Join Date: Mar 26, 2001
Location: New York City, USA
MY Review of the Stu Book
Okay, folks...this is MY review of the Stu book. I'm showing it to you guys in advance. PLEASE do not forward this to ANYONE, nor spread it around beyond this forum, as it has not appeared in the magazine yet and my editor will murder me if it gets out. This material is Copyright 2001, Susan Ryan and Daytrippin' Magazine.
I had a limited amount of words in which to state my case; I tried to be objective in minimal space.
The Beatles’ Shadow: Stuart Sutcliffe and his Lonely Hearts Club
By Pauline Sutcliffe with Douglas Thompson
Copyright 2001, 247 pages, Sidgwick & Jackson, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, Ltd., London
Reviewed by Susan Ryan
Of all the figures who have populated the early Beatles’ story, Stuart Sutcliffe has always emerged as the most romanticized and the most tragic. In this new book, his younger sister Pauline attempts to set the record straight about Stu’s actual contributions to the band during its formative period, and she does so in a manner that may be construed by many as controversial.
Certainly, advance reviews of this book have painted it as lurid tabloid fodder, focusing on Ms. Sutcliffe’s allegations that her brother may have had a homosexual relationship with John Lennon, and that a serious fight between them may have been a contributing factor to Stu’s untimely death. However, while these issues are indeed raised in the book, it is also much more than that; it is also a sister’s loving tribute to her brother, and a glimpse into the very earliest days of the Beatles, a period that has long intrigued students of the band.
Much of the material presented here is not new, though it is fascinating to see it in a somewhat more intimate manner, presented through excerpts from Stuart’s letters home from Germany that provide an interesting, albeit somewhat sanitized look at what it was really like during the Beatles’ formative years. (She does say that the stories in the letters were in all likelihood “cleaned up” in order to appease their mother.)
That said, there is also a lot of airing of dirty laundry. Ms. Sutcliffe’s professional training is as a psychologist, and occasionally the book sinks into lengthy psychological profiles of various players in the drama, notably John Lennon and Astrid Kirschherr. She makes a convincing case that John might have benefited in his lifetime from some good, sound, orthodox psychological intervention, not a particularly outrageous suggestion considering this is John Lennon we are talking about. However, in places her analysis seems contradictory – on the one hand, she says that she liked John, and on the other she appears to hate him. The same goes for her discussions of Astrid, whom she describes as loving at one point and insensitive at another. Certainly there is no love lost between Ms. Sutcliffe and many other people who have figured prominently in the history of the Beatles; she feels her brother has been slighted, and rightly so, although at times the book seems like nothing more than a laundry list of wrongs perpetrated on her family by the Beatles and their cohorts, which can sound like excessive complaining at times.
The most controversial passages in the book involve her discussion of the true nature of the friendship between John and Stuart. In context, these statements are nowhere near as lurid as they would seem, nor as lurid as other reviews have painted them. Realistic Beatles fans are not so naïve as to dismiss this possibility out of hand – after all, both John and Stuart, as artists, would be more likely than most people to experiment. She makes a convincing case for a homosexual liaison between them, and indeed says that she has believed for many years that such a likelihood existed, though she never aired these views before now in order to protect her mother, who died in 1983. It is unfortunate, then, that she uses as supporting material in order to justify this belief substantial quotes from Geoffrey Giuliano’s 2001 book, “Lennon In America.” Giuliano has a reputation among Beatles fans as being particularly tabloidesque in his writings, frequently conjuring up scenarios complete with dialogue that seem impossible and far-fetched, and the bit that Ms. Sutcliffe quotes is no exception, and does not add to her credibility. There is nothing wrong with believing what she does, nor telling the world so, but there is plenty wrong with using such an unreliable source to justify the claim. This, and the lengthy psychological discussion of male homosexuality that follows, seem like a desperate attempt to find justification and absolution for making this kind of allegation about her own brother.
In another controversial statement, she says that she believes that it was a serious, unprovoked fight between Stuart and John, in which John kicked Stuart in the head, that was a direct contributing factor to Stuart’s untimely death. This is also not a theory that is new; it has been bandied about for years, first surfacing in Albert Goldman’s “The Lives of John Lennon.” However, again this is a case of an unfortunate choice of supporting material, as Goldman’s book has an even more unsavory reputation among Beatle fans than Giuliano’s.
Interestingly, prior to her discussion of this fight, which she says Stuart told her about at length, she does talk about an earlier fight in Liverpool during which he was severely beaten, with bruising all over his forehead, though she maintains that this fight had nothing to do with the brain hemorrhage that eventually killed her brother. To the casual reader, this might seem a bit far-fetched, especially considering that it was determined after his death that Stuart had a depression of the skull in the area where he was kicked. However, she maintains that until the unprovoked fight during which John Lennon allegedly beat Stuart in a drunken rage and then fled the scene, her family never noticed a decline in his health or his personality. She says she is convinced that it was a kick to the head during that fight that eventually led to Stuart’s death.
There is a lot of bitterness in this book, a feeling that Ms. Sutcliffe feels that her brother has been overlooked and denied his rightful place as an artist because of his association with the Beatles. She speaks of letters that are missing, personal effects she was forced to obtain through legal action, and lack of caring once her brother was dead. She also talks about the recent exhibit of her brother’s artwork at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and how it prompted her decision to sell the work and divest herself of the responsibility of being the executrix of his estate. She claims to be trapped by the Beatles, and expresses a desire for closure. This is not a happy book, and in places it forces the reader to take a step back and wonder what the author’s motives must be, if she claims to dislike the Beatles association so much. One can only hope that after the publication of this book, she can find the peace she so desperately seems to want.