I didn’t plan to watch Peter Jackson’s documentary The Beatles: Get Back but I couldn’t resist. Disney Plus offered a week of free viewing and as one who grew up with the Beatles, I put aside my feeling that we shouldn’t reanalyze magic.
Cobbled out of old footage moldering on steel reels in the basement of Twickenham Studios, the star of Get Back is collaboration of the creative spirit. Four became as one, but only after hard work, sweat, a whole lot of smoking and drinking and Harrison walking out at one point and saying he quit. After conversations, stroking ruffled egos, more smoking and drinking, the music emerged from the rooftop. In January, 1969, twenty-one days of studio sessions culminated in the final live performance of the Beatles on the rooftop of Apple Headquarters on Savile Row. The interplay between Lennon and McCartney and their familiarity with the other’s creative process, along with their deep respect for each other moved me. While each had diverged into distinct styles by then, they appreciated the other, Lennon nodding to McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road” and McCartney tapping his foot to Lennon’s “Dig a Pony” as they worked on the Let It Be album. While George Harrison kept trying to stake his claim to artistic recognition with his own songwriting, he found himself drowned out by the unique Lennon and McCartney team, although his guitar riffs in “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” have become iconic. At one session we hear him in the background strumming the chords of a new melody he’s playing around with; that song became “Something. “
To hear a song like “Get Back” emerge, one painstaking chord and lyric at a time, offered a new appreciation for my idols. I often thought the music flowed from the Beatles like honey from a tree. Instead, the documentary shed light on the grueling work of creating art. It’s often been said that McCartney must dream songs and lyrics in his sleep because he’s so prolific, but even he didn’t have the words “JoJo left his home in Tucson Arizona” for the first of many, many tries. Reflection, trial and error, playing around with nonsense words and chords, there’s a lesson there to let the work guide you.
I thought about my own work and the collaboration I’ve experienced with other writers. I always felt each of us brought our own voice to a project—thinking about our anthologies Slants of Light and The Life Unexpected. The end result was only as good as the respect and give and take that went into it, and the changes one writer proposed to a story that another writer might not have thought, even though it was her work.
Since we restarted the Women’s Writing Circle, I’ve experienced the collaborative spirit of goodwill. Last meeting, I read a piece and a writer said to me, how about putting this sentence at the beginning of the description, instead of the end? She was right. It made a better flow. Collaborative author teams abound from writers and ghostwriters to screen writers and comedy teams. I hired two developmental editors and asked a friend to beta read my current manuscript. Collaboration amounts to more than polishing and revision; it’s the fuel to keep going, the pat on the back, the words, ‘job well done’, or have you thought of trying this? Every time I think I know what I’m doing, collaboration shows a better way. A beat with no melody, a melody with no beat. You can’t do it alone. That’s the lesson of The Beatles: Get Back.