I rewatched the classic Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night over the weekend, and aside from making me crave nearly every coat and suit worn in the movie and somehow making me love the Beatles even more than I already did, this third time around I was struck by something the movie left out. Basically: that whole “Hard Day’s Night” part.
The Beatles have been endlessly analyzed and discussed and written about, and even today the Lennon/McCartney partnership is one we are still pondering. But the element of their greatness that Malcolm Gladwell touches on in Outliers, and the one that I’m most interested in, is the extent to which the Beatles were, well, also fanatical workaholics.
Early in their career they played over 1,200 times in four years in Hamburg, Germany, all the while writing songs and practicing. Their greatness didn’t just spring forth: they worked and worked and worked and worked some more. The sheer body of work they produced is staggering, particularly when you consider they broke up before John Lennon had even turned 30.
And yet you never see a hint of the incredible and tedious hard work behind the music and fun in A Hard Day’s Night, nor, really, any work about creative geniuses (save perhaps for the great “Barton Fink,” that great ode to writer’s block, and a few other exceptions). The songs and novels and plays always seem to spring out from the great artist fully formed. Maybe we see that classic Eurkea moment, but then the artist scurries off to craft their work in a quick montage, or we cut straight to the book coming out.
What’s funny about this is that artists themselves participate in the illusion of effortlessness, probably because artists and storytellers recognize that the truth is boring: working very very hard and practicing a very very long time is not the stuff that great stories are made of.
In the case of A Hard Day’s Night, the truth is that the title song was mainly written in a single night by John Lennon, which is amazing enough on its own. But to watch the movie it seems the Beatles spend all of their time having adventures, flirting with girls, and spontaneously playing their fully-formed music. I can’t help but think of the time they spent off the screen to make the illusion possible.
And with these stories and movies in our heads, when we read the magic on the page in a book and it flows so smoothly and effortlessly, it’s easy to forget the hard day’s year that went into it.