Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Bound Pair

Slate has been running a series on "creative collaborations" and in that series is a 3-parter about Lennon and McCartney. I am not entirely convinced the subject of artistic collaboration lends itself very well to pop analysis (or even serious analysis) but that does not mean such explorations are not fun and Slate's writer does make a couple of very interesting points:
"It's supremely odd how history would play the collaboration between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The result of one of the most intertwined partnerships in music history, their work would consistently be reduced to static roles. It's almost as if, faced with the bound pair, a culture obsessed with individualism found a way to cleave them in two."
Individualism maybe, but figuring out who wrote what is also a fun musical parlor-game when you are fifteen or sixteen and first listen to "Nowhere Man" and "Yesterday" (or "Revolution" and "Michelle"). But many times, those guesses are plain wrong. For example, most of us think of John's music as being more edgy, but "Sgt. Pepper" was Paul's project - for the most part. Though many would argue that the edginess of that album came equally from the two Georges. Without George Martin's expert arrangements, production and editing, "Sgt. Pepper" would be a bunch of good songs and nothing more. (And this is why analyzing artistic collaboration sometimes strikes me as an exercise in futility. How can we ever know how these things really work?)

The third act in the Beatles' narrative is usually about the band's breakup and how John and Paul just stopped writing together; "White Album" being the key evidence. But is that really true?
"But even in the hardest times, it's hardly true that John and Paul stopped working together. In what was, ostensibly, the nadir of their partnership in January 1969, their concert on the Apple rooftop shows the two men in profound sympathy. At one point, John forgot a verse to "Don't Let Me Down." He and Paul proceeded in perfect sync as John sang nonsense lyrics, then returned to the top of the verse as if nothing had happened. You can see on the film how John shoots Paul a look of pure boyish glee. Several months later, when John wrote "The Ballad of John and Yoko," he rushed to Paul's doorstep. With George and Ringo out of town, he insisted they go straight to the studio. They cut the song in one long day, John taking the guitars and lead vocal, Paul on bass, drums, piano, maracas—and coming in with breathtaking harmonies."
That, perhaps, is one way to explain their post-breakup output. It is not as if their musical chops were in decline. They just weren't in "profound sympathy" with a collaborator.


Space Bar said...

hmm. nice tho it is to read about my favourite people, all this advance press in order to 'celebrate' double fantasy is a bit much. no?

km said...

Frankly, I had no idea about the advance press.

BTW, there is a new docu out on him this November ("LENNONYC").