What is the true story about The Beatles’ rise to fame?

“The people who screwed you on your way to rock stardom will screw you on your way down – the people you screwed will try to get even.” – Jay Breeze, “The Rock and Roll Handbook”

Would be Beatles circa 1975

Would be Beatles circa 1975 – author at front right

I mentioned in my last essay that Larry Kane’s book When They Were Boys seemed problematic to me because Kane seemed to lack empathy with The Beatles even though he knew them rather intimately as a young reporter about the same age as the lads when he covered their 1964, ’65, and ’66 tours of America. It seems to me that Kane’s book is a possible example of what one person who commented on my piece thinks of when using the now bowdlerized term “fair and balanced“: in an effort to maintain “journalistic distance” and “objectivity,” reporters put themselves into the position of failing to admit (even embrace) their biases and accept their subjectivity. They thus set themselves up to make false equivalences that render what they mean to be “the accurate truth” neither accurate nor truthful.

That’s part of the problem with When They Were Boys.

Kane’s aim of telling “the true story” is noble, and his research is meticulous and extensive. His interviews/reports of interviews with key players in the Beatles’ history – Brian Epstein, Tony Barrow, Derek Taylor, George Martin – are as good and informative as any ever conducted. His other interviews/reports with/about family and close friends of the Beatles – Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans, members of The Quarrymen, contemporaries of the Beatles in the Liverpool music scene such as Tony Lindsay of The Merseybeats and Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers – range from interesting insight to gossipy innuendo. This makes for fascinating reading – but as for getting the “true story” – such source material is arguable at best.

The Beatles and Me

A commenter also argued that Kane’s book was not meant to be a memoir (implied) but was instead a journalist’s quest for the “accurate truth” (see above for my view of this somewhat nonsensical claim). The commenter also accused this writer of bias – of wanting Kane’s work to be a “fanzine.” Certainly, like much of the world of a certain age, I am a Beatles fan. In fact, I had my own career as a musician and it was fairly successful – and inspired in the main by the Fabs.  That makes me subjective. But having lived the life (on a microscopic scale) that John, Paul, George, and Ringo did, I do feel empathy at their plight. I embrace my subjectivity and accept it as a limitation that affects my reading of Kane’s book, which I assert again is a rich and robust work, an estimation I made in my previous essay.

And my question stands. Kane was a young man of the same age as the Beatles (his birthday falls between those of Paul McCartney and George Harrison). Even as a journalist he connected with the lads as young men of the same age, and in his rare encounters with them in later life, he spoke with them as much as friend as journalist. Likely in his own successful career he has faced (a bit like me, though on a minor rather than microscopic scale) the sorts of pressures and hard decisions concerning former friends and colleagues that the Beatles faced; he clearly would feel some empathy for their plight.

Kane and The Beatles

In his willingness to allow characters like Alan Williams (by interview) and Mona Best (by report) to vent their long held grudges against the Fabs, in the name of “fair and balanced,” he fails. Had he made the effort to elicit a response from Paul or Ringo (at least a more recent one than 1964) the critique would feel more valid. but he faced a journalistic and writing problem – Paul is highly selective about interviews these days and Ringo doesn’t give them at all. We read recent interviews and reports from Williams. Pete Best evidently refused to talk with him (his mother Mona has been dead nearly 30 years). Others like Sam Leach (an early promoter of Beatles shows) don’t seem particularly interested in resurrecting old grudges.

So why give them credence? It’s as if Kane felt pressure of a different kind – pressure to write a book that created buzz. As a fellow writer, I understand that well.

As a fellow Beatles admirer, like Kane, and, like Kane, a searcher for accurate truth, that bugs me.




About Jim Booth

Novelist, college professor, rock musician - are we getting the band back together? Maybe....
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