The Beatles: The Biography--If not definitive, at least thick.
Ken Kase
1/15/2006 11:03:08 PM

The Beatles: The Biography
by Bob Spitz
(Little, Brown)

Bob Spitz''s ambitious biography is just one of many that endeavors to tell the story of the Beatles definitively in a marketplace already saturated with scores of volumes by so-called "experts". Indeed, the over one thousand page book (of which approximately 150 are devoted to source citations) weighing in at a hefty three pounds proclaims authenticity by its sheer magnitude. This is not to imply the The Beatles is bloated--indeed, far from it. It was obviously meticulously researched using a wide variety of source material, a good chunk of which has hitherto not been plundered, much less published. The language is precise and vibrant, making the familiar story exciting to even the most jaded longtime fan, not to mention the young, hip neophyte.

The Beatles' story is, of course, grippingly romantic and pulsing with drama. Their path to success was riddled with dizzying heights and fraught with danger and pratfalls that mirrored and, in some cases, initiated cultural and historical events. Thankfully, Spitz is among a growing legion of writers who have sought to demystify this often told tale and in the process, remove the halos that popularity has perched so precariously atop the Fabs' heads. This perspective seems especially timely in light of the recent twenty fifth anniversary of the murder of John Lennon who was granted nearly instant sainthood that defied question. One doesn't claw from the sticks to the big time without more than a little personal unpleasantness, as Spitz's book well illustrates.

The Beatles contains some internal inconsistencies, some questionable anecdotes and, most significantly, some time-ordering and discographical facts which are just plain wrong--issues that could have been resolved by a simple glance at a record jacket or other documents. Fact is often the casualty of an effort to impart a greater truth and on the whole, such irritation seems less consequential (and almost inevitable) in the broader context of the book. Indeed, the issue of finding credible source material is a problem addressed by the author directly, but it still doesn't absolve him of the same sins. One need look only at the erroneously captioned photographs to bear this out. In a relativist culture, "definitive" doesn't count for much.

For the most part, this is a very well constructed and compulsive read. The prose is finely crafted and the accounts of the frenetic early years are imbued with energy and excitement. The author is able to turn events which have been documented extensively elsewhere into a source of renewed intrigue by injecting new details and variations into one of rock's most oft-told tales.

But on the whole, The Beatles is lopsided. It provides a meticulously detailed narrative for most of its considerable pages, but falls off markedly in the post-touring years (1966-70). On their rise to fame up to the point of their decision to abandon touring, this is a story that is marked by events. The final years are a catalog of quarrels as the band slowly decayed into a pool of acrimony and lawsuits. So why is this period given such short shrift? They surely produced some of their best music during this period and there is a fair amount of well documented intrigue that would have made for some interesting reading, but the decline of the band is swift and the details of the breakup are almost relegated to post-script status. It elicits in the reader a sensation of being leisurely taken by the hand through sweeping, majestic vistas and quickly led to a garbage dump.

Those who seek insight into the band's creative process or detailed information about the music will be disappointed, but there are other resources that cover such topics elsewhere. Those looking for a behind-the-scenes, almost soap opera like drama will not be disappointed. Just don't take it as the Gospel according to Bob--merely one that is heavier.


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