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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Beatles: The Biography » User review

"Life with the Lions"

  • Dec 23, 2005
Rating:
+3
I confess that I rarely play the Beatles' music, having been a child born early in the 60s so having heard their songs constantly by osmosis. The best commendation for Spitz's massive biography is that it inspired me to listen again, with fresh ears and unjaded spirit, to their art. He pours seven years' labor into not so much analyzing the songs--which has been done admittedly by Mark Lewisohn, Ian MacDonald, and Tim Riley to name only a few--as the emotion that infused the tunes.

The caption error for Pattie and George is a howler, but overlooking this golden blunder, other photos capture marvelously Beatlemania--as bobbies are hoisted up by the back-massed press of girls; Linda coming on to Paul at their first meeting; Astrid Kerchherr's studies; and the entry of Yoko into the studio, summed up in a dismal 1969 snapshot of the band at its lowest ebb. Until I read Spitz's descriptions, I never felt the power of the band. He opens with a masterful set-piece of a Liverpool show in 1960; he bottles the smell of the Hamburg digs; he pummels you with the violence behind the screaming fans; he lets you feel how dispirited touring could become with their Manila fiasco; he shows how they assembled in the studio their finest recordings; he documents with admirable patience Yoko's artistic trajectory; he takes you into the Maharishi's lair; he shows how Linda for Paul and Yoko for John compared and contrasted as these pairings helped hasten the end of the bond. And Magic Alex must deserve in his infamy (and the Fool--as in the Janus-faced crafty Dutch collective) his own credit.

While even casual fans like myself know all this, Spitz does what a careful biographer and a diligent researcher should: he renews our sense of what it was like for over ten years. True, George does get less than his share of the spotlight, but to be fair to Spitz, the author is never less than sympathetic to this imbalance, and he explains with hundreds of examples how difficult it was for even George to penetrate the John-Paul partnership. I do wish that Maureen and Pattie were given a bit more attention; while Cynthia gains much and deserved insight, and while the plight of those women faithful to their philandering mates is thoughtfully detailed, there remains more of a silence in these pages about how George and Ringo must have spent their time with their own partners.

It's a bit off-putting to see how Spitz aligns his quotes with brackets to show his own corrections and insertions and deletions. On the one hand, great attention to fidelity. But it makes for a consistently awkward intrusion into the narrative flow that for hundreds of pages rarely betrays its careful assembly. I admire the stamina of Spitz to keep hundreds of sources in order and to extract from them, with fair balance and footnoted commentary to clarify or establish disputed points in (as the Notes admit) such an unreliable Niagara of source material. Still, it remains, perhaps ineradicably due to the suspect provenance of much of these sources at such a distance in time, a bit too clunky to blend smoothly into a popularized account rather than a scholarly analysis.

Spitz enjoys his subject, and it shows. My favorite quote from many, about the pitch of "Hard Day's Night": "The Beatles would play the Beatles and do what the Beatles normally did--minus the smoking, drinking, swearing, and sex." (491) I do wish that a bit more depth had been given to how the Beatles made many of their later, if minor songs; that a British discography had accompanied the US album listings appendixed, for the narrative seems to use the British album releases as its implicit foundation; and that the Klein-Eastman battles in the waning days of the band had been edited to offset the tedium that results from the battle of accountants and lawyers. But these are minor distractions from the best one-volume (although I know that Lewinsohn is set on a three-volume study) summation of the band for those of us who are (at least for me) admirers but less than obsessed with every last utterance by the band.

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June 28, 2011
Interesting take on this read. Have you seen this QT by Nicholas? http://community.cafelibri.com/reviews/book/...-74-1505230-208197.html
 
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More The Beatles: The Biography reviews
Quick Tip by . June 02, 2011
A -3 and the reason it isn't lower is because I couldn't finish it. It is a self-indulgent vanity project written by a pretentious author who is more interested in being Dickens than in giving us the tale. Little, trivial details are dragged out - I don't give a shit who deflowered John - whole sections could easily have been discarded, and the book fails to explain the whole idea of how the band changed the world - an idea no music writer has sufficiently been able to explain.
review by . February 22, 2006
This is a huge doorstooper of a book, which could have been titled: "Everything you ever wanted to know about the Beatles, and much, much more!". Now don't get me wrong, I grew up in the Beatles era, and purchased all of their albums, and enjoyed them very much. Even so, I really didn't need to know John Lennon's great-grandfather's name, and when he came to England from Ireland, and such other trivia. The tale of the Beatles is story enough without all of that extraneous matter. I particularly …
review by . January 17, 2006
I was never a big fan of pop music or rock 'n roll in my now lost youth, which happened to coincide with the advent of the Beatles. I knew they were out there, listened to their music when it was on the radio, even watched one or more of their appearances on Ed Sullivan. But I wasn't a fan; wasn't a detractor.     Forty years later, through Bob Spitz's extraordinary group biography, I'm finding out that I missed not one, but two or three revoutions in popular music. It may sound …
review by . December 22, 2005
With over 500 books about John, Paul, George and Ringo, and the broad outlines of their story has been authoritatively established. Beatle fans won't learn any earth-shattering revelations. Instead, Bob Spitz creates a driving narrative that adds touches of details here and there, shaping the old stories with freshness and energy.    Spitz takes us back to the beginning and showing their background and ambition took root and thrived amid the grey times that followed Liverpool …
review by . November 14, 2005
I really enjoyed learning more about the Beatles, but this book made me sad to see how they went from innocence to drugs. It seems that that's too often the price one pays for fame at a young age; even older people have a hard time handling all the temptations thrust on celebrities.    Booklist summed it up best (above): "fresh, terrifically entertaining perspective on the world's most famous rock group." And that they were--and much, much more! They were cute! They were fun! …
About the reviewer
John L. Murphy ()
Ranked #51
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica.      … more
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Starred Review.With this massive opus, veteran music journalist Spitz (Dylan: A Biography) tells the definitive story of the band that sparked a cultural revolution. Calling on books, articles, radio programs and primary interviews, Spitz follows the band from each member's family origins in working-class Liverpool to the band's agonizing final days. Spitz's unflinching biography reveals that not only did the Beatles pioneer a new era of rock but they also were on the cutting edge of rock star excess, from their 1961 amphetamine-fueled sets in the clubs of Hamburg to their eventual appetites for stronger drugs, including marijuana, LSD, cocaine and, eventually for John Lennon, heroin. Sex was also part of the equation; in 1962, when the band cut its first audition for Sir George Martin, all four members had a venereal disease, and both John's and Paul McCartney's girlfriends were pregnant. Spitz details the tangled web of bad business deals that flowed from novice manager Brian Epstein (though the heavily conflicted Epstein can be forgiven since he was in uncharted territory). Although this is a hefty volume steeped in research, Spitz writes economically, and with flair, letting the facts and characters speak for themselves. In doing so, he captures an ironic sadness that accompanied the Beatles' runaway success—how their dreams of stardom, once realized, became a prison, forcing the band to spend large parts of their youth in hotel rooms to avoid mobs and to stage ...
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Details

ISBN-10: 0316803529
ISBN-13: 978-0316803526
Author: Bob Spitz
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

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