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The Beatles: The Biography    by Bob Spitz order for
by Bob Spitz
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I most admit that, though aware of the Beatles and their music in the 60s (who could not be?), I was not a huge fan. But their music has grown on me through the decades and I've always been intrigued by the legend. So I picked up The Beatles: The Biography with interest and persevered despite the length of this hefty tome. Two sets of black and white photographs are included in the middle of the book.

Bob Spitz divides his account into three major sections: Mercy, Mania and Mastery. In the first, he introduces the major players, going back to their parents' generation and discussing the social context of their times (I appreciated the Liverpool history and a discussion of the Irish influx to the city). He begins with John Lennon's unusual background (living with his aunt while his free-spirited mother conducted her life but still remained a big part of his) and his formation of the Quarry Men. Next is Paul McCartney, for whom music became a lifeline after his mother's death from cancer in his teens. When they met, 'it was clear they were tuned to the same groove', with skills that complemented. Spitz tells us that 'Their talent was so natural, so unforced and kinetic, that it developed like infant speech.' Education and early musical involvements and influences are detailed for all the musicians who were in some way a part of the Beatles (the names the band evolved through are also covered).

Though to the onlooker, it seemed that the Beatles burst suddenly on the scene, the book makes clear what a long, slow process it was to achieve success. George Harrison was pulled in as a friend of Paul's, and Ringo Starr was sought out to replace Peter Best. But finally it all came together - the music, the lyrics, the movement on stage, the look, Brian Epstein as manager, and a fair bit of luck. The Beatles were poised to become the 'toppermost of the poppermost'. The dark side of the legend started early too, with use of amphetamines for energy on tour. Another sad aspect is what the author calls the subservient Beatles' women, in particular how John Lennon's wife Cynthia led an 'undercover existence' with their small son Julian. The author covers the tours - in Britain, to Hamburg, the United States, and around the world. The Beatles were hounded by the media and grabbed at and pelted with jelly babies by besotted fans. To Lennon, it was 'like being in the eye of a hurricane.' It's hard to imagine that kind of pressure.

The creation of songs and albums is described as well as less savory side effects of mega-popularity - sexual exploitation of and by fans, Lennon's drunken rampages, 'reckless hedonism', and increasing drug use, balanced by spiritual quests and attempts to change their lives. Overall, The Beatles: The Biography is a fascinating (though long-winded for all but the most ardent fan) account of what it takes to walk the long, grueling road to superstardom, and of what and who is left by the wayside en route.

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