Difference between revisions of "The Love You Make"
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Both this book's title, and its author's name, represent powerful fragments of Beatles lore. Peter Brown was best man at John Lennon's wedding to Yoko Ono - in fact he
Both this book's title, and its author's name, represent powerful fragments of Beatles lore. Peter Brown was best man at John Lennon's wedding to Yoko Ono - in fact he filled the same role for Paul McCartney - and was immortalised by Lennon, in 'The Ballad of John & Yoko', as the man wo "called to say, you can make it ok, you can get married in Gibraltar near Spain". The book's title is taken from the appropriately named Beatles song 'The End', quoted in the frontispiece:
:''And in the end''<br />
:''And in the end''<br />
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Latest revision as of 12:21, 29 September 2009
Both this book's title, and its author's name, represent powerful fragments of Beatles lore. Peter Brown was best man at John Lennon's wedding to Yoko Ono - in fact he had previously filled the same role for Paul McCartney - and was immortalised by Lennon, in 'The Ballad of John & Yoko', as the man wo "called to say, you can make it ok, you can get married in Gibraltar near Spain". The book's title is taken from the appropriately named Beatles song 'The End', quoted in the frontispiece:
- And in the end
- The love you take
- Is equal to the love
- You make.
- The last lyric from the last song on the last Beatles album.
However, nothing is ever simple in Beatles-land. A pedant could argue that 'Abbey Road' wasn't the Beatles' last album, since 'Let it Be', while recorded earlier, was released after it, and in any case 'The End' was not the last song on the finalised running order, being supplanted at the last minute by 'Her Majesty'. Still, great title for a Beatles book, and ‘love’ was always a subject close to the Beatles’ hearts.
Peter Brown, meanwhile, may not have been so much of an 'insider' as either his appearance in Lennon's self-mythologising ballad, or the subtitle of his book, suggest. He certainly can't claim to have been a member of the innermost circle of Beatles intimates - the so-called 'Liverpool Mafia' - such as, say, Neil Aspinall. This has led to some criticism, and it's true that Brown sometimes 'makes up' dialogue or thoughts for events and situations at which he was not a first-hand witness; but he was enough of an insider that he has an immensely interesting story to tell, and lucky for us he tells it in a brisk and entertaining way.
Similarly, this book can't be placed in the top rank of Beatles books, in terms of renown. While not obscure, it's nowhere near as well known as Philip Norman's 'Shout' or Albert Goldman's 'The Lives of John Lennon', for example. This is a pity, because while it may have its faults, this is a hugely enjoyable book, and an essential read for anyone interested in the Beatles.
This is not a conventional biography. Brown doesn't bother the reader with potted personal histories of the various Beatles' forbears, and in fact begins his narrative in May 1968, as Cynthia Lennon returns from holiday to find Yoko Ono sitting in the kitchen of the Lennons' Weybridge mansion, wearing Cynthia's dressing gown, and sporting an expression which is simultaneously inscrutable and unmistakably post-coital. This is a refreshingly grabby way to begin the book, and Brown keeps up this pacy style all the way through.
Brown's approach is anecdotal and episodic. While there are no longueurs, there are some significant lacunae, perhaps the most noticable being the absence of any real discussion, or even sometimes mention, of the music the Beatles made. When we read, towards the end of the book, of Paul McCartney's need to 'get away from it all' for a while on his Scottish farm, and are told that this has been caused by a renewed level of media attention, due to the recent release of 'Abbey Road', we realise with some surprise that this is the first time the album has been mentioned.
Even when Brown does skip back in time a bit, to cover the band's early days and their visits to Germany, he never goes any further back than their teenage years. At the other end of the scale, the narrative peters out a little towards the end, the period between the band's break-up and Lennon's murder taking only 50 pages or so.
Thematically, there's an unmissable imbalance between the large portion of pages given over to John Lennon and Brian Epstein, and the scant amount of space accorded to everyone else. It's natural, however, that Brown devotes so much time to Epstein, because it was through Epstein that Brown became involved with the Beatles and their multi-faceted, haphazardly run Apple organisation. Brown had worked for Epstein in Liverpool and after moving to London became probably his most loyal lieutenant, even cleaning up after Epstein's attempted suicide - and hiding the note he'd left next to the bottle of pills on his bedside table. This book is driven by personalities, with the Beatles being portrayed as owing their success, in large part, to the fact that Epstein fancied Lennon to the point of obsession. So it's apt that Brown takes such a personalised approach to both the structure and content of his narrative.
The book consists of 21 Chapters, each subdivided into several short, numbered sections. Most Chapters are preceded by an apposite quotation, mostly concerning the personalities involved. For instance:
"America is at our feet! Could anything be more important than this?"
- - Brian Epstein in a phone call to Peter Brown
"What's a scruff like me doing with all this lot?"
- - Ringo Starr
Steven Gaines provides a short Introduction, describing how he came to be involved.
One of Brown's main achievements is to maintain a dispassionate, objective tone. He clearly is a fan of Lennon, for instance, but that doesn't stop him detailing John and Yoko's heroin addiction, or poking fun at some of Lennon's less considered political stances. This fits well with his prose style, which is simple and to the point, seldom straining to turn elegant phrases or draw attention to itself. Significantly, both these aspects occassionally break down together, when Brown can't keep his emotions from rippling the otherwise nonchalantly calm surface of his narrative. More often than not, this involves Brian Epstein, who comes across as a thoroughly decent yet perpetually tormented man, and whose tragic early death from a drug overdose affects Brown deeply. Here Brown describes the moment when Allen Klein, who'd been angling after Epstein's role of Beatles manager, hears of Epstein's death:
In New York City, Allen Klein was driving across the George Washington Bridge to his home in New Jersey. Behind him, Manhattan was glittering like a diamond diorama. Just then there was a news flash on the radio: Brian Epstein was dead.
Klein snapped his fingers. "I've got 'em!" he said.
Cynthia Lennon provides the opening quotation for Chapter One:
"I managed to observe the whirlpool of events without drowning..."
Well, like many who were close to the Beatles, if she didn't drown, Cynthia certainly got thrown up against a few rocks. And if Brown hasn't written a traditional biography, he hasn't produced a hagiography either. He isn't afraid to show some of the less attractive aspects of the Beatles, how their wealth and fame affected their behaviour, and their sometimes brutally disdainful treatment of those closest to them.
Lennon, of course, could be bitter and cruel, and there's plenty of evidence of that here. But nobody emerges from these pages with a clean charge sheet. George Harrison forbids his wife Pattie to continue her modelling career, and keeps her a virtual prisoner, "isolated almost continuously in the big gloomy house with all the friar's heads". He exhibits titanic levels of naivety in his dealings with the Maharishi, even insisting - on a flight back from a trip he and Brown took to visit the guru in Sweden, to prevail upon him to cease using the Beatles' names in his publicity - that the Maharishi just doesn't understand the issues involved because "he is not a modern man". Paul McCartney, often seen as the most level-headed Beatle, seems - in Brown's account - on the verge of a clinical case of satyriasis. In his first flush of fame, McCartney's "already healthy ego exploded". He dumps his childhood sweetheart, telling her frankly that he can't be expected to tie himself down to 'a steady', now that he has so many girls constantly available to him. Even affable drummer Ringo doesn't escape criticism, particularly of his lacklustre solo recordings, disastrous business ventures, and unsophisticated tastes. The "simple and uneducated" Ringo was "still eating egg and chips for his dinner" as late as 1965, and after the Beatles split became "a cameo-part player without a role", a man who "had little daily purpose in life".
Brown paints an enjoyably gritty portrait of the Beatles' escapades, which the press turned a blind eye to at the time, notably their enthusiastic bouts of "drinking and whoring", frequent encounters with venereal disease, and propensity for getting into decidedly un-moptoppish scrapes.
A lot of space is devoted to Brian Epstein, whose story is fascinating and unbearably sad. One of Britain's very rare Labour-voting millionaires, Epstein would perhaps have been the biggest and most deserving beneficiary, if the equation implied by that famous lyric which gives the book its title, were to become a reality. Epstein gave huge amounts of love - to lovers and friends, and to the Beatles - but received only a tiny proportion of affection in return. Gay, Jewish, posh, and with several chips on each shoulder, Epstein never found lasting happiness, and although his eventual death was deemed accidental, it wasn't really a surprise to those who knew him well.
Epstein was a mass of contradictions: he could be savvy and tenacious, as when he refused to accept anything but top billing for the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show; but his regal mien and aristocratic sensibility were ill-suited to the sort of tough business dealings his job required. In any case, Epstein considered himself too rarefied a figure to stoop to grubby negotiations and often accepted incredibly bad deals just to avoid the unseemly unpleasantness of haggling. Most famous was the Seltaeb debacle, where Epstein lost the Beatles (and himself) untold millions by signing away the rights to all Beatles merchandising just as that market was exploding. When Nicky Byrne, who Epstein's lawyer David Jacobs liked because Byrne threw great parties, "agreed to take on the job" of handling Beatles merchandising, Jacobs asked what percentage of the merchandising income Byrne wanted to keep for himself. "Byrne glibly suggested 90 per cent for himself, expecting Jacobs to start bargaining. Jacobs nodded. 'Well,' he said, '10 per cent is better than nothing,' and he signed the contracts."
In one of the book's saddest and most shameful passages, Brown describes the Beatles' reactions to Epstein's death. The Beatles were with the Maharishi in Bangor, Wales - "strolling around the grounds, enjoying the last weekend of summer and toying with their new mantras" - when they heard that Epstein had died. They were "shocked and saddened but strangely sedate", George telling reporters that "there is no such thing as death" and that they knew "Brian will return because he was striving for happiness and desired bliss so much." Brown adds:
"That was the extent of the eulogy Brian was to receive from the Beatles. Within a few days, when the shock had worn off, they made foolish jokes about him. "
Brown is very good on John and Yoko's hermetic relationship, their drug use, and their bizarre lifestyle arrangements. His description of the prolonged periods Lennon spends spaced out in the sunroom at Weybridge linger long in the mind:
"At Kenwood, on a shelf in the sunroom, sat a white, pharmaceutical mortar and pestle with which he mixed any combination of speed, barbituates, and psychedelics. Whenever he felt himself coming down from his mind-bending heights, he would lick a finger, take a swipe at the ingredients in the mortar, and suck the bitter film into his mouth.”
Here's Brown on the closing of the ill-fated Apple boutique, yet another money-losing enterprise. The night before the shop's remaining stock was due to be given awar free to the public on a 'one item per person' basis, John and Yoko visited the shop to help themselves:
"The Monday night before the giveaway, Yoko Ono and John arrived at the shop. Before the amazed employees, Yoko spread large swatches of fabric out on the floor and began to pile merchandise onto it waist high. Then she knotted the corners of the fabric hobo-style and dragged it out of the store on her back, like an Oriental Santa Claus, into John's Rolls-Royce."
Authors are often accused, sometimes accurately, of openly courting controversy in order to shift units. But in the case of a subject as hallowed as the Beatles, it would be difficult to produce a book which generated no controversy at all. Brown's book drew flak for two main sections, both - appropriately enough - concerning matters of the heart. Most famously, in tackling the age-old question of whether, or rather to what extent, Lennon was aware of and indeed encouraged Epstein's infatuation with him, Brown seems to imply that Lennon did in fact go so far as to allow Epstein at least one chance to live out his dream. Soon after Cynthia, having spent two days in painful labour, gave birth to Julian Lennon, John visited her in the hospital, 'ecstatic' at the sight of his baby son. This didn't prevent him from announcing that he not only wanted Brian Epstein to be the boy's Godfather but, furthermore, that he and Brian were heading off on holiday to Spain together, just the two of them. During their trip to Spain, Epstein opened up to John about his sexuality. The passage is worth quoting at length:
"If you had a choice, Eppy," John said, "if you could press a button and be hetero, would you do it?"
Brian thought for a moment. "Strangely, no," he said.
A little later a peculiar game developed. John would point out some passing man to Brian, and Brian would explain to him what it was about the fellow that he found attractive or unattractive. "I was rather enjoying the experience," John said, "thinking like a writer at the time: I am experiencing this." And still later, back in their hotel suite, drunk and sleepy from the sweet Spanish wine, Brian and John undressed in silence. "It's okay, Eppy," John said, and lay down on his bed. Brian would have liked to have hugged him, but he was afraid. Instead, John lay there, tentative and still, and Brian fulfilled the fantasies he was so sure would bring him contentment, only to awake the next morning as hollow as before.
So, not 100% clear-cut. And we have no way of knowing where Brown got the details of this episode from, although it's possible that Epstein himself was the source. Ambiguity also attends the second controversial claim in Brown's book, where he depicts the break-up of George Harrison's marriage to Pattie, a relationship which "bust up with such explosive force that it took Rigo and Maureen's marriage with it." Brown claims that, after the two couples had enjoyed dinner and plentiful wine together one night, George suddenly put down the guitar he'd been strumming and "blurted out that he was in love with Maureen." The controversial passage follows:
Just a few weeks later, Pattie returned to her own home, Friar Park, from a shopping spree in London, reportedly to find George in the bedroom with Maureen, just as Cynthia and Jane Asher had found their men with other women. Neithe Maureen nor Pattie will confirm this often-reported incident actually took place, but they pointedly will not deny it either. Says Pattie on the subject: "I don't want to get anybody in trouble."
When George was later asked why his buddy's wife, George shrugged his shoulders and said, "Incest."
So much for the spiritual world.
Again, no source is given. Again there is much ambiguity, particularly that key word "reportedly". But, whatever the truth of these ultimately not that scandalous passages, this is more of a memoir than a scholarly work and, at least in terms of reader enjoyment, all the better for it. Although supposedly written with the co-operation of the Beatles, and Yoko, it may well be that Brown burned a few bridges with this book; if he were to try writing another Beatles book, it's doubtful that he could repeat the enviable roll-call of interviewees that are listed in the introduction. You might want to take some of Brown's book with a pinch of salt. Conversely, you might ask yourself how likely it is that Brown left any number of skeletons safely closeted away.
Originally published in 1983, the book was out of print for some time, before being re-issued in a slightly revised form in 2002. The revised edition added a 'Contents' section, and an expanded index. There is also a very worthwhile foreward by Anthony DeCurtis, placing the book, and Beatles studies in general, in contemporary context.
Peter Brown gave a very brief 'Q & A' interview to 'New York' magazine in 2002, in which the following exchange took place:
Q. Any corrections or new material in this edition?
A. No -- I thought we'd leave well enough alone. If there was any criticism, it was, Why did you have to be so frank? Paul once said to me, "Why did you have to put in that I had VD in Hamburg?"
However, there certainly was some additional material added. For instance, a section inserted at the beginning of Chapter Seven, describing 'Swinging London' in the Sixties as a mixture of elements from other cities, and decades:
"It had a touch of the naughty nineties of Paris, the decadence of pre-War Berlin. It had a sprinkling of the glamour of Hollywood in the forties and the sexual passions and peccadilloes of la dolce vita in the fifites. It was like an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel rewritten by Ian Fleming."
It would be interesting to learn who did write such passages, if not Brown, for their tone is ever so slightly out of synch with the rest of the book.