Beatles' human side

Beatles' human side

Before I returned from my studies in London, I made a trip to the suburbs to see a road.

There, situated in the quiet residential neighbourhood of St John's Wood, lies what must be the most-crossed road in the city.

People are constantly walking, stopping in mid-stride, giggling, going back, then crossing again, in what appears to be a gathering of the most indecisive pedestrians in the world.

But most of them are probably just like me - nuts about the Beatles.

The location is Abbey Road and the picture everyone is trying to recreate is the album cover photo from the band's iconic 1969 album of the same name.

In that picture, the four of them are nonchalantly walking across a zebra crossing in Abbey Road, located near the EMI Studios where they recorded the album.

With a policeman helping photographer Iain Macmillan hold up traffic for 10 minutes, the Beatles were able to cross what looked like a deserted road.

In real life, Abbey Road is never that quiet.

Tourists and fans from all over the world descend on it to take pictures in between breaks in the traffic. People have been seen doing splits on the road and crossing it dressed in a yellow submarine costume.

It really annoys the local drivers.

But it's not hard to see why fans are so devoted to the band made up of four lads from Liverpool - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' "invasion" of the United States, when their 1964 performance on the The Ed Sullivan Show kicked off Beatlemania and spawned a million screaming teenage girls.

They performed four songs that night: All My Loving, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There and I Want to Hold Your Hand.

From there the Fab Four would move on to produce melodious classics like Yesterday, Here, There And Everywhere and Hey Jude, while churning out edgier numbers such as Yer Blues, Tomorrow Never Knows and Helter Skelter.

But the Beatles are more than a catalogue of incredible songs. I find them compelling because - for all their great music and superstardom - they were easy to relate to.

There was a cheekiness about them when they first made it big barely out of their teens. They viewed their meteoric rise - after years of playing in dingy nightclubs - with some bemusement.

Just for fun, they would stop singing in the middle of the songs at their concerts to see if anyone noticed above all the screaming. No one did.

The intense attention on the quartet, who were often famously chased down streets by their fans, meant that they often bonded while huddled up in hotel rooms.

But the closeness bred contempt. After the death of their father figure and manager Brian Epstein in 1967, they began fracturing.

Little differences and tastes in music were magnified. John started exploring darker material. Paul pushed for greater control. George wanted the two older, more established band members to give him more credit and space. Ringo, tired of the bickering, was almost the first to throw in the towel. The best of buddies got on each other's nerves.

Barely three years later, the Beatles broke up acrimoniously, each man relieved that he was no longer associated with the band. This core narrative of friendships forged and broken within a tight circle had always made the Beatles seem very human to me.

For despite the pressures that came with their success, they worked to keep their relationship going, even in the latter days, until nothing seemed to work anymore.

That's how I've seen many friendships, and marriages for that matter, formed and broken in my life as well. Inseparable friends stop talking to each other for years, through an accumulation of issues that may not even be anyone's fault, but produces a gulf that can no longer be bridged.

The Beatles finally started reconciling many years after they got the personal space they needed. But just when they were starting to put the old wounds aside, John was killed by a crazed gunman in 1980.

The fans would never get to see the greatest band ever reunite. The Beatles would never get proper closure.

As individuals, the members of the Beatles found some success, but never to the level they achieved as a group. There was something really special about their friendship.

For that reason, Abbey Road is also poignant because it was the final album that they worked on together.

The last song on Abbey Road is The End. It features all four of them trading drum and guitar solos before ending with one simple line: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

As 2014 draws to a close, this line, and the story of the band which came up with it, may be worth reflecting on.

chengwee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 7, 2014.
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