The Brian Epstein Story

Can’t remember if I posted this before, but here’s a great 1998 BBC documentary on Brian Epstein. (I originally posted just the first segment, but the subsequent segments were not auto-loading, so I found all nine.)

Watch The Brian Epstein Story. You will enjoy it. (And when you’re finished, read Devin’s great story about seeing the film which I’ve told to more Beatlefans than I can count.)



45 Comments

  1. Mike, this is a great documentary, which I’ve also written about on this blog

    http://heydullblog.blogspot.com/2008/02/dizz-gillespie-story-this-is-true-story.html

    but unfortunately this is a 90-minute condensation of a 140-minute film. It misses almost an hour of material, most of it on the sad and seedy nature of Brian’s illicit gay pursuits in a London that was not in every way as swinging as it claimed to be.

    I once met the producer, Debbie Geller, and she said that Apple has co-ownership of the rights (a proviso granted in return for much of the rare footage). That means that, as with most things Apple, the film has not and for the foreseeable future will not see full and legitimate issue.

    Too bad, as it’s a tribute more than worthy of the man.

  2. CMO#9 asked Mike, “Why do you think it is that there is no definitive bio of Brian? It would seem that there is certainly a market for such a book.”
    A book like that requires heavy access, and one must remember that the people that Brian lived with/around were wealthy, powerful, often socially prominent, and accustomed to keeping their peccadillos secret. Most had nothing to gain from telling “the full story,” and much to lose. And Goldman peed in the pool for everybody who followed, I think that’s clear.

    So getting sources to talk on record about the seedy stuff would’ve been tough. Nobody had the access, and even if they had, and found a publisher willing to risk the lawsuits (libel/slander is tougher on authors in the UK), I’m not sure the sales would’ve supported it. What Beatle tell-alls have shown is that most Beatles fans really don’t want to look TOO closely at their heroes. Which is a shame in my book, because I think you can’t really understand their awesome achievements, or have sufficient compassion for what the four guys went through, unless you acknowledge the dark side of the experience, which had to be quite profound. I personally have come to accept that J/P/G/R and everybody around them were faced with temptations, consequences, and moral choices utterly alien to me. That’s why I don’t get people’s endless shock/horror over the possibility that John and Brian slept together. Gee whiz, is it THAT shocking an idea?

    At the time of maximum sales for an Eppy bio–the 80s–The Beatles were still very protective of their mythology. This was pre-internet, pre-Anthology. After Peter Brown’s tell-all came out he was (supposedly) persona non grata, ejected from Beatle circles. And among the public, after John was shot, there was a sense that such stuff was dirty laundry best left unaired.

    As with the tours in the 60s, there has always been a LOT MORE money to be made by having The Beatles/Apple be your friend, than otherwise. But I think Brian’s a fascinating guy for a lot of reasons; and I think one can’t really understand him or The Beatles’ story without acknowledging the hidden worlds he navigated–not just the sexual one, but that of money and power (which surely overlapped with the first). My guiding instinct about Brian Epstein has always been informed by John’s famous comment: “[There] will make a nice Hollywood Babylon someday about Brian Epstein’s sex life.” John would know, and John would have no reason to lie.

    “I apologize if I’ve asked this of you already, but do you think he was: Killed/Suicide/Accident-OD/Other?”
    I have no reason to think that Brian died of anything but an accident, but I would not be at all surprised if there was more–much more–to that story. Over and over we learn that celebrities who originally were thought to have died by drug-related misadventure (Marilyn Monroe, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix) probably died in more sinister circumstances. If you watch the doc, you’ll see that some skepticism is only sensible, given the secret nature of so much of his life, and the people he associated with. A person makes many powerful friends and enemies, when one controls the biggest goldmine in the history of showbiz.

  3. Devin, you posted your comment as I was typing my response to CMO#9–anything to add? I’ll link to that earlier post in the post on the front.

    That’s a real shame about the film–the 90 min version is so fascinating.

  4. Mike, I may have gotten luckier than I knew–I saw the film’s US premiere, which was also very nearly its sole stateside showing.

    As for video, I just now located what claims to be an unexpurgated DVD of both parts (it was screened in two parts, with intermission). Probably bootleg but seems to be at least the full, nearly two-and-a-half-hour version. We’ll see.

    In My Life: The Brian Epstein Story is the companion volume to the film. It’s a slim oral history, and good as far as it goes, but hardly the full treatment the subject deserves. I haven’t read Ray Coleman’s The Man Who Made the Beatles, but I’d be curious to, despite the invidious title. Reviews indicate it is on the skimpy side, though, not as beefy as Coleman’s Lennon job.

    Of course, there’s Philip Norman. Those who have read Shout! will recall that Brian was pretty much the secret subject of that book. It is by far the most penetrating and sympathetic portrait I’ve seen of him outside the documentary.

    But the real job, the full job, still awaits doing.

  5. Devin,
    Gee, if I only knew someone who wrote showbiz biographies who was interested in The Beatles? 🙂

    I didn’t even know Coleman’s book existed; lookie there, an insider writing in 1989, CMO#9–believe Mike when he talks publishing–but having seen that doc and read the Geller oral history, I don’t have a burning desire to pick up Coleman, based on his Lennon.

    I’ve noticed–I can only call it a prejudice–in English people of a certain age against what is perceived to be “over-analyzing” or “invading a person’s privacy.” So you get biographies of people like Peter Sellers or Peter Cook or John Lennon–often damaged, frequently addicted, and incredibly complicated–which are essentially catalogues of “then this happened” with no attempt to analyze further. (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is a notable exception.) Perhaps because there’s another strain of British journalism which is cartoonish in its prurience, they seem to feel it’s unseemly to mention anything that might reflect badly on their subject, and define anything emotionally excessive as “bad.” So you get a book which is basically a brand-extension of the celebrity’s public persona–commercially successful, but useless as history. What made Peter Sellers so obsessed with the occult? Why did John Lennon suddenly move back in with Yoko in 1975? Why did Peter Cook seem fated to decay after 1975? The pathobiographers have their faults–many of them–but at least they try to provide answers. I already know what the person did–what was it like to BE them?

    Biographers are historians of people, and like historians must explain, not just recount; and might also instruct, too. You simply cannot understand Brian Epstein without attempting to understand the behavior of addiction; and saying, “Well, he took pills because it was very difficult to be gay back then,” is a black-and-white version of someone who, like all of us, lived in Technicolor.

    Far from being kind to one’s subject, drawing a discreet veil of secrecy over perceived misbehavior makes the misbehavior much more important than it is, and implicitly says that it’s not really that important to understand what made someone tick. Coleman’s Lennon is for children, or fans who wish to remain children–which is not to say that it’s not good for what it is, or necessary or useful; I think it’s all those things. But just as Goldman revels in sleaze, Coleman (and later Norman) do not cop to the fact that there are many places they are not going. Seeing leaders as human was a big part of what the Sixties was about; and so to work to create a new mythology out of those (supposedly freer, supposedly more honest) people is entirely predictable, but less than helpful.

  6. CMO#9 wrote:

    Thanks guys.

    Quick question – I seem to be unaware of the Hendrix rumors apparently surrounding something more sinister than red wine being the cause of his demise. I’ll refrain from google and ask here instead….What are those rumors?

    I think I may have to look for the full length copy of the doc on Brian; it sounds infinitely more interesting.

    “What Beatle tell-alls have shown is that most Beatles fans really don’t want to look TOO closely at their heroes.”

    – You’re probably right, Mike, but not for me. Nothing will or can ever take away the music these guys gave us, and for me, reading a book that details every indiscretion they made would be fascinating. That’s pretty much what Goldman did with John and I certainly enjoyed that book for what it was. The problem with Goldman’s book is his patronizing tone and overall dislike of John.

    On the other hand, do we really have the right to read or deserve such a book? Do these guys -who have given the world so much- deserve to be shown in such a light?

  7. Hendrix:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/hendrix-murdered-by-his-manager-says-former-aide-1693583.html

    http://www.nme.com/news/jimi-hendrix/46213


    On the other hand, do we really have the right to read or deserve such a book? Do these guys -who have given the world so much- deserve to be shown in such a light?

    I happen to think that much of the world’s suffering comes not from evil, but from ignorance and hypocrisy. And so taking these people–who we all recognize as talented and thoroughly worthwhile–and learning the darker parts of their story may do two valuable things:
    a) Instruct people inspired to go into showbiz on what the pitfalls are, and how to avoid them; and
    b) Encourage all of us to be more forgiving.

    I didn’t learn ONE thing in Goldman that I didn’t already suspect–not because John Lennon was a psycho, but because John Lennon was a really angry guy who suddenly had the world at his feet. I didn’t need Peter Brown’s book to tell me that Paul McCartney was dodging paternity suits, because I already knew that Paul was a rich, handsome dude with access to unlimited sex partners. People are people.

    In fact, it’s the maintenance of a false image–the pretense that celebrities are somehow better than normal people–that makes being mega-famous so wickedly corrosive to one’s identity. I want to know “the real story” because do not want talented people to suffer needlessly; nor do I want them to enjoy the kind of license that is bad for them, and their art.

    Roman emperors are not happy people, and there’s no Emperorship without deification. And unhappy Emperors make the rest of us suffer. Perpetuating the fantasy helps no one but the leeches, so I say, if one is prepared to be compassionate, let the real story be told. In “forgiving” a Beatle for his transgressions, one might get better at forgiving others and oneself. That’s infinitely more important than any image.

  8. CMO#9 wrote:

    Agreed, Mike. You often remind bring up the horror that ĂĽber fame can bring to someones mind and/or well being. I think that part or the story is most interesting. Very few people have felt the kind of heat the Beatles did. And it didn’t suddenly cool down in 1970, it’s continued everywhere Paul or Ringo go to this day. What must that do to some people? It’s almost painful to think about sometimes. What it must feel like to know that every single person, in every single room you ever walk into is staring at you, talking about you and trying to get closer to you? I always bring this up to people and they usually just kinda brush it aside. I think it’s something so entirely remote from >99% of the population, that it’s almost impossible to describe or feel in any way. It’s absolutely stunning those 4 guys managed to keep their wits for the most part throughout their lives. All the more reason to love them.

  9. J.R. Clark wrote:

    I enjoyed the documentary very much. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  10. Anonymous wrote:

    Beatles books are treacherous ground. There are so many but they are all so weak. And I have dozens of them. There isn’t a single book about the Beatles that is on the caliber of Peter Guralnick’s two-part Elvis biography, which manages to convey an honest, warts-and-all portrait of the man yet is still compassionate in describing his faults and accurate in describing his legacy and contributions and influence. That’s what the Beatles need and continue to lack.

    Instead they get books by fan boys — either disenchanted ones (like Albert Goldman and Peter Brown) or ones with stars still in their eyes (like Phillip Norman — only about Lennon, of course)

    Norman’s Shout book — that Paul so aptly called “Shite” — is well written yet badly slanted and badly outdated. Like the fanboy he is, Norman paints Lennon as “the” Beatle. Norman is dismissive of Paul’s role in the band and comes right out in the book and calls George “mediocre.” (Some time if you want some nasty reading, take a look at the obit that Norman wrote for a British newspaper after George Harrison died. It’s appalling.)

    Of course Mark Lewisohn’s research in the 1990s — and Ian MacDonald’s influential Revolution in the Head book, based on Lewisohn’s work and MacDonald’s own expertise — would later make clear that Norman’s portrayal of the band was not at all the case. Both of their work would do much to explain McCartney’s influential role in the Beatles and restore his reputation.

    Norman’s Lennon book is equally flawed: The last part of the book, especially, could have been written by Yoko’s PR staff. Norman willfully ignored all sorts of evidence that Lennon was very troubled in the last 5 years of his life, and completely buys the happy househusband BS. And Norman ignored evidence that John’s marriage with Yoko was seriously troubled. Norman’s Lennon bio is more fair to McCartney, though. Apparently Norman realized he couldn’t ignore facts about who did what in the band’s music.

    The closest to a fair book about the Beatles is Can’t Buy Me Love, by Jonathan Gould. The only fault is that it’s sort of academic in tone. And it doesn’t get into a lot of the gossipy, behind the scenes stuff.

    To be continued …

    — Drew

  11. Anonymous wrote:

    Part 2 of my book post:

    The biggest problem with Peter Brown’s book that it’s fictionalized and dramatized. He recreates conversations he did not hear (and pretends he did hear them) and he recreates scenes that he did not witness. In short, it’s not clear in his book what is true, what is made up, and what is just negative spin that he’s repeating because it goes along with his slant. I especially despise the way Brown violated Brian Epstein’s privacy.

    The other problem is that Peter Brown divulges everyone’s secrets but his own, like the slimy PR man he is. (And given that he’s since made a career out of representing terrorists like Qaddafi, I think “slimy” is an apt description.)

    FYI: Paul may well have been hounded by paternity suits (and goodness knows ALL the Beatles slept around) but no one has ever proven that any of those paternity suits were true. If fact, both of the known cases (one in Germany, and one in Liverpool) proved Paul WASN’T the father.

    The Paul biographies are equally dicey. Many Years From Now, by Barry Miles, is actually a really good read and a terrific account of Paul’s many underground artsy activities. But Paul’s direct involvement taints the book because Miles wasn’t able to be as unbiased in the account. Miles ignores uncomfortable issues and stories that Paul didn’t want to talk about. It’s glosses over unpleasantries.

    Still the book is invaluable as an autobiography — if you understand that this is Paul’s take. And he’s allowed to give his side — no matter how many John fans think he isn’t. I’ve always found it odd that people applaud John as “honest” and “outspoken” when he’s being self-serving in talking about the Beatles in all of his many many interviews, yet they attack Paul for doing the same thing. If John was allowed to speak for the band, then so is Paul.

    Finally both of the recent Paul bios are medicre. Peter Carlin’s book is too short and superficial. And Howard Sounes’ book is worse: (1) Sounes is incredibly misogynistic in his treatment of the women in the book. Linda plays the role of the “slut” and “groupie” who must be shamed for being a woman who liked sex. Jane Asher is the perfect British rose– devoid of personality, like cut glass. And I’m not fan of Heather Mills but Sounes pretty much rips her to shreds. (2) More important, Sounes does not even like Paul’s music, let alone understand it, and is ridiculously dismissive even of Paul’s best work. It was SUCH an irritating book.

    I hope when Mark Lewisohn’s three-part biography of The Beatles comes out (part 1 is due in 2013) it is like Peter Guralnick’s — accurate, fair, compassionate, and understanding of the band’s role and influence.

    — Drew

  12. Drew, I have Can’t Buy Me Love on my shelf but ordered it by mistake. It’s good, eh? I thought I was ordering the Mark Hertsgaard book, that I have read and liked. Hertsgaard is particularly good on the breakup. Anybody read it?

    I’m going to figure out how to take these kinds of opinions and surface them better on the site. I would love to be able to refer to everybody’s reviews/opinions on Beatle books, for example.

    The story behind Philip Norman’s Lennon bio is simple: Yoko made him believe that it would be authorized if he wrote it to order, and then pulled her authorization after he’d written it. So she got to control the narrative without APPEARING to.
    Ick.

  13. Nancy Carr wrote:

    I’ve said this before, but Peter Doggett’s “You Never Give Me Your Money” is a great Beatles book dealing with the last days of the band and its hellaciously complicated legal afterlife. Doggett is able to combine acknowledgement of the individual Beatles’ faults with compassion for them, and he doesn’t play favorites.

    Drew, I agree with you on “Shout!” I’ve always thought it would make a heck of a screenplay: “Paul McCartney, Spawn of Satan!” Though at least Norman pays attention to McCartney. As you point out, he utterly dismisses Harrison.

    The best Beatles books I’ve read focus on the music and not on the personalities. Maybe dealing with the personalities is inevitably polarizing—especially since later writers often feel the need to respond to the portrayals of earlier ones.

    Doggett’s unbiased (well, as unbiased as it’s reasonably possible to be) book is a refreshing exception. I’m hoping Mikal Gilmore’s book, and Mark Lewisohn’s, will be too.

  14. Anonymous wrote:

    Nancy: Overall I agree with you on Doggett’s book. It’s well reported and well written and doesn’t play favorites. My one concern about his book is that he often let criticisms and allegations about the four go unchallenged. It’s like he thought the Beatles, because of their fame and fortune, were fair game so he gave credence to some gossip that wasn’t factually based. For instance, he often took the word as gospel of angry ex-lovers — as if those people didn’t have an ax to grind themselves. Sometimes he seemed a bit too willing to believe the absolute worst of the Beatles, rather than seeing that the accusers had questionable motives, too. Greed motivated everyone in that period — not just the Beatles but all the people around them, too. The Beatles had gigantic egos but they were being used by pretty much everyone they came into contact with.

    Devin said the book accompanying this documentary is disappointing, and I agree. I just got a used copy not long ago and it’s slight. I was hoping it would expand on the documentary but no such luck.

    Michael: As for Can’t Buy Me Love, what I liked about the book was that he really did help you understand how the Beatles fit into the sociological context of the times. It’s just a bit try at points. What I also liked is that Gould has informed opinions about the music. I don’t always agree with him but he writes intelligently about the lyrics and the music.

    Sorry to go on and on about the books. In some fit of insanity I started collecting Beatles books, and my collection now numbers more than 60. I had to pass, however, on the $700 book just published from Taschen of Harry Benson’s Beatles photographs. Insane price, eh?

  15. Anonymous wrote:

    P.S. I have doubts about Mikal Gilmore’s forthcoming book. He’s already stated as fact that he believes John was the only “genius” in the band. Which is crap. Gilmore just doesn’t appreciate McCartney’s genius as much as he values John’s. But that’s already given me grave doubts about how balanced the book will be.

    — Drew

  16. J.R. Clark wrote:

    Have any of you read Alan Clayson’s biographies of George and Ringo? I really enjoyed his writing style—and the fact that he comes right out and says that this is just his interpretation of their lives, and that your interpretation of their lives is equally as valid.

  17. CMO#9 wrote:

    Drew, where did you see Lewisohn’s book is now pushed back to 2013? I don’t doubt your account but I have yet to find anywhere that says 2013. It’s been pushed and pushed and pushed back for years. Last I heard it was 2012, so this isn’t surprising. Do we all have high hopes for this bio? I believe the first book is 1900-1950 in Beatledom.

  18. CMO#9 wrote:

    http://www.beatleswiki.com/wiki/index.php/Paul_McCartney_in_Audience_Watching_The_Quarrymen!

    Forgive me if this is old news but I found it pretty interesting.

    There is a picture of the Quarrymen performing on Rosebury St. on June 22, 1957 with someone watching the band who looks mighty similar to a young, bespectacled Paul McCartney. This would be 2 weeks before the famed July 6 meeting at the FĂ©te.

    IMO, it’s definitely Paul. But he’s never mentioned watching John play before July 6, as far as I know.

    Is this old, rubbish news? If so I apologize.

  19. Anonymous wrote:

    CMO#9: The news about the first volume of Lewisohn’s trilogy on the Beatles being delayed until the fall of 2013 was just revealed this week. There was an article in the Beatles Examiner Aug. 7 about it. Google this headine: “Fans will have to wait a little longer for Mark Lewisohn Beatles biography.”

    P.S. I don’t think that’s Paul in the picture. He’s worn glasses as a joke or a style thing; usually sunglasses.

    — Drew

  20. CMO#9 wrote:

    Thanks, Drew. Now I know why I was unaware of the 2013 release – it was announced just yesterday! I bow to you, Sir.

    Agreed, the inclusion of glasses is a bit odd. However, there are a number of pictures of Paul wearing glasses throughout the years. The ones in that picture look just like Buddy Holly prototypes, and this was right when Holly was breaking big. To me, it certainly looks like Paul. But being as Paul has never mentiond being there that day (and I see no reason for him to hide it) it’s pretty slim it’s him. But it really looks like him!

  21. J.R. Clark wrote:

    Almost every author or filmmaker who tackles the subject of the Beatles seems to take a Freudian approach to Brian Epstein and explain his sexuality as the motive for everything he thought or did.

    For example, in almost every Beatles book or documentary, when Brian first saw the Beatles at the Cavern, he is described as being sexually turned on by the sight of four young men in leather shaking their hips onstage, and that explained why he became obsessed with managing the group.

    I don’t agree with that interpretation.

    I feel, in terms of personality, that Brian thought very much like George Martin did when he first encountered The Beatles: Here were four charismatic and talented people who, if molded and channeled in the right direction, could be infinitely more successful than they were at present.

    I don’t doubt Brian loved The Beatles, but I believe it was very much a platonic love.

  22. @JR, I personally have no idea whether or not Brian’s sexuality was the dominant factor in his love for The Beatles, a factor, or no factor at all. And I don’t care whether that was expressed physically, because that doesn’t tell me much about the people involved. Speaking personally, it would be unlikely for me to manage a quartet of women that I was utterly devoted to, without also being attracted to them sexually–talent is very attractive to me, TMI I know–but that’s me, a straight man living in a time and place where my nature can be expressed freely. Brian spent his life hiding, and so who knows if even he could tell you what portion of his love for the group was sexual? Maybe he knew exactly; or maybe that was a door he daren’t open even a crack–it could be anywhere on that continuum.

    But your point is well taken, and one that’s not been made enough. Brian’s often reduced to being only his sexuality, and the tortured relationship to his era that slotted him into. He was much more than that. It’s Brian’s obvious devotion to the group that’s the key. At one point in the film someone says, “They were the love of his life,” and I think that’s indisputable. Sexualizing it often seems like a lessening of it–like Leggy Mountbatten’s love of “boys in tight trousers.”

  23. J.R. Clark wrote:

    Michael,

    You said precisely what I was struggling to say.

    Everyone should be so lucky to have a Brian Epstein in their lives—someone who recognizes your talent, believes in you unconditionally, and helps you to achieve your goals.

  24. CMO#9 wrote:

    …and is constantly looking to sleep with you…and is seemingly always making the worst business deals possible ensuring you see about a tenth of the money you should have….and who endangers your life in foreign countries…

    Just playing devils advocate a little. The deification of Brian went a bit too far for me.

  25. @CMO#9, in order:

    I personally LIKE it when people want to sleep with me. And if J/P/G/R didn’t, they were in the wrong line of work. Now, if Brian was pulling a gun on them, that’s different. 🙂

    Merch: Brian fucked up a ton of things, that’s true, but it’s important to put that into context. Nobody–not Colonel Tom Parker, not the guy who managed Sinatra in 1942, not whoever was managing Rudolph Valentino in 1920–ever had the merchandising opportunities that Brian was presented with. MAYBE if The Beatles had been managed from the beginning by a large outfit like William Morris, they would’ve been able to do that properly. But the speed, scale, and complexity of those deals was immense, and a more savvy manager would’ve likely screwed them himself. I’m trying to think of anybody in entertainment who’d had a similar merchandising situation as of 1964, and Disney is the only thing I can think would’ve been close. Did Brian get rooked? Yep. Was Brian totally unprepared for it? Yep. But the only way to have done better was to have been expecting it, and since it hadn’t happened before, that’s not fair to expect. Beatlemania was a surprise; it was an audience-driven phenomenon that the businessmen then had to exploit on-the-fly. The reason people did it better after is because often they were creating it from the beginning. The Monkees’ did a better job with merch because merch was the point of The Monkees.

    IMHO, full-on Beatlemania never would’ve happened without Brian Epstein; so if the choice is Brian, then Beatlemania, then losing out on merch deals (but still making some), it’s better than being signed by WMA in 1962, no Beatlemania (in the US at least). At worst it’s a wash, and at best, the group made more money with Epstein. And think about this: do you think John Lennon would’ve continued to work diligently after 1964 if he’d become worth $50 million? I don’t. And so we would’ve had the kind of misery, self-indulgence and spiritual torpor that hit him later, without the great work of 1965, 66, and 67.

    Touring and security IS something that I think Brian could’ve, and should’ve, done better. You can’t tell me that nobody could’ve solved The Beatles’ sound system problem; or made touring more comfortable; or reduced the access (and thus the danger) to them. Manila’s an example where Brian’s insane personal life distracted him from doing his job properly.

    I don’t think it’s deification to call Brian Epstein essential–just like I don’t think it’s overlooking Ringo’s technical flaws as a musician to say that he, too, was essential to the very unique and delicate web of relationships that made The Beatles first become The Beatles, then sustain and even grow under the kind of pressure that nobody else, before or since, has endured. Lindsey Lohan flips out under 1/1000000th of the pressure and scrutiny and workload that J/P/G/R faced, and that she doesn’t have a Brian in her life, must be part of the reason.

    I think of Epstein largely in the same way I think of Lennon–I want to know his flaws, because they’re part of what made him who he was; but ultimately I believe in the legend, because it’s based on genuine accomplishment, not hype. IMHO, Brian Epstein was a genius, and a type of genius that is just as rare as Lennon and McCartney.

  26. Anonymous wrote:

    Epstein’s greatest achievement was what he didn’t do: He didn’t interfere with the music.

    I think about American rockers who were screwed by the bad taste of their managers. Tom Parker directed Elvis’s “creative” decisions (choice of songs, choice of movies) until the biggest r&r star was reduced to a joke in the industry.

    The Everly brothers were over-managed, losing access to great songwriters they had relied on, simply because the songs weren’t from management’s publishing company. Many acts like the Burnett brothers and Gene Vincent were told by management to tone down the heavy rockabilly in favor of syrupy (and I mean syrupy) ballads, until every last drop of what made them unique in the first place was squeezed out of them.

    Eddie Cochran, one of the most creative, inventive artists (a multi-instrumentalist who experimented in the studio with overdubs and slowed-down tape recording) had “hollywood style” strings added without his permission by Snuff Garrett. Years before George Martin altered the tape speed of his keyboard on “In My Life” Eddie was altering the speed on guitar overdubs, and yet if he had lived, his heavy-handed management would have tried to turn him into Fabian.

    Buddy Holly’s manager waited until Buddy was on tour, then tacked on ugly barbershop quartet background vocals which obscured his brilliant strat playing. Buddy was pressured into recording songs he disliked, because his management “knew best.”

    Del Shannon had an entire album of new material rejected by his management, because it was “too rock ‘n roll.” Management pressured him to go onstage without his guitar; to be more of a pop crooner. Would the Beatles have imploded under bad advice like that?

    Brian could have been a real asshole, standing over George Martin, insisting on “sweetening” their sound, or adding strings and horns for a las vegas/ratpack sound, but he kept his distance, and for that I’m grateful.

    – Hologram Sam

  27. Annie McNeil wrote:

    ultimately I believe in the legend, because it’s based on genuine accomplishment, not hype. IMHO, Brian Epstein was a genius, and a type of genius that is just as rare as Lennon and McCartney.

    I’ve seen this opinion voiced by many knowledgeable Beatle fans, but I know very little about the business end of the music industry, and so I’ve never really been able to get a firm grip on what Brian did that qualified as “genius”. None of his other artists succeeded on anything like the scale the Beatles did, and as Hologram Sam notes above, he had no influence on the music. I’ve sort of gotten the impression that maybe the Beatles’ cultural impact was part of Brian’s “vision”, but again, I’ve never really gotten specifics on that. If you feel so inclined, Michael, I’d love to hear more about your perspective on this. 🙂

  28. CMO#9 wrote:

    Yeah, I was just trolling a bit there perhaps, and I apologize for that. I agree with all you said, Mike. I love Brian for the faith he had in those 4 guys. He just KNEW they were great and that it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world caught up to his viewpoint.

    I also agree that it was almost impossible to foresee the success and legacy of the Beatles and to plan accordingly with various business deals he made. That being said, he still screwed up mightily (but most people probably would have done the same or perhaps worse were they managing the group).

    I’m curious, and I’m not saying I necessarily disagree, but why do you think Beatlemania would not have happened without Brian? What’s the alternate world timeline if Brian never heard of the Beatles and never went to the Cavern one afternoon and died an old man still managing NEMS in Liverpool?

    And yes, I like when people wanna sleep with me too 🙂
    I was just inferring that it probably wasn’t the most healthy of relationships for manager/group. But then again, what the hell is a healthy relationship anyways?

  29. Anonymous wrote:

    Sam: Great analysis. The one point I would make is that perhaps one reason that Brian Epstein didn’t interfere with the music was because The Beatles wouldn’t have allowed it. The fact is: At the point when they were just starting out and had no power in the studio AT ALL, they resisted George Martin’s advice urging them to play “How Do You Do It.” So if they weren’t willing to listen to Martin’s advice on what kind of song to play, they sure as hell weren’t going to listen to Brian, who knew nothing at all about “beat music,” as he so endearingly called it.

    So part of the credit for Brian not interfering with the music — which I agree is a crucial factor — must go to the Beatles themselves who were only willing to be pushed so far. And no farther.

    — Drew

  30. perhaps one reason that Brian Epstein didn’t interfere with the music was because The Beatles wouldn’t have allowed it.

    Norman in Shout! tells the story of Brian at a recording session once making a modest suggestion on a musical point. John’s response: “You stick to your percentages, Brian. We’ll look after the music.”

    Then there’s the whole “Baby you’re a rich fag Jew” thing. John again.

    In The Brian Epstein Story, Paul says the Beatles would have liked it if Brian hung around the studio more. But I wonder how welcome he really felt in that cloistered environment, so alien from the world of contracts and promoters and phone calls.

  31. JoeWizzard wrote:

    Great discussion.
    I taped the original broadcast on BBC 2, Boxing Day and 27th Dec 1998 of the Epstein programme. I’m pretty sure both programmes were 90 mins long. The Youtube post you show was from a BBC 4 repeat, so hence the abridged nature. I’ll check this out soon and see if it does indeed differ from the version posted here.
    It’s an amazing programme in my view, probably one the best ever concerning the Beatles. The stmosphere it creates, the muddied confusion of some of the film brilliantly demonstrates the tangled, addled mind of mid 60’s Epstein. That last NME interview where he talks of ‘beautiful things’ and his drug intake seems a world away from the shirt and tied man we see in the early 60’s.
    The power of Epstein was that we couldn’t imagine The Beatles being managed by anyone else. the “interference” point is a good one. At least at first they would’ve listened to him, a man who knew very little about music really, and some disastrous decisions may have been made. But his love for them was such that he’s never dream of such a thing.
    Thank God for that.

  32. Peter Deville wrote:

    Interesting – or, more accurately, bewildering – to imagine how history might have changed had Epstein lived.

    On the subject of bios/insider accounts, any opinions on the Fred Seaman or John Green books? I haven’t read either but have been considering a purchase of one or both.

  33. @Annie, IMHO, Brian’s vision was integral to the cultural impact of The Beatles; no Brian, and it’s really a question as to whether the group would’ve survived, much less had a worldwide impact.

    Brian was able to package the group into a form that the machine of commercial music could recognize, promote and distribute. He was able to create an image that was simultaneously new and old, hard and soft, titillating and unthreatening. This is remarkable, and nobody else in the history of pop music has been able to do it. You could say that Elvis came close, but that was just one person; the four-part Beatles’ “formula” was much more complex.

    Brian’s training in old showbiz (RADA), and commercial presentation (NEMS), plus his own sense of style, let him position The Beatles just at the cutting edge, but not over–and the reason that he couldn’t really replicate that success has at least three parts. First, it was intrinsic to his own aesthetic; he didn’t really have another trick. What Brian did with the group was a creative act, and just like you can always recognize a Francis Bacon, all of Brian’s groups feel similar. Second, Brian’s softening/commercializing only really works if the musicians inside the suits are very, very dynamic and talented. And third, Brian’s vision was only cutting-edge for 1962-1965. Brian could not have created The Stones. His relationship to rough trade was too complex, and it was precisely this conflicted, internal/external, love/hate, scared/attracted relationship that he recreated for mass consumption in The Beatles.

    Lennon once compared The Beatles to “a Trojan horse.” Brian was the guy who made that horse. Lennon’s resentment of Epstein was an artifact of 1970, when he couldn’t bear the thought that ANYONE had a hand in his success besides himself, because that would’ve meant gratitude and obligation, neither of which were possible if he was going to escape the orbit of The Beatles and ilk. But we shouldn’t assume that was his permanent attitude. Lennon knew exactly what Epstein had done–it was what he and Yoko constantly tried to do, with some but less success, probably because they didn’t have the generosity that Brian did.

    To my American eyes, British showbiz circa 1960 seems much as it was in the days of music hall. Brian Epstein almost singlehandedly created a form that bridged that and what we have now, which was firmly in place by 1967. Brian’s formula disappeared because it was a bridging device which became unnecessary. It’s also wrong to assume that “someone would’ve done it.” British pop was a stable system in 1962, and they could’ve kept recycling American acts, as they had done.

    Finally, as has been mentioned, Brian wasn’t a Svengali. That’s huge, and it shows an incredible amount of respect and affection for the four guys. I don’t have any doubt that there would’ve been some tense conversations, but I also don’t have any doubt that, had he lived, The Beatles would’ve remained managed by him, and Lennon especially would’ve benefitted immensely.

  34. @Peter, I think both of those books are very useful sources, though need to be taken as chips of the mosaic. They suffer for being the only sources that really dig into certain areas, but I don’t think they’re BS. First, the portrait each paints is confirmed by other books, so the broad outlines hold unless one posits a vast conspiracy to make Lennon look like a kook. And second–let’s be honest, a lot of celebrities have bizarre lifestyles and beliefs. At the same time John and Yoko were consulting tarot, the Reagans were using astrology; a famously rationalist comedy person I know supposedly employs a health regimen involving a trampoline. Even some of the things I do–no celebrity, and no kook (?)–in hopes of getting better could be seen as kooky.

    One’s resistance to these sources is likely related to how closely they match one’s own experience, and for that reason alone I think they’re valuable. The Beatles experience wasn’t the same from either end of the telescope, and if Lennon grew Hugheslike or witchy, it was the money/fame/power that did it to him. And that money/fame/power came from us.

    I’ve often thought that if Lennon had lived, he might well have become a Scientologist. The man was a constant battle between his natural intelligence and common sense–the groundedness of Mimi and his background in Liverpool–and the distorting effects of money/fame/power that came after. Brian’s death was a HUGE push away from the former and towards the latter. Yoko is many things and was many things to John, but “down-to-earth” doesn’t seem to be one of them.

    So I think he was heading for a final crisis that would’ve made “the Lost Weekend” look like a charity softball game. Knowing how he usually reacted, he would’ve fought bravely for a while, but then his lack of a basic emotional support system–stuff that you and I have that John Lennon absolutely did not–would’ve led him to look for an all-encompassing source. Brian was that for him from 1961-67, and it was Lennon’s immense good fortune that Brian was a benign father/mother. His need for this, and the lack of it, became more and more clear as the years went on. That love—really wishing well for the group–was also Brian’s gift, as important in the end as his promotional one. And because he was the leader of The Beatles, and needed that unconditional love and guidance the most of the four, John Lennon was almost as much a casualty of Brian Epstein’s death as Brian was.

  35. Peter Deville wrote:

    Well, I’ve just read Fred Seaman’s book and shortly before that I read May Pang’s. I have to say neither contained much that shocked or surprised me about John himself, although the insights into his lifestyle, behaviour and beliefs helped to broaden my knowledge and understanding of the man.

    However, the real revelations in both books concerned Yoko. Of course, one can argue that both authors had their personal axe to grind where Yoko is concerned but… the frankly unpleasant picture that emerges all too credible, and consistent.

    @Michael, you say, “it was Lennon’s immense good fortune that Brian was a benign father/mother,” and I agree. But what about Yoko? A benign father/mother? John’s good fortune? Those are the questions I’m struggling with right now.

    It always seemed so lazy to be anti-Yoko, so knee-jerk, reductive and facile. And yet the more I learn about their life together, the harder I find it to be anything other than anti-Yoko, and I can’t help but seriously question her motives in their relationship.

  36. @Peter, I originally wrote a long, two-part answer to your question (which maybe got out), but then I realized that there is something about analyzing this issue that makes me deeply sad, so I deleted it. No matter how I address the John/Yoko relationship, I never seem to be able to express my dominant emotion, which is sympathy for everyone concerned–John, Yoko, Sean, Julian, Cynthia, and on and on.

    As to whether Yoko was benign, I think it’s fairly clear that she was what John wanted. Is that the story I would’ve written for his life? No, but my beef is mostly with Yoko’s tendency to cut him off from other means of emotional support. There was nothing wrong with John Lennon that isn’t wrong with millions of other people, and I wish that he could’ve gotten more help with it, both professional and via a wider network of friends. I think both of them were/are very lonely, and that is a terrible shame.

    Mostly, I think about the damage both of them suffered as children (John from his parenting, Yoko from her time as a refugee), and my heart opens to them. I wish they had been happier, and I’m glad that Yoko seems more comfortable in her own skin now.

  37. Peter Deville wrote:

    @Michael I wish you hadn’t deleted it! But I know what you mean – it’s a truly sad story and that’s why it’s so easy to buy into the myth, and heartbreaking when you discover it’s just that – a myth. So many victims, so much of what the protagonists might call bad karma. So much waste.

  38. @Peter, send me your email via mikegerber.com, and I’ll send you the original comment if I can find it.

    What do YOU think about it all?

  39. Peter Deville wrote:

    @Michael – done.

    My thoughts are that it became a marriage of convenience. John clearly loved Yoko and needed her to take care of him. – or at least believed he did.

    Did Yoko love John? Probably, though perhaps not quite in the same way as he loved her. She needed him because without being part of JohnandYoko she couldn’t attain the status she believed she deserved. She was well aware of this – ever the pragmatist behind the romantic facade. In fact, I think her pragmatism played a key role in the relationship’s early days, and throughout.

    Clearly, they both toyed with the idea of life without without the other but could never quite follow it through.

    They couldn’t have everything they wanted whether together or apart. John wanted a close, loving relationship WITH Yoko, but she couldn’t give him that. Yoko wanted world renown and acclaim in her own right without being tied to John’s image, but she couldn’t have that. So they stayed together, in a loose sense of the word, pretending – or maybe imagining – to be happy.

    Incidentally, Yoko DOES seem happier in her own skin these days. This has coincided with a trend for critical revisionism where her art and music are concerned. Perhaps the source of her happiness is that she is at last considered an ‘important’ artist in her own right and has moved beyond the public persona of being merely John Lennon’s widow.

  40. Michael wrote:

    Michael, I think you’re spot-on with your assessment of Brian Epstein’s death and Lennon’s instability. Granted, Lennon began to lose himself in LSD when the Beatles stopped touring and he had the free time to worry about who he was, what his purpose was, and how he would function without the whirlwind distractions of Beatlemania; however, Lennon in early ’67 still seems, in his own way, more grounded in that Northern sensibility that’s completely lost to macrobiotic diets and solipsistic ideas about being an artist by 1980. I think Lennon’s psychological drives necessitated his staying with Yoko even after he fell out of love with her; as unfulfilling as it may have been to remain married to her, it was clearly more difficult to contemplate life without her. Undoubtedly part of the reason for this lay in the fact that a split would’ve meant admitting to the world that he was wrong about her.

    Your speculation that there would’ve been another great crisis in the eighties is jarring but all too believable. Lennon’s demos from 75-80 sound like the work of a deeply unhappy soul. He sounds lethargic, despondent, and addicted to drugs. The mere fact that he was still using cocaine (he required frequent nasal massage, according to Peter Doggett) in this period belies the whole househusband story on so many levels. We know some of the Dakota staff were worried about suicide, and his behavior—remaining in his room with the lights out and blinds pulled, often naked—certainly speaks to real depression. If there isn’t a Lennon suicide attempt, there’s certainly a relapse into alcoholism, heroin, take your pick. Maybe whatever he told Jack Douglas that last night at the Record Plant would shed some light on his state of mind.

  41. CMO#9 wrote:

    “Maybe whatever he told Jack Douglas that last night at the Record Plant would shed some light on his state of mind.”

    I’ve always wanted to ask this group about that, thanks for bringing it up Michael…I assume you’re just Michael and not Michael Gerber. I digress.

    Anyone think they have a good idea of what Douglas is hiding? I take it John was talking about death and dying young, just as he had many times throughout his life. The fact that this happened to be mere minutes before his actual death probably made it too spooky and weird for Douglas to handle. As much as I respect Douglas and his refusal to make the tapes public or even talk about that conversation, I also hate him for it. John was and still is one of the most chronicled men of all time and the details of one of his final conversations would be amazing to have and evaluate. Just my opinion tho, I could probably be swayed…

    What say you?

  42. CMO#9 wrote:

    “Maybe whatever he told Jack Douglas that last night at the Record Plant would shed some light on his state of mind.”

    I’ve always wanted to ask this group about that, thanks for bringing it up Michael…I assume you’re just Michael and not Michael Gerber. I digress.

    Anyone think they have a good idea of what Douglas is hiding? I take it John was talking about death and dying young, just as he had many times throughout his life. The fact that this happened to be mere minutes before his actual death probably made it too spooky and weird for Douglas to handle. As much as I respect Douglas and his refusal to make the tapes public or even talk about that conversation, I also hate him for it. John was and still is one of the most chronicled men of all time and the details of one of his final conversations would be amazing to have and evaluate. Just my opinion tho, I could probably be swayed…

    What say you?

  43. That’s not me, CMO–this is, though.

    That little nugget has always intrigued me, too. I hope that Jack Douglas does reveal it sometime, even posthumously if necessary.

  44. CMO#9 wrote:

    After all these years, it’s one of the few enduring mysteries about John. While I mentioned up above that John was most likely just spewing about his early death premonitions, it seems like there may be something more. Douglas barely ever talks about it, and when he does he says as little as possible. What the hell was John talking about that was so explosive, that even now, almost 32 years later Douglas refuses to reveal!? This one really tugs at me. Divorce? Suicide? Murder? Drugs? Beatles? Paul? What was it?? Please tell us Jack!

  45. […] The Brian Epstein Story — 1998 BBC documentary What If Brian Epstein Lived? — MG’s admittedly rosy reading of an alternate future 1967 Brian Epstein Interview with Murray the K — an interesting glimpse into Brian’s mindset during the  last months of his life The Dizz Gillespie Story — probably my favorite Hey Dullblog post, written by Devin. Just go read it. […]