Sunday, July 11, 2010;
YOU NEVER GIVE ME YOUR MONEY
The Beatles After the Breakup
By Peter Doggett
Harper. 390 pp. $24.99
Forty years after their breakup, the Beatles are still on the radio. They're on television, in movies and video games. They're even in Cirque du Soleil. They're everywhere. Well, everywhere but iTunes. And there's a reason for that.
Peter Doggett's "You Never Give Me Your Money" follows the Beatles after their breakup -- when the magic of the band and its music gave way to the day-to-day drudgery of managing the brand and its hopelessly tangled finances. In 1967, following the advice of their late manager Brian Epstein's brother, the Beatles incorporated in Britain under the name Apple Music Ltd (later renamed Apple Corps Ltd), mostly in an effort to escape the taxman. "The financial benefits were obvious," Doggett writes. "Their earnings were now subject to corporation tax rather than income tax (currently running 94 percent for such high earners as the Beatles), and they could claim back their personal living expenses from the company."
But the Beatles also hoped that Apple Corps could be an extension of the idealism they sought to express in their music. Quickly expanded to include a publishing company, a record label, a boutique and an electronics laboratory, it would be a sanctuary for artists and innovators, a place where nobody had to beg. "Instead of trying to amass money for the sake of it, we're setting up a business concern at Apple -- rather like . . . Western communism," explained Paul McCartney in 1968.
Instead, it became a quagmire.
Not long after Apple formed, the band's musical partnership began to fray, falling victim to creative differences, petty grudges and, of course, Yoko Ono. The business side wasn't going so well, either. Enormous sums were frittered away on unsupervised projects, including an ultimately useless state-of-the-art recording studio designed by John Lennon's friend "Magic" Alex Mardas. A warehouse worth of demos and manuscripts were solicited but never considered. Then there were the epic battles over Epstein's successor -- McCartney wanted his father-in-law, Lee Eastman, to oversee the group's fortunes, while his bandmates rallied behind record-industry shark Allen Klein. Unfortunately, the latter prevailed, creating a deep rift between McCartney and the other Beatles. When the group attempted to sever its relationship with Klein in the early '70s, the manager filed a barrage of lawsuits -- suing all four Beatles, Ono, Apple, nine of its subsidiary companies and one of the band's lawyers. When Klein finally settled in 1977, it was to the tune of more than $5 million. By the time the Beatles announced their breakup in 1969, Apple Corps had dissolved into a jumble of acronyms -- ABKCO, NEMS and EMI, to name a few. The lawsuits -- over ownership, royalty rates and trademarks -- went on for decades. Apple even sued Apple Computers over the rights to the name Apple. "You Never Give Me Your Money" diligently reconstructs the tedium, with every courtroom testimony and ill-tempered interview accounted for.
Call it the "Magical Misery Tour" -- a journey that is more engaging than you would think. When it comes to flower-power-deflating anecdotes, the book is a fair rival for the Manson family exposé "Helter Skelter." Doggett portrays the post-breakup Beatles as self-absorbed, bratty and -- more than anything else -- confused. Too young to retire, they struggled to find meaningful ways to use their time, influence and bitterly contested fortune.
Some were more enterprising than others: In 1971 George Harrison rallied a cadre of rock superstars -- including Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and a then-reclusive Bob Dylan -- for the "Concert for Bangladesh," which resulted in two sold-out performances and a live album that generated millions for the war- and cyclone-ravaged nation. McCartney and Lennon were invited, but Doggett suggests that the pair could not rise above their egos. "I said to George the reason I wouldn't do it was because it would mean that all the world's press would scream that the Beatles had got back together again, and I know that would have made Klein very happy," McCartney said, still bitter over Klein's hiring. "I didn't really fancy playing anyway."
But even in their least-inspirational moments, the Beatles still had flair. Doggett relates a McCartney anecdote from 1971, when the band convened at New York City's Plaza Hotel to terminate its legal partnership. Lennon -- apparently laid-up at an apartment just on the other side of Central Park -- refused to show. After repeated phone calls and more than a few expletives from his bandmates, he finally sent an emissary. "He had a balloon delivered with a sign saying 'Listen to this balloon,' " McCartney explained. "It was all quite far out."
Doggett delivers some less-than-flattering tales, but "You Never Give Me Your Money" is hardly lurid fare. He is too classy, too well-informed. And it's clear that he loves the Beatles. He regularly fantasizes about a separate timeline in which the band reconciled or, at the very least, buried the hatchet for one last jam session.
That moment never came, but redemption did. "The soul of the Beatles turned out to reside not in the boardroom of Apple Corps or the bank accounts of four multi-millionaires, but in the instinctive, natural grace of their songs," Doggett concludes. It's true. In the end, not even lawyers could ruin the Beatles.
Aaron Leitko is an aide for The Washington Post's Reliable Source column. His article "The Orange Line Revolution" will appear in "Best Music Writing 2010."