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Authors: Philip Norman

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Britain thus far has produced only one equivalent object of mass adoration and fascination. From the early eighties to the late nineties, the beautiful, brave, batty Diana, Princess of Wales, rivaled the Beatles—at times even threatened to overtake them—as the world’s favorite icon; no longer pop stars as royalty but royalty as a pop star. In 1995, the reunion that millions had longed for since 1971 actually did happen. Their long-dormant Apple company announced plans to release the definitive film record of their career that their former roadie, Neil Aspinall, had been compiling for more than a quarter of a century, plus a collective text autobiography. Paul, George, and Ringo reconvened at Abbey Road under their old producer, now Sir George Martin, to provide instrumental and vocal backup to some Lennon vocal tracks unearthed by Yoko among his archives at the Dakota. But, although the headlines befitted a second Second Coming, they did not shout quite as loudly or last quite as long as they might normally have done. For this
happened also to be the moment when Diana chose to give a television interview, exposing the sham of her supposed “fairy-tale” marriage to Britain’s future king. A changed world, indeed, when the Fab Four played second fiddle to a royal broadcast!

Now Dianamania flickers fitfully on and off like faulty neon while Beatlemania blazes stronger than ever. In 2001 an album was released titled simply
1
, a collection of twenty-seven number-one Beatles singles from three decades earlier. It topped the album charts in Britain and America and around the world, selling twice as many copies as their concept masterpiece
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
, and making them
Billboard
magazine’s best-selling act of the year above contemporary giants like Britney Spears and J-Lo.

A year later came perhaps the ultimate instance of nostalgia with and without memory as well as delicious full-circle irony. The Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations reached their climax with a marathon pop concert in the seldom seen rear grounds—actually, front garden—of Buckingham Palace, featuring every major British pop act of the past half-century, including Shirley Bassey and Atomic Kitten. Its twofold purpose was to celebrate Britain’s most consistently successful export over fifty years and demonstrate how switched-on and accessible the monarchy had become after its near-fatal bout with “the People’s Princess.”

For the almost-one-million-strong crowd that seethed down The Mall like some weird, blue-lit cornfield there was no contest as to the top of the night’s bill. One could almost see them on the giant TV monitors like black-and-white ghosts, swaggering in to collect their MBE medals in 1965 and, afterward, boasting of puffing joints in a palace washroom. It was bizarre to remember what national outrage greeted the award of even so modest an honor to grubby hit-paraders. Tonight, the stage thronged with pop musical knights, all of whom had received their dubbing without the smallest public controversy—Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Elton John, and, of course, Sir George Martin, the man who made Beatles music possible, today as beloved a national institution as a great statesman or philanthropist.

The whole night belonged to the old Fab Four as surely as it did to the new Fab Windsors. Here were Joe Cocker and his glorious throat-ripping cover version of “With a Little Help from My Friends” from
Sgt. Pepper
. Here was Eric Clapton, paying tribute to his friend George Harrison with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from the
White Album
. And
here, to close the show, was Sir Paul again, at yet another uncharted high-water mark of fame and national prestige. Here was the billionaire megastar showing what a simple working musician he is at heart as he provided backup piano and vocals for Clapton in the Harrison number. Here he was, leading a million born-again royalists in a mass version of “Hey Jude” whose “La-la-la-lalala-la” chorus rolled through the floodlit human seas, both with and without memory, as familiarly as their own heartbeat.

John Lennon was there too, in spirit, albeit more than likely turning a bit in his grave. The concert’s closing number—indeed, the backing track for the whole jubilee—was “All You Need Is Love,” a song even more achingly true of today’s world than that of 1967. But now John’s countercultural mantra had become an anthem of loyalty to tradition and the status quo, “God Save the Queen” in all but name: an alternative “Rule Britannia.”

The original
Shout!
ended in 1970, a year before the Beatles’ official breakup. There are thus more than three decades to be covered of their respective post-Beatles lives, a story fully as bizarre, if not as lighthearted, as their collective one. Also, since 1981 I have collected much new information about their life together, from both original and new sources and from researching subsequent books, particularly my biography of the Rolling Stones. Hence this revised edition in the fortieth year since Beatlemania descended on Britain.

How different a book would I write if I were starting out now? Some critics felt I gave too much credence to an explanation for Brian Epstein’s death never previously raised: that he was murdered by a contract killer in reprisal for the vast sums lost in America through his botched deals on Beatles merchandise. It was a line I could hardly ignore, faced as I was with a source who claimed not only to have heard a murder threat made against Epstein but also to have been informed by phone after the contract had been carried out. Significantly, none of the ex-Beatles ever regarded the theory as too far-fetched. Nor did Epstein’s own family, though in their case it may have been preferable to subsequent unsubstantiated claims that he died as a result of a sex game that went wrong. With hindsight, I think it more likely his death was by “misadventure,” as the coroner recorded.

I must also admit to having suppressed one crucial fact. After Epstein’s
death two suicide notes were found shut away in his desk drawer at Chapel Street. They had apparently both been written some little time previously, either for attempts on his own life that he never carried through or as a way of getting attention from his long-suffering associates. Both his brother, Clive, and his mother, Queenie, begged me not to mention these notes. At one point I had both of them on the phone at once saying, “Please, Philip…
please
.” They were nice, decent people whom I had no wish to hurt. So I agreed.

Others felt that my judgments of Paul McCartney were too harsh, perhaps even motivated by personal dislike. In the Beatles subculture one inevitably finds oneself tagged either as a “John” person or a “Paul” person. I cannot pretend to be other than the former. Just the same, it was wrong of me—though it won me my initial access to Yoko—to say, as I did on an American TV news program, that “John was three-quarters of the Beatles.” I would not question McCartney’s huge talent or deny that, like all of them, he was far nicer than he ever needed to be.

Any writer would hope to have improved over a span of more than twenty years. Looking back from here at the original
Shout!
I see all too many examples of clumsiness and imprecision; indeed, my first instinct was to rewrite the whole book. But its various imperfections do not seem to have stopped people from enjoying it. Apart from updating and correcting, therefore, I’ve limited myself to toning down the more garish purple passages and sharpening what was too fuzzy before. I was also criticized for dwelling too little on the Beatles’ music and that, too, I have tried to rectify.

For all its faults, I do not think any other Beatles book has overtaken it. Peter Brown’s
The Love You Make
(1983) was marketed as the sensational revelations of a Beatles “insider,” yet proved curiously uninformative in a large number of areas. The late Albert Goldman’s
The Lives of John Lennon
was a jumble of the ordurous untruths and crass misunderstandings peculiar to that author, often contradicting itself ludicrously from one page to the next. Paul McCartney’s authorized biography,
Many Years From Now
, was exhaustively informative—but mainly about Paul. The three ex-Beatles’ collective “autobiography”—in fact just unedited transcripts of their interviews for the
Anthology
TV documentary—featured much fascinating reminiscence, especially from George, but was grossly slanted and selective (every first-generation
Beatle wife, for instance, having been firmly airbrushed out of the narrative).

It is said that even the most fortunate journalist meets only one truly smashing story in his or her career. The main thing I have learned about biography writing is that it is even more a matter of pure luck. Lucky me to have lit on what the Beatles’ irreplaceable publicist, Derek Taylor, rightly called “the twentieth century’s greatest romance.”

PART ONE

WISHING

ONE

“HE WAS THE ONE I’D WAITED FOR”

J
ohn Lennon was born on October 9, 1940, during a brief respite in Nazi Germany’s bombing of Liverpool. All summer, after tea, people would switch on their radios at low volume, listening, not to the muted dance music but to the sky outside their open back doors. When the music cut off, before the first siren went, you knew that the bombers were returning.

Liverpool paid a heavy price for its naval shipyards, and for the miles of docks where convoys stood making ready to brave the North Atlantic. The city was Britain’s last loophole for overseas food supplies. Night after night, with geometric accuracy, explosions tore along the seaming of wharves and warehouses and black castle walls, and over the tramlines into streets of friendly red back-to-back houses, of pubs and missions and corner dairies with cowsheds behind. During the worst week so many ships lay sunk along the Mersey there was not a single berth free for incoming cargo. But on Lime Street the Empire theater carried on performances as usual. Sometimes the whole audience would crowd out into the foyer and look across the black acropolis of St. George’s Hall to a sky flashing white, then dark again as more bombs pummeled the port and the river.

Mimi Stanley had always worried about her younger sister, Julia. She worried about her especially tonight with more Luftwaffe raids expected and Julia in labor in the Oxford Street maternity home. When news of the baby came by telephone Mimi set out on foot from the Stanley house on Newcastle Road. “I ran two miles. I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘It’s a boy, it’s a boy. He’s the one I’ve waited for.’”

She held John in her arms twenty minutes after he was born. His second name, Julia said—in honor of Britain’s inspirational prime minister, Winston Churchill—would be Winston. Just then a parachute-borne land mine fell directly outside the hospital. “But my sister stayed in bed,” Mimi said, “and they put the baby under the bed. They wanted me to go into the basement, but I wouldn’t. I ran
all the way back to Newcastle Road to tell Father the news. ‘Get under shelter,’ the wardens were shouting. ‘Oh, be quiet,’ I told them. Father was there, and I said, ‘It’s a boy and he’s beautiful, he’s the best one of all.’ Father looked up and said, ‘Oh heck, he
would
be.’”

Mimi’s and Julia’s father was an official with the Glasgow and Liverpool Salvage Company. He was aboard the salvage tug that tried to raise the submarine
Thetis
from her deathbed in Liverpool Bay. He had five daughters and brought them up strictly, though he was often away from home salvaging ships. “We loved Father,” Mimi said, “but we liked it when he went away to sea and we girls could kick over the traces a bit. If ever there was a boy I had my eye on, I used to pray at night, ‘Please God, let no one be hurt but let there be a wreck.’”

Mimi was slender, brisk, and dark, with fine cheekbones like a Cherokee. Julia was slim, auburn-haired, more conventionally pretty. Both loved laughter, but Mimi insisted there should be sense in it. “Oh, Julia,” she would endlessly plead, “be
serious
.” Julia could never be serious about anything.

Her marriage to Freddy Lennon in 1938 had been the least serious act of her life. She met Freddy one day in Sefton Park, and commented on the silly hat he wore. To please her, Freddy sent it skimming into the lake. She started bringing him home, to her whole family’s great dismay. He was only a ship’s waiter, erratically employed; he preferred, in the nautical term for malingering, to “swallow the anchor.” Julia married him on an impulse at Mount Pleasant Register Office, putting down her occupation as “cinema usherette” because she knew how it would annoy her father. “I’ll never forget that day,” Mimi said. “Julia came home, threw a piece of paper on the table and said, ‘There, that’s it. I’ve married him.’”

Within little more than a year, World War II had broken out, sending Freddy to sea on a succession of merchant ships and condemning Julia to a life of alternating grim boredom and terror in the Liverpool Blitz. Freddie was doing war work requiring as much courage and selfsacrifice as any other. But he also loved shipboard life, where he was always the star turn in amateur concerts, “blacking up” like Al Jolson or singing torrid ballads like “Begin the Beguine.”

After John was born, in 1940, Freddie’s spells of shore leave became increasingly more erratic. His longest absence was a bizarre eighteen-month odyssey that saw him variously arrested for deserting his ship in
New York and stranded in Bône, North Africa, while, back home in Liverpool, his family presumed him dead and payment of his wages to Julia was suspended. When eventually he arrived home, it was to find Julia pregnant by another man, a Welsh soldier stationed in Liverpool. The baby, a girl, baptized Victoria Elizabeth, was born in 1945, a few weeks after the war’s end. Freddie was willing to forgive Julia, adopt Victoria, and bring her up alongside John. But Julia’s family, fearing a public disgrace, insisted that the baby must be put out for adoption.

Though his marriage was clearly on the rocks, Freddie was unwilling to relinquish John. In April 1946, hearing that Julia had acquired a new man friend, he abducted John and fled with him to the seaside resort of Blackpool, planning vaguely for the two of them to emigrate to New Zealand. Before he could take the scheme further, however, Julia turned up in Blackpool and announced she was taking John home to Liverpool. The six-year-old was then faced with an agonizing choice: “Do you want to go with Mummy or Daddy?” He chose Julia. A crushed Freddie made no move to keep them from going off together.

BOOK: Shout!
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