Don't Let Me Down
GUEST POST: Mo Troper
I Got a Feeling… that Peter Jackson’s Get Back rehabilitated the Beatles’ image for a younger, slightly hipper audience.
At the very least it made Beatle arcana palatable to a demographic slightly broader than, say, the old men who yell at me when I tweet about how The White Album was mixed in one night.
Previous Apple-sanctioned Beatles hagiographies—Anthology and Ron Howard’s Eight Days a Week—were just that: Interminable unspoolings of prefabricated pull quotes from the instantly recognizable coterie of McCartney sycophants. Those films shared a lot of the same footage—which is remarkable given how much footage of this band exists—and also a common thesis: There Simply Aren’t Enough Great Things You Can Say About This Band. You’ll get nowhere arguing with someone who hates the Beatles and that’s sort of the point; what they really hate is the mythologizing. What they really hate is you and me.
“This is the part of music criticism that is totally pointless as all music is essentially free now. Just go listen for yourself. (‘Now and Then’) certainly isn’t terrible and I also have no desire to listen to it ever again.”
Get Back laid bare how real the Beatles were: how funny they were, how intellectual and arty they were, how high their standards were, how self-aware they were, how conscious of their own celebrity they were as it was still being manufactured. It also added depth to (and in some cases, contradicted) the Beatles caricatures that are branded onto our collective cultural memory: John is burnt out, uninspired, disconnected; Paul, sensitive, ruthless, and resentful that his genius was not being acknowledged in real time; George is “the quiet one” in the sense that he appears extremely passive-aggressive; Ringo just wants to party.
“Now and Then”—“the last Beatles song,” as all involved parties have stated repeatedly, maudlinly—is Get Back’s de facto afterword.
And not just in the chronological sense—like the Revolver stereo remix from last year it owes its very existence to an A.I. technology Peter Jackson and his team used to surgically separate “conjoined” pieces of audio into separate tracks. What does it sound like? This is the part of music criticism that is totally pointless as all music is essentially free now. Just go listen for yourself. It certainly isn’t terrible and I also have no desire to listen to it ever again. I also—somehow—know every little lick and hook after hearing it once which is a testament to that inexplicable Beatles magic, I guess. From a songwriting perspective it sounds unfinished to me. The verse is terrific, the chorus meanders, Ringo’s vocals make the whole “last Beatles song” thing even more preposterous.
“‘Now and Then’ is regressive by virtue of being too perfect. As a followup to ‘Get Back’ it feels especially out-of-touch. Jackson’s film was a torturous document of an extremely dysfunctional band who had been dysfunctional for a while.”
It is boring. You also can’t exactly fault two octogenarians for making boring music (though I would certainly like to); the accompanying mini-documentary even features some cool scenes of McCartney himself making the sausage, laying down a quintessentially woody Beatle bass line. This is what makes “Now and Then” so frustratingly unimpeachable—it is without question a stellar utilization of stellar recording technology. But it is so cynical, so desperate, so meticulously tinkered with and tailored to boomer YouTube pinned comment sentimentalism.
Contrast it with “Real Love,” the better of the two disinterred Lennon demos that McCartney, Harrison, and Starr turned into bona fide Beatles songs with Jeff Lynne’s help for the Anthology project in the ‘90s.
That song kicks fucking ass and might even make my personal top 10. It is a better and more realized song than “Now and Then,” with minimal meddling from McCartney and some of Harrison’s greatest lead guitar playing ever. Beyond being a good song it is actually haunting (a keyword being thrown around to describe “Now and Then”) precisely because the technology wasn’t there yet. Lennon’s lead vocal in that song is pitched up, roomy, and literally sounds ghostlike and otherworldly. It is like a dream of the best Beatles song the world never got to hear, and so much of that has to do with how shitty the source recording is. “Real Love” is like Ariel Pink if Ariel Pink wrote songs that were good.
“While I generally think ‘hating the Beatles’ is a phase you grow out of…‘Now and Then’ embodies the sort of candy-coated, self-fellating classic rock agitprop Beatles skeptics find so loathsome.”
“Now and Then” is regressive by virtue of being too perfect. As a followup to Get Back it feels especially out-of-touch. Jackson’s film was a torturous document of an extremely dysfunctional band who had been dysfunctional for a while. Like any good documentary it is timeless because it is real. It’s not even that the music is good (a lot of it is, but it is arguably the Beatles at their least inspired, and nobody in their fucking right mind considers Let It Be the go-to entry point for fledgling Beatlemaniacs). For the first time in recorded history of Beatles recorded history it felt like an actually humanizing portrait of the biggest little pop band in the world. The Beatles were not perfect songwriters, nor were they perfect people. But at least imperfection is interesting.
“Now and Then”—as evidenced by its horrifying music video—is more self-righteous, misty-eyed McCartney mythopoeia: The Beatles as four brothers in arms, the only band to ever function like a true democracy, whose members never stopped loving and collaborating with each other despite all of the lawsuits and vicious diss tracks et cetera but oh don’t pay any attention to that stuff. And while I generally think “hating the Beatles” is a phase you grow out of—sort of like wearing fedoras or listening to Ariel Pink—“Now and Then” embodies the sort of candy-coated, self-fellating classic rock agitprop Beatles skeptics find so loathsome. Say what you will about “Now and Then” (I think it sort of just sucks), but more than anything I think it hurts the cause.
And let’s be real—the Beatles need all the help they can get.
Mo Troper is a musician and reformed music writer from Portland, OR. His own music has been compared to Elliott Smith, Brian Wilson, Daniel Johnston, and the Chipmunks.
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