All About The Girl Podcast
Chloe and Daisy talk about the women in the Beatles story. They discuss their lives, their work, and their extraordinary impact.
Find them here!
Anushka Bidani: So, I have a story to tell you–When I first got into the Beatles’ fandom if it wasn’t for the hashtag McLennon, then I might not have even stayed; and I’ll tell you why. Once I was done going through all the music and consuming the primary canon, I think the only thing that’s left for any curious fan to do is to go on Tumblr. But when you go on Tumblr and type in ‘The Beatles’, or any new fandom that’s already quite huge, it’s like you’re entering a foreign country. And there, you can know the rules, you can know the language–but you might think you know it, but you don’t really know it. You don’t know how to speak that language. You don’t know what kind of food these people like to eat. You don’t know when the sun sets, you don’t know if guests are allowed to wear their shoes inside your house; you don’t really know anything. And if, you’re looking to build a home in this foreign country–to run with the metaphor–I think you need to find a corner that really speaks to you. And for me, that corner, that anchor, just happened to be the hashtag McLennon; and I have a theory about this. My theory is that when you walk into Beatles-land, for a lot of young and new fans the hashtag McLennon, that particular corner of the fandom, is the most accessible part of the fandom. Because, unlike camps and groups of people who are debating the merits of Lewisohn’s latest book or people who are debating about docu-films, participating in McLennon does not require any prior knowledge other than knowing the music, loving the music, and loving the members of the band; and loving John and Paul and their relationship. And I think that’s the hallmark of digital fandom: You can just find people who share similar interests with you online and you can get together with them, collaborate on fanart, write fanfiction with them–and that’s about it. And that might be why this [corner of the] fandom is so accessible, so attractive to new and young fans. What do you guys think?
Daisy: Yeah, definitely! I think the reason why so many young fans, especially young women, are drawn to McLennon is because the community is already full of other young women. Whereas, like you said, in a lot of the other communities (like message boards) people discuss quite academic things. They seem quite exclusionary because they are full of what seems to be a lot of middle-aged men. And while on Twitter it’s different in the sort-of circles Chloe and I are in, there are still a lot of middle-aged men but they are quite friendly and inclusive; it’s a bit daunting at first. Because we have grown up in an age where once you get into a TV show or a band or a film, you go onto Tumblr and you can find all the people who also like it. You just have to go there–the first thought is [always] to look on Tumblr, like you said. And once you’ve gone through all the primary stuff–and because fanfiction in online spaces is so commonplace now-a-days–it’s an accessible way for people to get their feelings out; especially young women. I think that’s why they are drawn to it.
Chloe: I agree on the accessibility. I do think it’s a way that a lot of people in our generation get into any sort-of fandom, and enjoy any sort of media now-a-days. And to really stretch your foreign country metaphor: it’s not like a foreign country because we all are quite–I know I am since I was about thirteen–[familiar with these spaces]. I know what shipping is, I know what fanfiction is, I know what meta is, and I know how to run with those things. So it’s like going to a foreign country but the first place you go to is McDonald’s because you are at least vaguely familiar with it, and you know how it works and what’s on the menu and other things. So I do think it’s accessible; I do worry about the McLennon side though and the fact that that’s the doorway sometimes because, as much as I enjoy it, I think–and especially, like you said, you can go in with nothing and no real information–you can get a lot of mis-information. Because, the meta is obviously written with a huge bias. Or, they deliberately withhold the biases of novels, authors, etc. So I do worry that it can be a damaging entry-point. It’s like your first pair of shoes being high-heels–they are fun, but your probably shouldn’t wear them every day and you should take them off. I worry a little bit about that because, I think as we are going to go on to talk, it is very focused on John and Paul and their relationship; and that can lead to not just ignoring the other things but outright neglecting other people, especially the women, or treating them really badly because it’s convenient, or because you are used to acting in such a way with fictional characters and you forget that these are real people.
AB: I think that’s an excellent point because, while McLennon was a starting point for me, it also became a [gateway because,] at least in Beatles fandom, everything is so interlinked. Even if I start from point A or point X, I would still end up making my way through the entire fandom. And so even though I started from McLennon, I ended up making my way through the entire fandom but everything that I was going through was influenced, and I was perceiving them through the lens of McLennon. Because the first thing I encountered was the relationship between John and Paul; everything that I was encountering after that was coloured with that bias. Also, McLennon is just so large: there are fanfiction, fanart; and even if we separate fan works from reality (actual photographs, actual music, actual letters exchanged between them), even then the archive is so large that it’s almost funny (initially it was baffling for me) that [while] people, scholars and fans alike, have no compunctions talking about the influence of Yoko or Linda or any of the other women in the Beatles’ lives on John and Paul’s relationship; but they never really talk about the influence of their relationship on these women. By all accounts, it was a very passionate relationship and a destructive relationship–it was a lot of things to a lot of people, right–so, how did that relationship influence these women in their life who were with them all the time? What are your thoughts about this disparity?
C: I think you’re absolutely right that there is a disparity. I think it’s borne of a lack of empathy for those women; there’s no care for what impact it had on them because they are not perceived as people. And when I say that what I mean is that when you enter the McLennon fandom, and it’s a very slippery slope from ‘John and Paul were really close and he wrote Dear Friend for him and he wrote I Know (I Know) for him’ and then quickly it extends to (Just Like) Starting Over is for Paul and Love is about Paul. You absolutely wipe the women out. And before you know it, people are writing metas about how they definitely would have gotten married someday, if it wasn’t for Yoko being irritating or something like that–“Yoko hypnotised him with a big watch” or something. You reduce these women to a caricature–and then of course people don’t have any care for them or any thought about what the impact is on them, because they don’t perceive them as fully-fleshed out, three-dimensional individuals. They just see them as an influence or an obstruction; but not a person. The fandom is a weird place in which Yoko is talked about all the time but actually I see very little fact about her or biography about her. There’s often stories or quotes from books about certain things she may or may not have done with John but, [there’s] very little about her as a person. When you have no conception of her as a person, then you’re never going to care what happens to her; because you don’t care, because she’s not real. She’s just this image.
D: Yeah, definitely. And with songs there’s a possibility that a lot of songs can be for two people. Primarily a lot of John’s songs are for Yoko in the late years, for obvious reasons, and same with Paul and Linda. There’s always a possibility that this bit might be about Paul or John, but people don’t seem to get that songs can have two meanings. There’s also [the fact] that you can interpret them in different ways than what was intended. It’s okay if you interpret it as being for Paul; but that’s not what John intended. I think people need to realise this separation and if there’s someone saying, “Oh this could be about Paul” then you really need to emphasise that could; not this is–don’t write out Yoko. Aside from Yoko, because as Chloe said there’s a lot out there on Yoko but a lot of it’s fictional, with all the other wives–they are just not mentioned. People don’t know anything about them. People don’t know about Jane, for example. People don’t know about Cynthia and [her life] after John left her for Yoko. And I think that’s also an issue because it again reduces them to almost nothing. They had lives outside of that and in fics it might not be notable to write “Jane went on to have a baking business” but I think you need to still give them the respect they need when you are fully fleshing out two male characters with big backstories and complex minds. Then if you reduce the woman to just, “oh she’s a bit of a doormat” then it’s not fair.
C: To talk about as well, like you bring up, the influence of the relationship on Cynthia: the way that’s filtered through fandom is so damaging, because Cynthia is often painted in fics as the most understanding, submissive, supportive, doormat-y character; and I don’t think it’s what she was like at all from what I’ve seen and read about her. But there seems to be this image across the fandom, and especially in McLennon, that John was better with Cynthia because Cynthia didn’t get in the way; and they prefer that relationship to him and Yoko. The unfortunate thing about that is that you’re telling me that you prefer an out-and-out abusive relationship to a relationship that’s a bit distasteful. You’re more horrified by her screaming and taking naked photos and being a bit cold and weird than John actually being violent or abusive towards Cynthia. I think that’s a reduction that’s not talked about much because Cynthia is also idolised in this strange way but, she’s reduced to so little that she’s just made this doormat in fics who’s just this prop to support the ship–don’t use her like that! If you don’t know anything about her and you don’t have an interest in her, then don’t put her in your fic. [Just say] this is an AU and she doesn’t exist. But don’t take this woman’s likeness and name and use her in this way that’s equally misogynistic–what I’m saying is don’t make women the good witch and bad witch in your story. Try and make them people.
AB: I think I do make a very clear distinction between fiction and real life though. So even if people portray Cynthia as docile in fics I might be okay with that but, what I have a problem is with people actually perceiving Cynthia as docile. Because sometimes people just write stories and they think that, okay, if our endgame is going to be John and Paul getting together, then how can we place these different characters, right? So Cynthia needs to be docile so she can just get out of the way. Linda needs to be supportive so she can also get out of the way. Yoko needs to be the villain so we can make her get out of the way and we can also derive satisfaction from that fact. And then, by the end of it John and Paul can get together. And that’s something I’m still okay with. I get that you’re writing a story and it’s supposed to be an entertaining and likeable story. What I do have a very major problem with is, what you [Chloe] talked about, the idealisation; because I think there’s a huge gap and difference between the way people treat Linda and the way they treat Yoko and the way they perceive them. I think that also does go back to John and Paul’s relationship because people seem to have this idea that Linda was very supportive of John and Paul getting back together in the ’70s and making music together while Yoko wasn’t. That idea seems to have had a lot of influence on the way people see them, even till date. What do you guys think?
C: I think that’s very true. I’m with you on the distinction between fanfic and reality. My issue is that there are a lot of big personalities in fandom who engage in both fanfiction and meta and they don’t often make that distinction. There are some who do and I don’t mind that, but there are some who absolutely don’t. On the Yoko and Linda thing: I think the very sad truth is that a lot of new fans consume media and journalism about them to learn about them; and Linda being dead, that does a lot of good to your reputation. Now-a-days you are not going to find a negative Linda McCartney article in the last twenty odd years in any publication because that would be awful. Yoko has managed to defy people and stick around and I think that irritates people as well. I see messages all the time that she should have died instead and how can she still be here. So if you go and google her and look at recent articles; there’s a lot of positivity about Yoko now. But I think unfortunately we are not really allowed to celebrate women until they die, a lot of the time. And I think when Yoko does die, there will be a big cultural reckoning where she would be remembered as wrongly slandered; but I don’t think that will happen until she has passed away. That’s a real unfortunate thing but then again, it’s just people not having enough [care to] source criticism sometimes when they read something that’s awry. When was this written? Why was it written? And who is it written for? And I think fandom is sometimes so desperate to prop up their own headcanons that they don’t go: Hang on a second. I’m platforming a deeply misogynistic author right now just because he’s backing up my idea or what I think was true or false.
D: Yeah, I think everyone, when they’re writing, has some form of bias–whether that be a fanfiction writer or a published writer. And people tend to not really thoroughly look through a source and think: What does this person think? How could this be informed by the way they want to portray this person? I don’t see that works in fanfiction, as you said, [because they want to] get characters out of the way for the endgame. But it also works in articles too because, of course, they want to make out say, John was like this and Yoko was like this or Linda was like this just to get their certain retelling of the story because of course [these] journalists never had any contact with a Beatle. They’re all doing it from transcriptions and second-hand stories which again, once it gets passed down it gets blurred and distorted or other people put in their views of things and I think that’s something that a lot of people need to consider. And with fanfiction, people need to consider that this is fanfiction; it’s not reality, there might be some aspects brought from the truth in it but it is still just fanfiction at the end of the day; and that shouldn’t be how we view Yoko or Linda because they were, like I said, complex humans who yeah, maybe, Linda might have been supportive of John and Paul getting back together but that’s her outlook. Whereas, Yoko might have seen that John was really hurt by Paul so I [Yoko] don’t want him to get hurt again; because that might have been her outlook on life. She did have quite a different life to Linda. And again, our outlooks and views on reconciliation are totally shaped by our past experiences.
C: I think one of my favourite stories about Yoko is that John wanted her to do this family reunion in Japan in the late ’70s and she was like, “Why? I hate them all.” He was like “No, you-?” and she was like “I left Japan to get away from these people; I don’t want to do it.” And it was John who organised it: John wrote the invites, John oversaw it all; and John is grinning in all the photos while she looks a bit nonplussed. I think she later warmed up to her family; she’s now done things like the My Mummy Was Beautiful campaign. But I think that informs a lot of how she might have seen the Paul thing too; in that John’s very like, “C’mon, let’s give it another chance” and even with her own family Yoko’s like “No I’m not interested, I’ve moved on” which I think is quite funny. But, again, if you don’t have any interest in those women or stories like that, you have no understanding of why they might make the decisions that they make or why they might do the things that they do. And without that understanding, it leaves a lot of room for you to have the most uncharitable reading of every action. We say this all the time but the men do things because of infinitely varied, complex reasons and women do things because they’re either amazing or a cow–and that’s it.
AB: What do you think was the influence of John and Paul’s relationship on these women in real life?
D: In real life I think it’s interesting because obviously there’s a lot of stories about how intense their relationship was. So, for example, in Hamburg Paul was sleeping with a girl–they had met that night–and John was so angry about it that he chopped up all of her clothes. And I often see in fandom spaces a lot of people like “oh he was jealous” and then if you take that to someone who does not know what McLennon is they would probably be like, ‘He was jealous Paul was sleeping with that girl. He wanted to sleep with that girl’; and that’s interesting. But with more significant figures like the earlier wives, I guess: the relationship was so close and so intense and they spent so much time together that they probably thought, ‘oh yeah, they’re quite like brothers, they are always spending time together but it’s, you know, nothing bad because they get along all the time and it’s just work’ but with people like Linda and Yoko, it was clearly going so sour at the time that I think they sort of had to step in and separate them and it was obviously quite emotionally hard on them too I can imagine to have their partner, their husband, so emotional and fighting with his best friend all the time. It must have been really hard. I don’t think we really see a discussion of that, about how emotionally taxing it must have been to be around that and to be sort of marrying–or married–to Paul or John in that time.
C: I think after John’s death especially that Yoko couldn’t escape this competition from Paul; it became this competition of who could remember John the best and who could continue John’s legacy and things. Sometimes their relationship was quite close: they made a song together, there was that lovely moment at the Hall of Fame when he [John] first got inducted as a solo artist and he’s really trying to comfort her and things like that. And then there are moments like when she gave an interview where she said that Here Today was basically him trying to cash in on the fact that John had died–well, not to cash in but to make it clear to people that he still loved John because John was more popular than him and that did get a bit snide. But then, I think it’s difficult because here you’ve got a relationship where the husband wanted his wife to be the partner in all things but he already had an incredibly famous and incredibly successful partner in a lot of ways–perhaps not romantically but certainly creatively and certainly emotionally. And he’s trying to introduce his new partner to the world to widespread derision. That’s obviously going to upset you, and that’s going to upset the woman who’s going to go, “What can I do?” I mean, I love the One-to-One concert they did in 1972 and you have Yoko playing keyboards on Come Together quite often. She’s trying so hard to be the partner. But people just didn’t want to take to it, and I imagine that must be really difficult for the woman because you are competing with something you can never, ever win. People are never suddenly going to be like, “Oh! I’ve forgotten who The Beatles are but Imagine is a great song and Lennon-Ono is truly the greatest partnership of all time.” That’s difficult. And I think for Linda too–she was brought into that musical world and again, to widespread mockery; and having to give up some of the cozy family life that she might have wanted in order to be on the road. I think John and Paul both shoved their wives into the holes in their hearts that were left by each other; and were like: be happy there. But we don’t ever talk about the damage it must do on a woman to be shoved into the space that someone else has departed.
D: Also, on a kind of similar note, something that I find really interesting–and I’ve talked to Chloe about it before–is Yoko and Linda’s relationship. In the new Get Back trailer we see a really nice scene of them chatting and laughing away. But then you see letters from Linda and Paul and from John and Yoko, and they are really nasty to each other. This nastiness was clearly caused by John and Paul’s rift, a rift between Linda and Yoko; and I think they might have got on quite well if it wasn’t for John and Paul. But they had to sacrifice the possibility of that friendship because of their husbands; which is really sad. In later years, they did become quite friendly: Yoko called Linda a ray of sunshine one time which is lovely and they went to the same college, obviously at different times; but they both went to Sarah Lawrence College which is a really interesting connection. They both loved nature in some way: Yoko uses a lot of wonderful nature metaphors. So I think there were lots of points that they could have gotten really along on but sadly their friendship, or what could have been their friendship, was really damaged by the fact that their husbands were arguing with each other.
AB: I think that’s an interesting point because this is the point where a lot of fans’ internalised misogyny overlaps with their love for John and Paul. What happens is that they blame John and Paul for certain things, they blame them for not getting together, they blame them for not spending time with each other; but they can’t blame them for that right, because they love them and it feels weird to think bad of the people you love. And that [blame] gets projected onto Linda and Yoko, and it becomes this thing that, hey, Linda and Yoko–they are women, and women just don’t get along, right; that’s the age-old joke. And so it’s obviously their fault.
D: Yes, definitely. I think you do see that–oh, they hated each other so much that John and Paul could never possibly reconcile; Yoko hated how Linda acted and Yoko hated how Paul acted; and it’s like, give them a bit of slack. It is hard to criticise the people that you love but at the same time I think people need to work through their internalised misogyny and be like, okay, I can still love John but I can criticise him; and same with Paul.
C: I think a lot of it as well is often framed as really dramatic things but I think sometimes it’s just clashing of senses of humour. I think Yoko is a very funny person but I don’t think people realise that she’s deliberately joking a lot of the time and I think sometimes there’s a tendency to frame what are like irritations or jokes as huge feuds. Like there’s a letter Yoko wrote to Paul as congratulations for getting Hi, Hi, Hi banned and she’s like, “I knew you had it in you” and stuff like that. And you know she got loads of stuff banned because she kept doing stuff in the nude; but people don’t get that that’s tongue in cheek. They read the letter and they go, oh what a cow. It’s obviously wink wink; it’s not meant to be serious, but people will read things the way they want to read them.
AB: I think that’s the point right: most people know about the story you just mentioned, like I had heard about this letter, but there are so many things about Yoko that I have only [recently] learned from your podcast. It’s the weirdest paradox: these women are so intertwined with the Beatles’ lives, but people are not interested in them beyond the Beatles. They think they know everything about them [even though] that’s restricted to that particular period but they had a whole life outside of those three years! It’s absolutely bizarre to me that people are just not interested in knowing about them, and just don’t seem to know about them [even though] it’s been decades since The Beatles broke up and still there’s just nothing about [them]. It’s very weird.
C: It is bizarre, and I think people forget that Yoko was in her mid-thirties by the time she got with John and then he died and she’s about fifty and the woman’s now eighty-eight! She’s got plenty of life outside of him: she was married twice before; and things like that. I just don’t think it’s thought about. It irritates me sometimes because people can tell you what shoes John Lennon was wearing on a particular day in 1964; but Yoko having another kid who was kidnapped gets like a one-line mention every now and again, even though that might have had a huge impact on the way that she acted and perceived things in that time period. But I’m really glad that we can bring that to a wider audience. I would say, I did get into the fandom through McLennon too and I still find enjoyment there; I just find that some things are lacking and I do think that you have to be a little bit wary and discerning there–and especially in the way that you are consuming meta, like factual stuff. Fiction: once you understand that it’s fiction [it’s fine] but true meta and commentary and biographies and stuff; I would say take it with a huge handful of salt.
D: Yeah, definitely. With meta and any articles about any of the women too; sometimes you’ll read an article about Jane Asher and she’ll be introduced as ‘Paul McCartney’s former girlfriend’ while actually she’s a very successful actress still. She’s still on stage and in films. She’s written three novels. She’s had a bakery in London. She’s got a range of baking supplies in UK shops. She’s released cookbooks and craft books; but when you tell people this, people are like, Oh! I didn’t know that. And especially with Yoko and Jane I’d say: people just don’t know anything about them and their personal lives because it does not involve John or Paul. I mean a lot of Linda’s personal life–she’s a photographer, but she took photographs of Paul. And that’s how people know that she had a life outside of him. But other than that, if the husband’s not directly involved people just aren’t interested in it. Because it’s not mentioned, they are an aside in a lot of meta and biographies; and any time they are mentioned it’s in relation with the Beatles which okay, is an interesting thing but they are also whole people by themselves.
AB: I think this brings me to a song that I wanted to hear your thoughts about: The Ballad of John and Yoko; which, by all accounts, should be a song about John and Yoko because it’s clearly [called] The Ballad of John and Yoko but, I feel like over time it’s been relegated to a McLennon song. And I think, we know why it’s been relegated to a McLennon song but I would love to hear your thoughts about this. What do you think?
C: I love The Ballad of John and Yoko but I find it quite eerie now, like a lot of John songs. The repeated references to ‘they’re gonna crucify me’ from a man who was later murdered gives me the chills. It’s a bit like Yoko’s Mrs. Lennon when she talks about marriages and how half the world is always dying and stuff like that you know, it’s one of those songs which sort of gives me the heebie-jeebies on reflection. But yeah, I think although it’s about Yoko it’s not particularly affectionate about Yoko which lends it to being a McLennon song, I suppose, because it is just a list of activities. It’s not like he says, “And my beautiful wife said…” It has that one tongue in cheek line about the newspapers having gone to his head, which is like a bit of a defense. It’s not particularly a love song, it’s more like a folk ballad, isn’t it? But I think for me, the image is always the fact that–and I love Yoko–the other two, for whatever reason, decided they were not going to do this. I don’t remember which biography I was reading but it was talking about this and it was like: And John is joined by the ever-loyal Paul who is still trying to cling onto this friendship by doing anything. You know? You’ve written a song about your new wife? Fine. I’ll play it. I’ll do the drums on it. We don’t need the other two. And it’s sort of this return of the Nerk Twins; Paul extending this huge olive-branch to John, and it’s almost like John doesn’t really acknowledge it and he’s just kind of miffed that the other two aren’t on it. But it’s always framed as this real act of generosity from Paul. And whether it’s generosity or low-key manipulation–like, right, I’m doing this big favour to you; can you start doing something for me, can you start turning up on time and doing the right thing. I just think it’s a fascinating song and I think you’re right–when people write about it they don’t write about Yoko particularly; they write about Paul.
AB: I have a list of songs here which are usually characterised as McLennon songs.
AB: I think it would be fun to just go through them one by one and think: are these McLennon songs or are these not. So, Oh! Darling.
C: Once someone tells you how much it sounds like Oh!Johnny you can’t unhear it.
AB: I’ve seen people say that but I never got it, honestly. I can see why you would think that, but I feel like his voice is just so hoarse that you can make it out to be anything!
C: It could be my name, really! Anything with two syllables.
AB: Hmm. In My Life.
D: I think it’s about Brian! So completely out of it–but kinda what was happening at the time.
C: I always thought it was about Julian.
C: For me, I’m like there’s nothing you love more in your life than a baby. So…Well, I do see the McLennon thing.
D: Me too.
C: But this is our biases; this is Daisy’s love of Brian and my love of babies.
AB: I mean if you’re a die-hard fan enough you can see McLennon in anything, so.
D & C: True.
AB: If I Fell.
D: I think a lot of the time when people say it’s a McLennon song it’s really impacted by that picture from the film A Hard Day’s Night, when it’s that scene in which they are in rehearsal and John’s on his knees singing it to Paul; and I think that’s probably why a lot of people say it’s a McLennon song.
C: Plus, I think, every line of If I Fell has been used for like a different McLennon fanfiction title. Like, literally every single one. So for me I make that association but I didn’t when I first saw it, I don’t think. For me it’s sort of a very generic pop song of that time. If anything the thing that makes it McLennon to me is that they came together and they wrote like these innocent, lovely, pop romance ballads that the girls of that time loved. So the McLennon [comes] through like the shared writing experience; not so much as the lyrics.
AB: I think you just reminded me of a fic I read sometime back. It’s titled “Fixing A Hole” and what it does is go through every song on The Beatles’ catalogue and just, rate them according to their gayness. So, spoilers: Sgt. Pepper is the gayest [Beatles] album of all time.
AB: But, If I Fell: I mean, even as a romantic song it’s such a weird song, right? Its lyrics are just so bizarre: “If I fell in love with you / Would you promise to be true / And help me understand”–if someone sang that to me I would be like, “No! What are you doing? Get away from me!”
C: You’re so hung up on your ex-girlfriend that this song mentions her more than me.
AB: I think that’s also one of the reasons why people think it’s McLennon; because there seem to be three people in that song. There’s the ‘I’ who’s singing, there seems to be the other person [who] they’re referring [to], and there’s still a ‘you’ who they’re singing to. And in most John songs people seem to always think [the ‘you’ is] Paul so. We Can Work It Out.
D: I think this is a quite McLennon-y song. But it’s also kind of pushing retrospect of knowing that they argued so much in the late years. It’s definitely really blurred by that for me.
C: For me, when I think about We Can Work It Out all I can think about is that story that he [Paul] allegedly sang it to Heather Mills when they had a fight–and it horrifies me so much! She’s like younger than that song. But I think it’s rendered McLennon-y in retrospect but actually I don’t think it applies, because they weren’t fighting the way they were fighting later on. So I don’t think the lyrics fit as neatly as they do if it was written in 1969; I might say, definitely. But the fact that it’s earlier than that makes me doubt.
A: I always thought it was written to Cynthia.
D & C: Mhmm.
A: Uhh, Hey Jude.
D: I think it works as both John and Julian. It depends on how you look at it obviously. Paul tells a story that it’s for Julian but John’s like, “Oh, no! It was written for me.” So if we take John’s word for it: definitely a McLennon song.
C: I mean, it’s John at his most narcissistic, isn’t it, going, “Well, actually, it must be about me.” It’s like, let your son have this one thing! So, I think the lyrics about “you have found her, now go and get her” are about finding one’s partner, yes; but then, is that McLennon? Because it’s very like go for it with Yoko; if you read it to be about John. And I don’t think that fits with the fandom conception of McLennon at all. It doesn’t fit. There’s a Powerpuff Girls episode where Mojo Jojo is like John, and he falls in love with a monkey called Moko Jono and then he brings her back to their friends; and like HIM is supposed to be Paul and he just goes, “Oh! No.” I think Hey Jude is not him going “Oh! No;” so it doesn’t fit with fandom McLennon, but it might be about John, I don’t know. I think sometimes Paul writes very narrative songs and he’s very insistent that they don’t have anything to do with him. But then, they obviously are.
D: Yeah! One song that comes to mind of Paul’s narrative songs which is definitely about John but he says it’s not is “Confidante” from Egypt Station. He’s like, it’s about guitar! Like, okay Paul.
AB: I do think it’s [Hey Jude] about John in some ways but it annoys me so much to accept that because, as Chloe said right, let your son have this one! Man, you just divorced his mother, your best friend is writing a song to comfort your son–let him have this! You don’t need to take this away from him. It’s just, really annoying. Coming Up.
C: I think it’s McLennon-y just because I love how John loved this song so much that it annoyed him. Coming Up is my favourite solo-Paul song by a long way; I love it. And what I love is the idea of John listening to it and praying that it’s going to be [conventional] and then being like, “Oh, damn. It’s brilliant!” It pushes him out of retirement; I enjoyed that. I’m not sure the lyrics are particularly about John but I do think I love that connotation. I love John loving it and hating himself for that. But also, to give Paul credit where it’s due, it’s a great song, it’s experimental and it works. And I always liked when he [John] sort-of grudgingly told him that it was a good piece; eventually he admitted that they were good pieces. I always like that part of their relationship.
D: I think it’s probably quite a lot about John; especially that one lyric in the second or third verse where he just sings, “you want some peace and understanding” and it’s like oh, who in Paul’s life really likes peace?
C: In the music video, he and Linda are both in like plastic masks and that’s a part of it–it’s like that’s a reference to Plastic Ono Band, isn’t it, that the band are in plastic? Which I always thought was really interesting.
D: And they are in Beatles suits too.
C: Yeah! So I do think it’s a bit of a cheeky dig. I don’t think it’s particularly deep; but I like that they were sort of firing shots at each other. It’s quite interesting.
AB: Two Of Us.
D: Definitely McLennon.
C: Okay, this is the one time where I’m like: No, Paul, it’s not what you say it is. Normally I’m like, [no it’s not about that.] They know better than us! [But] this is the one song where I’m like, nope. I just love the performance of it in Let It Be when they’re singing it and joking with each other, and then it cuts to Yoko and she’s just like watching with a blank face. I think it’s quite funny.
AB: Umm, Glass Onion.
D: Oooh. That is interesting because it’s so intensely Beatle-y–it’s got all the references. But then there’s a reference that’s to Paul and it’s like, mhmmm. So I think it could definitely work as a McLennon song, for a lot of reasons, but it could also be John being like, “I hate the Beatles now! I’ve grown out of them!”
C: Didn’t John say that the whole “the walrus was Paul” line was [there] just because he felt bad that he was neglecting Paul and so he was like, I’ll write this and it will cheer him up or something. Because he went back pretty quickly to calling himself the walrus. It’s an interesting little throwaway thing. Or maybe Paul is really dead and it’s all just a mass conspiracy. I’m joking!–He’s not.
AB: Now and Then.
D: I think, and Chloe might disagree with me on this, that it is a McLennon song. I think the ‘for Paul’ songs are quite often–all of the ones from that tape–seen as McLennon songs. But, I think John wrote “for Paul” because he maybe wanted to give them to him to [perhaps] repair their relationship–“What do you think of these new songs?” One of them is a love song about Yoko. And you know, a lot of people think that Real Love is about Paul but I think, Now and Then, because of these historical bits about their relationship, about the past–it’s quite McLennon song.
C: I used to think it was but I don’t now. Because the way that story is often told to you on Tumblr is: oh there was this tape and it was written ‘for Paul’ on top of it–but the other side of that is that the other side of the tape has Grow Old With Me with specific references to wives and family trees and etc. etc. And unless Paul’s gonna be his male-wife, it doesn’t quite work. So, for me, I always thought that John was never very comfortable in his romantic songwriting ability; I mean, he says in an interview with Andy Peebles that he’s very embarrassed when he writes romantic songs, he doesn’t really like doing it, that he feels a little bit shame-faced and Beatle-y so he’s upset about it. Whereas Paul is the king of Silly Love Songs; according to John. And I think he wanted to take them to him, to: Right, can you help me work on these because they’re unfinished and they aren’t that polished, are they? And they don’t really have hooks to them or anything like that; they are just meandering. So I think that’s probably what it was. Now and Then is an interesting one but we don’t know when it was written. With Real Love; I think it was written closer to Sean’s birth than anything else. So you don’t know when Now and Then was written–sort-of the tail-end of the Lost Weekend or just after they got back together (with Yoko); which would make the angst in it make much more sense. But I think some of those songs on those tapes; he had worked on them for a very long time and then not worked some, so taking them all to be written in 1980–I don’t think that works. So yeah, I used to think it was McLennon-y and I do think there are some McLennon-y songs but; not that one.
AB: (Just Like) Starting Over.
D: See, I’m now [in] the same [boat] as Chloe: I used to think it was a McLennon song but now I’m like, oh, it’s definitely about Yoko. I think the reason why a lot of people think it’s a McLennon song is because of the takes of it where John sings about the walrus–I can’t remember the exact lyric but [I think] it’s ‘the walrus said it’s time for me and you to go to bed again’, and a lot of people go oh, it’s Paul saying: let’s get back together; let’s literally go to bed. But then, when you take that into consideration with the Lost Weekend, it was Paul who was like: Yoko, take John back; I don’t want to deal with him anymore! So when you take that into consideration, I think it becomes a not-McLennon song.
C: And I think they had done the video shoot for (Just Like) Starting Over right before John was killed. Some of it ended up being used; but this footage ended up being spread everywhere. And I think there’s footage of him making love with Yoko in a bed, right? Who writes a song for their apparent–if we’re taking that sort-of meta world [into consideration]–ex-male lover and thinks: Right, you know what would really complete this? A video of me sleeping with my current wife. He’ll love it. It doesn’t work when you hold it up to scrutiny; and I think there’s a line about ‘it’s time for us to spread our wings and fly as the day goes by and things’; and John himself was in interviews like, I literally changed that verse because I didn’t want people to think it’s about Wings because it’s just a coincidence. And I think that’s quite interesting. So I do think the music video sort of destroys that because if you look at what the video was originally intended to be–it was going to be this sensual, love making video for three minutes. I do think (Just Like) Starting Over is a more eerie song than it’s intended to be [with] the ending and the over and over and over at the end makes it not just this sweet pastiche–I would love to write an essay on what I think about this song because I think it’s so interesting; but I still don’t think it’s necessary McLennon.
AB: (I Know) I Know.
C: Okay that’s McLennon.
AB: Do you want to, perhaps, explain that?
C: I just don’t think–I think it’s a reconciliatory song. When John’s making a reference to Paul, he loves using ‘yesterday’ as well; like that’s the specific niche he always sticks in the song. And then, I just think, it’s a very sort of “my bad” song. It doesn’t necessarily have to be read as romantic either if that’s not your thing. I also think his relationship with Yoko at this time was deteriorating; and (I Know) I Know is quite a hopeful song. I see Aisumasen (I’m Sorry) as the one for Yoko. It’s not hopeful; it’s a mournful song. And I think his relationship with her is nose-diving at this point and it’s beyond being saved by nice, acoustic ballads.
D: Yeah, definitely! And I think–as well as the Yesterday reference–he references Getting Better, which is a Beatles song. And just the bits about being unable to be emotional rings so true for early-John [and] Paul; being raised in a very northern, working-class town. Emotions between men; they weren’t discussed. I think it’s a McLennon song because he’s like, now I’m a lot older, wiser, and with more experience; and he’s like, okay, now I can finally deal with my emotions a little better–Sorry! We never talked before!
AB: The Lovers That Never Were.
D: I think it’s a McLennon song. I think a lot of songs from that era (Paul’s) were McLennon because he was like, oh my god, we could have been so much deeper! But no! Now it can never happen!
C: See, I would say that but I don’t think Paul’s that kind of a person. I think if anyone’s recognising that it could possibly be a romantic relationship then it’s John doing the recognising. I think Paul’s the kind of person who has always sort of shied away from that. Even when he’s questioned about it now he’s like, uHHH. Even if you bring up the fact that John could have possibly been bi[sexual]; he shoots it down instantly. Just doesn’t want to have that conversation. So I don’t think he would ever be candid enough with himself to title a song that. Maybe! But I just think he’s the kind of person who doesn’t want to be led or questioned on those things. He wouldn’t be so open. I think he’s more metaphorical when it comes to romance.
D: Yeah, but I also think at that time he was very emotionally raw from John’s death. And also, you bring up Paul in interviews, so whenever someone’s like: “Was John bi[sexual]?” or “Was John gay?” he’s always like, “He never slept with me!” And it’s like, why bring yourself into this!
AB: Every time I watch one of his interviews I’m like, Paul, stop speaking. You’re not making this better for anyone. People don’t believe you! You’re just making it worse.
C: I love Paul, but his interviews are very funny. Because it’s like you get the same three stories; you get him not wanting to talk about a lot of stuff and sometimes then he quickly devolves into this Jamaican accent and it just makes me want to die. And so it’s like, oh nooo.
AB: Get Enough.
D: I think it’s about John. So, for that one lyric where he’s like, ‘remember when we used to walk by the docks’; and if you’ve ever seen pictures of Liverpool or if you know anything about Liverpool–it is a dock town. There are massive docks. And John used to hang out there. I think it’s about John. But again, it’s like, why is he being so candid?
C: I’m neutral. I don’t know, honestly.
AB: The Pound Is Sinking; and especially its middle eight part.
C: Yeah, definitely, I think it’s about John. This is the one time when I do put my tinfoil hat on and go, it’s definitely about John. And to be honest, I think it’s emotionally truer than Here Today–which I do love–but Here Today is very much a, Oh! look how sad I am. We definitely were fighting–kind of telegraphing to the world. That’s more Paul’s style, it’s more metaphorical, it’s complicated, it’s expressed in Paul’s weird lexicon of metaphors and dreams and things. And it’s a little bit spikier as well, which I think is more Paul; especially during that time. So yeah, I do think that one’s about John.
D: It is very spiky too and if you notice it’s a song in a song in a song. It’s a song which, on the surface is about economic failure which is very spiky if you consider it through McLennon lens and it’s [actually] the failure of their relationship. Also something that’s quite loosely connected is when he says, ‘you can’t see the trees for the forest’ and in I Know (I Know) John says ‘I’m only just learning to see the trees from the wood’ so this sort of not being able to tell apart trees and forests and woods and stuff is quite a loose connection but when you put those two songs together you’re like, mhmmm.
C: And when I say spiky, I mean like it doesn’t let John off either. So that line about ‘I can’t be held responsible now’ and stuff is like–you know, even though Paul was obviously devastated by John’s death, it must be very difficult to know that you are now always–by being alive–going to be rendered the uncool one, and the less heroic one and things like that because he’s been elevated to legend status and any fight that you had; people are going to take the side of the dead guy over you because that’s just the way things work. And I think it’s quite emotionally honest that he gets a bit irritated and says, I can’t be held responsible for the things that you did. And I think that’s interesting.
AB: I think that entire album is just so spectacularly raw. I’ve never been able to sit through it completely after the one [first] time I sat through it; I’ve just never been able to go back to it [unless] it’s in pieces, because there’s just something so raw about it. And I think you’re exactly right that Here Today–even though it’s a heartbreaking song–it’s more for the fans, it’s more for the other people than it’s for him himself. But I think other songs like Tug Of War, or The Pound Is Sinking, or Wanderlust, or–which song is that, I think that’s the second song on side A where he sings ‘lonely driver, out on the road’; I think all those songs: there’s something quite raw about them and it’s heartbreaking.
C: Yeah, I agree.
AB: Yeah. Anyways. This One.
D: I think it’s about John. Just, every time I listen to it, I really can’t explain it I guess but, I think about John. And that might partially be because of Tumblr. It’s sort of like a past life, it’s sort of a ‘did I ever do this’ and ‘did I ever do that’ and sort of like what he wanted to do and again, in some ways I think it’s too candid to really be about John but it’s so clear. It’s all these possibilities–and it’s not like Paul ever shied away from relationships, you know, we kinda know that in the ’60s if Paul wanted to be with someone; most of the time he could get what he wanted. So the only reason, I guess–unless he was thinking about leaving Linda or something for someone–then the only other person this could possibly be about would be John.
C: I honestly don’t know on This One. I think if there was another layer of metaphor I would say, yes, definitely; but again I think it might be slightly too candid. Just a little bit too pointed. But, I completely see why the fandom holds onto it because it does lend itself well to people’s meta and understandings of how things played out but, I’m not sure it’s directly [McLennon]. At least, The Pound Is Sinking is veiled under a lot of different things. This is a little bit too out in the open, I think.
AB: Okay, so this last one’s interesting: Jealous Guy.
C: We actually talked about this like, two days ago! I love Jealous Guy. I think it’s amazing, and I think it’s for multiple people. I think it’s John apologising to a lot of people in his life for the way that he is. I love the video with the overhead shots and the spinning; I think it’s beautiful. And there’s images and cuts of Yoko crying and stuff and I do think that’s quite nice. And she clearly saw it to be enough about her to cry in the video and do things like that. But I do think it’s about a lot of people in his life, including Paul. Which is just that he [John] could get jealous and nasty out of fear. But again, the fanbase often goes that it’s absolutely about Paul and it’s like, I think that could easily be about numerous people.
D: Yeah; a lot of the time when I think about it being for Paul is because of the time that it came out, and the release of Imagine–he’s got How Do You Sleep? and it’s him fighting with Paul and being nasty to Paul. But then also, as Chloe said, John as a person blamed himself for a lot of things. He was a quite harsh person; because that’s how he sees himself–it’s a protective thing. But if you think of everyone he really loved: Stuart, Brian, Cynthia, Julian, Paul, Yoko; just to name some–he was always quite nasty to them at times. I mean not nasty enough for them to hate him for it; but you have loads of stories about how he acted with Brian and it’s like–that’s from where a lot of people get the idea that he’s homophobic; because of how he spoke to Brian. But in actuality, Brian didn’t mind too much because he just told John off for it and John was like, okay, I’ll stop.
AB: But I think this is an interesting one because I think this is the only song Paul has claimed that John told him it’s about him.
C: I think Paul is probably a lot more hurt by How Do You Sleep? than he makes [himself] out [to be]. He tries to make out that How Do You Sleep? doesn’t really bother him; but you can tell when he talks about it that it really, really does bother him. And in a way it’s quite a nice thing if How Do You Sleep? is on the same album as Jealous Guy; you’ve got the insult and apology in the same album. I think he likes that idea. But the only thing that makes me wonder is How Do You Sleep? is so caustic, and so sharp that I’m like; I don’t know if he would be that nice on the same album because How Do You Sleep? is clearly–not only is it not a very nice song, it’s not a very nice act to get all your friends on board with; he’s got George on it and things like that. It’s a bit snide. So I do wonder sometimes if Jealous Guy isn’t about Paul because that’s clearly Paul having slightly more faith in John that John needed to get to I Know (I Know) before he could publicly profess that he was wrong.
D: Definitely, and it just reminds me of that story where whenever after they had fight in the early (anything before the late Beatles’) years, whenever they would fight about anything, John would push his glasses down and look at Paul and be like, “It’s only me.” And it’s kind of like, he’s so caring underneath everything that it also sort-of half makes sense. They really hated each other at the time and so it sort of makes sense for the song to be like: I hate you (but don’t worry I don’t really mean it, I’m just jealous!)
AB: Wow. Okay, question: How do you think McLennon–the relationship and the fandom–has impacted the whole fandom as a whole?
D: I think some people don’t really know what McLennon is. Some people have vague knowledge about it and are like, what the hell is that; just because they don’t really know what fanfiction is, I guess. But then if you get into people who know what fanfiction is; you have two sides in the Beatles’ fandom: you have people who are wholly, morally against it–no, it’s disgusting, it’s ruining the fandom. And then you have people who are like–and this is the majority; these are people who fall on our side of it–who really think it’s so true and because they read so much fanfiction, like I said before, their views of John and Paul’s relationship is completely blurred by this; and every single action they do: it’s romantic. Like I think I said to you both, a lot of pictures have John looking at Paul quite lovingly and it’s sort of like: He was just blind!
C: I think there are pros and cons to McLennon. I do like it, and I think it’s what hooked me onto the fandom because when I get into a fandom I’m like: I’ll just idly type this on Tumblr, what’s this?–and now I’ve fallen down this rabbit hole.
D: I’m the same.
C: I think the pro is that it’s brought a lot of young people in, a lot of young women; and it’s the type of fandom that I really enjoy–the fandom that creates, the fandom that discusses; and I think that’s great. The con is: I think that McLennon can sometimes end up spreading mis-information; I think sometimes it is a quite misogynistic space, and that can be damaging because you’ve got young women coming into this fandom to engage toe-to-toe with these middle-aged men (as they should do); and they don’t come in with very progressive views or very wide mindsets. And I do think it creates this segmented fandom. We’ve spoken to male podcasters and been on the radio–and these men have no idea that this whole universe exists. And you know, it’s not like there’s just a handful of McLennon fanfiction–there’s thousands. There’s one that’s like 1.3 million words long, and it’s like the most insanely well-researched fanfiction. Ever. It’s down to like the clothes people were wearing on specific days; it’s insane. And I read that fic, and now whenever I find out that something in the fic happened in real life–[I’m like] no way! I learned a lot from that fic.
C: But I think that creates a disconnect in fandom because there are a lot of sides in the fandom because on Facebook as well the other day, there was some discussion of McLennon for McLennon day; and a lot of men were like: Oh, they weren’t [together] for sure. And I think the issue is that a lot of men project onto Beatles and the notion of a queer Beatle disrupts their projection because then they’re like: But I’m not gay! Are you calling me gay?! And it just becomes this homophobic spiral. And I just think it’s interesting that there’s all these different sections: they don’t quite interconnect; there’s like a few ligaments that lead across, but not fully. It’s not like there’s a huge crossover between the two.
D: I think especially a lot of men see John as this big, macho man and like to project on him; and when they find out that he could have been bi[sexual] it really hurts their image of John, which hurts their image of themselves. I mean, if John, who was this really horrible, harsh man; who wasn’t afraid of saying what he wanted–[and if he’s] bisexual, then what does it mean about me?!
C: John’s gay poem, you know the one he did for that gay liberation book thing, I think it was tweeted like two years ago from the official John Lennon account; and all the replies are like, ‘Yoko, stop spreading your woke nonsense on John’s account’ and stuff like that. And it’s like, bloody hell. The guy literally wrote this; and you’re still blaming it on his wife. And I think the thing is that Yoko is very pro-gay and she’s done a huge amount of pro-LGBT stuff. But the idea that him possibly being gay or at least being accepting is woke [drivel] that comes from his wife is madness.
AB: You talked about sections; and there’s this page / thread / blog-post on this website called Hey Dullblog, and it’s called “Were John and Paul Lovers?” and it’s really intriguing because, as you said and as I also used to think, that McLennon is restricted to young women and the younger side of the fandom. But, on that blog-post and thread–if you’ve come across it–it’s not really young fans, it’s very old fans, people who’ve been around for decades, I guess. (I’m sorry if I’m calling people old but that’s what the people on that thread are! But!) It is intriguing; the [demography of] people who are engaging with “Were John and Paul Lovers?” And I think it’s over 200 comments long–it’s bizarre! Have you come across that thread by any chance?
D & C: Yes, I have!
C: And I think the other thing to point out is that there’s a lot of fanfiction on LiveJournal, still, that was published in the early 2000s, which makes these people what? like 40 now? 40+ now? Especially around the time of the divorce from Heather Mills; there’s a lot of fanfiction around that period like fics with McLennon stuff. It’s a bit [perplexing] that way because you wonder how far back it actually goes, because clearly it must have started somewhere. And the fact that there’s a fanfiction from 2001 on like LiveJournal makes me think: it must have started originally in zines? or was it more of a back-and-forth thing? Because, I don’t think it was just invented in like 2013 when Tumblr blew up.
D: That’s interesting, because I’ve done a bit of work in my free time archiving McLennon fics and there are some from when you had to make websites yourself, and there was no LiveJournal. This is from the mid-’90s, early to mid-’90s which is the earliest we have on the Internet of it. And these used to be email threads of fanfiction…but there are people on LiveJournal who are in their 60s now, who say that in the ’70s there were zines and they used to print them–typewrite them and send them to their friends; what we would now call ‘McLennon fanfiction’. And we obviously don’t know if that’s true or not; but it at least spans to the early ’90s which is mad.
AB: According to Fanlore: Beatles fandom, or McLennon fandom is one of the oldest fandoms out there so fics have been around since 1960 itself. But the only reason they are not recognised is because Beatles RPF did not overlap much with sci-fi fanfiction or Star Trek fanfiction which is recognised as the oldest fandom. So, if you think about it, even if we give it a decade or so–Beatles fiction around McLennon has been around since 1970; and that’s absolutely insane, because then you can’t blame Tumblr for McLennon!
C: And you know, people got all accounts like these and we know it was so with Star Trek; so why can’t those fandom habits be pieced here onto other fandoms? Like, for me, whenever I read McLennon fic, it always falls into the same tropes that you might see in like Merlin or Sherlock or Hannibal, you know?–the way that women are written, the way the couples are written; this is a shared lexicon of fandom and fan works. And I think people go to it for that [reason]: it’s comforting, isn’t it? When you go read a hurt/comfort sick!fic or something like that, you know what you’re getting; and it’s exactly what you wanted to get. And I think that if you can trace fanfiction that far back then of course something with such a thriving fandom and community is going to have that happening.
AB: Anything else that you guys would like to share?
C: No, I think that was all. This was great fun, thank you.
D: It was lovely chatting to you!
AB: This was wonderful! Thank you so much for being here.
C: Thank you!
Anushka Bidani is a poet & essayist from India.