One of the most compelling moments in Get Back, the three-part documentary about the Beatles’ last days, is when Paul McCartney sits down and begins strumming his bass guitar like a man on a mission. He’s intense, hunched over. It’s restless, aggressive, edged with frustration.
It was January 1969, and The Beatles were under pressure to write several new songs for an album and prepare for a live show in a few short weeks. Moments before this, there had been tension in the group: John Lennon, George Harrison and (to a lesser degree) Ringo Starr. There had been a lot of joshing around and laughter, but nothing much was being accomplished. This seems to have caught up to Paul, whose frustration came to a head.
Sheer force of will
Playing his guitar, Paul seems to shut everyone out, single-minded, as if he had something to prove: he was going to make a new song right then and there.
The others in the room (Beatles, producers, cameramen, assistants) stop what they’re doing and watch.
The chords seem random, searching, but there’s a palpable energy. In a few moments, something appears to emerge. You begin to hear familiar patterns, chords. Paul starts to hum, singing with no words. Searching.
Then suddenly, the song is there!
“Get back!” he shouts. “Get back! Get back to where you once belonged!”
One second, the song doesn’t exist; the next, he’s playing it, improvising lyrics, bringing it into being by sheer force of will. Ringo and George sit yawning opposite Paul, suggesting this was not something out of the ordinary. McCartney must have done this kind of thing a lot.
For those of us seeing it for the first time, it’s almost like witchcraft!
To witness the creation of this iconic Beatles song is exhilarating and profoundly moving.
Get Back was released November 25-27, 2021, on the Disney+ Channel, so you need a subscription to watch the eight-hour series. If you’re any kind of Beatle fan, it would be worth trying out a free trial week to watch it. It may also become available on other streaming services or DVD or Blu-Ray discs.
The documentary was pieced together by the New Zealand-born director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) from 60 hours of film footage and 100-plus hours of audio. The moments of pure joy are interlaced with discord and resentment, a bad time for the Beatles. But the film provides glimpses of creativity and triumph in the Beatles legend.
Last days of the Beatles’ creative foment
We know how the legend ends, but the film captures the group in its last days of creative foment.
The story goes that Paul had become a rabid taskmaster in these sessions and that the rest of the band had tuned him out. Get Back depicts Paul quite differently.
Most of the time, the lads are having a laugh-riot, singing old cover songs, hamming it up. Their shared musical sensibility is so entrenched that they move effortlessly between Elvis Presley, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and the Marvelettes, to name a few! They’re all in their late 20s and have already produced a string of groundbreaking albums and remarkable pieces.
Paul’s the one that turns serious, tries to focus the rest of the group, but he’s nowhere near the ogre we might have thought him to be. We see him supporting his bandmates in their writing, massaging their egos, writing prolifically, injecting enthusiasm. He keeps the whole thing moving forward, all the while displaying previously unseen levels of self-awareness and an ability to predict the future.
Beneath all the joy, George is the one having a hard time. He’d proven himself as a brilliant guitarist. However, his own songwriting abilities had emerged. John and Paul were still treating him as little more than a session musician. He feels as if his own musical contributions were being overlooked instead of half-finished pieces by Lennon and McCartney.
In one startling moment, George says he’s had enough and announces, quietly, that he’s leaving the band. John is a no-show this day, and the moment after Harrison leaves, Paul sits back in his chair and says, “and then there were two” (himself and Ringo) as his eyes fill with tears.
The rest of the Beatles eventually convince George to return to the studio to finish their songwriting and plans for the live show.
The Beatles’ last days
Get Back ends with the famous rooftop concert. The Beatles perform live outside their Apple studio building on Savile Row, London. The band’s final performance, though they regrouped a short while later to make their last recorded album, Abbey Road.
The actual end of the Beatles was a mess, with each of the members quitting the band (or saying they would leave) at different times. Paul finally dropped the bombshell that the Beatles were no more and later sued John, George, Ringo and their company, Apple Corporation. A 1974 ruling in his favour ended the legal entity of the Beatles. It capped a 10-year creative musical endeavour that forever left its mark on popular culture.
Thus, Paul acquired became the ogre, though each of the members was in agreement that the group should dissolve.
The Get Back documentary is a godsend, as it offers a glimpse into one of the most significant musical partnerships of our time. It’s an all too brief peek inside the group before its ignominious end.
There were years of bitter sniping afterwards, as members of the group went their separate ways. In 1980, John was brutally shot outside his (and Yoko Ono’s) apartment in New York. George died of lung cancer in 2001. There is so much to say about Ringo, who is 81 years old and thrives today.
But Paul has become the de facto Beatles historian, claiming there was always an undercurrent of love and respect between the four despite the bitter divisions.
John and Paul re-connect — com panis
In a recent interview with shock radio personality Howard Stern 1, McCartney recounts part of what he claims was his last conversation with John Lennon.
John had spent his last years cocooning with Yoko in New York, where one of his favourite pastimes was baking bread! (Really! exclaims the Happy Monk!)
Paul, too, had taken up the hobby and had become “quite good at it,” he says.
“It was great because we could just talk about something so ordinary. There was no threat or anything. It was just two guys talking about … ‘Well, I dunno, do you leave it overnight, or what do you?’ And John says, ‘Yeah, I leave it overnight in a hot cupboard.’
“And we’d just be chatting, and it was really nice, and I was so glad that we got back to that relationship that we’d always had.
“We were kids, and we’d lived in each other’s pockets for so long that it was great to get back to that.”
It is a testament to the warmth and ‘ordinariness’ of bread and how it helped repair an old relationship between two friends. Musical companions — com panis … with bread —friendship to the end.
On November 10, 2021. Listen to a brief excerpt from the interview between Stern and McCartney↩
1 thought on “Get Back to Where You Once Baked Bread”
I’m so glad you’ve seen this! I have not watched it all yet but am enthralled. How did Peter Jackson make that old footage so modern? Anyway, David, I owe my love of the Beatles and the knowledge of most of their lyrics to you. I spent lots of my youth sneaking into your room when you weren’t there and listened to your records. Thanks bro!