Note: This video has been removed from YouTube by the copyright owner. So you can’t watch it. However, I think the following will make sense even so, so I’m leaving it up.

Check out something very specific as The Beatles perform It Won’t Be Long on the British “live performance” TV show Ready Steady Go. When they get to the bridge of the song the first time around (“Since you left me/I’m so alone…”), the closeup is on John, and while we hear him singing, what we see is inconsistent with the audio—the camera catches him licking his lips. The next time the bridge comes around, again there’s a one-shot of John, and this time, while we hear him singing, the video catches him laughing. At the end of the song, he goes into some Jerry Lewis dance moves that are inconsistent with the sounds we hear from his rhythm guitar (which he is not playing as he does them).

At first you think, “Wow, what a blooper—he must not have realized the camera was right on him.” After all, his ill-timed lip-lick reveals the performance was lip-synched, not live. And then, it begins to dawn on you: He knew the camera was right on him, and that’s why he did it. The camera didn’t catch him doing anything; he caught the camera. In this “live performance” in a “live studio setting,” John subverts the convention—in which performers pretend to be singing—by doing things (seemingly playful things, but under the surface about as playful as a dirty bomb) specifically designed to bring the whole deceit crashing down.

It’s so very John—which is why it’s so very wonderful. Watching it now, you get the feeling that John not only was sending a message out to the fans (“don’t swallow everything TV wants you to believe, kids”) but to us, across the decades, across the universe. It’s a message in a bottle.


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