Before I start, I wanted to provide a link to an interview I did a few months ago that was recently broadcast. Hopefully, you will enjoy it if you take the time to watch or listen to it.
And while I would like to think my interview would be as popular as a documentary about The Beatles, I think that is very much wishful thinking and on the edge of being delusional. Since we’re on the topic of The Beatles, last week I watched two of the three episodes of “Get Back”, the documentary created by Peter Jackson about the making of a new album in preparation for a live performance they wanted to do on television.
In discussing what I have watched so far, I’m not sure where to begin as there is so much to unpack. The three episodes are eight hours of material culled from approximately 60 hours of video and 150 hours of audio rediscovered a few years ago in a London vault. And in the spirit of the documentary’s length, this blog post will be rather lengthy as well, and it too will barely scratch the surface of the subject it’s attempting to cover.
What immediately strikes the viewer is, besides the incredible number of cigarettes smoked by the four lads from Liverpool, is the astonishing quality of the footage. I felt like I was right there with The Beatles in the studio and part of the creative process. What is particularly fascinating is that many of the songs they are working on are well known. As a result, we of course know how they sound and what the lyrics are. So when we get to watch them working on songs midstream, including the lyrics, it’s so incredible to observe because we know what the lyrics are and yet they have not been solidified. This is particularly evident with the song Get Back. While Paul is working through it with some help from John, I wanted to scream out to them and say, “Paul, John, this is how it’s supposed to be! Use Tucson, Arizona!”
What a treat and education it was to see such creative forces at work who were not only so industrious but who were also masters of their craft. What is very clear to me and is exemplified beautifully in the film is just what an extraordinary relationship the four of them had collectively, and particularly Paul and John individually, and the incredible history they have together. Over the years some people have disparaged the individual members as not being that great as musicians (I came away feeling very differently). And yet, Paul has said, “We were a fu**ing great band.” Individually, each person may not be the best at what they do, but how they did it together was so extraordinary that very few bands could even be in the conversation of topping them. That is what Paul meant by his statement.
To have stayed together for as long as they did, when they did, and to have created such a large body of timeless work so defied the odds. Almost all music was produced by bands back then, some of which we still listen to today. Contrast that to today where it seems that very little music is produced by bands because technology is so accessible and cost-effective that individuals can just tinker in their homes and create music. It’s a lot of work to form a band and takes so much energy to keep it together when one can just use today’s digital tools to create music. It’s like staffing service businesses with robots. You don’t have to deal with the drama of human beings and robots don’t get sick (of course they can break down) and have to take days off. The tradeoff is that it is a very sterile and lifeless environment, which, unfortunately, is how a lot of today’s music feels too old fogies like me.
Bands can be so special and yet they are so fragile and always at risk of disintegrating. Not many bands of the British invasion lasted beyond a few years. The notable exceptions were The Rolling Stones, The Who, and the Beatles. Beyond them, there were many bands that left their mark but didn’t have the longevity of those three. They were not able to sustain themselves beyond a few years and produced typically two or three albums. It’s not surprising as rock and roll was so new and there were no models of long careers. To have any kind of long-term vision for a career in rock and roll, let alone sustaining a band, required great maturity and foresight. As a result, many involved viewed it more as a fleeting type of experience than one to invest in and build a career around. No one knew how long they would be doing it so if something better came along or more interesting and for whatever reason, leaving a band didn’t appear to be a high-cost decision. And if there was some level of success then there was often a lot of pressure to take the star performer, typically the lead singer, and have that person go off on his own. Throw in creative differences, competition for songs to make albums, drug use, multiple temptations, money, and immaturity and one can see how difficult it would be for a band to make it.
I’ve written before about the power of partnership and how one plus one can be three when it is firing on all cylinders. This comes through so clearly in Get Back. What permeates throughout is how much fun they were capable of having together. John, Paul, and George pretty much grew up together and had their lives grow exponentially when they took off for Hamburg and played at least four hours a night between August 1960 and December 1962. It was in Hamburg where they really cut their teeth and learned how to play as a band and perform for an audience and keep its attention. They met Ringo there and he joined the band after they returned to Liverpool to perform in the Cavern Club. No one has their history and love for each other that those three had that eventually would include Ringo. This is particularly the case for John and Paul who would spend hours in hotel rooms writing songs together. They would become the greatest rock and roll songwriting duo in history.
While running a business is not exactly like being in a band in that bands by their very nature have a finite life to them as the members eventually retire, leave, or die and the creation of new material comes to a halt. Of course, the body of work stays behind but nothing new is created unless old material is released or repurposed. Businesses, on the other hand, are ideally designed to be in existence in perpetuity. The founders can leave willfully or not by their choice but they are ultimately replaced as are all employees as no one is immortal. And yet, the business can keep going on. It’s not necessarily dependent on particular people as the only ones who can produce the product like bands are.
CWS has been in business for over 50 years in spite of the two original founders no longer being involved in the business on a day-to-day basis. When I started in 1987 we owned approximately $250 million in manufactured housing community assets and today, we have one manufactured housing community and over $7 billion of apartments. There are only a handful of us who were around when I started, yet we are so much larger and we have so many more capabilities than we did 34 years ago. Once John decided to leave The Beatles, The Beatles were no more. This is not the case for healthy businesses like CWS. While losing key people would not be without a lot of pain and necessary adaptation, it can still be done since we are a going concern greater than anyone or two or three people. This was not the case for The Beatles.
With that being said, however, while it’s true that their ability to produce new material ended with their breakup and became a permanent impossibility after the murder of John Lennon and the death of George Harrison, what they did produce was so valuable and beloved that their music can be monetized for possibly centuries to come. This is a rare feat.
I have a fascination, some might say obsession, with content that can be monetized or will resonate with large numbers of people for many years in the future. When I write I have an underlying goal for it to be of value to people who read it today, next month, a year from now, and decades into the future. And when read as a body of work I would hope it can have the potential of having a very positive impact on those who take the time to read and absorb it. Arrogant, or perhaps ambitious depending on one’s perspective. Why not play as big of a game as we possibly can? Why not have a goal of leaving one’s mark for future generations? A large vision inspires me.
The Power of The Beatles’ Friendship – My Partnerships
The power of The Beatles’ friendship, their collaborative abilities as well as always staying on the cutting edge of sound, recording techniques, and learning and using new instruments, kept them relevant for a very long period of time. This is something that resonates with me as I have been at CWS since 1987 and for many of those years I have had the incredible fortune of working closely with Steve Sherwood as well as with Mike Engels (for over 20 years). The three of us have such complementary skills and interests that we have done a very effective job of uncovering our blind spots and not falling prey to them, managing risks to avoid material setbacks, and taking advantage of opportunities to grow when the odds of success have been in our favor. And throw into the mix a core group of long-time associates that has had remarkable longevity and corresponding stability, and we are one great f&*ing company! (to paraphrase Paul). We have an incredible history and a set of bonds and camaraderie that have helped form our secret source of commitment, trust, and esprit de corps.
We just had a planning meeting and it was great for us to reconnect and use our pre-existing relationships so that we could get right to work. We also had a lot of fun and never hesitated to joke around and poke fun at each other when appropriate and yet our goals and commitments were the same, which is to move the company forward in a healthy, productive, and profitable way.
As mentioned earlier, the documentary showed the power of partnership and it really came to the forefront when John and Paul snuck out to go to another room to talk about George leaving the band and they didn’t want to be on camera for such an important conversation. They naturally thought they were talking privately but little did they know that a microphone was hidden in the flower pot in the middle of the table. The conversation that was recorded was extraordinary in that it showed two long-time friends and bandmates talking very openly and honestly about the situation and their contribution to it. To me, that is one of the highlights of the documentary and shows how partnerships can only sustain and thrive if they run the gamut of the entire human experience, and this includes confronting difficult issues head-on and with brutal honesty.
We hear the two of them talk about the festering wound of George feeling as if he is constantly disregarded or not earning their respect since he’s always been treated like the little kid. John was very sympathetic to the situation, and ultimately so was Paul, and it was another reminder of how important it is to not let issues fester. Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done since George clearly suffered from the youngest child syndrome, and who knows if this could ever have truly been resolved to his satisfaction. It seemed clear that George didn’t really want to leave the band but something triggered him during a particular moment in time when he had had enough and said he was done. This was clearly a sign of unaddressed issues on everybody’s part. George overreacted but John and Paul played a major role in contributing to an outcome that nobody wanted. I was particularly moved when George said they should get a better guitar player like Eric Clapton to replace him and John said they wanted George Harrison. They wanted George to play like George and when he does it’s what helps make The Beatles The Beatles by contributing to their unique sound and incredible harmonies.
One final observation. Someone has to lead the charge and keep the momentum going or to get it started. It was pretty clear that John was not at his best in the first episode. My guess is that drugs were involved but whatever it was he was not fully present and he didn’t seem to want to be there. Paul was the one who felt the obligation and the drive to keep the train moving forward. That was never Ringo’s role and George never felt like he had the power or respect to take the lead day in and day out. Situationally yes, but not consistently. Paul said when Brian Epstein, their manager, died that they basically lost their daddy and they needed another one to keep them on track, hold them accountable, and instill badly needed discipline. In the absence of another daddy, Paul felt like it was his responsibility to take on that role.
Paul believed they needed a system that would provide them with accountability, consistency, and processes that would keep them coming back and focused on the work. Paul thrived in such an environment. He needed a system that would force him to do the workday in and day out. John, on the other hand, thrived much more on spontaneity and eureka moments than slogging through the creative process. My sense is that he sometimes felt stifled by Paul and his approach and that would cause tension at times.
Everything seems to change, however, with the return of George and the unexpected visit of keyboardist Billy Preston who they put right to work. His contribution and enthusiasm shift the dynamic almost instantaneously. Everything starts to flow and the vibe becomes much more positive and the songs really start to progress. His dynamism, talent, and enthusiasm lift everyone up and elevate the others to bring their A-game. This shows the catalytic effect that an outsider can have when inertia takes over.
Watching Get Back triggered so many thoughts, feelings, and emotions for me that I carried over with me to our planning meeting in Austin that took place last week. I kept thinking about the dynamic of the four Beatles and how what they created was so much more than the sum of its parts. By honoring everyone and their contributions and not letting petty grievances, egos, and temptations get in the way, then the sky was the limit. Sitting in the meetings reinforced for me that I’ve been privy to something so very special in my 34 years at CWS. Having relationships with Steve, Mike, and so many others have helped me grow as an individual and has brought so much joy and fulfillment to my life. I have been able to be my authentic self (for better or worse) and to be self-expressed in ways that have enabled me to have my voice heard and to help leave my mark on such a wonderful organization and for all our stakeholders that we serve. In my own little world, I feel like I have been a member of a very special band that has enhanced the lives of so many.
What an honor it’s been to have been part of such a beautiful partnership on such a long and winding road.