The Beatles is America, wikimedia commons, no
Source: wikimediacommons, The Beatles, no copyright listed
For many young people growing up in the sixties, one of the most wrenching experiences was the breakup of the Beatles. It was a painful introduction to the rough ambiguities of adulthood.
Why did it happen? Was there any way it could have been avoided?
My own personal background gives me an interesting perspective on these questions. First, I’m a professional mediator, and have been involved in the process of conflict resolution for the last twenty years. Secondly, for a number of years before that, I was in the entertainment business, where I became familiar with the complex dynamics of rock groups. (I was a writer for The Monkees TV show.)
So, let me return to our earlier question, “Is there any way the split could have been avoided or postponed?” My own personal answer is, yes, I believe it could.
First of all, the nature of rock groups, especially highly successful ones, is that they have a very unique ecology. The metabolism of a group’s interpersonal dynamics is highly speeded up. If a misunderstanding or dispute gets started, it can almost instantly blaze up into a full-blown feud. And by that time, it’s often too explosive to deal with.
In the case of the Beatles a lot of material has been written and recorded about the relationships and interactions among the four. There are many discussions of those relationships that have been aired in the interviews Paul has given over the years. One of the most famous was his session with Sir David Frost, on October 11, 2012. In his different interviews, Paul has often spoken candidly and at length about the relationships in the group before the split.
One of the major sources of tension in the group was the rivalry between John and Paul. It was a source of great creative energy for their song writing of course, but it also fueled an ongoing, simmering tension within the group. It was a highly volatile situation, just waiting for some spark to set off an explosion.
That spark came in the form of Yoko Ono.
When John brought Yoko Ono into the mix, her presence had a hugely de-stabilizing affect on the group. She was a committed avant-garde artist and had a whole range of values and attitudes that were very alien to the rest of the group, who had all grown up in the same Liverpool neighborhood. Conflict erupted almost immediately, and before long a split was almost inevitable.
So, to return to our original question, could mediation have avoided this split, and how might it have operated in the Beatles’ context?
A manager, like Brian Epstein, recognizing the inherent instability of the life of a musical group, could have brought in a mediator at the beginning, to be available on an on-going basis to the members of the group. Just to informally hang out.
Before any problems develop.
The role of the mediator at this first stage wouldn’t have been an overt one. It would have been to help build good relationships within the group, and with other participants, and just be observant, aware, and available. An important function for the mediator at this point would also be to help members of the group begin to develop ground rules for how they would deal with any conflicts or disagreements that might arise.
Setting things up, pre-planning, putting ground rules in place, having a framework to deal with group conflicts; these things are all key. Without them, bringing new ideas or new people into the group mix can be hugely de-stabilizing. And that’s exactly what happened when John brought in Yoko Ono.
The problem was not so much Yoko Ono herself. A huge problem was how she was brought in. From all reports and anecdotal evidence, John in no way prepared the rest of the group for Yoko. For a long time she wasn’t there, and then, suddenly, she was. And her entrance into the group created a seismic cultural shock.
So, could a mediator have helped The Beatles stay together? I believe it’s definitely possible. A mediator, as an ongoing, accepted member of the staff, could have provided some conflict resolution tools, and helped prepare the group for the introduction of Yoko Ono. A mediator could also have helped defuse some of the edginess in the competition between John and Paul.
In the last analysis, however, the four Beatles were all unique human beings, each involved in his own personal evolution. I believe that mediation might have made it possible for the four of them to continue their individual growth for a while longer within the context of the Beatles.
The one thing that is certain is that the four of them were together for a few glorious moments that have blessed us all with some of the most wonderful music of our modern era!
Copyright David Evans