Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Paul vs John

After posting this piece about McCartney, I had a conversation on Twitter with Ray Connolly, a veteran British journalist who covered The Beatles and knew them well. We discussed the circumstances of the band's breakup and the roles played by Paul and John. Here's part of the exchange:
Me: I find it pretty amazing that, after all the band had been through, Paul wanted to keep it going.
RC: Like the rest of us he was a Beatle fan. He'd never known anything else since he left school.
Me: With apologies to Paul, I'm glad they ended when they did. I fear what the '70s might have done to them.
RC: Intuitively John probably realised that. By killing them at their peak he made the Beatles timeless.
I draw attention to these quotes because I appreciate how Mr. Connolly casts both Paul and John in a positive light even while acknowledging their conflicting aims. Paul was the buoyant romantic - though a practical one; John was the fiery cynic - though a humorous one. Paul was the "Beatle fan"; John didn't "believe in Beatles". Paul wanted to save the Fab Four; John effectively saved them from themselves. It's hard for me not to sympathize with both sides. Even as someone who doesn't rue The Beatles' breakup, I admire Paul for his dogged devotion to the band. He took such joy in being a Beatle, and that joy coursed through the songs he wrote. As the Fab "who cared the most," he essentially served as an ambassador to the band on behalf of fans. His interests aligned with theirs: keep The Beatles together and make music. John's role was the opposite. He found much less satisfaction as a Beatle, and he didn't buy into the band like Paul did. Keeping the fame and myth-making at arm's length, it seems that John wanted to always have an out in case something better came his way. For him, Yoko was that something better. Her presence motivated him to begin agitating for an exit. Plus, as Mr. Connolly observed, John probably recognized at some point that, if The Beatles stayed together amidst so much rancor, the quality of their art would diminish. By undermining the band, John accomplished the dual purpose of liberating himself from an unwanted part of his life and preserving The Beatles' historic greatness. Whether the second half was fully intentional doesn't matter. It's the result that counts.
From start to finish, in oversimplified terms: The Beatles were brought to life by John, sustained by Paul, and then, against the wishes of Paul, killed by John. Both deserve respect for the roles they played.

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