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If you are going to spend the better part of eight hours watching a documentary on The Beatles, you have to count as something of a die-hard fan. I know many other people who are more die-hard than I am and who know far more about The Beatles than I do—my colleague Bob Keeley leading that pack—but I love the music and the band enough that I did watch Peter Jackson’s marathon documentary “The Beatles: Get Back” over the long Thanksgiving Day weekend.
In case you have not heard, in January 1969 The Beatles were prepping for a live TV show concert and in the run-up to that show (that never transpired for a bevy of reasons) a film crew recorded sixty hours of the band rehearsing, jamming, arguing, shooting the breeze, being silly, and smoking (so many cigarettes . . .). A tiny portion of this footage was eventually made into a documentary around 1970 but the footage chosen at that time focused on the disputes and arguments the four lads had from time to time. The upshot was that The Beatles broke up because they just could not get along together anymore and could only and ever make each other miserable.
Peter Jackson had a different idea that was confirmed when he began viewing all of those long sixty hours of footage. He pared it down to eight hours (and I would be among those to say I think he could have pared a bit more) but the resulting film shows that despite some lingering tensions, John, Paul, George, and Ringo still got along, still had a lot of laughs together, still made each other better as they wrote and refined music. Watching John and Paul look directly at each other while singing a song that was in a way a ballad of their friendship (“Two of Us”), the affection that went back to their teenaged years was still palpable.
This came as a tremendous relief apparently to millions of fans. Just before the documentary was released on Disney+ the day after Thanksgiving, Stephen Colbert interviewed director Peter Jackson. Apparently Colbert had been given a preview of the documentary and had had contact with Jackson as he watched it. Both men admitted that they openly cried when they saw various scenes that confirmed how much the Fab Four still liked and maybe even loved each other despite the fact that by 1970 The Beatles would indeed break up for good.
So here is an interesting question: why might this be important to people who have no personal connection with or relationship to any of the Beatles past or present? Why did so many fans—and I will lump myself in with them—hanker to see that if John and Paul—or in one particular scene Paul and George—argued like brothers, it was because at bottom they maybe still loved each other like brothers too? Would the resulting music be any different or any less enjoyable if in fact it had been produced through the gritted teeth of animosity rather than through some smiles and laughs? Does “Don’t Let Me Down” sound nicer since we now know they worked on it in between jam sessions in which John and Paul made each other laugh by singing in the goofiest voices they could muster?
Clearly the music was the music and if it’s true that none of The Beatles ever were as good separately as they magically managed to be together, the exact nature of their togetherness does not alter the music for good or for ill. Yet somehow their liking each other to the end matters to a lot of us. Jackson’s documentary came to many as a relief. Why?
Probably there are lots of reasons I have not even guessed at. And maybe some of you reading this are wondering why I am bothering to broach this at all. But it strikes me that this phenomenon points to the fact that we were made for community. Even people who claim little or no religious affiliation cannot deny that they take delight when people work to get along with each other. There is something about Psalm 133’s idea of its being good and pleasant when folks live together in unity that transcends cultures and languages and religions (or lack thereof).
No doubt this magnifies for us the closer we feel to any given group of people. We want the staff at our places of work to get along and we feel sad in case there is nothing but ongoing strife or tension instead. We certainly want out church congregations to be places of amity and Christ-like love (which is why COVID has been so heartbreaking in that it has fractured congregations all over the place). We want our children and their spouses and their children to create happy family units and not heartbreaking fractious ones. When we gather with old friends—even if we have not seen them in a long time and are no longer as close as we once were—if the old ties can be reestablished and some embers of our college-days friendship can be rekindled even just a little and even if just temporarily, if feels right.
Fans of The Beatles are definitely stretching things to feel like they have some kind of connection with those four. Yet we like to think we do. And because we like the work they did together and are moved by it and gladdened by it all these decades later, then somehow we want to be able to believe that the fruits of their mutual work sprang from love and friendship and not from hate or acrimony (or even from indifference).
Somehow it’s important to us. As Christians, we think we have a pretty good idea why. After all, we were all created in the image of a God who is within Godself a perfect community of harmony and perichoretic fellowship. And so we all like it when we can see people acting like they are small chips off that divine block. It’s good. It’s pleasant. It points to our future in God’s kingdom. Or, to quote “Two of Us,” it reminds us “we’re on our way home.”
Thank you for this. I grew up as a fan of the “Fab Four” and am anxious to see this documentary.
Blessed Christmas and a Healthy New Year.
Question: Was this togetherness of the Beatles a manifestation of the Kingdom of God? Can people who have not been transformed as a result of their faith in Christ still exhibit some of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives? If so, do we see more of this “Christ-less” manifestation of “Christian values” today than the world was seeing some centuries ago? Those are not leading questions. I’m genuinely wondering how to answer them?
Thanks Scott. A related thought. One of the problems for many Reformed pastors is such minimal friendship, such minimal community. They find, eventually, that their sense of community with their congregations is restricted and sometimes fraught, and our Reformed structures (classis and synod) also resist community among pastors. I have had the great privilege of enduring friendships with a small group of United Church of Canada pastors, as the result of one such pastor in particular with leadership instincts who sought us out and made it work. Thirty-five years ago this guy enlisted me as his friend, and I yielded, and he gathered a few of us into a group (with a few regular rituals), and it’s been one of the great things in my life, and helped sustain me in my pastoral ministry. One last thing: our group admires the Beatles, yes, can’t help it, but when we get down, it’s to the Stones.