Salman Rushdie has a Substack site, and describes an encounter with the Beatles

November 29, 2021 • 12:45 pm

The original Cancelled Person—Salman Rushdie, who was cancelled in the worst way possible—now has a Substack site called “Salman’s Sea of Stories.” You can subscribe for $60 per year, or read some for free. The piece below, inspired by Rushdie’s viewing of Peter Jackson’s new 8-hour documentary series, “Beatles” Get Back“, is free. Click on the screenshot to read it.

I like Rushdie (Midnight’s Children is one of the best novels of our time) and of course I love the Beatles, and so I’m chuffed to find that Rushdie also likes the Beatles:

The three episodes of Jackson’s cut are full of squabbling, dithering, vamping, and it often feels like watching the end of a marriage. Here are four men who obviously love each other deeply, but are finding it difficult to stay together. (And no, I don’t think Yoko broke up the Beatles. Maybe Allen Klein did. But I don’t believe that either. They just grew apart and went their separate ways.) The most heart-stopping moments are the ones where we watch, in real time, the birth of their songs. The moment when Paul is fooling around on his guitar and then suddenly begins to play what all of us instantly recognize as the opening riff of Get Back is the most powerful. He plays it, changes it, finds it, and then a phrase comes to him. Jojo was a man da-da da-da-da da-da. And after that the song just bursts out of him, like a small miracle. Later, when he’s trying to get the lyrics right (he can’t settle on Sweet Loretta’s surname) we actually want to help him. “ It’s Sweet Loretta Martin, Paul,” we want to shout. “Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman.”

On January 30, 1969, Rushdie was on his way to a job interview in London when he had his Beatles encounter. He passed by the Concert on the Rooft!

I turned down Savile Row and saw a small crowd on the sidewalk outside No. 3, many of them looking up towards the sky.

I asked someone, “What’s going on?” “It’s the Beatles,” he replied. “They’re on the roof.”

Watching Beatles: Get Back, you might form the impression that everyone at street level could hear the concert perfectly. That wasn’t true. We heard a sort of loud generalized music noise, without being able to make out what was being sung or played.

He got bored and left, because he really couldn’t hear the music well. But apparently the concert is presented in all its close-up glory in Jackson’s film. Now I must see it!

Watching the Concert on the Roof more than half a century later, I was filled with emotion. There was the memory of my own distant youth, encountering history and then leaving it behind. (I’m nowhere in the documentary. Believe me, I looked.) There was sadness at the loss of John and George. There was regret that they stopped touring or giving concerts, because, like their arch-rivals The Rolling Stones, they were a great live band, and it was both exhilarating and sad to watch, in particular, John and Paul singing and playing in joyful harmony, obviously loving what they were doing in that short, inspired set, the last time they ever did it “live.”

The concert was about 20 minutes long before the police broke it up, so Rushdie was lucky to have been passing by at that moment. Here’s the performance (not from Jackson’s film).

h/t: Daniel

15 thoughts on “Salman Rushdie has a Substack site, and describes an encounter with the Beatles

  1. It is kind of a weird experience to watch the Jackson film. Having listened to this music for fifty years or more we know it so well while, because they are trapped in time, the Beatles are just figuring it out. Makes me want to steal a Tardis and go back in time.

      1. You’d certainly need a Tardis to fit in all of the people who claimed to be in the audience when the Sex Pistols played Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall!

  2. Where was I in January of 1969 — on my way to England on a one way ticket, provided by the U.S. Air Force. So when the Beatles were thinking about splitting I was just arriving for a little more than three years all expenses paid. I remember it was cold and there was snow on the ground at RAF Lakenheath.

    1. We were just back in Canada from 4 months in Hyde Park with me teaching a couple of courses up at Chicago Circle (U. of I. that time not UChicago), and the whole family just recovered from Hong Kong flu. But had been back in Manchester the previous Easter and ended up living in Manchester soon after when the breakup became public knowledge.

      Have any of those bobbies who went up to terminate the concert ever written about their role?

      My son became a professional rock drummer listening to exactly that stuff and probably just as much Rolling Stones, pounding away on the padded chair and other stuff from age 5 onwards. Four years later it was an air guitar concert in the back yard of our Cambridge (also England) place. But the Bay City Rollers, not the Beatles. Sublime to the ridiculous, but 9 year olds can be excused. Memories….

      I don’t think I’m a musical snob, but the Free Trade Hall for me was Barbirolli; especially conducting Mahler.

      Also remember me later trying to recovery Abbey Road album from a nameless borrower guy who failed to get tenure, but actually elsewhere became a rather famous computer scientist. I didn’t appreciate how smart he is at the time.

      Why didn’t they do it in the road? Everyone would still be watching them.

      I suppose the Beatles had more effect on my life than good old Sir John and poor old Gustav. Pardon the self-centredness!

  3. I tried, very hard, to like Midnight’s Children. I read 75% of it and stopped. (I had previously read Freedom at Midnight by Collins and Lapierre, which I loved, and many other books about India.)

    I did enjoy Rushdie’s book Joseph Anton.

    I am looking forward to Get Back and will certainly watch it.

  4. This post encouraged me to watch the rooftop concert again, so thank you Jerry! It’s actually just over 30 minutes long with 3 versions of ‘Get Back’, 2 of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, 2 of ‘I’ve got a Feeling’ and 1 of ‘One after 909’ and ‘Dig a Pony’. The concert is presented a bit similarly to Woodstock with various windows showing the members of the band, the police and the people down at street level (where there are more interviews than the original film). I found the police’s conversation really funny. Full of little classics like, in a very serious voice “we’ve had 30 complaints in 5 minutes”. Everyone downstairs of Apple was clearly trying to bullshit them and delay them for as long as possible. Fair do to Apple and Peter Jackson the Police got credited with captions as they arrived. The last and senior one was Sgt David Whitlock. I think they were also named on the rolling credits at the end!

  5. I watched part 1 of Get Back last night. I enjoyed it, but anyone who is not a big Beatles fan would probably be a little bored.
    The creative process that results in that kind of art really amazes me. It seems like sorcery. Watching it just form in what seems a spontaneous fashion is really interesting to me.

    1. A commentator on NPR’s Fresh Air show today suggested starting with the last third of Get Back – if that grabs you, go and watch the other two. We were about to cancel our Disney+ account, but maybe we’ll watch this first.

  6. I had the privilege of having dinner with Rushdie back in about 2002, when I was an associate dean at the University of South Florida, and not all that long after the fatwa was lifted. He had interesting things to say about the individual Beatles, as well as about being onstage with U2 in front of 70,000 fans. And I agree – Midnight’s Children is a masterpiece.

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