Will the new Beatles bio give readers what they really want?
”All I want is the truth… Just gimme some truth.” That’s what John Lennon sang back in 1971, and it looks as if Beatles fans may finally get it. According to a news report on Sunday, the remaining Fab Three have been working on a joint autobiography over the past six years that will at last see the light of print this fall. It’ll be about 360 pages long, it’ll cost $80 — that’s right, $80 — and proceeds will be split between Paul, George, Ringo, and Yoko (even though John Lennon’s widow had nothing to do with the project).
Well, good for them. Since the group has been a profitable cottage industry in the publishing world for 30 years — a quick search of Amazon.com brings up 459 Beatles-related books, which includes all those memoirs by folks who knew them/worked for them/slept with them/waited on their table once — why shouldn’t the surviving band members have a shot at telling the tale? Granted, George Harrison already came out with an autobiography called ”I, Me, Mine” in the 1980s, but, as the title indicates, it was a much more personal affair, centered on his early life and songwriting and offering only passing glimpses of Beatle mania.
No, the new book stands a chance to truly set the record straight and show us what a pop-culture explosion looks like from the inside. What it’s like to go from playing in a German basement to being globally famous within a year. What happens when each of your passing remarks has a deep and lasting effect on everyone under the age of 30. What it’s like to crank out great song after great song in a blur of creative heat. And what it really feels like when it all starts to fall apart and you can’t stand talking to the only other three people who know what you’re going through.
That’s what I’d like to read. It may not be what we get. The fact that the book will be titled ”Beatles Anthology” isn’t the best of signs, linking the project as it does with the fascinating but deeply secondary studio-outtake releases of 1995-1996. And let us all pray that the book has more energy and inspiration than the last Beatles ”reunion” — that corpse-digging rock and roll swindle known as ”Free as a Bird.”
Here’s a thought: When ”Anthology” comes out this fall, maybe some enterprising publishers will take it upon themselves to re-release a little-known book called ”Paperback Writer.” Written by Mark Shipper in 1978, before Lennon’s death made it egregiously besides the point, ”Writer” is a wonderful parody bio of the Beatles — as if the Monty Python gang and Douglas Adams had conspired to write ”Shout: The Beatles in Their Generation” instead of Philip Norman. In it we discover such alternate-world details as the fact that when John Lennon claimed the group was bigger than Jesus, he actually meant that they were TALLER. And in it, the Fab Four actually get back together in 1979, record a new album that bombs mightily, and end up as the opening act for Peter Frampton.
All right, that didn’t happen, but ”Free as a Bird” runs a close second. I’ll read ”Anthology” for the truth — or Paul, George, and Ringo’s version of it — but I wish someone would reprint ”Paperback Writer” for the laughs.