Monday, April 20, 2015

Beatles and Stones

Thought I'd post two of my recent Amazon book reviews, one on the Beatles, the other on the Rolling Stones.  For what it's worth,

5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book on The BeatlesMarch 27, 2015
They say that you can't tell a book by its cover. But the photograph on the cover of "Beatle! The Pete Best Story," speaks volumes. The photo, taken circa 1962, shows John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison sporting early versions of the famous Beatle haircuts that would help usher in "The Sixties." Meanwhile, the hairstyle of their drummer at the time, Pete Best, the most handsome of the four, has an iconic Fifties look. In short, Pete just didn't fit in.

Flashback: November 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy is gunned down in triangulated gunfire in Dallas Texas. The TV networks cancel their regularly scheduled programming to cover the assassination. Two days into that coverage, JFK's accused "lone-nut assassin," Lee Harvey Oswald--later shown (for anyone truly paying attention) to be a patsy for the coup d'etat that eliminated JFK and launched the Vietnam War--is shot dead by Jack Ruby on live TV while Oswald is in police custody. Numerous replays follow. The country goes into shock.

About two months later, in January 1964, the Beatles exploded onto the American music scene and began to change the world. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" zoomed to Number 1 on the Billboard charts, and held that position for seven weeks. In February of 1964, the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show and their popularity in the U.S.A. soared beyond anyone's expectations. They seemed to be just what was needed--a breath of fresh air that literally helped lift the country out of a state of dazed mourning and into a positive reality.

Back in 1964, here in America, we knew the Beatles as John, Paul, George and Ringo [Starr]. Initially, there was no knowledge of prior drummer Pete Best, or bassist Stu Sutcliffe. The "Fab Four" seemed so perfect together, and in retrospect, they were. Only later would there emerge mention of Best and Sutcliffe, and the Beatles' early exploits in Hamburg, Germany.

In his book, Best (with Patrick Doncaster), gives us the early Beatle backstory--the inside look into the heart and soul of the Beatles during their formative years. We get to know them as people, not images. It's truly a great read, if you (as I do) prefer fact to fiction. Highly recommended, especially for Beatle fans. Early photographs of the band (and other people, places, and things), interspersed throughout Best's book, help bring this entertaining tale to life.

In the chapter entitled "The Bombshell," Best explains how he was cut from the band in 1962, as Beatlemania was just taking off in England. Beatles manager Brian Epstein broke the news to him, this way: "The boys [John, Paul and George] want you out and Ringo in...They don't think you're a good enough drummer." Best writes that he was shocked as he considered himself as good as, if not better than, Ringo. Other accounts of the Best-era Beatles--one involving a quote from a music insider describing the Beatles as having `a pounding pulsating beat which I knew would be big box office;' plus quotes of producer George Martin saying that he never wanted Best out of the group--support Best's position.

Best states, "A conspiracy had clearly been going on for some time behind my back, but none of the other Beatles could find the courage to tell me. The stab in the back had been left to Brian...Even Ringo had been a party to it, someone else I had considered to be a pal...I had been betrayed." (Until reading Best's book, I had no idea that he and Ringo had been friends, or that Best later successfully sued Ringo for libel over comments Ringo made about Best.) As Best explains, he had been good friends with the rest of the Beatles, not just some hired hand, as has been implied. Thus, Best's allegations of conspiracy and betrayal ring true. His friends and bandmates had turned on him.

As has been reported elsewhere, Best points out that John Lennon later admitted, `We were cowards when we sacked him. We made Brian do it. But if we told Pete to his face, that would have been much nastier...It would probably have ended in a fight.' To which Best replies, "What would have been so terrible about that?"

Indeed, the early Beatles were no strangers to violence. In fact, during the Hamburg days, Lennon (later to champion "Give Peace a Chance") and Best actually tried to roll a sailor who had befriended them (after McCartney and Harrison had wisely backed off), according to Best. Long story short, the sailor won, and that was the end of it, except for the grueling fears Lennon and Best held that the sailor would one day return with reinforcements.

This was clearly not the sanitized version of the Beatles adroitly packaged by Brian Epstein. Indeed, Best's account of the group's Hamburg days portrays the Beatles as being often wild and out of control. Orgies were common in the Beatles' uninhabitable living quarters, not only with female fans but also with the local prostitutes who, after working hours, would pursue the boys in the band. The Beatles' bizarre antics on stage included masturbatory pantomimes, mooning the audience, and mock and real (Sutcliffe vs. McCartney) fist fights. Their conduct off stage was even worse: they incited a riot, and one Beatle (guess who) urinated from a balcony onto nuns who were passing by.

It was news to me that Best's mother Mona (aka, "Mo") had opened a night club ("The Casbah") in the cellar of her Liverpool home where the Beatles and many other local stars performed the new emerging brand of music.

Interesting to read how Best actually became the original "fifth Beatle" when the band needed a drummer to be with them on their trip to Hamburg. (Stu Sutcliffe was the bass player at the time.) Best's description of the loving relationship between Astrid Kirchherr (who "gave" the Beatles their mop-tops) and Sutcliffe, is quite endearing.

At one point, Best describes how he and McCartney were together arrested for arson and deported from Hamburg. All in all, stories like this demonstrate that Best was not just some drummer the lads picked up until they could find a replacement (as has been propagandized), but one of the boys in the band, a friend, whom John, Paul, and George simply discarded in ruthless fashion.

Other points of interest (fully detailed in the book) include: how Best was the acting manager of the Beatles before Epstein came along; the Beatles' complaining of Sutcliffe's bass playing but (apparently) never complaining of Best's drumming (to his face, at least); the Beatles recording and other adventures with Tony Sheridan; the emergence of Beatle boots; and how Best was the most popular Beatle in Liverpool among the girls, as acknowledged indirectly by McCartney's father, and also supported by the photo on the book's cover, with Best upstaging the others looks-wise.

So sad to read that when Best was trying to make it with his own band after being unceremoniously discarded that "The Beatles contributed to [Best's band's] destruction with their readily-printed gossip that I had never really been a Beatle, that I didn't smile, that I was unsociable, and definitely not a good mixer." I have always loved the Beatles, but love them less after reading Best's book.

Years ago, when I became aware of the Pete Best saga, I wondered how he managed to go on after being deprived of such unimaginable fame and fortune. He writes, "In the depths of depression I decided to take my life, a secret I have kept closely until now," i.e., until the publication of his book. Read about Best's attempted suicide, how he was saved, and later came to write the best book on the Beatles I have ever read.

4.0 out of 5 stars The Rehabilitation of Brian JonesFebruary 7, 2015
I was thoroughly enjoying this book until the author started using the pejorative "conspiracy theory" to describe the accounts of those who say that Brian Jones was murdered -- after the author had set up the discussion with mention of 'JFK-like conspiracy theories,' as if the absurd official story of President John F Kennedy's assassination were true. Given his apparently mainstream-news induced perspective, Trynka's credibility suffered when it came to his analysis of the Brian Jones murder allegations. Indeed, it seems that the author delved into that analysis with an all-but-closed mind. (Still, Trynka's tackling of the issue was most welcome.)

In contrast, the author's perspective of Brian Jones as a highly charismatic musician who could upstage Jagger and Richards is totally in sync with my own view. I will never forget a 1965 Stones concert I attended at the old 14th Street Academy of Music in NYC. There was a magic about Brian on stage that you could sense from the audience, and by just standing there and playing guitar, Brian most certainly did outshine both Jagger and Richards.

Trynka's portrayal of the unholy Oldham-Jagger-Richards triumvirate ganging up on the frail Brian (who, tragically, was too weak to fight back) also rings true because these three back-stabbing mega-creeps are still ragging on the founder of the Stones to this day, some 45+ years after his death. How low can you go? Recently, I heard Oldham on his Sirius radio show "favorably" describe the late Keith Relf--the Yardbird lead singer who was electrocuted while playing guitar--as "a grounded Brian Jones." After that most tasteless putdown of Brian, I can no longer tolerate listening to Oldham's show.

Wonderful to have Trynka set the record straight about Brian's song writing ability and contributions to the Stones' music, but disturbing to read how Jagger and Richards were relentless in their abuse, spiteful dismissal, and ultimate abandonment of Brian. Sadly, having gotten to see Jagger and Richards in this light has dulled my appreciation of their music. I couldn't even watch an early Stones Youtube clip that a friend sent me the other day--the sight of Jagger mugging for the camera during "Satisfaction" made me sick. But if that's the price I have to pay for witnessing the rehabilitation of Brian Jones, I'll take it. Thank you, Paul Trynka.