THE BEATLES by Bob Spitz
Here's the NY Times review of a new book -- they seem to like it! I don't know why I don't recall hearing about this one sooner...but oh well...
October 20, 2005
Books of the Times | 'The Beatles'
Behind the Beatlemania: Just the Facts, Lots of Them
By JANET MASLIN
Bob Spitz says that his book about the Beatles is only one-third as long as the manuscript that he submitted to Little, Brown. Even so, it spans nearly a thousand pages and is longer than major new biographies of Mao and Abraham Lincoln. Why?
Is it major news? A press release citing the book's big revelations includes "a full account of the day Ringo was stolen away from his previous band to join the Beatles." Keyhole-peeping? The gossip is kept at bay. A trove of musical minutiae? While the musical details will be new to some, many a Beatlemaniac already knows that it took three pianos and 10 hands to hit the walloping E chord at the end of "A Day in the Life."
Here's the new angle: Mr. Spitz means to outdo these conventional tactics by elevating the Beatles' story to the realm of serious history. Imagine "John Adams" with music and marijuana. "The Beatles" is written for the reader who seeks deep, time-consuming immersion in the past and can look beyond traditionally lofty subjects to find it. Like Mark Stevens's and Annalyn Swan's recent biography of Willem de Kooning, it means to meld the forces of personality, culture and art into a broad and emblematic story.
At first this is worrisome. Yeah, yeah, yeah: Mr. Spitz goes back centuries to link the slave trade with American and West Indian exports shipped back to Liverpool. He locates John O'Leannain and James McCartney II as Irish refugees from the potato famine of the 1840's. He embroiders the atmosphere of his subjects' early years, imagining how young John Lennon (as the family name evolved) was awakened by "a clatter of hoofbeats as an old dray horse made milk deliveries along the rutted road."
But the built-in momentum of the material quickly takes over. And this book - with its eerily gorgeous cover, unguarded photo illustrations and enchanting endpapers that reproduce a teenage Beatlemaniac's love-struck scrawl - begins to exert its pull. With sweep already built into its story and the cumulative effects of the author's levelheaded, anecdotal approach, the book emerges as a consolidating and newly illuminating work. For the right reader, that combination is irresistible.
Much of this information can be found in other accounts. There are nearly 500 Beatle books floating around. But Mr. Spitz means to be authoritative, to cut through the fictions and calumnies of earlier versions, and to put together a broad, incisive overview. Among the areas in which he succeeds startlingly well is the specifics of songwriting, performance and studio work that made the Beatles worth such scrutiny. (Mr. Spitz relied on the extensive archives of the New York Times music critic Allan Kozinn in some of his research.) The arc of their life together is revealed by the arc of their work.
"The Beatles" amplifies and corrects some of what is known about the band's formative years. It shapes a particularly vivid picture of the young, surly John Lennon, with a particularly revisionist and haunting portrait of his mother. It also captures the exhilarating freshness of young English musicians ready to try any crazy thing (another band of the time: the Morockans) with no clue about how far they might go. "It had never occurred to the Beatles that they might have fans," Mr. Spitz writes. And he transports the reader to the time when that could be true.
Like Martin Scorsese' recent documentary about the young, meteoric Bob Dylan, this book powerfully evokes both the excitement and the price of such a sudden rise. This book is with the Beatles as they hit upon a winning, hair-shaking performance style and as they watch the world go berserk over it. When the exhilaration begins to sour, it captures the frightening fishbowl sensation of their being imprisoned by fans' hysteria and critical acclaim. Among its quaint notes are stories about the naysayers who dismissed the Beatles' sound. ("Musically they are a near disaster, guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony and melody.")
Mr. Spitz contends that the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" days were more remarkable for innovative recording tactics than for songwriting depth. He makes a fascinating case by describing the step-by-step construction of some of the best-known recordings in existence. George Martin, the Beatles' producer, is one of many figures who were close to them and wrote about his experience in detail. But Mr. Spitz is able to incorporate these and other memoirs into a bigger picture. By and large, it's a captivating picture that hasn't been seen before.
"The Beatles" also illuminates the way in which the collaboration came apart. Mr. Spitz replaces rumor-mongering and finger-pointing with a clear understanding of how the slights and misunderstandings accumulated. "He could charm the queen's profile off a shiny shilling," one associate snipes about Paul McCartney, whose quiet efforts to buy shares in the Beatles' publishing company infuriated John Lennon. The book also fathoms the union of Lennon with Yoko Ono and illustrates, with unusual acuity, how and why he angrily outgrew his Beatle role.
Length notwithstanding, "The Beatles" does not deign to describe certain things. It essentially ends with the group's breakup. It does not invade privacy by recounting the details of Lennon's death or George Harrison's. Time and again, it chooses perception over presumption in ways that set it off from the pack of Beatle stories. There is one exception: the author has had the effrontery to register thebeatles.bobspitz.com as a Web site, although it is not yet active. Here is one more bit of evidence that those fascinated by the Beatles have made the Beatles part of their lives.
There is a condensed portion of the book available in November's "Readers Digest" magazine.
Thanks for the tip, Dr. D.!
This year's seen some good Beatle books - I read Cynthia's book at the book store and I want to own that one!
I saw Spitz' book at Borders. Flipped through it, but it didn't really seem to be unique as far as information covered or manner of writing, so I passed on it. Maybe I'll pick it up sometime, but it's not a must-have, in my opinion.
I have not yet seen the book, but good thing Amazon exists. I can check out more information about it there.
I just received the following email about this book from one of my sources. This book may have some serious issues. I will let you know what else she says when I hear more.
You will hear more from me soon on this, but please be aware that there are a tremendous number of errors in Bob Spitz's new book on The Beatles. There has been so much alarming feedback on it, just in the last day, from Beatles expert and collector Mark Naboshek, and my editor, Trina, as well as others, that we are discussing how best to send it out to you. In the meantime, I would suggest you hold off on the book. If anyone wants to see the list I have so far right now, let me know though and I'll be happy to send it to you raw and uncut!
Yeah, I had a "lookie-see" at my local B&N and there was a MAJOR error on one of the book's photo captions. It said that Julian was sitting on John's shoulder in the photo! Now we all know the New York City pics from '64 in Central Park and that child in the photo sitting on John's shoulder was definitely NOT Julian (he was back in England) and NOT a boy, but a GIRL! (wonder how that person would feel if she sees this book?)
Made me put the book down and discount it as a purchase, I mean, if he or his fact checker's can't even get the people in the photos right....
Julian was not quite 10 months old when the Beatles came to America. Somebody didn't do their homework! :nono5:
Here, my friends, is the further information from Shelley Germeaux, West Coast Correspondent for DAYTRIPPIN' Magazine, and Trina Yannicos, DAYTRIPPIN' Editor in Chief. I can safely say that both of these women know their stuff. Directly below is Shelley's cover letter to her list. I will post the review in a separate post...this may take a couple of posts for the whole thing. But...the bottom line is, this book appears to be badly-researched and riddled with errors, and the "author" (I use the term loosely) an unprofessional, nasty person.
Attached on this email is the full review of Bob Spitz's new book The Beatles. It is posted also at Daytrippin's Review Page at:
The editor at Daytrippin', Trina Yannicos, and I have worked quickly to get this review done for you, staying up late last night and getting up early this morning so it could be posted as soon as possible.
We felt time was of the essence in this particular case because of the alarming number of errors in the book that are being noticed by many people who know their stuff. It's the most appalling thing we've seen. And this is supposed to be a huge mega-biography that's gotten alot of press!
To top it off, the author reacted badly to Trina's letter concerning the errors, and this also is appalling unprofessionalism. His response to her is so rude that we have reproduced it here in his exact words. (To quote a HDN, We "don't take kindly to insults..")
We felt the fans should know this immediately.
Regards, and cheers,
Here's the review:
Review: The Beatles by Bob Spitz
Time Warner Book Group, 2005
983 pages; $29.95
Here's an idea for a new Beatles trivia game--take the new biography, The Beatles, by Bob Spitz, and try to see how many factual errors you can find throughout the book. A group of Beatle fans have already started the game and as you can see below, our list is quite extensive.
It’s obvious that there was a gross lack of regard for editing and checking source material in the compilation of this book. As we began to notice glaring errors with some shock, we then began hearing from others, most notably Mark Naboshek who sent us quite a list, which we have included. Mark is a well-known Beatles collector and writer for Beatlology Magazine with a tremendous knowledge of Beatles history. He has also fact-checked Elizabeth Partridge’s new book “John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth” as well as “Lennon Legend” by Jim Henke, no doubt helping them achieve the status they deserve, as well-researched books.
Mark, in his email to us, expresses the dilemma any Beatles fan would feel after just looking at the errors in the photo captions alone: "When the photo captions in a book are this grossly incorrect, it makes me wonder how much of the book's text is incorrect….An elementary knowledge of the band, a little research, would have taken him (Spitz) far. If I found several errors in one photo section, I shudder to think how many errors the text will have. The bookmark (I saw in the book) stated, "This is the book you've been waiting for!" Thanks, but I think I'll wait for Mark Lewisohn's three-volume Beatles bio. Now THAT'S something worth waiting for!"
Another friend who picked up on many of the text errors right off the bat, commented that these are the easy ones; anyone could have spotted them. He said, “I don't want to miss the forest for the trees, but at this point in Beatles scholarship, there's really no excuse for some of these errors. I'll send a complete list when I'm done. I have a feeling it's going to be rather long.”
A comment from a music forum echoes these sentiments. After saying “quite a few errors and plain wrong information”, adds, “Nothing new here, no tremendous insight.” It continues, “I had a couple of laughs at some of the mis-heard interview transcriptions…”. He refers to Spitz talking about the Beatles eating ‘chick butties’ and Bob indicates in the book that he thinks these are “chicken sandwiches”. This amused reader ends with, “I’m a born and bred Liverpudlian and we never ate such a thing as chick butties. CHIP butties, yes….”
Some errors in Beatle books can be forgiven, like mistakes due to memory loss by the people who were actually there. But when a new mega- biography on The Beatles comes out that claims to offer new, inside information to The Beatles story, you bet it's going to get examined. Bob Spitz has made a purposeful effort at consulting many different published sources to write a Beatles history. So he should have gotten it right.
Regarding Terry Ott’s commentary on “Beatle Bits” on the Abbey Road site on October 23, it seems Ott must have gone to the same writing school as Bob Spitz. Instead of generating an educated opinion on the subject of whether Beatle “experts” have become too picky or not, he spews insults at those who might care if a book is accurate or not, citing the uproar over Bob Spitz’s errors.
In his eyes, people like us are “dopey get-a-lifers” who “wank about mundane points of view”. We are now “Beatle fetish freaks” who are “dissing any author who dares to make a mistake” and now have nothing to do but “post snotty comments.” I guess in his eyes it’s OK to do a sloppy job without checking source material, and forget that the work should be fact checked by several experts prior to pressing “print” for the last time and having it bound. Even self-published books with fewer resources have retained a higher standard of accuracy-- and astonishingly this book is published by Time Warner!
The list of errors follows:
Please remember these are at “first glance” since these errors were found within minutes of picking up the book and thumbing through it. It is in no way meant to be all-inclusive. We believe that if we have found this many errors already, there must be pages more. But as we see it, you the fans should have this information as we are getting it, as soon as possible.
1. Numerous photos from their fall 1960 visit to Hamburg were captioned as being taken at the Star Club. Interesting...since the Star Club didn't open until 1962. We all know that on their first trip to Hamburg in 1960, they played the Indra and Kaiserkeller.
2. Photos taken in Hamburg in 1961 were ALSO captioned as shots from the Star Club when, in fact, they were taken at the Top Ten Club. Again, the Star Club didn't open until 1962.
3. Even Astrid's famous "Hugo Haas" fairground photo taken in Hamburg in 1960 was captioned as being taken after they played a gig at the Star Club! Again, no cigar!
4. There's a photo showing Gerry Marsden, George's friend Arthur Kelly, George and Pattie. It's captioned as having been taken at Paul's 21st birthday party (which would have been in June 1963). Hmmm. George and Pattie didn't meet until the spring of 1964 when "A Hard Day's Night" was being filmed.
5. Page 6 of photos the caption reads: "George with Pattie Boyd, soon after they met on the set of Help!" Wrong: refer to #4 above
6. One of Albert Marrion's famous leather suit photos from December 1961 was labeled as The Beatles in 1962. Nope.
7. There's a photo identified as a shot of The Beatles playing one of their final gigs at the Cavern in 1963. It's clearly NOT taken at the Cavern, making this a gross faux paux!
8. Page 16 of photos: “The Beatles last appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in August 1965" is wrong. The photo is from their Feb. 1964 appearance.
9. Page 5 of photos: "In a rare display of fatherhood, John shows off Julian, age two, to Uncle Paul and Uncle Ringo". That photo is from the Central Park, NYC photo shoot in Feb. 1964, where John was holding someone else's daughter. Julian, John’s ten month old son was in Liverpool at his aunt’s house. (For the record, the little girl’s name was Debbie Fyall and her father was a London Daily Express reporter following the Beatles. Of course, Bob could have found that out with simple research. There was a 40th anniversary story about that little girl and it can be seen at http://www.nydailynews.com/news/goss...p-138835c.html )
10. p 419: Twist and Shout was the "first EP ever to enter the top 10."
How’s that? What about the 13 EPs Cliff Richard had in the top 10, the 6 by The Shadows, 2 by Adam Faith and 1 by Peter Sellers, to name just a few, all prior to August 1963, when Twist and Shout entered the top 10.
11. p587: Run For Your Life was "one of the last songs recorded for the album."
It was actually the very first.
12. p588: Rubber Soul was to have "an unheard of 14 cuts."
All their UK albums thus far had 14 cuts, except A Hard Day's Night, with 13.
13. p591: George Martin was "not a pianist by training."
Piano was a required instrument of all students at Guildhall, easily checkable in All You Need Is Ears, which Spitz cites repeatedly.
14. p604: "layers of overdubs on take 5 of Got To Get You Into My Life."
This is on Anthology 2, just two tracks of the four were used, no tape reductions.
15. p605: backward sounds on Taxman and She Said She Said.
Not exactly sure what Ringo is doing on She Said; it sounds backward at certain points, but there's no evidence to support that anything was backward on that song, and the way it was recorded left no room for backward additions. Ditto Taxman.
16. p612: George Martin recorded Spike Jones!
I guess he's older than we thought.
Of course we must acknowledge that many Beatle books in the past have been known to contain a factual error or two. As the author himself, Bob Spitz, writes:
"One of the drawbacks in preparing a definitive biography of the Beatles is the stunning lack of reliable source material. Most of the nearly 500 volumes that make up their canon lack proper citations, and even in those remarkable cases where sources are offered, the accuracy remains suspect . . . For better or worse, misinformation has always been a key element of the Beatles' legend."
But who would've thought he was describing his own book?
There may be some good aspects of this book as reported by the New York Times' Janet Maslin (one only wishes Allan Kozinn was the one to review the book). However, in her one-sided review, she failed to mention that the book contains inaccuracies.
Something else must be noted. Outside of a blatant disregard for accuracy, we are appalled by Mr. Spitz’s lack of professionalism when confronted with our concerns over his book. Daytrippin’s editor, Trina Yannicos, sent a letter to him, outlining just a few of the errors in his book. This was Bob Spitz’s response, quoted word for word: “You need an enema. Really! Do something useful with your life.”
Did his publicist advise him that a response like this would be good promotion for his book?
The bottom line is this: We, as Beatle fans and journalists, feel a responsibility for getting the history of the Beatles correct, for this generation as well as the ones to come. We’ve seen the horrors that myth and error can cause for historical legends. With so many resources available to us now, the “truth is out there”, so let’s not foul it up.
We think we’ll take Bob Spitz's advice, and do something useful--we won't be wasting time reading his book, looking for more inaccuracies. We've got better things to do.
--Trina Yannicos and Shelley Germeaux
Daytrippin’ Editor-in-Chief and Daytrippin’ West Coast Correspondent
This sounds like crap; and the author seems like a jackass. I'll hold out for Mark Lewisohn's bios.
HMVNipper, thank you so much for sharing Shelley and Trina's comments. I read the excerpt of Spitz' book in the current issue of Readers Digest and was not impressed at all. There were some errors in the excerpt (I can't remember offhand what they were, but they were certainly things that could have been easily corrected with some basic research).
I think I'll pass on this book. Too bad Janet Maslin's review doesn't mention any of these misrepresentations.
Well....at least the cover looks nice.....
I was HORRIFIED to find a really kiss-ass positive review on the Associated Press. Looks like Time Warner really scored themselves a suck-up.
However...I have word that the reviewer from Beatlefan Mag also found many errors, and that others are finding them too.
I would LOVE to start a grassroots fan letter-writing campaign to Time Warner and Bob Spitz (or should that be Bob Sh**z, considering the way he treated Trina and Shelley) complaining about this book and urging them to withdraw it until serious revisions are made.
I'm going to have to post the review separately, it's long. But below is the "politically correct" response Trina got from Time Warner. I think it is a hell of a cop-out. I think we should inundate this guy with letters!
Date: Fri, 28 Oct 2005 11:45:02 -0400
Subject: bob spitz's THE BEATLES
I just became aware of your unpleasant exchange with Bob Spitz, as well as the inaccuracies you seem to have discovered in the book. We strive to publish the best books we can, and are always disappointed when mistakes slip through. We could not be more appreciative that you've taken the time to point out these errors and will be making corrections in the reprint and (next year) the paperback edition. I'm sorry for the stress your exchanges may have caused, and hope that once the dust has settled the book can be appreciated in full. Several other reviewers have found much to commend, and we will now go about making the book even better and more accurate.
Whenever a reader helps us, as you have, we like to send a gift: a box of Little, Brown books. So expect a package of goodies soon. Hopefully some of the books within will be of interest; at worst, they will probably net you a little bit of cash at your local used book store!
Little, Brown & Co.
1271 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Here's the AP review. Frankly, though, I am more inclined to trust the reviews of ACTUAL BEATLES FANS...people like US, who would know if there were errors!
Oct 30, 1:39 PM EST
Anticipated Beatles Bio Comes Out Tuesday
By DAVID BAUDER
AP Entertainment Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- Ten hours, 28 minutes. That was the sum of the music recorded and released by the Beatles before breaking up, a volume of work that changed lives, careers and the course of music history. Eight years, 2,792 pages. That was the effort author Bob Spitz put into telling their story, although editors whittled his manuscript down to 856 pages (minus the end notes).
"The Beatles: The Biography," available Nov. 1, is a compulsively readable history that brings the same exhaustive level of scholarship to the Fab Four that Robert Caro brought to Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson.
"The Beatles' story is all of our stories," says Spitz, 55, a manager for Bruce Springsteen and others before turning to writing. "It is about how the youth culture emerged, the drug culture emerged, how politics rose to the fore as a universal debate. It's about rebellion, it's about the growth of the British entertainment system, the growth of the rock 'n' roll entertainment system.
"The Beatles changed music forever. They took rock 'n' roll from a medium that was about cars and girls and gave it context, interesting chord changes and true musicianship."
Get the idea he's passionate about the subject?
Spitz lived it, writing six days a week for six years, spending six months in Liverpool and retracing the Beatles' steps. He could practically smell the stale cigarette smoke from the old clubs, and even ordered the band's favorite scotch and Coke drinks just to taste what they had tasted.
It almost makes up for the school yard beating that a teenage Spitz suffered for suggesting that the Beatles were no-talent bums who wouldn't last; he was an avid Bob Dylan fan at the time.
He feels differently now. But his love and respect for the Beatles doesn't blind him as a writer; he draws a complete portrait of brilliant musicians who were human after all. Several initial reviews have been positive, and his publisher's first printing of nearly 200,000 copies is considered a positive sign of the biography's potential.
The New York Times' Janet Maslin called it a "consolidating and newly illuminating work. For the right reader, that combination is irresistible."
"As with all great history writing, Spitz both captures a moment in time and humanizes his subjects," wrote Publishers Weekly. "While some will blanch at the unsettling dark sides of the Beatles, most will come to appreciate the band even more for knowing the incredible personal odysseys they endured."
Spitz's biography is one of four Beatles-related books in the stores this fall, including one each by both of John Lennon's wives.
"I get a new Beatles book submitted almost every month, and sales are varied," said Kim Corradini, a buyer for Barnes & Noble Booksellers. "Books that offer something new - new revelations, new photos, an insider's view - do much better than those that are just rehashings."
The project was daunting for more reasons than just the effort it entailed. There have been more Beatles books published than there are actual Beatles songs, and most fans have heard the same stories many times over.
Spitz, who has written biographies of Dylan and Bob Marley, was assigned by The New York Times Magazine to write a story about Paul McCartney in 1996. At the time, McCartney was working on the Beatles' anthology project and told Spitz "they might as well call it the mythology, as only about 50 percent of it was true."
Lennon, McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr agreed on their version of the Beatles' story, a mix of truth and legend, and it formed the basis of what Spitz considers the band's only other serious biography, written by Hunter Davies four decades ago. Some of the stories were told so often that the lines between truth and fiction had even blurred for the surviving Beatles.
Spitz set out to make the record straight.
"I interviewed 650 people on this," he says. "I approached this book as if nobody had ever written a biography on the Beatles."
McCartney cooperated, and so did Harrison before his death in 2001. Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono did not, and neither did Starr or Neil Aspinall, who used to drive the Beatles to gigs in Liverpool and now runs their business empire.
Almost more important than his recollections was McCartney quietly putting the word out to dozens of former associates, many of whom had never spoken publicly about their roles, that it was OK to speak to Spitz. Spitz also tracked down new sources. In western Canada he found Dot Rohne, who nearly married McCartney and miscarried his baby before being dumped as the Beatles were on the cusp of making it big.
Spitz so doggedly traces the band's family history, and depicts postwar Liverpool, that Lennon doesn't meet McCartney until page 95 of his book.
"My book is not a book of dirty stories," Spitz says. "There are no shocking revelations. I wasn't looking for any and I didn't find any."
Still, there are sublime details and myth-busters that good fans will enjoy, like producer George Martin leaving the recording of "Love Me Do" to an underling while he had a lunch date with his secretary.
One much-repeated story is that future manager Brian Epstein first heard of the Beatles when a customer at his record store requested their recording of "My Bonnie" from Hamburg, Germany. In truth, he was already well aware of them - their posters hung in his store and Epstein, who was gay, secretly liked their rough-boys-in-leather image.
Spitz opens with a detailed scene from Dec. 27, 1960, a Liverpool performance where the Beatles' improvement after a lengthy residence in Germany so startled and thrilled their hometown audience that it presaged the impact they would have on the world three years later. Spitz even reports the brand of popular hairspray whose scent lingered in the air.
He was struck by the extraordinary tight bond the four men created, personally and musically. Even during their unpleasant breakup, they still loved each other, he says. Spitz believes the split was less because of the influence of Ono than the fact that Lennon and Harrison couldn't stand to be in the room with McCartney anymore.
The flip side is how completely, even ruthlessly, the four men would freeze out anyone they no longer had use for, as drummer Pete Best most famously found out.
The project was an intense time in Spitz's life. He and his wife have split and he says his daughter thinks dad has a mop tops obsession.
"It turned my life inside out," he says. "Yet I must say it was the most incredible and pleasurable experience I ever had."
Spitz is involved in one more Beatles-related project: writing a version of his biography for young readers.
"It's sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll," he says, "without the sex and drugs."
Me? I'm waiting for Mark Lewisohn's books. And I still think that we should start a grassroots fan letter-writing campaign to Time Warner and inundate them with complaints!! Then we'd see how many of us Spitz would tell to "take an enema!" (I am STILL appalled that anyone who calls himself a professional would respond to ANY other human being like that, let alone the editor of a mag for Beatles fans! It shows such a lack of respect for the very audience his book is supposed to reach -- if this is what he thinks of the editor of a fanzine, you can bet your bottom dollar that he thinks we are ALL scum with no lives! And I, for one, resent that.)
I too can't wait for the Lewisohn books. He's probably the only person who wasn't there who I would trust to tell the story accurately.
Lewisohn is indeed a trustworthy reporter, as is Larry Kane. This Bob Sh**** has plainly neglected to do his homework.
If anyone is interested, Sam's Club has this book for $16.89. MSRP is $29.99.
Personally, I don't think it's worth two cents, but thanks for the info!
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