And in the End: Book Review: Peter Brown’s “The Love You Make”

First published in 1983, Beatles assistant Peter Brown’s account of his time in the band’s inner circle, The Love You Make, seeks to establish an authority for itself beyond the traditional constraints of an individual memoir. With co-author Steven Gaines, Brown opts to attempt to provide a larger picture than those supplied by only his own memories and knowledge, offering extensive descriptions of numerous events throughout the band member’s lives which Brown didn’t witness or experience. For example, Brown opens the book with Cynthia Lennon’s account of returning from a short vacation only to discover Yoko Ono, wearing her bathrobe, obviously engaged in an affair with her husband, John, in her own house. This is one of numerous events which were not witnessed by Brown, but which he details in his insider’s story.

This makes Brown’s work, half-memoir and half-not, difficult to categorize. Virtually every other memoir in Beatles historiography tends to toe the implicit line in offering the memoirists’ personal recollections and retrospective eyewitness accounts as the bulk of their material. Memoirs written by Brown’s contemporaries such as Mike McCartney’s The Macs (1981), Pete Shotton’s John Lennon in my Life (1982) or Pete Best’s Beatle! (1984), largely keep their focus concentrated on offering the memoirist’s perspective. Latter memoirs, such as Tony Bramwell’s, Geoff Emerick’s, or George Martin’s, also adhere to this formula, which often offers admittedly subjective but still fascinating fly-on-the-wall primary source material.

In contrast, The Love you Make’s attempts to establish itself as both half-memoir, half-biography requires analysis of both the subjective, primary source material of the memoir and the secondary source material in the biographical sections, and opens it to criticism regarding its lack of methodology. Technically, as a memoir, Brown’s work doesn’t require the same level of citation or sourcing as secondary works. But because of Brown and Gaines’s insistence on turning the book into a quasi-biography, extensively covering areas and topics outside of Brown’s own experiences and observations, their lack of citations and specifically identified sources becomes a major weakness in the book’s work. This error is only enhanced by the rampant errors that pepper the book.

Every Beatles book — even the most revered — presumably has errors of fact and, arguably, of interpretation. But those which provide citations crucially allow the reader to check the sources, identify the origin of the facts or quotations, and discern the accuracy or not of the work. In addition, it is a reality that some errors are significantly more consequential than others. When Brown misinforms the reader that the first name of Linda McCartney’s first husband was Bob, or that John Lennon was the eldest Beatle (the correct answers are Mel and Ringo, respectively) these errors may jar the informed reader out of the narrative, and supply the uninformed reader with inaccurate facts, but they do not fundamentally change his or her view of the band’s story or its members, or its music. However, Brown’s work also contains errors of considerable significance that, if taken at face value, can provide an undiscerning reader with an inaccurate view of crucial events and individuals.

Examples of this include Brown’s vastly simplified version of the decision to stop touring — presented as done after Lennon declared, on the plane after the debacle in the Phillippines, that the Beatles would no longer tour — a version which ignores that the decision was actually made in the midst of the subsequent American tour, and the unanimity required from all four Beatles (the last holdout being McCartney) to enforce it. Heavily borrowing from, presumably, Philip Norman’s 1981 Shout!, which he copies, in this instance, almost word for word, Brown also gives readers a highly inaccurate version of the creation of “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” declaring that Lennon recorded the song almost singlehandedly, with McCartney providing only drums. One of the most striking errors comes in the book’s early pages when Brown, discussing Lennon’s first meeting with McCartney at the Woolton Fete, describes Lennon’s thoughts upon watching McCartney play guitar. Unlike other parts of The Love You Make, when Brown also relays the thoughts of other individuals verbatim based, seemingly, on his own speculation, in this instance Brown has evidence. Indeed, Lennon’s famous quote on first watching McCartney — “He’s as good as me” — is available, verbatim, in The Authorized Biography. This makes Brown’s incorrect version of the quote — “He’s half as good as me” — jarringly inaccurate.

While Brown begins the introduction by emphasizing how numerous crucial sources — including John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Neil Aspinall, among others — all agreed to provide interviews, the failure to cite sources makes it, at times, impossible to determine the source of a claim. Rumor is provided as the basis of claims which could significantly, and even fundamentally, alter a reader’s understanding of the band’s music and its individuals — perhaps the most damaging of these being Brown’s claim that it was widely known that McCartney often dubbed Ringo Starr’s drumming in the studio once all the other Beatles had left; a rumor which prompts Brown to declare, in his next sentence, that Starr simply didn’t have the musical skill necessary to be a Beatle. That Brown himself spent the bulk of his time in the office, and not the studio, is just one reason to question this heavily dismissive treatment of Starr’s drumming. Another would be Brown’s overall portrayal of Starr; the bulk of which is condescending and/or catty: the author’s comment upon Starr’s marriage to Liverpool girlfriend Maureen does not indicate an author given to restraint: they were a perfect couple, the author informs us, because “She was as mousy as he was homely.”

In the 2006 re-edition, which is the one on which this review is based, rock journalist Anthony DeCurtis attempts, in his introduction, to temper the criticism of the more salacious elements of Brown’s book by declaring that The Love You Make demonstrates how pettiness and artistic transcendence are not mutually exclusive — the same musician who penned the song from which the book title is borrowed is roundly criticized by Brown for his considerable ego — and that fans must realize that dichotomy. DeCurtis’s argument is valid — certainly only a complete novice to the band’s historiography would be shocked at the examples Brown provides. What does not help The Love You Make, however, is Brown’s seeming glee in revealing the pettiness, arguments, salacious and shocking moments. In You Never Give Me Your Money, perhaps the bleakest book in all Beatles historiography, journalist Peter Doggett recounted just as many, if not more, such less-admirable moments. However, Doggett recounts these events with impartiality, rather than reveling in them, as Brown does. The reality that Brown, unlike Doggett, worked for and with the Beatles for years and presumably had numerous scores to settle with them is one obvious reason for this difference in tone: where Doggett attempts objectivity, Brown seems determined to extract his pound of flesh from each Beatle. In addition to the sweepingly dismissive portrayal of Starr, Harrison is presented as doggedly ungracious and often embittered; one of our last impressions of him involves his affair with Maureen Starkey. McCartney, reveling in his own genius and fame, is shown as difficult, insufferably egotistical and promiscuous, while Brown’s portrayal of Lennon leaves the reader wondering, at times, how the musician managed to function with any competency, given the psychological, addictive, and emotional demons the author ascribes to him.

Despite these issues, Brown’s work remains essential due almost entirely to his own eyewitness recollections. Had Brown restrained himself to recounting only that material that he observed or knew first-hand, the work’s reputation and credibility would be considerably better (while still acknowledging the subjectivity of Brown’s version). Brown’s comments and observations form the bedrock of much of our understanding of Brian Epstein’s life, struggles, and relationships with the other Beatles. His declaration that heroin may have been the most important factor, if not the one single factor, that broke up the band — a judgement which largely went unheeded over thirty years ago — continues to gain credence. And other authors, including Doggett, continue to use Brown’s recollections of numerous business meetings in their examination of the business and legal disputes — the “funny paper” — that so complicated the band’s breakup. Whether Brown’s diversions into other areas were editorially driven or not is up for debate; regardless, the many sections where Brown attempts to write the book as a semi-biography are also those that display the works greatest weaknesses.

 


 

While Brown’s work is one that I reviewed in “The Beatles and the Historians,” it only received a paragraph or two, due primarily to the constraints of editorial word count. Having revisited the work recently, this led to a more thorough analysis. Thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Controversial Cornerstones: Book Review: Martin King’s “Men, Masculinity and the Beatles”

Measuring the influence that a secondary work — most commonly a biography or a larger history — wields in a historiography is an effort that requires looking at various factors. Obviously, one of the most telling indications of a book’s influence involves its sales. This is a perfectly valid rubric: after all, even the most well-written, revelatory and well-researched book would have little-to-no impact if no one bothered to read it. Certainly, it’s no coincidence that many of the most influential books in the band’s historiography — The Authorized Biography, Shout!, Revolution in the Head, The Beatles Anthology, Tune In — are also among the works that have moved the most copies, and are available in multiple, revised editions.

But attention to sales is only part of the picture. What’s easier to overlook, but just as crucial to the influence wielded by a secondary source, is the ripple effect involved when certain works become widely regarded cornerstones of a historiography. These works are then granted further validity when other secondary authors, both popular and academic, employ them as research tools, basing significant elements of their own interpretation on those provided by the cornerstone works. In this pattern, these other authors who unquestioningly use it become implicitly invested in affirming the cornerstone work; by using it in their own studies, they incidentally buttress its reputation, perpetuate the original work’s findings and spread its influence.

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Half of What I Say: Book Review: Ray Connolly’s Being John Lennon: A Restless Life

A rule of thumb in Roman history involves diligent analysis of the memoirs from one of its greatest, most famous figures: Julius Caesar. It is widely acknowledged among historians that Caesar’s recollections habitually overestimated the strength of his enemy’s numbers, ensuring that his own military victories appeared that much more impressive. For students and historians of Rome, this requires analyzing Caesar’s memoirs – such as The Conquest of Gaul – with an acknowledgement of that habit of self-serving hyperbole. Indeed, Gilbert Garraghan could very well have had Caesar in mind when describing, in A Guide to Historical Method, a habit of exaggeration as an element that historians must acknowledge in those sources that possess it.

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The Brothers McCartney: Book Review: The Macs

One of the criticisms various Beatles fans leveled at Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In is the relative lack of attention paid to the death of Mary McCartney. The event, its emotional aftermath, and the presumed psychological and emotional consequences it had on her widower, Jim, youngest son, Mike, and, oldest son, Paul, receives roughly half of the page coverage devoted to the death of Julia Lennon. For a Beatles historiography which has tended, over the decades, to zero in on John’s trauma while seemingly neglecting that of the band’s other members – Ringo’s childhood health struggles, for example – this lack of equal page time from the band’s preeminent historian on a subject which many fans felt had already been inadequately explored left them disappointed.

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