Shekhar’s Sunday musings, 10 July
Beatles lovers the world over must have been in a celebratory mood, as a former member of the rock band turned 80 on June 18. Paul McCartney, singer-songwriter-bassist of the group of four and one of two surviving members from the Beatles – the other being Ringo Starr – was, and is, a great influencer and the undisputed legend of rock music.
Living in St John’s Wood, London, not far from Abbey Road Studios and the famous zebra crossing that was on the cover of the album ‘Here Comes the Sun’, Abbey Road (1969), he continues to enthral legions of fans, strumming his guitar and singing, even securing No 1 on Billboard’s top album sales chart for his solo ‘McCartney III Imagined’ in 2021.
Sixties and mid-seventies
The sixties and the mid-seventies were intense post-War periods, not least due to the tensions of the Cold War, Vietnam and Korea, and equally the ‘baby boomers’ and the drug culture. The Beatles brought solace to people as a whole new generation of youth looked to change, transformation, and relief from the wave of disillusionment and disenchantment that swept the western world in particular.
As a group, the Beatles lasted a little over a decade during the sixties until its members – John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr – split to go their separate ways. Several reasons abound on why they disbanded, including the interference by Lennon’s partner Yoko Ono.
The Beatles: Get Back
The sad end to the band, though, has never been fully understood or told. A new film in 2021 ‘The Beatles: Get Back’ by Peter Jackson looked at things afresh, offering new insights and vignettes. He brought unseen footage and revisited history, as it were, with the three-part documentary series (thanks to Disney). It turns out that Jackson-McCartney have a different tale to tell as opposed to a story told in the 1969 film documenting the making of the Beatles album ‘Let It Be’. Apparently the Beatles were never really happy with the film. Now, evidence points to the four as “having a ball”, not acrimony, as had been portrayed and made to believe all these years. To fans, this is indeed a new turn to the whole story behind the disbandment of the Beatles. Even after all these years the film brings back the Beatles alive with their rehearsals and backstage banter, including the famous terrace performance on Saville Row, in London’s fashionable central district.
The breakup quite natural
Well, actually, come to think of it, the breakup must have come quite naturally, even philosophically, to them. In a strangely spiritual sense, it was only a ‘divorce’, as one of them put it, the fact they were still in their heyday and in the peak of their careers didn’t seem to bother them. It was quite simply a parting of ways, howsoever impactful it may have seemed to then. They were above it all. No doubt, for their loyal fans it was painful.
Such was the band’s sway that songs by the group continue to play on the lips of people, young and old. Theirs was pure, magical rock music. The lyrics they brought to their music was meaningful and showed a way forward.
Inspired by maestro Ravi Shankar
Among all the four, guitarist-songwriter George Harrison had the strongest connection to the ‘orient’ – to India and its music. In 1967, he and his then wife travelled to India, checking in to Mumbai’s iconic Taj Mahal Palace under assumed names. Harrison’s mission was to learn yoga and the sitar, inspired by the maestro Ravi Shankar, which he also introduced in his music. The record of this visit with a photograph is displayed to this day, along with those of other former prominent guests, in the hotel foyer.
Spell of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
At about the same time the group came under the spell of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his Transcendental Meditation (TM), and they became TM’s vocal supporters, visiting the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh in 1968. So influenced were they that the Beatles denounced the drug culture rampant in the West at the time. The visit inspired and helped them to be most productive in the form of some of their best songs. A spin-off from Harrison’s India inspiration was ‘My Sweet Lord’ (1971) that finds a pride of place among Beatles’ solo bests even today. Look up the ‘Beatles Ashram’ whenever you are next in Rishikesh.
In his last meeting with McCartney, John Lennon is believed to have said “Think of me every now and then, old friend”. We do think of the Beatles and hum their melodies and sing their songs every now and then. What more proof can there be of the immortality of the Beatles.
And belated birthday wishes, Paul!