Monday, July 17, 2017

Dutch Beatles Authority Chantal de Paus Addresses Beatles Conspiracy Theories and How the Fab Four Became So Popular

Chantal (left) w/friends at Abbey Road (photo: Lloyd Durham Photography)
I "met" Chantal de Paus through the social media community Quora. After I began noticing her answers to a few questions about the Beatles I investigated further and found she's done more than her share of homework on the subject. She's modest enough to cringe if called an expert, but her answers to my questions were characteristically (and unsurprisingly) rich and thorough.

I reached out to her via Twitter and invited her to contribute to Ennyman's Territory. She accepted the invitation. I'm confident you will be rewarded.

Because one of my questions had to do with what might have been, Chantal began with this disclaimer: "I usually don't like to go into the 'what ifs' and 'if onlys' because nobody can tell what would have happened, not even the Beatles themselves. However, I'll try to make the best possible prediction based on what I know, and how I see the Beatles as individuals."

EN: What made the Beatles so popular?

Chantal de Paus: Probably the main reason why the Beatles made it and the other groups didn't, was that they wrote their own songs. Paul likes to tell this story about how and why he and John became focused on creating their own material. Basically, they'd share the bill with a number of other groups, who largely played the same songs they did. They'd be waiting backstage and they'd hear another group playing 'Long Tall Sally', or 'Be Bop A Lula', or any of the other tunes they'd played in Hamburg. First, they managed to solve that problem by searching for B-sides and obscure songs on the LP's they heard. But ultimately, they had no choice but to write their own songs just to make sure nobody could upstage them. Paul had been writing songs since he was 14 and apparently, John had been interested in it too, so they started building their catalogue.

Of course, that's just one element. There were other factors involved, such as the unique hierarchy of the group. Most groups had one leader: usually the lead guitarist, who did all or most of the singing as well. The other members would be his backup. You can see this reflected in the way many of the band's names were constructed: Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Cliff Richard and the Shadows. The Beatles themselves used this format for a little while, when they toured with Johnny Gentle as 'Long John and the Silver Beatles', which later became 'the Silver Beatles' and ultimately, 'the Beatles'. The Beatles never had this classic hierarchy. Even though John considered himself the leader, he accepted Paul as his equal from day 1. What's more, their musical contributions were far more equal than most other groups. They had not one, but two brilliant lead singers and a third lead singer who was much better than most backup players. Even the drummer received his moment in the spotlights, something no other band ever really did. Where most bands either had other people writing songs for them or one group member doing all the writing, the Beatles all wrote songs, even if the Lennon-McCartney catalogue was their main meal ticket. Add to that the fact that they were good-looking, witty, a bit cheeky at times, and you'll begin to understand what set them apart.

EN: How much of their music was the Beatles, and how much was George Martin?

CDP: Hmm. Tricky question, that. It's safe to say George Martin had little to no influence on the songs they wrote, or the lyrics they put in there. He may have rejected things that were a little too risky, or he may have had suggestions, but the basis of the songs is 95-99% the boys themselves. When it comes to the actual music, things become more complex and more difficult to assess.

There are some famous examples of Sir George's influence. It was he who suggested they speed up 'Please Please Me', and that turned out to be the decision that meant their breakthrough. He did the same to Help!, which John wrote as a slow song as well. He's responsible for the iconic string arrangement on 'Yesterday', something Paul absolutely didn't want at first. He also helped figure out the triple harmony on 'Because', wrote the score for 'She's Leaving Home', and even played on some of the songs. It's safe to say his musical influence was instrumental (no pun intended) to their success.

And then, of course, there's the technical side of things. It isn't clear to me how much of the experimentation came from the Beatles, how much was done by George Martin, and how much was done by Geoff Emerick, Norman Smith, Ken Scott, or the other engineers who worked at EMI at the time. If we are to take Emerick's word for it, he was solely responsible for creating the 'Pepper' sound which, to me, sounds rather improbable. It's obvious the Beatles themselves had a very clear idea of what they wanted, and often helped achieve that sound by making suggestions and coming up with outlandish ideas.

Of course, there's no doubt that in many cases, they would know what they wanted, but not how to get it. Good examples are John's request to make something 'sound orange', to express the desire to sound like 'a thousand Tibetan monks chanting on a mountain top', or to somehow turn two different takes of 'Strawberry Fields', which were recorded in different keys and at different speeds, into one song. Nobody had ever suggested that before and it took a lot of effort to do, but we all know how incredible the result is. It wasn't just John, either. Paul had his own ideas, such as the tape loops used for 'Tomorrow Never Knows', which he made himself. Paul didn't invent the tape loop, but he certainly helped popularize them. It was also his idea to have the orchestral crescendo on 'A Day In The Life', but we have George Martin to thank for the fact that this idea was actually put into action. So, long story short, the Beatles sound as we know it relied heavily on George Martin's suggestions, contributions, and willingness to indulge in the Beatles' outlandish ideas. Or, as Paul McCartney said: "If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was George Martin."

EN: Some conspiracy theorists have claimed the Communists produced their later albums because the recordings were so sophisticated. What are some other theories about their music that you've heard?

CDP: Thankfully, only very few, and all of them as ridiculous as the communist idea. Some people claim there were subliminal messages hidden in the songs which were either satanic in nature, meant to get kids into drugs, or made to brainwash the listeners to do...? I don't know and apparently, neither do the people who think of these things. I do remember an anecdote from my own teenage years. I went to a Christian school and one time, I received some sort of pamphlet warning me not to listen to 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' because apparently, when it was played backwards, it contained a message about worshipping satan. Mind you, the same people also said that the peace sign (the icon, not the hand signal) had some sort of sinister meaning and should not be used. For a little while, I was very much impressed by these warnings but then I grew up and decided to make up my own mind. I think it's clear that I didn't heed that warning!

Another thing I've been hearing is that apparently, the Beatles didn't write their own music. People will point to the Tavistock Institute which, by the way, is a British not-for-profit organization which specializes in studying human behavior, particularly group behavior and organizational behavior. It focuses on such things as the elimination of social anxiety. According to some, this institute has been conducting psychological experiments on a grand scale, and the Beatles are supposedly one of their experiments. If we are to believe the myth, the Tavistock Institute has written all of the songs and the Beatles themselves are just puppets in this nefarious plan to indoctrinate American teenagers with.... something, I suppose. Again, it's never clear what this big scheme entails and whether or not it was a success. Apparently, the Illuminati are involved too, somehow, but I haven't a clue as to how or why. It's very difficult to get straight answers from the people who make these claims.

Of course, there's that one massive conspiracy theory everybody's heard of, which leads me to your next question.

EN: Yes, why do people still believe in "Paul Is Dead"? 

CDP: In a word: cognitive dissonance. Also, paranoia plays a massive role in this. The psychology behind it is something I plan on studying, actually. I have a fairly good idea of the many factors involved, and I am intent on flexing my armchair-psychologist-muscles on that one. So far, I have come up with a theory why some people even feel the need to believe Paul was replaced by a different person: childhood sentiment.

When Brian Epstein became the Beatles' manager, his first order of business was to clean them up, literally and figuratively. He made them abandon their leathers and put them into suits. He told them not to smoke, eat, or curse on stage anymore. He taught them that signature bow. And, perhaps most tellingly, he went out of his way to cover up the lads' indiscretions. When a girl ended up pregnant, Brian didn't try to figure out if any of the Beatles could actually be the father; he simply paid that girl off. When the boys did something that would give them bad publicity, Brian made sure it got swept under the rug. All of this polishing resulted in the image of the four mop tops: sweet, amiable boys, perhaps a bit cheeky sometimes, who could charm anyone effortlessly.

Of course, that was just their exterior. Underneath, they were still the same rowdy lads from the streets of Liverpool, each of them complicated individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses. You can't change that by dressing them up in nice suits but eventually, people did start to think they could be summed up in one word each and so, John became the smart Beatle, George the quiet Beatle, Ringo the funny Beatle, and Paul, unfortunately, ended up with the questionable honor of being the cute Beatle. He's always hated that title. Not just because he didn't consider himself cute, but also because it didn't say anything about him. The other three nicknames were very shallow as well but, at least, those said something about the lads' personalities rather than just their appearance. Paul just as easily could have been named the charming Beatle, the friendly Beatle, the talented Beatle, et cetera. This cute Beatle moniker must have played a big part in the reason the hoax was about him, and not any of the others. His personality undoubtedly also had a lot to do with it.

It didn't take long for the other three to grow tired of the polished image. We can see it in interviews, where George and Ringo become quiet or morose, and John becomes sarcastic. The task of keeping the fans and the media happy shifted more and more to Paul, who'd always had the most outgoing and affable personality of the four. He was, and still is, a natural charmer and his looks certainly helped a lot in that regard. He even confessed to using his appearance to get out of trouble as a child, stating that he'd exploit his big eyes to mollify his father. Jim McCartney has confirmed this. He knew Paul was playing him like a fiddle and let it happen anyway. So, all these things together gave him the image of a very sweet, likeable lad who wouldn't hurt a fly. Nobody could have ever guessed that behind that cute smile, a completely different person resided. And then... they stopped touring.

All four Beatles changed after the summer of 1966. They all made drastic changes to their style of clothing, their hair, and their behavior. For the first time, we were really given a glimpse into their true personalities. This must have been the biggest shock for those who thought Paul was this cute little cherub. After all, John, George, and Ringo had already dropped a big part of their facades, so their transformation came as less of a surprise. Paul, however, turned out to be infinitely more complex than people thought. He was also a lot less charming than people had previously assumed. People struggled with that, and I think that's how he became the target of this silly hoax. People were unable to come to terms with the idea of Beatle Paul, the cute Beatle, being a flawed man who used drugs, cheated on his girlfriend, could be moody, didn't always want to entertain the fans. On top of that, he lost a lot of weight in 1967 due to his cocaine use, and then gained a stone or two in 1968/1969 when the band started falling apart and Paul spiraled into a depression.

He wasn't the only one to go through changes, but somehow, people had the hardest time accepting it from him. Eventually, some fans found it too big a pill to swallow and must have decided that this couldn't be 'their' Paul. It had to be somebody else, because the Paul they knew would never do those things, say those things, or behave like that. But if the real Paul, or what they perceived the real Paul to be, were dead and this other Paul was a different person, then they could preserve that image of the cute Beatle. If Beatle Paul was dead, then he could never disappoint his fans by being a human being.

And that, I think, is what causes people to believe in 'Faul'. Once a person decides that Paul post-1966 can't be the real Paul, cognitive dissonance does the rest. Suddenly, they'll start to find clues in the music. They'll see differences in his appearance. Never mind that those clues only exist in their own minds, and never mind that his face, height, ears, et cetera didn't change. They'll dismiss the countless images which clearly show it's the same man. They'll go to channels such as 'Macca Lives' which does a good job at showing Paul is the same person before and after 1966 and they'll downvote those videos or post negative comments simply because they are upset that someone would try to make them see reason. They'll twist and contort everything they see and hear to fit their narrative. They'll look at the 1960's through 21st century glasses. never mind that colored contacts didn't exist, or that cosmetic surgery like the kind they say 'Faul' underwent to become Paul didn't exist in those days. They don't even care that the best surgeons in the world still can't make somebody look exactly like somebody else today, medio 2017. It has to be possible, because their cognitive dissonance doesn't allow them to accept anything else.

The countless variations to the myth only show how little merit there is to it. You can talk to 100 PID believers and they'll each have their own theory about what happened, and how, and why. They rarely agree. Over the past five decades, the story has grown into something utterly preposterous and it keeps expanding. Some say Paul is a twin even though his birth records clearly refute that. Those same people will say that the Paul we see today is actually Mike, and that Mike 'McGear' McCartney is a hired actor. Some say Paul was so overwhelmed by their first American tour that he decided to retire. Those same people will say the former custodian of 20 Forthlin Road, John Halliday, is the real Paul even though this man only bears a fleeting resemblance to Paul.

I've heard people claim Paul's parents are high-level Freemasons. I've heard people suggest that the role of Paul McCartney has been played by numerous people, and that they continued replacing him for decades after the Beatles split. Nobody can ever explain where 'they' found all those lookalikes, who they were, and what happened to them and their families. People have even said that Paul was cloned, but they never stop to think that even if human cloning was possible, it'd have to be done in 1942, the moment Paul was born. They seem to think that you can take some DNA from an adult, and then create another adult in a few weeks time. Science, logic, and reason are a few things these people haven't heard of and yet, they are convinced that they are the reasonable ones, the ones with the best eye for detail, and the ones who really understand the truth. It makes me feel sorry for them.

EN: Yoko Ono took a lot of heat for helping John break out of the Beatles. What would have happened if Yoko hadn't come along?

CDP: Probably the most difficult one to answer. The band definitely would have broken up, either way. Yoko did not break up the Beatles. She did help speed up the process, and I am convinced her presence made the whole ordeal a lot more acrimonious than it otherwise would have been.

Yoko was never the reason for John's desire to leave the Beatles. He'd been contemplating it as early as 1965-66. She did, however, become a useful tool to end his marriage, not just the legal one he shared with Cynthia, but also the artistic one he shared with Paul, George, and Ringo. It was John's idea to break the 'no women in the studio' agreement. However, I feel Yoko should have known better. She was several years older than the Beatles, had already been married twice, and must have been aware of the tension her presence caused. She could have elected to sit in the control room. She could have kept quiet. Instead, she happily sat right next to John 'in the pit' and didn't hesitate to offer her opinion on the songs they were recording. It was one thing to do that when John's songs were being fleshed out, it was another thing entirely to offer her opinion on the others' songs. No wonder tensions began to rise.

If this was the worst she did, people still could have forgiven Yoko. However, she seemed to consciously try and become the biggest nuisance she could possibly be. There's some grating footage of the Get Back sessions in which John is talking to the producer (Michael Lindsay-Hogg) about replacing George, who had walked out earlier that day, with Eric Clapton. Paul is practicing 'Martha My Dear' on the piano, and Yoko is wailing. John! John! Joooooohn! JOOOOOOOOHN! She keeps screaming, moaning, howling into the microphone for a staggering 19 minutes. A few days later, George is back with a new song: 'I Me Mine'. He plays it for Paul and Ringo, but John isn't interested. Whilst the other three start working on the song, he prefers waltzing through the studio with Yoko over actually listening to, and working on George's song. In the end, 'I Me Mine' is completed after the Beatles finish recording 'Abbey Road. John isn't there, and George sarcastically comments on the new status quo: "You all will have read that Dave Dee is no longer with us. But Mickey and Tich and I would just like to carry on the good work that's always gone down in [studio] number two."

There's a lot to be said about Yoko and her influence on John. It was she who introduced John to heroin, a drug he quickly became addicted to, and which effectively silenced his muse. People have noticed how John seemed to have lost his sense of humor the moment Yoko came into his life. Julian Lennon blames Yoko for the fact that he didn't see his father for years. Nobody can tell what's true and what's conjecture. Personally, I think the breakup might have been less acrimonious if Yoko hadn't been involved. Without Yoko, John wouldn't have signed with Allen Klein. Without Allen Klein, the business rift between John, George, and Ringo on one side and Paul on the other would not have existed. The group would have continued to be represented by the Eastmans until they could agree on a more neutral party. Let's not forget that the whole Allen Klein debacle played a major role in the way the band split up.

They always would have gone their separate ways. Even before Brian died, there was tension in the group. Once Brian was gone and they discovered the financial mess he'd left them, somebody had to step up. That somebody ended up being Paul, aided by Neil Aspinall. Thing was, Paul was too much of a perfectionist. He became too overbearing in the eyes of the others. Ringo later offered some perspective, saying that if it hadn't been for Paul, the last (and best) records never would have been made. Ringo also said that they'd sometimes tell Paul to stop pushing which he then promptly did. Since nothing got done the moment Paul stopped leading them, they'd then turn to him again and expect him to tell them what to do. He still wasn't the right person for the job. There simply wasn't anyone else to do it after John mentally removed himself from that leadership position.

But without Yoko... I think they might have been able to part on slightly more friendly terms. Who knows? I wasn't there.

EN: What's the most-asked Beatles question on Quora? 

CDP: I haven't the faintest. Some topics will come up regularly. Many things that get asked can easily be answered with a Google search. Many questions don't have objective answers. But which one question gets asked the most, I honestly wouldn't know.

EN: Where are you from and how did you become a fan of the Beatles? 

Chantal with Mother
Photo: Michael Lahmann
CDP: I'm from the Netherlands. That will also explain the errors in my English: I'm not a native English speaker.

I was born in the seventies, when Beatles music was still played a lot on the radio. However, I was a Paul McCartney fan years before I became a Beatles fan. I was very young when 'We All Stand Together' was a hit. I loved that song. Being Dutch, I didn't know any English other than a handful of words I'd been taught, but I didn't need to understand the lyrics to love them. Before long, I did learn what they meant and they just felt as if they were written for me specifically. This song, which many people hate, had a profound personal meaning to me, and after seeing Paul in a TV interview, I couldn't help but feel very warmly about him. So, I knew his face, voice, and music from a very early age.

We didn't listen to a lot of pop music at home. The vast majority of music played in our house was classical. I did have an older sister who started shaping my musical taste, though. She'd make mixed cassette tapes for me, or we'd listen to LP's in her room together. We'd sing all kinds of songs whilst washing the dishes, and we'd discuss music together. But still, 80% of the music I was subjected to was classical: Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Chopin, et cetera. This changed when I advanced from Primary School to Grammar School at the age of 12. The new curriculum included music class, and my school's music teacher turned out to be a massive Beatles fan. In fact, it was one of the first things he told us about himself. We were taught to play the recorder and within days, I knew how to play 'Yesterday' by ear. We were taught to analyze song structure and were given 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' as one of the songs to study. We learnt about recording techniques and, in the style of 'We Are The World,' recorded 'Hey Jude,' each student singing one line and then passing the microphone to the person to their right. We did actually touch on other artists too. We were taught to play 'The Rose' by Bette Midler, we analyzed 'Hello' by Lionel Richie and watched the music video in class, we touched on the music of Stevie Wonder, and the list goes on. But there's no denying that half of the things we did in that year had something to do with the Beatles.

Funnily enough, whilst I certainly appreciated the music, it took me another 20 years to really discover the Beatles. I don't know the exact moment and I certainly can't remember what triggered it, but it just feels as if from one day to the next, a switch was flicked in my head and I became obsessed with the Beatles. I remember searching for a torrent of their catalogue -- I have long since purchased all of their records and I haven't downloaded any torrents in years -- and listening to all of those songs. To my astonishment, I discovered I already knew 80-90% of those tunes. I definitely didn't know all of the lyrics, and I couldn't tell who was singing lead on half of them, although I could identify Paul nearly always, and John most of the time, but even though I hadn't consciously listened to their music before, it found its way into my memories anyway. The more I listened, the more fascinated I became. It didn't take long to start recognizing the subtle differences in voices and style, and I gradually found myself becoming increasingly intrigued by the people behind the music. I like to think I've gathered quite a lot of information on them over the years, and I keep discovering new things about them every day. I'm hoping my upcoming holiday to Liverpool, which is set for October, will add an entirely new level of depth to my Beatlemania.

EN: This seems like a required question and a good way to close. Which Beatles album is your favorite, and why? 

CDP: I never really thought of one LP as my favorite. I think they all have their strengths, weaknesses, and unique charm. However, I did want to be able to answer your question so I decided to give each song a rating and calculate the average grade for each album, based on how I enjoy each individual song. This is what came out, and I must say I'm surprised at the list:

1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
2. Help!
3. Abbey Road / Rubber Soul (tied)
4. Revolver
5. Beatles For Sale / A Hard Day's Night (tied)
6. Past Masters (the singles that weren't released on the UK records)
7. The Beatles
8. Please Please Me / Magical Mystery Tour (tied)
9. Yellow Submarine
10. Let It Be

I half expected the top-3 to be Abbey Road, Revolver, and Pepper. I can see why some of the records I really enjoy ended lower than expected: I gave some tunes a very low score. If you look at my top-10 favorite songs, they are in no particular order:

• Because (Abbey Road)
• Something (Abbey Road)
• If I Fell (A Hard Day's Night)
• Fixing A Hole (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
• She's Leaving Home (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
• Eleanor Rigby (Revolver)
• For No One (Revolver)
• Here, There And Everywhere (Revolver)
• In My Life (Rubber Soul)
• Back in the USSR (The Beatles)

As you can see, I do tend to favor the later records, though I probably appreciate the early ones more than most Beatles fans. I think you just have to see them in context. It isn't fair to compare Beatles For Sale to Abbey Road, simply because the lads changed so much in the five years between those records. They grew up, their skills developed, and the technology available to them evolved. So, I prefer to see each record as its own entity and maybe that's why I enjoy an early song such as I'm Down or Eight Days A Week just as much as Happiness Is A Warm Gun or While My Guitar Gently Weeps. When I look at my list, the vast majority receive a good grade and only a few songs are scored very low (ahem.... Revolution 9...) because those four cheeky lads simply produced an incredibly strong musical catalogue the likes of which we'll never see again.

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Thank you, Chantal. This was a rewarding read for all of us.
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Do you have a favorite Beatles album? Feel free to leave a comment, and tell us why.

Meantime, life goes on all around you.

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The Abbey Road photo was made by Lloyd Durham Photography.
The photo of Chantal and her mother was taken by Michael Lahmann.


Curt B said...

1 correction to a very interesting interview...
"She's Leaving Home" was recorded during the sessions for the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The day before McCartney wanted to work on the song's score, he learned that George Martin, who usually handled the Beatles' string arrangements, was not available. McCartney contacted Mike Leander, who did it in Martin's place. This was the first time a Beatles song was not arranged by Martin. Martin was hurt by McCartney's actions, but he produced the song and conducted the string section,

Ed Newman said...

Thanks, Curt.
This is a pretty deep dive by Chantal and I myself wouldn't know. You have helped add a little light and it is appreciated. Thanks for the visit and the correction.