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).