Fab Four uncovered in hefty tome
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – In the beginning there was John, the scruffy rebel who dazzled the good burghers of Liverpool with song and story. Then came Paul, the doe-eyed champion of all things bright and chirpy. Then there were George, the quiet one, and Ringo, who was — well, Ringo.
The four looked out onto the world and saw that it needed righteous noise, and they provided it in great abundance so that all could be well.
Nearly half a century after the Fab Four first came together, the story of the Beatles has passed into something like mythology, a hero cycle for moderns, legendary history from the distant days before the iPod.
Bob Spitz’s vast biography of the band, called, simply enough, “The Beatles,” has its worshipful moments as befits a story with its world-changing moments and larger-than-life players. It also ventures into iconoclasm at times, so much so that some of the faithful in blogland may be calling for his head. George not a saint? Paul an egomaniac? John a junkie? Is this guy a Blue Meanie or what?
At its best moments — and there are many good ones — Spitz’s book focuses on moments that everyone of a certain age can remember and adds depth and detail to them, reminding us that pivotal events often are born of accident. The band, for instance, had good reason to be tired of touring when they quit the road in summer 1966. The official explanation that they did so to concentrate on mastering studio recording doesn’t acknowledge their close brushes with death at the hands of deranged fans and detractors, malfunctioning aircraft and Imelda Marcos’ soldiers, all of which Spitz covers in detail.
Everyone knows, too, that the Beatles were rebels who changed the world; Spitz lends a few particulars to the trope, noting that, for another instance, the pre-Fab Quarrymen braved howling mobs of traditional jazz fans when they dared play rock ‘n’ roll at the Cavern — a place now enshrined in their tale but up until then hostile to anything that smacked of a rock-steady beat.
Everyone might not know what Spitz reveals: that the band was on the verge of breaking up many times before the foursome finally got around to doing so, the result of titanic power struggles that make the whole Beatles enterprise all that much less innocent.
Spitz, a veteran of the business side of entertainment, has a learned appreciation for matters of the bottom line. The Beatles’ arrival in New York in 1964 has come to be seen as a triumph of transnational culture, of the moptops’ conquering a needful America; it puts the moment in a somewhat different perspective to know that the 707 crossing the water was full of merchandisers who “had booked seats on Flight 101 in order to corner the Beatles with far-fetched pitches” and to ink exclusive deals to manufacture more junk — lunchboxes, bobblehead dolls, fright wigs — to cash in on Beatlemania. John Lennon, Spitz writes, may have been the worst of the four in handling money — the working-class hero spent it without regard for consequence — but he also was quick to sign off on such income-producing embarrassments.
“The Beatles” has a few puzzling moments, mostly when Spitz crosses from commerce into criticism. How, one might wonder, is “Baby’s in Black” a “pretentious, image laden-song?” (“Eleanor Rigby,” maybe, but . . .) Were the band’s pre-1965 compositions characterized by “standard progressions, rheumy lyrics, and simplistic arrangements?” Does it really serve no purpose “trying to dissect the songs to determine who contributed what?” (If so, what will legions of Beatleologists do with their free time?) And why pick on Yoko Ono, anyway?
Readers wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place might be better served by first looking into Hunter Davies’ there-at-the-time biography “The Beatles” and Mark Hertsgaard’s “A Day in the Life,” which focuses on what really matters — namely, the music. But for collectors, completists, latter-day Beatlemaniacs and students of recent cultural history, Spitz’s book — though debatable at points — is a welcome arrival.
Fab Four uncovered in hefty tome