On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 11, I was surprised that my brain was replaying songs from the Beatles’ album Abbey Road, and scenes from the movie Let It Be. That movie captures the Beatles at work in the studio recording an album also to be titled— Let It Be.
One minute, I could see and hear Paul McCartney teaching his bandmates the chord changes for the song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”
Minutes later, I’d hear John Lennon playing an acoustic guitar and singing a demo for his song “Mean Mr. Mustard.”
And, I love recalling the Let It Be scene where Beatles’ drummer, Ringo Starr, introduces his song “Octopus’s Garden.” At the piano, Ringo plays a few chords and sings the early lyrics.
His bandmate, George Harrison, likes what he is hearing. George walks over to the piano with an acoustic guitar matches the chords Ringo is playing and offers suggestions for finishing the song.
And while the entire Abbey Road album is special, I’m not sure there is a better sequencing of songs starting with “You Never Give Me Your Money” and concluding with the cleverly placed twenty three seconds long—“Her Majesty.” The Beatles called this section of songs “the long one.”
For my teaching partner, Joe Vanderford, and I, our class, Let It Be, and Get Back To Abbey Road, presented for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Richmond was the end of another “long one” for us.
Let It Be, and Get Back To Abbey Road marked the sixth class that Joe and I have developed for Osher. Once our proposal has been accepted, we start our work. Our template for developing a class is usually linked to a documentary about the recording artist. We offer a screening of the documentary the night before our class. The following day, we present our class with a focus on significant recordings by the artist.
Our class presentation depends upon rigorous research including reading books and articles from assorted periodicals, and careful scouring of the internet for videos to help tell the story. Months before our presentation, we develop a working outline that is used to create a PowerPoint program. For us, the key to not dying by PowerPoint is to incorporate a balance of the obvious and not so obvious. A seldom scene video or a rare outtake of a song can help to engage a class.
On the evening of Monday, April 10, as the class watched Let It Be, it occurred to me that The Beatles were very skilled at disrupting lives.
January 30, 1969 was a gray, cold, windy day on the rooftop of Apple Records headquarters in the Saville Row section of London, England. But on that day, John, Paul, George, Ringo, and American keyboardist, Billy Preston, played a forty-two minute set of songs.
From that rooftop, as soon as the first chords and vocals began reverberating off the sides of buildings and the wooden plank platform where the band was playing—a disruption occurred.
People scrambled to adjacent rooftops to see and hear what this sound was. The same scurrying was happening on the street below. Necks were craning skyward trying to catch a glimpse of the famous band.
That spark of sound spread quickly, and soon the sidewalks and streets became crowded and at times impassable. And as you might expect, London’s police “the bobbies” appeared. The placement of cameras in every conceivable place by film director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, was magnificent in capturing this disruption.
The Beatles were no strangers to disruption.
On February 9, 1964, the Beatles disruption in America started with their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
When the Beatles toured America in the summer of 1966, the tour was overshadowed with a disruption—John Lennon’s comment about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus Christ. And it was on this tour, on August 29, 1966, that the Beatles played their last concert in San Fransisco’s Candlestick Park.
The next four years proved to be a roller coaster for the Beatles.
Their much acclaimed album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released. They journeyed to India to learn about Transcendental Meditation. Apple Records was started, and a collision of substance abuse, the undertow of their personalities, and the pressure of trying to run Apple Records contributed to their breakup in 1970.
Many fans and critics blamed the 1970 breakup of the Beatles on the clash of their personalities over business matters. Some point fingers at John’s new wife, Yoko Ono, and the show business attorneys of Paul first wife, Linda Eastman.
Clearly, many factors led to the breakup of the Beatles. But, I think the passing of their manager, Brian Epstein, on August 27, 1967 is an overlooked disruption. Up until that moment, all business dealings for the band had been handled by Mr. Epstein.
In a blink, business decisions fell to the Beatles to determine. Unlike the familiarity of being in the Abbey Road recording studios, the Beatles were blindly thrust into interactions with accountants, prospective business managers, and attorneys.
For Joe and me, April 10 and 11 arrived quickly. We both engaged in a flurry of last minute activities to ensure that our planning had a chance for success.
Finding that success hinges on three key pieces—weaving our research into a competent Powerpoint, our individual skills in delivering the content, and Joe’s introductions to the movie screening and the class. Joe is a master at writing the introductions. His extensive research provides the framework.
Luckily, I received good, practical help from the students at the university’s Technology Learning Center. These students were very patient in reteaching an aging geezer how to download videos into our PowerPoint.
Also, the leadership for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute consisting of Peggy Watson, Nell Smith, Catherine Taylor, and Amy Edwards is exceptional. Joe and I valued their attention to detail, technology skills, and ability to schedule our class in the delightful Ukrop Auditorium.
And there is another benefit from teaching these classes—the Osher students. In every class, Joe and I enjoy the interaction with our generational peers. In those exchanges, we learn more about the subject matter in a variety of ways. That learning might come from the different angle of an insightful question, or some deep thinking that sheds new light on a much discussed point.
Many times in our pre-class preparation, Joe and I reflect about growing up in Burlington, North Carolina. We were lucky. Thanks to our parents, we experienced few disruptions.
I’m glad that our mutual love of music disrupted our lives. I feel very fortunate that music for a few months each year still disrupts the normal flow of life for Joe and me through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
Gradually, the snippets of song and film fragments from Let It Be, and Get Back To Abbey Road will subside in my brain.
And yet, I wonder if George Harrison and John Lennon had lived if the Beatles would have reunited in the studio or on a concert stage?
Life is full of “what if” questions.
And here is another one to ponder.
In our constantly chaotic world, what would it be like if we had followed the Beatles advice as they closed out the “long one” on Abbey Road? Remember these lyrics: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Doesn’t our world deserve to be disrupted with love?
After all, the Beatles reminded us a long time ago— “all we need is love.”
Author’s note: Joe and I thank our wives for supporting this annual journey, and a special thanks to our youngest daughter, Elizabeth Pike, who at the last minute figured out how to load in a stubborn video.