The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz, read by Alfred Molina (Simon & Schuster Audio, $39.95, 9 CDs – running time: 10 hours and 13 minutes)
Be careful what you wish for… Or, in this case, the fellows who would eventually become the iconic rock group, The Beatles, were in for a shock when they got what they worked so hard to achieve – being the Toppermost of the Poppermost. According to Bob Spitz, the author of this band biography, attempting to perform before an audience of hysterically screaming teenage girls is very tiring and puts one’s best musical efforts aside for the mere fact of being there in person on stage.
The usual biographical story line follows the lads from their early efforts at becoming popular and famous. It’s well known that diligent practice, some songwriting and struggles to get gigs led them from Liverpool, England to Hamburg, Germany and back to Liverpool. Eventually, they played to the USA audience via television on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Well, as an ancient radio show host would say, “Now, you’re gonna hear the rest of the story.” Spitz invested countless hours of research and sleuthing to come up with a more in-depth and, in some situations, gut-wrenching back story of The Beatles life cycle, from unknowns to way-too-famous performers. This reviewer listened to the audio version of the book narrated by Alfred Molina, who is himself a well-known actor in films and on stage. Molina’s confident depiction of the various voices and accents is a real listening pleasure. It also helps to have a well-written narrative which Spitz delivers chapter after chapter.
The saga comes to life with frequent quotes from the people who populated The Beatles’ world (e.g., Brian Epstein, Sir George Martin, Stuart Sutcliffe and his wife, etc.). To his credit, Spitz did not include any of the band’s music in the audio book. Whether this was due to the cost of the needle-drop or a conscious choice, it kept this listener focused on the interactions and emotions felt by all involved.
Honestly, it’s easy to jump on one’s laptop, go to You Tube and enjoy their music. It’s more of a challenge to stay with the biography and learn that these adorable fellows had plenty of emotional baggage and personal interactions that did not always bode well for the group. Also, the rock scene in England and the USA was fueled by a wide array of illegal drug use. The Beatles enjoyed their share of drugs, girls and fame. Donovan was a pal as were other famous British rockers. In the end it all fell apart and they were a group – a band – for less than a decade.
As the final track of the CD closed out, this reviewer felt the enormous loss of something magical, something heard for the first time over a Ford Falcon station wagon radio as Martha drove the carpool group to our northern California high school. It was love at first listen and it still is…