My husband John knows everything there is to know about the Beatles. Or so we thought.
Then his son Mitch handed him a book-shaped package at Christmas. “A Beatles book!” we all cried in dismay as John tore off the wrapping. “He already has them all.”
“Not this one,” explained Mitch. “It’s new. It tells what happened to the Beatles after they split.” You could almost feel us all thinking: “Is that going to be very interesting?”
The answer is: Oh yeah.
My husband read You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup by Peter Doggett in practically a single sitting and then I rapidly followed suit.
What we discovered was a frequently sad but always credible tale well told by a man who knows his field. Doggett, who is a veteran music reporter, has drawn on an astounding array of sources and a sea of interviews to put together a compelling, cogent, well-crafted narrative about the Fab Four and their lives from 1970 on. Because of the depth of his material (his interviewees include Yoko Ono, Derek Taylor, Neil Aspinall, George Martin, Alistair Taylor, May Pang, Cynthia Lennon, James Taylor, Louise Harrison, Michael McCartney, and Leon Russell) Doggett is able to offer multiple points of view and postbreakup portraits of all four Beatles that feel genuine.
If you are a fan, don’t expect to be delighted by what you will discover. The boys don’t often come across well. According to Doggett, neither John Lennon nor Paul McCartney was ever able to rise above their mutual jealousy and resentment. John behaved with a blinding selfishness throughout much of his life, and Paul never seems to have been able to get the better of his controlling nature. Between the two of them, they seem to have jinxed several tantalizingly near misses in terms of trying to get the band back together in the years after 1970.
And don’t hope for anything much better from the others. George Harrison comes across as a grouchy guy who tried to keep the world at bay with Krishna chants and who began to fear a crazed assailant long before one ever found him. Ringo Starr seems to have spent many of the post-Beatles years trying to drink himself to death (although he has been sober for more than a decade now).
If the Beatles don’t come across well, neither do many of those who surrounded them. The mismanagement of their affairs was stunning – both on their part and that of others.
Doggett, however, is too clear-eyed to try to foist too much of the blame onto any one individual. Some of the frequently targeted villains in the Beatles saga are on display here – business manager Allan Klein and the infamous Yoko Ono, to name two – but this is a sophisticated narrative that recognizes that the mistakes and miscues were too multiple to attribute to any one figure. Neither does Doggett ask us to choose between John and Paul, casting one as a saint and the other as a sinner. Although the reasons behind some of Paul’s business decisions seem clearer in this telling than in many others, both men come across as flawed – albeit highly gifted – individuals.
What should please fans, however, is that Doggett clearly loves his subjects. Despite some of the dirt he’s forced to dish, his tone is always respectful and often rather affectionate. He never seems to forget the overwhelming talent and charm that these four boys from Liverpool generated both individually and collectively and that, ultimately, that’s the only reason we’re still reading about them all these years later.
Paul and Ringo, as the two surviving Beatles, are probably smart enough to stay away from any and all Beatles books these days. But the rest of us – who can’t help ourselves – can be grateful that, if the Beatles’ story must be told, it has fallen into a pair of hands as capable and caring as those of Doggett.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor.