Guest Blogger: Bruce Pollock, author of Backbeat Books’ new title If You Like the Beatles…
How I Almost Reunited the Beatles
On the Kevin Bacon celebrity thermometer, my closest link to the Beatles as the Beatles is Roger McGuinn, founder of the Byrds, who hung out with them in hotel bathrooms and elsewhere in the ‘60s. I interviewed McGuinn for my book, When the Music Mattered: Portraits from the 1960s, which was published by Holt in 1982 and now available as an e-book.
“George didn’t believe in anything when I first met him,” McGuinn recalled.
“I remember his response, because I thought it was really odd. He said, ‘We don’t believe in God.’ Like he didn’t have a personal mind or ego of his own. It was a group consciousness. Well, we don’t know what to think about that. They were kind of neat the way they worked, the Beatles. They used to all protect each other; it was like a little gang. If you do something to one of them, they’ll get you.”
When I interviewed him by telephone in June of 1980, Paul McCartney didn’t have a lot to say. About the Beatles, he had even less. “I suppose the inside story won’t really ever be told unless one of the four of us writes it,” he said for the Family Weekly audience of over 14 million newspaper readers. “My trouble is, I can’t remember half of it. The ‘60s went by in a bit of a blur for me.”
Which is a convenient echo of the oft-uttered line: “If you can remember the ‘60s, then you weren’t really there,” attributed by The New York Times to comedian Robin Williams. I’d go even further. “If you can remember the ‘70s, you weren’t really there either.” Which, I think, is even more accurate, since the ‘60s didn’t start being ‘The ‘60s’ until 1966 or so, while the ‘70s lasted about 20 years, none of which I remember that well.
For instance, I only vaguely recall coming into contact with close John Lennon associate May Pang in the mid-‘70s–or at least someone in her office–who may or may not have approached me to ghostwrite a tell-all book about John Lennon, in the voice of a loose cannon within his entourage. Did we ever have a meeting? Was I ever inside her office? And if so, did I bring anything with me? These details are lost.
That Lennon and I may have had a connection was brought home to me a few years ago. While indulging in my favorite sport, trolling the internet for my name, I uncovered a mention of a Beatles memorabilia auction that took place in Japan on March 22, 1999. There it was, on page 24 of the list of items sold, “Lot 239: John Lennon’s proof copy of Lyrics and Lyricists 1955-1975, In Their Own Words by Bruce Pollock” which went for the whopping sum of 150,000 yen. (It was whopping even in American dollars, translating into 1215 big ones, not that I ever got a royalty from it).
Just to put this in a little bit more perspective, the stuff that sold that day went from Paul McCartney’s birth certificate (9 million yen) to the complete Volume 1 of Mersey Beat Magazine (90,000 yen) to a copy of the censored “butcher block” cover of Yesterday and Today (150,000 yen).To have had a proof copy in his possession, someone at my publisher, Macmillan, must have sent it to John. And they wouldn’t have sent it to him unless he or someone at his office requested it. There’s no way he would have had a proof copy in his possession unless, as I said, I left it as a calling card after my meeting. In any case, although the tell-all never came out, Lennon held onto the book until he died. Whether he read it, or even cracked open a page, I can’t say. But he didn’t toss it.
A few years before my fabled interview with McCartney, in which Paul referred to his career with Wings as “a second bite of the cake,” I had a much more difficult and frustrating encounter with the Beatles’ “gang” mentality. One that, to be successful, would have required a feat on a par with reuniting the Beatles!
Embarking with designer and humorist and Music and Art classmate of Laura Nyro, John Wagman, on a coffee table book called The Face of Rock & Roll: Images of a Generation, we set out to portray the secret history rock and roll through the use of a magnificent array of diserningly selected album covers. Just glancing through the book now gives me chills. But the chills are reserved for when I remember what occurred about midway into the project. This is when we got word from the lawyers at Holt that the use of any cover in the book might need as many as three different permissions, one from the record label, one from the cover’s photographer, and one from the artist (or, if it was a group, each artist in the group). I’m not sure what they said about getting a release as well from anyone else pictured on the cover, Suze Rotolo, for instance, on Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin. I had probably dropped the phone by then and lapsed into a coma (which explains why the rest of the ‘70s, as well as the ‘80s and ‘90s went by “in a bit of a blur for me”).
We had collected, by that point, over 900 releases. But this new directive would have required about 4,000 more.
Needless to say, in the true spirit of the age, we said, ‘The hell with it,’ and put the book out anyway and the only person who complained was a lawyer for Buffy Sainte-Marie.
When it came to the Beatles, however, we weren’t about to take any chances. If we couldn’t effectively reunite them with four separate signatures, we’d have to revert to plan B (which did not include any hejiras to Liverpool). Owing to my good graces within the Lennon camp, John’s signature was the first to arrive. Ringo being Ringo, he didn’t have any problem with the concept. Always on the lookout for his best interest, Paul surprised both of us by coming through on the bottom line without complaint. With three of the four signatures in hand (note to John Wagman: have you still got those signatures? I have Japan on the line), surely George, the acquiescent baby brother, would have to follow. But as the days went by, with the deadline passing, no letter from George arrived, and thus we had to go to press Beatleless.
I was nevertheless generous in my essay that accompanied those pages in which solo album covers from Ringo, Paul, and John substituted for Sergeant Pepper and Rubber Soul. “In the collective absense of the Beatles, their American audience has been given what it really wants. Instead of an actual reunion concert and tour they’ve been handed a stage play–Beatlemania–four imitation Beatles, harmonizing nightly for parents and kids and grandchildren, evoking those faintly remembered strains of long ago. See, the people must intuitively understand that if the Beatles did really reunite for a show or a tour, they’d inevitably disappoint, perhaps depress. And no one wants to see the Beatles going out like Willie Mays, pathetically swinging for the fences only to produce a scratch single.
“So John and George and Ringo and Paul have had their championship seasons, seven of them–giving Tin Pan Alley its greatest dynasty. And now their number jerseys have been retired.
“Let it be.”
“Obviously, there are a lof of people who would like to see the Beatles get back together, but it’s virtually a physical impossibility now,” Paul was kind enough to address the issue in Family Weekly in the spring of 1980. Maybe he was referring to the drug charges that might have kept him out of America. But I doubt those would have stuck. A few months later, though, he’d be all-too sadly prophetic.
“And then there are those who would prefer to experience them only in the affectionate perfection of memory,” I wrote at the time. “Yeah,” McCartney agreed. “I’m with that lot.”
If You Like the Beatles…
This is the first book for music lovers that begins with the simple premise, “If you like the Beatles . . . ,” and takes off from there, digging into their influences and everything that came after them, opening up new doors for listeners looking for no-risk discs to expand their collection.
Beginning with the Beatles’ lesser-known roots in rockabilly and Tin Pan Alley, and working through American R&B, the British Invasion, California folk, and the Summer of Love, and to the great pop and rock bands of the ’80s, ’90s, and the 21st century, this is a must-have for anyone who likes the Beatles, which is…everyone. Available for purchase here.