Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Great Rock and Roll Soap Opera

Is there really a need for another Beatles book? I must have read at least a dozen books that claim to tell the full story and that includes the Beatles own telling, The Anthology, so I wouldn't have thought so. However if there is one Beatles book that deserves to be called definitive then it is this one. At 800 plus pages it goes into incredible detail and the author, Mark Lewisohn's research is astounding. And this is only the first part of a trilogy of books and covers the story from Beatles pre-history right up to the release of their first album, Please Please Me.

The book often borders on the obsessive in its quest to leave no detail unturned and Paul McCartney takes a few knocks - Stuart Sutcliffe claiming, in a letter written in Hamburg that the rest of the band hate him - also almost getting the shit kicked out of him when he goaded the usually mild mannered Stuart Sutcliffe one too many times. Beatles ex-drummer Pete Best is also revealed as a not very good drummer but that doesn't seem to be the real reason for his ejection from the group right when they were on the cusp of stardom. This seems more to do with his so called mean, moody and magnificent persona and the fact that he wasn't really a team player. That said it is painful reading when the book covers his sacking and the cowardly way the Beatles went about it. Though this is consistent with the way they ejected a former guitarist from the Quarreymen.

This story may have been told before but never have the formative years of the band been covered in so much detail and after reading the book you really do feel a little closer to the band. I've been a Beatle nut myself for a couple decades and felt I knew everything there was to know, but this book opened my eyes several times.

The book also turns what we know, or rather thought we knew, of John Lennon's father on its head. Previously he has been presented as a waster who abandoned both his wife and child. And whilst that may be true the book reveals a story much more complex than that, and that it was Julia, John's mother, who was actually the catalyst in their break up which resulted in John being raised by his Aunt Mimi. And, as expected, the book reveals that she certainly had her hands full with the young John Winston Lennon. Momentous character forming events such as John losing his mother and Paul losing his own are covered with great sensitivity and psychological insight.

There are no new interviews with Paul or Ringo but the author does go to every other source for information and the period of the band's first visit to Hamburg is covered in exquisite detail. I bought the book in both the physical form and the audio version - the audiobook lasts for forty plus hours and I managed to get through it in a week, and so engrossed did I become that I also started reading the physical book alongside the audio reading. This really is an excellent book and it is difficult to think that any other will ever top it.

The author claims that the next volume will follow in four to five years and I for one can't wait.

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