My sister Kathy got tickets at Jacob Burns Film Center for a filmed performance of Scott Freiman’s “Deconstructing the Beatles.” There are only two Beatles left, so he may be ahead of schedule. Mr. Freiman is a composer, musician and producer, and he’s carved out quite a little side career for himself by giving lectures about the group and how their most famous songs made the journey from inspiration to vinyl.
I have never been to a deconstruction before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I dissected a butterfly once in science class, but when I put it back together there were still some parts left over, a thorax, a leg and an antenna, although the antenna turned out to be from somebody’s car.
This presentation covered “The Beatles,” more commonly known to fans as “The White Album,” in some ways their most complex, in some ways their most simplistic, and in most ways their hardest to keep clean. The Beatles wanted to return from the psychedelic trip they went on with “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” where they took production and cover art to extremes they had not explored before.
Scott Freiman explained that the Beatles longed to get back to a simpler form of songwriting, so in some ways they deconstructed themselves. They packed up and left for an ashram in India to learn how to meditate, and by the time they finally got back to recording, their manager Brian Epstein had died, George Martin briefly left, Ringo walked out, their engineer flew the coop, Yoko infiltrated the studio and basically all hell broke loose.
But from those sessions came some of the group’s most enduring music, and Freiman told the stories behind them. For instance, “Dear Prudence” was written about Mia Farrow’s sister, who was also at the ashram, and meditated so assiduously that she wouldn’t come out of her room. There is probably a fine line between assiduous meditation and agoraphobia, but I’m just thankful that Mia Farrow’s sister wasn’t named Debbie or Lulu.
The real revelation is that as original as the Beatles were, creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The Beatles’ influences came out on “The White Album” maybe more so than any other, since much of the material was written individually. Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys inspired “Back in the USSR,” Donovan taught John Lennon the picking style used in “Dear Prudence,” Eric Clapton provided the guitar lead for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” a Nigerian musician lent Paul McCartney the phrase “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and none other than Bach donated the form Paul used in “Blackbird.”
Freiman didn’t get into that whole conversation about whether Paul is dead or not, so I thought I’d pick up the ball here. Back in the ‘70s every Beatles album supposedly had a boatload of clues supporting the theory that McCartney had died in a car crash and was replaced in the band by a look-alike. At the time you could hear all sorts of references to his untimely demise if you listened closely. John says, “I buried Paul” at the end of “Strawberry Fields,” but it’s kind of hard to hear and sounds more like
“I married Paul.” My friends told me to play the record backwards but I couldn’t reach the tonearm when I stood that way.
There are other clues, too. On the cover of “Abbey Road,” Paul walks barefoot in a funeral-like procession. It is well-known that people who are dead walk barefoot. Also, on “Magical Mystery Tour” Paul is dressed as a walrus, which is a sign of death, although if you ask any walrus about it they’ll say it’s news to them. I’ve seen McCartney in an interview recently and he looks fine to me but I am no expert. Abe Vigoda was rumored to be dead many years before and after his death, and even during his death, so it’s nothing new.
Still, there are many other mysteries about the Beatles that are still unsolved, like who really was the fifth Beatle? Was it Pete Best? Was it Stu Sutcliffe? Billy Preston? George Martin? Mia Farrow’s sister? That’s already nine Beatles, and I can sense some controversy coming about who was the 10th Beatle. Also, 20 years ago today, when Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play, why didn’t he just hire people who already knew how to play? So, Mr. Freiman, if you’re so smart, let’s hear some answers, and while you’re at it you can tell me what “Love Me Do” means.
Join Jacob Burns Film Center at: https://burnsfilmcenter.org. Say hello to Rick Melén at firstname.lastname@example.org