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am 12. Mai 2006
I find it interesting that this book was "Edited down from a staggering 2,700 pages" because I kept thinking that "The Beatles: The Biography" was not long enough. Part of that was because when you get to the end Paul spills the beans, John gets mad, and that is the end. George and Ringo have nothing to say. Bob Spitz's endnote is a single paragraph that runs more than a page that covers the release of the "Let It Be" album in a half sentence. Their last #1 song, "The Long and Winding Road," is ignored (although the saccharine overdose provided by Phil Spector's orchestration certainly contributed to McCartney's decision to bolt) and the obituaries to come are more prominent than the musical successes (even though Lennon with "Imagine," Lennon finally writes a song more powerful than McCartney's "Yesterday"). Spitz tells of the boys before they were the Beatles, and corresponding chapters at the end would be nice.

This biography gets off to a better start, beginning in media res, with a prologue on December 27, 1960, set at the Christmas dance at the Litherland town hall when the group opened their set with "Long Tall Sally," concluded with a rousing version of "What'd I Say," and that night, according to Spitz, "they had become the Beatles." The contents are divided into three sections: Mercy (Chapters 1-20) begins with Liverpool and the birth of John Lennon, and ends with "Please Please Me" making it to #1 on the British pop charts. Mania (Chapters 21-28) starts with the Beatles becoming a national rather than northern phenomenon and takes us to the decision to name an album "Rubber Soul." Mastery (Chapters 29-37) begins with "Rubber Soul" breaking everything open and ends with the Beatles broken up.

The prologue is certainly captivating, and it ends up focusing the book more on the process of becoming than what happened on the way down. But then we know more about the story of the Beatles once they were the Beatles, so that sifting through the legends and the doctored autobiographies to make the case for what really happened is obviously of more interest. Spitz focuses as much on the hard work as the rampant creativity, and if you had an idea the Beatles were an overnight sensation this biography certainly dispels that notion. We get the backgrounds on Paul, George, Ringo and Brian Epstein as they join the band, so instead of trying to deal with parallel stories Spitz adds new threads to the weave.

The middle part of the book suffers in comparison because of the attention to how everything came together. For me the fascinating part during the glory days is how they put together their albums, especially the landmark efforts of "Rubber Soul," "Revolver" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Spitz could double the amount of time he spends on those albums and made me happy, but then you can always reference something like Steve Turner's "A Hard Day's Write" if you want to check out the stories behind every Beatles song. If there is anything Spitz proves with this 984-page literary doorstop is that no single volume history of the Beatles is coming to be truly comprehensive, but his effort should forestall a multi-volume treatise for some time. Depending on how your interests vary from others, you will certainly find sections of the book to gloss over before Spitz gets back to what you consider to be the good parts.

The last act is rather disheartening and Spitz presents a series of fights and angry exchanges that actually make you want them to break up just to put themselves out of their collective misery. In retrospect it is amazing they kept things going on the edge for as long as they did, and Spitz makes no real effort to work out the contradictions between words and actions at this point in the history of the Beatles, although I doubt anybody on the outside could get further than the idea they were committed to each other out of habit and economics. As a writer Spitz does tend to interject himself a bit too much at times, getting a bit too cute now and again. But he does do a good job of rendering verdicts on key moments: for example, he makes it clear that when the other Beatles let John bring Yoko Ono into the Abbey Road studio, that is essentially the point of no return. There are eight-plus pages of notes in the back, along with eleven pages of bibliography, a discography and an index, so you can double check facts to your heart's content. Getting through this is a bit of a chore, but at least you can play appropriate albums (and songs) as you go merrily along.
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