“Now and Then,” and on and on again
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Sitting here, listening to John sing and play the piano, with the other three Beatles filling in the gaps around him, strings surfacing, guitars gliding and drums and bass setting the low end that frame the production, it’s meditative.
Since it’s release this morning, I’ve been listening to “Now and Then,” likely the last Beatles song the world will get, on a loop. I can hear John Lennon sing a song that could only be so poignant in his hands, where anyone else would likely render it terse or trite. The rhythm section of Ringo Starr snaps his drum stick across the snare while Paul McCartney answers with his own counterpoint on bass. George Harrison accompanies on a small army of guitars. Soon, the orchestra makes its presence felt, punctuated by McCartney paying homage to Harrison on slide guitar. Honestly, it’s both comforting and overwhelming to hear all this at once.
I’m not qualified to necessarily discuss the arrangement or the technicals beyond what I’ve already done. And I certainly can’t speak to the machine-learning specs that allowed for John’s voice to be separated from the piano on the original cassette demo, though we have plenty of examples of its ability now in the Get Back documentary and last year’s Revolver box set.
But I can talk about how it feels to hear a new Beatles song for the first time since 1996, when “Real Love” appeared on Anthology 2 as if it had been suspended in ether. There’s a similar sensation now, but if I was a teenager then trying to grab it off the radio, I’m honing in on middle age now and just the right amount of sentimental and appreciative to take in all the feelings that rush in here. The Beatles have been a companion for as long as I’ve been aware of music, all of it, at different points in my life, there to offer some sanity or introspection or just beauty when it was needed.
And “Now and Then” is majestic. The lyrics evoke the push-and-pull of a relationship that has been through turbulence and emerged in smoother skies, better for the ride and experience. And intentions aside, it doesn’t take much to hear the internal relationships of the four Beatles. Their humble beginnings in the cross-Atlantic shadow of rock and roll, their meteoric rise, their earth-shattering musical output, their falling out and their slow and gradual return to each other as maturity took hold, forever shattered by violence and rendering the rest firmly to the files of “what could have been.”
Here, we get a glimpse of what could have been. If Then can’t be recovered, Now is always here.
It’s impossible to not imagine Paul, George and Ringo listening to this tape for the first time, a fragment of their lost friend and an inner drive to turn this shadow into something that makes sense, to amend for the simple fact that Lennon’s early absence can never truly make sense.
Their initial act, aided by technology and driven by that mission, made listening to this final composition possible. It’s one more bit of genius and creativity and soul in the world. There’s plenty of injustice and confusion in that realm. A bit of light poking through the darkness should be cherished.
Nov. 2, 2023
Email Nick Tavares at email@example.com