"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Thoughts about The Beatles Now and Then

The Beatles "Now and Then" was released today, the last of three John Lennon demos Yoko gave the Beatles after John was murdered.  The first two were "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love".  I've always loved "Real Love", and as many of you know, it inspired my short story "It's Real Life".

How does "Now and Then" compare to those two songs, brought back to life by Paul, George, and Ringo, with Jeff Lynne producing, in 1995 (released in 1996).   Well, "Now and Then" is heartbreaking beautiful --- as was "Real Love" -- but "Now and Then" is clearly in a class of its own.   As the 12-minute The Beatles - Now And Then - The Last Beatles Song (Short Film) makes clear, "Now and Then" is the product of three ages: John Lennon after The Beatles break-up, in NYC in the 1970s; Paul, George, and Ringo in Paul's studio recording "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" in 1995 (and working on but not finishing "Now and Then"); and Paul and Ringo singing and playing "Now and Then" in 2022, and talking to us about it in 2023.  

Indeed, this crucial little film actually shows us John; and then Paul, George, and Ringo; and then Paul and Ringo, in all three times.  All three of these times in their and our lives.  And this brings home how unique -- and uniquely heartbreaking and beautiful -- "Now and Then" truly is.  This little movie is itself unique and wonderful.  Every moment in the movie tells us something profound, at the core of our being and our knowledge of history, beginning with the newsreel ambience at the start of the short film, which reminded me of the spinning newsreel segueing into "Edelweiss" at the start of The Man in the High Castle series on Amazon Prime Video.  The story of beauty then horror to the soul, which the loss of John Lennon will always be to every Beatles fan who lived through it.

So The Beatles - Now And Then - The Last Beatles Song (Short Film) is an indispensable companion to the "Now and Then" recording, which is indeed the last Beatles song.  But I've seen a lot a people saying "Now and Then" is our chance to say goodbye to the Beatles.  And that's the opposite of the way I feel.  The recording is a chance to love The Beatles again.  And in a way in which we can't exactly say we love any of the other Beatles recordings, because we know them so well.  That's a very different kind of love than loving something for the first time.

"Now and Then" opens up a new part of The Beatles universe, which was and is nearly infinite, in the way it commands our rapt attention.  The new recording does bring the pain of making us think, once again, what the world and our lives would have been like if John hadn't been murdered.  But wondering about that, well that  happens every time I hear a Beatles song, whenever it was recorded, anyway.  And the joy that "Now and Then" brings vastly outweighs the pain.

The short movie explains that the recording is a combination of Peter Jackson's advanced technology which enabled him to make The Beatles: Get Back documentary, which also changed the world for the better, and Paul McCartney's perseverance in hearing something in the murky demo that was so keenly worth making in this record.  We all and the world of music owe both of them a world of thanks.  And Ringo, too.


It's Real Life -- free alternate history short story about The Beatles, made into a radio play and audiobook, and Finalist for the Sidewise Award 2022, and Winner of The Mary Shelley Award 2023 ... discussed with Chuck Todd on his podcast


Dave Knechel said...

Great write-up, Paul, and I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’ve been a Beatles fan since the beginning, and this song says good bye in so many ways. I think it’s a lovely song. It’s also a testament to The Beatles longevity, being that “Now And Then” was written in the 1970s and published in 2023. It’s still relevant! Age did not hurt it. I wouldn’t have expected it to, given that it came from the minds of Lennon/McCartney.

Paul Levinson said...

Thanks Dave -- great to see your comment! I agree with what you say, 100%!