“The Space Between Us All: A Developmental Study of the Beatles”
December 30, 2008
“We were talking about the space between us all”
Within You Without You, George Harrison
The psychological story of the Beatles, which I seek to tell in this article, is the story of their development from fused unity to differentiated foursome. It is a story that offers us a fascinating glimpse into the human psyche as it reveals itself in song throughout the separation-individuation process. Beatle songs provide us with a window into their internal representational worlds as they encounter the love-object in pointed lyrical vignettes. Each Beatle would come to represent an aspect of the human separation-individuation process: McCartney the idealization of love; Lennon the symbiotic wish for re-union; Harrison the drive to individuate; and Starr the sentimentalization of love. The following is a developmental study of the Beatles. It is based on evidence gleaned from a variety of sources, including lyrics, personal statements, observations of colleagues and the developmental histories of the four. It seeks to provide an answer, from a developmental perspective, to the question of what caused their break-up.
What distinguished the Beatles from other groups is that they were able artfully to blend their different personalities and talents into a musical-psychological whole. In seamlessly merging their four separate parts into one, they formed a near-perfect gestalt, a unity of opposites, as pleasing to the senses as their music. The mega-fame they achieved served to seal their symbiotic bond with the illusion of omnipotence. But the four would be pulled in different directions as they developed musically and psychologically and, thus, their separation-individuation process was joined. That process would begin with a nodding awareness of their differentness and culminate in a deal-breaking recognition of the psychological and artistic distance that, in fact, lay between them. The Beatles would play out upon the world’s stage, in their music and their relationships, the vicissitudes of their separation-individuation process. They would be pulled in opposite directions as they developed, towards the goal, on the one hand, of establishing their separate identities and, on the other, of restoring their collective identity. Harrison’s song, “Think For Yourself,” expresses their drive to individuate, Lennon’s “Come Together” their drive to re-unite.
The paradigm of human development articulated by Margaret Mahler, Fred Pine and Anni Bergman in The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant (1975), with its elucidation of the human separation-individuation process, provides the perfect model for understanding the Beatles. Viewing the Beatles’ development and their songs from this perspective yields new and fresh insights, which will be presented here, into their work, their personalities and their relationships. Louise Kaplan’s Oneness and Separateness: From Infant to Individual (1978) breathes life into Mahler’s work and will also be used as one of our theoretical guides in this study. Insights from object-relations theory will be brought to bear on this analysis of the Beatles as well.
It was a joining that began in innocence, earnestness and hope and ended in fractured, virtually unsalvageable relationships. Unable to resolve their personal and artistic differences in direct negotiations, the Beatles were destined to act them out in their legal and business dealings for years to come. The bridges that came so easily to them in their songwriting, the attunement they showed to each other in their playingâ€”none of these graced or mediated their interpersonal relations as they grew apart from one other. The Beatles worked magnificently as the sum of their four parts, but they were unable to find a nexus between their different personalities when they began to separate and individuate. McCartney may have been amazed years later that he and Lennon were able to work together so successfully when he considered that they were really “worlds apart” (“Here Today”). The happiest face of the Beatles has them locked in their orbit of oneness, all tuned in to the same musical wavelength.
What caused them to grow so irreversibly apart? In retrospect, one predictor of the conflict to come in their relationships was the circular psychological dynamics represented in so many of their songs. With lyrics that revolve around themselves, these songs, particularly those on Revolver, conclude without any resolution to the focal conflict presented in them. The circularity in them is more than a mere coincidence or curiosity. It also reflects the circularity in their interpersonal dynamic and in their self and object-relations. Lennon may have been “turned on” by the world “being round,” (“Because”), but the truth is that circular relations, like arguments that go round in circles, do not resolve themselves or lead to the establishment of boundaries. In developmental terms, the Beatles never fully emerge from the symbiotic orbit that held them and bound them together. This is not, in any way, to discount the psychological and creative benefits they reaped from their “magic circle” of oneness.
There were, of course, differences in each Beatle’s level of psychological functioning and in self and object-relations, but those differences served, in the beginning, to provide balance to the group. Most people, if asked to describe how John, Paul, George and Ringo were different, would point to each one’s most salient personality trait. For example, Paul was charming and diplomatic, John was biting, George was dry and thoughtful, and Ringo was clownish. But, there were other, more decided ways in which they were different. There were differences in the way they envisioned the ideal relationship, in the degree of closeness they wished to have with the love-object, in their reaction to object loss, and in how they experienced their aloneness and separateness.
McCartney, for example, placed the love-object on a pedestal and endowed her with magical powers to transform his lifeâ€”“with a wave of her wand“ (“Here There and Everywhere”). His ideal self/other state was one in which he and the love-object were perfectly and eternally aligned, in thought and feeling, and committed to the same, idealistic vision of love (e.g. ”each one believing that love never dies,” from “Here There and Everywhere”). “Beside”â€”“And if she’s beside me”(“Here There and Everywhere”)â€”and “near”â€”“As long as I have you near me”(“And I Love Her”)â€”are descriptions of distance he uses frequently in his songs, suggesting that he needed to be in close proximity to, but not necessarily in the same skin as, the love-object.
Lennon, on the other hand, needed to be in the same skin as the other, finding comfort and a sense of wholeness only in the context of “merging unity” (Kaplan, p. 30) with the love-object. As if to put his symbiotic bond with Yoko in writing, he signed his name in the early 1970’s, “JohnandYoko.” He once said thathe considered himself a “half” and needed Yoko to be a “whole” (The Beatles Anthology, 2000, p.201). After he had attached to Yoko, he makes it painfully clear, in his songs, how much he needs her. “All I want is you,” he writes in “Dig APony.” His song, “ComeTogether,” is both a personal and political appeal for unity, while “Imagine”is the elevation of that statement to a utopian ideal. Lennon’s merging of the personal and the political (see Wiener, Come Together, 1990) was, itself, a symbiosis of sorts.
Harrison was highly individualistic, almost solipsistic, and protective of his boundaries (e.g. “Don’t Bother Me,”“You Like Me Too Much,”“Think For Yourself”). While he was a “largely self-sustained person” (Guillano, Dark Horse, 1989, p. 146)) and one careful to maintain his distance from the other in his interpersonal relations, he approached God and Krishna with unhesitant love, determination and a desire to please. Harrison was happy to relinquish his self claims and claims on his individual space in the service of spiritual enlightenment and religious reward. It did not, apparently, concern him that in the representational-spiritual act of “merging” into the “universal consciousness,” Om, he was giving up his claim on his individual space. Thus, in the Beatle group dynamic, Harrison represents both ends of the developmental spectrum, the drive to individuate and the longing to return to a symbiotic state of oneness.
Starr was the most social and sociable Beatle. He liked having his friends around (e.g. “friends all aboard” from “Yellow Submarine”) and aspired to a “life of ease” (“Yellow Submarine”). He has spent good deal of his adult life engaged in leisurely pursuits. Starr enjoyed the social side of being in a band and viewed his fellow Beatles as the “brothers” he never had. An only child, he felt closer to the other three Beatles than he had to anyone else in his life and would later remember the experiences they shared together with fondness. Starr was, by his own admission, “not a strong-willed person” (quoted in Clayson, Ringo: Straight Man 1991, p.341) and, thus, a perfect foil for the very willful other three Beatles. He was pliant and adaptable, but also very sensitive and known to tear up quite easily. In his post-Beatles incarnation, he evidenced a taste for weepy country tunes and old standards. His first album following the break-up was Sentimental Journey.
The thesis of this paper is two-fold: one, that the Beatles underwent a separation-individuation process in their years together and, two, that it is possible to identify psychological patterns and themes related to that process in each Beatle’s body of work. The lyrics to their songs are our strongest evidence of their psychological functioning because they are so personally revealing and because they are consistent, from song to song, writer to writer, in their psychological themes. Probably, more than any other songwriters of the modern era, the Beatles put themselves into their songs. Wherever possible, our interpretations of the lyrical evidence will be supported by personal statements made by the four, the observations of collaterals and psycho-biographical informationâ€”and compared with other authors’ ways of understanding the Beatles.
Two of the most authoritative and sophisticated books on the Beatles, Willifred Mellers’ Twilight of the Gods: The Music of The Beatles (1973) and Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why, A Beatles Commentary (1998) will be referred to frequently in this study. They offer insightful analysis of the Beatles and their music. This study is the first, however, to present a systematic and comprehensive psychoanalysis of the Beatles. It seeks to uncover and illuminate the underlying psychological patterns represented in each Beatle’s body of work and connect them to the writer’s developmental experiences and to his contemporaneous relationships with significant others, including his fellow Beatles.
It is generally recognized that the Beatles went through various stages in their musical and psychological development. (It is, of course, fitting that in their embryonic days, prior to 1963, they performed primarily at the Cavern Club.) Riley divides their stages of development into “Dance Band,” “Beyond Adolescence,” “Paranoia and Insouciance.” These stages take us through Hard Days Night and Help; “States of The Heart”â€”Rubber Soul; “States of Mind”â€”Revolverâ€” and “Fractured Unities”â€”Magical Mystery Tour and beyond (Riley, 1998). Mellers breaks down the Beatles’ stages of development into “Initiation and Ceremonial Birth”; “Adolescence”â€”through Rubber Soul; “Contest and Mortality”â€”includes Revolve and Sgt. Pepper; “Re-birth and Return of the Initiate”â€”Let It Be and Abbey Road (Mellers, 1973). However the Beatles development is broken down, it is the contention here that the stages of development they went through in their years together were derivative of the ones in the human separation-individuation process.
Developmental theory provides another framework for understanding the development of the Beatles. Seen from the perspective of Mahler’s theory of human development, the Beatles first few albums, up to Revolver (1966), represent their “Symbiotic,” “Differentiation,” and “Practicing” stages of development. “Symbiosis,” according to Mahler, is the phase, at the very beginning of life, when the infant perceives himself to be a part of mother and mother as a need-gratifying objectâ€”an “omnipotent dual symbiotic unity” (p.46). Thus, the child’s first encounter with the other, mother, is distorted (and nourished) by illusion, the illusion of oneness and omnipotence. The whole of his subsequent development can be understood as the tension between his longing to return to that Edenic state of oneness and his need to establish a sense of self independent of the other. The development of the Beatles is best understood from this perspective.
“Differentiation,” according to Mahler, begins the alloplastic process of separating self from the other. “Practicing” is ushered in when the child becomes upright. The locomotive child feels masterful and is supremely pleased with himself as he learns new skills and explores new venues. He has an inflated image of himself and it is one that is mirrored back to him by his proud mother. The Beatles’ world conquering tours and the mass adulation that attended them re-created, in some respects, the conditions and dynamics of “Practicing.”
“Rapprochement,” which begins, according to Mahler, around 15 months in the developmental process, is the child’s “fall from grace,” the moment in his development when he realizes that he is, in fact, a small, separate and helpless being. His previously inflated self-image is turned on its head with this rude awakening. His growing capacity to think symbolically makes possible his “psychological birth.” With his “thinking mind” (Kaplan, p.54) he is now able to think about the consequences of his actions, particularly as they relate to the conflicting needs that, by turns, assert themselves in his interactions with his mother. Ambivalence, indecisiveness, and coerciveness begin to creep into the child’s behavior and psychological functioning during this phase of development. Misunderstandings between the child and his mother multiply, as he tries to communicate to his mother, and she tries to understand, what he wants.
The next stage of the separation-individuation process, according to Mahler, is “Consolidation of Individuality and Object Constancy.” It is an open-ended one, continuing throughout one’s life. It refers to the process by which the child-adolescent-adult brings together the different parts of himself into a coherent identity and acquires a reasonably comforting inner image of mother/the love-object, one that enables him to function productively apart from her and to love her even when she is not gratifying.
The Beatles’ first album, Meet The Beatles, represents the symbiotic phase of their development. Each Beatle was happy at this point to lend a part of himself to the whole, to do his part in shaping the group’s neat unity of counter-balancing parts. Their four faces, each virtually indistinguishable from the other and seeming to merge into one, appear in half-light on the cover of this album, symbolizing their symbiosis. In their initial joining, we get a sense of the symbiotic strengths of the four, which would prove to be the strongest psychological factor they had going for them. Harrison describes them as “really tight” in their formative days (The Beatles Anthology, 2003, Disc 1); McCartney notes that they could “read each other really well” (Miles, Many Years From Now 1998, p.583). The songs on Meet The Beatles express the excitement and angst of symbiotic and adolescent love, experienced through the thoughts, feelings, and sensations of the “body-mind” (Kaplan, p.159).
Even in the Beatles’ early songs, we begin to get an idea of the track of development into which each writer was grooved. Symbiotic themes and dynamics dominate Lennon’s early work, from holding, exemplified in the song, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” to love at a need-gratifying, gestural level, evident in “Please Please Me” and in the lyric, “If there’s anything that you want/ Just call on me” from “From Me To You,” to the jubilation of winning her love, expressed in the lyric, “I’m the one who won your love” (“You Can’t Do That”) to the emotional devastation of loss, seen in his reaction to betrayal in “No Reply,” “I nearly died.” There is also a note of acute narcissistic vulnerability to loss in Lennon’s early songs. He interprets the loss in “I’m aLoser,”in a highly personal way and predicts he will feel “two-foot small” if the love-object leaves him in “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.”
In the McCartney wing of the Beatles, we do not see the emotional swings and fluctuations in self-esteem that we witness in the Lennon wing. Lennon’s moods and self-esteem are almost wholly dependent on the present favor of the love-object. There is a sense of immediacy to his songs, most apparent in his post-Beatles song, “Instant Karma.” McCartney, on the other hand, is able to remove himself from the moment, as he does in songs in which he writes home to his girl, “P.S. I Love You” and “All My Loving.” In “Things We Said Today,” he projects himself into the future, imagining he and his lover, now more mature, “remembering” the warm feelings they expressed for each other when they were younger.
The main thrust of McCartney’s early work, however, is in his idealization of love and determination to “get to” the love-object to secure its rewards. His vision of perfect love includes the belief that true love never dies and the expectation that the love-object can meet all his needs. McCartney optimistically predicts in “And I Love Her,” “I know this love of mine will never die” and, in “Here There and Everywhere,” he finds comfort in knowing that both he and the love-object are on the same page in the way they experience their love (e.g. “each one believing love never dies”). He is confident that the love-object, in “And I Love Her,” can meet all his needs (e.g. “She gives me everything”) and proudly shares, in “She’s a Woman,” with anyone caring to know, that his girl devotes all her time and attention to him (e.g. “She gives me . . . all her time”). When McCartney comes into contact with a less pliant and devoted love-object, we see another side of him emerge. He then begins to employ all his formidable powers of persuasion and manipulation to “get to,” a phrase he uses repeatedly in his songs to the girl (more about that later, in the section on McCartney). “I’ll get to you somehow,” he vows in his song, “Michelle.”
Harrison’s early songs, “Don’t Bother Me” and “You Like Me Too Much,” reflect his sensitivity to intrusions into his individual space. A much-needed counter-point to Lennon and McCartney’s hearty attachment songs, they are the opening lines spoken by this drama’s anti-hero. While “Don’t Bother Me” and “You Like Me Too Much” do not yet represent Harrison’s “achievement of individuality” (Mahler, p.116), they do lay the groundwork, by establishing boundaries, for that process to evolve. There is no doubt that the normally distant Beatle found, in his initial bonding with the other three Beatles, a corrective experience of attachment. But as it became clear to him that the price he was going to have to pay to remain a Beatle was his carefully cultivated individuality, Harrison would begin to withdraw from the others and into himself. Still, the above-mentioned songs, while suggesting the confidence of one who is able to stand alone in the world, really mask his underlying dependency, for both of them are written from the standpoint of one who is already attached to another.
By the time of their Rubber Soul album (1965), the Beatles’ intoxicating run as “conquering heroes” was coming to an end. While they had not yet, as a collective psychological entity, fallen from grace, they were beginning to emerge as separate individuals. Still, their symbiotic bond was “elastic” enough to hold their differencesâ€”it was expanding, but had not yet snapped. The mood on Rubber Soul is “low-keyed,” which is the word Mahler uses to describe the other faceâ€”the primary one being elationâ€”of “Practicing” (Mahler, p 74-5). “Low-keyedness” is, according to Mahler, the mood evidenced by the Practicing child when he takes a moment to rest, away from mother. Mahler theorized that, during such times, the child seeks to comfort himself with pleasant “images” of past interactions with mother. Lennon’s pleasantly nostalgic “In My Life” is a good example of a “low-keyed” song.
The Beatles begin to reveal more of themselves in their work on Rubber Soul. It had been evident, in previous songs, that Lennon experienced loss as a devastating injury to his self-esteem and on Rubber Soul he continues to suffer narcissistic injuries at the hands of the love-object. In “Girl,” he is “put down” by the girl who knows “she’s cool”; in “Norwegian Wood,” he is “had” by the girl with whom he has had a romantic rendezvous and made to “sleep in the bath.” These injuries to his pride and self-esteem convince him he is a “loser” (“I’m a Loser”) and “nowhere man” (“Nowhere Man”). But, Lennon was just as liable to convert his hurt and humiliation into narcissistic rage. He warns, for example, the love-object in “Run For Your Life” to “watch her head” if she cheats on him again and, in “Norwegian Wood,” he burns down the house (e.g. “So l let a fire”) of the girl who “had” him.
McCartney appears to be particularly frustrated at his inability to get through to the love-object on Rubber Soul. His persistence reflects the “strenuous efforts” (quoted in Miles, 1999, p 102) he was making, at the time, to engage Jane Asher in a relationship. In “You Won’t See Me,” he is beside himself because he has not been able to “get through” to the girl and, even when he does, she “refuses to even listen.” But it is not from not trying that he has failed to reach her; he has called her many times, but her “line is engaged.” McCartney doesn’t understand, in that song, “why you should want to hide.” In the same spirit of ignorance, he doesn’t understand why the love-object, in “I’m Looking Through You,” has had an abrupt “change” of heart and asks her, “Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right.” Both these protestations of ignorance betray McCartney’s lack of awareness of the love-object’s feelings.
Harrison weighs in on Rubber Soul with “Think For Yourself,” his first song to feature his fearless individualism. Harrison passionately believed in the individual’s ability to choose the life he wanted and the person he wanted to be. He once said, “Everybody creates their own destiny . . . .I am who I am because of me, not you” (quoted in Guiliano, p.185). Individual agency and the almost infinite possibilities open to the individual who believed in himself and in the power of choice were the hallmarks of Harrisonian inidividualism. In a post-Beatles song of his, “If You Believe,” he declares, “If you believe in you/ Everything you thought is possible.” Harrison would undoubtedly have viewed Lennon’s rather global reminder to Yoko in “Woman,” “Please remember my life is in your hands” as a giving away of the powers of the self.
“Think ForYourself” encourages self-reliance rather than dependency on the other. It also encourages us to learn from our mistakes (e.g. “Rectify all that you should”), which is an aspect of personal responsibility. Harrison echoes that piece of advice in “Sour Milk Sea,” advising, “Find where you’ve gone wrong” and correct itâ€”rather than complain about your misfortune. Harrison remained consistent with his stated beliefs even in his earlier songs. He does not blame the love-object when problems develop in a relationship. Harrison takes responsibility for the part he played in the love-object’s disaffection in both “Don’t Bother Me” and “You Like MeToo Much.” In the former, he acknowledges her leaving him is “all that I deserve” and, in the latter, he believes he is “to blame” for her going away.
The first song that Starr got a writing credit on, “What Goes On,” appears on Rubber Soul. While it was primarily the work of Lennon and McCartney, it was given to Starr to sing. For the purposes of this study, the songs that the drummer sings lead on, even if he did not write them, will be considered as evidence of his psychological make up. The Beatles had an uncanny ability to pair the sensibility of a particular song with its lead singer. For example, the very private and secretive Harrison sang lead on the Lennon-McCartney song, “Do You Want To Knowa Secret” and on their covers of the 1950’s songs, “Chains”and “Everybody’s Trying To BeMy Baby.” The latter two songs are very much in the same spirit as the ones Harrison wrote as a Beatle. In “What Goes On,” Starr, fittingly, tries to understand what the other is thinking and feeling, not something you are going to see in a Lennon-McCartney song, and more in line with Starr’s less self-absorbed ways.
Revolver (1966), the Beatles’ next album, coincided with and represented their Rapprochement stage of development. It is the point in their development when they shed their illusions of oneness and omnipotence and are psychologically born as four separate individuals. Riley believes that Revolver deals with the “starker realities” (p. 181) of human existence, which, of course, are what’s left when one gives up one’s illusions. References to birth and deathâ€”parts of life’s “starker realities”â€”appear frequently on this album and are symbolic of the psychological birth and death of their illusions of oneness. Revolver also marks the first appearance of Mind in the Beatles developmental process, as evidenced by the crucial role it, Mind, plays in many of the songs on the album. Riley sees the songs on Revolver as representative of various “States of Mind” (p.176).
The songs on Revolver suggest that the Beatles had become “acutely” aware of their separatenessâ€”that it was their “Rapprochement Crisis” (Mahler, p. 95-97). Pictured on the record sleeve are partial, fragmentary images of the four, symbolizing the loosening of their symbiotic bond, while, in the background are four barely visible, perfectly formed sketches of their facesâ€”their remaining, intact “invisible bond” (Kaplan, p. 121). The Beatles confront, on Revolver, for the first time in their musical-developmental history, their separateness, aloneness and the disjunctions in their relationships with the love-object. Revolver breaks new psychological ground for the Beatles. It features songs about “lonely people” (“Eleanor Rigby”), ambivalence around closeness (“I Want To Tell You,” “If I Needed Someone”), misunderstandings between lovers (“She Said She Said,” “And Your Bird CanSing”), the foreboding gap of space between two people (“Tomorrow Never Knows”) and, finally, the putative cure for all the ills of human being, glorious love (“Here There and Everywhere” and“Good Day Sunshine”).
Riley believes that the Beatles on Revolver fail to adapt to the new realities and, instead, give us songs that “celebrate life as evasion” (p.202) and “withdrawal” (p.200). In developmental terms, they avoid confronting the new realities created by their maturing intelligences and progressing differentiation and, instead, retreat to previous levels of functioning, states of oneness. The songs on Revolver in which they deny their separateness and extinguish Mind naturally lack dramatic tension. What they lack in dramatic tension, they make up for in a sense of harmony and serenity. This is not to say that in none of the songs on this album do they meet the other as other and attempt to find common ground, but it is clear that when they do, the results are inauspicious. There will be a price to be paid later for their denial and “evasion.” But for now, McCartney, in “Here There and Everywhere,”is content to obliterate the boundaries between himself and the love-object; Lennon welcomes shutting down his mind (e.g. “turn off your mind”) in “Tomorrow Never Knows” and merging into “blissful union with the spiritual realm” (p.199) and Harrison is un-phased by traditional, Western ways of experiencing Time in both “I Want To Tell You”(e.g. “I could wait forever”) and “Love You Too” (e.g. “Make love all day long”).
Birth and death, either as realities or metaphors, are well represented in the songs on Revolver. “Eleanor Rigby” is about the lonely death of a lonely spinster. McCartney reluctantly concedes “her love is dead” in “For No One.” Lennon attempts, unsuccessfully, to communicate with a love-object in “She Said She Said” who claims to “know what it’s like to be dead.” The strange, narcissistic claims of the love-object, in that song, make him feel “like I’ve never been born.” Harrison urges us, in “Taxman,” to “declare pennies on your eyes” to escape the ubiquitous taxman and, in “Love You Too,” he worries that he “may be a dead old man” if he waits any longer to approach the love-object. Lennon assures us, not too convincingly, that shutting down his mind is “not dying” in “Tomorrow Never Knows.” “Yellow Submarine” begins “in the town where I was born.”
Mind figures prominently into the songs on Revolver as well, suggesting that the Beatles were beginning to think about their relationships and emotional experiences as well. McCartney’s “mind aches” as he contemplates the loss of a love in “For No One” and he wonders whether or not there might be “another kind of mind” somewhere in the space of his separateness in “Got ToGet You Back in My Life.” Harrison approaches the love-object in “I Want To Tell You,” but then backs off because his “mind is confusing things.” Lennon, in“Tomorrow Never Knows,” greets the “arrival” of Mind by renouncing its products (e.g. “lay down all thoughts”). He advises us to “turn off your mind” and implies that, in so doing, we may gain not only inner peace, but also greater access to untapped, unconscious parts of ourselves.
As during the Rapprochement phase of the separation-individuation process, on Revolver, ambivalence, indecision and misunderstandings begin to appear where certainty and perfect attunement once were. Harrison, as befits one who was highly protective of his boundaries (and, also, very cerebral) represents the ambivalent and indecisive element of the Beatles. He forgets what he wants to say when he “gets near” her in “I Want To Tell You,” and so he retreats, not sure, anyway, she would “understand” him. With his ambivalence and indecision, he can only promise the love-object that “maybe” he will get back with her. Similarly, in “If I NeededSomeone,” the best he can offer the potential love-object is a “maybe, you will get a call from me,” leaving that one to wait as well. Lennon’s “She Said She Said” is a litany of misunderstandings between himself and the love-object; it is a song in which “none of the loose ends are tied up” (p.190). The misunderstandings leave Lennon feeling confused and barely existent. He, finally, in exasperation protests, “No, No, No/ You don’t understand.” In “And Your Bird Can Sing,” the narcissistic claims of the love-object (e.g. “heard every sound”) and her failure of attunement (“You don’t hear me/You don’t see me”) provide Lennon with no point of contact.
If there was any doubt that McCartney saw little value in the experience of aloneness and separateness, one need only look at his songs on Revolver. “For No One” and “EleanorRigby” are, perhaps, two of the saddest songs in the twentieth century. They suggest that McCartney viewed aloneness as a profoundly sad, even pitiable state of being, certainly a self-depleting one. Any time his narcissistic supplies were withdrawn from him was an occasion for grieving for McCartney. In “Got To Get You Back into My Life,” he finds the antidote to his aloneness. While he was “alone” and undecided as to the value of his experience of aloneness, he espies, across the gap of space, the love-object and he immediately brightens up, everything made better and his experience of aloneness forgotten. The delight he feels upon “suddenly see[ing]” the love-object recalls the delight he felt in “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” McCartney waxes romantic in “Here, There and Everywhere,” painting a picture of perfect and undying (e.g. “love never dies”) love. It is vintage McCartney romanticizing love and eliminating any possibility or moment of aloneness.
Lennon faces the looming voidâ€”his original title for “Tomorrow Never Knows” was “The Void”â€”of his separateness in “Tomorrow Never Knows” by “turning off” his mind and “floating downstream.” There is something more ominous, though, about his “floating downstream” in this song than the “floating upstream” he does in an earlier one, “I’m OnlySleeping.” We fear, in “Tomorrow Never Knows,” that he might “float” too far “downstream” and lose his sense of self in the process and, perhaps his hold on reality as well. With his history of unsatisfying and self-invalidating interactions with the love-object, we can understand why Lennon might have chosen to “surrender to the void” and opt out of any further negotiations with her.
Many of the songs on Revolver are, appropriately enough, circular, which mirrored the circularityâ€”and, therefore, lack of movement towards resolutionâ€”in their interpersonal dynamic. McCartney had suggested Magic Circles as a title for this album. Lennon solemnly advises us, in “Tomorrow Never Knows,” to “play the game of existence to the end/ Of the beginning.” His song, “She Said She Said,” leaves one’s head swimming in its circularity. Riley refers to the “vocal elisions” in that song, which “fold into each other” (p. 190). Harrison circles around the love-object in “I Want To Tell You,” without making a decisive move one way or the other. He, ultimately, decides to put off his decision until much later. In “If I Needed Someone,” he muses about the possibility of love with a girl with whom he is not presently involved, but stays with the one he now loves and, thus, the song goes nowhere. “Taxman” also “leads nowhere,” (Mellers, p. 70) because the taxman intrudes at every turn. McCartney is glad to know that the love-object will be there whichever way he turns in “Here There and Everywhere.”
If a Lennon or McCartney song obliterates space, then a Harrison song obliterates time. The spiritual Beatle had a curious and perplexing relationship with Time. In his work as a Beatle, he never seems to be able to strike the right note with regard to time. He feels, alternately, as though pressured to act in the here and now and as though he has all the time in the world to act. There is hardly a Harrison song that doesn’t refer to the passage of time; he has lots of time, time goes by too fast, it may be too late when he acts and so on. In “Love You Too,” he loses track of time as he “make(s) love all day long.” Time goes by “fast” and he may soon be “dead” in that song, so he feels he must seize the moment. In “I Want To Tell You,” however, Harrison feels that he’s “got time” to make up his mind and “could wait forever.” He warns us, however in “Within You Without You,” that it may be “too late” when you come to your senses and to the “truth.”
To stay with a comparative analysis of the Beatles for a moment, we can juxtapose Harrison’s resentment of intrusions into his individual space with Lennon and McCartney’s welcoming of the other into their individual space. In his song, “Taxman,” the taxman takes “19” of your hard-earned dollars and leaves only “1” for you and levies taxes on almost everything that you do, thus being not only “piggish,” but also intrusive. McCartney, symbolically, counters Harrison’s jab at the intrusiveness of the Government with the delight he takes in the ubiquitous presence of the love-object in his life in his song, “Here There and Everywhere. “ Thus, whereas Harrison wants the other, the Government in this case, out of his individual space and pockets, McCartney is happy to have the object occupy every inch of his physical and psychological space. Later, Lennon and McCartney would replace the taxman as Harrison’s object of scorn, for they took up the better part of space on their albums for their songsâ€”leaving only one slot for him. In a later song, “Not Guilty,” Harrison, ironically, refers to them as “under-fed.”
Following Revolver, the Beatles, hung up their guitars and went their separate ways. What they did during their hiatus is instructive. Lennon, the Beatle who was least prepared to give up his illusions of omnipotence and who led the group in their early, down days in a cheer about going to “the toppermost of the poppermost,” acted in a movie called, appropriately enough, How I Won The War. He might have followed that movie up with one called “Best Fucking Band in The World,“ for that is how he assessed their talents after they broke up (Anthology, disc 1). McCartney embarked on a self-improvement campaign during their hiatus, seeking “to lead a better life” (“Here There and Everywhere”), which would have made his mother, who encouraged him to better himself, proud. Also, he, the most conventionally family-oriented Beatle, wrote the score for the movie, Family Way. Harrison delved deeper into the complexities and mysteries of Eastern philosophy and religion and, with great perseverance, learned to play the sitar. His growing Eastern tilt would add a much-needed new dimension to the Beatle gestalt. Starr, the Beatle from the poorest family, enjoyed parting with his large sums of cash.
The Beatles boldly and brilliantly re-united on Sgt. Pepper, producing an album that pushed back the boundaries of pop music a few notches and created an alter ego for themselves, through which they could enjoy their success. On the sleeve, they are pictured attired in royal gear and surrounded by a “court” of personages who have been instrumental in their lives. They want to share their success with the world. This is a pictorial symbol of their ascension to the pop music throne and restoration of their sense or illusion of oneness and omnipotence. Even if the thrill of their conquering hero days was beginning to wear off, they could re-create, symbolically, the grandeur of their earlier conquests. The album is arranged in a way that makes each song appear to smoothly merge into the next and the entire work to be a unified whole.
The picture on the cover, however, did not match the reality of their relationships and states of mind at the time. Lennon, in fact, seems bored and restless on Sgt. Pepper, as if he is biding his time until something else more exciting comes along. He has “nothing to do” in “Good MorningGood Morning,” his duplicative sequel to “She Said She Said,” so he begins to wander aimlessly around town (e.g. “Heading for home, you start to roam”). The redundant title reflects the fact that his wanderings take him nowhere in particularâ€”he is just circling around townâ€”just as the redundancy of “She Said She Said” conveys the circularity and lack of movement in his communication with the love-object in that song. “A Day in The Life” has Lennon, again, feeling bored and alienated, indifferently reading the newspaper (e.g. “I read the news today, oh boy”) about a car crash in which someone died and looking for some excitement (e.g. “I’d love to turn you on”) to ease the boredom.
Lennon needs to be shaken out of his malaise on Sgt.Pepper. Thus, a rooster wakes him up at the beginning of “Good Morning Good Morning.” Then, McCartney wakes up Lennon, who is singing in an affectless voice, in “A Day in The Life,” with a real life vignette, which begins, “Woke up, fell out of bed.” And there is the thunderous note at the end of “A Day in The Life” such that Riley refers to it as a “sober awakening” (p. 204). Lennon’s “Lucy inThe Sky” offers sparkling, hallucinatory images, certain to awaken anyone’s senses.
McCartney continues his efforts to better himself on Sgt. Pepper. He is “fixing a hole” in his personality in “Fixing A Hole,” that is, doing a little personality repair. “Its Getting Better” has him learning from his past bad behavior with women. McCartney is also looking for ways of being useful or “handy” (“When I’m 64”) on Sgt. Pepper and fixing things that need to be fixed. From what we see of his social reparative skills in his earlier, “We Can Work It Out,”they do not encourage compromise. McCartney is certain that “my way” is the best way of fixing the problem in the relationship in that song. He uses that same formula for resolving problems in “Fixing a Hole”, where he writes, even “if I’m wrong, I’m right.” The very impractical Lennon dismisses McCartney’s industry on â€˜Sgt. Pepper, wondering in “A Day in The Life,” why anyone would bother to fix the “four-thousand holes” in the road in “Blackburn” and pointing out, in “Its Getting Better,” that “it can’t get no worse.”
Harrison’s only contribution on â€˜Sgt. Pepper’ is the pivotal, if moralistic, song, “WithinYouWithout You.” It is pivotal because it represents a nexus in the Beatles development from oneness to separateness and moralistic. It is patronizing because it proposes a solution to the problems of human existence that, presumably, only those in possession of the “truth” could understand. Harrison represents separateness in this song with a re-affirmation of his belief in personal responsibility (e.g. “No one else can make you change”) and recognition of the “space between us all” and oneness with his belief in the inter-connectedness of the human race (e.g. “we are all one”). “Within You Without You” touches on many of the dualities of human existence, inner and outer, self and other, oneness and separateness, self and God, truth and illusion, us and them (e.g. “Are you one of them”) and smallness (e.g. “you are only really very small”) and omnipotence (e.g. “save the world”) and seeks to achieve a kind of grand synthesis of them. Ultimately, however, it forces us to choose between living in truth, which, to Harrison, is a religious truth or living in illusion, which is everything that is false and impermanent.
Mellers notes that Harrison’s message in this song is that the “space between us all will be abolished when we submit to love” (p. 94). Mellers rightly highlights the song’s idealistic message of oneness, but over-simplifies the conditionsâ€”“submitting to love”â€”that will need to be fulfilled in order to attain that sublime state. Harrison, it appears, would like to “abolish” not only the space between self and other, but also the space between all the dualities that govern our daily existences. “Within You Without You” is a statement of his personal philosophy, which he once described as living a life “void of dualities” (Harrison, 1980, p.158.) He attempts to guide us, in this song, through the process that will lead us to this enlightening, symbiotic conclusion, but, maddeningly, only leads us around in circles. First, we must open ourselves not only to “love,” but also to “truth.” While we are responsible for ourselves and while we all have choices, we must give up our self-bearings and gains and realize we “are only . . . small,” in order to grasp a larger truth. The larger truth is “we are all one.” And, by understanding that larger truth, the essential oneness of man, we are all, presumably, strengthened as individuals. This is the way Harrison integrate the dualities to which all of us are subject.
The Indian sounding“Within You Without You” moves along at a snail’s pace and it seems as if it is never going to end. Riley notes that it gives the impression of time “expanded” and of “weightlessness” (p.220). Mellers sees the meta-message of the song in this way: “the freeing of the mind . . . breaks the time-barrier” (p.94). Both these readings of the song are consistent with Harrison’s personal goals of trying to “lose” or “forget mind” (Harrison, p. 96)â€”part of his plan to remedy his tendency to intellectualizeâ€”and of living outside the material forces, including Time, that determine him. A life of “Pure Spirit” (Olivia Harrison, quoted in Harrison, p. 3), as envisioned by Harrison, would certainly be one involving a significant degree of “weightlessness.”
Harrison aligns himself, on Sgt. Pepper, with Lennon in his faith in the redemptive powers of oneness (e.g. “We are all one”). Harrison and Lennon, as it turns out, were the most symbiotically inclined Beatles. But Harrison was not seeking union with a single other, as Lennon was. His view of oneness was more in the Eastern tradition of seeing everything as inter-connected, as part of the “complete whole” or Om. Lennon’s political message of oneness, embodied in his song, “Imagine,” evolved from his personal needs and experiences. Similarly, Harrison was looking for a way of overcoming his sense of aloneness in the world by a system of belief that tied together all the loose ends of life. Both Beatles became active participants and advocates in their respective areas of interest, Lennon in the political realm and Harrison in the spiritual one.
After Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles began to disintegrate. Their manager, Brian Epstein, who had been a cohesive force in the group, died of a drug overdose, and McCartney took over the reins for the group. His first project, Magical Mystery Tour (1967), had them touring the countryside in a bus, stopping to record anything that caught their fancy. As in Sgt.Pepper, the four, finding it more and more difficult to maintain the fiction of their oneness, dress up in costumes. But, while in Sgt. Pepper they dressed as pop royalty, in Magical Mystery Tour, they dress up in disguise. McCartney was trying to hold the Beatles together at this point, but the fact is that following Epstein’s death, the Beatles were scattering. Starr describes them, at the time, as acting like “chickens without their heads” (The Beatles Anthology, p.268). McCartney sat the others down and charted the course the Magical MysteryTour bus would take. He drew a circle for them, noting various stops along the route (see Miles, p.358).
John Lennon would later view this period in their career as one in which they were “going around in circles.” Lennon had his own little circle going in his personal life, with Yoko coming into the picture. The self-object dynamic he portrays in “I am the Walrus”I (on Magical Mystery Tour) is a circular one. He writes, in that song, “I am he/ As you are he/ As you are me.” The fact that he is “crying,” feeling something, though, bodes wellfor his mental health. In contrast, in “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Lennon appears to be feeling nothing as he “talks circles around his hurt”(Riley, p. 211) and responds to “every confession(al) . . . with denial” (p.211). Not surprisingly, given the deadening of his affect and loosening of his self/object boundaries, Lennon, temporarily, loses his sense of reality-relatedness on “Strawberry FieldsForever,” where he writes, “Nothing is real.”
Harrison senses that they, the Beatles, have gotten “lost” in the “ fog” in his song, “Blue Jay Way.” He counters the Magical Mystery Tour’s exercise in aimlessness with the belief that he could “know all things” . . . without going out my door” (“Inner Light”). This was his signal that life for him was an inner journey and not a bus ride in the country. Harrison’s need to “know all things” (“Inner Light”) distinguishes him from Lennon who believed that feeling one’s feelings offered the best hope for achieving inner peace. Lennon once said, “To feel is to live. Life is made up of all sorts of feelings.” (The Beatles Anthology, p. 282) As a patient of Janov, the founder of Primal Scream Therapy, in the early 1970’s, he worked to release long-buried feelings around the losses he suffered as a child.
The Beatles begin to fragment on the White Album (1968), essentially using each other as musical self-objects. The album offers the listener a variety of choices, something for everyone, but it lacks the sense of the Beatles working together. If Sgt. Pepper recreated, symbolically, their sense of oneness and omnipotence, the White Album is a collage of very different sounding and meaning songs.
Let It Be is generally regarded as a dismal and disintegrative time in the Beatles career and development. They were openly fighting with one another at the time, suggesting that simmering, unresolved conflicts were finally coming to the surface. Let It Be is, perhaps, better seen as a time of polarization, heightened self-claims and much-needed establishment of boundaries. Harrison’s song, “I Me Mine,” captures the psychological climate in the Beatles at the time. The spiritual Beatle did not feel, however, that the psychological conditions in the group were all bad. About this period, he once said, “We got to a point where we could see each other quite clearly. And by allowing each other to be each other, we could become Beatles again.” (quoted in Doggett, 1998 p.57)) Even the record sleeve, which pictures their four faces arranged in a perfect square, suggests the formation of boundaries. The Beatles were, at long last, differentiating. Lennon and McCartney sing the song, “Two of Us,” in the film, Let It Be, facing each other. “Two of Us” recognizes the other’s separateness, but in characteristic Lennon-McCartney fashion, has the two of them “going nowhere.”
There were also shifting alliances in the group at the time. With the introduction of new love-objects into the group and with the expanding of their interests beyond the next big hit, the Beatles’ symbiotic bond began to weaken. Harrison, Starr and McCartney were all annoyed with Lennon for bringing Yoko into their private sessions and mystified by his over-dependent, symbiotic relationship with her. Lennon and Yoko were, at the time, inseparable, even going to the bathroom together. The independent-minded Harrison, who once “looked up” (“All ThoseYears Ago”) to Lennon, could not have been impressed with the rank dependency exhibited by the charismatic Beatle and, in fact, their relationship seems to have faltered when Lennon backed out of the Bangladesh concert because Harrison wouldn’t let him bring Yoko on stage with him. Lennon, for his part, was deeply hurt by the coldness the others showed towards Yoko, feeling that they did not understand how important she was to him and perhaps recalling his aunt Mimi’s invariably disapproving reactions to the friends and lovers he brought home with him.
The others might have paid heed when Lennon sang with a note of desperate neediness in “Don’tLet Me Down,” “It’s a love that has no past,” referring to the new love he and Yoko shared. In an earlier song, “In My Life,” he expressed a similar point of view: “And these memories lose their meaning/ When I think of love as something new.” When his needs were being met in a current relationship, Lennon tended to cut his ties to the past. According to Cynthia Lennon, his ex-wife, and Julian, their son, Lennon virtually cut them off after he hooked up with Yoko (John, 2005). Why then would he not do the same with Paul, George, and Ringo. However the other three felt, the fact was that Lennon was rapidly attaching to Yoko and de-cathecting from the Beatles.
Meanwhile, Harrison, Lennon and Starr had all become increasingly irritated with McCartney’s bossiness and, in particular, with his use of them as self-objects, “side-men.” McCartney, the only goal-directed Beatle, seeing that the others were emotionally detaching from the group and increasingly wrapped up in their own worlds, had switched into his Save the Beatles mode, urging the others to “get back” (“Get Back”) to their assigned spots and resume their role as self-objects for him. There was a precedent for this type of situation in his life. As a fourteen year-old, he had had to assume more responsibility in his family after his mother died and his father became depressed. Still, his certainty that he was “right” “even if I’m wrong” (“Fixing a Hole”) put the other three off. Harrison, in the Let It Be film, is shown responding, with a twist of Eastern paradox, to McCartney’s attempt to show him how to play somethingâ€”he says that he will “play whatever you want me to play, whatever it is that will please you.” Even the mild-mannered Ringo offers a rebuke to McCartney in a post-Beatles song of his, “Back Off Bugalloo.” McCartney acknowledges the toll his efforts to corral the other three Beatles has taken on him in “Long and Winding Road.” In that song, his efforts to reach the other (e.g. “to get to your door”) leave him feeling sad and emotionally drained.
One of the hidden sources of the Beatles’ interpersonal conflicts can be found in their relative openness to change and personal growth. Lennon, while very changeable in some ways, such as his physical appearance, stubbornly resisted change when his dependency needs were being met in a relationship. In “Across The Universe,” the newly married Beatle categorically declares, “Nothing’s gonna change my world.” There is hardly a McCartney love song that does not have as its theme, unchanging and undying love. “I will always feel the same,” he assures some future lover in “I Will.” When, in “I’m Looking Through You,” he notices that the love-object has “changed,” he scolds her for not being the “same.”
Harrison, on the other hand, was the Beatle most open to change and to learning new things. He proudly notes, in “Old Brown Shoe,” “I’m changing faster than the weather.” His biggest complaint about being in the Beatles is that the four, not unlike most high school friends, could not accept the fact that he was “changing all the time” (Harrison, 1980, p.194). Harrison was a great learner as well, learning not only from the masters of pop-music, Lennon and McCartney, but also from the masters of Eastern philosophy and religion. In his song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ he wants to believe that the four of them “must surely be learning” from their “mistake[s], implying they have been going in the wrong direction, (e.g. “bought and sold”), in terms of their priorities.
The different needs the four Beatles brought to their relationships would prove to be a key factor in determining the fate of the group as they grew beyond their adolescence. One might have predicted that the very present-centered and need-based Lennon (e.g. “It’s a love that has no past” from “Don’t Let Me Down,” “All I want is you” from “Dig A Pony”) would have little interest in extending his stay in the Beatles after he had attached to Yoko. On the other hand, McCartney preferred to perpetuate indefinitely the status quo when it was favorable to him and, therefore, he could be expected to do what he could to keep the Beatles going, including resorting to more coercive tactics (e.g. “Get Back”). And it was no surprise that Harrison, who embraced change and personal growth and who hated the “complications” (“Woman Don’t YouCry For Me”) that came with attachments would not want to be a Beatle forever. Starr would probably have liked to have gone on being a Beatle, but only under the circumstances of the four of them getting along and being the brothers he had hoped them to be.
Ringo Starr has been the neglected Beatle in this study, not because he didn’t play a significant role in the group’s functioning, but because he was not a writer and, therefore, did not have a body of work for us to examine. It can be said, though, that he was, much in the spirit of the role of the drummer in a band, the binding force in the group. Starr got along well with the other three Beatles during and after their years together. Perhaps, his ability to connect with the others, yet stay in the background, was related to the skills required by a band’s drummer. Baby Dodds, a jazz drummer, once said that it was the drummer’s responsibility to “pay attention to” and “help” the others in the band (quoted in Mellers, p. 144), skills also required in maintaining good relations with others. In the first song for which he got a writing creditâ€”and in which he sang leadâ€”What Goes On, Starr is, fittingly enough, attending to the thoughts and feelings of the other.
This is not to suggest that Ringo did not have psychological baggage that he brought to the Beatles. A “very sensitive” (The Beatles Anthology, p.356) person, he over-reacts to questionable slights, seeing in them climate changes in the love-object’s feelings for him. He felt that the other Beatles “didn’t love me anymore” when he had to sit out their 1964 European tour because of illness. His song, “Don’t Pass Me By,” expresses the hurt the love-object has caused him by not showing up, as promised, at his “door.” He sits alone, in that song, and, rather pathetically, watches the clock, waiting for her to show up. In any event, it is impossible not to connect the plea in that song with what he was feeling in the Beatlesâ€”passed over, as the others composed their songs.
The Beatles, having made some progress toward establishing their separate identities on Let It Be, were ready to work together again on Abbey Road, even if they knew it would be for the last time. Abbey Road was their swan song, their one last gift to the world before they split. But, as the cover suggests, they are on the verge of walking away from each other and into the unknown future. Mellers notes that, on Abbey Road, the Beatles “partially relinquish the verbal, poetic life they had . . . explored” on previous albums (p.122) and, I might add, revisit the raw feelings around love and loss that had shaped their earlier work. They were, no doubt, reacting to both the imminence of their break-up, loss, and to their growing ties to the love-objects in their lives.
McCartney seems panicked and out of sorts on Abbey Road. He “begs” (“Believe me when I beg you”) the love-object, in “Oh Darling,” not to leave him, just as he had been all but begging the other Beatles not to leave him. His attempt to coerce the others back into the fold in “Get Back” has, apparently, failed and now he is desperate to save the Beatles. Finally, acknowledging the “break-down” of his communication and relationship with Lennon in “You Never Give Me YourMoney” and his contribution to it (“I never give you my pillow”), he begins to resign himself to the inevitable “end” (“The End”). He “sings” the Beatles to “sleep” in “Golden Slumbers,” and, seeking some closure to this extraordinary experience, attempts to sum up their message to the world in “The End” (e.g. “the love you take . . . ”). He will miss the “magic feeling” (“You NeverGiveMeYour Money”) that seemed to materialize out of thin air when they worked together, and he acknowledges that he has run out of “ways” to “get back home” (“Golden Slumbers”). McCartney emerges from the void at the end of the album, to crown the Beatles, in “Her Majesty”â€”the Beatles are dead, Long live the Beatlesâ€”his one final act in behalf of the fabled band.
Lennon had re-fused with Yoko by the time of Abbey Road and that reunion has awakened in him old feelings around loss and unmet needs. “Come Together” and “I WantYou” are primal and hard-driving expressions of need, both directed at Yoko. “Come Together,” as Mellers notes (p.113), has a paradoxical message, namely, that uniting withc the other leads to liberation. Lennon probably had in mind the idea that, by uniting with the other, one might be emboldened to function more freely, without reference to old, unresolved pain. This unification of opposing human drives, the drive to be free and the drive to re-unite with the love-object, unfortunately for Lennon, yields nothing but circular solutions to the contradictions in human development.
Harrison is looking hopefully to the future on Abbey Road. He was happy to be putting “all this far behind me” (Shapiro, Behind Sad Eyes, 2002, p.93), meaning the Beatles, just as he was happy to put the overly dependent girl in “Think For Yourself” “ far behind” him. Harrison had a well-developed capacity to detach. The “fog” of the Beatles’ confusing and complicated relationships has lifted in “Here Comes The Sun” and is replaced by hope and renewal. “HereCome The Sun” is therapy for all those who have had a “cold, lonely winter” and the perfect expression of Harrison’s “reassuring optimism” (Harrison, p.15). His song, “Something,” is about the possibility of love with a girl who has clearly captured his heart, but the ever-cautious Harrison is not ready to commit to the relationship. Just as in previous songs where he wasn’t able to give the love-object a definite answer, he tells the one, in “Something,” that he “doesn’t know” for sure if his feelings for her will “grow.” Thus, despite his obvious “joy,” to borrow from a later song of his, “Pure Smokey,” he continues to “hesitate.”
In his pleasing song, “Octopus’ Garden,” Starr, finally, finds a place for himself in the Beatle behemoth. It was one that is away from the limelight and in an “octopus’ garden, in the shade.” While Starr enjoyed performing, he did not like being in the spotlight. In“Octopus’ Garden,” he plans to invite his “friends” to his new under-water hiding place; he describes it as a place where he and his friends could have fun and “shout and swim about,” away from the glare of the public eye. Being in the company of his friends was also the theme of an earlier song of his, “With A Little Help From My Friends”â€”actually one written by Lennon and McCartney and sung by Starr. “With A Little Help From MyFriends” reminds us that we all need a “little help” from our “friends” to make it through this life. Perhaps Starr did a little too much socializing and partying with his friends, as he eventually landed in alcohol rehab. The octopus, in “Octopus’ Garden” was, of course, Lennon and McCartney. If Lennon’s original title for “Eight Days A Week,” “Eight Arms To Hold You,” was any indication of the reach and breath of these songwriting giants, than Starr’s title is an appropriate one.
JOHN LENNON: SYMBIOTIC LOVE
John Lennon was essentially abandoned by both his parents by the time he was five. He was placed in the care of his aunt, Mimi, and had periodic contact with his mother, Julia, throughout his childhood, but never saw his father again until he was an adult. Mimi was, by all accounts, a judgmental and controlling woman who kept a close watch on John and provided him with, if not a warm, supportive home environment, a stable one. Julia was everything that Mimi was not, talented, creative and pretty, if somewhat flighty, but Mimi viewed her as immoral because of her having had a child out of wedlock. Thus, Lennon had two very different “objects” to integrate into his own identity. All Lennon knew, though, at the time, was that his mother and father had left him. As the evidence will show, these losses had devastating psychological and emotional consequences for him. Loss is the over-riding theme and burden to overcome in Lennon’s body of work, from “I’m A Loser” to “I’m Losing You.”
. . .
Mimi, according to Cynthia Lennon in her memoir of John, “found fault in everything he did” (John, 2005, p. 61) and “battered away at his self-confidence” (p.61). McCartney viewed her as “patronizing” and as someone who “would put you down with a . . . smile” (Miles, p. 44). Lennon, no doubt, invited some of the criticism with his rebellious and maladaptive behavior. Still, Cynthia Lennon believes that Mimi needlessly and cruelly “oppressed and hounded” him. In contrast to Harrison’s parents, who encouraged him in whatever he did and McCartney’s parents who admired his talents, Mimi disparaged John’s ambition to become a professional musicianâ€”“You’ll never make any money from it,” she famously said to him in reference to his guitarâ€”as well as a myriad of his other traits that she viewed as too-Julia like.
Many of the love-objects in Lennon’s songs are, not surprisingly, arrogant and boastful, from the girl who has “heard every sound” (from “And Your Bird Can Sing”) to the one who knows she’s “cool” and who “puts you down” (“Girl”)) to the one who “had” (from “Norwegian Wood”) him to “Mother Superior” (from “Happiness is a Warm Gun”) and he invariably feels diminished in their presence. One of the love-objects makes him feel like he’s “never been born” (“She Said She Said”), another like a “fool” (“Girl”). The narcissistic love-objects that Lennon portrays in these songs have Mimi’s prints on them, as do the self-invalidating interactions he has with them.
Mimi’s constant criticism may have been one source of Lennon’s variable self-esteem, which fluctuated between “high and low” (“Strawberry Fields Forever”), “God Almighty and a loser,” “genius and madman.” His grandiosity, which included his passing identification with Jesus, existed side by side by with a tendency towards merciless self-devaluation. It was, of course, galvanized and made more credible by his incredible fame. It clearly did not relate to the charitable ways he treated others. He could be quite hurtful to others with his barbs. Lennon was notorious, even before the Beatles, for mimicking handicapped people, “cripples.” He can be seen, in early concert footage, imitating the facial expression and movements of individuals with cerebral palsy. Perhaps he had achieved some insight into this insulting behavior when he wrote theâ€”post-Beatlesâ€”song, “Crippled Inside,” which refers to his own compromised psychological condition. There were other sources as well for his suspect self-esteem. One cannot overlook the impact of losing both his parents at an early age had on his self-esteem. And the constant stream of negative feedback he received from the school for his less than stellar academic performance could not have made him feel better about himself.
While the overriding theme in Lennon’s songs is loss, it is more accurate to say that the songs turn more on the act of being left by love-objects than on the actual experience of separateness or aloneness. Unlike McCartney, Lennon never actually addresses the experience of aloneness or separateness, as if it is too dreadful for him to even think about or too unworthy of his attention (McCartney, in contrast, confronts the experience of aloneness in such songs as “Eleanor Rigby” and “For No One,” but he writes about it as if it is something that fell to others, less fortunate than he). In “Ticket To Ride,” her “going away” leaves Lennon feeling “sad;” in “Tell Me Why,” the love-object has “left me sitting on my own;” in “I’ll Cry Instead,” he has “just lost” the one he loved and in “You Won’t Be Long,” he has been “so alone” since “she left me.” Given his history of being left by significant others in his life, it is not surprising that it was the act of being left that opened up, for him, the deepest wounds. Of course, he had reason to fear the prospect of functioning apart from the other. He fairly decompensated when he and Yoko separated in 1974.
John Lennon experienced loss as a narcissistic injury and great humiliation. His “I’m a Loser” represents the psychological consequence of loss for him. In his early songs, he is amazingly candid about the feelings of humiliationâ€”his hurt pride, people “laughing” or “staring” at himâ€”that paralyzed him in the face of loss or betrayal. In “If I Fell,” he asks her to “not hurt my pride” as his previous lover did. In “I’m A Loser,” he admits that “pride comes before a fall.” In “Yes It Is,” “It’s my pride” that makes him ask his new love not to “wear red” because it will remind him of a previous lover who jilted him. In “You Can’t Do That,” others would “laugh in my face” if they saw his girl talking to another boy. And in “You’ve Got To Hide Your LoveAway,” Lennon feels that “everywhere people stare” at him, the loser in love, and is sure that he “can see them laugh at me.” The Maharishi and “Sexy Sadie,” had “made a fool” of him, as did the love-object in “Girl” (“you feel a fool”).
Lennon was a quite competitive person who needed to win, whether in love, war, or even in a friendly professional rivalry (e.g. McCartney), in order to feel good about himself. It was important to him to be the leader and the best. As a child, he had, according to his aunt Mimi, “to be in charge” (quoted in Coleman, Lennon, 1984, p.23) when he played with his mates. He was the leader of the Beatles in their early days and led them in a cheer about going to the “toppermost” when they were down and out. In an early interview, Lennon referred to the Beatles being “on top,” a position that suited his narcissistic needs. He never really came to terms with McCartney’s rising star in the group in their later days. Lennon viewed himself as the Creator and Destroyer of the Beatles and gave what he believed was the final word on the Beatles: “I started the group. I disbanded it” (The Beatles Anthology, p.348). He was happy, though, to declare them, when all the stardust had settled, the best band in the world.
In almost all of his love songs, Lennon places himself in competition with another boy for the heart of the girl, a sign of his competitive nature. Jealousy invariably plays a role in the competition. He, in fact, admits he is a “jealous guy” in “Run For Your Life,”as he does in his post-Beatles song, “Jealous Guy.” In “This Boy,” another boy has stolen his love from him; in “You Can’t Do That,” he takes pleasure in others being jealous (“Everybody’s green”) of him; in “No Reply,” he asserts that he can love her better than anyone else can and in “You’re Going ToLose That Girl,” he threatens to “take her away” from him. Lennon is thrilled to have “won your love” in “You Can’t Do That,” but, in “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” he bemoans the fact that he “can never win.” In reviewing “all the loves” he has either “won or have lost” in “I’m A Loser,”, he concludes that this loss was the most devastating one.
Lennon, not surprisingly given his narcissistic vulnerability, could become vengeful in the face of loss or betrayal. In “Run For Your Life,” he threatens the love-object with unpleasant consequences should she betray his trust and in “I’ll Cry Instead,” he would “try and make her sad somehow,” if he could only rouse himself from his depression. Others, including the other three Beatles, were fearful of saying anything to him that might incur his wrath. McCartney was reluctant to engage the “rapier champion” (Miles, p.586) in personal confrontations. He felt the sting of the ex-Beatle’s attack in “How Do You Sleep,” asdid Harrison in“Serve Yourself” and “Rishikesh,” both songs which mock religious servitude.
A less obvious dynamic that is evident in Lennon’s life and music is his difficulty with leaving the love-object, ending the relationship. While still an aspect of his dependency, this particular psychological thread offers another way of looking at Lennon. He helplessly acknowledges, for example, in “I’ll Be Back,” “I wanna go/ But I hate to leave you.” In “Girl,” he wonders about “all the times I’ve tried so hard to leave her,” why he has been unable to carry it through. Lennon makes clear, in one of his early post-Beatles songs, “Mother,” that it was his father who “left me” and that he “never left” him. The wholly unsatisfying communication he has with the love-object, in “She Said She Said,” makes him feel he is “ready to leave.” Lennon’s bravado in “You Can’t Do That” (e.g. ”I’m going to leave you flat,” if you talk to another boy again) is not convincing, given his difficulty with leaving.
Lennon never really forgave McCartney for leaving the band first. While Lennon had been the first to announce his intention to leave, he still put off leaving, ostensibly, for business and professional reasons. Lennon had, in fact, been thinking about leaving the Beatles as early as 1966, but couldn’t find a good enough “reason” (The Beatles Anthology, 2000, p. 231) to justify his leaving. He concluded that he didn’t have the courage to take the decisive step. Similarly, he had put off divorcing Cynthia, after he had fallen in love with Yoko. Cynthia, in fact, was the one to initiate the legal proceedings, just as McCartney was the one to sue the Beatles for dissolution. Lennon labored, while he delayed divorcing Cynthia, to concoct a story to justify his leaving her, coming up with the lame one that she cheated on him. Steve Turner, in his book detailing the songs of the Beatles, Hard Day’s Write (1994), suggests that Lennon’s song, “Yer Blues,” expresses the personal torment (e.g. “wanna die”) he went through in deciding between his loyalty to Cynthia and his new love for Yoko (p.165). Lennon wrote it around the time he was struggling with that decision. Given the stark suicidality of that song, the repeated “wanna die,” it is reasonable to conclude that his current situation brought back old, repressed feelings around a traumatic situation he faced as a five-year-old. Lennon’s parents, who were separating at the time, asked him, all of five years old, to choose between them, to decide with whom he wanted to live. Lennon started towards his father and then ran, weeping, back to his mother. “YerBlues” is Lennon’s only Beatles song in which he mentions both his mother and father (“My mother was of the sky/ My father was of the earth”), which suggests he was reminded, by his present circumstances, of the time he was caught between his mother and father.
Lennon’s tendency to regress to symbiotic levels of functioning suggest that some of his symbiotic needs were met before the losses started piling up in his development. In many of his early love songs, he celebrates and re-creates the joys of love at a need-gratifying level. He and the love-object, in these songs, are perfectly attuned to each other’s needs and never fail to gratify. Lennon need only “tell” the love-object that he loves her, in “I Should Have KnownBetter,” for her to “say” she loves him “too.” In “All I’ve Got To Do,” all either he or the love-object have to do is “call” the other when he/she needs something and their needs will be met; in “Any Time At All”, all she has to do “is call” him and he’ll “be there;” in “From Me To You,” he will give her whatever she wants if she “just calls on” him, while in “I Call Your Name,” Lennon is dismayed to find that she doesn’t answer when he calls her. Lennon’s description of his and Yoko’s love as “limitless” in “Across The Universe” captures the essence of his symbiotic vision of love.
What is striking in these songs is Lennon’s use of “calling on” as the preferred means of getting one’s needs met in a relationship. “Calling on” suggests a symbiotic act and connection, a kind of verbal gestural behavior one or two developmental steps above mind-reading. For Lennon’s purposes, he or the love-object need only say the word or call on the other for his or her needs to be fulfilled. This type of interpersonal contact does illustrate the importance Lennon placed on verbal communication as a means of connecting with the love-object across the gap of space between them. In contrast to McCartney who was highly visual (e.g. “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Tell Me What You See”), Lennon responded best to verbal intercourse. He could be stirred by just “the word love” (“The Word”), thrilled by “words of love” (“Words of Love”) or “words” could be coming out “like endless rain” (“Across The Universe”) when he was newly in love.
The symbiotic side of Lennon is also represented in songs that proclaim his desperate need for her. Many of his later songs are soul baring musical events. His song, “I Want You,” is an unmistakable declaration of need. “All I want is you,” is Lennon’s one clear, anchored statement in an otherwise elusive song, “Dig a Pony;” “Come Together” is an anthem of togetherness. In “Don’t Let Me Down,” he has, finally, found a love that works and is moved by the depth of his need for her. Lennon’s creative juices are flowing, as Turner points out (p.177), in “Across theUniverse” (e.g. “words are flowing out/ Like endless rain”), but the song is about more than just the creative process, as Turner suggests. It is, to be precise, a song about how “limitless love” (“Across The Universe”) has opened him and his creative channels up, not unlike his love for Yoko, in “Oh My Love,” has made it possible, “for the first time in my life,” for him to “feel” and “see.”
The word and mind gamesâ€”“the grapefruit is in the sky” or something to that effectâ€”that Yoko played with Lennon when they first met intrigued him, and their relationship seems to have taken off from the letters they exchanged when he was in India on retreat. Lennon once said that the card, with just the word “yes” written on it, that Yoko gave him when they first met was a big factor in his attraction to her. John and Yoko are shown in the movie, Imagine, playing word association in bed. Yoko may well have reminded him of his mother, Julia. According to Julia Baird, Lennon’s half-sister, Lennon’s mother used to pepper her conversations with him with colorful descriptions of things, fueling his imagination (see Imagine This, 2007).
After Lennon was placed in the care of his aunt, the only contact he had with his mother was when she came to visit him. As he got older, he began to spend more time with her and her two daughtersâ€”his half-sistersâ€”at her house. Increasingly, Lennon went back and forth between his mother and his aunt, no doubt, pulled in opposite directions, all the while playing one off against the other. Many of his songs seem to relate to these early experiences. They express difficulty leaving or ending a relationship, being torn between two girls and second and third chances in love.
Ambivalent feelings are acted out in these songs about Love Redux rather than resolved through direct negotiations. In “Not A Second Time,” she is “back again,” and he is not sure if he should give her another chance, while in “I’ll Be Back,” he vows to be “back again” if she kicks him out. In that song, he had hoped that his leaving her would make her love him more. Lennon, reluctantly, gives the love-object a second chance (a “second time”) in “You Can’t Do That” to prove her faithfulness to him. These ambitendent behaviors eventually give way to the more mature expressions of ambivalence, seen in such songs as “If I Fell” and “I Should Have KnownBetter.”
Lennon once said he came to view his mother as an older sister or aunt, which suggests a weakening of his attachment to her. We can see a weakening of his ties to the love-object in his songs in Revolver. His songs, up until then, are imbued with the spirit of love and oneness as well as with the emotional devastation of loss. Then, on Revolver, and for a short time after, love-objects suddenly and sadly disappear from the landscape of his songs, replaced by confusion, misunderstanding and the “void.” Meanwhile, Harrison and McCartney’s songs still feature positive love-objects. Lennon did re-unite with his mother for a short time when he was an adolescent, but, tragically, she was killed in a car accident when he was seventeen. He played out this same scenario in the Beatles, re-fusing with Yoko in the latter stages of the their career.
“Tomorrow Never Knows,” for example, has Lennon “surrendering to the void” left by his parents’ abandoning him. With no one he can love and become attached to, he shuts down his “mind” and “floats downstream.” The communication he has with the love-object in “She SaidShe Said” leaves him feeling empty and misunderstood (“you don’t understand”). He feels misunderstood in “And Your Bird Can Sing”as well and says to the love-object, “you can’t hear me.” “Misunderstanding all you see” is Lennon’s dispirited conclusion in “Strawberry FieldsForever.” It is little wonder then, that his attraction to Yoko was grounded in the strong mental connection he had with her.
Lennon’s sense of reality-relatedness is put to the test by his interactions with narcissistic love-objects and with others who don’t understand him. In “Strawberry Fields Forever,” he implies that all the misunderstanding, to which he has been subject in his life, has left him thinking, “Nothing is real.” While he hovers on the border between reality and un-reality, in that song, he never loses his grip on reality and can tell “when it’s a dream”â€”just as, in “I’m Only Sleeping,” where he is “keeping an eye on the world going by,” while he daydreams.
PAUL McCARTNEY: IDEALIZED LOVE
Paul McCartney grew up in an intact family, but his mother died when he was fourteen. Mary McCartney was a dedicated nurse-midwife, efficient homemaker and nurturing mother. She was admired by all. It is not surprising then that McCartney would idealize her and what she representedâ€”love, kindness and nurturingâ€”as well. That she died just as he began to separate as an adolescent only made him long for her more and long to be re-united with the love-object. His first wife, Linda, seems to have been the sort of woman that Mary had been, self-sacrificing, long-suffering, kind and nurturing. If Lennon’s maternal model was a “Mother Superior,” then McCartney’s mother model was a “Mother Mary” (from “Let it Be”) and “Lady Madonna” (from “Lady Madonna”). McCartney was looking for a “kind girl,” one who would devote all her time and attention to him. McCartney’s mother was a nurse-mid-wife, someone, therefore, who cared for others and his first wife, Linda, was a photographer, someone who took pictures of others.
McCartney’s brother was born when he was around eighteen months old, and shortly thereafter his mother went back to work. McCartney probably experienced these events as a loss or, at the least, an unwelcome disruption of the status quo. He used his talent for charming others as a way of redressing this particular developmental grievance, of reaching mother. As Salewicz notes in his biography, McCartney (1986), Paul “attempted to turn in his direction the . . . torrential floods of pure love” (p.19) going the way of his younger brother. In many of his early songs, he is engaged in a campaign to “get to” the love-object, we may assume, through his charm and persistence. He vows he is going to “get to” her somehow in “Michelle;” in “Tell Me What You See,” he is doing his best to “get to” to the resistant love-object and in “I’ll Get You,” he is sure he will “get her in the end.” “The Long and Winding Road” has him persevering, through thick and thin, in his effort to “get to your door.” McCartney is about to explode in “You Won’t See Me” because he “can’t get through” to the love-object. Thus, whereas Lennon viewed the courting process as a competition, McCartney viewed it as an exercise in getting to, charming and persuading, the love-object, more in line with his workman-like approach to life and faith in his powers of manipulation.
McCartney evidences, in many of his songs, a wish to restore the status quo ante in relationships changing in ways not to his liking. In “Yesterday,”he merely “longs” for the past, while in “The Night Before” and “Get Back” he attempts to coerce the other back into the fold. In “The NightBefore,” he demands that the love-object “treat me like you did the night before;” in “Get Back,” he orders the object of the song (could have been Lennon) “back to where you once belonged.” McCartney is caught off guard and badly hurt by these changes in the status quo and his first reaction is to act to reverse them.
McCartney was clearly threatened by change and, in particular, by sudden and unforeseen changes. He never seems, in his songs, to see the change coming and so is caught by surprise. And being surprised, he is thrown into a state. In “The Night Before,” he doesn’t understand why the love-object, who loved him the “night before,” has “changed” her mind.” In “I’mLooking Through You,” he “thought” he “knew” her and so feels betrayed by her sudden change of heart. He therefore concludes that “love has a nasty habit of disappearing over-night.” The changes of heart, in both these songs, have occurred overnight and without forewarning. His life has also changed “suddenly” in “Yesterday,” changed by the love-object’s (his mother, by all accounts) leaving him. McCartney’s playful, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” is his way of hammering home the point that your life can change in an instant. It is a cartoon in song about one, Maxwell, who is taken with the idea of “creeping up from behind” and decking unsuspecting victims.
McCartney’s sensitivity and vulnerability to sudden, unforeseen changes in his life and loves very likely springs from repressed feelings relative to the sudden and unexpected death of his mother. Mary McCartney died within weeks of her cancer diagnosis, on the operating table, and it appears that neither Paul nor his brother had any inkling of the seriousness of her illness. Another explanation for his vulnerability to changes is that, in idealizing the love-object and romanticizing their love, McCartney turned a blind eye to the changing realities in a relationship and, specifically, to changes in the love-object’s feelings. As he proudly notes, in “Things WeSaid Today,” the fact that “we may be blind” doesn’t deter them from committing to the relationship.
These sudden and unforeseen changes were the bane of McCartney’s love life. Rather than take responsibility for his failure to see them coming, he accuses the love-object of lying to him. In “The Night Before,” he wonders whether she was “telling lies” the night before; in “I’m Down.” he has been humiliated by the “lies” she has told him; he “thought” he “knew” her in “I’m Looking Through You,” only to find he really didn’t, all of which suggests he believes that the love-object had been lying to him. McCartney brushesasideothers’ warning that she may be “foolin” him, in“She’s A Woman,” and chooses to believe that she will “give meâ€¦all her time.” One can’t help but think about, in this regard, his current domestic woes. Marrying the younger Heather Mills, not four years after the death of Linda, he now finds himself involved in a divorce battle with huge sums of money at stake. His daughter, Stella, reportedly, warned him off this union, one of an older, incomprehensibly wealthy man with a younger woman.
McCartney, like Lennon, rarely accepted any responsibility for a loss. Where Lennon asks rhetorically, “What have I done to deserve such a fate” (“I’m a Loser”), McCartney doesn’t know “why you should want to hide” in “You Won’t See Me.” In the same spirit of ignorance, he doesn’t understand, in “I’m Looking Through You,” why the love-object’s feelings for him have changedâ€”“why, tell me why, did you not treat me right.” And he doesn’t “know,” in “Yesterday,” “why she had to go.” In that last mentioned song, he does take some responsibility for her leaving, suggesting that it may have had something to do with something he said (“wrong”), but, given that the song is about the sudden passing of his mother when he was fourteen years old, it is not surprising that he would still feel some guilt over something he may have said to her and later regretted.
Paul McCartney had a great capacity to ameliorate a loss, to turn it into a gain (see Mellers, p.51). He is able to use the comforting internal images he has of his nurturing mother to comfort him when he is hurting (e.g. “Let It Be”), as well as in the service of consoling others who were in pain. In “Blackbird,” he gently urges the “broken” bird to “arise” and “learn to fly” again. He guides the broken-hearted Julian Lennon, whose parents were divorcing at the time, through the healing process in “Hey Jude,” If one is to “take a sad song/And make it better,” in McCartney’s view, he must begin by “letting” mother or the love-object into his “heartâ€”internalizing her. He found great comfort in a dream he had, in “Let It Be,” in which his mother, “Mary,” spoke reassuringly to him. Mellers points out that the song, “I’ll Follow The Sun,” is also about ameliorating a loss because he is leaving his “rain(y)” days behind and heading towards the sun (p. 51).
McCartney’s ability to maintain an optimistic outlook on life is due, in part, to his selective memory. Even when he confronts a difficult situation, he takes away the parts of it most favorable to him. In “The Night Before,” for example, he chooses to “remember” the no-longer gratifying love-object by the way she was “last night.” He reminds Lennon, in “Two Of Us,” that despite their differences, they had “memories” and, in “Here Today,” his tribute to Lennon song, he asks him to remember the “the night we cried,” as evidence of their closenessâ€”and forget the rest.
McCartney was more conscious of class distinctions than Lennon. He notes, for example, in “I’m Looking Through You,” that the love-objectâ€”Jane Asher, from an upper-class British familyâ€”was “above” him when they first met. McCartney’s mother instilled in him the idea and virtue of “bettering” himself. She wanted to move her family up the class ladder and reproved Paul when he spoke in the fashion of the more plebian local dialect. The need and wish to better himself is a theme and imperative that runs through McCartney’s music. Whereas Lennon wanted to be the best, number one, McCartney aspired to be better than, to improve his lot in life and perfect his craft. He strove to better himself when he lived with Jane Asher and her family, acquainting himself with some of the great works of Western culture. In “Here There andEverywhere,” a song dedicated to Jane, McCartney seeks to “live a better life.” “It’s GettingBetter” has him learning from his youthful mistakes and growing into a more mature person and the burden of “Hey Jude” is to “make” things “ better.”
One of the many ways in which Lennon and McCartney were different was in the way they connected best with the love-object across the gap of space. Lennon, as we have seen, was aroused by verbal intercourse. McCartney, on the other hand, could be excited by visual contact with the love-object and relied heavily on the visual modality of communication in his relationships with loved ones. He is thrilled by the mere sight of the love-object in “I Saw HerStanding There” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” In “I’m Looking ThroughYou,” he is reading her visually and not liking what he sees. McCartney is ready to jump out of his skin in“You Won’tSee Me,” while in “Tell Me What You See,” he is confident he can bring her over to his side if she will only “look into my eyes.” McCartney is carefully “watching her eyes,” hoping to see love in them, in “Here, There and Everywhere,” but is sad to report that he sees “nothing” “in her eyes” in “For No One.” In “The Night Before,” he feels he has been deceived by the love-object who had “love” in her “eyes the night before,” but no trace of it in her eyes on the following day. Love, for the romantic Beatle, did not require a profound mental connection. It could, in fact, be communicated visually. Thus, he could be “deep in love,” but not have “a lot to say” (“Things WeSaid Today”).
More than anything else, McCartney idealized love. He was truly one of the last great romantics. He believed in the possibility of perfect and undying love, in contradistinction to the spirit of free love of the day. Real love, for McCartney, lasts forever. “We’ll go on and on,” he writes in “Things We Said Today”; love will “never die” in “And I Love Her”; he and the love-object both believe “love never dies” in “Here There and Everywhere”; love is for “forever” in “She’s AWoman” and he will always be “true” in “All My Loving.”
The romantic Beatle also idealizes the love-object. In “Here There and Everywhere,” she need only “wave” her “wand” to “change his life” and cure him of whatever ails him. The mother of “Let It Be,” “Mother Mary,” is also the model for his song, “Lady Madonna,” which depicts the mother as a super-woman, able to perform feats of domestic wonder. In “Your Mother ShouldKnow,” McCartney defers to the wisdom of mothers everywhere. McCartney’s own mother, who was a self-sacrificing, nurturing caretaker and efficient household manager, was the model for what he was looking for in a woman. Lennon provides us with another, less flattering, take on McCartney’s idealization of the love-object, casting it as his readiness to “jump when your mama tell you anything” (“How Do You Sleep?”).
GEORGE HARRISON: LOVE OF GOD
George Harrison was an independent-minded child who would grow into an adult who was highly individualistic and protective of his boundaries. He grew up in an intact and loving family. He was the youngest of four, just as he was the youngest of four in the Beatles. As the youngest in his family and, according to his sister-in-law, Irene Harrison, a “trusting, soft-hearted person” (quoted in Harrison, p.26), he was “doted on” and over-protected by the others in his family. The young Harrison, though, was determined to do things on his own, even insisting on running errands for his mother, when he was six or seven, without assistance. The Beatles served as another arena, similar in some respects, but not always supportive, for him to play out his drive to declare his independence.
Harrison’s parents did not put up much of a fight when it became apparent that they had a strong-willed son as an opponent. In fact, they were, according to Irene Harrison, “tolerant” and encouraging, “not the sort of Mum and Dad who would stop their children from being themselves” (quoted in Harrison, p.26). It was, perhaps, his parents’ support and open-mindedness that encouraged Harrison to cultivate his own identity as well as explore other ways of being in the world. Still, his parents and older sister worried about him because he was so trusting and because he had a tendency to give away money (he didn’t have) to “tramps” he encountered on the street (he would, later, be the organizer of the first ever benefit rock concert, the one to benefit the starving refugees of Bangladesh). Harrison was, thus, exposed to conflicting messages in his childhood, one that saw him as “vulnerable” and in need of protection and the other that saw him as creative and intelligent and, therefore, in need of space to develop in his self-chosen ways. This dynamic would produce contradictory trendsâ€”religious and individualistic onesâ€”in his personality.
The Harrisons were not wealthy. Living in cramped quarters, Harrison came to hate “nosy neighbors” and mothers who gossiped. Perhaps, it was the lack of physical privacy in his growing up that caused him to become so resentful of intrusions into his individual space. He hated the gossip and other intrusions into his life that came with fame and became, as he got older, more secretive and withdrawn. Giuliano subtitled his biography, Dark Horse (1989), The Secret Life of George Harrison. Harrison planted Keep Out signs all around his estate at Friar’s Park and installed state of the art security technology. The bitter irony is, of course, that he was almost killed by a knife-wielding intruder into his house.
Jumping forward, for a moment, to his Beatle days, Harrison repeatedly refers to the frustration he felt over the intrusions into his individual space during his Beatle days. The Beatles were “doomed,” he writes in his memoir, I Me Mine, because they had no “space” (p.39). He summed up his experiences as a Beatle in his memoir in this way: “What an intrusion into our lives” (p.38). Harrison welcomed the “space” to work at his own pace and inclination after the Beatles broke up. He would even couch his reaction to the murder of John Lennon in spatial terms, giving a statement that began, “This perpetual encroachment into other people’s space is taken to the limit with the use of a gun” (quoted in Guiliano, p.167).
While it is true that his parents gave him the encouragement and space to develop in his own way, they did not intend a license for him to be irresponsible. There was, also, a co-existing message, probably coming from his father, of taking responsibility for your own life and welfare and of not depending on others. His father emphasized the importance of not getting in debt to anyone. As an adolescent, Harrison hated accepting what he considered “charity” from anyone and it fairly killed him to ask his brother for money to buy a guitar. The theme of self-relianceâ€”counter to the Beatle dynamicâ€”runs through many of Harrison’s works and personal statements.
Harrison grew away from the other as he developed, perhaps too far away. As an adolescent, he would spend many hours walking alone along side the River Mersey (see Beatles Anthology, p.26). Olivia Harrison, his second wife, notes that he struggled with “feelings of isolation” throughout his life (p.3). Independent-minded, he “hated being dictated to” (quoted in Guiliano, p.9) by teachers and other authority figures whom he thought stupid. In one of his last songs, he would refer to his education as a “brainwashing” (“Brainwashed”). It would later become apparent that he had a great thirst for knowledge and that he listened intently to those whom he believed had something to teach him. He became a student, par excellence, of the Maharishi and other masters, including Lennon and McCartney.
Harrison was not, as an adolescent, particularly interested in forming close relationships with others. In one of his early post-Beatles songs, he reveals how he viewed close relationships: “Attachment only . . . hurts you,” he writes in “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me,” adding that it can only lead to “complications” and “aggravations.” Still, Harrison remained an optimist and someone who believed in himself. “If you believe in you/ Everything you thought is possible,” he writes in “If You Believe,” implying that you don’t need any other to achieve your goals. That song betrays Harrison’s underlying optimism, a tendency that Lennon and McCartney had in no small degree as well. McCartney might have changed the lyric to “If you believe in perfect and eternal love” and Lennon to “If you believe that love and oneness were synonymous.” Harrison, just as absolutely as he believed in himself believed in the Almighty and, in fact, would meet his dependency needs through his attachment to God-Krishna.
Harrison gives us this strange statement of his personal philosophy in I Me Mine: “You can’t control anything. You have to guard things the best you can, but there is nothing much you can do, except to try to keep unattached” (p.36-7). It sums up two of the main, contradictory trends in his personality: his belief in the individual’s ability to direct his own life and his belief that the individual is powerless over the fates. With regard to the latter, he was prepared to concede that there was a space, within and outside himself, for events to occur and forces to operate outside his control. The point of his song, “All Things Must Pass,” is that there are some things you can’t controlâ€”and, therefore, there is nothing you can do but submit to themâ€”and he uses the cyclical forces of nature to illustrate that point. “Too many troubles you can’t control,” he writes in “If You Believe.” All this may explain why Harrison was, by all accounts, a quite calm individual, even in stressful circumstances, possessed of a dry and ironic wit.
Harrison’s early songs, “Don’t Bother Me’ and “You Like Me Too Much,” suggest he wants to be left alone or, at least, given some space. The titles of the above-mentioned songs, however, belie the psychological dynamics represented in them. While “Don’t Bother Me” and “You LikeMe Too Much” appear to be about resisting the advances of an over-dependent love-object, as does his later, “It’s All Too Much,” Harrison happily remains in the relationship in all of them. In “Don’t Bother Me,” he tells a friend or loverâ€”it isn’t clear whichâ€”to “leave me alone,” while giving short shrift to the fact that he is attached to another who has just left him. In “You Like Me Too Much,” he concedes that, despite the love-object’s dependency on him, he will “never leave” her. Harrison feels overwhelmed by the love “shining all around” him in “It’s AllToo Much,” but he still feels held in its orbit of oneness (e.g. “ . . . I’m everywhere”). These songs seem to cry out for the establishment of boundaries, but Harrison imposes none. They imply the presence of ambivalent feelings, but he is either not aware of them or is unable to admit them. Thus, the songs hover in a kind of no-man’s land between oneness and separateness.
“Think For Yourself” is the first song in which Harrison features his most defining quality, his individualism. In that song, he is no longer willing to stay in an over-mortgaged relationship and rejects the empty promises being made by the love-object. He is no longer willing to “just close our eyes” and hope that love will succeed, which suggests he is getting on to the trap that one can step into in relationships based on illusions. Harrison needs the love-object, in “Think ForYourself,” to rely more on herself. Leaving her “far behind,” detaching, but not wishing her ill, he encourages her to learn from her mistakes. His advice to her, “rectify all that you should,” echoes the advice he gives in “Sour Milk Sea,” “find where you’ve gone wrong.” None of these pieces of advice are out of keeping with what he would expect of himself.
The psychological development in his songs parallels that in his personal life. His first wife, Pattie, was a loving, very loyal, probably dependent girlâ€”probably, not unlike the one in “YouLike Me Too Much”â€”who, at first, molded herself into his expectations and tolerated his possessiveness. At some point, though, she realized that that approach was not working for her and went back to work as a model. Harrison’s attraction to her, suggested in his songs, was based on simple dynamics, in keeping with his favoring an uncomplicated approach to relationships. In his song, “For You Blue,” for example, “all” the love-object has “to do” is “look” at him for his love to grow. When that simple approach failedâ€”Pattie was looking for much moreâ€”Harrison blamed himself. Olivia, his second wife, was more independent and less needy than Pattie and their relationship seems to have been grounded in a dynamic more to his liking, that of two people getting together, who are able to stand alone.
Harrison’s “Me” songsâ€”“Don’t Bother Me,” “You Like Me Too Much”â€”give way to “I” songs on Revolver, indicating that he is beginning to take responsibility for his own feelings and needs. Thus, in “I Need You,” “I Want To Tell You” and “If I Needed Someone,” he is no longer just protecting his individual space, he is also actively approaching the love-object. We see Harrison, for the first time, admitting and attempting to resolve his ambivalence and come to terms with loss and its consequences, aloneness and separateness. Around this time in the Beatles’ development, Harrison’s drive to individuate meets his drive to unite with the love-object; ambivalence and indecision result.
He was, at this time, turning inward as he grew apart from the other and one of the consequences of that trend was that he was finding it harder to read the emotional signals sent to him by the love-object. As it was, Harrison tended to live in his head and was not particularly attuned to his or others’ feelings. (We have seen that it was more important for him to “know” something than to feel something.) He needs the love-object to “hang a sign” (from “Love You Too”) on him or to “carve your number on my wall” (from “If I Needed Someone”) to alert him of her interest in him. His marriage to Pattie had fallen apart because he had become absorbed in his religious study and practiceâ€”“all he was doing was meditating” (Clapton quote in Guiliano, p.124)â€”and did not notice that Pattie was feeling ignored and neglected.
Harrison admits his need for the love-object in “I Need You” and admits he will be “hurt” and “lonely,” if she leaves him. But, he doesn’t seem to understandâ€”“I didn’t realize”â€”what has caused her disaffection in the relationship, but we can infer from the song that he did not show her often enough that he loved her. The line, “You don’t realize how much I need you,” suggests that Harrison had, as was his tendency, denied his dependency needs and, therefore, could not have conveyed them to the love-object. In “I Want To Tell You,” he approaches the love-object, but then backs off, confused, not sure she would “understand” him. Not one to be pushed or rushed into a decision, he decides that he could “wait forever” to make his next move. “If INeeded Someone” seems, at first glance, to be a statement of Harrison’s counter-dependency, but upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that he is speaking to a potential lover. He is, in fact, already involved with another girl and “too much in love” with her to start a new relationship. He tells the one around whom the song revolves, as consolation, that she “would be the one” he would call if he were a free man. The best he can offer her at this point is, “Maybe you will get a call from me.” Thus, both the love-object in this song and the one in “I Want ToTell You” are made to wait and are, thereby, placed in a dependent position. Waiting is what Pattie, his first wife, did a lot of as well. Guillano notes, in his biography of Harrison, “Pattie did a lot of waiting” (p.142), while George attended to his music and devotions.
George Harrison sought intellectual and spiritual solutions to the problems he experienced in his life. Feelings take a back seat to mind and spirit in Harrison’s psychic structure and, even if feelings mattered more to him, he was not particularly adept at identifying what they were. He speaks about whole and multi-varied experiences in global terms, as either good or bad, o.k. or not o.k., apparently unable to break his reactions down into specific feelings.. In his view, “Liverpool was o.k,” “The Beatles were more good than evil,” “Brian Epstein was good,” “the sitar was good” (all in Harrison, 1980). His view of life as a “series of knots” that had to be “untied” one at a time (p.180-1) was not one that lent itself to exploration of his feelings. To the most cerebral Beatle, life was a “jigsaw puzzle,” and he believed that Eastern philosophy and religion held the keys to “putting all these little pieces together” (quoted in Guiliano, p.95).
Harrison was a passionate believer in personal responsibility and individual choice. “Everyone has choices,” he begins, in his song, “Run of The Mill” and continues, “It’s you that decides which way you will turn.” The moral of his song, “Horse To The Water,” is that each person must take the decisive step himself. The power to choose also included, in Harrison’s mind, the obligation to take responsibility for the bad choices one makes. In “Run of The Mill,” he reminds us that when you make unwise choices“you will have no one but yourself to be offended.” “No one will carry the blame for you,” is Harrison’s advice, in that song, to those who would blame others for their own failings.
Harrison’s expansive view of the self, a view nurtured by his parents’ belief in him, included the idea that a person can accomplish whatever he wants to, if he applies himself diligently enough to the task. “Go do it,” he advises in “Love Comes To Everyone,” referring to any step that one had to take to accomplish a goal. One of the goals he set for himself was to “perfect his soul” and become a “perfect entity” (Harrison, p.181)â€”through prayer, faith, and meditation. These goals were not mere fantasies for Harrison. He truly believed it was possible to achieve spiritual perfection and, in so doing, to be “brought back” (“Art of Dying”) after death, re-incarnated.
There was, however, a downside to his hyper-individuality and perfectionism. For one, he suffered from feelings of guilt. In fact, he had the Beatle market on guilt cornered. Shapiro reports that Harrison was “beside himself with guilt” (p.122) after the break-up of his marriage, undoubtedly blaming himself for his failure to be attuned to Pattie’s needs. He also could be his own worst critic when it came to his work. We have seen that he was able to take responsibility for his failings in a relationship, but it is quite likely that, given his brooding nature and the demands he made of himself, that he was too hard on himself. Another consequence of his hyper-individualityâ€”and counter-dependencyâ€”was chronic “feelings of isolation” (Harrison, p.3).
Like Kafka, Harrison tended to view himself, in some circumstances at least, as small and powerless. Whether he ever reflected on the contradiction between that perception of himself and his belief in the unlimited powers of the self, I don’t know. Harrison once said that, through his spiritual meditations, he became aware of feeling “very tiny,” which mirrored the “frightening” experience he “used to have when [he] was . . . a kid” of feeling “very tiny” (quoted in Doggett, p. 62). In his statements of his personal philosophy, he frequently refers to his “little i” which he juxtaposes against the “Big I” of the Transcendental Consciousness (Harrison, p.158). And, in “Within You Without You,” he writes that we are “only really very small.” It is left to us to sort out this curiosity of his personality. Perhaps he experienced himself as small and inconsequential in relation to an omnipotent deity. Perhaps, it was the strong sense of his separateness that made him feel small; perhaps it was the sense of powerlessness that he often felt that made him feel small and insignificant.
Harrison, the individualist, came to hate the more crass manifestations of that individualism: greed, materialism and selfishness. His song, “I Me Mine,” is a lament for what he believed were the self-absorbed ways in which the four were behaving at the time. In his notes about that song, he refers to an epiphany he had about that time that filled him with disgust: When he realized “everything . . . .was relative to my ego . . . like that’s my piece of paper, that’s my flannel. It drove me crackers. I hated everything about my ego” (Harrison, p. 158). He dedicated the rest of his life to the renunciation of selfish desires and acts, notwithstanding his purchase of the massive estate, Friar’s Park. Harrison even viewed the telling of his story as hubris. “What right do I have to write a book,” he wonders in I Me Mine, (p.36), no doubt seeing such an exercise as yet another example of one of the most malignant forces in the universe, “ego.” Olivia Harrison notes that the mature Harrison tried to live his life in accord with the Eastern belief that the “Spirit . . . belonged to everyone and to no-one . . . and nothing is mine” (p.1).
Harrison viewed Lennon and McCartney as greedy and selfish when it came to deciding which songs would go on an album. He, ironically, suggests, in “Not Guilty,” that they might be a bit “under-fed” to have such a voracious appetite for album space. Harrison contrasts their voraciousness, in that song, with his simple needs, writing, “I only want what I can get.” In the same spirit of over-consumption, “Piggies” is a metaphor for over-fed, self-satisfied individuals who take and think only of themselves. In a post-Beatles song, “Beware of Darkness,” Harrison warns us to “beware of greedy leaders” who can lead us astray.
Those who tried to control, mold or manipulate him also came in for a “whacking” (“Piggies”) in Harrison’s songs and his personal statements. As we have seen, he hated being told what to do, think, or believe. He came to experience his life as a test of his ability to maintain his purity in the face of all the corruption around him. He, apparently, didn’t feel that the Hindu religion required him to give up his sense of self or his individual space. Harrison warns us, in “Love YouToo,” to beware of those who will “fill you in with their sins”; in “While My GuitarGently Weeps,” he regrets his having been “bought and sold.” Harrison blasts, in an uncharacteristically angry song, the offending agents of control of his youth, the church, the school and the government, in “Brainwashed.” Brainwashed is another way of saying that he was being “filled in” with the “sins” of others.
Harrison came to believe that most of what he was exposed to in Western culture was toxic. He developed an almost phobic reaction to the “pollution” and “contaminants” he believed poisoned both the material world and the man-made world. “We have been polluted so long,” he writes in “Awaiting On You All.” He states, in the Beatles Anthology book, “Although we are made of God we can’t reflect God because of all the pollution that’s gathered along the way” (p.263). Harrison hoped to “purify” himself and his “consciousness” through prayer and devotion or, in psychoanalytic terms, to extroject all the bad objects that had gathered within. In a letter he wrote to followers of Krishna, he writes, “ . . . the God-HESelf realization is the process by which we purify our consciousness” (printed in Guiliano, p.130). The obsessive-compulsive elements in his personal philosophy are self-evident.
Harrison may well have been acting out some dangerous psychological script in his desire to achieve purity and perfection. Given his near solipsism, his rejection of the selfish motive can be seen as an attempt to disown a dominant trend in his personality. In the early 1970’s, he became very thin, to the point of endangering his health. While others encouraged him to seek treatment, he hoped to achieve a cure through chanting mantras of Krishna. He led an ascetic, almost monastic life, when he wasn’t over-indulging in drugs or fixing up his estate at Friar’s Park. Thus, the Beatle who preached self-reliance practiced a life of self-denial and self-sacrifice cloaked in religious piety. There were anorectic over-tones to this script. He could very well have been displacing onto food his desire not to be “filled in” with or controlled by others’ “sins” and propaganda.
Gluttony, not surprisingly, was one target of disapprobation. The parsimonious Beatle cautions against partaking of “too much” of the desserts of life and love in his song, “It’s All Too Much,” while in “Savoy Truffle,” he warns against over-indulging your sweet tooth, for you will become what “what you eat”â€”namely tooth-decayed. The pigs in “Piggies” “eat their bacon.” Harrison himself tried to follow a strict vegetarian diet. In keeping with the ideal of moderation, abstained from any sexual relations with his first wife, Pattie, that were not in the service of reproduction. This was one of the reasons why Pattie grew disenchanted with their marriage.
The contradictions in Harrison’s personality were most pronounced in the area of boundaries. While he was highly protective of his boundaries in his interpersonal functioning, he believed and prayed as if there were no boundaries that could not be overcome. His materiality was of less interest to him than his spirituality. He ignored signs of his physical condition and chanted mantras, rather than see a doctor, when he was seriously ill. He believed that “there will come a time/When most of us return here” (“Art of Dying”), that is, be reincarnated. His reaction to the death of Brian Epstein, “There is no such thing as death,” reflects his view of life as continuous and unbounded. And when his mother passed away, he took great comfort in Krishna’s prayer for the dead, “Nor having once been does one ever cease to be,” a meditation that denies the boundaries between life and death. Finally, Harrison was painfully aware of and troubled by dualities, viewing them as obstacles to spiritual enlightenment, and endeavored to overcome them by intense meditation and selfless living.
Harrison was, in the final analysis, a study in contradictions and compartmentalizations. He compartmentalized contradictory aspects of himself and detached himself from painful feelings. In his song about the break-up of his marriage to Pattie, “So Sad,” he resolves to “shelve” that relationship and move on. The most independent-minded Beatle, he remained devoted to God-Krishna throughout his adult life. He encourages us to take control of our lives, to act before it is too late, but seems to chronically put off acting.
In his mind, Harrison separated the religious from the material worldâ€”he recognizes the necessity of the material world in his song, “Living In The Material World”â€”just as he separated truth from illusion and light from darkness. Despite the gray areas he sometimes inhabited, Harrison saw the world in black and white. He asks us to choose between truth, which, for him, is a religious truth, and illusion, which is everything materialistic and impermanent. In “Beware of Darkness,” he advises us to look out for “maya’ (illusion), while in “Inner Light” and “The Light That Lighted The World,” he points us towards the light.
Harrison was a kindred spirit to Lennon in several respects. Both men were engaged in a search for the truth, but, for Lennon, it was his personal truth, while, for Harrison, it was the ultimate, transcendent truth of human existence. Believing in something or someone was important to both of them: Lennon “just believes in me/ Yoko and me” (“God”); Harrison believes in God and Krishna. The nobility of their quests, however, was somewhat diminished by the illusions they were chasing. Lennon’s belief that he could be made whole again through his attachment to Yoko was more wishful thinking than reality-based cognition. Harrison’s hope of ameliorating his sense of aloneness in the world and bitter disillusionment with the material world through religious faith and knowledge of the Truth was well intentioned, but misguided.
RINGO STARR: SENTIMENTAL LOVE
The salient fact of Starr’s childhood was repeated hospitalizations for various illnesses, including peritonitis and tuberculosis. Adding to the bleakness of his childhood was his family’s poverty. Starr’s hospitalizations extended for long periods of time, effectively taking him out of the mainstream of life. His mother appears to have been a constant and loving presence in his life, but his father abandoned him. He missed out on normal childhood activities and relationships as a result of his hospitalizations. He attended school infrequently and didn’t learn to read or write until he was eight. Dropping out of school at around thirteen or fourteen, he embarked on a life as a laborer.
Starr was always behind in school and, according to him, the school made no effort to help him make up the work he missed. Naturally, he grew discouraged and lost interest in school. The school barely noticed him even when he was present and couldn’t remember his ever having been there when he went to get to his certificate for dropping out. Most likely, he also found himself an outsider in the social arena, as well, confronted with already formed cliques when he returned to school following his hospitalizations. These were Starr’s first experiences of functioning on the periphery of life, of feeling that life was “passing” him by.” He was the last to join the Beatles and, thus, had to find his way into that set as well.
Self-conscious about his limited education and vocabulary, Starr kept quiet, unless spoken to first, when he was amongst more educated types, including the other Beatles. Perhaps Lennon and McCartney sensed this about him when they wrote the lyric, for him to sing, “What would you do if I sang out of tune?” (“With A Little Help From My Friends”) We can speculate that he developed his talent for being the clown to compensate for his verbal deficits. “I don’t like to talk,” he said to an interviewer in the early days of the Beatles. Barrow described him, in his book, The Real Beatles Story (2005), as surprisingly “reticent” (p.59). Acting provided him with another way of expressing himself, although one of his films, Caveman, featured him with no dialogue, only grunts and groans. Barrow refers to Starr’s talent for “silent slapstick . . . and miming” in his observations of the four Beatles. The reticent drummer, also, had an aptitude for mechanics and was able to take apart and put back together a car engine (Clayson, p.25).
It was Starr’s good-humoredness and quick-wittedness that first endeared him to the Beatles. Starr also had in his favor the ability to get along with others and, particularly important to Lennon and McCartney, the willingness to stay in the background, as drummer and Beatle. Starr believed that the drummer should follow the lead of the other musicians in the band and should not “interrupt the song” (p.42). He had no great need to do solos. His approach to drumming, it seems, mirrored his personal way of relating. As he once said, “I go along with whatever is happening” (p.342).
Being hospitalized for long periods of time may not have been a wholly negative experience for Starr. He may have avoided much of the cruelty that often passes as childhood, while enjoying the warmth of his caretakers and nurses. Starr was not opposed to invoking his delicate constitution when it suited his needs. On the other hand, he had to endure many moments of leave-taking (his mother’s) as a result of his long hospitalizations and spent many sad hours alone and apart from the ones he loved. Starr certainly didn’t have the edge or chip that Lennon, McCartney and Harrison had, although he was angry with his father for leaving him. Perhaps he developed empathy for others as a result of his repeated illnesses as a child. And he learned to play the drums when he was in the hospital.
Lennon, McCartney and Harrison had been together for four or five years before Starr joined the band. That dynamic re-created, for Starr, the conditions of his development. Just as he had often found himself in the position of having to catch up as a child, both socially and academically, he had to adapt quickly to the already formed culture of the Beatles. Having had some experience with that particular predicament, he adapted well. He once said about his initial entrance into the Beatle clique, “It was like joining a new class at school, where everybody knew everybody, but me” (quoted in Clayson, p. 86).
Still, Starr clearly felt left out of the inner circle. That was probably not a problem for him as long as he didn’t feel “unloved.” In his song, “Don’t Pass Me By,” he expresses hurt feelings around being passed over. He tells the love-object, in that song, “You’ll never know it hurt me so,” which suggests he had been keeping his feelings to himself. He kept his hurt feelings to himself as well when the other Beatles left him out of the mixâ€”only to surprise them by, temporarily, leaving the group in 1968, the first Beatle to opt out. In “Don’t Pass Me By,” Starr wonders whether her not arriving on time “mean[s] you don’t love me anymore.” The song elicits our sympathy because it has Starr waiting breathlessly, watching the “clock,” for his girl to arrive
Starr was, at heart, a soft hearted and sentimental person. As a child, he would “[weep] when scolded” by an adult” (p 24). His “hangdog” expression betrayed an underlying weepiness and, we might add, elicited the sympathy and care-taking instincts of thousands of young girls. Starr says, in The Beatles Anthology, “it took me till I was forty-eight to realize” that he was quite an “emotional” person (p. 356). He had a problem with alcohol for years, and one can’t help but wonder whether a tendency towards self-pity and an inclination to wallow in hurt feelings, played some role in his developing a drinking problem.
As a child, Starr was often placed in the care of his grandfather, who liked to listen to the music of the pre-war years. Starr, in turn, developed a taste for the songs of the 1940’s. He gives expression to his nostalgic side in his first album following the break-up of the Beatles, Sentimental Journey. When asked, as a young Beatle, to give his favorite song, he replied, “White Christmas.” His post-Beatles work ranged from corny to sentimental. “Never Without You” is his somewhat corny, but warm and well-intentioned tribute to Harrison. The stage demeanor of this “old-young” entertainer, who had a streak of gray in his hair by the time he was twenty, often resembled that of an old “vaudevillian” (Clayson, p.328).
Starr, the sentimentalist, saved all the postcards sent to him by the other three Beatles, from their early days to the present, and recently published them in a book called Postcards From The Boys. He recalled the old days with his fellow Beatles with fondness, the only one to admit the “fun” he had in those innocent, by-gone days. In an early 1970’s song, “Photograph,” a precursor of sorts to his book, he, sadly, has only a photo of him and his girl together to look at to remind him of the love they once shared and the places they used to go.
The Beatles left the world’s stage with their “invisible bond” (Kaplan, p.122) sealed for eternity, but their in-the-flesh relations in disarray. Each Beatle would have much to work through and process in the years to come. It was not the sort of experience that, despite Harrison’s claim that he had put it “far behind” (Shapiro, p.93) him, from which one could quickly detach. The four Beatles had been extremely close and their closeness had spawned much conflict. They had been idolized by millions, viewed in ways they could not possibly live up to and invested with powers they didn’t have. Unable to resolve their personal and business differences through direct negotiations and increasingly uncomfortable with being viewed as gods, they withdrew from each other and from the public eye, saying what they needed to say, mostly in their songs.
All four Beatles recognized how enmeshed they had been and how much they needed to become individuals again. Their comments, both just before and just after their break-up, are instructive and in keeping with the psychological profiles that have been presented here. Harrison said, “We got too close to each other” (Guiliano, p.203)) and, “We all needed more space” (Anthology, p. 352). He welcomed the “space to be able to think at my own speed” (p.349), characteristically inserting time considerations into his assessment. Lennon, the most developmentally arrested Beatle, viewed their break-up as the natural culmination of their “growing up” process (p.352). He refers, in his comments about the break-up, to the danger of “losing yourself” (p.352) in a group situation, an issue and fear that dominated his mid-period Beatle work. We recall that, in such songs as “She Said She Said”and “And Your Bird Can Sing,”Lennon struggles to maintain his sense of self in interactions with a narcissistic love-object. McCartney was less troubled than Harrison about the space issue and less troubled than Lennon about the sense of self issue. What bothered him was his sense of “not being worth anything” (p.349) or being useful to anyone after the Beatles broke up. McCartney, we recall, had to be productive and goal-directed in order to feel good about himself and he felt, without the Beatles, rather shiftless. Starr was saddened by the inglorious end to the Beatles, but continued to hold their accomplishments in high regard.
The lyrics to their songs, as usual, provide us with the clearest window into their internal worlds as they began the long process of psychologically separating from one another. One of George Harrison’s first post-Beatles songs was titled, appropriately enough, “All Things Must Pass.” While it was inspired by what he was learning from Eastern philosophy, it also characterized his feeling about the “passing” of the Beatles. The song expresses Harrison’s unhurried and somewhat passive approach to life. Just as “sunrises” and sunsets” come and go, so too do love and relationshipsâ€”and the Beatles. He sees, in “All Things Must Pass,” that his “love is up” and that he “must be on my way.” “Art of Dying” echoes that theme: “There’ll come a time when all of us must leave here/There is nothing Sister Mary can do.” Attachments, then, for Harrison, are not forever and not unbreakable. And, in fact, he was able to detach with amazing ease.
Lennon had re-fused with Yoko at the time of the break-up. That permitted him to cut his ties to the Beatles with a minimum of pain and sense of loss. He never really confronted his separateness at this turning point in his life. The other three Beatles, it seems, were given pretty much the same treatment Cynthia and Julian received after he attached to Yoko. When Lennon’s needs were being met in the present, he was not one to look back. His ideal state of being, expressed in “Imagine,” is “everybody living for today.” Lennon’s symbiotic bond with Yoko empowered him in much the same way his initial bond with the Beatles empowered him, giving him back, for the moment, his sense of self. But, in reality, it masked a fragile inner psychological state that could split at the first sign of his having to function apart from the other (witness his separation from Yoko, known as his “Lost Weekend”).
In his requiem song, “God,” Lennon confidently renounces his belief in and allegiance to the Beatles (e.g. “I don’t believe in Beatles”). While it seems, in “God,” that he is growing up and becoming more enlightened, he is really just exchanging old illusions for new ones. Now, he “believes in Yoko and me.” “God” is Lennon’s follow-up to his earlier, “Sexy Sadie.” In the latter song, he expresses his anger at the Eastern wizard, the Maharishi, for “making a fool of” him and everyone else and vows that he’ll “get yours yet.” The break-up of the Beatles served most significantly, for Lennon, to open the door to long-buried feelings around loss. His first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is an unburdening, a laying bare of the soul that leaves him as “naked” as he was in the famous nude photograph of Yoko and him, from Two Virgins.
McCartney was the Beatle most psychologically invested in the Beatles and, therefore, the one most psychologically undone by the break-up. Later, he would characterize his reaction to the break-up of the Beatles as an “almost nervous breakdown” (Miles, p. 570). As we have seen, on Abbey Road, he had begun his grieving process. Despite his efforts to close out the Beatles, McCartney leaves the Beatles feeling useless. Earlier, in “Eleanor Rigby,” when considering the experience of aloneness and separateness, he had posed the question, “Who is it for,” referring to any of the things that we humans do. The implication, in that song, is that there is little point in doing anything when one is alone.
After he recovered, McCartney would be the Beatle who kept the Beatle flame alive into the future. Ram was one of his first post-Beatles albums. Whether the title was meant to convey the fact that he had been the one to force the others into some sort of legal resolution of their business affairs, we don’t know. To McCartney’s credit, he never really spoke ill of the other Beatles. On the other hand, he probably never fully understood how he had antagonized them. In any event, McCartney chose to remember the good times he had had with his band mates and not to disabuse fans of the idealized image they had of him and the Beatles.
Starr was left out of the decision to dissolve the group. He had been, though, “the fool on the hill,” perched as he was on his drums above the other three, observing the others as they stumbled towards termination. In one of his early post-Beatles song, “Early 1970,” he offers thumbnail descriptions of the other three. Sentimentalist that he wasâ€”his first on his own album was Sentimental Journeyâ€”he cherished his memories and his friendships with the other three. He remained closest to Harrison. His Harrison tribute song, “Never Without You,” recognizes what was important to Harrison and leaves himself out of it. Starr continued to maintain cordial relations with Lennon and McCartney and would be one of the first to arrive at the Dakota apartment following Lennon’s death.
In conclusion, given the level of each Beatle’s self and object-relations, it is clear that the four of them were on a collision course from the start. The other three would not long tolerate being treated as self-objects by McCartney, and McCartney could never give up his tendency to use others as self-objects. Lennon, who was not on unfriendly terms with his illusion of omnipotence, would not long tolerate a rival to his leadership role and would lose interest in the Beatles when his dependency needs and illusions of omnipotence were satisfied elsewhere. Harrison would detach from the group when the “aggravations” and “complications” (“Woman Don’t You Cry For Me”) of that attachment, in particular the “wah-wahs” (“Wah-wah”), the whining, became too much for him to bear. And it is unlikely that Starr would long tolerate being in a group defined by its tense rivalries and where all the fun had gone out of the experience.
Received: January 1, 2008, Published: December 30, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Moskowitz