The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

I’ve long had a grudging respect for Taylor Swift. After all, few of the artists who were massive stars when I was in first grade are still, 13 years later, releasing popular albums and going on culture-defining tours.

That longevity at the top must take some serious talent. Even The Beatles, the subject of a transatlantic “mania” and often regarded as the most important musical act of all time, only had all four members together for seven years.

Or so we thought.

On Nov. 2, the lads from Liverpool — despite half of them being dead — were somehow together again for the release of “Now and Then.” 

Marketed as “the last Beatles song,” it was based on an unfinished demo by John Lennon after the band’s breakup. In 1995, 15 years after Lennon died, the remaining three released two songs based on Lennon's demos with the original vocals. They recorded “Now and Then,” but decided to scrap it, as George Harrison felt Lennon’s audio to be too low quality.

That issue was solved when new technology allowed Lennon’s vocals on the track to be separated from his piano and the annoying background noise.

What resulted was a strikingly poignant track, giving the impression of a conversation reaching across the decades and bridging the chasm of death. Two types of mourning intertwine in the chorus: Lennon mourning their old relationship and McCartney mourning Lennon’s 43 year absence, as they sing together for the final time “Now and then, I miss you / Now and then, I want you to be there for me / Always to return to me.”

Even though the track is sped up to 88 beats per minute, from the 80 or so beats per minute in Lennon’s demo, it still has an eerie melancholy to it. McCartney’s count off at the top of the track fades out much like The Beatles members have: one and two are loud and clear, three is barely whispered, and four is gone.

How could anyone not be touched by this final chapter in the story? Or by the music video, when footage of Harrison and Lennon from the band’s heyday is grafted onto a shot of the aged McCartney and Ringo Starr recording this last hurrah?

Even if I’ve had some sort of respect for Taylor Swift, I’ve never felt like I get it. Why are so many of my friends obsessed with the romantic entanglements of a mediocre 33-year-old singer-songwriter, slobbering at every trite lyric she writes? Why do otherwise self-respecting people care what a track implies about her trysts with Jake Gyllenhaal or a certain Missouri-based tight end?

Now, I feel like I understand, because this capstone in the Lennon-McCartney relationship moves me intuitively. That almost makes less sense than caring about Taylor Swift: Why should I give a flying flamingo about the final chapter in the drama between two Brits of my grandparents’ generation, one of whom died 23 years before I was born?

But deep down, I feel McCartney and Lennon because I know the lore, a near-Shakespearean drama. They are the ones who first saw each other as teenagers on the bus in Liverpool, whose mothers died when they were 14 and 17, who formed one of the most successful songwriting duos of all time and attained the heights of global fame together, whose disagreements became bitter disputes only partially reconciled and who were suddenly separated by Lennon’s murder.

Reportedly, Lennon’s last in-person words to McCartney asked him to “think about me every now and then, old friend.”

The great chasm between the now and the then, between the living and the dead, can never be fully bridged. But over four decades after Lennon’s death, as his voice fades out singing “That I will” and McCartney completes the lyric with “will love you,” “Now and Then” comes as close as possible.

Taylor Swift may portray a career resurrection as unremarkable: “I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time,” she claims on “Look What You Made Me Do,” but a resurrection like this one is unique. I almost understand Swift-mania now, because I know that if Lennon and Harrison could come back in the flesh for one last tour, I would be posting it all over Instagram with the zest of a Swiftie at the Eras Tour.


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.