Maimoona Rahman's Reviews > Baby's in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles

Baby's in Black by Arne Bellstorf
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May 26, 2012

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Read in May, 2012

All I ever knew about The Beatles before I read this book were John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the former because who has not heard of Yoko Ono and the latter because he has become a scary musical delight today. But, given the chance, I would read anything about The Beatles, because that is a lot like reading historical trivia and hoarding on knowledge that I can spew out over little finger sandwiches at social gatherings.

Ergo, I am glad I have read Baby’s in Black, a graphic biography about the love story of Stuart Sutcliffe, the band’s bassist when they played in Germany at the beginning of their career, and Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer. What made the biography interesting was that I didn’t know I was reading about The Beatles—obviously because I had never heard of the song “Baby’s in Black”—until John Lennon is introduced, and I wondered to myself: what are the chances there are two John Lennons both of whom are in an English rock band?

Baby’s in Black is supposed to be about the relationship between Stu and Astrid, but there are also snippets of the early life of The Beatles playing in a rundown, out-of-the-way bar on the Reeperbahn, a red-light district in Hamburg. This book draws attention to the period of ridicule and invisibleness the Gods of rock music lived through. Klaus Voormann, who appears to be Kirchherr’s boyfriend, wanders to this bar and is immediately drawn to The Beatles. He makes his visits to this bar an every-night affair, and one night convinces Kirchherr to accompany him. She becomes a regular too, and gradually falls in love with Stu, the most eye-catching of the lot.

The story details Kirchherr’s and Sutcliffe’s little obsessions. Kirchherr is not just a great photographer who loves experimenting with The Beatles, she also loves giving them all haircuts. Sutcliffe is a prodigy: great in art and music and whatnot. He is always restive and often feels caught between art and music. As artists, Sutcliffe and Kirchherr often help each other, he by modelling for her photographs and she by critiquing his art.

The aha! moment of the story comes at the very end. Until then, it’s about how Kirchherr and Sutcliffe spend their days together, falling in love. It’s also a lot about The Beatles, although, clearly, that is not the plot. And of course, there are historical facts, like about The Beatles being deported from Germany, etc.

I think this story could have done with a bit more feelings. I am not sure if it is a limitation of graphic stories; in this book, feelings are difficult to decipher. You really can’t see them in the characters’ body language or facial expressions, and because it is a graphic biography, none of these are spelled out. Moreover, often times, I got confused between many of the characters because they look too alike. Kirchherr, although she’s a girl, looks like Voormann and all the other boys in the band except Sutcliffe and Lenon, who look surprisingly unique. I had to read a few panels a couple of times, or rely on other panels, to grasp who’s saying what—the characters are that alike.

Nonetheless, I think the book is good. It’s a short read, so I have no regrets. The ending is intense. If you are a diehard fan of The Beatles, then you might enjoy this book. If not, you might still enjoy it. If you surreptitiously come across it, pick it up and give it a try. You might not want to go looking for it though.
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