Forty-six years ago this Wednesday, The Beatles held their final 'official' public concert ever, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
Aug. 29, 1966 marked the last time that a large audience would ever watch the Fab Four perform on stage (although smaller crowds would see them play 'Hey Jude' on the David Frost show in the summer of 1968; and an even more select crowd would delight in their famous Apple rooftop concert in January 1969).
Candlestick marked a dramatic turning point in The Beatles' career and lives – since their music had already become far too complex and sophisticated to play as a four-piece band on stage, they 'retired' to make their magic in the confines of the EMI recording studios in London.
In addition, touring no longer made any sense – the group had become so overwhelmingly popular that they did not really have to do anything so strenuous as a world tour to promote their next single or album.
More importantly, touring turned into a debilitating and even dangerous undertaking – the worst incident likely occurred in The Philippines where, having offended First Lady Imelda Marcos by not appearing before her highness, The Beatles were physically and violently threatened by army troops before they could escape the country (never again to return).
1966 also marked a sharp change in The Beatles' music – before that year, the group adhered to a strict (even exasperating) schedule of concerts, TV appearances and films, with recording sessions squeezed in between.
Consequently, songs from this period tend to have been concise, quick, with a melodious hook – rather like an assembly-line.
From 1966 onward, they could afford to spend enormous time and money in the studio, using all kinds of tricks and gimmicks, in order to make some truly immortal and monumental albums and singles.
A portion of Beatles fans prefer the charm, simplicity and nostalgia of the 1962-1966 period, while, I suspect, a much larger percentage of listeners prefer the more adventurous and ambitious 1967-1970 era.
I don't really make such a distinction since I treasure every year of The Beatles' existence and love practically every single and album they ever recorded (even the more mediocre offerings possessed something interesting to them).
However, 1966 and the end of touring clearly indicated a point of no return – and perhaps kicked off a series of events that would lead to the group's break-up three years later.
To 'honor' the Candlestick concert, I decided to read (actually re-read) the famous interview John Lennon gave to Rolling Stone magazine in December 1970 – when the world fully realized the group had really broken up and were eager to find out all the details behind it.
I had not read this epic interview in at least two decades and it left me feeling sad and frustrated (I can only imagine what 1970 readers felt about it).
The interview (which coincided with the release of the excellent 'John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' LP) presents Lennon as a confused, vaguely-angry , rambling, perhaps drug-addled, man who doesn't have a clue what he really wants to say.
John is relentlessly dismissive not only of The Beatles’ music, but also the works of many other artists. He also virulently attacks producer George Martin, the fans, the media and the hangers-on at Apple (some of whom were his closest friends).
Clearly seeking to de-mythologize the group he helped create, he made absurd blanket statements like The Beatles “'sold out” and that their best music was “never recorded.”
Lennon comes across as an immature, vulgar, incoherent and none too bright. He also makes a fool of himself by praising manager Allen Klein (who was later revealed to be an unscrupulous criminal that John himself eventually sued); and music producer Phil Spector (a mentally deranged maniac who eventually went to jail for murder).
Lennon only has kind words for his wife Yoko Ono – but it's more complicated than that. He makes one statement, then seconds later contradicts himself. In virtually the same sentence, he praises The Beatles as the greatest music act of the century, then condemns them as overrated. He goes around in endless circles that lead nowhere.
Much of his “anger” sounds contrived and phony – it's not really clear why he is so bitter. Many of his replies begin with the tiresome phrases ”I don't know...” or “I don’t remember…,” which leads one to wonder why he agreed to the interview in the first place.
Lennon also spews a lot of contrived 'hippie' terms and American-type profanity that Britons really didn't use at the time.
Despite John's brilliance as a songwriter and the stupendous contributions he made to The Beatles, this interview exposed him as a pathetic and embittered poser and fool.
I have read many interviews of musicians and other celebrities and I always find them revealing and interesting. I think that if you read enough interviews of a particular person (someone you have likely never met) you can get a decent idea of their state of mind and personality.
It's intriguing to realize that the interviews given by each of The Beatles closely parallel their musical styles – John's monologues are typically unfocused, meandering, self-conflicting, shapeless and naive (like many of his songs); Paul McCartney is usually direct, linear and concise, but reveals little of his soul or true feelings; George Harrison speaks in aphorisms, his words are often dense and inaccessible; while Ringo Starr's words are simple, straightforward and not all that relevant or profound.
I also believe that the adage “The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts” was tailor-made for The Beatles. The music and magic they created as a foursome during the 1960s will never be surpassed, nor even matched, by any musical entity. Such a thing would be impossible to even conceive of.
However, I no longer hold the individual Beatles in such high regard as I once did. When one views them strictly on their own merits (as opposed to the four-headed beast that conquered and charmed the world), they are… less than compelling figures.
Part of this is because they have become over-exposed – I know “too much” about them, and this is never a healthy thing for people one has never personally met.
Moreover, there is a great danger is investing too much emotion into people whose talents you admire, but don’t have any direct personal relationship with whatsoever. That is the risk inherent in ”celebrity worship.” With a character as difficult as Lennon, such an attachment becomes almost self-defeating.
In any case, between the Candlestick Park concert in 1966 and John Lennon’s devastating interview in December 1970, the world turned upside down and changed so much that it bewilders the imagination. The Beatles, in that short interval of time, rose to unprecedented heights of fame and success, then came crashing down and even tried to destroy their own myth and legacy. But they created a gift so huge that not even John Lennon’s acidic mouth could even make a dent in it.