Another Beatles book? Yes, maybe the best ever.
A new biography by Jonathan Gould chronicles the enduring impact of Britain's greatest export.
If there's one thing the world certainly does not need, it's another book about the Beatles.Skip to next paragraph
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Except this one.
While Christmas shopping a few months ago, I walked right past a brand-new Beatles book ... a first for me, for I am all about all things Beatle. Maybe it was the rather bland title and cover, or it might have been a feeling of maximum satiation brought on by reviewing Bob Spitz's 800-page Beatles opus a few years ago. It wasn't until a fellow Beatlemaniac recently waxed rhapsodic about Can't Buy Me Love that I finally stopped to pick up a copy. Remember the joy of opening all your Christmas presents and thinking you'd finished, then someone goes to the closet and emerges with one final, very special gift? Reading this book felt like that.
It was as if the very best had been saved for last. A nearly 20-year labor of love by a first-time writer, it's a fascinating, witty, and highly original take on Beatles music and mystique, and a worthy addition to "Beatle lit." If you happened to miss any of the 500-plus Beatles books before, not to worry – this will catch you up nicely. Author Jonathan Gould's long and winding road from concept in the late '80s to final publication last fall is a fascinating tale of its own (for details, listen to the author interview at csmonitor.com/books), but I'll stick to the book's compelling contents for this review.
The author chronicles the Beatles saga from three vantage points: biographical, musical, and historical. What he does better than anyone before him is to vividly re-create the world that incubated the four lads – not only their hometown of Liverpool, the once bustling seaport that had already faded into scruffy irrelevance by the time the boys were born – but an entire country reeling from another devastating war, mourning its dead, and trying to carry on.
"Britain – its cities scarred, its wealth depleted, and its vitality sapped by war – was turning its gaze inward as it abdicated its great power and disassembled its empire," writes Gould.
We're introduced to the theater of the Angry Young Men, the madcap Goons, the curious new miracle of television, and an exploding London art scene that was impertinently discarding all the rules. The irreverent attitude the Beatles exuded in public was genuine, indeed – but it was hardly unique. In postwar Britain young people were suddenly questioning everything.
Increasingly, the world turned its envious gaze on America, where confidence was high, the economy was booming, and charismatic stars like James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Elvis became idols to young men everywhere and catnip to young women.
Boatloads of "Yanks" frequently docked in Liverpool and brought their records with them. So even though their rough seaport town was 200 miles and 100 light-years away from a much hipper London, the four lads – even as schoolboys – were exposed to (and smitten with) not only Elvis, but rhythm-and-blues stars like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Smokey Robinson.