Nov. 25, 2021 saw the release of the revelatory documentary “The Beatles: Get Back,” a nearly eight-hour look at recording sessions for the Let It Be album.
Nearly a year later — or, to put it a different way, more than 50 years since the group broke up — Grammy Museum Experience Prudential Center is offering another way to immerse yourself in the band, with the opening of an exhibition titled “Ladies and Gentlemen … The Beatles!” It officially opened on Nov. 18 and will run through June 25.
It focuses on a very different period of Beatles history than “Get Back” did, offering many artifacts of the culturally earthshaking “Beatlemania” era of early 1964 to mid-1966. These include guitars, concert contracts, newspaper clips, hand-written setlists and lyrics, clothing worn by Paul McCartney (at Shea Stadium) and Ringo Starr (in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night”), single and album covers (including the infamously gruesome “Butcher Cover,” rejected for Yesterday and Today) and merchandise such as Beatles lunchboxes and coloring books.
In one section of the exhibition, you can sit at a drum kit, don headphones and take a drumming lesson from Ringo Starr; another is made to look like a typical Beatles fan’s bedroom. A different area takes a close look at The Beatles’ only New Jersey show (at Convention Hall in Atlantic City in August 1964) and their stay, while there, at the city’s Lafayette Motor Inn.
A mini-documentary zeroes in on the band’s initial, life-altering (for many who watched) appearance on television’s “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February 1964, with interviews of some of the staff members who worked on the show, met The Beatles behind the scenes, and witnessed the giddy excitement of the Beatles fans who attended.
I think it’s safe to say that even a major Beatles fan will encounter something he or she has never seen before at this exhibition. And a young Beatles novice may get an inkling of why they mattered — and why the world of Beatles collecting has really become a fascinating phenomenon of its own, existing alongside the music.
Various special events are planned in conjunction with the exhibition’s time in Newark. I attended a reception on Nov. 17, the night before the exhibition’s official opening, that also featured a screening of “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story,” a documentary about May Pang’s relationship with John Lennon in the ’70s, and a discussion between Pang and Beatles expert Ken Womack. This was repeated on Nov. 18.
Allan Kozinn and Adrian Sinclair, who have co-written a book titled “The McCartney Legacy (Volume 1: 1969-73),” will talk about it at the exhibition, Dec. 14. And the exhibition will bring Mark Lewisohn, whose books about The Beatles include “The Beatles: All These Years: Volume One – Tune In,” to White Eagle Hall in Jersey City, March 30, in conjunction with the March 31-April 2 Fest for Beatles Fans taking place at the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City.
More special events may be announced later.
As far as “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” … it’s definitely worth seeing, exploring Pang’s romantic relationship with Lennon — which lasted for 18 months in 1973 and 1974, while Lennon was still married to Yoko Ono — in great detail. Via extensive interviews and previously unreleased photographs, video and audio, it also offers insight into Lennon’s music during that period — including his Walls and Bridges and Rock ‘n’ Roll albums, and collaborations with Elton John and David Bowie — and his reconciliation with Paul McCartney.
It also devotes plenty of attention to Pang’s life before meeting Lennon and Ono, and the years after her relationship with Lennon ended (with occasional romantic liaisons continuing for several years, she claims). She talks about the time she and Lennon saw a UFO, and a jam session with Lennon and McCartney plus Stevie Wonder and others.
Ono does not come off well: Pang tells stories about her that make her look mean, deceptive and manipulative. Yet Lennon did go back to Ono, and there is no reason to doubt that the last five years of his life — when he and she concentrated on raising their son Sean together — were peaceful and love-filled.
But being a Lennon fan means constantly learning about new facets of a very complicated life, and this film adds a lot of detail.
For exhibition information and tickets, visit grammymuseumexp.org.
Here is a trailer for “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story”:
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