn't the Beatles' way. They were an ensemble. There was really no true 'leader' per se. However the two unsaid leaders would go out of their way to enforce the fairness and democracy of the ensemble, and one of these was not rooming together on tour.

girl said...

it's interesting to view John's increasing frustration/disillusionment as a symptom of losing control over Paul rather than being controlled by Paul.

YES. This is key Peter. I think what historians and the general public get a bit wrong, is that Paul was not "bossy." That is way too simplistic. As Micheal has said, after 1967 John was checking out, so Paul naturally reacted to that by taking complete control of what he probably viewed as a potentially sinking ship if he didn't take control. Also I think by 1965, Paul was simply growing up and coming into his own as an artist. So he didn't need to look to John anymore as his 'leader'. John was ambivilent about this change in dynamic. Perhaps subconsciously he felt that one of his Just William gang of followers was getting too independent? Add cocain and acid to the dynamic and it's easy to see how it would eventually fall apart.

girl said...

Paul at 56 simply might have been reacting to the chemicals differently--getting less of a lift, more other effects that he didn't like, or whatever.

Also there is reason to suspect that Paul may have started seeing a psych by then and was on an anti depressant. Maybe he still is. So he wouldn't have needed pot anymore. In any case if this is true, I think it helped him creatively rather than hindering him. IMO his best solo work (aside from Ram and BOTR) was between 1997 and 2008.

Nancy Carr said...

Matt M., glad to get a different perspective on the Beatles' drug use into this thread. It's certainly true that pot wasn't utterly ruinous for any of the Beatles, but I also think it was far from completely benign.

In the "Help!" era and immediately afterwards, pot did seem to bring out their humor and take the edge off, in a mostly positive way. But for Paul in particular, I really do think it did harm over the years as well.

Besides some amount of physical damage to his lungs (unavoidable when you're smoking regularly, either pot or standard cigarettes), and consequently to his voice, I think it led him to coast musically when he shouldn't have.

Now, I'm actually with you on "London Town." A very underrated album, in my opinion, with some great songs ("Don't Let It Bring You Down," "Deliver Your Children," and "London Town" are my favorites), and only one true clunker "Morse the Moose"). But "Pipes of Peace" -- sorry, no.

I can give the title song some points for evidently good intentions, the same way I can give points to "Ebony and Ivory," but seriously, both these songs are terrible. They're flabby, both musically and lyrically. Songs like these remind me of why for years I wrongly thought I'd dislike most of McCartney's solo stuff.

I can find a few songs to like on every other McCartney album (even the deeply reviled "Press to Play"), but not on this one. "Keep Under Cover," "So Bad," "The Man," "Sweetest Little Show," "Average Person," "Hey Hey," "Through Our Love" -- all forgettable at best. "Say Say Say" at least swings a bit, and Michael Jackson injects some energy. (Much, much better than "The Girl is Mine," which I loathe unspeakably).

"The Other Me" is a sad casualty of not trying hard enough. The nice melody and interesting lyrical ideas are killed by lines like "I acted like a dusbin lid." Wait, what?? Yes, it scans but that is no excuse. I'm usually a McCartney defender, but come on. This isn't a case of "The movement you need is on your shoulder," where a line makes great emotional sense in context, despite its unconventionality. No, this is laziness pure and simple.

OK, rant over. After discovering the high quality of a lot of McCartney's solo work, it bugs me that he makes his detractors' work so easy with swill like this. And I do think pot, and alcohol, contributed to his saying "yeah, this is good enough" at times when it just wasn't.

Nancy Carr said...

Meant to add, Matt, I'm surprised you say McCartney "thinks life stopped being fun/worth it circa 1998."

He definitely went through a dark, unstable period after Linda's death [cough]Heather Mills [cough], , but he's not only been hugely productive since 1998, but has released some of his most critically acclaimed solo work.

Just studio albums since '98: "Run Devil Run," "Driving Rain," "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," "Memory Almost Full," and "Kisses on the Bottom." Plus "Liverpool Sound Collage" (in collaboration with the Super Furry Animals), "Ecce Cor Meum" and "Ocean's Kingdom" in the classical department., and "Electric Arguments" as the Fireman, with Martin Glover. Plus plenty of touring and three live albums.

More impressive, some of these albums are as good as anything he's ever done ("Chaos and Creation," "Memory Almost Full," and "Electric Arguments," IMO). And he seems now to be having a great time, happy in his new marriage, happy to be performing live, happy at having some of his past work (like "Ram") critically reassessed.

So I don't get where you're seeing the "it's not worth it" attitude you describe -- would you be willing to say more about that?

Michael Gerber said...

Great thread--one rather complicated point I want to make, probably poorly, so forgive me.

It's helpful to remember how powerfully recreational chemicals impact our lives, because they are so omnipresent we don't see them. This is a bit of truth that the 60s conveniently ignored; they wanted to add new chemicals to the "perfectly fine" list, wanted to commodify them and get them into the capitalist pipeline; but they never came clean about how strange it is that we have to turn to chemicals in the first place! Freedom isn't having your choice of pot OR booze at the end of the day; it's building a society that's not so horrible and shitty that you have to use either one!

You on a cocktail of chemicals--from Twinkies or Starbucks to heroin--where does the you stop and the chemistry begin? Interesting question, and always worth asking when examining the life and actions of people like J/P/G/R. Use of a chemical changes perception and behavior (that's why we do it) and persistent use of a chemical significantly changes perception and behavior. That seems like a strange thought until you remember that drinkers act like drinkers and stoners act like stoners and acidheads act like acidheads and coke users act like coke users (with lots of variation inside the groups). It's important for me to say that I'm not judging; but this similarity of effect is why "stoner culture" is consistent, and a subculture and not "life," and why users of a substance tend to gather with others who also use it. Paul, George, and Ringo wouldn't have BEEN in John's group if they'd been teetotalers, or unwilling to take Preludin, or whatever. The Beatles was profoundly a function of the chemicals they took--and inherited body chemistry of each of them. That's why the alcoholic family matrix works so well to explain the group (plus Brian).

Some people have luckier chemistry than others. John Lennon wasn't the same person drunk as he was sober--ask Bob Wooler. Do we blame John for hitting Bob? Sure--but we also have to recognize the role that powerful chemical alcohol was having on John's utterly personal biochemistry. Ditto, if you believe Goldman, his increased openness and sociability in 1966-67 as a likely result of LSD's ecstasy-like effects. And certainly his withdrawal from the group in 68 and 69 as a result of heroin use. None of these changes--and they are marked--makes much sense without factoring in recreational chemicals.

YMMV, but I've long since felt that you simply CANNOT understand the group without factoring in the chemicals they ingested. But it takes a lot of guesswork. And here even primary sources can't help, because for obvious reasons the user can be the last to know, or even perceive, a chemical's effects. Things like "How Do You Sleep?" smell like a chemical speaking to me; ditto Lennon's ranty interviews. Yes, they express something he felt--but in an exaggerated, amplified way (which he often apologized for afterwards, and seemed genuinely puzzled to see everybody taking it so seriously). Anybody close to an addict can relate to this.

If McCartney has stopped smoking weed, I think there's something very adult in doing that; just as there's something of the perpetual adolescent in clinging to a drug (or religion, or job, or identity) no matter what. That's wisdom; and it's a further wisdom for him not to say, "So don't YOU do it." I've never heard him say he regretted it; and why should he? But after you get the message, hang up.

In the end, recreational chemicals were probably weren't the worst way for J/P/G/R to get through their very strange, intense, often probably very frightening 20s. I am glad that Paul and Ringo have had the opportunity to come out the other side; I'm sorry that John and George did not. Lennon and Harrison, roomies, mystics and true-believers--the group's romantics--both lost much life to drug use. There is something to ponder there.

girl said...

“I tried heroin just the once. Even then, I didn’t realise I’d taken it. I was just handed something, smoked it, then found out what it was.

He said this in Many Years From Now also. But in his 1984 Play Boy interview he implied very heavily that this was not the only time he tried heroin. He implied in the interview that he actively took heroin while he was secluded on his farm in the early 70's, during the worst days of the break up. I'm trying to remember but I think the interviewer may have pressed him for more details, but he wouldn't give anymore. He answered, "I've got kids", which implies obviously that he didn't want his then teenaged children to get the wrong idea by hearing too much about Daddy's drug use. So who knows? But I did get the strong impression from that interview that he did take some heroin albeit briefly during that dark time.

girl said...

abandoned himself to grass not to ease the pain of alienation

But as a few people in this thread have said, Paul did smoke grass to self medicate a probable underlying anxiety and depression. Maybe he didn't necessarily feel alienated but I highly doubt he smoked grass, especially as heavily as he did, merely because he liked it, and had nothing better to do. I think this piece proves once again that McCartney is always dismissed as some sort of uncomplicated lightweight. Even his drug use isn't being put into perspective, but instead is thoughtlessly dismissed like everything he does. I'm also wondering why the author of this piece felt the need to describe him in the 70's when he was only in his 30's, as having drooping eyes and wearing a (grand dad shirt??) Odd. Maybe I'm too sensitive to this sort of thing in regards to Paul. What do you and others here think?

Michael Gerber said...

@Girl, here's the 1984 Playboy interview with McCartney: http://courses.music.indiana.edu/rock/paulint.html

And below is the relevant bit about heroin. I don't see him saying he took it; what other source could it be? Can you dig it up?

PLAYBOY: John apparently coped with the craziness of that period by experimenting with heroin. Did you know anything about that?

PAUL: No, not at the time. It's strange; that was all in private.

LINDA: I don't think we really knew what they were up to.

PAUL: We certainly never saw them on heroin. Never, ever.

LINDA: It must have been when Yoko was around.

PAUL: Yeah. My theory is that John and Yoko were so much in love that they began adding wildness to ordinary love, going for it in a big way. From what they told us--from what we found out--it did include crazy things like heroin. It appeared to include everything and anything. I mean, if the dare was to go naked, they would go naked. If the dare was to try heroin--nothing was too much. To think of yourself as Jesus Christ was not blasphemous, it was all just larger than life. All sorts of stuff was going on. Everybody was talking about expanding your mind.

PLAYBOY: And you never took heroin yourself?

PAUL: No.

PLAYBOY: But, to say the least, you're no stranger to other drugs?

Paul: I've never wanted to be seen talking about marijuana for publication. Why? Because I've got four kids and it looks like I'm advocating it. I'm not. But after this last bust in Barbados, with people saying, "Naughty boy, shouldn't do that!" as a 42-year-old man, I feel I now have the right to reply. IF anyone had told me in the Sixties that 20 years later we'd still be talking about whether pot was worse than this or that, I'd have said, "Oh, come off it, boys." If you start the most-dangerous list with heroin or morphine--we know there's no way out of that; you've got to be suicidal to get into that in any form--then I think marijuana comes toward the bottom of the list. Cocaine is above marijuana in harmfulness. I used to do coke mincing his words , but it got too fashionable, to fashionable, darling, amongst the record execs. I couldn't handle all that, being in the bogs [bathrooms] with all those creeps! And I do genuinely believe that Librium and Valium would both be above marijuana. For me, pot is milder than Scotch. That doesn't mean I've turned around and advocated marijuana. I haven't. I'm really only saying this is true for me. I mean, in Barbados, where I was on holiday, I was in a room miles away from anyone. It never interfered with anyone. No one was watching me except one manservant at the place.

I also want to say that there are things that marijuana is more harmful than: air, for instance. I advocate air every day. Water, orange juice--I'd advocate that and a good vegetarian diet any day of the week. But as I say, in print, you're put in a corner; they make you sound like the bloody high priest of pot. It's stupid, you know. I can take pot or
leave it. I got busted in Japan for it. I was nine days without it and there wasn't a hint of withdrawal, nothing.

PLAYBOY: You haven't discussed your imprisonment in Japan for pot possession. What was it like?

PAUL: It was hell. But I only remember the good bits. Like a bad holiday. The ting is, my arrest was on every bloody TV set. The other prisoners all knew who I was and asked me to sing.

Anonymous said...

I think this is one of the biggest untold aspects of the story of the Beatles' breakup, and in many ways, it encompasses every other aspect of the story. Think about it: would Lennon, psychologically damaged as he was, have surrendered himself to Yoko—and everything that ended up entailing—had he not already "surrendered to the void" and spend somewhere between eighteen months and two years dosing himself with acid to the absolute limits of his capacity? I doubt it. Would he have made the decision to surrender authority to Allen Klein without having already had his judgment and self-confidence shattered and shaken by LSD and heroin? Maybe, maybe not.

Would Paul have been so domineering and insensitive without a coke habit? Maybe, maybe not. It certainly couldn't have helped matters at all. I think sometimes we fail to make the distinction between Paul leading the group by proposing Pepper or MMT and Paul being a bossy prick in the studio by—as his best friends saw it—treating them as studio musicians, their contributions or potential contributions free to be ignored or replace with his own if he saw fit. We only know a couple of stories about this for sure—the guitar on "Hey Jude," the descending lead lines on "I've Got A Feeling", but God knows how many more instances there were of it during those 1967-68 sessions. Without the added encumbrance of drug-addled thinking, would they have thought Apple was such a great idea, or would McCartney have thought that the Get Back project was such a great thing to do six weeks after the White Album came out?

I don't think the divide began with Paul holding out on LSD—Revolver proves that. Jane Asher said when she returned after a dramatic tour in June 1967, all Paul could talk about were spiritual experiences he'd had with John during the Pepper sessions. I think LSD brought them closer, perhaps for the last time. (John was also doing some coke by 1967, apparently. We know it was in his mortal and pestle, and there are stories about him losing some in a limo with Mick Jagger from that era, etc.)

But what drugs gave, they also took away. As Michael put so brilliantly, heroin destroyed the delicate mechanism that gave Lennon reliable access to his brilliance. Pot robbed McCartney of the ability to think critically about things—projects for the band, lyrics for his songs, et cetra. Cocaine, in time, would make George irrelevant, too. Maybe there was no other way for it to end up—maybe the pressures and weirdness they faced every day couldn't have been navigated by those four, with their specific brain chemistries and psychological burdens and whatever else we don't know about without some pharmaceuticals. It's all very well to say "therapy", but that wasn't a realistic option for multimillionaire twenty-six-year-old rock musicians from Liverpool in 1968. It's still sad, though. It's still sad.

-Michael

Michael Gerber said...

@Michael, yours has my vote for Comment of the Year so far. Thanks!

"It's all very well to say "therapy", but that wasn't a realistic option for multimillionaire twenty-six-year-old rock musicians from Liverpool in 1968. It's still sad, though. It's still sad."

It's particularly sad because--even then--none of them were really that off the tracks. There was no Syd Barrett in the Beatles, or Keith Moon or Brian Jones. Even Lennon at his most zonked out was still able to create wonderful things and have fascinating thoughts. (That's why people too often mistakenly think the drugs didn't diminish him at all.) I think you definitely can trace the deterioration of the four-way friendship to the introduction of stronger, more malign, and indeed somewhat opposed chemicals. In a world of wine alone, the group might have split up just as fast--or quicker, given Lennon's temper--and on the whole I think we were extraordinarily lucky to get as much out of the group as we did.

But sadder, to me, was Lennon's rejection of therapy in the 70s--first his not completing Primal Scream with Janov FWIW (as with his acid experience, he let it tear him down, but didn't allow a healthier ego to be built in its place), and then, during the Dakota years, when he really was a soul crying out for compassion. Pop psych bestsellers weren't enough; merely a decent therapist, with sound ethics and a background in addiction and family trauma, probably would've been. There were probably four within a block of his apartment, if he could just get over being JOHN LENNON. And I think today, Lennon would've been a truly remarkable creature, more creative than ever, but with a panoply of options to stay sane.

John Lennon was--they all were--simply trying to be happy, and it's such a testament to their characters that this weird outrageous outsized experience they went through didn't turn them into utter monsters. Yes, Lennon said they "were the biggest bastards on Earth," but I've never read anything that rated worse than your standard-issue Hollywood asshole--and lots of things that show them acting quite decently. If someone had died, we'd know about it. In a world where JFK was bedding three women a day, Paul's "hunting of the female hordes" is no big shakes. We all got so lucky with those four guys--intelligent, mostly decent, supremely talented, mostly sensible, and really quite aware of the power they had. I know that's easy for me to say--things would look quite different from Francie Schwartz's perspective--but I really do think that if there were any serious dirt, we'd know it.

Anonymous said...


One thing I wanted to clarify: Multiple Beatles books say George was the one most known for the "hunting of the female hordes." Of course all of them were into that, but George was supposedly the one with the most girlfriends. I'm not sure why Paul always gets that label. And in fact, both of George's wives admitted he was serially unfaithful to them.

I think no one can experience that much fame and that much love and get that much adoration and not be affected by it. They can't be "normal" ever again. I don't think Paul still can be. But they can all try, and they did try to be as "normal" as possible. Which speaks well of them, I think.

-- Drew

Michael Gerber said...

@Drew, a quick internet search just found me this quote from Anthology:

"I was quite obviously un-gay, due to my hunting of the female hordes, and I think we all must have given the same impression."--P Mc.

But of course they were all a-huntin', even the Married Beatle.

Peter Deville said...

Great comments! @Michael, I think you hit the bullseye with the pernicious drug dynamic from around 1968. And of course, John in his acid/heroin-weakened state was in the wrong kind of shape to act as the all-important counterweight or buffer to Paul's coke-fuelled steamroller. Which, I think, is partly why he insisted on/relented to Yoko being a constant presence. John didn't feel strong enough to take Paul on so Yoko being there had the dual benefit of providing a convenient distraction and throwing Paul off balance.

@Michael Gerber, I agree it's a shame John didn't at least complete the primal therapy. But I'm sceptical as to whether it would really have come close to 'curing' him. I think primal was beneficial for John in that it made him face up to the issues he'd been burying, and allowed him to articulate his pain on a conscious level. But having reached that stage and recognised the value of confronting his past, I suspect he instinctively felt that the therapy had served its purpose and the catharsis had reached his limit.

I think John knew deep down that the only 'cure' for him was a relationship of mutual devotion to fill the void from his childhood and resolve his abandonment issues. And he was often there ready and willing, in theory at least, with his side of the bargain, only to become disappointed or disillusioned. Ultimately, he projected the scenario on his relationship with Yoko. Like so many of his high ideals, it was an impossible dream. But John and Yoko, of course, honestly believed they could make things happen just by imagining them.

John's problem was that at least 50% of his 'cure' - the other half of that mythical mutually devoted relationship - was outside of his control. And I think the resulting frustration explains a great deal of his behaviour down the years.

I'm not sure any further attempts at therapy would have gone very far with John. A bad therapist would have told him what he wanted to hear, and a good therapist would have told him what he already knew or what he didn't want to know. No doubt either would have provided a sense of purpose or comfort in the short term, but I think John would have soon grown tired of them, in the familiar pattern.



Anonymous said...


I might have known that was a Paul quote. I just think it's funny that George always flies under the radar on the scandalous gossip front. Lots of people don't seem to realize he was heavily on the prowl for women all the time or that he had some serious drug problems. It's like they think that because he was the "spiritual Beatle" he was some sort of self-denying holy man. :) Not quite.

-- Drew

Anonymous said...

Funny that it was George. I would've assumed it was John pursuing "the female hordes" with the same intensity he turned to booze, pills, and LSD. (It's interesting—and possibly a result of the stronger drugs he enjoyed—that Lennon never had the same reputation of being a pothead, not even in the "well, that goes without saying" kind of way that Keith Richards had/has).

Anyway, more to a serious point, I was struck by this quote from Michael's reply: "Even Lennon at his most zonked out was still able to create wonderful things and have fascinating thoughts. (That's why people too often mistakenly think the drugs didn't diminish him at all.)"

That's quite true. I've never done any of the strong drugs Lennon used, but by all accounts, he was doing as many drugs as Syd Barrett or Brian Jones. He had more songwriting talent than either of them to begin with, easily, but you never hear about him having been in a state where he couldn't contribute to the recording besides that one "Getting Better" session. It's fascinating that his relative lack of involvement in Sgt. Pepper had to do with a dearth of songs, something that could easily have been as much a function of being bored in Weybridge and avoiding his basic demons as it was a result of dropping too much acid. It's not until he starts doing heroin that he ceases to be able to contribute something of value just about every time he actually tries to.

What's scary is that Lennon in 1968 is really a case of "how is he going to meet his end," again, as we've talked about. He could become an acid casualty if the band don't go to India. He could not meet Yoko and start using heroin on his own. He could start using coke and have tremendous difficulty with the come-downs. He could grab too many different handfuls of pills out of the jar on his nightstand. We never even hear about the pills he (and, probably, the others, to a lesser extent) was taking just as a baseline. Keith Richards' too-long autobiography, which has much needless detail on his drug habits, did have one passage that, given what we know about John in 1967-68, made me think. Richards explains that he would take a couple of pills every morning, apparently quite carefully, to balance out the other things he was injecting. In some strange way he was usually measured about when and how much he abused his body. Lennon was grabbing handfuls of these same things (I forget the names, besides Quaaludes) indiscriminately.

In a way, it's a wonder that he was productive at all in the Seventies. I don't think heroin was a closed chapter at the end of 1969; there are too many different reports of him using, or going through cold turkey, or on methadone, throughout the Seventies for that to be true. Some of his Dakota demos have the sound of someone under the influence of stronger stuff than weed in the singing. We know Yoko was using by the late Seventies, again.

I think there was more than just being JOHN LENNON, too, preventing his seeking professional help. He wouldn't have gone to therapy unless Yoko went, as well (as with Primal Scream), or unless she stipulated it as a condition of their staying together. Yoko had no interest in John getting better, I don't think. John depressed, needy, and dependent was subservient, controllable, easily manipulated, wonderfully obedient, trusting of Yoko in the extreme; her ticket to collecting antiques and finally getting seven songs on a major rock record. Furthermore, if that's too cynical for some of you, Yoko didn't fall in love with a happy, relatively healthy John, if she truly did fall in love with him. Lennon in 1968 has more in common with Lennon in 1978 than 1964. When he started to regain some of that self-confidence in John Lennon, not johnandyoko, he was allowed to come home.

-Michael

Michael Gerber said...

OK, so I know what *I'm* doing on a foggy Friday night:

@Peter Deville:
"I suspect he instinctively felt that the therapy had served its purpose and the catharsis had reached his limit."
Au contraire, my Beatle pal!

Catharsis is just the beginning. There's a point in any decent therapy where one has gone through one's whole bullshit act, and NOW it's time to get real and change, or quit. I think John was very comfortable being angry, and childish. and righteous. Howling in rage at his Mummy, crying for her attention, mourning her death--feeling those totally justified feelings--could be seen to have motivated his entire career up to the moment he walked into Janov's office. And (here's the important part) this strategy had WORKED for him. Yes, he was miserable, but he was rich, famous, and beloved by millions who hung on his every word. So I think--as with Maharishi, and every other therapy he tried--John backed off at the point when he'd really have had to change. Because it's fucking terrifying, even for a person whose life is a total car-crash. Really changing is probably the hardest thing anybody can do. Not to mention John had a coterie around him that wanted him to stay exactly as he was, for a million of their own reasons.

"I think John knew deep down that the only 'cure' for him was a relationship of mutual devotion to fill the void from his childhood and resolve his abandonment issues."
But, see, this isn't a cure. There is no way to fill a void from one's childhood, because it is past. Calling Yoko "Mother" doesn't make her his Mummy. That's not curing anything, it's actually deepening the wound. If this had been a resolution of Lennon's childhood trauma, he would've become MORE self-reliant, not less. And his dependency put Yoko in an extremely bizarre situation; who wants to be married to a (needy, mercurial, extremely powerful) child? I feel for both of them a lot; it must've been so difficult.

Whether Primal Scream therapy is bullshit or not is a question I don't feel qualified to answer. My own experience suggests that if the patient really trusts the therapist, the therapist demonstrates basic ethics, competence, flexibility, and empathy, AND the patient is really committed to improving their lot, things happen. If not, then not. Method is more a match of temperament than science, at least at this point. John Lennon was always looking for a "cure," whether it was a pill, or a mantra, or Primal Scream, or... Such things do not exist, and when they seem to, a person is simply substituting one sickness for another. Life's tough, there is no avoiding that, but with work and a bit of luck we can come to some peace. Case in point: John took the searing pain of his childhood, and his mother's death, and made The Beatles. If getting well had been his number one priority--not staying rich and famous, or staying married, or whatever--I think he would've found his way. I have a lot of faith in the guy. But quitting Primal Scream halfway through seems like it was a way for him to avoid his real fears, while reenacting the old familiar "bad parent" scene.

Michael Gerber said...

@Drew--
"Lots of people don't seem to realize he was heavily on the prowl for women all the time or that he had some serious drug problems. It's like they think that because he was the "spiritual Beatle" he was some sort of self-denying holy man. :) Not quite."

I think it was precisely BECAUSE George had those intense desires--for fame, money, women, drugs, you name it--that he was impelled to look for a spiritual practice. Desire is, if you really examine it, not very pleasant an experience.

Just last week I was pondering the Buddhist concept of "viriya," which is a Pali word meaning "energy or persistence." It is the kind of focus required to maintain a meditation practice amid the hubhub of the material world. It comes from the same root as the Pali word for "hero," and I think George was most definitely a hero in this way.

We all have desires, but George was in the strange position of being able to satisfy any and all of them whenever they arose, to whatever degree. You want to sleep with your next door neighbor, that probably could happen if you're George. You want 100 women, you get 100 women. You want to be on Dick Cavett, you make a phone call. You want your swimming pool filled with whipped cream and half of Monty Python, that can happen.

George slipped up--as we all do--and probably slipped more than we'll ever know. But I still think he was a hero not only for how often he didn't slip, but how he sought with his full heart. He wrestled with his faith, but it seems to have been genuine, and I think this is why his relationship with John became so sour. John, as the older and wiser one, was very uncomfortable seeing George with a faith. He resented George having figured out something he had not.

Michael Gerber said...

@Michael--
"Richards explains that he would take a couple of pills every morning, apparently quite carefully, to balance out the other things he was injecting... Lennon was grabbing handfuls of these same things (I forget the names, besides Quaaludes) indiscriminately."

Just another example of The Stones and The Beatles being the opposite of their images. In this case, more's the pity. I haven't read the Richards bio--should I? I find The Stones rather boring, to be frank, precisely because of this...calculation in them. I mean I'm glad for Keith Richards that he was so managerial about it; would that John Lennon had been.

"I don't think heroin was a closed chapter at the end of 1969; there are too many different reports of him using, or going through cold turkey, or on methadone, throughout the Seventies for that to be true."
Gape-mouthed, I heard one of these stories myself, from a comedy-writer friend of mine. I have to be careful who I tell it to, however; many Lennon fans are very, very sensitive on this topic. I myself simply feel compassion. That addiction must be so difficult, so frightening, so hard on the body. I will make a space in my mind to remember these people. It is so easy to judge.

As to John getting better within the context of his marriage, it is almost axiomatic that relationships that come together in an atmosphere of addiction fall apart (or at least change drastically) when one or both partners take steps to get better. Given how tempestuous their relationship could be, I am sure the prospect of either of them renovating themselves made the other partner get the willies. Once again: a really tough row to hoe. Thank goodness Sean seems to have come through OK.

Anonymous said...

@Michael re: the Richards bio—

If you're not a Stones fan, there's no need to buy it, but I would suggest spending some time with it in a Barnes and Noble or the library to read, I think, the second chapter. His account of discovering rock'n'roll in the 1950s, the jolt of electricity it sent and the way it changed his life, and the difference between "rock'n'roll" (which has a push and a pull), versus "rock" (think Led Zeppelin), is some of the best writing on that moment when Elvis entered and transformed the lives of that post-war generation in Britain. Some surprising lyricism in that chapter, told in that Cockney-Huck-Finn dialect. He also gives John Lennon a couple of mentions. It's interesting to see a different side of Lennon than we usually get in Beatles bios. John would apparently look Keith up when he was in the mood to party, and somewhere in there, there's a story about him visiting Keith in New York in the later 70s, while Keith is still a junkie…

I myself am a Stones fan because I found them at the right time—age fourteen—but as individuals I don't find them very interesting at all. Large parts of Keith's book did nothing to change that, but, as I say, there's some interesting passages. He's also got a good few pages about Swinging London circa 1966. One of the many things I wish Lennon had lived long enough to do is write some (enormously subjective, undoubtedly revisionist) sort of memoir like this book or Dylan's "Chronicles." I love the way he spoke about his life, even if half of what he said was self-serving and apt to change without notice.

-Michael

Peter Deville said...

@Michael Gerber - Re therapy, I think we're broadly in agreement on this, other than its likely outcome where John was concerned.

"John backed off at the point when he'd really have had to change."

Indeed. Which is one of the reasons why I think any further attempts at therapy in New York would have gone the way of Janov's.

"But, see, this isn't a cure"

I agree. At least, I do beyond the theoretical concept because...

"There is no way to fill a void from one's childhood, because it is past. Calling Yoko 'Mother' doesn't make her his Mummy. That's not curing anything, it's actually deepening the wound."

But this is what I mean about a good therapist telling John what he didn't want to hear. I'm not talking about the bit that says he could never bring his mother back - that's the bit he already knew and that cold, hard truth served the purpose of vindicating his pain. I'm talking about the bit where it says Yoko was not the answer.

Ouch.

I don't think John could allow himself to be wrong about that bit, any time from 1969 to 1980. And I think it would have been too stubborn an obstacle for therapist and patient to overcome.

Peter Deville said...

@ Michael Gerber -

"John, as the older and wiser one, was very uncomfortable seeing George with a faith. He resented George having figured out something he had not."

I also think John resented the fact that he was no longer as important to George as he had been.

While John sought parent substitutes, George sought heroes or mentors. For a significant amount of time I think John was one of them - the man to 'march behind'. And I think John knew it and enjoyed it.

Over time George found other heroes, such as Dylan, Ravi Shankar, the Marharishi, etc, and John's pedestal became less elevated. But I'm sure John still liked to think of George as a protege of sorts. Which was why he was so hurt not to find more page references next to his name in the index of 'I, Me, Mine'.

Nancy Carr said...

@ Peter Deville, I think you are exactly right about 1968: "John didn't feel strong enough to take Paul on, so Yoko being there had the dual benefit of providing a convenient distraction and throwing Paul off balance." In addition, insisting on Yoko's constant presence underlined that John was the leader and could do whatever he wanted. I don't think John ever owned up to just what a power play having Yoko constantly at his side during band sessions was. Instead, he blamed the others for being angry he changed the unspoken rules on them.

@ Michael G., I agree that on at least an unconscious level John wanted to stay righteously angry (at his parents, at his former bandmates, etc.) and that therapy that went far enough would have meant exploring those emotions in depth and possibly letting them go. Anger is one of the ways we (all of us) can avoid feeling our own guilt and responsibility for our own situation. Which goes a long, long way towards explaining the anger under the surface of the breakup, especially on John's and Paul's parts. Neither of them wanted to look at their own roles in the drama too closely--they each wanted to point fingers at the other.

Have to say, with George, that much as I agree that his pursuing a spiritual practice in the midst of such temptation is heroic, I'm uncomfortable with the kind of "St. George" stance that crops up at times (I don't mean here). In particular, the level of preachiness he at times engaged in bothers me, and doesn't strike me as a characteristic of someone who's genuinely at peace. One of the reasons "Brainwashed" is such a strong album, IMO, is that it seems as if he'd gotten past that preachiness. And that I deeply admire.

"We all got so lucky with those four guys--intelligent, mostly decent, supremely talented, mostly sensible, and really quite aware of the power they had." -- well said, Michael G. They could be "bastards," and certainly hurt people, but never come across as doing it wantonly, for sport.

Michael Gerber said...

@Peter Deville--
"I don't think John could allow himself to be wrong about that bit...[a]nd I think it would have been too stubborn an obstacle for therapist and patient to overcome."
I've read several places that's why he ended the sessions with Janov. So you're probably right, but some part of me thinks that he was getting there in 1980. And Yoko's own activities in the late 70s (such as looking into divorce) suggests that John might have HAD to face a future without JohnandYoko. That guy was super-tough; he survived so much, I think he would've had a least a fighting chance to make a new life. Filled with friends, and work, and all the things "normal people" (who he both despised and envied) have, which he didn't from 1975-1980.

"[George sought] the man to 'march behind'. And I think John knew it and enjoyed it."
Absolutely right. And felt replaced/thrown over by Ravi and Dylan and etc.

Nancy--
..."'St. George' stance that crops up at times...[preachiness] doesn't strike me as a characteristic of someone who's genuinely at peace."
Totally right. Preachiness always strikes me as a kind of compulsive behavior which can be ABOUT religion, but it's not related to it. People who preach are, I suspect, talking to themselves.

The whole point of George being heroic, IMHO, is that he wasn't a saint. He struggled like crazy; it wasn't his perfection that makes me go, "Yeah, that guy got it" or even his specific outlook (some aspects of which I currently share), but that his reaction to the Beatle/rockstar experience was to seek a difficult and authentic spiritual practice--not one of the pseudo-religions so common to celebs (cf: John Lennon)--and to keep trying with it over the years.

girl said...

Thank you Michael for digging up the actual interview. Hmmm, it seems my memory has failed me as usual. I guess it was a different, more recent interview in which he gave me this impression then. Perhaps a recent Rolling Stone or GQ interview? He was talking about the time of the law suit and the break up and he said, I drank a lot, "I did substances". In fact if I remember correctly, the magazine used this comment as the title of the article. Now of course "substances" can mean anything, not necessarily heroin. But I got a funny impression from the way he worded it. I remember thinking, 'What could "substances" be'? Certainly not his usual pot smoking because everyone knows about that. He wouldn't have been so vague if it was simply that. So it made me wonder. It still does. Also in the PB interview, when the interviewer asked him if he tried heroin he replied with just a one word, "no". Again a bit vague as if he doesn't want to get into that. I could be reading too much into it, but I still can't help wondering if he's being completely forthright. From what I've read about that time in his life, he was in such a bad state emotionally, he was probably more prone to doing something that would have otherwise been out of character for him.

CMO#9 said...

Do people really still believe that John kicked heroin in '69-'70 and never went back to it later on in the '70s? Really? This is still a mystery?
I'm not going to go crazy here and quote all the books and articles and interviews that provide the relevant info re John and heroin, I'm just going to suggest to those people to open their minds a bit more and be willing to accept the faults and mistakes of others, especially icons/superstars/rock-gods they adore. It only makes them more human, more empathetic, more normal. Normal might be the key word here. "John had a slight issues with heroin when the band was breaking up and he was hurting but he swiftly kicked that habit and was on to the smooth sailing '70s." If John slipped (which he did), that would make him normal, not the supreme being that these skeptics so want him to be.

Craig

Anonymous said...

@Craig:

I don't think the types of fans who post here are under that impression, but certainly it's the party line, and almost everyone writing about Lennon holds extremely, extremely closely to it. I've still yet to read Goldman's book, after all these years, but Peter Dogget's "You Never Give Me Your Money" was the first time I had seen reference to John still having issues with smack in a reputable source. After that, I started noticing references to it elsewhere, and the pieces fit together.

I'm not sure what story Michael Gerber heard about Lennon in the Seventies, but there's all sorts of indications that he was having trouble again in 1972. His infamous Rolling Stone interview in 1970 also sounds, if you listen to the tape of it, like he's on something stronger than tea. As Michael says, it's just sad. If he couldn't bring himself to seek legitimate help for the heroin, though, it's hard to see how he would have sought and stuck with therapy in the late Seventies. Maybe later. Maybe if he had hit rock bottom. But I fear it would have been a Dr. Eugene Landy type of situation, another father figure/mother figure, rather than a healthy patient-therapist relationship. Lennon had a hard time doing anything in moderation.

I still wonder what, exactly, was going on in 1980, though. He looks very unhealthy. Was it smoking and anorexia? Was it that and cocaine? I really wonder how long he would have lived had he lived. That story about the doctor noting the poor health of Lennon's body at his death confirms that drugs didn't stop wrecking havoc with Lennon's life in 1970 or so.
-Michael

Michael Gerber said...

@Michael,
You should read Goldman, simply because at this point it's part of the whole Beatles saga. And, the luridness and bias of the author aside, it's based on 1,200 interviews conducted in the early 80s when memories were fresh. Gotta be some good data in that. (I'd be much more interested in reading those raw documents than Goldman.)

I always get impatient with people who get too ticked off with the Goldman book, a bit because so much of it is just Goldman's opinion (and a cartoonish alter kocker one at that), but mostly because John could've been every single thing Goldman suggests he was--huckster, violent guy, drug addict, closeted homosexual--AND still be one of the greatest, most interesting, and most likely to endure artists of the 20th Century, and a humanitarian to boot! As I've said a zillion times before, IMHO to make John Lennon a saint is to diminish him. John Lennon doesn't need fans to defend or whitewash; his work speaks for itself.

Goldman's pathography appeals to my own sense that much of life leaves no trace, that so many of us labor under great weights of shame and compulsion (and thus love to hide from each other). I suspect that the only difference between the great and powerful and the rest of us is scale. That running beside, or weaving throughout, a story as wonderful and majestic as The Beatles is one of four guys (and lots of other people) doing all sorts of crazy, stupid, petty, weird things. That our household gods are, in the end, larger versions of ourselves.

I find Goldman useful as a thought experiment, a reminder that we don't know celebrities, not really, and that it is always better to try to relate than to deify. John Lennon was many things, but (especially in the late 70s) I think he was lonely and frightened, and as a person who loves his work, thinking of him always makes me redouble my efforts to try to treat people with compassion and see them for who they are. I don't move in particularly rarefied air here in LA, but I'm surprised how often it comes into play. Some notables don't want to be connected with--that's why they've worked so hard to become notable. I think there was a lot of that in John Lennon, but had he lived, he might have been able to ease out of that, because living that way had never made him happy. That's why celebs HAVE Landys--to be connected with, to be seen, even if it comes with a bunch of using and abuse.

Anonymous said...

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Goldman’s JL biography, so if my memory is off, please excuse me, but these are my impressions of the book.

1/ The prose style is beyond turgid. If the subject wasn’t an incredibly interesting person, I doubt if anyone could finish the book. It’s as if Goldman thinks writing in a PhD dissertation style will make the trashy elements of the book less so. Instead, the prose style rendered JL boring (the one thing he never was in life). It’s like JL is a stranger in a book about him.

2/ Goldman has no education/experience as a therapist, yet he thinks he’s qualified to psychoanalyze his subject. He takes the most innocent experiences of JL and says that they’re proof positive that JL wasn’t just psychologically messed up but actually downright psychotic. Psychosis is not the same thing as neurosis. A neurotic can function in society, whereas many psychotics cannot without proper medication. If JL was psychotic, he couldn’t have formed a rock group, let alone the most successful one in the world.

To illustrate what I mentioned above, JL as a boy looked in the mirror and sort of zoned out. Goldman claims that this is proof positive that JL was schizophrenic. Now, schizophrenia is a dislocation with reality. Did Goldman really mean that or did he mean that JL had dis-associative disorder (aka multiple personality disorder)? Schizophrenia and dis-associative disorder are two different types of mental illness. The book is called The Lives of John Lennon, but he offers no proof that JL had MPD beyond the fact that JL could be very mercurial. We just have to accept an English teacher’s opinion on it. Now, if Goldman had 20 years of experience as a therapist, I might believe it, but from what I can see, he was just a garden-variety academic.

3/ Later, Goldman says that JL was a germo-phobe. Now, JL lived in terrible conditions in Hamburg and early touring and didn’t bat an eye. Yet, supposedly this same man couldn’t hold his beloved son in his direction when Sean had a cold and coughed. And yet, there are pictures upon pictures of JL at close range with his son, including diapering the baby. It just doesn’t compute.

4/ Goldman also takes things that aren’t so bad and tries to make them out to be perverted and shocking. For instance, John and Kyoko had a bath together when she was a little girl. Not the wisest thing to do, I admit. It’s naïve and not what a child should be subjected to. But JL was a hippie---and the norms were a little different for such people back then. What’s more, JL was married to a woman from Japan, where family bathing was the norm, not a cause for alarm. It wasn’t inconceivable that JL thought it was all right because it was a Japanese custom.

5/ Finally, Goldman’s attempts at musical criticism are beyond laughable. I remember the only time I got actively mad at the book was when Goldman criticized JL’s guitar playing. It was if Goldman was saying, “Not only was this guy insane, he also wasn’t talented”. If JL were such a lousy guitar player, why are people to this day emulating his style? Go on youtube and look at some incredibly fine amateur guitar players showing the audience how JL played guitar. If you know anything about guitar playing, the little bass runs that JL did (just for example) are incredible…as well as innovative.

Is the book worth reading? Yeah. But only with a grain of salt as big as your head.

Anonymous said...


"I was quite obviously un-gay, due to my hunting of the female hordes, and I think we all must have given the same impression."--P Mc.



"Obviously Un-gay." Oh Paul. This made me laugh. Why must you clarify this? I've read or listened to a few interviews where he says stuff like this all the time. I have to go look for them...

CMO#9 said...

"...certainly it's the party line."

That's a great point anon-Michael. We've now had over 33 years (and even some years while John was living) of being fed the (mostly) bogus story that is the ballad of John and Yoko. Yoko has never talked about, to my knowledge, the final years of her marriage when she was seeing other men and strongly considering divorce. I think she has recently, briefly mentioned how she fell back into heroin, at least. With all the money and PR knowledge that Yoko has at her disposal, she has been uber successful in crafting her marriage and the Dakota years into a more suitable and family-friendly narrative.
Of course, people like us who are posting on BeatleBlogs know what (for the most part) was going on in the late 70s but the general public, the casual fan and the mass media have all seemingly accepted and embraced the house-husband Dakota John Lennon that J/Y created for their benefit.
This is an endlessly fascinating topic to me. I totally understand why they wanted to alter their own story and I might even be convinced that it's been for the better. Afterall, who wants to be singing along in their car to Day Tripper and have thoughts of a strung-out and emaciated John Lennon pop into their head? Perhaps it's better this way.

Craig

Michael Gerber said...

Anon, tastes differ but I don't remember finding Goldman's writing difficult or stilted. (I have a weakness for New Journalist purplish prose, though.) I do remember finding Goldman's Lennon to be an unpleasant character to be with, so it wasn't a book I lingered over or enjoy re-reading.

It's been a while since I read Goldman, too, so I also ask your indulgence, but what I think his book did very well was describe a man's deterioration under the hot lights of fame, wealth, and power. Somewhere in there was a tragedy on a mythic scale, sparked by a man getting everything he'd ever dreamed of. However, Goldman's world is so petty and ugly that any grander story got submerged in the muck. I think because he didn't like Lennon or The Beatles, Goldman tried to prove that the diminished Lennon of, say, 1978 was the same guy Lennon was in 1957 or 1964, and the only way to do that was for Lennon to have been a hustler and/or a fraud. Instead of a genuine genius who'd lost his way.

This is why Goldman is so weak when he tries to diagnose--it feels accusatory, not enlightening--and even weaker when he addresses the music. Because, in Goldman's eyes, Lennon in 1978 was the REAL Lennon, none of his earlier achievements could be authentic.

But where I think Goldman is strong--essential in fact--is in the factual territory he covers that never gets talked about. Is he totally biased against Yoko? Absolutely--but his book was, for example, the first to tell her story in any kind of comprehensive detail, and IIRC it goes into much more detail than any other source I know. If I want to find out where Yoko was living in 1962, I would go to Goldman--not for the description, but for the facts. Ditto with the details of Seltaeb and NEMS. Ditto with the story behind, say, the Toronto concert.

Authors like Doggett deserve much praise for even-handedness--but they owe a debt to Goldman. When Goldman's book appeared, Shout! was the hardest-hitting Beatles book out there. Goldman raked up all the muck; then others checked some of him and came to more measured conclusions. Asking uncomfortable questions is how good history gets made, and I think Lennon and The Beatles are worthy of this process, in part because they can't really be harmed by it.

If you think it matters, for example, whether or not Yoko knew about The Beatles before she met John, or John really was a devoted househusband, you need to read Goldman. The others all assume the standard narrative is true, which isn't responsible when you're dealing with someone as mythologized and myth-making as John Lennon. Having read all the books, I think it's probably likely that Yoko knew exactly who John Lennon was--but that doesn't mean their love affair wasn't real; and I think John *wanted* to be a devoted husband and father, which is important, too.

So I feel comfortable using Goldman's obsessive research on Lennon--IIRC Bob Spitz used the Goldman interviews for his book on The Beatles--not necessarily his conclusions. I don't have any problem reading Goldman and thinking, "Yeah, I doubt John Lennon had MPD"--while acknowledging that John was a bit more than mercurial. John would say one thing at 10am and the exact opposite at 10pm; that he would cycle through looks and religions and obsessions rapidly. As fans we can simply be amazed/amused by this, but as a biographer it was Goldman's job to try to make sense out of this person, and while I think it was facile for him to call it MPD, there was something fundamentally dis-integrated about John Lennon post 1967. Other biographers simply don't acknowledge that. For example, as Michael said, there's plenty of evidence (for example) that John was using in the 70s; that's totally at variance with the story John himself told, and a biographer needs to square that. Most don't; Goldman tried, and I'm glad he did, even if I don't agree with most of his conclusions and certainly not his attitude.

girl said...

Goldman has no education/experience as a therapist

This needs to be said in any discussion on Goldman's Lennon bio. I remember this and your other point which I will shortly get to, is what made me just shake my head and wonder how this constant editorializing ever got past the publisher and editors without massive cross outs in this section. Honestly what kind of arrogance and over confidense causes someone to feel qualified to diagnose someone else with various psychiatric disorders as serious as schizophrenia? He even said with complete hubris that John also had dislexia simply because he heard 'Chicken pox' as "chicken pots" and he sometimes misremembered the lyrics to his songs. Dyslexia??? First of all that's not a symptom of dyslexia. The disorder is a lot more complex than that and John would have had to have a lot more going wrong with his ability to read, or even learn how to read, which includes great difficulty hearing and deciphering the complicated phonics of the English language. He would have even had problems with simple ryhming. Yet all we've heard in every bio on the man, is his great love of books and reading, which started at an extremely young age. He heard the wrong sound at the end of the word pox? He mistook the sound to be a T sound? Perhaps when he had "chicken pots" he may have also had an ear infection and was unable to hear clearly for a few days. Or perhaps he was so young, he hadn't heard the word "pox" or what it means, so he substituted a more familiar word that he associated with chicken. 'Pots' would have made more sense to him as a word associated with chicken, than the more foreign sounding word, 'pox'. Just how did Goldman come to the conclusion that John had dyslexia? Did he talk to a learning specialist? A reading specialist? Or did he just decide that he had it, the way he decided that he had problems with small motor control which led to his (according to our expert Goldman) inability to play the guitar? And the way he decided that John also had the severe psychiatric illness schizophrenia, which incapacitates most people for the rest of their lives even when they are on meds, yet somehow John was able to get out of his "schizophrenic" fog (without any medication!) and along with Paul and George form the greatest rock band in the world? Wow that's one for the books. I'll bet that was enough to have Freud turning in his grave. Good for John! *eye roll*

And please don't get me started on his opinions of the music and the various talents of the band in general, not to mention his perfunctory, under mention of one of the greatest song writing partnerships of modern times. To go by Goldman you would think they never even met, much less formed a deep connection and collaborated on the most valuable song book in modern history. And these are just a few of the things I don't like about Goldman's book. Sorry for the rant.

girl said...

But where I think Goldman is strong--essential in fact--is in the factual territory he covers that never gets talked about. If I want to find out where Yoko was living in 1962, I would go to Goldman--not for the description, but for the facts. Ditto with the details of Seltaeb and NEMS. Ditto with the story behind, say, the Toronto concert.

Yes I agree Michael. This is where Goldman's book is a good source. That's why I disagree with people who hate his book simply because they may have been told to hate it, or because they just can't take hearing the less than savory (but perhaps true, at least at certain times in his life?) details. Because in a lot of ways that I've already ranted about and anon eloquently pointed out without ranting, there are many parts of Goldman's book that are very weak, and downright laughable. That's why it's so hard to take the book seriously as a whole. And this is a shame because as you've pointed out, Goldman succeeded on many levels. It's just that IMO he also failed miserably on so many other levels because of his own arrogance, that he lost credibility.

Michael Gerber said...

@Girl, I think there was a lack of editorial control on Goldman's book that was intentional--I think the publisher felt that the book would sell more if it were more outrageous, get more publicity too, and so let Goldman have his head.

IIRC, Goldman doesn't "diagnose" Lenny Bruce nearly to the degree he does Lennon, and that's a better book for it. One can say "Lennon often forgot the lyrics to his own songs", or "Lennon's relationship with words hints at some sort of sensory issue"--I myself cannot see very well, and have tons of stories of my brain playing tricks on me in a sort of visual wordplay. But Goldman is determined to explain these things medically and NEGATIVELY, so that his Lennon is a mass of twitches and glitches and antisocial behavior who, somehow, managed to do what he did.

When he's alone in his room in the Dakota, Goldman's Lennon makes sense; but everywhere else, he really doesn't, and that's where an editor should have questioned Goldman. "If John Lennon was such a vicious, drugged-out, no-talent, manipulator why do people love him so much?"

I just looked to see if there was an editor thanked in my paperback, to see if that person was still alive (so we might talk to him/her?) but no name. I am going to ask Devin to post on Goldman, as a biographer.

Nancy Carr said...

Michael, I really look forward to reading what Devin says about Goldman as biographer.

This discussion of Goldman reminded of an article I recently read on Slate by Tanner Colby, who's writing a new biography of John Belushi and went back to sources used by Bob Woodward in "Wired." Colby goes into detail about the spin Woodward put on stories about Belushi, and Colby sums up his reaction to the book this way:

"Whenever people ask me about John Belushi and the subject of "Wired" comes up, I say it’s like someone wrote a biography of Michael Jordan in which all the stats and scores are correct, but you come away with the impression that Michael Jordan wasn’t very good at playing basketball."

And that's pretty much my reaction to Goldman's biography of Lennon, apart from what you've already said about its usefulness for basic facts. [It's also pretty much my reaction to Howard Sounes' biography of McCartney, BTW.]

Slate article at this url: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2013/03/bob_woodward_and_gene_sperling_what_woodward_s_john_belushi_book_can_tell.single.html

Peter Deville said...

"Whenever people ask me about John Belushi and the subject of "Wired" comes up, I say it’s like someone wrote a biography of Michael Jordan in which all the stats and scores are correct, but you come away with the impression that Michael Jordan wasn’t very good at playing basketball."

This, incidentally, is why I dislike Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head. I'm not comparing it to Goldman's sensationalism, and I know MacDonald was a fan, but reading it you could come away with the impression that the Beatles only made a handful of great songs. Plus, there's lots of baseless assumptions about what motivated them to write or what influenced them.

There's lots of good info in there but so much subjectivity that the good stuff gets diluted for me. And it annoys me that so many people (including music critics) treat it as a bible - like, if the book says a certain song isn't very good then it must be true.

Every time I've tried to re-read bits of that book I end up throwing it to one side in frustration. I was relieved when I read an interview with Paul where he said the book annoyed him (and it's quite pro-Paul, too), because all I ever hear is unreserved praise for it.

Sorry, rant over!

Back to 'the real John and Yoko', I found the books by May Pang, Fred Seaman and, to a lesser extent, John Green quite revealing about the true nature of John and Yoko's relationship. I think you have to read them with a certain level of scepticism but the overall impression they leave is probably fairly accurate.

Michael Gerber said...

@Nancy, I think that's totally right about Woodward's portrait of Belushi--I can think of no WORSE matching of biographer and subject. If you searched for the person least likely to understand John Belushi--from who he was, the training he went through, his slant on comedy, and why people loved him so--Bob Woodward would be high on that list. The people I know who knew and loved Belushi think it's utterly wrong-headed (while knowing Belushi's faults). With somebody like Lennon or Belushi, someone so clearly with substance abuse problems, there's a lot of guilt that makes people underplay bad behavior in retrospect, but as with Goldman, Woodward despises Belushi. And I wouldn't be surprised if the success of "Wired"--a Reagan-era slap at Seventies excess--loomed large in the planning for the Goldman/Lennon book.

@Peter, I sadly came to the same conclusion after reading the books you mentioned. It's simply too consistent a picture not to be accurate in some basic regard. And that's a shame.

Anonymous said...


On the subject of Goldman's bio of John and the Sounes biography of Paul, both are terrible books -- in different ways. But the one thing they have in common is that neither author really liked his subject or appreciated his subject's music.

There are so many lousy music biographies. They seem to be either too harsh or too fawning. The best biographers are fans who also manage to be honest about their subjects' faults, mistakes, and bad behavior. They try to help you understand the context for the subject's bad behavior -- not to excuse it but to empathize.

It must be a hard line to walk since so few music biographers seem to do it well. The best one I've ever read is the two-part Elvis biography in which Peter Guralnick never seems to pull his punches yet you can tell he likes, admires and respects Elvis. Guralnick never loses his compassion for his subject.

Neither Goldman or Sounes seem to have any compassion for their subjects (or in Sounes' case, even much interest). Goldman is relentlessly harsh and Sounes is relentlessly dismissive.

At least Goldman seemed to be motivated by the desire to take down a legend. At least his book is factually useful. Sounes' book isn't even that. Much of it is a rehash. His only motivation seems to be to make money off an ex-Beatle since he so clearly doesn't like Paul's work. We all know that lyrics were Paul's achilles heel but it takes a lot of chutzpah for a writer as pedestrian as Sounes to criticize Paul on that front.

I wish Barry Miles would write a fuller bio of Paul. Many Years From Now -- despite its unavoidable weakness as an authorized bio, which means it omits certain unpleasant facts -- remains a great read about Paul and about London in the 60's. It's really well written. The first half of Philip Norman's bio of Lennon is good but then, unfortunately, in the process of sucking up to Yoko, Norman lost his nerve and his honesty, and the last half of the book on John in the 1970's is hollow, completely ignoring any of the talk his continuing drug problems, and the tensions in their marriage.

But at least Lennon got half a good bio from Norman. And Paul got a good partial bio from Barry Miles.

-- Drew

Nancy Carr said...

@ Drew -- I strongly agree that "the best biographers are fans who also manage to be honest about their subjects' faults, mistakes, and bad behavior. They try to help you understand the context for the subject's bad behavior -- not to excuse it but to empathize." One great example is David Leaf's book about the Beach Boys (now, sadly, out of print). He doesn't whitewash, but does have compassion for all the band members and loves their best music. Those qualities make his book an excellent, illuminating read.

I'm astonished that the Sounes bio of McCartney got generally good official reviews. It includes virtually no new research, no substantive insights, and absolutely no feel for McCartney as a songwriter, singer, or musician. It's like a very long tabloid article that predictably dwells on personal scandal at the expense of everything else. I was especially repulsed by the combination of sneering dismissal and faux familiarity with his subjects (Linda McCartney is "Lin," Ringo Starr is "Ritchie," etc.). For all the dirt he digs up, Sounes' portrait of McCartney reveals much more about the biographer than his subject.

In a better world editors would do their utmost to dissuade biographers from writing about subjects for whom they have no basic affinity.

@ Peter, on "Revolution in the Head": well said. A good book, but not one that should be taken as establishing The Truth about the Beatles' music. Well-informed individuals' takes on the music can be valuable and interesting (I also like Riley's "Tell Me Why"), but all single-author books about a large body of work have unavoidable limitations.

Would we still be talking about the Beatles if their music could be summed up so neatly? No.

girl said...

Nancy, Drew and Peter, so well said on the biographies. The only thing I would add is regarding the Beach Boys, Peter Carlin's bio on Brian called, Catch a Wave is similar to David Leaf's book in that it's a book by a fan who is extremely knowledgable, loves their best music and doesn't sugar coat but rather empathizes. Compare CAW to Carlin's extremely weak book on McCartney and you will see the difference here, in what we are discussing about bios. They are only as good as the author's interest and attitude toward his subject. Also Nancy, regarding Tim Riley's book, I'm more inclined to agree with Drew's assessment of it. Riley is way too anti McCartney when he doesn't seem to have the knowledge or insight to back it up. This cheapens his otherwise well written, informative book IMO. Actually I'm going to take a risk here and say that IMHO no one who is REALLY a true Beatle fan and thinks they know anything about the band should be anti Paul or anti John. If you don't at least appreciate both of them if not love both of them, then you have a serious lack of insight. That's what I see in Riley and even Everett. I think the people in this blog are more capable of writing a well rounded bio and/or book on their music, then anyone who has actually written one.

Anonymous said...

Riley irritates me repeatedly with his refusal to take McCartney's work seriously. He reads all kinds of depth into Lennon's songs (whether or not it's there) but routinely treats McCartney's work in the most simplistic fashion. He doesn't want to see depth in a McCartney song and so he doesn't.

Too many music biographers seem to have gone to the same school that reveres Dylan and Lennon and sees substance in even their most lightweight utterances while being entirely dismissive of Paul's work and views, no matter how heartfelt or honest or dark he is in a song.

They don't take McCartney seriously because they don't understand his personality. And they're too lazy to try. John made it easy for them by baring his soul and making the kind of political pronouncements they approved of. By contrast, McCartney has made LOADS of political statements for 30-plus years on animal rights, vegetarian, and climate issues and yet they refuse to see him as political.

The other day when Morrissey was quoted as saying Paul should give back his knighthood for supporting the Queen, there was another statement Morrissey made that kind of flew under the radar. He said of Paul: "I know he works tirelessly for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA]."

PETA is an incredibly controversial group. And here Morrissey is acknowledging that Paul works "tirelessly" for PETA and has, no doubt, funded the group for decades. ... And no journalists notice. That very act of Paul's -- his quiet activism and advocacy of these fringe animal-rights issues --is as revolutionary as anything Lennon ever did. But few music writers care about those issues, and Paul's activism is ignored in favor of writing about his marriages, his divorce, his bank account, his dyed hair, etc. etc. etc ad nauseum. ...

Ok, enough. I can't WAIT to read Devin's new post. See you all over there!! :)

-- Drew

Michael Gerber said...

@Drew wrote:
"That very act of Paul's -- his quiet activism and advocacy of these fringe animal-rights issues --is as revolutionary as anything Lennon ever did."

More revolutionary, I'd say. And--here's the key--he keeps doing it, year after year, whether or not anybody's watching. It's not about you; it's about HIM.

Music journalists love/d John Lennon because he did their job for them: "I'm going to bear my soul," he'd say, and then give them some pithy newsbitey thing usually connected with current events. How could any journalist resist? He made rock feel (and by extension rock journalists) vitally important. But what is it to "bare your soul" if your soul changes twice an hour? What did John Lennon think of Ronald Reagan, for example? You'd think he'd be against him, but then you listen the RKO interview from 12/8/80, and...

Peter Deville said...

"Actually I'm going to take a risk here and say that IMHO no one who is REALLY a true Beatle fan and thinks they know anything about the band should be anti Paul or anti John. If you don't at least appreciate both of them if not love both of them, then you have a serious lack of insight."

Amen to that, girl.

Annie McNeil said...

As long as we're shamelessly medicalizing: what about pot as self-medication against some obsessive-compulsive tendencies? I wouldn't be surprised if Paul were a bit OC.

I think it was precisely BECAUSE George had those intense desires--for fame, money, women, drugs, you name it--that he was impelled to look for a spiritual practice. ... We all have desires, but George was in the strange position of being able to satisfy any and all of them whenever they arose, to whatever degree. ... George slipped up--as we all do--and probably slipped more than we'll ever know. But I still think he was a hero not only for how often he didn't slip, but how he sought with his full heart. He wrestled with his faith, but it seems to have been genuine, and I think this is why his relationship with John became so sour."

I like a lot of what you say here, Michael. I should probably cut George more slack than I do when it comes to his spirituality. My reservations probably stem, to some degree, from my general wariness of ascetic philosophies and practices. But aside from that... sometimes his approach just really rubs me the wrong way.

I mean, I've heard the "George was only being preachy at himself!" argument more times than I could shake a stick at, and hey, what do I know; maybe it's true. But I guess I'd find it easier to believe if George had ever offered any meaningful self-criticism in public -- let alone enough to match the amount of criticism he publicly leveled at others.

I don't like that I see so much disdain in George (and in John, for that matter) for the "commoner": the un-hip, the un-artistic, the un-enlightened -- which alarmingly often seemed to boil down to the merely un-rich-and-beautiful. (Remember that outtake clip from the Anthology sessions, where George and Ringo tease Paul about his "vegetarian" leather jacket [which is cute], and then they look through some photo albums and out of nowhere George starts ragging on the "awful" [i.e. average] looks of some anonymous young girl John apparently slept with back in the day? I mean seriously, WTF, George? Ugh.)

But I suppose what really bothers me is how Paul is dismissed as "shallow" in comparison to the spirituality and activism of George and John, and how that dismissal influences the perception of their respective artistries.

Because Paul's refusal to give in to cynicism, his insistence upon continuing to say "YES" to life, is, IMO, profoundly spiritual -- as is his active interest, respect, and empathy for people (and non-people!) who are fundamentally different from himself. And the translation of those attitudes into his art is profoundly activistic. Penning a lament for the loneliness of old age when you're 24? Consistently writing women's stories and perspectives when you're a highly privileged male? Choosing Ivor Cutler and Jessie the Fat Lady for your film's love scene when you're one of the bona fide "beautiful people"? Sooo awesome.

This gets at the root of what I find so charming (and inspiring) about Paul: a spirituality, activism, and artistry that simply is; that isn't hung up all the time thinking and talking about how spiritual and activistic and artistic it is.

Michael Gerber said...

@Annie,
"Because Paul's refusal to give in to cynicism, his insistence upon continuing to say "YES" to life, is, IMO, profoundly spiritual -- as is his active interest, respect, and empathy for people (and non-people!) who are fundamentally different from himself. And the translation of those attitudes into his art is profoundly activistic. Penning a lament for the loneliness of old age when you're 24? Consistently writing women's stories and perspectives when you're a highly privileged male? Choosing Ivor Cutler and Jessie the Fat Lady for your film's love scene when you're one of the bona fide "beautiful people"? Sooo awesome."

Couldn't have said it better myself. That's why I can never really hold Paul's lesser stuff against him; the guy has always showed such heart in his work. He's a generous artist, something I aspire to myself; and that lays you open to all sorts of criticism that less generous artists (like John or George) can shrug off. But it's a either part of your nature or it's not. Generosity--empathy--is the opposite of cool.

Would it be crazy to suspect that George learned a lot of his cool disdain at John's knee? In any case, I too find a lot of George's (let's call it what it is) dislike of people very distasteful, and completely at odds with the most wholesome aspects of his spirituality.

George was unable to put Hinduism over for the same reason John and Yoko's politics never amounted to much: their not-so-subtle misanthropy.

Devin McKinney said...

Annie, I'm not recalling that scrapbook comment of George's; is it on the official Anthology or a bootleg or what? (I've only watched the complete Anthology director's cut once, and that was years ago, when it came out, so I may simply have forgotten.)

I do remember George, re: his disillusioning trip to Haight-Ashbury, referring to "horrible, spotty-looking kids on drugs." But I felt that was understandable as a revolted response to a crushing mass of sick, grasping kids, in a situation that had been advertised the world over as a new counterculture paradise.

Your remarks on Paul are very moving and ring true. Thanks (and thanks to Nancy, who's been doing it here for a long time) for reminding me and others that we often don't give Paul enough credit for those things. As a critic, I believe absolutely that you can't give him a pass for crappy or substandard work just because it's coming from a decent place (not that I think you're suggesting that); but that doesn't mean you can't recognize and respect the decency, apart from aesthetic questions.

In addition to being in some fundamental way misanthropic, as Mike points out, John and George were consistently self-serving in their choices. It's that consistent need to cast personal gratification as higher awareness, either social-political (J) or spiritual (G), that has always made me sigh. I don't think there's any way to reformulate their stories so that they're not selfish--unless you're going to create an "Imagine: John Lennon" or "Living in the Material World" documentary that only glancingly acknowledges the subject's hypocrisies, and then only in ways that reinforce rock-star mystique (John was harsh, intractable, egotistical; George was a badass coke-blower who got a ton of tail).

Annie McNeil said...

Would it be crazy to suspect that George learned a lot of his cool disdain at John's knee?

Nope; sounds about right to me.

Devin -- I think I saw that outtake via some random YouTube link; I'm thinking it maybe wasn't even part of the director's cut? I dunno.

It's that consistent need to cast personal gratification as higher awareness, either social-political (J) or spiritual (G), that has always made me sigh. I don't think there's any way to reformulate their stories so that they're not selfish--unless you're going to create an "Imagine: John Lennon" or "Living in the Material World" documentary that only glancingly acknowledges the subject's hypocrisies, and then only in ways that reinforce rock-star mystique (John was harsh, intractable, egotistical; George was a badass coke-blower who got a ton of tail).

Wow: spot on, especially about how history has white-washed J/G's flaws as perversely admirable rock-macho awesomeness.

Would it be crazy of me to suggest that part of why Paul's flaws are excused less, and his virtues praised less, has to do with them tending to fall more on the "feminine" end of the spectrum?