OK, I’ll come clean from the outset. This post is all pure speculation on my part. I don’t know anybody that I am speaking about in this article, or even any first hand eye witnesses. All of the speculation is based on biographies and filmed interviews I have seen.
That said, I think that the “Perma” framework, proposed by Martin Seligman, can explain why the Beatles broke up. It didn’t have to happen, but given the dynamics of the situation, the break up can be explained using the ideas set forth in Seligman’s book “Flourish”, I think. Let me explain…
The Perma framework is about what motivates people. We don’t just want to be happy, we want to flourish. In order to do that, we need to experience positive emotions, feel engagement with our task and have satisfactory relationships. We need to feel what we are doing has meaning and that when we have finished, we feel a sense of accomplishment.
Using this framework of understanding, let’s imagine what the last days (or years) of the Beatles may have been like from the point of view of each of the main characters: John, Paul, George and Ringo (and George Martin).
At around the time of the making of Sergeant Pepper, it was clear that Paul and John were setting the creative direction, with much guidance from George Martin. Ringo felt relegated and George Harrison felt as though he was part of the production B team. Paul, by some reports, was perceived to behave patronisingly to George and Ringo. John was increasingly hostile to George Martin’s production techniques and frustrated with Paul’s more frivolous, less meaningful compositions (which he called “granny music”). Paul was the workaholic, increasingly finding his feet as a recording artist and learning more and more about music production. This was a pattern that only amplified and worsened, from this point in time onward.
Looking at it from John’s perspective, while there were positive emotions, he felt increasingly disengaged the more Paul started to assume the role of creative leader. After all, this was John’s band originally. The collaboration of Paul and George Martin must have undermined that sense. Relationships were in flux, for John, having met Yoko, who satisfied his need for meaning. Certainly the Beatles publicity circus and the “I love you, you love me” lyrics had ceased to satisfy John’s desire to change the world. John’s motivational needs were definitely not being met. John was not flourishing.
Paul seems to have been the one flourishing most. Under the wing of George Martin, he seems to have continued to learn and grow as a musician and producer. Paul had conflict within some of his close relationships, but on the whole, Paul was doing ok, save for the backlash and resentments that were coming from his fellow Beatles in response to his new creative dominance within the group.
George Harrison was still finding his way as a singer, songwriter, musician and producer. Although it can be argued that he eventually excelled in all areas, during the final few albums of the Beatles, he was in the shadow of John and Paul and perhaps feeling a little patronized by Paul. George Martin did not rate him very highly as a talent. George Harrison was seeking meaning in spiritual spheres, not as much in music. His sense of accomplishment was lessened by having his contribution ignored or diminished. Engagement was frequently denied him. George’s motivational needs were also in deficit. George was not flourishing.
Ringo has been publicly quoted as saying he learned to play a lot of chess, during the making of the Beatles later albums. He was not engaged. His predominant emotional state was one of boredom, so not positive. His relationship with Paul was not ideal because he felt patronized by him. He was rather unconcerned about the quest for meaning, but his sense of accomplishment was reduced because his contribution was far less than that of the creative directors of the group. Ringo’s motivation was also not optimal. Ringo was not flourishing.
The fifth Beatle, George Martin, was largely unacknowledged for the extent and scope of his creative direction and input. John resented his efforts to this end, by the time Let It Be was made. While he knew he was breaking new creative ground and was fully engaged in the process, his positive feelings were tempered by the feeling of being kept at a distance from the core of the band, relationship-wise. I’m sure he felt the work had less meaning than some of the more serious classical work he had done and his sense of accomplishment was also somewhat compromised by being “not in the band”, as such. Yet it still must have given him some pride in the fact that what he was producing was good, beloved and successful. George Martin was doing ok, from a motivation point of view. He was flourishing. However, his relationship with his employer, EMI, was less promising, when viewed from the Perma framework.
So was it inevitable that the Beatles would have broken up? Perhaps not inevitable, but hardly surprising. Things could have been changed to ensure that every member optimised on their motivation and sense of flourishing, but that didn’t happen. Consequently, the evanescent magic evaporated.
On the other hand, all of this wild, idle speculation is precisely that and I might be completely wrong about these people. But the hypothesis is plausible.