When I was a fresh­man in high school, I con­vinced my friend Leslie, a cool girl who played the cel­lo, to dri­ve me to school in exchange for gas mon­ey. Leslie had a crap­py blue Chevette and, far more impor­tant­ly, a copy of 1965’s Rubber Soul, arguably the best album ever made by The Beatles. 

Fueled by mel­low intro­spec­tion – and more than a lit­tle mar­i­jua­na – it was the Fab Four at their best, lib­er­at­ed from their ear­ly mop-top pop, stretch­ing the con­fines of writ­ing some hits into writ­ing an album, a col­lec­tion of songs with a com­mon nar­ra­tive thread. I still can’t hear Girl with­out tear­ing up a little. 

Rubber Soul was just before John met Yoko and his flip­pant remark that the Beatles were “more pop­u­lar than Jesus.” Before the musi­cal inno­va­tion that became Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Before the band mem­bers went to India to turn on and tune out. Before the coke and hero­in, before the inevitable resent­ments and axe grind­ing. Before the breakup.

And we all know it was Yoko’s fault, right? 

This was my under­stand­ing when I sat down to view Get Back, Peter Jackson’s 3‑part, almost 8‑hour doc­u­men­tary (culled from 60 hours) on Disney+. It shares fly-on-the-wall footage of the Beatles as they make their last album, Let It Be. The series show­cas­es hours of musi­cal noodling and work­shop­ping where seem­ing­ly noth­ing hap­pens, book­end­ed by moments of pure musi­cal genius when chords and lyrics coa­lesce perfectly. 

It is often bor­ing, time pass­ing glacial­ly while we wait for George to shift to a minor chord or Paul to tweak a lyric, flash­es of pure genius buried in hours of hard work and tedi­um. It’s at times comedic, a Spinal Tap-type farce. Why in the world can the sound guys not get Paul an 8‑track? 

Paul, gor­geous and bossy, comes off as the one keep­ing it togeth­er but also hold­ing on most tight­ly to the past. He seems to feel that the mag­ic of the Fab Four was real­ly about The Two of Us and con­tin­u­al­ly ignores George’s con­tri­bu­tions to focus on an often-addled John. 

George, resplen­dent in fur coats and dap­per hats, has improved his gui­tar chops immea­sur­ably, fresh off a long tute­lage with Eric Clapton, a man who would lat­er mar­ry George’s ex-wife and remain his best “hus­band-in-law” until George’s death. But Paul dis­re­gards George until George stands up and qui­et­ly says, “I’m leav­ing the band now.” 

“When?” John asks. 

“Now. See you ’round the clubs.” 

Ringo is the affa­ble and unflap­pable pro. He is the first mem­ber of the band on set each day and the last to leave, despite clear­ly being hun­gover more than once. He nev­er argues and is quick to play peace­mak­er between the oth­er members. 

There are lots of peo­ple milling about. Mal the road guy. Glyn the sound guy. Alex the tech guru. Legendary key­board play­er Billy Preston. Linda Eastman, soon to be McCartney. Yoko Ono. Ringo’s wife Maureen Starkey. A Hare Krishna. Random roadies. 

I kept wait­ing for Yoko to insin­u­ate her­self in the goings-on, but it didn’t hap­pen. She is a most­ly qui­et bystander. She sits near John at all times, but not in a con­trol­ling man­ner. She’s his life raft. 

Peter Jackson has spo­ken freely about the fact that Disney+ tried to get him to edit out all instances of curs­ing, drink­ing, and smok­ing, of which there are many. What Jackson doesn’t say – what he doesn’t have to say – is that he tac­it­ly agrees to ignore the ele­phant in the room to main­tain fund­ing from The Great Mouse to fin­ish a project already delayed years by the pandemic.

The well-worn, misog­y­nist, and racist excuse that Yoko’s pres­ence led to the dis­so­lu­tion of one of the world’s great­est bands is eas­i­ly put to rest in the raw footage. 

It was nev­er Yoko. It was heroin.

That’s why I can­not ulti­mate­ly rec­om­mend this doc­u­men­tary about a band I so revere. 

Peter Jackson bla­tant­ly dis­re­gards the fact that John is com­ing undone, stoned out of his mind. He shows up late – if at all – and blab­bers inco­her­ent­ly. His gui­tar play­ing is errat­ic, his behav­ior unpre­dictable. He nods off dur­ing rehearsals. 

Yoko, who had recent­ly had a mis­car­riage, seems qui­et­ly stoned as well, more intent on med­icat­ing her pain than claim­ing a stake in the band’s suc­cess. John seems to see Yoko as his sav­ior, but does any woman want that respon­si­bil­i­ty, no mat­ter how much she loves her man? She’s no vil­lain. She’s a sad, bro­ken indi­vid­ual who just lost her child and is hav­ing to have that grief filmed for pos­ter­i­ty.

Maybe I’m pro­ject­ing. I recent­ly watched Hulu’s amaz­ing series Dopesick about America’s opi­oid cri­sis. America’s drug cri­sis con­tin­ues to deep­en, with fatal over­dos­es killing 100,000 peo­ple in the last year alone, a dev­as­tat­ing 28% increase in a sin­gle year. Americans are now more like­ly to die from an opi­oid over­dose than an auto­mo­bile accident. 

Just a few months after the Get Back footage, John will have Yoko tie him to a chair for almost two days in an unsuc­cess­ful attempt to rid the drug from his sys­tem. It will take many years and many more attempts before John kicks the habit. 

Though the cul­mi­nat­ing roof-top con­cert is now one of pop culture’s most icon­ic moments, I couldn’t watch Get Back with any real per­vad­ing joy. 

The Fab Four was just an ear­ly vic­tim of the opi­oid crisis.

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.