Notebook: THE BEATLES: GET BACK by Peter Jackson


Since a lot of people are doing it, I wanted to get down my own thoughts on Peter Jackson’s masterpiece THE BEATLES: GET BACK, which I had the wonderful privilege of watching with friends this weekend. I wanted to start by noting that I was born in November of 1970*, a few months after Paul McCartney announced that The Beatles had broken up, after the subsequent release of LET IT BE, to a pair of parents who were not really fans of The Beatles— my dad and The Beatles shared a passion for the earliest rock and roll of the 1950’s and both my dad and mom sat out the countercultural revolutions of the 1960s, and especially the music it produced. I don’t know when I first heard The Beatles, but it was certainly as a little boy; I do remember hearing GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE for sure— probably in 1976 when the ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC compilation was released (I likely heard it on the radio)– but my first recollection is not even The Beatles, it is Wings’ BAND ON THE RUN album which, again, I probably heard on the radio in the summer of 1974 when I was three years old. The only copy of an album by The Beatles in my mom’s house was and remains MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, which I listened to sometimes.

I also came of age at a time- the early 1980’s- when the music of my parents generation (old time rock and roll on my dad’s side, adult contemporary on my mom’s side) was not something I cared very much about. I can remember all of it, mostly fondly, but my personal musical exploration began, as it always should, when I began making my own choices— metal, then jazz (and prog), then college rock, and then outward from there. As part of that outward expansion, I came back around to The Beatles, who remained ubiquitous on radio throughout the 70’s and 80’s, especially in Michigan, influenced by Detroit’s radio, which was heavily marketing “classic rock” and Motown/ soul to different audiences. In Flint, where I grew up, you had the contemporary rock station WWCK 105.5, the contemporary R&B station WDZZ 92.7, the adult contemporary station CARS 108 (107.9), and then you maybe could pull in WLLZ or WRIF from Detroit. In the early 1980’s, Flint’s local independent station WFBE 95.1 began airing Ben Hamper’s TAKE NO PRISONERS show on Saturday nights, which focused on punk and local bands, and that became the definitive show of the 1980’s for me— I would hide under my blankets and put the radio next to my ear so my parents wouldn’t hear me staying up super late, listening to the radio. On a clear night, you could grab BRAVE NEW WAVES drifting over the border on CBC radio in Canada, another big touchstone for me. 

So, I never had a childhood steeped in The Beatles and their songs were, for me, from another time. I also have never had a sort of Road To Damascus moment with The Beatles music where I became an obsessive convert or did a deep dive into every single aspect of their music and production history (which gauge of strings did George use on his guitar for AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING? I literally could not care less). 

All of that said, I completely get it. Having been a listener to pop since 1970, the dominance of The Beatles’ songs in shaping contemporary music is beyond staggering to even consider— people who love and make music look at that unfathomably great body of work as sacred, a sort of contemporary Sistine Chapel which is to be poured over, examined, a set of problems to solve to figure out how it was done because, in the end, as music, it is breathtaking. Anyone who can’t appreciate what The Beatles created is likely either resentful of their ubiquity or annoyed by the giant shadow they cast over the work of so many others, and I also understand that. But I don’t blame The Beatles for that— they have come to mean so many things to so many people, but what we are left to grapple with are the songs and records which stand both as a towering achievement in contemporary pop music, but also, a narrative, a story, an artistic path from LOVE ME DO to THE END in just eight years, almost impossible to comprehend. Yet there it is, that body of work, and it remains an object of deep fascination and scrutiny because, as music, it means so much and only a very few people have ever achieved anything that comes close**.

The collaborative, interpersonal creative process that allowed The Beatles to happen is essentially the subject of THE BEATLES: GET BACK, which captures just a single month in the life of the band as they record the LET IT BE album, first as a concept for a TV show/documentary/ live concert event which is eventually abandoned, then as the documentation of the recording of the album itself, culminating in the band’s justifiably (and more on this in a minute) legendary final performance on the rooftop of Apple Studios. 

There are some very big choices made here by Peter Jackson, and they were all fine by me: The voluminous footage, which was used to create the sour documentary LET IT BE (which sensationalized the sessions as rife with turmoil, a clear sign of the end, of the band’s impending demise), has been not only restored but “contemporized”, creating images and audio that were impossible with the film technology of the time. This has the effect of creating a sense of immediacy and intimacy for modern audiences that is unlike anything I have ever experienced with footage from this era. Look at Pennebaker’s work on films like DON’T LOOK BACK and ZIGGY STARDUST (both amazing) to see the typical visual and audio limitations of most shoots of the era. While those films achieve intimacy with smaller cameras and crews, THE BEATLES: GET BACK uses the scale of its production to an unprecedented advantage. Say what you want about the film’s cigar-smoking, Libya-obsessed director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, but the man made some massively important choices that allowed this film to happen, and at the top of the list is his decision to go all in on coverage; there were cameras and invasive microphones everywhere, and while that may have been a huge pain the ass for everyone involved, THE BEATLES: GET BACK would not have been remotely possible without the hours and hours and hours of coverage Lindsay-Hogg’s footage provided to Jackson and his superstar editor Jabez Olssen. 

Olssen’s work here is by far the most crucial in reframing this footage and, frankly, re-writing the history of The Beatles. First, by taking footage out of its original linear, temporal context and cutting it into scenes where the audio was from another moment, THE BEATLES: GET BACK leans into the emotional content and heavy interpersonal subtext of the band’s decisive, creative moments. A glance, a smile, the image of a restless hand— these images supply meaning that has been historically unavailable. What this allows, more than anything else, is for Jackson to find the real story here, which is about the love between these artists who, at the apex of their fame and creative flowering, reached an understanding they could not yet articulate that their time together was coming to an end. This is the moment when, just over the horizon, The Beatles will become an impossibility for them, with three incredible songwriters, all of them bursting out in different creative directions that were only made available to them by the fact of their collaboration, unable to articulate the full meaning of what they understood about what was next.

The deep humanity of this specific choice by Jackson puts the film in a class by itself for me— it is a movie that at once shows the jaw-dropping brilliance of what The Beatles were able to create together and makes their dissolution as a band both heartbreaking and comprehensible. One of the most interesting things about experiencing the film for me was orienting myself in the narrative— while I have seen many people reporting that they were deeply moved by watching unbelievable moments in the film’s early episodes, especially intimate moments of creation of songs that are now part of the contemporary music canon (Paul working out LET IT BE in the background while the group chats around him, Paul strumming his bass and just pulling GET BACK seemingly out of thin air, George sharing amazing songs from his masterpiece ALL THINGS MUST PASS to general indifference)— for me it was the interpersonal moments that kept me deeply engaged; the band navigating Paul’s notes to George and Ringo about their playing, John and Paul on secret microphone (hello again, coverage!) discussing how to piece them all back together again, Paul constantly chewing his nails and going slack jawed when things aren’t going his way, John’s use of humor and his emotional intelligence in seeing multiple perspectives, Ringo’s easygoing professionalism, George’s kindness and diligence covering up his wounds. 

For me, all of these moments culminate in the rooftop performance sequence, when the band, unshackled, free from the studio after years of not playing live, finally get to cut loose and everything we’ve seen boiling beneath the surface is cast aside for an all too brief moment of joyous connection between four artists, young men, lifelong friends, who put away the all of the choices that lead them there— the film, the business plans, the recording process — and just let it all go, together. This is the moment that brought tears to my eyes— the storytelling that got us all to that rooftop, knowing what had come before, what it meant to them, the love between them, and the knowledge that, as a simple title note tell us, it would never, ever happen again. A final experience of joyous connection when you see and hear everything, all at once. Like a great, fleeting romantic moment that will never exist again, you look back on it and you understand, you forgive. And then? The end.  


*I know some people say Altamont was the official end of the 1960’s, but I always like to outline this chronology of 1970 as a way to frame my birth year:

April 1970- The Beatles announce their break up

May 1970- The Kent State shooting

September 1970- Jimi Hendrix dies

October 1970- Janis Joplin dies

November 1970- I was born

**For me personally, the nine year run Prince had from PRINCE in 1979 to SIGN O’ THE TIMES in 1987 is as close as anyone has ever come. 

My Favorite Albums of 2018

Music did so much to get me through 2018… here are my favorite new albums and my favorite vinyl re-issues of the year.





AURORA by Slow Crush

TWIN FANTASY (MIRROR TO MIRROR) by Car Seat Headrest (a re-issue of sorts, a re-imagining of sorts)

LUSH by Snail Mail


MAKE MY BED by King Princess

INDIGO by Wild Nothing



BAD WITCH by Nine Inch Nails (also, best concert of the year, hands down)



AMBIENT 1: MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS by Brian Eno (Half-speed mastering- incredible)

154 by Wire

ISN’T ANYTHING by My Bloody Valentine (analogue)

LOVELESS by My Bloody Valentine (analogue)

MANOS by The Spinanes

My MVP of 2018, the album I listened to more than any other (and it wasn’t even close)…

THE DEMONSTRATION by Drab Majesty (2017)

My Favorite Albums of 2017

  2. MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent
  3. ANTISOCIALITES by Alvvays
  5. KEN by Destroyer
  6. SAVAGE YOUNG DU by Hüsker Dü
  7. LOSING by Bully
  8. MELODRAMA by Lorde
  9. IN THE DARKNESS OF MY NIGHT by Sunshine & The Rain
  10. NOT EVEN HAPPINESS by Julie Byrne
  11. AMERICAN DREAM by LCD Soundsystem
  12. SATURN OVER SUNSET by Midnight Sister
  13. UTOPIA by Björk


Special MVP award to STARBOY by The Weeknd, which came out in November 2016, but DOMINATED my 2017!











Decades ago, let’s say the summer of 1981, maybe (?), I listened to a record with my step-brother on the turntable at my grandpa’s house on Higgins Lake, back home in Michigan. We played it a few times and, being 10 years old or so, I was TERRIFIED of it. It was a horror record, I remember, its cover was black and white, had small pictures of monsters on it, and the record had clips from a radio show or play or movie in between these strangely poppy songs and it just FREAKED ME OUT.

This record has stayed with me for years, despite having NO IDEA what it was. Those childhood memories that are now almost etherial– did this even exist? Is my memory of it EVEN CLOSE to the actual thing? I reach for the picture of the album in my head, but it is blended with old VHS horror movie cases (the original ZOMBIE? THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN?) and mixed in with my imagination and maybe some dreams and probably the thing itself, and that mental picture? It’s not even close.

Since the mid 1990’s, when, for some reason, I was reminded of it somehow, I have been OBSESSED with figuring out this mystery by remembering it or finding an answer. Before my grandmother died, I asked her if she had any memory of such a thing (no), did she keep the albums from the lake house (no), did my dad keep the record (no), did anyone remember this record (no)? Once in a while, the memory cycles around again and I think “Oh yeah, what WAS that?” and then it goes away again for a while. Usually, when I am making a mix of Halloween songs, I’m reminded again, and I am dying to figure it out, and so last week, listening to Halloween songs, I was haunted again by this unknowable thing and again, it remained unknown.

Have I conveyed how much I wanted to remember this record? Not remembering this record literally drove me crazy for DECADES and, with no information to go on, was an unsolvable mystery. My younger self could not give me a drop of information on which to go. Like searching in the dark for something, a specific thing, you’re not sure what it is, but you know it exists. Maybe.

So yesterday, I was in Athens, GA and I made my mandatory trip to Wuxtry Records on my way out of town. I spent like 45 minutes digging through crates and just reveling in being at such an amazing record store again, which brought its own memories flooding back, and as I usually do, I started flipping through the film soundtracks. They were on the floor, tucked tightly into a few crates in the back of the store, and so I got on my hands and knees and was loving the selections, remembering the movies. There are a few I always look for on vinyl and one of them is the original SUSPIRIA soundtrack by Goblin- I have the CD, but it is one I would love to own on vinyl. So, I am flipping through the “S” soundtracks and, truly, a LIGHTNING BOLT FROM THE SKY STRUCK ME.

There, in ‘S’ the crate, sat a record. I flipped past it, noticed the artist (who I love) as it flicked by, and flipped back to it. I stared for a second because I do like the artist, had just looked under his name in the “rock and roll” section and did not see this record in there. It looked weird and why was it in film soundtracks? Oh right, this movie was awful. Ha.

And then, suddenly, I had a complete sense of deja vu looking at the cover. It was jet black with a black and white photo of a bearded vampire. It was a horror record. It listed the artists and song titles, and had another black and white photo on the back of a graveyard. And then, suddenly, I just had a feeling that THIS WAS IT but I wasn’t sure because it didn’t match up with that hazy, obsessive memory I had been desperately trying to reconstruct in my head. But I was almost certain. I stared at it in the crate for a beat and could feel that my heart was racing. I pulled it, tucked it under my arm, and kept browsing but was completely distracted by the possibility that I just, somehow, 35 years later, found this record I had been looking for all my life. Of course, I bought it.

I also immediately understood why my 10 year-old self would have found it so strange because, at that time, I had absolutely no frame of reference for the music of Harry Nilsson. I didn’t get the camp aspect of it at all– I was too young, I didn’t know the Hammer films yet– all I knew was the record, completely out of context. When I got to the airport, I opened the sleeve and there, folding out on the front cover like a vampire’s cape, was a gatefold of all of the black and white pictures of monsters, and I knew for certain this was it. All of those fragmentary memories were replaced instantly by the reality of the thing staring me in the face and the memory and the reality merged and I knew I had found it. I texted my step-brother and suddenly he remembered it as well and sent me a link to the YouTube video of the song we had played incessantly that summer. When I got home to Brooklyn, I opened the record up and inside was the album and the original iron-on T-Shirt decal that came with it (!!!).

The record is the soundtrack to SON OF DRACULA with songs by Harry Nilsson (and Ringo Starr) and Paul Buckmaster, who did the score. It came out in 1974, when I was three years old. It has been re-issued, but my copy is an original with the gatefold of images folding out from the cape. It has clips of the film in-between the songs. It is the soundtrack to one of the (best) worst movies of all time. Why my grandfather had this record at his lake house in the early 1980’s will remain an unknowable mystery.

… and THAT is just one reason why I love taking my time at record stores.

DAYBREAK, The Song We Played Obsessively:

The Cover:

The Vampire Cape Gatefold:

The Back Cover:

The Iron-On Decal:

The Label, A Pun On Apple Records: