One Two Three Four: The Beatles In Time by Craig Brown

1966.  The Beatles return from the US, having played what will be their “last proper concert,” Candlestick Park, San Francisco, August 29.  They have some time off.

For the first time in years, the four of them were able to take a break from being Beatles.  With three months free, they could do what they liked.  Ringo chose to relax at home with his wife and new baby.  John went to Europe to play Private Gripweed in Richard Lester’s film How I Won The War.  George flew to Bombay to study yoga and to be taught to play the sitar by Ravi Shankar.  This left Paul to his own devices.

For a while he hangs out in London, where he’s surely the most famous person.  It gets a tiresome, really.  Paul gets the idea of going incognito.  He arranges a fake mustache, and fake glasses, and slicks his hair back with Vasoline.  He has an Aston Martin DB6 shipped to France, and across the Channel he goes.  He drives around France for a bit, relaxing in Paris, sitting in cafes unrecognized.  From his hotel window he shoots experimental film of cars passing a gendarme.  On he goes.

Upon reaching Bordeaux, he felt a hankering for the night life.  Still in disguise, he turned up at a local discothèque, but was refused entry.  “I looked like old jerko. ‘No, no monsieur, non’ – you schmuck, we can’t let you in.” So he went back to his hotel and took off his scruffy overcoat, his moustache and his glasses.  Then he returned to the disco where he was welcomed with open arms.

I absolutely hoovered up this book.  I’ve read a bunch of Beatles books in the last few years: Rob Sheffield’s Dreaming The Beatles, the gossipy The Love You Make by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines, You Never Give Me Your Money by Peter Doggett, about the Beatles post Beatles.  This last one may have been the most compelling, even though much of it is patient unraveling of complex business and tax situations (plus anecdotes about decadence.)  A tragedy about the years the Beatles spent suing each other.  Maybe because how a person handles that kind of stress – the stress of tedious meetings – is more revealing, the personalities really came to life.

You’d think I’d be bored of the Beatles.  The facts of the history don’t even interest me that much, and I doubt there’s a Beatles song on my top 100 most played.  I’m not that much of a Beatles fan, to be honest, not compared to the psychos.  (A funny bit in this book is Craig Brown, saying he’s spent a few years in deep on Beatles books and lore, acknowledging he’s barely scratched the surface of like, people who know every version of the lineup of the Quarrymen.)

We don’t need a recounting of the basic beats of the plot of the Beatles.  We know.

Craig Brown goes so far beyond that.  He assumes you know the rough outlines, and somehow he breathes new life into these old bones.  He makes moments pop.  Specimens of time, how far can we go to recapturing them?  That’s the real question of this book.

Brown will take an incident – the day Bob Dylan turned the Beatles on to marijuana, for instance – and turn it over from every angle, consider every account.  How do we know what we know?  Who’s telling us?  What was their agenda?  How much can they be trusted? The historigraphy, you might say.  At the same time, he puts us right there as Brian Epstein looks at himself in the mirror, repeating a single word over and over.

Take Pete Best.  You probably know that story, the original drummer, they replaced him with Ringo.  The cruelty of how that went down, how the Beatles treated him, shocks here in Brown’s retelling.  I didn’t know, for instance, that in 1967 Pete Best tried to kill himself.  Brown takes us thereL

He locks the door, blocks any air gaps, places a pillow on the floor in front of the gas fire, and turns on the gas.  He is fading way when his brother Rory arrives, smells gas, batters the door down and, screaming “Bloody idiot!” saves his life.

If you want to know what happened to the comedians who had to perform in between the Beatles’ sets on Ed Sullivan, this is the book for you.

Can I reprint all of Chapter 30?

Seems like I’m just approximating picking this book up in a bookshop.  What harm in that?

Craig Brown: going on my Role Models and Inspirations board. In a random, unrelated search I learn that he is aunt by marriage to Florence Welch, of Florence + The Machine.  That’s the kind of connection Craig Brown would track down and work over for any possible meaning.  Maybe there’s something there, maybe he’d discard it to the flotsam of chance, who knows.  The point is he’d track it down.

Brown’s 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret is great too, if you’re into The Crown type stuff.

 

 



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