The opening chord of A Hard Day's Night. George, on a twelve string, plays a Gsus chord. From bass to treble that's G,C,F,A,C,G. On a twelve string guThe opening chord of A Hard Day's Night. George, on a twelve string, plays a Gsus chord. From bass to treble that's G,C,F,A,C,G. On a twelve string guitar, the bottom four notes get doubled at the octave, while the top two are doubled in unison. Underneath, Paul plays a D. And John strums a Dsus chord, ADADG, leaving out the bottom string. So from bass to treble we get the following: D, G, A, C, D, F, G, AA, CCC, DD, F, GG, A. The result is a perfect collaboration, and a beautiful example of the Beatles ability to come up with something that is both chaotic and suberbly balanced all at once. If you've heard it, you remember it, and you know what I mean. If not, then why are you reading this far?
Spitz describes this chord in some detail, and quite differently. He says George plays a G7 chord with an added ninth, and a suspended fourth, and leaves it at that. I bring this up for two reasons. First, if Spitz gets this wrong, then it casts into doubt the accuracy of much of his "definitive" biography. This example is important for me, because I have always cared most about the Beatle's music, and much less about all the surrounding stuff.
Second, Spitz attributes this chord to George, instead of highlighting what a brilliant group effort it was. That's about the only time in the book that George gets put in the forefront, and on this rare occurrence, Spitz gets it wrong. This book is mostly about John, then Brian Epstein. Paul is still a large figure, but not as much as the first two. George is a strong supporting character, and Ringo hardly gets much attention at all. The amazing thing about this is that the amount of attention a person gets is inversely proportional to his likability.
John is a dick. Spitz tries to attribute much of this to his various drug addictions. But he was being a dick to his audiences even before the drugs became an issue. It's pretty amazing that such an inconsiderate asshole could write and perform such brilliant, sensitive music. Well maybe not so much. I have a whole list of artists whose work I adore, but who I would never want to meet, and Lennon doesn't even get close to the top of this list.
Epstein didn't interest me back then, and he doesn't interest me all that much now. I guess its worth seeing how he screwed up so many deals for the Beatles. But his character seems almost stereotypical. If someone made him up for a novel, I think most people would roll their eyes at the cliches. And that's pretty sad for him.
Paul comes across as controlling, a perfectionist, self-centered, terrible to women, but mostly a decent mate to his buddies. Except then there is the point where the new manager has Paul's longstanding assistant fired. The guy worked for Paul basically all the way back when they played in the Cavern in Liverpool, for over seven years. And when the manager had him fired, Paul refused to even return the guy's phone calls. So, in the end, Paul showed no loyalty at all. But his music, when not corny (does anyone actually like "Someone's Knocking at the Door"?), can be glorious.
George is painted as insecure, but growing and spiritual. By the end, he is at least acknowledged as a good song writer. But as the Beatles retreated into the studio, John and Paul treated him more and more as a hired hand. And Ringo is barely seen here as a full Beatle. He doesn't enter the scene until the book is half done, and he doesn't fit. He treats his wife well, and cares about her. And he seems like a nice and stable person. What Spitz does show about Ringo, is how important he was for their live sound. He wasn't the most technically accomplished drummer, but he had an uncanny musical sense and the ability to fit himself in perfectly.
The book inevitably tries to answer two questions: First, why the meteoric rise? Here, I don't think the book comes up with any good explanation. In Outliers, Gadwell attributes the rise to the Beatle's time in Hamburg, where they put in the 10,000 hours needed for mastery. That certainly helped them, but there were lots of other groups with their own 10,000 hours. In the end, I think the Beatle's were just a black swan. There really isn't any explaining the sudden mass hysteria that surrounded them. If it had not happened to them, it probably would have been someone else. But I have to admit that its awfully difficult for me to imagine some others in the same role.
The second question is why the break-up. The book mostly blames John's envy of Paul, and Paul's need to control things. Add to this the drugs, and their seclusion, and the break-up becomes almost inevitable. The book also lays out another scenario. The Beatles became a truly great live band with all of their experience in Hamburg and at the Cavern and on tour through England. Once they hit the big time, their shows topped out at 35 minutes or so, instead of several hours a night. They played in huge venues to girls who threw jelly bellies at them, and screamed over the music. No-one listened, and the Beatles couldn't even hear themselves. The shows were unsatisfying and became more and more dangerous to them. So they quit.
But the energy, and their first love, came from the live playng. Once they retreated into the studio, George and Ringo were no longer as much a cohesive part of the group. And Paul and John could go more and more their seperate ways. So they lost their energizing source, and they lost the feeling of being a band. And that led to them breaking up. Spitz doesn't put it in so many words, but that's what I was left with. In the end, the fans broke up the Beatles. ...more