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.
20 thoughts on “Book Review: Michael Braun’s Love Me Do”
Good review, Karen.
The comparison with Shepherd’s “The True Story of the Beatles” is a necessary one; the contrast between the two books is a great example of how two works, written contemporaneously, can present considerably differently views/versions of people and individuals. Shepherd’s book is largely ignored, nowadays, whereas Braun’s continues to gain acclaim.
Having said that (and overall, I think Braun’s book is very good) readers (And I don’t mean you specifically, but everyone) need to remember its the Beatles in a very short, almost cataclysmic, period of time. To use Braun’s book as the source arguing “This is how the Beatles always felt about such and such, esp. touring” is presumptuous. We have evidence to indicate that John and George, in particular, soured extensively on touring the longer it continued. But, because Braun’s book is dealing with the early Beatlemania period, they hadn’t reached that point yet.
I also like how almost blasé Braun is about the band’s music; he basically says their stuff is enjoyable, and that’s about as gushing as he gets. It’s interesting to read that now, given the pinnacle the band currently holds.
For me, the most striking portrayal from Braun is of Brian. Of course, its impossible for me to read the book not knowing Brian’s eventual fate, and I don’t want to look at Braun’s portrayal and marshal evidence to an already determined thesis, but his expressions of stress and exhaustion — “The Beatles. Always the Beatles. I cried last night.” — that early on in the phenomenon, are striking.
A fun fact about Shepherd’s book: it was the first beatle bio I purchased, at the ripe old age of 8. I still remember seeing it on the paperback stand at the local variety store. I had it well into my 40’s–but by then, the covers were missing, pages were torn, and the spine was toast. I threw it away, but I kind of wish I kept it though. I remember snippets of certain passages, like referring to Cynthia Lennon as “blond, shapely Cynthia” (shudder) and saying this about Julia’s death: “John talks little about this nowadays, for those probing questions which hurt so badly.” Funny that those two passages stood out for me as an 8 year old.
Of course. Have people (fans, writers, etc) used the book as a source in that manner? That would seem foolhardy.
It’s hard to describe just how dismissive everyone was (except the fans, of course) of the Beatles and their music back in the day. Hardly anyone took their music seriously during this early period of Beatlemania. I remember that well. Braun’s view was not inconsistent with most. And it’s also hard to describe just how “out there” Braun’s book was. I couldn’t even imagine reading a beatle bio where the Beatles said “f*ck”, downed scotch like water, etc. I’m even kind of surprised it got published, in a way.
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I probably won’t be reading this unless I can find it in a library. The price for the kindle version is a little high for me considering it’s only 125 pages. However from the excerpts you have provided, John practically jumps off the page. He comes across as a bright, thoughtful young man. I hope the other three come across as well because I think all four of them were bright and thoughtful but perhaps Paul in particular, was afraid to let down his guard. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems Paul at that time was under the false impression that he had to present a Cliff Richard image because he was terrified of losing what they had worked so hard to acquire. On the other hand is this book the one that has Paul’s agnostic, very anti religion comments? If so, then that’s hardly anyone’s idea of a defacto p.r. man lol. Maybe this time period is before that. But I do agree Erin that using this book, or any book, as an example of how any one of the Beatles felt about anything and assuming their opinions were all encompassing, is presumptuous.
Linda, It was 8 bucks on amazon, but I’ve seen the cost (esp for the paperback) go much higher.
All of the Beatles were fairly quick to opine on most subjects, when asked. While the Beatles, particularly Paul, kept on eye on their public image, none of them did so to such a degree that they sanitized their world views. I don’t recall any anti-religion comments in the book from any of the Beatles, but if I missed it Erin might recall.
I describe Paul in terms of a public relations persona because while John sat and drank, Ringo offered the odd word (and George, if he was present, said nothing), one gets the clear impression that Paul was playing host to Braun—as you would when a guest is visiting. The other Beatles wouldn’t have cared less if Braun sat there and stared at his hands all night, but that’s something Paul wouldn’t let happen. I recall reading an interview in which Paul lamented the notion that people thought he was a “keeny” (I think the contemporary vernacular is “butt-kisser”). He said he tried to resist it and be more indifferent to people, but it felt more unnatural to change his behaviour so he reconciled himself to it and if he was a “keeny”, so be it.
“I don’t recall any anti-religion comments in the book from any of the Beatles, but if I missed it Erin might recall.”
There’s a scene Braun witnessed where Paul is arguing with a Catholic priest, accusing the Church of hypocrisy regarding the Church’s wealth in regards to its relationship to the poor. (Made all the more compelling, of course, given Paul’s baptized Catholicism and his mother’s evident devotion to the faith). That’s the only religious-related scene that immediately springs to mind; I can’t recall if there’s a more general agnostic tone to Paul’s comments.
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“don’t recall any anti-relgion comments in the book from any of the Beatles, but if I missed it Erin might recall.”
I wish I could remember which book that was in. I recall Derek Taylor being around when Paul said it.
“describe Paul in terms of a public relations persona because”
Oh I thought it was Braun who described him that way and you were paraphrasing his words. This is so interesting to me, the way Paul has been described over the years in contrast to John especially, but also George and Ringo. As far as Paul being called a keeny or butt kisser, p.r. guy or whatever….it’s really interesting to me that authors etc have described his behavior that way. In my humble opinion it always seemed more natural to at least try to be friendly and polite to people. It seems more like normal social behavior than anything else. To me it seems John and George in particular had this peculiar attitude, where it was no problem for them at all to ignore people who they didn’t think were like them and weren’t part of their circle. Paul on the other hand couldn’t bring himself to ignore people or forget basic manners. I think history has interpreted it as very uncool, very un- rock and roll, while in every other situation it wouldn’t even be noticed. It’s just what people do. Paul was just not a punk. He couldn’t even pretend to be one. Also I think John and George were able to act the way they did because they knew that Paul would always be there to make nice and smooth things over. That was part of the dynamic within the group. I always pick up on that when I read these contemporaneous accounts. It fascinates me.
It must have been exhausting to have no privacy, even when they were off-stage. I read stories about all of them retreating into the hotel bathroom just to get some peace and quiet (which is where I’d be if I were a rock star 😉 ) The constant invasion was, perhaps, less annoying to Paul than it was to John and George, who had different temperaments, but that isn’t to say that Paul was always the friendly go-to guy and that John and George were more often aloof and off-putting.
The description of Paul’s as the PR guy speaks to the manner in which he engaged with the press, I think, rather than the frequency.
“must have been exhausting to have no privacy, even when they were off-stage. I read stories about all of them retreating into the hotel bathroom”
Oh yes it sounds like a nightmarish existence. It’s to all of their credit that none of them ever had a melt down. They really knew how to behave themselves and they had amazing restraint and self control.
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“I probably won’t be reading this unless I can find it in a library.”
Have you considered using Inter-Library Loan? That’s how I got my copy, and it was a very old one; the cover had been re-bound, obviously by the library. (I used to work in a library in college, so I know a library-bound cover when I see one).
Oh yes, inter library loan is the only way I would read the book. Maybe I’m cheap but I think $8 is too high for only 125 pages. If the book was 200 pages or more I might pay $8 but to me a 125 page book shouldn’t be more than a few bucks. It’s half a book. Also I think the contents although extremely interesting and revealing, have been quoted and used extensively in other books so I’m guessing not much of the information will be new to me.
Funny you mention the contents being quoted extensively in other works—boy, have they. The sense of deja vu reading Braun’s book was overwhelming.
I also got this book from Amazon. It was a fun but very, very quick read.
My favorite passage (sorry, I can’t find my copy right now to quote it accurately) was when John reviewed an early draft of the Hard Day’s Night Script. He was reading the “Who’s that little old man?” scene. John complained (paraphrasing) “See, I wouldn’t say all that. I’d just say ‘who’s the crip?'” HA! Such a terrific (probably accidental) metatextual commentary.
Paul does go off a few times (maybe this is indicative that he’s warmed up sufficiently to Braun?). One rant I remember was about middle-aged social climbers who show up at publicity events and are rude to but also want a piece of the Beatles simply due to their fame. Stuff like that, just Paul blowing off steam.
“As far as Paul being called a keeny or butt kisser, p.r. guy or whatever….it’s really interesting to me that authors etc have described his behavior that way.”
Linda, I think Paul rants as much (or more) as anyone else, he just usually holds it together around reporters. I still can’t believe that Playboy interview they did in 1965 (66?) where Paul is on a soapbox about racial attitudes in America didn’t attract more controversy. But I guess the “Bigger Than Jesus” made for a more convenient target. And cemented the stereotype as John as the “deep” Beatle. And god forbid anyone look beyond a pre-existing stereotype!
Along those lines, there is also a moment in the Braun book where Braun tries to engage John in a discussion about some artist (sorry, I can’t recall who) and John admits he doesn’t know or care about contemporary art. He then calls Paul the hipster of the group (“drop a name and Paul will jump” or something like that). I believe John says the same about politics. Again… very striking that before John&Yoko stole the crown in 1968, Paul is always the Beatle most engaged in both social injustice and fine art.
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Interesting that in those days, John was rabidly averse to pursuing cultural interests where Paul, by his own admission, felt driven.
“One rant I remember was about middle-aged social climbers who show up at publicity events and are rude to but also want a piece of the Beatles simply due to their fame. Stuff like that, just Paul blowing off steam.”
Paul was often like this and if I remember in my reading and You Tube viewing, he was like this as much as and maybe even more often than, John. I think historians understate how similar John and Paul were. I’ve probably said this before because it’s so endlessly fascinating to me, but those two were so alike in so many ways that I think whatever mood one was in, the other would take on the opposite mood. But I will say that when it came to manners and relating to people, Paul was very much his father’s son. I mean, this was a kid who was forced to tip his hat to women and girls, who passed him and his father on the street. A lot of that politeness and making strangers feel at ease etc, was so ingrained that it was probably second nature.
“still can’t believe that Playboy interview they did in 1965 ”
The anti racist comments etc were in an edition of the teen magazine called, Datebook. That did appear in 1966, along with John’s comments about Jesus. Yea you’re right…the Jesus comments were more useful to two southern djs who wanted to increase ratings for their radio show. They knew their audience and they knew exactly what would push their buttons, create the most controversy and therefore raise ratings. Paul’s comments that, “America is a lousy country where anyone black is called a n**” would have been met with a great big, ‘Yeah …..so’? Except maybe for the lousy country part lol.
But I’m glad you mentioned the Playboy interview! Wow what an interesting and revealing interview! They really let down their guard for that and I’m thinking it’s because they knew the readers of Playboy were exactly like them. They were part of that demographic so they were able to be completely themselves as if they were with their fellow frat brothers lol. I don’t think Paul went on any anti racist rants but he did make some crude, sexual comments. Actually now that I remember the Playboy interview was conducted in November of 1964. I think from the very beginning they decided to be a very different breed of pop star. They were going to be themselves especially when they knew the parents of the people who bought their records weren’t watching.
“Again… very striking that before John&Yoko stole the crown in 1968, Paul is always the Beatle most engaged in both social injustice and fine art.”
There has been a lot of historical revision since 1970.
Ah! I found the quote!
“I tell [John] that parts of his writing are very much like Ulysses. He says he has never read Joyce and the only influence on his writing that he knows of is Lewis Carroll. ‘I don’t go in for much of those culture things, like Paul,’ he says. ‘Just drop a name and Paul will go; I’d rather stay at home when I’m not working but Paul goes out to Harry Secombe and Lovely War. I suppose I should like those things, but I just don’t.’
Paul then goes off about Fellini and Orson Welles for a bit…
“I suppose I should like those things, but I just don’t.’”
“Paul then goes off about Fellini and Orson Welles for a bit”
It’s telling that the parts and quotes from Braun’s book that don’t fit the popular John/ Paul stereotype don’t seem to be as well known and widely circulated. Interesting.
“I don’t think Paul went on any anti racist rants but he did make some crude, sexual comments.”
Right. I think that’s an interesting duality of Paul, too. While he tips his hat to old ladies, he can also be so very crude. Ironically, I think that reflects his upbringing; John was certainly raised/groomed to speak with more social decorum than Paul was. Maybe this is partially where Paul gets the reputation for being “fake.” He’s a charmer but also kind of a chauvinist dirtbag (at least in his youth). I mean, I think this just makes him a human being, but I can see how that complexity gets lost on many people who expect him to be the 1-dimensional, cute/nice Beatle.
In a way, John can never really subvert anyone’s expectations because it seems that almost instantly (even in 1964!) he had the reputation of being a complicated “iconoclast.” And he’s always credited with being thoughtful and intelligent, even when he makes a statement to the effect of “Ehh, whatever, who cares?” I’m not suggesting John was careless and stupid, but I think that early pigeonholing (The Smart One, The Cute One, the Quiet One, Ringo) benefitted John enormously and really shortchanged the others (most obviously Paul). It became the filter through which EVERYTHING was viewed. I know that’s not an original observation but it still boggles the mind.
John certainly had a gift for pithy remarks and good soundbites, though!
I dunno, Britt–I think being pigeonholed as the Smart One has its own unique disadvantages. Who can be smart all the time? (I manage about once a week, if I’m lucky. 😉 )
One could argue that being the “Quiet One” would actually be a godsend.
“While he tips his hat to old ladies, he can also be so very crude.”
Lol according to Lewisohn Paul never wanted to tip his hat to anyone. His dad forced him. 😁
“John certainly had a gift for pithy remarks and good soundbites, though!”
Oh they all did! Very funny guys. But John’s word play in particular always makes me laugh, every time, no matter how many times I hear it. I find that sort of thing hysterically funny for some reason.