45 Years Ago: John Lennon’s Signature Dissolves the Beatles
All you need is love – unless you're legally ending a four-person partnership, in which case you need several signatures. With George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr having already signed off on the band's demise, the Beatles ended with a stroke of John Lennon's pen on Dec. 29, 1974.
Although it may serve as the "official" end of the band, fans knew it was a mere formality. For all intents and purposes, the Beatles had ceased to exist in 1969, when Lennon infamously walked out of a meeting and told the others, "I want a divorce." Following the May 8, 1970 release of the troubled Let It Be project, they were finished as a contemporary recording act. Rumors of reunions would continue to persist until Lennon's murder in 1980, but the four men never got back together again.
Yet even if they weren't interested in working together anymore, untangling the former Beatles' business affairs wasn't as simple as requesting a divorce. In fact, it took years of slugging it out in the courts before the ex-bandmates' lawyers were able to negotiate a satisfactory settlement. And even then, Lennon's capriciousness could have scotched the deal: The papers were supposed to be signed on Dec. 19, at a meeting that took place at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, where the Beatles stayed during their first trip to the U.S.
McCartney and Harrison were on hand at the hotel, and Starr – who'd already added his signature – was on the phone in the conference room, but Lennon, who lived not far from the Plaza, decided not to turn up. Forced to admit he had no idea where his client was, Lennon's lawyer arranged for a call, only to be told by Lennon's assistant and paramour May Pang that he wouldn't be coming because "the stars aren't right."
Lennon's reluctance would later be blamed on a provision of the deal that he felt would saddle him with an unfair tax burden. But in the moment, all anyone knew was that – as had been Lennon's wont repeatedly in the past – he'd changed his mind on what seemed like the spur of the moment. Harrison, scheduled to invite Lennon on stage for his Madison Square Garden show that night, angrily told Pang that those plans were off.
The Beatles' long breakup trudged on. Fortunately for the emotional well-being of all parties involved, however, it didn't have much longer to trudge.
Ten days later, armed with an amended contract assuaging Lennon's concerns, a lawyer visited Lennon and Pang on their vacation at Disney World. This time, as Pang later recalled in an interview with the New York Times, he was ready to sign – and in bright enough spirits that he told Pang to grab a camera and snap a shot of him putting pen to paper.
That photo, which later ended up in Pang's Instamatic Karma book, captured the end of an era whose significance was not lost on Lennon. Remembering him looking "wistfully out the window," Pang told the Times that after five years of distance, Lennon's mood upon signing the agreement was bittersweet.
"Everybody changes," Pang noted. "With John things changed on a daily basis. It's a question of time. Five years earlier was not the same situation. In 1974, he had just seen everyone. The friendship was still there. They were brothers. There was no animosity. And even though they all felt they had to break up to get to the next level of their musical careers, John had started this band that changed the world. It changed pop culture. It changed how we live and how we dress. And he knew that. So, when he sat down to sign, he knew that this was it. His was the last signature. As he had started the group, he was the one to end it."
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