Forty years ago tomorrow The Beatles broke up and with it broke the hearts of a generation says Jonathan deBurca Butler.
Whether or not it was the final curtain for the chaotic but optimistic 1960s is debatable, but 40 years ago, The Beatles, one of that era’s most enduring symbols, came to an end when Paul McCartney told the band he was leaving.
McCartney’s statement regarding the end of his collaboration with the other three Beatles, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, came in a press release included with press copies of his debut solo album, McCartney, which was released the following week.
McCartney’s statement cited ‘‘business and musical differences’’ as the major factor in the split. It appeared that a dispute over who should manage the group was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
McCartney wanted Lee and John Eastman, his wife’s father and brother, to run the band’s business affairs, while the other Beatles had signed up with Allen klein, who had formerly managed The Rolling Stones. It had been a contentious issue for some time, but there was more to it.
McCartney’s statement went on to say that he couldn’t ‘‘foresee a time when the Lennon and McCartney partnership would be active again in songwriting .’’
In truth, that partnership had been dead for some time, and for many on the inside of The Beatles’ retinue, McCartney’s announcement was hardly a surprise.
Tension had been building ever since the tragic death of their manager and father figure, Brian Epstein, in 1967.
Creative tensions and jealousies, the establishment of Apple, a business and record label that nearly ran itself into the ground, family life, married life, divorces, affairs and break-ups all contributed to the inevitable end.
‘‘It had started to break up long before April, 1970.’’ Says Damian Smyth, author of the recently published , The Beatles and Ireland. ‘‘Really, you can look at it as something that had just gone full circle. Gradually, they found the whole business of being a Beatle claustrophobic and when Epstein, their manager, died they were a band without a rudder.’’
This was something that was not lost on John Lennon.
‘‘I knew that we were in trouble then,’’ he said about their manager’s death, in an interview some years later. ‘‘I didn’t really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music. I was scared. I thought we’ve had it now’.’’
Epstein’s death prompted McCartney into action, and for the last few years of its life he effectively ran the band; the much-slated Magical Mystery Tour movie was his idea; the disastrous ‘documentary film’ of the recording of Let It Be, in which Paul and George are famously see arguing in a cold and empty warehouse in Twickenham, was his idea; and while the others were doing other things, he tried to keep it together.
Even today, anyone who has been lucky enough to attend any of McCartney’s shows(this journalist will never forget seeing him some years back, playing in front of the Colosseum, in Rome) will tell you that he is the lead singer of the greatest Beatles cover band in the world, and he is their biggest fan. So, it seems curious, in that light, that he decided to pull the plug. But when we consider that Lennon had told his band mates, a few months earlier, of his own intention to leave the group, a decision that was kept from the public, it makes for a rather Machiavellian twist.
‘‘He (McCartney) got in first from a publicity point of view,’’ says Damian Smyth. ‘‘He was very cute to the media, very shrewd. He knew how they worked. I think John said that Paul was the best in the business when it came to PR, and McCartney probably thought, what with his first solo album coming up and everything, that he could kill two birds here.’’
Whatever his motives, he went ahead with it and caused quite a sensation. Oft-broadcast footage from the day shows an American reporter interviewing four distraught English girls outside the Apple offices, in Saville Row, London.
‘‘They’ll never be finished,’’ says one defiant fan. ‘‘They’re too good to be finished. If he leaves the group, they’ll just go on without him. Maybe it’s got something to do with Allen Klein. I don’t think Paul’s getting his own way, and he doesn’t like not getting his own way.’’
When asked by the reporter who was to blame for the breakup of the group, another fan suggests McCartney’s wife, Linda.
‘‘Well, it’s Linda Eastman, isn’t it?’’ says the girl. ‘‘And who is Linda Eastman?’’ asks the reporter.
‘‘Good question,’’ says the girl, somewhat jealously. ‘‘Technically, she’s his wife. But she’s his ruler, his guardian, whatever she says, he jumps. It’s just too bad, the genius that he is, the man that he once was.’’
She pauses and looks around at her friends before shouting: ‘‘You just can’t let a woman do that to a man, can you?’’
Interestingly, Linda gets much of the blame in that interview. She has, in their opinion, bewitched Paul and ‘‘when she’s finished with him, she’ll drop him.’’ As time passed and the media speculation brgan as to how The Beatles broke up, Linda was gradually replaced by Yoko Ono as the focus of people’s ire.
‘‘You hear this thing ‘oh it was the women’,’’ Says Damian Smyth. ‘‘But it wasn’t the women. The reality was, as Paul said, it was time to grow up. And if you think about it, they were kids. They had been in this bubble since 1962, and they were in their late 20s when it ended.’’
Although it made front-page headlines in the UK and America, two impending by-elections overshadowed coverage of The Beatles’ demise in Ireland.
The only newspaper that deemed the meltdown of a global and cultural phenomenon worthy of coverage was The Irish Times, which, under the heading ‘‘McCartney leaving Beatles denied’’ said: ‘‘Reports that Paul McCartney has left The Beatles were denied in London by a spokesman for Apple, the group’s company. But there are no plans, at the moment, for any more recordings.
McCartney had not been to Apple headquarters since before Christmas, but ‘he communicates by telephone,’ the spokesman said.’’
Perhaps the Irish media had their reasons. The reports, claims, and counter claims were rather confusing.
‘‘Initially, people thought it was just another spat,’’ says Smyth, who also hosts a regular radio programme on The Beatles ‘The Beatle Bug’ on 103.2 Dublin City FM, every Thursday along with co-host Mick Francis .
‘‘But, in hindsight, it was a defining moment, really. I suspect if the other three had come back to Paul, a few months later, and said that they were only messing and they wanted to continue, he would have rubbed his hands together and said ‘great’.’’
That never happened, though, and on New Year’s Eve, 1970, Paul McCartney moved to legally dissolve The Beatles.
Jonathan deBurca Butler © 2010 Irish Examiner, Friday 9th April2010