When Erin asked me to write a review of her book, The Beatles and the Historians, I welcomed the opportunity. As far as I was concerned, a well-researched, scholarly examination of Beatle biography was long overdue. Also long overdue was the inclusion, at long last, of a woman’s voice; a voice which could add the necessary counterweight to the heavily masculinized treatment of the official Beatle narrative.
The Beatles and The Historians is an historiographical analysis of the Beatle phenomena. Historiography seeks to understand the ‘how’ of history—how historical narratives are constructed, by whom, using which data sources and with what objectives.
Key data sources included for review in The Beatles And The Historians are biographies such as Philip Norman’s Shout!; Hunter Davies’ The Beatles, An Authorized Biography; Jann Wenner’s Lennon Remembers; Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now; Ian McDonald’s Revolution In The Head; and many others. The process of selecting biographical data sources was based on a number of variables, including
how well the books sold, its critical reception both when it was published and decades later, the amount of original research it contained, its role in shaping or diverging from the prevailing narrative, and its imprint on successive works.
Four Beatle Narratives
Out of this exhaustive review of contemporary works, Erin suggests that the Beatle story can be captured within four key narratives:
- The “fab four” narrative, which emerged during the frenzied Beatlemania years and promulgated the band’s squeaky-clean ‘mop top’ image;
- The divisive post-breakup Lennon Remembers narrative;
- The biased Shout! narrative, and finally,
- The emergence of a more balanced orthodoxy via the Lewisohn narrative.
The determination of these narratives as historiographic landmarks makes perfect sense, particularly to those of use who remember the Beatles in their youthful innocence—and also recall, with painful clarity, the scorched earth effect that Lennon Remembers had upon the Beatles’ legacy and how that effect was perpetuated by Philip Norman’s Shout!.
The attention paid to the Lennon Remembers and Shout! narratives is particularly important, since not a single review I’ve ever read over the past 30 years has ever sufficiently challenged their blatant subject/ authorial bias. This is a point of supreme frustration for Beatle fans, who rail against such works due to their unflattering depiction of McCartney, summary dismissal of Harrison and Starr, and uncritical hero-worship of Lennon. As The Beatles And The Historians unpack the methodological flaws of both narratives, it puts into context the necessity of stronger methodology in biographical writing, and lends support to Paul McCartney’s efforts, in recent years, to correct the historical record.
The Lewisohn narrative is a welcome shift away from the Lennon Remembers and Shout! narratives. Starting with The Complete Beatles Recording Session in 1988, the 2013 publication of Lewisohn’s Tune-In, the first of a three-part biography series, marks, in Erin’s view, “the moment when his interpretation was cemented as the prevailing orthodoxy.” The reasons for this shift was threefold:
first, the passage of time, which allowed for a greater measure of historical distance, and more impartial, less emotionally and politically driven evaluation; second, the emergence of new sources and retrospective testimony; and third, McCartney’s sustained campaign to revise….errors in Beatles history.
(Lewisohn’s devotion to fact-checking and source analysis is impressive: he once said in an interview that in order to get a feel for the Liverpool scene of the 50’s, he read every issue of the daily newspaper, the Liverpool Echo, starting from 1955.) His impeccable analyses shore up the findings of other writers like Doug Sulpy, and directly challenge the bias inherent in the Lennon Remembers/Shout! narratives regarding the preeminence of Lennon over McCartney. Erin quotes Lewisohn in this regard:
Lennon—McCartney stood shoulder to shoulder, as equals, connected at every level, their considerable talents harmonized, their personalities unchecked, their goals in focus. They were a union, the sum of their parts, everything was possible.
Erin hypothesizes that future writings about the Beatles will move away from the authorial bias and methodological failings of earlier works and embrace the objective and balanced authorship characteristic of writers like Mark Lewisohn. I certainly hope she’s right. Certainly Philip Norman’s recent perestroika with McCartney may be a harbinger of things to come, and I await Erin’s review of Norman’s latest McCartney biography with much anticipation.
Although it’s a scholarly text designed for academics, I would recommend The Beatles And The Historians to every Beatle fan and rock critic who yearn for an objective examination of the Beatle legend. Perhaps future editions (because we know this book make Erin rich and famous 😉 ) could include the following additions:
- the cultural context of the early 60’s was an important factor in the development of the “fab four” narrative, and (assuming this is not beyond the scope of the work) I think more discussion in this regard would be of value.
- Many texts which include subject-specific information have a resource appendix at the back, so that readers can refresh their understanding of certain concepts. Although The Beatles And The Historians was written as a scholarly text and clearly described its methodology, the book’s reach and prospective audience include non-academics, and these readers may benefit from the inclusion of such an appendix.
It was a pleasure to read and review this book, and I look forward to reader comments.
26 thoughts on “The Beatles and the Historians: Book Review”
I’m halfway through the book and I am really enjoying it. I agree with you that contrary to Erin’s mention that it was designed for academics and students of historical analysis, the book is engaging, well written and endlessly interesting for non academics as well. I’ve read other Beatles related books written in the same vein. This book is no different in writing style than a book by Womack or Frontani, or even Peter Doggett. I cannot put it down. It should be required reading for Beatles scholars and serious fans.
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I found your comparison with Frontani thrilling; thank you. His essay in “The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles” was a revelation for me and provided a necessary balance, considering I had just finished Coleman’s Lennon biography. Out of curiosity; what did you think of Womack?
My impression is that, to this point, those academics that tend to write on the Beatles, such as Wilfrid Mellers or Walter Everett, concentrate on musicological analysis. For those who are musically trained, such works must be fascinating and insightful; for those who are not, entire sections of their analysis are almost incomprehensible. And, with all due respect to the academics who are continuing to examine the Beatles music, I’d like to see more informed analysis of The Beatles psychologies, their sociological impact, their hierarchical structure, their attitude towards and depiction of women, a legal analysis of their trial, etc., and I’d like to see those topics approached by non-journalists.
Cambridge Companion is the next book I plan to read. I’m waiting for my library copy which will be available any day now. That’s another book I would love to see a post on.
I read Long and Winding Roads and Reading the Beatles and I enjoyed both books. I thought they were informative.
I read Everett’s two volumes but I’m sorry to say I never finished the second volume. It’s not the technical musical analysis that I have a problem with….it was his constant editorializing about McCartney, and its Lennon Remembers/Shout Narrative. He couldn’t seem to help himself, throwing in little digs about Paul’s ‘bossiness’ and so called Prima Donna behavior. It annoyed the shit out of me and by the second volume it began to pick up momentum. He gives no examples in the way of proof. He just keeps mentioning it within his reviews of various Paul songs. I stopped reading the second volume when I got to Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. For the former he wrote pages and pages of in depth analysis and rightfully so. It’s one of the most important songs in their entire catalogue and I personally prefer it over Penny Lane. Regardless of my personal preference or anyone else’s though, his analysis of Penny Lane should have been just as in depth and just as long but to my surprise there was maybe a paragraph on Penny Lane. If I remember correctly, it was a fairly perfunctory paragraph at that. Not good. I would like to say just for the record that I prefer John’s Beatles songs over Paul’s….for the most part at least. But that’s merely personal preference and it has no place in any serious analysis of their music. Any book that doesn’t devote equal importance to important songs regardless of who wrote them, is not worth my time. Also perhaps Paul could be bossy, or a prima donna at times, but I really don’t think that is evident in any of his songs. Didn’t John have any personality flaws that may have seeped into some of his songs? Everett doesn’t seem to think so. Plus both volumes were rather boring. The books are dated.
YES! All of this.
“It’s not the technical musical analysis that I have a problem with….it was his constant editorializing about McCartney, and its Lennon Remembers/Shout Narrative.”
I don’t have a problem with his editorializing in itself, but, as you mentioned, in how clearly influenced it was by the “Lennon Remembers” and Shout! versions of Beatles history. Everett cites Shout! both in his bibliography and references it directly, and reiterates many of its interpretations regarding Paul and John’s characters and music multiple times throughout both volumes.
For example, Everett repeats the story — fabricated by Norman — that Paul wanted to boot Stu out of the band in order to get bass. And, as Karen mentioned earlier when she was discussing the failure of Beatles writer to acknowledge the toxic influence of these sources, there’s no admittance, that I can recall, by Everett of the flaws in these sources he utilizes so extensively. One an interview John gave under the influence of bitter anger and heroin, at a time when he was rejecting much of his previous version of history (and which he later distanced himself from); another is a biography that is just as methodologically flawed as Albert Goldman’s work. It’s a classic example of how, while people might dismiss Shout! now, its influence was utterly toxic, because other authors incorporated its biased interpretations into their own work.
Both volumes were written I believe, in the late 80’s so they are quite dated. If Everett never capitulated in any way, acknowledging the new, more balanced Lewisohn narrative, then he has either lost interest in the subject or he’s in love with the idea of ‘Lennon’ and just wants to continue believing dated narratives because they fit his agenda. At least Norman was willing to change his views to some extent in the face of glaring new information. Anyway we have Revolution in the Head which is a much better, more readable book in my opinion. Even Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why was to me, better than the Everett books because although he was ensconced in the Shout/ Lennon Remembers narrative as well, at least his book is more readable.
Your suggestion on doing a post on “The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles” is a good one, Linda; the book offers a lot of newer angles. I really enjoyed its multi-faceted approach, with differing authors approaching the band’s story from different angles. Interestingly, I believe there’s an essay by Everett in “The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles,” — either in that, or another, similar compilation of essays, “Reading the Beatles,” — but I can’t remember if his editorializing was still quite as saturated in the Lennon Remembers/Shout! narratives by that later date. If it’s in there, I’d be very interested to know if you think he’s revised his views any.
I checked my bib, and the publication dates for Everett’s volumes were 1998 and 2000, which is post-MYFN, post-TCBRS, etc. (I can’t recall if those were re-editions, or if those were the first time his work was published. Does anyone else know?) If those were re-issues of works that had been published years earlier, particularly the late 80’s/early 90’s, his reliance on and regurgitation of the Shout! interpretation makes more sense. I do recall that, when he does reference Shout!, it’s the 1981 edition, which is the most egregiously biased edition. I prefer MacDonald over Everett as well; my knowledge of music theory is unimpressive, and I believe MacDonald did a better job of explaining aspects of the songs than Everett did, even if I disagree with a number of MacDonald’s interpretations. (Particularly on WMGGW).
Yes there is an essay by Everett in the Cambridge Companion. I just started the book. I’m only on the first essay but yes I’m also interested to see if he’s changed his reliance on the old narrative. Cambridge came out in 2009.
Wow I’m pretty shocked they are that new. I could have sworn they were much older. I’m sure Everett is extremely knowledgeable but I just didn’t enjoy the books. I don’t think he denigrates McCartney’s talent. He’s clearly impressed with his talent as a musician and his vocal range. I enjoyed the table that graphed their vocal ranges and compared them side by side. I don’t remember Everett necessarily disparaging any of McCartney’s songs per se or comparing them unfairly with Lennon’s. Correct me if I’m wrong on that though, because I might just be mis-remembering. I simply remember him making sarcastic comments here and there throughout the books, about Paul’s motives and personality. If he felt the need to do that then he should have peppered the book with comments about John and George as well. It wasn’t balanced. Or better yet, how about leaving his opinions based on second rate biographies from the 80’s out of the book and stick to the musical analysis instead? And again his analysis of Penny Lane was just too short for such an important song.
MacDonald’s book isn’t perfect but I definitely prefer it over Everett’s. It’s a lot more readable. No I don’t agree with his opinions on some of the songs. I love While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It’s a beautiful song. I also disagree with him on Let it Be. I think it’s one of their best songs ever. The lyrics are great and the melody is lovely. I don’t know why he doesn’t like it.
“I don’t remember Everett necessarily disparaging any of McCartney’s songs per se or comparing them unfairly with Lennon’s. Correct me if I’m wrong on that though, because I might just be mis-remembering. I simply remember him making sarcastic comments here and there throughout the books, about Paul’s motives and personality.”
I don’t recall too much of Everett’s musical analysis, in all honesty. I’m a musical novice, so when authors start using terms I’m unfamiliar with or explaining musical minutiae in complex ways, my comprehension plunges. Plus, I read Everett’s work when I was 3/4 of the way done with researching “The Beatles and the Historians” and my focus was on seeing where he fell in the narrative structure. Reading the introduction — where, I believe, he references Shout! and declares that Paul pursued music because it would make him popular at parties (failing to mention 1. the formative impact Paul’s mother’s death had on his musicianship and 2. Paul’s own admission that he regards writing music as a form of therapy) indicated to me that Everett’s editorializing was overly-influenced by the Shout! narrative, and further references/character interpretations in his work only reinforced my impression.
Oh I hear you. I jumped to Everett’s essay in the Cambridge Companion to see which narrative he was following in 2009, but I ended up only skimming it. The entire piece is extremely technical and hard for someone uneducated in music to understand. It is about the band’s use of rhythm and unorthodox placements of rhythm(???) I honestly don’t even know for sure because the essay was so over my head, it might as well have been written in Hebrew. It’s so musically technical it’s really only for music scholars. There is no mention of the individual Beatles except to name various songs that employ unorthodox rhythms(???) Boring.
No his FATHER TOLD HIM it would make him popular at parties and this was just a passing comment made to him when he was still a child. I’m interested to know what Norman thinks was John’s reason for getting into music. So he could express his stifled artistic genius? And seriously Everett was still referencing Shout! as late as the 90’s and early 2000’s? Okay in all fairness until 2005 there was no biography he could reference and I’m guessing he thought Shout! was a better choice than the Authorised Biography or the Beatles Anthology Book. He might not have seen the Anthology Book yet because it was published at the same time as his volumes, so that leaves the Davies book. The Davies book has been unfairly criticized in favor of Shout! simply because it was authorized and John criticized it in the Wenner interview. However the Davies book is a contemporary, primary source (cmiiw) . The parts of the book that were criticized as being cleaned up and glossed over have absolutely nothing to do with the group and their music. Thinking more about this I can’t fault Everett for still using dated narratives as his theme. He was along with most of us, misinformed. It was late to still be following Norman and Wenner but if Everett has only a casual interest in the Beatles’ lives, personalities, and psychological dynamics then he wouldn’t have been propelled to dig deeper. That’s the problem with those two narratives that I think you’ve mentioned before. The fans who are interested enough to dig deeper will do so….but that leaves a large majority of fans who aren’t curious enough. That is a much larger group and they are the ones who will follow the first narrative they find. Until recently that narrative was either Wenner or Norman. Everett seems to only be interested in the Beatles from a musical academic’s view point.
“I’m interested to know what Norman thinks was John’s reason for getting into music. So he could express his stifled artistic genius?”
The impression I got from both Shout! and the John bio in this regard is that Norman views John as an artist who chosepop music for expression, but could equally have pursued other avenues: writing, poetry, comedy, visual art, etc. Which is also the impression I got from “Tune In,” incidentally. I believe both Lewisohn and Norman agree that John was an artist in search of a medium, who chose to express himself mainly via music; whereas Paul was an artist (at least Norman admits this now) whose primal, instinctive form of expression was always music, his drawings and paintings notwithstanding. For John, it was more of a choice; for Paul, especially following the death of his mother, it was far more reflexive and instinctual.
John chose music because he loved it, because of Elvis, because it allowed him to be the leader of a band of boys in a way the other artistic avenues did not, and, crucially, because, once Paul entered his orbit, Paul was always going to be pushing the band, and John, toward music. Which is why the emergence of primarily non-musical artists such as Stu and Yoko always through the Lennon/McCartney friendship and partnership off-kilter; they represented alternative ways for John to artistically express himself apart from Paul, whose musicality always exceeded Johns — something John was well aware of, and envied. Witness John’s statement to Tony Bramwell: something to the effect of “I love Paul, but he’s such a good musician I could kill him.” And Pete Shotton certainly came away with the same impression as well. Some of John’s Stu and Yoko driven artistic efforts could be viewed as attempts to express himself artistically in a medium where he perceived Paul didn’t have a natural, superior talent.
Wow that is interesting. Makes sense.
Thanks for the info about the Everett books. I’d describe myself as a musical obsessive who can’t read music but understood instinctively before I read Alec Wilder’s American Popular Song that melodies can be diagrammed. I was going to buy the Everett books, but find his dismissal of Penny Lane reason enough to avoid him. I agree with you that SFF is a much more interesting song than PL, but PL is certainly worthy of more analysis than a paragraph allows if only for the key changes.
Speaking of dim musicologists, I found the Mellers book to be excellent until his assessment of The Long One. He wrote something like this: “The boys say the melodies are a jamming together of several unfinished songs, but I for one do not believe them.” That’s a close paraphrase, I know, it may even be verbatim. You tend to remember stunning things precisely.
I realized when I listened to Abbey Road as a kid in 1969 that The Long One, which wasn’t being called that then, was exactly a jamming together of several unfinished songs.
“The boys say the melodies are a jamming together of several unfinished songs, but I for one do not believe them.”
LOL, then what exactly does he believe??? What did those tricky, lying Beatles really do?? Did he offer a theory?? I mean, if not unfinished songs, what exactly are those short snippets of songs all spliced together then? 🤔
What an excellent review, Karen. I think you did a great job explaining the structure and purpose of the book. I’m also pleased you emphasized the need for a scholarly analysis of Beatles biographies and how male-dominated the entire structure of Beatles historiography has been. In fact, there might be a future post in there somewhere: what are the major Beatles works written by women, and how do they differ from those written by their male counterparts?
“The attention paid to the Lennon Remembers and Shout! narratives is particularly important, since not a single review I’ve ever read over the past 30 years has ever sufficiently challenged their blatant subject/ authorial bias.”
The only work I have encountered which adequately identified and challenged the biases of those sources and narratives is “The Beatles Bibliography,” which I hope to review in a few weeks. But “The Beatles Bibliography” is fairly obscure and expensive. (I only managed to read it via inter-library loan). And it’s an academic book; I don’t think its a coincidence that the works that directly challenge and interpret sources like “Shout!” according to certain standards are those written by academics, not journalists.
Let me preface this by assuring that my intention is not to slam journalists, but while you have examples, in Beatles historiography, of a Salewicz or a Carlin dismissing secondary sources as “biased” — both call out Shout!, for example, and we all know about the backlash against Goldman — what they don’t do (in part because it’s not their training) is give readers the standards which demonstrate how and why the secondary source is flawed. Saying Shout! is biased, or Goldman is biased is true, but it skims the surface, and both sides of the Lennon/McCartney split can point to authors and argue that they have been/are biased against the other man due to favoritism. Supplying the standards changes the game because it puts the reader in control.
Your ideas for additional material in future editions (if there are any) are good ones. I would have liked, in particular, to add more of the cultural context to Chapter One, but word count and chapter size were major restrictions to that. In all honesty, Chapter One contained so much Beatles contextualizing and who/what/when explanations I always felt it didn’t contain enough historiography or historical methods.
Out of curiosity, Karen; was there an interview/book/source you wanted or expected to see evaluated in “The Beatles and the Historians” that I didn’t examine? More on John’s “Lost Weekend” era interviews, for example? And were there any historical methods standards that shocked or flummoxed you?
I’m glad you’re satisfied with the review’s condensed version of historiographical methods, Erin–it was something I wanted to get right.
It’s a trade-off, I’m sure.
What I was musing about, when I mentioned the cultural context of the fab four narrative, was the nature of the relationship between the media and celebrity. In the 30’s and 40’s you had all those infamous scandal mags and writers like Heda Hopper dishing dirt on everyone–the more prominent the better. By the early 60’s, the media seemingly did an about-face, and handled celebrities with kid gloves. In other words, the “white-washing” of the Beatles’ image was not solely idiosyncratic, but also reflective of the times in which it occurred. I remember reading a beatle bio by a writer named Billy Davis. When I read it many years later, I was amused by the lengths to which he attempted to obscure John’s family history. The story Davis tells is of a young boy who went to live with his aunt when his mother died. They lowered John’s age to 14 at the time of the tragedy, and didn’t even mention a father, as if John was the product of immaculate conception. Interesting times.
Great question. I really didn’t have a moment where I wondered about a particular work. The only musing I had was with respect to personal memoirs, like Cynthia Lennon’s “John”: how those memoirs “fit”, in terms of historiography. Did they pass muster because they were first-person accounts, or did they not, because much of their data is unverifiable? Much of historiography is weighing the available evidence, and coming up with the best interpretation of the data. I find it to be a very, very similar process to clinical work. You get multiple accounts of an event, some of it not verifiable from any empirical standpoint, and it’s your job to use all available data to come up with a working hypothesis.
As you and I have discussed before, we differ on how we view Lewisohn’s interpretation of the Blackpool incident, re Billy Hall. Two accounts, neither of them empirically verifiable, one of the informants dead and gone. I think where Lewisohn errs is in stating he has the truth, where he only has an opinion.
Ahh, Memoirs. There are so many variables that go into analyzing memoirs that there really is no “one-size fits all” standard to them. Fundamentally, they are primary sources, so they can’t be dismissed. But once you get past that point, you have to start analyzing the source’s credibility overall, their credibility on specific issues, when they were written and the agenda behind their memoirs — see Molotov’s memoirs, written in the sixties, for example — how self-serving they are, how many details they get wrong, how much of what they claim corresponds with what we know; how much can be supported by independent accounts, etc. The list is endless. When I used a memoir as a source in “The Beatles and the Historians,” I tried to find at least one other corresponding source which agreed with the memoir’s claim, or, in the case of George Martin (whom I would love to see examined more thoroughly in Beatles historiography) formally established his credibility as a source.
So much of what Cynthia says is unverifiable, so her specific examples which lack eyewitness collaboration — like her recounting Julian’s devastating comment, after seeing John on T.V. “Dad’s always telling everyone to love each other; how come he doesn’t love me?” isn’t fact. But there is so much corresponding evidence supporting the overall view of John’s treatment regarding Cynthia and Julian: the dismissal, the neglect, the terribly chintzy divorce settlement, his exiling them from the Beatles circle — from people such as lawyers, housekeepers, legal testimony, Julian, May, Paul, Hunter Davies — that the overall view is well supported.
Does Lewisohn declare that Bill Hall’s version is the truth, In “Tune In?” (I loaned my copy out to a friend, and haven’t gotten it back yet). I know he indicates that that’s the version he finds more credible (and, of course, its a blockbuster of a revelation that, if true, makes his book invaluable, so he might prefer it to be true) but I can’t recall if he outright says: “This is the real truth.”
Memoirs are tricky business. They tend to feed into confirmation bias–the reader will believe or reject certain memoirs because it does or doesn’t fit with their pre-conceived notions about the subject.
I remember doing some fact-checking of my own, with Cynthia’s memoir, because some things were not adding up. For example, while she blamed John for her presumed poverty in the 10 years after her divorce, she had remarried–not once, but twice–in that interval, which clearly removes the financial burden (except child support, which she contunued to receive) from the former spouse.
What I recall was the hoopla around Tune-In vis a vis the “shattering of myths” etc, which I think Lewisohn himself promoted. That kind of suggests to me that he believed, and in so many words suggested, he had the TRUTH, rather than just an opinion. Having said that, I cannot recall what he actually wrote, so I hope it’s just an impression.
That’s an excellent point: So much of Beatles historiography — for both readers and fans — is infused with confirmation bias. As you say, some will reject, wholesale, memoirs which don’t favor their favorite Beatle, or don’t support the readers/authors pre-conceived thesis, while others will pick and choose some parts from memoirs which do support their thesis, but ignore other parts. For example, I recall Norman using Pete Shotton’s description of Yoko: “She was the best thing that ever happened to John” — in his John bio. What he doesn’t include is Pete’s overall description of her as egotistical, controlling, superstitious, jealous, and insecure, viewing the other Beatles, and Pete, as threats to her relationship with John.
Was Cynthia perhaps referring to the less-than-generous lump sum payment John gave her upon their divorce as to why she was so broke?
What were your thoughts on the depiction of Klein in “The Beatles and the Historians”? (I’m asking Karen, but I’d be curious to know any other commenters thoughts as well). I consider Klein one of the great unexplored areas of Beatles history, and that one of the first steps to gaining a greater understanding of the impact he had is to stop caricaturizing him, and start asking “why” he did the things he did.
Nope. She was discussing her lifestyle in the years prior to John’s death–the houses they lived in, how she tried to earn a living, etc–all while she was married to two different husbands.
I thought you were fair and even-handed, as always–but truthfully, I don’t have an interest in understanding the man–that interest went out the window when he pulled that stunt with George Harrison during the “My Sweet Lord” lawsuit.
Do you remember the shifting views on Klein over the years, Karen? I didn’t witness them personally, but I loved exploring them retrospectively: seeing the press label Paul’s refusal to accept Klein in 1971 as “irrational” and then, by the time of Anthology, referring to Klein as the “demon king.”
I want to understand Klein because he’s such a crucial ingredient in the breakup. He obviously held a lot of appeal for three out of the four Beatles, in part simply because of his personality: Witness Ringo in Anthology talking about how Klein was a lot of fun. I once had a history professor who argued that a lot of what gets overlooked is how sometimes history unfolds the way it does because of simple things such as clashes of personality.
Personally, and this is my opinion, I see a lot of that personality clash between Paul and Klein, and I think its an unexplored issue that could, in turn, add perspective on the breakup. Regardless of their pre-existing reasons for tensions — Paul’s support for the Eastman’s, Klein’s flattering John and Yoko — every description we get of Klein is of a braggart, confrontational, aggressive, deeply personal, someone who could meet you and, in ten minutes, determine your greatest fear and deepest desire. Part of Klein’s appeal for John and George and Ringo was his larger than life personality; his gangster image, as Ringo said in 1971: “Klein is a hustler, and I wanted someone hustling for me.”
Paul, on the other hand, was raised by Jim McCartney, who emphasized moderation, toleration, and courtesy, and stressed those qualities with both his boys — Mike mentions it in “The Macs” — from their earliest childhood days. Klein’s deeply personal attachment to his clients would not have worked well with Paul, who is pretty well-documented as being the most reserved Beatle. More, Paul does not like being told what to do, yet we have retrospective eyewitness accounts from Glynn Johns, describing Klein attempting to bully Paul into signing a contract, and Paul attempting to defend himself. There’s really no way to interpret Klein other than that, deliberately or unintentionally, he adopted the absolute worst possible approach to dealing with Paul McCartney; in which case, the question becomes “Why?” Personal conflict — a basic clash of personalities — would help explain that.
Interesting questions. My memory of Klein would have been when I was 13, 14 years old at the time of the Beatles’ breakup. What I remember was reading “Apple to the Core”, newspaper articles, and music mags–and none of them, in my recollection, looked favourably upon Klein. (The comment by Alistair Taylor about Klein being “as charming as a broken toilet seat” comes to mind.)
I tend to think that Klein bullied Paul because he managed to secure Ringo, John, George, and Yoko’s confidence with minimal effort, and woefully underestimated Paul’s resolve. Klein figured, perhaps, that as the dominoes fell, the remaining domino would be a piece of cake. Men like Klein tend to react with almost child-like vindictiveness and recalcitrance when they don’t get their own way.
I think Paul saw right through Klein from the get-go. He always had good instincts, and his instincts proved him right on Klein.
“I think Paul saw right through Klein from the get-go. He always had good instincts, and his instincts proved him right on Klein.”
And this is where I personally see Linda’s unspoken influence. Not necessarily in the obvious “I’d prefer you choose my brother and father to that guy” but in her unswerving support of Paul. The bedrock relationships of Paul’s life, with the other Beatles, were crumbling, and while Paul exhibited more autonomy throughout the Beatles years than the others did, he was a part of that collective identity. Inter-group spats aside; they had each other’s back against outside threats.
Once Klein enters the picture, that changes; now you have Paul distrusting almost everyone associated with the Beatles, to the point that even his relationship with Mal Evans dissolves, leaving Mal heartbroken. While there are some issues with Peter Brown’s memoirs, he commented on Linda’s unstinting, unreserved support for Paul, even as he judged Linda for being an unattractive groupie. I believe Paul needed that unreserved support from Linda (just as he had needed the support of the other Beatles, earlier) in order to continue to reject the other’s pushing him to accept Klein; without it, he may have agreed in order to keep the band going. And I believe John may have identified that; there’s the infamous letter to Paul and Linda, which I mention in the book, where John implies that Paul’s marriage, and, by extension, his relationship with the Eastman’s, will be over in two years. There’s an undercurrent in sources from 1971 in particular that seems to argue that if Paul would just chuck Linda out of the picture, the Beatles could reunite: that’s pretty much what Klein says in his 1971 November Playboy interview.
There’s a part in “Anthology” where Ringo is retrospectively discussing the Klein appointment, and says something to the effect of how it involved Paul refusing to join with the other three. Which, of course, is an interesting and somewhat self-serving way to phrase it; it ignores the previous precedent of unanimity that all three violated when they hired Klein and implies that Paul chose to isolate himself, rather than having that position, to an extent, forced upon him. But consider that that is how the other Beatles felt in 1969-1972: Paul, who had never had the best relationship with Brian, was now tetchily arguing with Klein because that was how Paul was with managers; he was arrogantly refusing to listen to the advice of his three closest friends because his ego was just that big, and he was refusing to trust the others — choosing relative newcomers in the Eastman’s, and Linda, over John, George and Ringo. A clash of personalities between Klein and Paul would feed into that view from the other three.
I think Klein bullied Paul because that was his M.O. — even Goodman, whose work is, as we’ve discussed before, woefully pro-Klein — admits that: bullying people who didn’t automatically agree with him or couldn’t be wooed with pretty promises was Klein’s reflexive response. Step one was manipulate, promise and cajole; if that didn’t work, step two was bully. The difference is Paul refused to be bullied by Klein. That, I believe, is why Lewisohn spent so much of “Tune In” emphasizing Paul’s instinctive refusal to being told what to do, and how it was a part of him from earliest childhood. It’s not because he wanted to bash Paul — although it does undermine the ‘cute’ caricature — but because establishing that as a fundamental part of Paul’s personality in Volume I lays the groundwork for Paul’s refusal of Klein in Volume III.
I definitely think Linda was the bulwark against Klein’s aggressions–but Paul is an interesting mix of appeasement and steely resistance. I tend to think he’s not as vulnerable to all the blatant obsequious gestures that Klein used on John. I love that Paul refused to be bullied–he has a lot of inner strength that he really doesn’t get credit for.
“I tend to think he’s not as vulnerable to all the blatant obsequious gestures that Klein used on John.”
I agree; by January 1969, I don’t think anyone would argue against the reality that Paul was more mentally stable, and less vulnerable to flattery, than John was. In addition, Pete Shotton remarks how John was always the sort of person to do something, and then never want to/expect to deal with the result of his decisions. In 1969, John wanted to hand off all of Apple’s financial problems to someone else and say “Here, solve this; but make sure you do it in an anti-establishment way.” John wanted someone else to be the adult. Klein could fill that role as well as ensure that John remained a rebel at the same time.
But here’s what continues to interest me: Flattery was part of Klein’s standard formula, as were extravagant promises: I’ll fund Yoko’s art shows; I’ll get Ringo movie parts, I’ll pay more attention to George than Brian did; I’ll tell John that he wrote 70% of Eleanor Rigby. And that’s true, not just with the Beatles, but with all his clients, from Sam Cooke to the Stones. As I mentioned on an earlier post, that was Klein’s first step to management, and step two was bullying those who didn’t fall in line.
But we have no proof that Klein ever pursued step one with Paul, whether or not Paul would have fallen for it to the same extent the others did. Where are Klein’s promises to get Linda photo exhibits in NY museums, as he got Yoko art exhibits? Where are his gushings over Paul’s work? The most blatantly obsequious behavior directed towards Paul by Klein comes from Paul’s trial testimony, when he declares that Klein told him that Paul came out looking better than John did in the “Let it Be,” film, and indicated that Yoko was the problem, causing tensions in the band. That’s nothing coming from a guy like Klein. Whether because he already viewed Paul as a lost cause due to the Eastman’s, or due to personality clashes, or because he already had three Beatles and therefore figured he didn’t need the fourth, Klein seemingly skipped right over the praise/flattery stage with Paul and went right to the bullying stage.
Ha–That’s so perfect.
An interesting point. Here’s a theory: Men like Klein usually suss up their prey and consider their plan of action going in. If Klein decides, rightly or wrongly, that flattery won’t work with Paul, he defaults to bullying, right out of the gate.