Do You Want To Know A Secret?

December 12, 2015

Do you want to know a secret?

Creativity is the name of this game. And it doesn’t just flow. Not just under any circumstances.

When The Beatles were preparing to record their next album in late 1968, the idea came up to film the whole process of album creation. That would include them working out all the songs from their roughest form, and the audience would follow them through their evolution. They actually set up in Twickenham Film Studios. This was not a place where music was recorded. It's a place where movies are made. A very different atmosphere than what they were used to at Abbey Road.

What started out as a unique and fun idea quickly turned sour. First of all, they were used to starting work in the studio later in the day and going to the wee hours of the morning, sometimes pushing dawn. Now, they working on working class schedules. As John said, “you can’t make music at 8 o’clock in the morning!”

Second, with the tensions growing among the band members at this time, being filmed was the last thing they needed as they worked on these new songs. During the early stages of one song, Paul and George are shown having a bit of a fight about something. The camera’s off to the side, and we are watching the four of them sit there. George is trying to get Paul off his back about playing something incorrectly, and when the camera cuts to Ringo, we get a clear sense that this is uncomfortable even for him. A few days later, John and George get into a massive fight, presumably off camera. George quit the band that day after lunch only to return a few days later after they agreed to move the band back to a more comfortable setting and just finish the album. The concept of filming the creation of this album had taken over, and it had become too much.

Obviously, they eventually finished the album, which was Let It Be. And while all the other Beatles films have long been officially released on DVD and Blu-Ray, Let It Be remains an unreleased soar spot. Rather than document the creation of their album it recorded the dissolution of the band.

I’ve always liked that album and the bootlegged DVD copy of the film I found years ago, but it can’t help but be noticed that the filming of their private, creative process had an impact on their behavior. And this was just filming they were in total control of. Closed-circuit. Nothing externally imposed. They could have burned all the reels if they wanted to and ever showed anyone. But even still, knowing they were being filmed in privacy, it had an impact on their behavior- in a less creative, free way.

It’s one thing to make a recording of audio or film that is intentional. When the recording is being made for the sake of recording. Like when The Beatles sang into a microphone. This kind of intentional and conscious recording is one thing. It’s another whole thing when the recording instrument is off to the side, as a witness.

I argue that such acts of creativity are more fruitfully done in “secret.” And how far does that line reach? Writing a book? Singing to my infant son? A family making dinner? We have technology all around us now that lets anyone tap into our business as long as they have the simple know-how and a lack of morality. Microphones on cell phones can be remotely turned on by hackers or NSA, even with the phone off. There’s also no shortage of the woes surrounding desktop computer cameras and microphones. Same thing with devices like the Amazon Echo.

The Beatles had no “secrets” when they were making Let It Be. But, with the cameras off, they were probably better off keeping it a “secret”.


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