Nostalgia is the enemy of art since it inevitably tilts into sentimentality.
The Beatles got it. Their art – the hard and enigmatic quest for new sounds to share with each other and with the world – was to be in the present, with a grateful, but not puny, nod to the past.
Thus, the sublime cacophony produced by four brilliant musicians – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – evolves and dazzles, always brimming with ingenuity, joy and rapture.
That ingenuity, joy, and rapture – coupled with keen friction and tingling – is gloriously exhibited in director Peter Jackson’s re-imagination of the band’s infamous Get Back sessions throughout January 1969.
Blessed with hours of never-before-seen footage of the Beatles at work and at play – during what was seen as the group’s depressing ending of resentment and exhaustion – Jackson took up a sad song and made it better.
But, of course, the resulting seven-hour three-part documentary, which began airing across the universe last week, is devoid of the sticky sentimentality born of nostalgia.
In a way, Jackson simply corrected the record by showing the Beatles as they were – dumb, serious, patient, impatient, in harmony and in disagreement – while transforming the sounds first evoked in their heads into song. immortal after song day after day. .
Jackson’s opus is also an urgent and intimate reminder of the youth of John, Paul, George and Ringo at what was arguably the peak of their faculties when they hatched such fascinating melodies with ease and clarity. ease a la Mozart.
There are, of course, quiet moments of melancholy: Paul softly sings John’s Strawberry Fields Forever for no reason, it seems, other than to hear again its transcendent sound and George’s plaintive acoustic version of John’s. Isn’t It A Pity drift on the credits of the first part of the documentary, which ends with his abrupt but brief departure from the group at a particularly stormy time.
Yet these whimsical episodes quickly pass, replaced by a chronic wacky repartee, fueled by Attention Deficit Disorder and smoking, among the “guys” that reminds viewers of the Beatles’ childlike exuberance and defines allergy to the pump.
The Beatles – bored and restless – dive, jumbled up, through a list of the 40 best classic rock and roll tracks in an attempt to relieve a dose of the manic, combustible energy they each possessed.
John pokes fun at his own songs, as well as those of Paul, renaming I’ve Got A Feeling as I’ve Got A Fever. Paul does the same in a greedy, loose return while running his hands, many times like a nervous twitch, through a mane of thick black hair and pecking an indomitable beard.
The effect is that The Beatles sabotage – for joyful purpose – the depth of artistic creation and, instead, revel in silliness as a necessary antidote to the inherent pressures of having to meet or exceed the unmatched standards they demanded. of themselves.
So when it is suggested that The Beatles host their first live performance in a few years at a former amphitheater in Libya, Ringo rejects the plan. He, like the others, wants to stay close to the comforts of family and England.
The other common thread that runs through these more complete fraternal Beatles archives is genius ordinary.
The Beatles had work to do. Their job was to make music. They got up – usually late – and went to work to earn a lot of money to pay what I guess was a lot of bills. They said “hello” to each other before sharing tea and toast with marmalade for breakfast.
Then they got to work – often unsure of what they were doing or how they were doing it – until the sounds they were recording resembled the sounds in their heads.
At first, they worked in a cavernous movie set. They hated it. So they moved to a smaller, dilapidated studio – filled with rivers of cables, empty crates, an anvil, and a mishmash of debris – to capture sounds on jerry-built equipment, including having to borrow and carrying George’s bulky eight-track recorder. .
When assembled, The Beatles sat on small wooden stools or the shabby floor in a circle, close enough to talk to each other with eyes that dart here, there and everywhere, seeking some measure of approval. or comfort as they tinkered over and over again. , with chords and words.
Their relentless pursuit of the pristine sound they hoped for has an almost pedestrian, workmanlike quality that belies the permanence of their art.
Wonder arose from these familiar circumstances. That we are now aware of how the Beatles shaped some of the amazing songs that have found a special place in so many ears, hearts and minds is, I think, a privilege and an eye opener.
Seeing Paul disappear, eyes closed, head and body swaying, in a bassline for John’s I Dig A Pony is a memorable and moving sight. Watching John summon that unmistakable growl from the back of his throat as he screams Don’t let me down amazes. Watching George deliver a detached and poignant rendition of I Me Mine also confirms his mastery of the melody. Watching Ringo keep a flawless and intuitive time is to recognize that his punchy beats were the rhythmic backbone of the band.
We also see the flashes of frustration and discord that foreshadow the impending and angry breakup of the group months later.
George complains that The Beatles have become a straitjacket, stifling his ability to deliver his song-packed catalog. Paul bemoans the lack of discipline and leadership of the group that their former manager and father figure – the late Brian Epstein – once provided. The Beatles, says Paul, “will last forever in [aimless] circles. John seems distant and exhausted at times, more interested in being and exploring new artistic paths with the woman he loves, Yoko. Even Ringo, the brilliant peacemaker, seems resigned to the prospect of the Beatles’ mysterious tour coming to an end.
That four artists were able to maintain an artificial construction called the Beatles for as many years as they did, given the hardships, expectations and demands that their immense fame demanded was a remarkable feat of friendship, of patience. and collaboration.
Yet all things must indeed pass.
One of the Beatles’ last giveaways was a rooftop concert on Saville Row in London on a gray and breezy morning in late January.
The happy idea of performing that day, in this curious place, came from others. Reluctantly, the Beatles agreed, believing it would amount to some sort of dress rehearsal for a possible TV appearance.
One by one the Beatles rushed up to the roof – nervous, cold and a little worried. Soon they would meet. The worry, fatigue and bickering quickly evaporated as they roared in Paul’s Get Back.
The hypnotic sound that only The Beatles could muster, a result of their singular wit, talents and inventiveness, began to sweep over the lucky Londoners who had gathered below like a calming sonic tonic.
The Beatles gave in to sounds that only they could create. They were moving and dancing with them, laughing and screaming along the suddenly harmonic path. A festive vibe that had alluded to them for too long had returned – albeit briefly.
In that space and time, it was The Beatles as one – permanently fixed in memory. Yes. Yes. Yes.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.