Letters

Readers sound off on Beatle battles and Bollywood box office.


Salon Staff
February 8, 2003 1:00AM (UTC)

[Read Gilbert Garcia's "The Ballad of Paul and Yoko."]

Perhaps Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono are too close to the material about which they argue. People immersed in their own work often do not fully appreciate the ways in which their work is perceived by their audience.

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Paul, there is absolutely no way that any Beatles fan would ever denigrate your contributions to the band or to pop music history, no matter whose name comes first on the Beatles' writing credits (apologies to George for his significant contributions). Clearly, you and John wrote different music. The fact that you both agreed, at some point, to present a united front to the world in your writing credits, reveals much to us about the nature of the project that was the Beatles. The sounds you both heard in your heads and transferred to your songs, in whatever proportion, define the band -- that and Ringo's metronome beat. We know "John songs" and we know "Paul songs." We love them both. The Beatles would not have been the Beatles without both of you.

Yoko, see above. John's legacy is safe in the hands of those who loved his music. I have always been a fan of Paul McCartney's. But he does himself no favors by trying to overwhelm Lennon's contributions. I hope both Paul and Yoko will leave it alone. Continue your own projects. Contribute even more to your legacies. But don't let the Beatles' legacy become one of bickering.

-- David Dewar

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Good God, it is 2003, and you idiot music press people are still savaging Yoko. Get this through your heads: John chose Yoko over you 35 years ago. Get over it and stop ripping into her as if you were still petty gossips in high school. Come on, drawing her as a Blue Meanie? repeating that inaccurately reported story about Yoko calling Paul Salieri? You're only repeating Newsweek's highly inaccurate take on the quote. Yoko empathized with Paul for being put in the position of Salieri; she didn't put him down as being Salieri.

And as for savaging her for the admittedly stupid idea of stealing Zappa's highly overrated work (his sometimes friend Captain Beefheart was the real thing): Why are you savaging Yoko but letting John off scot-free? Because he's the icon and she's the alleged evil bitch? Condemning Yoko for plagiarizing is fair game, but to be consistent you also have to condemn John for similar thievery, resulting in the litigation over "Come Together" (and George for "My Sweet Lord," for that matter). And to be even more fair, you should condemn the many artists, from Sonic Youth to Public Enemy to Beck to Patti Smith, who owe much of their reputations to the fact that both the general public and the alternasnob crowd have no idea that Yoko pioneered a huge section of today's sounds 30 years ago.

Going back to my high school comparison, Yoko truly is the "weird" student that everyone else in high school -- even the other rejects -- felt they could rip into with impunity. Are you really proud of yourself for continuing this incredibly stupid tradition?

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--Michael Russell

So, from Gilbert Garcia's point of view, John Lennon is nothing more than a pathetic, disturbed, moody man who made a good career move by being murdered more than 20 years ago. Meanwhile, poor Sir Paul has to go on and on about how he wrote "Yesterday" all by himself, how he came with the tape loops for "Tomorrow Never Knows," how he invented the avant-garde Beatles. What a sad life. Oh, how I pity him!

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Well, at least he has a life. He's a happy, rich, talented man, still working, still making records, writing books, painting. It's a lot more than we can say about John.

It's funny how these days, every time someone tries to defend John Lennon, the old "Oh, that's only because he died and turned into a saint" bullshit is heard. People like Mr. Garcia fail to understand that people defend John because he was a wonderful artist, loved and respected. He certainly had a lot more to give, but his life was cut short at 40. Just because some critics didn't like "Double Fantasy" doesn't mean it wasn't a great album, or that John should retire for good. Ask Dylan and Bowie if they listened to the critics' advice back in the '80s. Maybe they should have retired back then, hmm? Of course, Mr. Garcia is someone who thinks that Chapman did Lennon a great favor by killing him. Now he's the great "saint-martyr Lennon," and poor McCartney has to deal with it.

So, Paul should be a little more graceful toward his old partner. Everybody knows that Paul is great, that he wrote "Yesterday," "Hey Jude" (with input from Lennon, yes, Mr. Garcia! Go and check your fonts), that he's 60 and still filling up stadiums. He's one of the best known, loved and admired people of the last century, and of the new one. He's mega! But if he still has problems with not being the coolest Beatle, or the martyr Beatle, or the avant-garde Beatle, well, I don't know what more the fans can do to boost his ego. Maybe offer him some virgin sacrifices.

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As for Yoko Ono, it's obvious that Mr. Garcia hates the woman, so there's no point discussing her art or the very nice way she keeps Lennon's memory alive. I always appreciated her for that, but maybe I'm only a blind and silly fan who can't see how Paul is really the great one, and John was just the moody bastard with the writer's block, who returned with a lousy record that, thankfully, was his last one.

But you know what? I'm not the only one...

--Cristine Affonso

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It's so disappointing to be reminded that your heroes are mere mortals. I can overlook Lennon's embarrassing late-career slump and McCartney's dopey '80s duets -- after all, Michael Jackson was still black then and indisputably cool, and two trailblazers of modern music like Paul and Stevie Wonder can be forgiven for a radio-friendly paean to racial harmony -- but watching Paul and Yoko behave like a pair of bitchy sorority girls is demoralizing and, frankly, diminishing to the most innovative and inimitable body of work in the brief history of pop. It's particularly bothersome given that the Beatles' output, particularly when compared with the later efforts of both Lennon and McCartney, proves definitively that neither was quite as good without the other. Even in their finest solo hours, Paul and John never equaled their work in the Beatles, even well after their songwriting partnership was in name only.

It's too bad that Paul feels upstaged by John's martyrdom. And I'm sure that, whatever else we think about her, Yoko would prefer still having her husband to undermining Paul's importance to the Beatles. But those of us who love the music, whose lives have been changed for the better by it, know that the Beatles were first and foremost a group of four (it's irritating to see George, Ringo, and producer George Martin so continuously ignored and overlooked, though I'm sure they have all been happy to be left out of the feuds whenever possible), and that their enormous achievement was a phenomenon contingent on an enormously unlikely sequence of fated meetings, changes in modern culture, and turns in history, and can never be reduced to the skill or brilliance of one member.

Besides, what difference does it make whose name comes first? Michael Jackson owns the songs anyway.

--Edward Tarkington

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Just read "The Ballad of Paul and Yoko" and wanted to urge the writer and editors to do a little more research before jumping on the tiresome and long-unjustified bandwagon of Yoko bashing.

Is it worth pointing out that in one of the last interviews John Lennon gave before his death (published posthumously in Playboy), he discussed in great depth, song by song, the specific contributions of each of the Beatles to the group's entire songwriting catalog, acknowledging ultimately that, paraphrasing here, "Those early songs were pretty much written nose-to-nose with Paul"? That interview was a significant effort by Lennon to set the record straight.

As for song-swiping, Steve Miller did an awesome job of stealing Yoko's "Walking on Thin Ice," particularly Lennon's searing guitar lines.

Finally, while I realize it has been 22 years since John's death and the pain of his murder may have faded, I don't believe the sentence "thanks to Mark David Chapman" belongs in an article about Lennon. Ever. I understand what the writer is trying to say, but his sentence construction was tasteless.

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-- Vickie Bates

As a Beatles fan from the age of 9 or so (even my grandmother chided me for being "behind the times" while handing over the cassette of "Meet the Beatles" that I'd asked for Christmas that year), my attitude about the McCartney/Lennon schism did a flip-flop some time soon after I grew up. Sure, we all know that John was the coolest, but the Beatles were only half about cool, and Paul was the dominant giant of that other crucial half ... the musical-genius stuff was his territory.

Both as a composer and a performer, he was a virtual one-man band whose need for partnership was mostly in the realm of ego-check and editing. Like a lot of other creative geniuses (as well as God, apparently), Paul never really could tell the difference between his good ideas and his bad ones. But his good ones were second to no man's, woman's, or Beatle's.

Having said that, it's important to remember that even without Ringo, there would have been no Beatles to be so passionate about all these years later.

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And the same can absolutely not be said for Yoko.

-- Steven Augustine

No question, game over before it started. I like Paul, but I loved John.

Paul was very tuneful. John wore the pants.

-- Jim Hassinger

It's not news that Beatlemaniacs hate Yoko "Broke up the Beatles" Ono. Or that Paul has been trying to shore up his musical respect with people who don't like mainstream pop -- but never, so far, by actually doing something besides mainstream pop.

Some new wave, and virtually no punk, bands were influenced by the Beatles. Michael Stipe said they were "just another band," and I think he spoke for a lot of us.

Bottom line: Paul bores me. Muzak to my ears. Yoko is often interesting -- not just on "Rising" but on "Season of Glass," for example. No one has ever disputed that she sells fewer records than Paul. Indeed, with all the adulation, cash and other rewards he's garnered over his lifetime, his quest for recognition as something he wasn't and never will be is outrageously greedy and to be condemned, not aided.

-- Marion Delgado

The coolest Beatle?

George of course!

-- Marty Gallowitz

[ Read Lisa Tsering's "Bollywood Confidential."]

There are several misconceptions in the article that need to be corrected. Bombay is not the largest producer of Indian films; it just produces 100-odd films a year. The astounding total of films quoted in the article includes the production from other regional cities such as Madras (Chenai), Kerala, Hyderabad, Bangalore (Karnataka), Calcutta, etc., all in languages such as Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, etc. These films are often different in style and content; in fact they inhabit a different Indian universe than those from Bombay, which are primarily in Hindi. Remember, India is bigger than Western Europe: An Almódovar film from Spain is very different from one by Britain's Mike Leigh. So is a Bengali film (much of Satyajit Ray's output is in that language) or a Tamil film compared to those from Bombay.

Second, domestic Indian audiences are increasingly spurning much of Bombay's output, resulting in huge flops. The article fails to inform that 95 percent of films produced last year have failed domestically, nor does it attempt to investigate the reasons for the failure. Could it be that the overdose of gloss and melodrama, hackneyed story lines of "boy meets girl meets opposition from parents," or the love triangle themes are finally getting on the audience's nerves?

Fortunately for the producers, the diaspora Indians have provided a lifeline to the industry by lapping these films up. Perhaps for the diaspora, the present films provide an image of an India that really is all make-believe: the breathtaking locales, chiffon saris, great wedding parties, etc. Maybe the overseas Indians don't want to be reminded of the India they left behind -- one that pulsates with humanity -- or the grinding poverty, overcrowded and choking cities, caste discrimination, race and religious riots, a nation on the brink of a nuclear war with a neighboring country.

It's a pity, though. Given these conditions, one would expect great film art to flourish, not just lovers running through a glass house as in "Devdas."

-- P. Rajan

Great primer, Lisa. But a Top 10 Bollywood list and no mention of "Sholay"? How bizarre. It's akin to not finding "Godfather I, II" or "Citizen Kane" on any Hollywood best-of list. I can only assume that Sholay's non-inclusion was an honest oversight.

It became a classic immediately upon release in 1975 and ran in theaters for six straight years. Top that, "Star Wars!" It is hands down, by a wide margin, the most beloved Bollywood flick ever. Don't believe me? Take a random sampling of Indians. Ask them to name their favorite Bollywood movie. Eight out of 10 will say "Sholay." And that's a conservative estimate.

The three-and-a-half-hour actioner tells the story of two small-time crooks hired to protect a village from a band of roving bandits (OK, so it was liberally inspired by "Seven Samurai").

It has flaws (some weak songs, lame comedy early on), but its greatness and impact on generations of Indian moviegoers is unquestionable. Have I convinced you yet? It's available on DVD with subtitles. See it. Now.

-- Amar Parikh

Hey! Thanks for your fine writing on an interesting and worthy topic!

Thank you also for skewering me so accurately. I am definitely one of the microbrew drinkers, seeking out the Bollywood gems, a 30-something white male urban hipster, sometimes the only Ferengi in attendance at our local Bollywood theater here in the Washington, D.C., area. "Culture vulture" sounds kinda harsh, though. Is that what I am? What does that mean? Yikes!

And thanks further for the scoop about the impossibly beautiful Aishwarya Rai starring in a version of "Pride and Prejudice." She was, as I'm sure you remember, wonderful in "Kandukondain Kandukondain," Rajiv Menon's (Tamil) version of "Sense and Sensibility," so we know she can play Jane Austen.

As with Bollywood in general, who needs to read what they're really saying, when it's this good to see and hear, this much fun just to enjoy? Let's hope the rest of America reads your article and is moved to see and hear what all the fuss is about. Sadly, though, I suspect that most of your response mail will be like mine, enthusiastic, but from ones already in the club.

Thanks again, though, for your passion and for furthering the cause a little bit more.

-- Edward Bohls


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