first published in The Teatles Book, Book 12 (2021)
I should begin by clarifying that McLennon is not the same as ‘John and Paul’ or ‘Lennon/McCartney’. It is often interchangeably used with ‘John/Paul’, which does come pretty close to capturing it; but not quite. For where ‘John and Paul’ is used to refer to the personal relationship between John and Paul; and ‘Lennon/McCartney’ is used to refer to the professional relationship between John and Paul; and ‘John/Paul’ is used to refer to the potentially romantic relationship—McLennon is the referent for both: (1) the John/Paul relationship, and (2) the fandom community surrounding the John/Paul relationship. These lines definitely often blur into each other; but I think it’s still useful to begin this conversation by delineating McLennon.
Despite popular belief, the fandom community McLennon did not spring up out of the blue in 2013 with the advent of Tumblr and “fanatic” “teenage” “fangirls.” According to Fanlore (a wiki about fanworks and fan communities), the McLennon fandom has been around for almost as long as the Beatles themselves. Just like other fandoms, McLennon fans also used to indulge in writing stories (fanfiction), creating fan art, and publishing their creative and critical pieces in fanzines. Today, you can find pockets of this community on pretty much every social media blogging platform like Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. The fan practices of this community often slightly vary on each platform: while people on Twitter lean more towards curating sources, facts, and photographs; people on Tumblr are slightly more interested in critically (analysis pieces) and creatively (fanfiction) interpreting the original source material (John/Paul photographs, interviews, songs, letters, stories, books, etc.). This variation is nothing more than an indirect effect of the different features each platform offers; and even then, all these practices can often extend across platforms.
Like all fandom communities, McLennon has a particular object of fascination; and that’s the John/Paul relationship. Fans in this community are particularly interested in reading and analysing the not-quite platonic aspects of this relationship. These readings can range across locating a certain eroticism in their photographs, discovering hidden emotional layers in their songs, plotting similar points of emphasis and diversion over multiple interviews, to digging up sources to further nuance their understanding of this relationship. This fascination often works against the orthodox narrative about the John/Paul relationship, which usually posits that even though Paul might have been “in love” (in awe, devoted, dependent) with John, John was just too cool for him. There are other groups within Beatledom who are also interested in this relationship. However, what separates McLennon from these groups is: (1) the visible non-platonic slant in their critical interpretations, and (2) the creative endeavours like fanfiction, fanart, and fanvideos which this community regularly undertakes.
Two of Us
When I write ‘non-platonic’, I do not necessarily mean sexual or romantic. That is a part of it, yes, but it’s not the whole meaning. Non-platonic within the McLennon community usually means erotic; and that is a popular interpretation heavily backed by comments like making music with each other turned us on, and admiring each other’s physical attributes, and often John and Paul comparing their relationship to a marriage themselves. Hence, the non-platonic slant in the community’s critical interpretations is a minor concession to the various nuances and facets of John and Paul’s relationship; a quality of passion which does fascinate everyone within Beatledom alike.
However, yes, the rumours are true: a section of the community does prop up and heavily endorse the idea that John and Paul were romantically involved with each other.
And this, folks, is what we call a conspiracy. This slice of the McLennon fandom believes that John and Paul really, truly had a romantic relationship in the ‘60s (which might have extended into the ‘70s); but had to hide their love away because of period-typical concerns like homophobia, a female-dominated fanbase, and John and Paul’s images as straight, masculine, virile sex fiends. This conclusion is based upon a reading of the same shared source material; only, the process of interpretation and meaning-making is influenced more by certain source materials than others, like claims of John being bisexual, stories of people at Apple HQ referring to Paul as “John’s Princess,” Paul’s bizarre inability to give a straight answer to the question was John in love with you, the sheer ambiguity of the happenings of the Rishikesh trip, etc. Again, it’s not a completely incorrect method of interpretation; it only—like we all are prone to do, to a certain extent—privileges certain source materials over others and arrives at a far-fetched conclusion.
The Lovers That Never Were
I love fan works; and the McLennon community is particularly good at them. Creative works like fanfiction, fanart, and fan videos offer fans the chance to imagine and reinterpret the John/Paul relationship in their own unique ways—which is an absolute treat. I am aware that fan works often get a bad rep for “sullying the sanctity of the holy John and Paul relationship” (whatever that means!) but I think they are quite cool. Fan creators are (almost always) very careful about adding disclaimers, clarifying the completely fictional nature of their works; and beyond that, I think it becomes the responsibility of the reader to be discerning enough.
However, there is always the potential tendency within every fan community for stereotypes and rumours to be perpetuated through fan works. Creators can sometimes fail to add clear disclaimers; or audiences’ memories can fail and they can create similar associations with both verified stories and fanfiction, and both can then get afforded a similar level of veracity. It happens. Especially within a fandom as large and old as the Beatles; the tendency for the lines between apocryphal stories, fanfiction, and verified tales to blur into each other is even higher.
With that said, I still think fan works are really awesome and, if consumed with a keen eye, can be a source for great pleasure. Here are some of my favourite fanfics:
- “Stand by Me” by Penny Lane and Jenny Wren | Summary: John survives.
- “Widow” by abromeds | Summary: If Paul had died in 1980 instead of John; and how John deals with that.
- “I said something wrong” by frogchorus [work in progress] | Summary: In 1965, The Beatles performed on the ‘Blackpool Night Out’. It’s fairly well recorded that John and Paul had an argument pre-show, and this fic explores that.
- “new york woman” by peculiar_mademoiselle [work in progress] | Summary: A series of loosely related one shots about Yoko Ono.
I think that brings us to a close of this guide. For further reading, you should definitely check out:
- amoralto (Tumblr)
- Were John and Paul Lovers? (Hey Dullblog)
- The McLennon Effect: A Conversation with Chloe & Daisy from All About The Girl Podcast (Headcanon Magazine) [*wink* *wink*]