Friday, September 28, 2007

Be my Mal Evans

I've spent the last week shirking my trivial epidemiological responsibilities and immersing myself in the Beatles. If you've never watched the 8-part Anthology-- and I hadn't-- it's well worth the time.

Much of it is crudely sequenced and laughably staged. Paul is interviewed while apparently captaining a tugboat. Later, he is interviewed while casually tending a campfire in the woods. Paul is kind of an ass. George, though admirably humble, sardonic, and down-to-earth, is interviewed in his palatial home. It appears to have been decorated by a billionaire Uzbek immigrant. 1994 brought some questionable sartorial choices. Paul's mullet. George's colorful sweaters. Ringo's LA Raiders cap.

But the documentary is riveting. Their Elvis encounter is a Liverpudlian Rashomon:

  • Ringo & George seem to be telling the truth about it (I paraphrase): "We were stoned out of our minds & all of us forgot where we were going. Then we realized, oh yeah, we're gonna meet Elvis. We fell out of the limo giggling, and there he was, hanging out on the porch watching TV and playing a bass guitar. It was weird. He was surrounded by sycophants and seemed kind of out of it. We stayed a few hours. Shame he was so threatened by us later, telling Nixon that we corrupted America's youth and all. Whatever."
  • Paul: "Oh, yeah, I was blown away. What a historic encounter."
  • John: "We just jammed with him, you know, all the old rock & roll standards."
  • George: "John said he jammed with him. Must have been when we were out of the room."

Much of the footage is surprisingly moving. Some highlights:

  • A performance of "I Am The Walrus" from Magical Mystery Tour.
  • Music videos of "Paperback Writer" and "Rain."
  • Twickenham bickering and jamming.
  • Yoko perched like a vulture, watching the lads play "Let It Be."
  • John being consistently clever and acidic. If you're going to be an asshole, might as well be interesting-- take note, Sir McCartney.
  • Ringo comes off well.
  • The transition from publicly well-behaved lads to irreverent hippies is shockingly rapid. It was only four months between "You're Going To Lose That Girl" and "Norwegian Wood," and less than a year between matching suits and Sgt. Pepper.
  • The transition from goofy hippies to gaunt, bearded sages is similarly rapid.
  • The mythopoiea of the Maharishi sojourns and lysergic trips is deflated by all the footage of young confused folks behaving in entirely recognizable ways. '60s envy is ameliorated if not cured.
  • Just watching the 4 of them play together is pretty damned thrilling.