“The Power of Two: Despite the mythology around the idea of the lone genius, the famous partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney demonstrates the brilliance of creative pairs” by Joshua Wolf Shenk, The Atlantic, 7/2014
…For centuries, the myth of the lone genius has towered over us, its shadow obscuring the way creative work really gets done. The attempts to pick apart the Lennon-McCartney partnership reveal just how misleading that myth can be, because John and Paul were so obviously more creative as a pair than as individuals, even if at times they appeared to work in opposition to each other. The lone-genius myth prevents us from grappling with a series of paradoxes about creative pairs: that distance doesn’t impede intimacy, and is often a crucial ingredient of it; that competition and collaboration are often entwined. Only when we explore this terrain can we grasp how such pairs as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy all managed to do such creative work. The essence of their achievements, it turns out, was relational. If that seems far-fetched, it’s because our cultural obsession with the individual has obscured the power of the creative pair.
John and Paul epitomize this power. Geoff Emerick—who served as the principal engineer for EMI on Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, some of The White Album, and Abbey Road—recognized from the outset that the two formed a single creative being. “Even from the earliest days,” he wrote in his memoir, Here, There and Everywhere, “I always felt that the artist was John Lennon and Paul McCartney, not the Beatles.”
One reason it’s so tempting to try to cleave John and Paul apart is that the distinctions between them were so stark. Observing the pair through the control-room glass at Abbey Road’s Studio Two, Emerick was fascinated by their odd-couple quality:
Paul was meticulous and organized: he always carried a notebook around with him, in which he methodically wrote down lyrics and chord changes in his neat handwriting. In contrast, John seemed to live in chaos: he was constantly searching for scraps of paper that he’d hurriedly scribbled ideas on. Paul was a natural communicator; John couldn’t articulate his ideas well. Paul was the diplomat; John was the agitator. Paul was soft-spoken and almost unfailingly polite; John could be a right loudmouth and quite rude. Paul was willing to put in long hours to get a part right; John was impatient, always ready to move on to the next thing. Paul usually knew exactly what he wanted and would often take offense at criticism; John was much more thick-skinned and was open to hearing what others had to say. In fact, unless he felt especially strongly about something, he was usually amenable to change.
The diplomat and the agitator. The neatnik and the whirling dervish. Spending time with Paul and John, one couldn’t help but be struck by these sorts of differences. “John needed Paul’s attention to detail and persistence,” Cynthia Lennon, John’s first wife, said. “Paul needed John’s anarchic, lateral thinking.”