Revisiting the Demon King: Fred Goodman’s biography of Allen Klein

Beatles historiography needs an impartial, accurate look at Allen Klein. Unfortunately, Fred Goodman’s biography isn’t it.

While browsing the internet for pictures of Allen Klein for an upcoming presentation on the Beatles and historical methods, I stumbled across this page, which offers a brief, methodologically flawed, and highly slanted biography of the infamous Allen Klein:

In “A Day in the Life,” Mark Hertsgaard notes the tendency by Beatles writers to provide only one side a multi-faceted account, thereby omitting known evidence in an effort to reinforce their pre-determined thesis and agenda. Certainly, the above “biography” is guilty of such errors.

Perhaps those writers attempting to redeem Klein’s reputation believe that acknowledging the negative evidence concerning Klein is unnecessary, given his starkly uncomplimentary portrayal in most Beatles works. Regardless, this entry appears to be entirely based on the evidence provided in Fred Goodman’s recent biography Allen Klein: The Man who Bailed out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock and Roll. And, like Goodman’s biography, this internet bio omits crucial evidence, applies double standards, and fails to acknowledge known facts and primary sources, all in an effort to paint a one-sided portrait and redeem Klein’s now-poor reputation.

To balance out that biography, acknowledge these methodological errors, and provoke discussion, here is my review of Goodman’s work, previously posted on HeyDullblog.

Since 1973, when John, George, and Ringo refused to renew Klein’s contract and then sued him, one of the few things most Beatles authorities have been able to agree on is that Klein was the wrong choice to succeed Epstein. Thanks in part to the post-breakup agendas on both sides of Beatles historiography, Klein has become, as Doggett noted, demonized to the point of caricature: “Nobody in the Beatles milieu has received a more damning verdict from historians than Allen Klein.” Many of the obituaries following Klein’s 2011 death reinforced this.

These obituaries prompted the Klein family to open their personal and legal archives to Rolling Stone journalist Fred Goodman, who attempts to provide a more balanced view in the new biography, Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made The Stones, And Transformed Rock and Roll. However, Goodman is only capable of doing this by overcorrecting in the opposite direction: adopting the lazy and errant strategy of omitting known evidence, providing only Klein’s view of disputed events, diminishing Klein’s most significant managerial errors, and failing to ask essential questions.

Goodman makes two major arguments regarding Klein: one as a person, another as a businessman. In his personal life Klein, because of his traumatic childhood, was incapable of letting people go, being left alone and behind: like Lennon, the Beatle with whom he closely bonded, he was irreparably damaged by his upbringing. In business, Klein could be crooked, but no more so than any of his counterparts, and was better than most at ensuring large initial contracts, antagonizing record companies, and fostering viscerally personal, emotional relationships with clients.

However, Goodman’s failure to explore the dynamics of these close, personal relationships is one of the book’s great weaknesses. Particularly shocking is Goodman’s overall lack of interest in Klein’s relationship with the Rolling Stones. The collapse of the Klein/Rolling Stone partnership is described in uninterested, bloodless terms; Goodman seems to believe that,  having attained the Beatles, Klein no longer feared losing the world’s second biggest band — an argument that contradicts his own conclusions regarding Klein’s “all consuming fear of abandonment.” In his Beatles coverage, Klein’s relationship with John is the most in-depth, and Goodman argues that he genuinely admired and loved Lennon. However, while Klein initially saw himself as George’s champion, he eventually viewed George as ungrateful, and his relationship with Ringo receives little attention. The book displays an inexcusable lack of interest and analysis regarding Klein’s relationship with Paul, and neglects to address why Klein, who had spent years desperate to manage the Beatles, immediately adopted such an antagonistic approach towards the Beatle who had written or co-written the band’s most profitable songs. While Goodman acknowledges multiple times that part of Klein’s managerial strategy relied on bullying, (and Glynn John’s recalls witnessing Klein attempting to bully Paul) he never discusses how this tactic, along with Klein’s overt favoritism for John and Yoko, increasingly fueled Paul’s refusal to deal with Epstein’s successor.

In order to support his argument that Klein was not the villain he has been portrayed as, Goodman dismisses the major charges against the man’s reputation, including the Cameo-Parkway stock inflation scandal and, most notably, Nanker-Phelge, which he portrays as a legitimate attempt to establish a tax-shelter, rather than an accountant’s trick to control the Rolling Stones catalog. He maintains that Klein’s insertion into the “My Sweet Lord” lawsuit was an attempt by Klein to woo George back, rather than punish him for leaving. In his coverage of the Beatles trial, Goodman attempts to excuse John, George and Ringo’s signing contracts changing Klein’s commissions without notifying Paul but fails to address the issue’s legality. Klein’s massive failure regarding the “Concert for Bangladesh” — that he didn’t declare a charity before the concert — is shrugged off, despite Klein’s error tying up millions of charitable dollars for over a decade.

Pushing his version requires Goodman to ignore certain facts, such as John and Yoko’s heroin use, which is never mentioned, or his analysis of their first meeting with Klein, where he ingratiated himself by going through the Lennon/McCartney catalog. Goodman anoints Klein’s attributions as accurate, despite Klein’s later revelations that he was the one who, at that meeting, “reminded” John that John had written 70% of “Eleanor Rigby.” He maintains that Paul and George’s November 1970 meeting, where Paul pleaded to be released from the partnership, ended “amicably,” with a good chance they could work out the managerial issue in January, never mentioning George’s final words on the subject  — “You’ll stay on the fucking label. Hare Krishna” — which were far from amicable. After spending chapters emphasizing the intimacy of Klein’s relationship with John, George, and Ringo, Goodman argues that they eventually left him solely because of his failure to reach a proper settlement with the Eastman’s.

Vilifying Klein is too easy: it doesn’t cost a Beatles fan, or writer, anything to do it. However, Goodman’s portrait, while providing some much-needed nuance to a well-worn caricature, overcorrects, omits, excuses, and ultimately stumbles. Despite Goodman’s attempt, Beatles historiography’s best evaluation of Klein is still found in You Never Give Me Your Money: a more comprehensive, accurate portrait will have to wait.

2 thoughts on “Revisiting the Demon King: Fred Goodman’s biography of Allen Klein

  1. Karen Hooper says:

    Wow. Where does one begin (and an interesting side note: if you read Klein’s wikipedia profile, it’s almost word for word from that Goodman link. )

    I wonder why Goodman blatantly ignored the available evidence about Klein’s less than stellar (read: shady) management dealings. Was he just a terrible researcher, or did he have some underlying need to present Klein is a good light? Did he get too close to the family, and lose all objectivity?

    And worse, why is his book cited repeatedly as THE authoritative piece about Klein? It’s Philip Norman and Shout! all over again.


  2. Erin says:

    “Where does one begin (and an interesting side note: if you read Klein’s wikipedia profile, it’s almost word for word from that Goodman link. )”

    Which is a perfect example of why I repeatedly tell my students that I will not accept Wikipedia as a resource.

    I’m not surprised. The Klein family obviously doesn’t appreciate that Klein was caricatured for decades. I do believe that, as I said in my book, Klein has been scapegoated, to a certain extent, by fans who would prefer to blame him for the breakup, because blaming Klein means they don’t have to blame their favorite Beatle.

    “Was he just a terrible researcher, or did he have some underlying need to present Klein is a good light? Did he get too close to the family, and lose all objectivity?”

    There’s an obvious attraction in an author for establishing a new, counter-narrative, and Beatles historiography’s portrayal of Klein has been so negative since 1973 that some reversal was bound to happen. Again, Goodman swears that there was no quid pro quo attached to the Klein family opening their archives, but that would be a great deal more convincing if we didn’t know 1. Goodman omitted evidence and 2. What evidence Goodman did omit tends to undermine his preferred, favorable portrayal of Klein. I don’t personally believe Goodman was a bad researcher; I believe his omissions were deliberate, because you would have to be a terrible researcher or interpreter of evidence to display the sort of evidence Goodman does in the way he does.

    For example; you have Goodman’s claim, in the book, that Klein wooed John by going through the Lennon/McCartney catalog and identifying who wrote what; you have Goodman describing that appraisal as accurate, even though we know it’s not, because that’s the meeting where Klein “reminded” John he’d written 70% of “Eleanor Rigby.” That Playboy interview from 1971 where Klein recounts his “reminding” John was included in Goodman’s sources. Pretty much every Beatles source acknowledges “Eleanor Rigby” as Paul’s song, which makes Klein’s identifications as inaccurate, not accurate, as in Goodman’s description. If Goodman read the 1971 Playboy interview with even half of his attention elsewhere, he had to know this. So either his interpretation of sources is blisteringly incompetent — he genuinely missed that, as well as completely overlooking the “You’ll stay on the fucking label” quote, which is in both MYFN and Anthology; in which case he should stop writing biographies — or its deliberate. And I find it difficult to believe that he could display that level of incompetence only in referencing or acknowledging those pieces of evidence that contradicted his preferred thesis, while showing fair competence in researching and relaying the evidence that reinforced his version.

    And his reasoning for why Klein lost at the trial — theatrics over substance — conveniently overlooks 1. Klein was taking excess commission to which he was legally entitled 2. It was illegal for John, George and Ringo to increase Klein’s commissions without notifying Paul, and egregious mismanagement for Klein to allow it. Again, Goodman provides excuses: that they couldn’t contact with Paul to inform him of the change. But that’s a ridiculous excuse for Goodman to use, in that it doesn’t address the legality of the issue, nor does it discuss how obviously abusive it was of Klein to foster and nurture a 3-1 split.

    “And worse, why is his book cited repeatedly as THE authoritative piece about Klein? It’s Philip Norman and Shout! all over again.”

    My best guess is 1. It’s the only major book/bio on Klein, so its the default authoritative piece, even if examinations by other authors, such as Doggett, are far more accurate and credible. (The same reason Shout! was so authoritative; it was either Shout! or the Authorized bib, which was outdated and tainted by its authorized status). 2. I do think that an effort is going to emerge to attempt to “re-balance” the overwhelmingly negative view of Klein, and to view him more impartially. And that, I want to stress, I fully support. Klein’s caricaturization — either as the villain or in book’s such as Goodman’s – ultimately obscures accuracy, and prevents a clearer picture of what really happened in the breakup. Goodman may be the first of a new wave of writers attempting to, if not redeem Klein, to present him with some objectivity — its just a shame that Goodman didn’t even seem to bother to present a balanced account.

    Liked by 1 person

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