Many Overlooking Key Line In Lennon “Breakup” Letter To McCartney

thebeatles620That John Lennon letter to Paul McCartney which was sold at auction last week is an amazing piece of Rock history. The letter is being called the “breakup” letter, which isn’t quite accurate – clearly the decision to split up had already been agreed upon before it was written. But what amazes me is that Lennon and McCartney were already arguing about how they ought to treat the legacy of the Beatles, just weeks or months after the band came to an end.

Lennon was responding to a letter that Linda had sent on behalf of the McCartneys. We don’t have access to that one, but apparently they took him to task for his insistence on downplaying or bad-mouthing the Beatles in the media, accusing him of being “ashamed” of the Beatles. We know that McCartney always had the Beatles’ legacy in mind much more than the others did – he was the one, for example, who got everyone to agree to make Abbey Road as the band’s swansong. So it’s no surprise he would challenge John’s negativity.

But did he really tell John that “most of today’s art came about because of the Beatles?” That’s taking the legacy thing a little too far, isn’t it? John certainly believed so, saying it was “insane” for McCartney to think that way, adding that “didn’t we always say we were part of the movement, not all of it?” I love the way John casually agrees that “of course we changed the world” before challenging Paul about resting on the band’s laurels: “… try and follow it through. GET OFF YOUR GOLD DISC AND FLY”.

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Lennon argued that McCartney was overlooking the downside of the Beatles, not the least of which was all the “shit” one had to put up with just by being a member of the band. He also took issue with Paul’s assertion that the Beatles had a reputation to uphold of being ‘quite nice people’. In his typically blunt way Lennon conceded ”(we were) just as big bastards as everybody else, so get off your high horse”.

So the gist of the letter is essentially an argument over how great the Beatles really were. And who knows, maybe the Beatles really did influence modern art directly or indirectly more than John believed, but that’s another discussion altogether.

Of course John also expressed some some beefs about perceived personal snubs he and Yoko felt from the McCartneys. John prided himself on being able to tell it like it is, and the language he used was pretty crude at times, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to understand what he is even talking about. But I don’t see the deep personal animosity that many observers are attributing to the letter. I see two people arguing openly and heatedly over something of great importance they built together over the previous 13 years.

And I think everybody is overlooking a crucial part of the letter. Remember, John is digging being able to say exactly what’s on his mind. So he wouldn’t have signed off this way if he didn’t mean it:

In spite of it all, love to you both from us two.

All the shit that was going down – all this fighting over legacy and management and money – wasn’t going to kill the love they had for one another. The fact is the Beatles had a tighter emotional bond than just about any other major Rock band. Clapton once said he and a lot of other musicians were jealous of how tight-knit the Beatles always were. And no one should underestimate how much this special bond contributed to the extraordinary nature of their music.

Certainly John and Paul both understood it. I mean, how could you not feel an unconditional eternal bond with someone who helped you change the world? A nasty squabble over media interviews wasn’t about to change that.


Photo: By Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 – negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang, bestanddeelnummer 916-5099 (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl (], via Wikimedia Commons

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