Rating: PG-13, but R in certain areas later on
Summary: The elusive fifth Beatle gives a revealing interview about her life before the Hamburg days, joining the band, and all that came in between and after.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Beatles and this is about as AU as you can get. I have taken, many, many liberties, namely which that this involves a fictional "fifth" Beatle (who happens to be a female), so history (and certain dates) will very obviously be fudged with. This was a dream that I had for a week -- this wrote itself.
I don’t know exactly how long we kissed, but by the time we had finished, I had been sitting on his lap and was pressed tightly against his chest. His left hand had been wrapped tightly around my hip and the other was at the bottom of my spine, not quite restin' on the top of my bottom. I’d felt the heat of his fingertips through the material of my shirt (which was still tucked into my skirt, mind!) and all the way to my knees. I'd been very, very glad that the others were still asleep so that we were free to sit there together...free to touch.
Those first few days had been heady, and though he was a typical scouser, he’d only held out a few days before he’d told me, straight up as anybody would be with someone they’d been mates with for so long, “I really love you, Liz. I’ve loved you a long, long, long time.” We’d been taking a walk along the beach by Brian Wilson’s house; the Beach Boys had invited us to a barbeque, and the atmosphere was lively with loud music and famous and non-famous friends just pissing ‘round, having a brilliant time of it. The day had been bright and sunny, typical for California, but it made what George said all that lovelier.
For a girl who had prided herself on detached flings and a no-nonsense approach to dating – it would have been impossible to have the rose coloured lenses of most women when it came to romance; I was around lads who’d no qualms in having their women at home while they fucked around when we were on tour – I’d felt a warmth in my heart that I knew wasn’t indigestion, and told him that I did too. George had smiled one of those beautiful smiles that spread over the entire bottom half of his face (all four of our kids had gotten that from him, though the McCartney eyebrows were on three of ‘em) and taking my hands in his, had started circling and twirling me around the beach, our bare toes digging into the wet sad. All the while he’d been softly singing in that warm voice of his, “I feel good in a special way / I’m in love and it’s a sunny day.”
In the years that followed, once we’d had our babes and would go on holiday to one of our houses in Hawaii or on the Virgin Islands, the kids were used to the sight of their Mum and Dad taking off for the beach within hours of arriving. They’d thought nothing was unusual about the fact that they might see us start twirling around on the beach while George’d start singing and I’d giggle along like a loon.
It had been something that we’d done up until the summer before he died, and I knew that no matter how long I lived, that it would be one of my favourite memories of us. It was love.
“By then I knew that I was,” I answered the reporter’s question, snapping myself out of my memories for a moment, “so I said ‘yes’ that time and that was that.”
“How did the others respond?” She asked and I was suddenly reminded of Ringo’s look of surprise before giving a me a chuckle and a, “Well played, Lizzy Macca – who knew you had it in you to make off with the last available Beatle not of your blood?!” while I’d curtsied and gave him a cheeky wink, Paul’s look of playful dismay before he’d turned to George and said “Of all the birds in the world why couldn’t you keep your paws off me sister?” and then John’s naughty, “Spare us the cow eyes and mooning over each other in the studio ‘right? And no fucking in lavvy! It’s a public toilet you animals!”
“This comin’ from a randy wanker like you’s a bit rich!” I’d answered giving him a knowing grin which he hmm’d and haw’d over.
“At least clean up after yourselves then? I don’t fancy goin’ to take a piss knownin’ there’s George-juice all over the place!”
“Mal shut him up! I just had me breakfast!”
“Sod off, John. You’ve a filthy mind you ‘ave. That’s my sister, you know!”
“We’d made the decision to stop touring after that summer, and as long as George and I weren’t acting like a pair of love-mad teenagers while we were recording or rehearsing, there wasn’t much they could go on about.” I smiled.
“You sure that you’ve only just taken up with one another?” Mo had asked us after the dinner she and Ringo had asked us ‘round to a few nights after we’d returned from America. She’d settled into the sofa next to me.
“What’re you on ‘bout?” I’d asked.
“Youse don’t act like most kids who’ve just started datin’, you keep your ‘ands to yourself for one and aren’t hanging off each other for another!” Mo’d laughed at me.
“ ‘Cor, Mo, you’ve seen me with blokes before. I ain’t the type to hang off my fella even if I fancied getting the mickey taken out of me by the lot of smarmy bastards I run ‘round with most of the time.”
“If you break his heart and his playing goes to shite, I’ll hold you personally responsible, Macca Jr,” John had rung to tell me from Spain where he’d gone off to film How I Won The War.
“Hold on, hold on there. Why is you so worried about me breakin’ his heart, what about me eh? Sweet as a lamb, I am!”
“Someone’s been tellin’ you tales, girl – probably one of those other blokes you’ve crushed beneath your shiny Beatle boot heels over the years! You’re a tough old girl, though you look like a dolly bird. You should know better than anyone what a delicate constitution old Harry has. Watch that you don’t chew ‘im up and spit ‘im out like you’ve done with all your blokes, ‘right? I need him for the next album!” Wanker, even though he’d been a wanker that made me want to clobber him and would then say something that would set me off like a loon the next.
“How long was it before you decided to get married?”
I sat back in my comfortable chair. “It was pretty quick, few weeks later. We just saw no reason not to, told the others what we wanted to do, and so early one morning in October, we went to Marylebone registry office and got married. Paul and John’s first wife Cyn were our witnesses.”
I remembered how he’d leaned over me in bed one morning a few weeks after we’d flown back to London, and smiled one of those warm smiles that I felt all the way to the bottom of me toes and up. “I think it’s time I make an honest woman out o’ you, Lizzy.”
“What are you suggestin’ Mr. Harrison?” I’d laughed up at him, pushing his hair out his face with my fingers. He’d looked so delicious with the warm sunlight on his shoulders, and had felt so nice too with his chest pressed against my naked breasts. We’d been at it all afternoon, and I’d been sleepy, but so happy. I’d leaned up to kiss a little spot under his jaw that’d just been beggin’ for a kiss, and had felt the scratchiness of a day’s worth of beard on my cheekbone.
“Let’s get married, Liz,” he’d whispered into my ear before kissing the side of my neck, one of his hands had moved over my breast.
I’d been quiet for a minute after he said that, thoughts racing through me head. Despite our behaviour otherwise, me and George had been brought up in old-fashioned homes. Since makin’ it big, we’d started living lives that we coulda only dreamed about years and years ago, and to most common folk, the lives we were livin’, the crowd we ran with, the stuff we got up to in our circle, would be thought of as leadin’ us straight to hell in a handbasket – as if one of us tellin’ them “that we were bigger than Jesus” weren’t enough! It wasna that we were too fussed with being all moral and whatnot, but at the core of it all, I knew that we were still those working class kids from Liverpool with those same working class morals despite doin’ things that mayn’t have gone along with it most of the time.
But to get married…that was a completely different kettle of fish!
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” I’d asked him finally, looking him straight in the eye. “We’re not exactly lightweights here.” My baggage had consisted of a father and two brothers, one of which was a band mate and I wasn’t too sure if George’d thought about also bein’ stuck with Paulie for the rest of his natural life. And George’s mum, bless her, could be right overbearin’ at times even though she did make the most heavenly scones and always made a point of telling me how skinny I looked whenever I ran into her during trips back home.
“I think I’d be willin’ to even take John on as a relation if it meant gettin’ you, Lizzy.” And George had laughed, letting me know that explanations were not necessary!
“Youse must be gettin’ right desperate there, Mr. Harrison if you is even bringing Johnny boy into the equation!” And I’d hugged him so tight to me then, feeling his laughter rumble in the chest pressed tight against mine. It had been a while yet before we’d left his room, more specifically his very, very comfortable bed. We’d celebrated our engagement with beans on toast and a large pot of tea in front of the telly and it had been lovely.
What had made it lovelier still was that while we sat there he told me, “ S’a good thing you said ‘yes’ Liz, or else I’d have a lot of explain to do to your old man. Didn’t take too kindly to my ringin’ him up before he’d even had his morning cuppa to ask ‘bout takin’ youse on as me wife!”
“You didn’t!” I’d exclaimed, looking up at George with wide eyes. Who’d you think I’d got the barrel of tea drinking gene from anyhow? I knew that me Dad wouldna have taken too kindly to being rung up before he’d had his first proper cup of tea in the morning, even if it was to ask for his only daughter’s hand all proper-like, but knowing that George’d gone through the trouble of it had made my heart feel like it’d doubled in size.
“Aye I did, and right willin’ he was to get you off his hands too! I’d only opened me gob to say, ‘Mr. McCartney, I’d like to talk to you ‘bout me and Liz’ before he cut in and told me ‘Five bob’s me last offer, son!’ Funny bloke, your dad.”
I remembered the look of pride that had come over George’s face when he saw me in the dress I’d gotten for the occasion days later. His smile had been so wide, so big, and it’d been all I could do to not smother him with kisses – though I’d restrained meself ‘cos I wasna sure how me brother would handle it, he could be such a squeamish lad at times. Regardless, I’d felt dead chuffed at being so obviously adored by a man I thought was bloody gorgeous and that really did have the loveliest brown eyes.
‘Sides, I would always remember the look of surprise on the magistrate’s face when he saw that both the bride and groom weren’t taking the mickey by using some famous peoples’ names to get married, but were in fact, both Beatles.
“Did things change much after the wedding?” The reporter asked and I couldn’t help but think about the honeymoon we’d had in Italy where George’d surprised me with a trip to a musical conservatory. I remembered how amazin’ I had found it when we’d been shown into a big room where the string section of an orchestra was practicing.
“Mr. Harrison has told us that you are a cellist, signora.” The woman showin’ us ‘round had said to me. I’d looked at George out of the corner of me eye. “Would you like to join them?” She had continued, and though I’d gotten used to the attention that we’d get from people, seeing the same googly-eyed expression on the faces of an entire roomful of musicians who probably played better than I ever would made me a bit uncomfortable, but I’d nodded.
Two young lookin’ fellas had brought round a cello from somewhere in the back, and tho’ I wouldna have gone along with it if I’d thought they were going to raise a fuss about it, I’d done my best to smile good-naturedly to the other cellists who looked at me with the same wide-eyed looks and ignorin’ George’s big smile and waggly eyebrows, I’d sat myself down. I remember that I’d been a wee bit nervous going into it, but when the conductor motioned for them to begin, ignoring the fact that none of them had sheet music, they’d started playing one of Bach’s Cello Suites: the one I’d been playing the first time that John’d heard me play all those years ago. Somehow I’d known that wasn’t a coincidence. My fingers had moved comfortably over the strings as I’d followed along, incapable of keepin’ what I knew was a huge smile off me face.
I’d nodded at the conductor in thanks when it was over, wanting to enjoy it ‘cause I wasn’t sure if I’d ever have the chance to do something like that again. The woman who’d been showing us ‘round had asked me what I’d thought of it. I remember how I’d sighed before telling her, “That was brilliant and what a fantastic instrument, what’s it made of?” I’d missed my Stradivarius so much then.
“I’m not sure, Liz, but it’s yours.” George had said to me, exchanging a sneaky grin with the woman.
“You’re havin’ me on!” I’d laughed, my knees tightening on either side of the magnificent cello in front of me.
“John’ll have me ‘ead for encouragin’ you and your un-scouserlike way, but if it makes you happy, love,” he’d said and ignoring all the Italian kiddies ‘round who probably couldna believe that not one but two Beatles were there – I had wondered how they’d managed to keep it quiet afterwards, probably threatening to blacklist ‘em from ever performing on a concert stage – I’d jumped up, bow in hand, and wrapped me arms ‘round his neck and kissed him soundly. He’d laughed and squeezed me tightly.
“No not really. During the first rehearsal for Pepper I did make a point of telling the lads that I wanted them to carry on like normal, that George and I were musicians first and foremost and that we weren’t going to do anything to jeopardize the band.” I laughed. “And nothing changed much. During the recordings, if I was playing something in the wrong key or whatever, I’d get shit from all of them, George included, and vice versa. In the studio, we were band mates; it was separate from our marriage. Outside of the studio, we were George and Liz Harrison, but in the studio I was still called ‘Macca Jr’ and ‘young Liz’ and getting told off just like the others. ”
“Sgt. Pepper was the first album that you all made as a non-touring band, right?”
“Yes. We were right nervous about it, let me tell you!” And I’d chuckled knowing that was just the tip of the iceburg!
“This has to be solid.” Paul had said to us during that first rehearsal, and though we’d gone about it like we always did, it’d always been in the back of our heads. The album needed to be better than all the other stuff we’d ever made, especially since we knew that our days of performing like trained monkeys in front of a crowd of screaming fans were over.
“I’m not sure how much you’ve kept up with the media in the last few years, but did you know that this magazine ranked Sgt. Pepper the greatest album of all time? That has consistently been the case in poll after poll over the past forty years. Did you go into the recording of that album imagining the impact that it would have?”
I considered this for a moment before replying. “Uhh, not exactly. We knew since we weren’t going to tour anymore that we had to really try and make somethin’ special out of it, you know? We felt freer with Pepper than with any of the previous LPs. I know it would be easy for me to bitch ‘bout the downfalls of how famous we were, but on the flipside, we had the creative freedom to make whatever the hell we wanted. It was unheard of in those days, still is really, for a band to just experiment in the studio, to use studio time to try out different sounds, instruments, arrangements. Because we were so famous – we were the most successful British group out there – we had the luxury of taking our time with it. If you think about it, we recorded our first LP in two weeks and did Pepper in about five months.”
I remembered those days. We’d arrive shortly before 9 pm, long ago having fallen into the pattern of working into the early morning. I’d sit in my chair, it was the one closest to the piano, and before getting on with it, I’d totter over to Paulie, John, or George Martin to get the low down on what we were scheduled to work on that night. When we got down to business, we’d be at it for a few hours, Geoff or one of the other lads that worked with us would bring ‘round a pot of tea during a break, which as you must probably know I was usually fussy ‘bout.
I remembered certain times during those breaks: John or Paul (but usually Paulie) sitting at the piano and tickling bits and pieces of songs they’d been working on; Rings tappin’ along while I ran through the lead guitar section of a song and givin’ me one of those encouraging smiles of his all the while; sitting there watching George, dressed in a flowy white caftan, strummin’ out Within You and Without You in the earliest stages with his eyes tightly closed. There’d I’d be, working on chord patterns on my guitar, or pluckin’ away on the cello George’s surprised me with and which the lads had moved into the studio for me as a surprise… just bouncin’ ideas off of all of ‘em. ‘Round one or half past, I’d kip off to the roof with whoever was of mind for a smoke, ‘cos all of us’d known that George Martin wasn’t too keen on us passing ‘round joints or whatever other drugs we’d gotten into while we were in the studio.
It was with that LP that they all began to really encourage me and my very un-scouserlike ways and pushed me to be as creative as I liked in what I was coming up with in the orchestral arrangements I was workin’ on with George Martin. I’d never been terribly big-headed about my abilities as a musician, but it had meant a lot – though I’d never admit it to them mind. The string section of She’s Leaving Home had been the product of few hours’ work with both George Martin and Paul. Ultimately in the end it wasn’t just them feeling freer to experiment with their music, it was me too. Sgt.Pepper is one of my favourite LPs of the ones we made – though I’d been kitted out in a god-awful purple marching band suit on the cover that had been hotter than hell.
“Are there any specific songs that the band worked for that album that you’re fond of?” The reporter continued.
I considered that for a moment. I’d always cracked a grin in interviews I’d see of the other lads later where they’d be asked by some overzealous interviewer about the songs they liked the best – in some way I figured it was like askin’ a parent which of their kids they liked the most. You weren’t supposed to just straight up tell them! I did the same now.
“I‘m quite fond of all the tracks off of it. You’ve got to understand, we were like kiddies in a sweet shop with that LP. It was more than the ‘I love you, you love me’ from our earlier LPs – we really took the entire recording artist thing to our heads with it.” But I smiled at her because I was unable not to when it came to that album; it was one of our finest work, I think. “I s’ppose if you want me to single certain tracks out were worked on then, I really like Strawberry Fields, A Day in the Life, She’s Leaving Home, of course Within You And Without You, Penny Lane, and Lovely Rita if I am feelin’ especially cheeky!”
The reporter laughed, “More than just a song or two!”
“I’m tellin’ you, lovie, it’s hard to narrow it down.”
“Strawberry Fields wasn’t on that album though –“
“It was released as a single with Penny Lane, but it was one of the first songs we worked on when we were recording. I think it’s a terrific example of some of John’s better stuff; I’ll be straight up with you, not all of the stuff we recorded that was written by either he or Paul was the gear, but he was capable of writin’ some really great stuff when it came down to it. Strawberry Fields is an amazing track, and A Day in the Life is one of the best songs ever written – it’s bloody brilliant in every way. Maybe I’ve overstatin’ it, maybe I’m just bein’ bloody biased because I was in the same band, but a lot of the stuff that John wrote before and after can’t compare to Day In the Life.”
I’d worked too long with John and Paul to have ‘em on the pedestal that many did. I’d acknowledged since the very beginning that, overlookin’ the fact that I’d run ‘round in dirty nappies with Paulie and that I’d seen John at his most vile worst when he could be a right bastard and usually ended in me wondering ‘bout the difference between those fancy legal words ‘premeditated murder’ and ‘manslaughter’, they were great musicians, but I wasn’t blind to their weaknesses when it came to music, just as I figured they were more than aware of mine.
But then one of ‘em would mention a song they’d been workin’ on and it would make knowing ‘bout those weaknesses absolutely fucking unimportant. That’s how it’d been the first time John’d played A Day in the Life for us; I’d been incapable of thinking anything more to myself than ‘Bloody hell, Liz.’ Whenever the thought’d cross your mind that John couldn’t possibly be as bleeding special as it was said he was, he’d pull something like that song out on you, and it would make your doubts shut their big fat gobs.
“Did you play the harp on She’s Leaving Home?” The reporter asked. I shook my head.
“No I played the cello, but I helped to arrange the strings with George Martin, which was nice because I was able to really learn about how to make sections like that work. I never stopped playin’ the guitar on the album—” The title track and the reprise support that I think “but they were encouragin’ me to add some cello here and a bit of violin there, which I thought at the time was really great. Not too many bands were doin’ that sort of stuff, so that reaffirmed my thought that our creativity was probably at its peak with that LP.”
“Did you contribute any tracks to the album? Were there any Elizabeth McCartney tracks added under the psuedonym Lennon/McCartney?” She chuckled, leaning towards me.
“Not really, I sort of just added my bits here and there. I can’t write songs, you see!” I grinned at the almost disbelieving look she was sending my way. “Really, I’m not havin’ you on, I can’t. This isna fake modesty! I can do more of the instrumental stuff, but I’m shit when it comes to words – just can’t do it.”
“If you had though, would your other band mates have been receptive do you think?”
“I’m not sure, really." I said, hearing the wistful tone in my voice. "For the most part I was happy to just do my bit, make our music, and bounce ideas off the lads.” I sighed before I went on. “George had a bit of a time with it though, I don’t think John or Paul were ever willing to extend their club.”
“Did anyone other than George play on his only song on that album?”
“Oh no,” I laughed, “George was possessive of his songs when he got them! He brought in some Indian musicians and went with it.” I remembered George’s even look when he’d told me that he wanted to go alone on that track – I hadn’t raised a fuss because I’d known it was important to him. I’d really enjoyed watching him play it though, his hands moving up the dandi and over the frets. Unlike the others I’d sat in for all the required takes to get it down because I wanted that for him and because it’d made me happy to see the ease and peace that took over him with it. I wasn’t about to tell this reporter that in the times I’d heard the song since his passing, hearing him sing, “And to see that you’re only really small. And life flows on within you and without you” filled me with a sense of calm – because that’s what it’d done for him.
I wouldn’t make this more melodramatic than this ought to be.
“Did George ever express any sort of resentment to you around this time over the difficulty that he had getting his songs onto the albums?” Nancy-the-reporter leaned back in her chair, giving me one of those searchin’ sort of looks I’d been on the receiving end of a lot during this interview.
I figured that she’d gotten used to the bit of silence on my part that came after some of her questions, because she waited patiently for me to go on with it, breaking eye contact with me only just before it started gettin’ a wee bit uncomfortable. “He didn’t sit ‘round boo-hooin’ about it or anything, he wasn’t the kind of guy to do that. It wouldn’t have been necessary though, at the time we all just went with it. With the five of us it was kind of established that John and Paul were the songwriters.” I wasn’t able to keep the bit of a teasin’ tone that came into me voice, remembering all the times that I’d start in on either of ‘em if I thought the entire Britain’s best songwriting duo of the past two decades thing was gettin’ to their heads.
“May I tighten the strings on me guitar please may I sir???? I dun wanna affect the harmoniousnessity of your music as stated in the Times on 20th October of this year of our Lord our savior amen sir!” I’d asked John one day when he was bein’ a right pain in the arse about Ringo’s playing during a take, giving him the same shit-eating grin he seemed to forever sending my way.
“Mind it’s only half a turn or else it’ll be off to the cellar with youse.” He’d answered without missing a beat, but he’d lightened up considerably after that and I hadn’t needed to worry about how I’d go about explainin’ to Cyn just how he’d managed to get his head stuck in one of Rings’s drum kits or a stick somewhere the sun didn’t shine!
“I knew it got to George but bein’ so used to it, he didn’t push it most of the time. It became more and more of a problem as time went on though, but it hadn’t yet gotten to the point where whatever resentment he may’ve felt about it became animosity.”I concluded, and was quiet once again, waiting for her next question.
“Even with that though, relationships between all of you continued to be good?”
“Oh aye, that was the change. I think the way its been put by the guys is that in those days if there was a problem or whatnot, it was with the outside world, but not with one another, you know? It would’ve been abnormal if we’d always gotten along right as rain and didn’t a row now and then.” I laughed. “I once heard George describe it like a marriage – there was nothin’ like an argument here and there to keep things interestin’! And even with all of that, we were still able to go ‘round telling the world that it was all ‘bout peace and luv – being the summer of Love and all.”
“And then you told the world ‘All You need is love’!” She laughed and I joined in, long ago havin’ acknowledged the irony of it after all these years.
“Well it was in those days, wasn’t it?” I know that I’d told her earlier that ’64 to ’66 were a blur, but I shoulda probably extended it ‘til 1968.
“I remember watching a tape of the performance the band did on One World, it was fantastic! Did you or the others imagine that millions upon millions of people would be watching you record the song live?”
“When we were asked to do it, we’d been told it would be seen simultaneously by millions of people but you know,” I chuckled, “hearing ‘bout it is quite different than actually doin’ it. We’d performed sold out shows for years, but even then, it was nothin’ like knowin’ in the back of your head ‘Bloody hell, people in New Zealand and Canada and Blackpool are all watching me perform at the same time’!”
I remembered that performance; sitting on a stool on on George's left with my headphones on, loose hair pulled over one shoulder, beads around my neck, and a flower tucked behind an ear. I’d opted out of playing either the cello or the violin on it, instead taking rhythm guitar since John would be on lead vocal. There had been an air of excitement in that room, with all those people standing and sitting ‘round us on the floor, and I’d enjoyed it tremendously, cracking a grin when I’d joined Paul and George in singing background vocals, something I’d avoided doing in the past.
Definitely a once in a lifetime sort of thing.
She smiled and then gave a small shake of her head. “You speak so fondly of what was going on with the band during those days, of how much you enjoyed the work that you all did on that album, but is there anything, if you had the chance to do it, that you’d go back and change or even do a little differently during that period?”
“On the album you mean, or in me life in general?”
“Either.” She prompted with a raised eyebrow and I responded in kind.
“Errr… if I could change anything, I’d go back and tell myself to cut back on the grass. We were all smoking a lot of pot in those days. And I’d tell myself to not take myself too seriously; I could be a right drag as times!”I sighed.
“How do you think the drugs affected your music during that time?” She asked me suddenly. “It’s well known that the band was heavily experimenting with LSD during the making of Sgt. Pepper. How different do you think the album would’ve been if you hadn’t experimented with drugs during that time?”
“We’d been using something or other since the very beginning, so it wasna anything new. The lads lived off of corn flakes, Prellies, cigarettes, and cheap booze during the Hamburg days. In the beginning, we took speed because it was the only way we could perform for hours on end, and then we got into grass pretty heavily in ’64 and sort of stuck to that for a while until LSD came on the scene. Sgt. Pepper was not the first album we made experimentin’ with LSD, but in part, I think what that album was, other than the concept album it’s called nowadays – is our trying to find a balance in making music that excited us and producing something our fans could appreciate. The album could’ve gone either way even if we hadn’t messed around with LSD, but as it was, we were into it, so it’s hard now to think of what it might’ve been otherwise.”
“What appealed to you about LSD, Liz?”
I considered that for a moment. “It’s completely fake and chemical induced – it’s not real though it feels like it when you’re going through it – but LSD literally makes you sense the world in a new, bonkers kind of way. I’d been questioning a lot of things in the world ‘round that time, I think we all were, and trippin’ on acid just encouraged that. That entire ‘turn off your mind’ thing.”
I remembered the first time I’d ever used it, thankfully not on me own. John had talked about it in the interview years and years ago when he said that the band had been the biggest bastards of ‘em all. I’d been over to dinner at a doctor’s with him, Cyn, and George; Paul and Rings hadn’t come along. I’m not sure what his game had been, but as the story went, the doctor had slipped some LSD into our coffee and I after that, I hadn’t known what the bloody hell was going on.
It had been like going ‘round in some sort of dream, experiencing the world that way. “Alright, Liz?” John had asked me when the four of us’d bailed out of there and were driving away, looking at me behind his dark-lensed specs. In a way, looking at him that time had been like I’d never seen him before in me entire life – when he talked to me, I saw colours and knowing that Cyn would think nothing of it, I reached over and touched his face, and it was like I could smell the texture of his skin with me fingers. “Blech, s’like boiled cabbage it is!” I’d giggled, eyes wide as I leaned me head against Cyn’s shoulder.
He and George had started laughing at me, both starin’ out the window at what seemed like a much brighter and colourful version of the world. They hadn’t told me what they were seeing, but I imagined it was as mad at the craziness going on ‘round me. Cyn hadn’t been so fascinated though, had looked frightened and uncomfortable.
“John, what’s going on?” She had asked, but he hadn’t answered, continuing to look out the window of the moving car. I’d sort of just given her a bit of a one-armed hug, tasting the texture of cotton on my tongue and tried to not stare at the bright yellow sun that had taken the place of her eyes. It had marked the first of many, many times that followed in the next few years that I’d trip on acid.
“You mention that you were questioning a lot of things during that time and that using LSD encouraged that. What sort of things did that entail?”
“Nothin’ too out of this world really, I guess the typical things that everyone questions during some point in their life, you know? Tryin’ to figure out what your place in the world is, what your entire view on life is. The craziness that followed John’s supposed ‘bigger than Jesus’ statement was very eye opening.”
“In what way would you say?”
“Realisin’ that people actually cared about what we thought, you know? If you think about it, if it’d been any normal Joe blow, them sayin’ something like that might get a ‘give your chin a rest, son’ but it wouldna have made people murderous over it. Then again, they weren’t a Beatle.” I said the last bit with every bit of disparagement that I usually held about it.
“You were the biggest band in the world at that point –“
“Exactly!” I laughed, giving a shake of my head. “But think about it, ten – twenty years before, a musician wouldna ‘ave needed to go on a national programme to apologise for their something they said in the interview months after the fact.”
“You need to do it John,” Brian had said a few days after we’d gotten word that a magasine had a portion of the quote from an interview John had given to the London Standard splattered over its front page. He’d had a very serious, worried look on his face.
We’d all been hanging ‘round the sitting area of the hotel suite we were in at the time. I’d bummed a bifta off of Ringo and sighed “Give us a light, please.”
“It’s a load of bullshit, Brian. I’m not goin’ to go ‘round apologisin’ for the truth; if they can’t deal with it, then fuck ‘em!” John had been livid, and I’d been fairly irritated on his behalf; I’d kept my comments ‘bout the press and reporters to meself.
“It’s getting out of hand, John. Haven’t you seen what’s been on the telly?! This is more than irate fans breaking an album or two. We’re having a press conference and you need to apologise, retract what you said; say that it was taken out of context.” Brian had told John sternly in a voice that he didn’t use too often, but when he had we’d known he meant business.
“If this is about losing fans, then we’re well rid of ‘em!” George had added loyally, also having taken a cigarette off Rings who should’ve known better than to take a new packet of ciggies out ‘round us.
“I ain’t doin’ it, Eppy.” John had said coldly as if letting us all know that the conversation was over. But he had, and after it was over, it’d been one of the few times I ever saw him in tears over something. Sitting up there with him and the others, what seemed like a hundred cameras flashin’ in front of my eyes had been one of the more uncomfortable things in my entire life. It wouldn’t ever be something that we’d talk about directly. Roundabout, yes, but directly -- no, that wasn't our style seems like.
“Regardless,” I said to the reporter across from me, “that experience really opened my eyes to how much people seemed to care about the stuff coming out of our mouths. We were just kids, but they acted as if we were the spokespeople for an entire generation. That’s a heavy duty, lovie! I had to figure out how to deal with it.”
“How did you decide to deal with it?”
“I guess that I tried to be positive about it, though it was bloody hard ‘round that time. We were just so sick of it. Once we’d stopped touring and were just focusin’ on the music, it became easier to handle, or at least I thought it was easier to handle. I dunno.”
“It must have felt nice on some level though, wouldn’t you agree? Knowing that you were capable of bringin’ up views that others were apparently interested in?”
I emptied my cuppa, but hesitated to make my way back to the kettle. “Yeah sure, I s’ppose so. I think it gave us a false sense of really being able to change the world in some way. I dunno, I guess there was as bit o’ that in everyone. Twas the way o’ the world then – idealism at its best!”
“Wasn’t it around this time that George began to get involved with Indian mysticism?”
I nodded, “Yeah. Like all of us he was lookin’ for answers to life’s questions. I guess on some level, that was the thing with LSD – ‘round that time, many scholarly types like Leary and Aldous Huxley, were toutin’ it as this really fantastic thing that would help us understand life in a way that it’d never been understood before. We all knew that there was something out there, something greater and more powerful than us; whether that was God, or Gita, or Allah, or whatever you want to call it, it existed. George found what he was looking for then, but kept his mind open.”
“And what did you decide?”
“I can’t remember if it was anything important. That’s the thing with LSD, experiencin’ your senses in new ways is nice and all, but after a while you want to be conscious of what you’re doing, you want to stop livin’ in a dream; at least I did.” I’d also gotten a little freaked out by my flashbacks and the occasional bad trip and decided to let it go. I guessed there was no point in referencing the pot-fueled journeys that Rubber Soul and Help had been. Or the occasional tripping that gone on during Revolver.
“So there you were Liz, no longer touring, newly married, experimenting with and making music with the guys that you were enthusiastic about, fully involved in a band that many do consider one of the most innovative of all times. Did you ever think that any of the others’ wives or girlfriends resented your role; that you were able to be in the studio and actively involved in the recording process during those days?” She asked, once again changing the topic quickly.
“I’ve never been told anything about it. During the making of that album and in earlier albums, Cyn and Mo would come by the studio in the evenings sometimes, and Jane did too when she wasn’t on location for a film. The three of them were really lovely when George and I first got together and that didn’t change when we got married. I think they all had a private laugh at George Beatle and Liz Beatle getting married; I’m sure a lot of people had that reaction.” I stood and this time helped myself cup of tea before returning to the kitchen table and continued where I’d left off. “You see the thing about it is that recording isn’t always a lot of fun, or a lot of laughs, it’s hard work. We enjoyed it, but it wasn’t easy. The other girls knew if they came to the studio to watch us record that they’d probably spend most of the time hearing us perform the same song over and over and might hear us start ripping into one another. There just wasn’t a lot for them to do while we were recording albums.”
“But that changed didn’t it – when John started bringing Yoko to the studio?” I tensed up and coughed.
“Right.” My voice was quipped even to my ears. Another topic I knew would be coming but I still hadn’t figured how to go about it quite properly.
“What did you think of Yoko when you first met her?”
I shrugged. “I didn’t know what to think of her actually, none of us did. She just showed up one day with John and stayed.”
We’d been back from India a few weeks and were startin’ to work on what would be the White Album when she showed up to the studio one day, this tiny woman with mounds of black hair who looked at John like she’d owned him. If I’d been a proper friend I would’ve rung Cyn about it, but I hadn’t.
“Paul was the one that the media famously said didn’t get on with Yoko when she came on the picture. What was your relationship with her?” I had known that this would be an inevitable question.
“I was polite but I stayed out of it.”
“Were you very close to Cynthia?”
I nodded a bit, “I have known Cynthia since I was seventeen. She’s a lovely person.”
“How did what happened with John and Yoko affect your relationship with Cynthia and Julian?”
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair and brought my cuppa to my lips. “One of the shittiest things that -any of us did when all of that was going on was try to stay out of it. John was adamant that none of us have anything to do with Cyn after he took up with Yoko, and being the cowards we were, we left it be. No one wanted to get on John’s bad side. George and I still saw Julian and had him ‘round to our house some days, if only to keep him from the ugliness of the divorce and all the shit going on.” I was reminded of the days that he and George would take off to the small lake a kilometer or so from our house in Esher, and would spend all morning and lunchtime fishing, and how they’d bring a few home for dinner.
“ S’only fair that we catch ‘em that you get to clean ‘em, Lizzy!” Julian would laugh up at me, his cheeks flushed from the sun.
“Don’t you know that I’m a famous rock n’ roller, lovie? We’re excused from having to rake out fish guts!” I’d answer, scrunching up me nose to make the most exaggeratingly disgusted face I could while the wee lad would break into a fit of giggles. “Come ‘ead, Jules. Let’s go look at my cars while Liz fries up din din,” and George would settle a hand on his wee shoulders and would lead him out of the kitchen, givin’ me an evil grin all the while.
“How are you and Yoko today?” Nancy-the-reporter asked, bringing me out of yet another memory I’d trailed off to.
“We’re polite, but you know, we’re never going to be great friends. We’re different people, she and I. She’s John’s widow though and out of respect for him I will keep being polite.”
“What’s your relationship with Cynthia and Julian now?”
“It’s lovely, great. I talk to Cyn fairly regularly, same with Julian. I’ve known him since he was a baby and he’s just a very sweet, gentle man. Cyn did a wonderful job with him.”
“Out of curiosity have you read Cynthia’s recent biography about John?”
I nodded. “She sent me a copy a week before it came out to the public and I read it that night.”
“What did you think of it?” I stopped to consider this for a moment, knowing that I needed to phrase things carefully.
“The thing about it is that her story is just one side of the story. I feel for her, you know? I know John wasn’t very good to her towards the end, and he should have been a better to Julian. We all know that John loved Cyn when they were together – he was mad for her in those early days – but he could be a right bastard and would say really nasty things that could make you feel an inch tall. I think one thing she said was very true and that was that he hated conflict and usually dealt with it by going away. I’m not sure what happened in their marriage, but to be honest I’ll say that John really did love her when they were together. Things happen though and the only people who know why a marriage disintegrates are the people in it.”
“Would you consider how the band ended equivalent to the end of a marriage? To a divorce?”
“That’s one way of looking at it I guess.”
“What do you think caused the breakup of The Beatles?” Another inevitable question. I looked down at my watch, seeing it’d taken us almost an hour and a half to get here.
“The others have talked about,” I began after a minute, “the beginning started rollin’ full steam ahead when Brian died. It was a terrible time for us.” Shit that was putting it mildly.
To be continued.
As always, any and all comments are appreciated.