With hundreds of books about the Beatles already in print, it could be either a bold or a foolish author who believes that he can uncover a fresh perspective, reveal a aspect of the band’s story that so far had been overlooked. In just the last few years there has been a number of fascinating books published about the Beatles, including Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World (2005) by Steven D. Stark, Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with the Beatles (2005) by Tony Bramwell, The Beatles: Ten Years That Shook the World (2004) edited by Paul Trynks, and Ticket to Ride: Inside the Beatles’ 1964 Tour That Changed the World (2003) by Larry Kane. The author of several books, including a controversial biography of musician Bob Dylan, Bob Spitz decided that he would devote however long was necessary to research his subject completely. As the author of Dylan: A Biography (1989), Spitz knew well the pitfalls of taking a near legend as his subject. In the decades since the Beatles first became a phenomenon, and since the band’s breakup in 1970, the mythology that surrounds the group has grown larger.
In popular music, the Beatles are the gold standard. Every band that gains both critical and public acclaim inevitably is compared to the Beatles. Spitz set out to write the definitive biography of the band, which took him almost eight years to complete. As first presented to the publisher, the work was more than 2,700 pages long. Because of its length, the manuscript had to be trimmed dramatically. In what remains Spitz still has a rich story to tell, and he includes more than eighty pages of notes, a bibliography, a discography, and a detailed index.
Researching the book took two years. The author, working methodically, began by traveling to Liverpool, England, and interviewing everyone available who had been involved with the Beatles there. For Spitz, it was necessary to fill in the background first, to get a feel for what life was like in Liverpool after World War II. Initially, he made the conscious decision not to talk to the three Beatles who were alive at the outset of his research. At all costs, he wanted to avoid writing the “same story,” the standard responses that have been perpetuated for decades. Among the more than six hundred individuals Spitz spoke with, many had never previously told their stories for public record. The author also was privileged to read the diaries of the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. Amazingly, no one had secured access to these journals prior to Spitz. Spitz was shocked by what he read in the diaries, which cover the years from 1949 until Epstein’s death in 1966. Epstein is revealed to be a man of “large vision.” It was Epstein who believed that his Beatles would become “bigger than Elvis.” After gathering all the facts, after piecing together all the elements of the vast puzzle, Spitz understood that the story that was in front of him was as large as history itself. As great historical figures deserve biographies large enough to do them justice, so too do the Beatles deserve such a work.
After Spitz had done his homework, he felt confident enough to approach the Beatles themselves. Of the three who were living, Spitz gained access to two, George Harrisonbefore his death from cancer in 2001and Paul McCartney. Out of his conversations with both McCartney and Harrison, a more down-to-earth, gritty portrayal of the band began to take shape. As the book is only about one-third as long as was originally written, it is hoped that sometime in the future Spitz’s excised prose will see the light of day. In The Beatles: The Biography , Spitz is at his very best describing how the four lads from Liverpool became the Beatles. Some readers may become impatient with the author for dwelling so much on the early days when these awkward teenagers grappled with making their mark on the music scene. Spitz, however, intended for the first few hundred pages of his...
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