Five Bizarre Titles on Ye Olde Beatles Bookshelf
Classic Rock Bob in 1999 on a pilgrimage to Abbey Road studios. The black hair is gone, but he can still fit into the shirt.
Hi. My name is Bob, and I am a Beatles fanatic.
This won't come as any surprise to my friends and family, for whom I am a very, very easy mark for a Christmas or birthday gift: "Just get him something Beatles-related." The first 33 rpm LP I ever bought in 1978 was -- I'm pretty sure -- Meet the Beatles. Though it may have also been Shaun Cassidy; hey, I was a big "Hardy Boys" admirer.
For years, I wore a black armband to school on December 8, the day John Lennon was shot. As a young teen, I once wrote Yoko Ono a letter telling her I didn't think she was responsible for breaking up the band. She must have been very, very relieved by this bit of information, as she responded with a real hand-signed Christmas card.
My senior-class project in high school was on the history of the band and included my own music video starring friends for "A Day in the Life." It was shot at least somewhat fortuitously on the day after my car accidentally burst into flames in front of my parents' house, lending a realistic air to the car-crash scene.
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I have been to Beatles conventions. I spent more time studying for a Beatle trivia contest than I did some college courses. And on my two trips to England, I made sure that a Beatles tour, stop at Abbey Road studios, and side trip to Liverpool were non-negotiable stops on the agenda.
I've also collected a lot of stuff about the band over the years. But my favorite thing to look at is probably my dedicated Beatles Bookshelf, with more than 100 titles and counting.
It's not surprising that what I have is only a fraction of the books written about the band in the past five decades, but what is surprising are some of the titles I've found. Here, then are the five most offbeat memoirs into printed Beatleology I have.
The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away By Allan Williams and William Marshall, 1975 Williams was a local Liverpool promoter, clubowner and music gadfly when almost by default he became the Beatles' first managerial figure...because he was an "adult."
When not booking them at his coffeehouse/strip joint, the Jacaranda, he made arrangements for their first trip to play clubs in Hamburg, Germany, which most Beatleologists maintain was crucial to their musical, personal and, well, sexual development.
But the band -- perhaps seeing Williams as more of a provincial force unable to handle their lofty aspirations -- refused to pay him for any work, despite his fronting them quite a bit of money. The more urbane and wealthy Brian Epstein came knocking to take control of their career, and a frustrated Williams let the band go. "Don't touch them with a fucking bargepole," he told Epstein. "They will let you down."
And while the book's title became Williams' unofficial sobriquet the rest of his life, he tells a grittier tale of the pre-collarless-suit group (including Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best) and the Fabs' personalities and proclivities. Now 83, Williams no longer is able to participate in Beatles conventions, but his book is a crucial if sometimes self-serving look at the early days.
Loving John: The Untold Story By May Pang and Henry Edwards, 1983 Imagine May Pang's dilemma in 1973 when she was watching her employers' -- John Lennon and Yoko Ono -- marriage fall apart. But the 22-year-old employee's tale got even weirder when the couple decided on a trial separation, leading Lennon to take off for California, and Ono's directive that Pang accompany him to not only watch him, but become his lover.
The 18 months Lennon and Pang spent in L.A. become known as the famous "Lost Weekend" of Beatles lore, punctuated by drunken binges with celebrity friends, aborted and semi-aborted attempts at recording music, and strange days with Phil Spector. With Ono on the phone constantly checking in.
The book gives one of the most detailed accounts of "The Lost Weekend" by someone who was not only there, but sometimes the only sober one in the room. In the narrative, Pang maintains that she and Lennon formed a real love and he was ready to cut Ono off entirely -- until she felt which way the wind was blowing and ordered him home, which he dutifully did.
Now 63, Pang is reportedly close to Lennon's first family, Cynthia and Julian, and appears at Beatles events. She later published a book of her photos from the period, Instamatic Karma, and reportedly ran into Ono briefly in 2006 at the unveiling of a Lennon tribute sculpture in Iceland.
More Beatle books on the next page.
The Longest Cocktail Party By Richard DiLello, 1972 The revelations in this book about the hopeful aspirations and the fast, swift and messy fall of the Beatles' Apple company have since been told in much more detail in many other books. But when it was first published, the ink on the band's divorce decree was barely dry, and much of the world still saw each member of the band in a do-no-wrong light.
Similar to the expose Elvis: What Happened?, this book by Apple's hired "House Hippie" (who later ascended to PR director) is a wild ride detailing the often chaotic business and personal dealings of the Beatles, their employees and hangers-on from 1968-70.
George offhandedly invites San Francisco Hell's Angels to visit London? Guess what happens when they actually show up. Apple calls for submission tapes of potential talent? The majority of the thousands that pour into the office go unheard. And where did all that money disappear to?
Another book published the same year, Apple to the Core, also detailed the crumbling of the business and the band. But DiLello's account is more akin to The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire than most fly-on-the-wall musical memoirs.
Daddy Come Home: The True Story of John Lennon and His Father By Pauline Lennon, 1990 John Lennon's sometimes bizarre relationship with his birth mother has been the subject of both his songs ("Julia") and a movie (Nowhere Boy). But father Alf Lennon usually gets the short shrift in Beatles histories.
Was a charming but irresponsible ne'er-do-well who abandoned his wife and child for a career on the sea, only to reemerge once his boy started to become famous? Or a man with limited options to care for the lad and unable to battle his wife's incredibly strong-willed family brood?
The answer is a little of both. And this book, written by Alf's second wife -- who married the 55-year-old man post-Beatlemania when she was 20 and bore him John's half-sisters -- has some objectivity issues.
But based on Alf's own writings and unpublished autobiography, it gives voice to a player in Beatles history who is usually never heard, and is the most complete picture of the men's complicated relationship in Alf's final years.
Waiting for the Beatles: An Apple Scruffs Story By Carol Bedford, 1984 Bands today may think they have dedicated fans, but they can't hold a candle to the Apple Scruffs. This was the name given to the teenage and twentysomething girls who would spend hours, days, weeks and even months camped permanently or semi-permanently outside the doors of Apple Studios, hoping for a Beatle encounter.
Some days, they might get a warm greeting, some chat and an autograph. Others, a gruff grunt and back turning. Occasionally, a Beatle would invite them into the studio for some tea, background vocal work or maybe a more intimate encounter. George Harrison even paid tribute to the hardy group in his solo song "Apple Scruffs."
Bedford was an American who found herself in the center of this group, with its own rituals, hierarchy and rules, though she writes of a more, uh, "very special" relationship with Harrison.
Drawing on her own remembrances as well as those of her fellow Scruffs, it's an utterly unique look at the band from the Princesses of the Porch -- their most diehard fans -- during the band's most creative period.
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