Thursday, October 21, 2010

Get Back

Staying at home was more enjoyable than John thought it would be. Playing with Baby Sean, baking whole wheat bread for his macrobiotic diet – that would never keep him happy, he thought, but Yoko insisted, so there you are. One of the joys of being around was that he was available when friends came to call. George was in New York for a Monty Python show at City Center, and Paul was going to drop by tonight. Paul and Linda were in town to promote Speed of Sound, Paul’s new album that already had shot to the top of the charts.

Now in April of 1976, John was scornful of the pap Paul was putting out. Well, OK, he liked some of it and was very much tempted to surprise Paul a couple of years back and drop in while Wings was recording Venus and Mars in New Orleans. But Yoko caught wind of it and pulled him back, away from Paul. She wasn’t going to have that again, and word got back to her that John and Paul were getting along very well indeed, the McCartneys having visited John and then-girlfriend May in Santa Monica and New York.

But Paul was visiting and he was allowed to ring John up, which he did. It was nice to have his old mate back and their friendship was finding its way through both the breakup of the band, the endless lawsuits and their different, grown up lifestyles. Paul was churning out the hits and ready to tour, John was no longer riding on the merry-go-round, having bowed out of the scene after his last album in ’75.

Paul and Linda arrived at the Dakota around 9 PM that Saturday and were sent right up. How does he do that, John wondered, traipse through security without a look? He was the only one who could pull that off. John answered the door, looking very thin from his steady consumption of brown rice, Thai stick and heroin. John led Paul, who had brought a guitar, through the apartment to a small room where they could relax, talk and watch TV. Since the birth of Sean in October, a month earlier than the due date by Caesarean section to have the baby’s arrival “magically” fall on John’s birthday, Lennon had been slowly rendered useless in his own home with the addition of a full-time nanny and had retreated to one corner of the apartment. Everything he needed was there – a couch, a color TV and a few guitars. Tonight he was keen to watch John Sebastian, former leader of The Lovin’ Spoonful on Saturday Night Live. Sebastian was in the midst of a comeback after a long period out of the public eye.

In the comfortable company of his old friend, Paul talked excitedly about his upcoming tour and wondered if John would show up for the May dates at Madison Square Garden.

“Everybody’s been asking me if I’ll be there, you know,” answered John.


“I don’t really know. I might, it’s all up in the air with the baby and Mother.”

“Let me know. I’ve asked George as well, but he doesn’t know if he’ll still be here. If you wanted to come up and do a number, like you did with Elton, that would be fine too.” There, Paul laid it out as plainly as he could. If John could join Elton John on stage to sing (and sing Beatle songs no less), then why couldn’t he do it with Paul?

A heavy silence. No answer. John seemed to want to say yes, but hesistated, unsure. He passed the joint to Paul. It was past midnight and the comfort of the evening was gone. Both of their heads turned to the television, tuned to Channel 4 and Saturday Night Live. A young man with a dark jacket sat behind a desk, wood paneling behind him.

“Hi, I’m Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night.”

“Have you seen this show?” asked John.

“Heard of it. Good?”

“Yeah, very funny. Reminds me a bit of The Goon Show and Python.”

“…if I may, to address myself to four very special people-John, Paul, George and Ringo,” said Michaels.

John and Paul heads snapped to face each other, and then back to the TV. At the peak of Beatle reunion offers, some in the tens of millions, here was the producer of a comedy show offering, wait, was that three thousand dollars? The boys laughed.

Michaels continued. Holding up a check from NBC, he laid down the terms. “All you have to do is sing three Beatles songs- ‘She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ That’s a thousand right there. You know the words-it’ll be easy.”

“We do know the words John.”

“That we do. Fancy doing it?”

“When did you have in mind? The Wings tour ends in June.”

“Now, I fancy doing it now. It’s live, Saturday Night Live,” John spit out the last word. It was more than 20 blocks from the Dakota to the studio at Rockefeller Center, but the show didn’t end until 1 AM. They had time.

“Let’s go.”

John called down to the lobby to have a cab waiting. The two quickly put on their shoes and hurried to the elevator. In the rush, McCartney left his guitar upstairs.

They arrived in short order. As they burst into the lobby, the elderly security guard looked up, wondering who these young fellows were and why they were in such a hurry. He slowly got up from his stool. Like a flash, Neil Levy, the show’s talent coordinator swept in, having been sent to the door by Lorne as a joke, in case any Beatle showed up. He kept his cool as he escorted John and Paul to the studio.

“Lorne, Lorne, they’re here!” Levy yelled as he made his way through the halls backstage. He found Michaels, who snapped out of the boredom of listening to guest host Raquel Welch belt out “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

John and Paul stood face to face with Lorne Michaels. The producer, though stunned beyond belief, had a show to produce and had to forego any small talk, for now. After the show there’d be time.

“John, Paul. We’ll get you on next. What do you need?”
John, feeling the leader again, spoke first. “Two guitars.”

“Any lefthanders in the band?” asked Paul. “If not, I can play upside down.”

Michaels grabbed one of the assistants. “Get two guitars for The Beatles!”

Word was travelling. Half the cast, still in bee costumes from the last sketch, hurried to see the Fab Two. Even seeing wasn’t believing. They hadn’t performed together for almost ten years.

A commercial break was scheduled, but as Welch sashayed off, the din from backstage led the live audience to suspect something was up. Don Pardo, the show’s announcer, was on mike.

“Ladies and gentlemen, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.” The two entered together, laughed a bit and began to play. Barely heard through the hysterical crowd were the opening strains of “Two of Us.”

On April 24, 1976, Paul McCartney visited John Lennon at his home in the Dakota Apartments. They watched Saturday Night Live as Lorne Michaels presented NBC’s offer of $3,000 to The Beatles, split however they saw fit, in case they wanted to give Ringo less. John and Paul thought about going down to the studio but, as John told Playboy magazine years later, they were “too tired.”

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