The New York Times publishes an excerpt from the new book ‘150 Glimpses of the Beatles,’ by Craig Brown.
In their neat black suits and ties, Brian Epstein and his personal assistant Alistair Taylor make their way down the eighteen steep steps into the sweaty basement on Mathew Street. Brian finds it ‘as black as a deep grave, dank and damp and smelly’. He wishes he hadn’t come. (An excerpt from The New York Times, to read the full article click here)
Both he and Taylor would prefer to be attending a classical concert at the Philharmonic, but curiosity got the better of them. Four young musicians saunter onto the stage. Brian recognises them from the family record shop he manages: they are the ones who lounge around in the booths, listening to the latest discs and chatting to the girls, with absolutely no intention whatsoever of buying a record.
Between songs, the three yobs with guitars start yelling and swearing, turning their backs on the audience and pretending to hit one another. Taylor notices Brian’s eyes widen with amazement. Taylor himself is undergoing one of the most shocking experiences of his life – ‘like someone thumping you’ – and he is pretty sure Brian feels the same.
After the show, Taylor says, ‘They’re just AWFUL.’
‘They ARE awful,’ agrees Brian. ‘But I also think they’re fabulous. Let’s just go and say hello.’
George is the first of the Beatles to spot the man from the record shop approaching.
Other groups had a front man; your favourite was pre-selected for you. No one would ever pick Hank Marvin over Cliff Richard, say, or Mike Smith over Dave Clark.
But with the Beatles there was a choice, so you had to pick a favourite, and the one you picked said a lot about who you were. For their American fan Carolyn See, there was ‘Paul, for those who preferred androgynous beauty; John, for those who prized intellect and wit; George because he possessed that ineffable something we would later recognize as spiritual life; and Ringo, patron saint of fuckups the world over.’
In Liverpool, the twelve-year-old Linda Grant favoured Ringo ‘for reasons that are beyond me’. There was, she recalls, ‘a real goody-two-shoes at school who liked Paul. George seemed a bit nothing. John seemed off-limits, too intimidating.’
Ringo was the Beatle for girls who lacked ambition. Picking him as your favourite suggested a touch of realism. It went without saying that the others were already taken, but you might just stand an outside chance with the drummer. ‘If someone asked who my favorite was I always said,
“Oh, I like Ringo,”’ remembered Fran Lebowitz, who grew up in New Jersey. ‘I liked the personality of Ringo Starr. I still do. He was not, of course, the favorite in my school among the girls. Paul McCartney was far and away the favorite. He was the cute Beatle. So it was probably just a contrarian position to choose Ringo Starr.’
Helen Shapiro was only sixteen but already a major star when the Beatles toured as one of her supporting acts at the start of 1963. Like any other girl, she had her favourite. ‘John was married but nobody knew about it at the time so along with a few thousand other girls I had a crush on him … George was the most serious. He would occasionally talk about what he was going to do when he was rich, and try to pick my brains about the financial side of things. I couldn’t have been a lot of help. I still wasn’t interested in the money. Paul remained the spokesman. Ringo was the quiet one.’
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Pattie Boyd met the four Beatles after being chosen to play one of the schoolgirls in Hard Day’s Night. ‘On first impressions, John seemed more cynical and brash than the others, Ringo the most endearing. Paul was cute, and George, with velvet brown eyes and dark chestnut hair, was the best-looking man I’d ever seen.’ Unlike millions of other fans, Pattie was able to take her choice a stage further. Reader, she married him.
There was a Beatle to suit every taste. As a fan, you expressed yourself by picking one over the others. Each personified a different element: John fire, Paul water, George air, Ringo earth. Even their friends liked to paint them in primary colours, with sharply contrasting characters, like one of those jokes about the Englishman, the Welshman, the Irishman and the Scotsman. Carolyn See noted how, in A Hard Day’s Night, they enacted their given personas: ‘winsome Paul, witty John, thoughtful George, goofy Ringo’.
The actor Victor Spinetti once told this story about them. While filming Help! in Salzburg, he caught ’flu and was confined to bed. ‘The Beatles came to my hotel room to visit. The first to arrive was George Harrison. He knocked, came in and said, “I’ve come to plump your pillows.
Whenever anyone’s ill in bed they have to have their pillows plumped.” He then plumped my pillows and left. John Lennon came in next and marched up and down barking “Sieg heil, Schweinhund! The doctors are here. They’re coming to experiment upon you. Sieg heil! Heil Hitler!” And he left. Ringo then came in, sat down by the bed, picked up the hotel menu and read out loud, as if to a child, “Once upon a time there were three bears. Mummy bear, Daddy bear and Baby bear.” And then he left. Paul opened the door an inch, asked, “Is it catching?” “Yes,” I said, on which he shut the door and I never saw him again.’ Paul was being the pragmatist, as usual. He knew that if he or the others had caught ’flu, there’d be no filming.
Working alongside Brian Epstein, Alistair Taylor observed the different ways the Beatles dealt with their earnings. ‘Every month, Brian would issue each of the boys with their financial statements, all neatly and accurately itemised, and sealed in a white manila envelope. They reacted very different. John would instantly crumple it up and stuff it in his pocket. George might have a look. Ringo certainly couldn’t understand it and didn’t waste any time trying. Paul was the one who opened it carefully and would sit in the corner of the office for hours going meticulously through it.’
Paul once tried to explain how the two of them had become what they were. ‘John, because of his upbringing and his unstable family life, had to be hard, witty, always ready for the cover-up, ready for the riposte, ready with the sharp little witticism. Whereas with my rather comfortable upbringing, a lot of family, a lot of people, very northern, “Cup of tea, love?”, my surface grew to be easy-going. Put people at their ease. Chat to people, be nice, it’s nice to be nice … Mentally, no one could say much to hurt me, whereas with John: his dad wasn’t home, so it was “Where’s yer dad, you bastard?” And his mother lived with somebody and that was called “living in sin” in those days, so there was another cheap shot against him. John had a lot to guard against, and it formed his personality; he was a very guarded person … He had massive hang-ups from his upbringing.’.
Looking back, Paul struggled to recall a fruitless afternoon. ‘We never had a dry session … In all the years, we never walked away from a session saying, “Fuck it, we can’t write one.”’