And In The End: The Last Days Of The Beatles, by Ken McNab
The last days of the Beatles make for sobering reading. Between 1969 and 1970, the Beatles entirely fell apart as a group and did so in a way that prevented them from ever joining together. How did that happen, exactly? It’s a complicated story, but a rich one, and the author here manages to take the line that others before him established and then to go into detailed research of how it that the Beatles got so screwed up that things never were made right again. The author manages to discuss this in a way that manages to make none of the people involved look all that good. This is a human account of people whose human failings led them to cut people in ways that led people to decide that it was better to work apart and to leave behind a group that had been immensely profitable to all of them but did not seem to be worth the problems and hassles anymore, and despite the fact that none of the four men involved in the Beatles could ever leave it behind for the rest of their lives, they were never able to reunite either, until death prevented it from happening. This book takes place over the course of a year and demonstrates that for all the problems of the Beatles, they were intensely productive all the same, even at the worst, and that for things to have gone differently would have required a lot of difficult choices.
This book is about 300 pages and it is organized in a month-by-month fashion over the course of 1969 from January to December. The book begins with the abortive Get Back sessions where the Beatles joined together for a stripped down album that would strip away the fussy high production values that had led to the White Album and its pressures. By February 1969, the split between McCartney and the other Beatles over their management would add further splits and recriminations. In March Paul married Linda and John married Yoko, adding more personal drama to the band’s tense state. April brought some more sessions, while May brought business disputes over the end of Nems and June found John and Yoko in a Montreal bed-in. Lennon’s car accident in July provided a scar, and August provided the finishing touches on Abbey Road, the last time they would ever record together. September brought the debut of the Plastic Ono Band as a performing group in Toronto. By October, Lennon was fed up with the Beatles but unwilling to be the one to pull the plug publicly, promoting his solo work like “Cold Turkey.” By November Lennon was returning his MBE, and December showed Lennon courting Trudeau’s approval in Canada while Paul McCartney struggled to overcome the depression of the band breaking up by recording music himself, making his solo debut.
What kind of choices would have led to a different outcome? During the course between 1969 and 1970 all four Beatles at different times ended up quitting on the Beatles, and the last one to leave shut the door and told everyone about it, and more or less prevented things from coming back together again. What would have been necessary to keep George happy? Probably more respect and the freedom to have more than a couple of songs on each album. Were Paul and John willing to do this? No. What would it have taken for John to be happy? Probably for Yoko to have been accepted warmly. That wasn’t going to happen either. What would have taken for Paul to be happy? Probably for the rest of the group to have been happy with touring again and recovering a sense of common purpose and unity, which was definitely not in the offing. And for Ringo to have been happy it probably would have taken less conflict and tension, and that was certainly not in the offing. If the Beatles had been able to deal with their differences in an emotional mature they would have had to have been better people than they were. The lesson is an instructive one for us because the same sorts of divides that drove them apart drive other institutions and groups apart as well.