It is easy to forget the supremacy of creation over its valuation. The mistake of equating the two became clear again when I finished watching Peter Jackson’s 468-minute 3-part documentary The Beatles: Get Back this week. Much has been written about the film itself, a masterful editing job and a creative tour de force in itself. Instead, through the stock video and sound clips that Jackson puts together to tell his band Lords of the Ringo, Paul, George and John, what’s fascinating is that this is about ‘a rare archival record of “creation” captured on the fly.
For those who still regard jugaad as a valuable mode of production, Get Back is a welcome backlash. George Harrison arrives one morning saying he had been awake the night before working on a song. We hear the first draft of a track that we know (it still doesn’t) would become “Old Brown Shoe.” It’s sketchy, fetal, as he tinkers with his basic notes on the piano, asking for help from session pianist Billy Preston. Soon McCartney joins us, and we see / hear, even as Harrison scat to âfill the music,â a song that is born with music hall enthusiasm.
“Get Back” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” are even more immersed in sonic amneotics. McCartney begins the future title song with a straw of nothing, and takes over 21 days of genuine shared frustration, coming out with the classic guitar gallop. Yes, gestation is painful. To experience The Beatles creating some of these iconic latest numbers – with exasperation, infighting, performance anxiety then utter glee as they (and us with them) can hear the songs “click the fit” – c is witnessing Genesis 1: 3 in real time.
Harrison, “in the first episode”, leaves the group for being treated like an amp by the duopoly of McCartney and Lennon. The fact that the band got away with it after that – “the stranger” Preston’s subsequent entry into the Fab Froth is catalytic and cataclysmic – shows the musical talent it takes to create beautiful order out of the chaos of goulash.
At the same time, this testimony from those 21 days in January 1969 shows that the creation of this caliber cannot be algorithmized and blued, placed on a processing scheme and turned on to turn on and off. We see the reputation of The Beatles at stake, eating away at McCartney and Lennon. We see the desperation, with talent under one roof, to find something. And then we see the thaw, the flow and the gushing.
The layering we see briefly in proto-tracks like “Something” – a Harrison classic that would find its place in the Beatles’ last recorded album, Abbey Road, released in 1969 before the 1970 Get Back – is one. intuitive glory that will be contained in a 3:02 final track, which Frank Sinatra would call “the greatest love song ever written”.
We live in a strange world where we value creation without valuing what goes in (and stays outside) this act. The ‘It’s okay to fail’ rhetoric is really evident in every discarded and reworked recording, every hour ‘wasted’ by four creators as young as 30 years old. Reverse engineering the work of The Beatles, as we do in this documentary, is to confirm that creating the highest order – call it “innovation”, “disruption” or whatever makes your goat float RoI – and not just the production of scams, is a messy job that needs skill to receive a lot of elbow room and elbow grease. Oh, and trucks full of tea and cigarettes, or variations of them.