Monday, March 7, 2016

Brooks on Books: You Never Give Me Your Money by Peter Doggett

I had wanted to read this book, which chronicles the Beatles after the breakup, ever since it came out. A friend of mine loaned it to me recently, and I now want to thank him in public in this post. Thanks, friend.

Thanks for RUINING THE BEATLES for me!

I'm joking, but, man, "You Never Give Me Your Money" is a depressing read for Beatles fans (a subset that shouldn't even be a subset; we're all Beatles fans, right?) and a sad reminder of all the stuff I had heard over the years but kind of tried to forget. In fact, it adds more rich detail to the story of how the greatest band the world has ever known spent its last decade-plus as individuals on the planet together suing and sniping at each other.

Doggett is such a skilled writer, though, that the tale is captivating even if on some level you don't particularly want to know it. He begins with the tragedy of John Lennon's assassination, hooking you right away before taking you back to the beginning of the end (One of the disheartening aspects of the Beatles' breakup, by the way, is that it started years before they actually broke up).

It takes a talented author to summarize legal squabbles and other pettiness into a compelling narrative, and Doggett does while maintain an appropriate objective distance. Oh, he gets in plenty of wry comments that essentially call out the players on various BS, but he stops well short of interjecting the, "Oh, come on, just grow up," comments you want to make when reading the book. It makes me eager to read more of Doggett's work.

I don't know if I'm as eager to see "Let It Be" again as I was before I read this, though. Reading about the disintegration of the Beatles is enough of a bummer without seeing--Oh, who am I kidding, I want the long-shelved documentary to get an official video release, and I will buy it when it does. It's just that "You Never Give Me" provides so many telling points that reinforce the darker aspects of the band's history.

I knew John was a drug-abusing hypocrite, but, wow, does he come off poorly here. I knew Paul McCartney could be controlling, but there are a few specific instances in this narrative that you really see how he cut off his nose to spite his face. I still give him credit for being the one who tried to keep the band together (if on his terms) and who warned the others about would-be financial savior Allen Klein.

A recent book about Klein promises to offer a fuller picture, and I think I'd like to see that. As the tangled affairs of Apple become even more so during the 1970s, the shady businessman naturally looms large in this story. The focus remains on the "lads," though. And speaking of them...

George Harrison comes off worse than the others to me only because while I knew a lot of the John and Paul stuff, the epic a-holery of George has been so whitewashed over the years that much of it feels "fresh," if that word can apply to tales of self-absorption and adultery. There are multiple sides to everything, mind you, but it strikes me that George held bigger grudges against Paul even though John was arguably the more personally cruel and the more stifling music-wise. Perhaps the hurt was stronger for the sensitive Harrison coming from the one he knew longer.

As for Ringo, he comes off as a normal enough bloke (Doggett refers to him as "Richard Starkey" throughout the book) who just wants everyone to get along and is willing to go along to make that happen. The frequent references to his boorish behavior while addicted to alcohol aren't accompanied by a lot of specifics, and as a result, Lennon's heroin use is more vivid and it's easy to forget Ringo was capable of being a real ass, too.

I don't think I need to say much about Yoko. "You Never Give Me" makes clear that she is not the sole force behind the destruction of the band, but it also depicts her as a frequent obstacle to any hope of reconciliation. Yes, Lennon was as much responsible for Ono being in the group's sessions as she--actually, more so--and he deserves the blame for that, but Doggett presents circumstantial evidence of the negative influence she had on his life and hints that she may have directly thwarted several efforts of him to get together and record music with at least one of the other ex-Beatles in the 1970s. Suffice to say this is in no way a revisionist take on Yoko, but I think it's a fair look at her influence and her undeniable role in the saga.

Doggett had only brief encounters with the Beatles themselves, and apparently they weren't directly related to this particular book, but he says the "research" encompassed some 40 years as a fan and writer, and his research is impressive. In addition to a multitude of secondary sources, Doggett draws from interviews he conducted with a variety of key figures, including Ono, George Martin, the late Neil Aspinall, and many others. He shows good judgment in reporting rumor as such and only when it's relevant to the text, and he presents a credible view of all the various legal machinations that occurred.

One thing that may raise the eyebrows of many hardcore Beatlemaniacs is the dismissive attitude Doggett has about much of the guys' solo output. This isn't a critical history of the solo Beatles music careers, but that work is an essential part of the post-band journey, and it's interesting how down he is on much of it. McCartney, in particular, gets a certain amount of negativity toward his solo music that is somewhat surprising given his commercial success.

In the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take. Sorry, couldn't help myself. I was going to say that in the end, we have the music. After reading this disturbing but addictive account of the Beatles after they stopped being the Beatles, I wondered how the hell the surviving three managed to put together the Anthology (and even that wasn't a slam dunk), but I also went back to the tunes. Ultimately, as Doggett rightly emphasizes, it's the work that endures. "Their collective genius created something that not even money could destroy," he writes, even though at some points this great book makes it seem touch and go.

1 comment:

Friend Flintstone said...

You're welcome, and thanks for the return. I'm rereading it now.