The Beatles in Time: Craig Brown

Un nuovo libro composto da foto, aneddoti e testimonianze costituisce una biografia originale del quartetto di Liverpool, dagli esordi al suo scioglimento.

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Daniel Francis

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With all that has been written and said about The Beatles, you would think there was nothing new to share. More than five decades have passed since the Fab Four split up and countless documentaries and books have been released in that time. British author Craig Brown, however, surprises us with something fresh, in One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time.

Memories

“Think what we would have missed if we had never heard the Beatles,” said the late Queen Elizabeth II at her golden wedding anniversary in November 1997. There cannot be anyone alive and conscious today who has not heard of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Everyone has memories attached to their songs, transcending age, class, culture and geography. Brown captures this nostalgia in his book, as he explores the places they are revered — whether they still exist or not. He travels to their homes, recording studios and the clubs that hosted their first gigs. He also scours through books, interviews and public records, to piece together a patchwork of anecdotes, roughly in chronological order.

Unique perspectives

One Two Three Four puts the Beatles in the context of their time, painting a clear picture of the Swinging Sixties and beyond. It also shares unique perspectives of the people around them, in interesting, amusing and sometimes tragic anecdotes. The book is not so much a biography as a study of how the band touched the lives of those around them: friends, family, neighbours, fans, groupies, peers agents, roadies, club owners, television presenters, journalists, authors, policemen, royalty, politicians and psychologists. 

Betles

Profound influence

Their influence has been — and continues to be — profound. The Beatles are credited with healing a nation, after the assassination of JFK, and liberating the minds of another, in the waning days of the USSR. Even Vladimir Putin was a fan. At home in Britain, they are said to have broken the class system. One Two Three Four deftly switches between global perceptions and intensely personal experiences, sometimes imagining a different outcome — for example, what might have happened if a bombing raid hadn’t forced McCartney’s parents together during the Second World War. 

Collage

Brown’s book is an engaging collage of interviews, photos, reports, fan letters and his own reminiscences, supported by footnotes which are as interesting as the main work. Across 640 pages and 150 chapters of varying length, he covers the Beatles’ story from beginning to break-up. Refraining from personal interpretations, he describes events from different people’s often contradictory viewpoints: what happened during Lennon and manager Brian Epstein’s holiday in Spain, what Priscilla Presley wore when they met Elvis, how Lennon met Yoko Ono, and so on. He also dedicates a lot of space to the Beatles’ hair and to the unprecedented screaming the band provoked among fans.

Brown himself is a satirist, critic and self-confessed Beatlemaniac. A long-time contributor to satirical magazine Private Eye, he has written parodies for leading magazines and newspapers, as well as off-beat biographies including the best-selling Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret

Future generations

Like Ma’am Darling, One Two Three Four is written in a format the author calls an “exploded biography”: a cut-and-paste approach that makes it incredibly easy to read. While the first chapter describes Epstein’s first meeting with the Fab Four, the last chapter relates his death, the beginning of the end of the Beatles. Released on the fiftieth anniversary of the band’s break-up, One Two Three Four deservedly won the prestigious Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction. Whether you are a fan of the Beatles or not, reading it makes it clear why their music will continue to inspire future generations.   

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Questo articolo appartiene al numero february 2024 della rivista Speak Up.

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