Tuesday, my wife and I listened to the album Let It Be on the 40th anniversary of its release in the U.S. The album was the “songtrack” for the Beatles’ final movie. It also was the final regular album released by the group while they were together, although it was not their final recorded album. Abbey Road, released in September of 1969, is a joyous album, an album that shows The Beatles still as an evolving group, a group that if they had stayed together would have had new sounds, new ideas for the upcoming decade. Let It Be, recorded in January of 1969, sounds like it owes more to the previously released White Album. The songs are excellent but there is a weariness, a longing for release that isn’t coming.
Whenever I listen to Let It Be, I get a little sad. I’m not sure if it’s because I know that it represents the end of The Beatles because it was the last released album, or if it’s because of the mournful nature of some of the songs. Even the upbeat songs cannot mask the sadness. I was watching the excerpt from the rooftop concert last night where The Beatles play “Get Back.” John and Paul are smiling and “into it” but when I listen to it without video, I can’t help but feel that Paul wants the group to get back to the magic, the mystery of their four-headed/four-souled creation but it can’t happen…well, until it happened in recording Abbey Road. George Martin says that everyone gave that album their best, and the band seemingly knew it would be their final statement. But then, there is that unresolved matter, the album that wass supposed to be named Get Back, sitting there on the shelf waiting to become the final goodbye.
A lot of people, including The Beatles, struggle with saying goodbye. Goodbye to a lover, a place of employment, a resentment, a sin, a way of life. In fact, we work on other things to prevent having to say the goodbye. Or we devise a way to say goodbye that isn’t overtly a goodbye despite the fact that a song called “The End” is included (Abbey Road). But sometimes we have to go back to the unresolved issue-or feel compelled to by our inner selves. Let It Be is a scarred goodbye. John, George, and Ringo agreed on giving the Get Back tapes to producer Phil Spector. Spector put his “wall of sound” treatments to some of the songs, including “The Long and Winding Road.” Paul was aghast; perhaps it was why in 2003 he was behind the release of Let It Be…Naked, what he envisioned the album could have looked like outside of Spector’s hands. How often we continue to struggle to make sense out of our “last goodbyes” (thank you, Jeff Buckley)-or how those goodbyes are perverted or taken from us.
I’m not sure how to do a good goodbye. In my own life, I’ve had some success (saying goodbye to my father when he was dying comes to mind) but struggle to say goodbye to my bad habits or mindsets. But I don’t believe goodbyes have to be happy. In one way, Let It Be, by its very title, and weary sound was the perfect way for The Beatles to say goodbye and hand off the musical football to all the upcoming groups in the 70s. Although The Beatles themselves could not “let it be” because of court cases and personal insults that would continue for several years, the album really is a beautiful testament to The Beatles as comrades and creators, acknowledging beauty and sadness in their growing up and growing out-how they wanted to be with new people, investigate new places and expressions, and become more fully themselves. John Lennon was able to say this on the song “God” (“I don’t believe in Beatles….I just believe in me, Yoko and me…”) and George did it expertly on “All Things Must Pass” (wish that song would have been on Let It Be); Paul, did it not through words but by creating his first album by himself, playing all the instruments-the recently forty McCartney album. But the legacy, the conflicts, and the love would continue to be with them for the rest of their lives.
As a teacher, I get to say goodbye to a school year every year at this time. It has never been a problem for me. But this anniversary makes me wonder about the skill of saying goodbye. Many theologians would say that ritualizing such goodbyes should not be done just when we lose important people to death but in other parts of our lives. Perhaps we can actually come together in a special way when we say goodbye, helping us feel like we’ve completed what was needed and realizing that God is in the goodbye.The Beatles’ way was not perfect. But maybe that gave us a final lesson about their humanity that we all needed to hear. Let it be.