Book Review (!?)- The Beatles: The Biography(?!?!)

Generally speaking, I’m a sucker for band biographies. Oftentimes, reading them opens the door to a world that rivals anything you’d find in the classic movie This Is Spinal Tap (Indeed, I have heard more than once that as a musician or band gains experience with their chosen career, “…Spinal Tap” becomes less and less funny as it becomes more and more real [Think of it as the musician’s equivalent of Dilbert]).

So it was that a month or two ago, I picked up the deadly weapon…err, sorry, book, The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t call it a deadly weapon because of its writing by any means, but rather due to its sheer size–the book is huge, with roughly 850 pages of narrative, another one hundred or so of cites, a U.S. discography, etc. and, oh yeah, some pictures thrown in there for good measure.

The book spends a good hundred to two hundred pages discussing the Fab Four’s early, pre-Beatles lives, focusing in particular on John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Reading about the early days is fun enough–the glorified strip clubs, the dropping out of art school, the unsafe-as-all-get-out stage that, unable to take it anymore, the boys actually deliberately smashed, hoping to force the club owner’s hand into repairing it (It didn’t work–the owner patched it together in the most piecemeal way possible, making it even less safe than it had been prior to the temper tantrum)–but the book really picks up after the Beatles start to hit it big.

Now, understand this. I was born in 1983–in other words, the Beatles had been officially broken up for over 13 years by the time I was born (And reading the book, it’s clear that the band was unofficially “broken up” about six months before the news hit the press, making it closer to 14 years). As such, while I knew the general history of the band–from lovable moptops to the Sargent Pepper’s period and beyond–I (And I suspect a lot of others my age) knew nothing of the behind the scenes stuff that went on during those six-to-seven years. Just a brief list of the highlights:

  • Beatlemania was a very accurate term–indeed, it may have been an understatement. Part of the Beatles’ ultimate disillusionment with playing live was that they could never hear themselves–they were consistently drowned out by throngs of screaming teenage girls.
  • John Lennon, on more than one occasion, would throw up the Nazi salute to shrieking throngs in a foreign country–who would roar their approval.
  • The Beatles unintentionally snubbing Imelda Marcos, then-First Lady of the Philippines, and almost getting themselves killed in the process (More correctly, their management unintentionally-intentionally snubbed her–the Beatles themselves had never even been told of the obligation until it was too late).
  • The drugs, which coincided with–and let’s be honest, probably contributed to–their groundbreaking late-period material
  • The various subsets of their Apple Industries, where the Beatles, Paul in particular, were seemingly determined to hemorrhage money as quickly as they could
  • Yoko Ono’s emergence. Some blame her even today for the Beatles’ breakup; reading the book, my own estimation is that while she accelerated the process, the breakup itself was probably inevitable–John and Paul simply had egos too big to continue to coexist in the same band indefinitely (John’s drug-addled state didn’t help matters).

In short, the book was utterly captivating. I highly recommend it to even the casual Beatles fan despite–indeed, even because of–its length.

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