Finally made the plane into Paris
Honeymooning down by the Seine
Peter Brown called to say
You can make it OK
You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain
"The Ballad of John and Yoko" was a Beatles' song about the travails of trying to get married in the public eye. A less public aspect of the song was that it immortalized Peter Brown, who at the time ran the Beatles' financial organization, Apple.
"It was wonderful being mentioned in the song, actually, to be the only person so honored," says Brown. But old glories die hard. Now, a decade later, at the age of 46, Brown has written a kiss-and-tell biography of the Beatles called "The Love You Make."
That's gratitude. The book already has spent 10 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and for $14.95 it will inform any willing reader that John Lennon and Brian Epstein, the Beatles' homosexual manager, had a brief love affair; that Paul McCartney was involved in several paternity suits, and used to overdub Ringo's drum tracks, and that John and Yoko Ono were heroin addicts while hiding out in their various apartments at New York City's legendary Dakota . . .
This sensational style of storytelling is not new. Surely you remember Albert Goldman's 1981 biography "Elvis," which revealed all sorts of smarmy details about the king of rock 'n' roll, not to mention one by the former manager of The Doors that told how truly weird Jim Morrison was? (Really: drinking blood?)
These books have proven that there's at least as much money to be made in writing about dead groups and musicians as there is to be made from records by the so-called living. And the hits just keep on coming:
How about "Dakota Days" by some guy who used to read tarot cards for Yoko? The publisher, St. Martin's Press, calls this one "stunning and revealing," and what it asserts is that the Lennon household was filled with jealousy and paranoia. Maybe they were paranoid about people writing books like these.
Then there's "Loving John: The Untold Story," by May Pang, a former Lennon employe who claims that Yoko encouraged her to be John's mistress. And next January will bring "Living with Lennon," by Fred Seaman, a household assistant with a degree in journalism (always a dangerous combination) who claims that Yoko convinced John to give up his career and would only let him record again if she could perform half the material.
Brown says it was important for the history of the Beatles to be sorted out, and feels he hasn't exploited his old employers.
"I met the boys through Brian," Brown says. "I was running the record department in one of the Epstein family stores. One day I got a call from Brian, who asked me to come to London and run the Beatles organization, NEMS Enterprises. There have been a number of books done. Hunter Davies had really been the first, but every person involved had a chance to edit his book before it came out and a lot of the important facts came out. For instance, he couldn't report the fact that Brian was a homosexual. Then Philip Norman wrote to me when he was doing 'Shout!,' asking for interviews. Here we had someone who was a professional interviewer who was trying to do a very, very good job, but he was never going to have all the facts. That's when I really decided to do my book. Someone has to set the record straight. People have to know that what broke the Beatles up was drug involvement, and that in the studio, Paul was bossing everybody around.
"I think my book is different from these others principally because it was started long before they were. I doubt the other three would have been written if John had not died. May Pang, I suppose, could have written hers anytime. My deal was finalized nine months before John died. It's not based on my recollections. The people who agreed to be interviewed only did so because of me. Once I'd got the approval of the Fab Four to do the book, I got out my appointment books from the period and sought all these people out. There were occasions when I got embarrassed about asking some of these questions, especially in front of the wives, and they'd be embarrassed to be talking in front of me. I'm the only one who came through it all without a hangover."
Perhaps. One might wonder whether Brown himself was caught up in the self-perpetuating myth of the Beatles that Norman explains so well in the introduction to his book: "I would like to acknowledge the invaluable help given to me during the preparation of this book by the four ex-Beatles . . . Unfortunately, I cannot do so . . . None would agree to a formal interview during the two years I spent writing 'Shout!'. . . I do not think any of them disapproved of my project. I do not think they even knew about it. Part of the Beatles' legacy to rock music is the intricate court and protocol system which nowadays surrounds every performer . . .
"In any case, it had become clear that just as the Beatles' legend grew up despite interminable interviews with them, so the true story must seek a perspective far wider than theirs. Until late in their careers, the Beatles simply had no idea what was happening to them . . . And in later years, they did not want to know. The effect on each--even on John--was a kind of shell shock; a shrug or an offhand phrase would condense or disregard the whole fantastic era. When I hear Paul McCartney maintain, as he did recently to Rolling Stone, that he and Pete Best were deported from Hamburg for 'burning a condom' or that the 1964 assault on America was 'all preplanned,' I know the Beatles were as much victims of the Beatle myth as anyone."
Hunter Davies, the first of the Beatle biographers, recalls by phone that his task was somewhat different, partly because of the timing:
"I was a fly on the wall trying to get down what they thought about themselves at that moment in time and then going back and checking what I found against their own recollections," Davies says. "I didn't see this as mythical; I saw them as ordinary blokes. When I was writing the book people still thought they would go away; 'Sgt. Pepper' hadn't begun yet; I had to convince the publishers that they should do the book. 'When will the bubble burst?' they'd keep saying. 'It's just a pop group.' When Charles Manson was arrested he was reading my book. That's when the myth started. I've been offered a fortune to do a book on their breakup. Why should I? All these drugs and sex stories. The exciting thing about the Beatles is their music. I look back now on the things I had to take out of my book and it seems somewhat minor. John wanted some swearing out because he thought it would upset his Aunt Mimi. Brian's mother wouldn't let me say he was a homosexual.
"Oh yes. There was one other thing I recall I couldn't put in the book. That was that Brian told me he and Peter Brown were lovers."
Says Brown: "It was as much of an affair as Brian's was with John."