Love Me Do! The Beatles Progress. Michael Braun, copyright 1964
I’ve read so many good things about Braun’s book (Mark Lewisohn remarked that it might well be the best book written about the Beatles, in his glowing forward to the 1995 edition) that I was delighted to download a copy of it on my Kindle and have a read.
Based on Braun’s travels with the Beatles in late 1963 and early 1964, the book’s bonefides rest on its authentic portrayal of the band as real people rather than one-dimensional caricatures. While its revelations are hardly earth-shattering today (swearing, drinking, opinionated pop stars from broken homes–who knew), it was ahead of its time in comparison with other works of the era.
John’s upbringing, in particular, was a major bugaboo for early Beatle biography, and Braun’s willingness to present it, relatively unvarnished, distinguished Love Me Do from other works, such as Billy Shepherd’s The True Story Of The Beatles, which was released around the same time. Shepherd’s account of John’s upbringing–John lived with his mother and two sisters until his mother was tragically killed when he was 14–was standard fare, and a tale which simultaneously misrepresented Mimi’s parentage, lopped a whole 3 years off John’s age at the time of his mother’s death, and avoided any mention of John’s father altogether. Compare this to Braun, who writes
[John] was brought up by an aunt after his mother died and hadn’t heard from his father until the paper received a letter from someone who claimed to know him.
‘I don’t want to think about it,’ says John. ‘I don’t feel as if I owe him anything. He never helped me. I got here by myself, and this is the longest I’ve ever done anything, except being at school, and that was false.”
My one criticism of the book is that I anticipated that it would provide, to quote Lewisohn, “an unparallelled view into the Beatles’ personalities” vis a vis more passages like this one. However, Braun didn’t provide as much observational material as I think he could have, given his unfettered access to the band over a three-month period. Moreover, his observational accounts are often threaded within third person reportage, so it’s sometimes not clear whether Braun is writing about what he witnessed, or whether he’s conveying an account of the event after the fact.
Nevertheless, Braun’s observational accounts, as brief as they are, do make for an interested read. In a hotel room exchange between Braun, Paul, John, and Ringo (George is either silent or absent), Paul presents as the Beatles’ de facto PR man and friendly dogsbody. Ringo is unpretentious and unassuming. But it is John–articulate and iconoclastic–who makes an impression.
“I would have enjoyed the money,” said John [responding to Paul about whether it would be good to have a famous father.] “Never mind the fame. I think it’s a working-class fallacy that you have to fight your way up. I think there must be people who have enjoyed a happy and fruitful life without having to fight for it. People who are made great are only made great by the people of the class they leave. “
Lewisohn noted that the New Musical Express called Love Me Do, The Beatles’ Progress an “image killer”–which may explain why the book wasn’t even mentioned in the Beatles’ monthly fan magazine. The book did not follow the conventional narrative of how pop stars should act, especially the Beatles, who were England’s darlings. Presenting them differently–as they actually were–was apparently a bridge too far in the eyes of fans and the main stream musical press.
For this reason, I think, Love Me Do, The Beatles’ Progress, earns its street cred as a note-worthy work, and is still considered a top-rated biography by fans and by writers like Marc Lewisohn.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.