When John met Paul, they were both teenage boys who had lost their mothers. It's something they had in common. Did they ever talk about it? Nobody knows. But they both knew what it was like to love a woman and mourn her after she's gone. And as soon as they met, it was something they wanted to write songs about.
Their mothers both get mentioned in A Hard Day's Night. It's a strange detail in the movie, easy to miss. But early on, Paul gestures to his grandfather and says, "Me mother thought a trip would do him good." The road manager warns John, "I'll tell your mother of you." Neither John nor Paul flinches when the topic comes up. (Okay, John flinches a little. Paul lowers his eyes to the floor, total poker face.)
Both scenes are agony to watch, if you have any affection for these two boys. How did this happen? It couldn't have been the screenwriter's fault – how was he supposed to know their moth- ers died? Did the director know? Surely not. If he did, he would have cut the lines. The filmmakers weren't sadists; they didn't want to torture the Beatles. They just didn't know. Nobody told them. Other people around the Beatles knew, though, and they must have thought about saying something, but then got scared and decided to wait for John or Paul to bring it up. Except John and Paul didn't want to talk about it. So they just played the scene. They were used to that.
When John and Paul began making music, they already knew about losing women they worshipped. How do you live with that loss? You learn to fill your head with their voices. It's the theme John and Paul couldn't shut up about, from "There's a Place" on their first album to "Let It Be" on their last. You listen to women talk, and when you lose them – when they leave you, or when they die – you replay their voices in your head to keep them close. You lie awake and tune in to those female voices, keep their hum running in your ears. She tells you she loves you. She tells you it's all right. You never weep at night; you call her name.
The danger is you can get trapped in this echo chamber, right? You can miss out on the sounds around you, out there in the world. You might miss the voice of the woman who's standing right in front of you, telling you something new.
For John and Paul, that meant learning to listen to adult women named Yoko and Linda. But it can be scary to turn down the volume on the past. For John and Paul, it meant breaking up the band. The transition wasn't clean or painless; it directly affected the lives of millions of people. John and Paul formed new bands with their wives and made records where they invited their wives to sing. No other rock stars ever made such a big deal about loving their wives.
Now and then, they must have wondered if they made the right decision. They must have had doubts. All men have them, and John and Paul must have felt them deeply, because they felt everything so deeply. Sometimes, late at night, they must have remembered the promises they made to those screaming girls and wondered if they were keeping them.
2013: By now you're older than the Beatles were when they broke up, older than John ever got to be. Your wife has gotten you into Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, neither of which you ever liked before you met her. "The goth ones," she calls them. These are the records that she loved when she was a sullen teen, with their creepy keyboards and lurid colors. Even the song "Magical Mystery Tour," which always sounded goofy to you, now rocks when you notice the drums. One Sunday afternoon, you sit around your favorite vegan lunch dump Foodswings, munching your soy chicken mozzarella sub, and they put on Abbey Road. It turns out she knows all the songs on side two. You didn't think anyone liked side two. You have chosen your mate wisely.
Your Beatles will change all through your life. Your personality changes; your world grows and shrinks and grows again. Your beliefs change. So do your friends. People you love fade away. Some of them fade back in. Your nieces and nephews are into the Rock Band video game of the Beatles, and they all want a turn at "Yellow Submarine." Your niece calls it "the boat," as in "I wanna sing the boat again!" When your wife sings "Helter Skelter" at karaoke, she sings the U2 version, with the skin-crawlingly embarrassing Bono introduction. "Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles. We're stealin' it back!" But you start to like that one, too.
The Beatles remain universally hailed as the greatest thing ever, but somehow, you still think they're underrated. They're like Hawaii or Hamlet – even greater than everybody always says they are. For you and your wife, one of your favorite bands to listen to together is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. You wear a Yeah Yeah Yeahs T-shirt when you ask her to marry you. She says yeah.
Now you're not sure how to hear "She Loves You" – it's so emotionally extreme, which is why it perfectly suited your teen self. You can't stick it on a playlist between two other Beatles songs without overpowering the other two. It doesn't fit in anywhere, like the kids in the song. Nobody sings it on American Idol. Nobody tries it at karaoke. The stop-start zigzag melody is too tricky. If this came on in a bar, people would "yeah" in all the wrong spots. Are there any other Beatles hits that nobody knows how to sing?
You owe this song a lot. You feel like the "She Loves You" guy helped turn you into the "I Want to Hold Your Hand" guy you became later, and the "Strawberry Fields" guy you never wanted to be, and whoever you are tomorrow. Maybe someday (but not today) you will give up trying to understand the song, and just let "yeah yeah yeah" speak for itself. Then it will all make sense.
And yeah I said yeah I will Yeah.
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