Dear Ringo: Having a Great Time. Wish You Were Here.
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
Published: December 7, 2003
LONDON - On one side of the postcard is a picture of a solemn Windsor Castle guard playing a drum in his wooly fur hat and bright red tunic. On the flip side is a hand-scrawled message: "You are the greatest drummer in the world. Really."
It is addressed to Ringo (no last name necessary) from Paul McCartney, and it is one of a trove of postcards that Ringo Starr received from his fellow Beatles, tossed in a drawer, forgot about, then rediscovered last year inside an unlabeled box.
Guessing that people would be intrigued by the cards, and their intimate, sometimes cryptic messages, Mr. Starr selected 53 of them and turned them into a book, "Postcards From the Boys." With his trademark wit and droll humor, he interprets the snippets on the back of the cards. He rattled his brain for specifics about place and state of mind, speaking spontaneously into a tape recorder, and those musings, some of them non sequiturs, make up the book's text.
"Memories — what little is left of them," said Mr. Starr, during a visit to the offices of Apple, the Beatles' company. "Half of the cards, I still don't know what they're about."
"It may have something to do with the 60's," he said, grinning and flashing a peace sign.
The postcards in the book are often amusing, sometimes touching and occasionally trite. But in their whimsy, they offer a fresh, unfiltered look at the goings-on of the Beatles at the peak of their popularity and beyond. The handwritten messages, and Mr. Starr's textual asides, which sometimes read like captions in a photo album, chart the band members' evolution, in a way: they marry, divorce and remarry, add children to the mix, do battle, tell jokes, commiserate and egg each other on. Sometimes they just doodle on the cards, or in one case, send a photo negative of a sheepdog, as Mr. McCartney did. "It was Martha, my dear, the dog," Mr. Starr writes.
The Windsor Castle drummer, Mr. Starr explains in the book, was sent after the "White Album." The band had hit yet another bad patch, and Mr. Starr had abruptly quit, in part after learning that Mr. McCartney had recorded drum parts of his own. "After I walked out," he writes in the book, "I kept getting these postcards — telegrams, actually — from John and George: `Come on home! You're the best!' And when I did come back, George had the whole studio decorated in flowers. It was just a beautiful moment."
Mr. McCartney's card was a year late. "He was just making up for lost time," Mr. Starr writes.
The thing was, Mr. Starr explained, his bandmates loved the drums. Drove him mad. "Every time I went for a cup of tea, Paul was on the drums. I had three — three — frustrated drummers."
"I was blessed," he added, with an infectious laugh.
The book has been printed in a limited edition of 2,500 by Genesis Publications and is available by direct order from its Web site (www.genesis-publications.com
) or from the publisher's American distributor, Govinda Gallery in Washington (800-775-1111). The regular edition costs $495 (Nos. 1 through 350 are deluxe editions for $840), and Mr. Starr said he will donate his proceeds to the Lotus Foundation, a charity favored by his wife, Barbara Bach, that supports women's and children's causes.
In one postcard, dated 1979, John Lennon offers advice to Mr. Starr on his solo career: "Blondie's `Heart of Glass' is the type of stuff y'all should do. Great and simple."
Another Lennon postcard, dated January 1971, an illustration of Sunset Strip in Hollywood, laments: "Who'd have thought it would come to this? Love John." One month prior, Mr. McCartney had filed a lawsuit against the other three Beatles, which cemented the official break-up of the band.
The oldest John and Yoko postcard in his collection, a picture of whales jumping in a tank, unleashes another, altogether random memory in the book: "I can say this now (if he was here John could tell you) but suddenly we'd be in the middle of a track and John would just start crying or screaming — which freaked us out at the beginning."
If there is one thing about being a Beatle that can drive a Beatle mad, it's reminiscing incessantly about the Beatles. The Fab Four moved on; the fans did not.
But the postcards invite fresh questions, and Mr. Starr finds himself amid a "Beatlesfest," as he calls it, of his own making. After four decades, he is comfortable with that.
The postcards are from the Beatles, and most of the recollections are of the Beatles because no matter what we all want to think, that's what we are," Mr. Starr said. "In everybody's psyche, we are the Beatles."
"The relationship with the other three, it was always very complicated," he continued. "It was always up and down. At the beginning, we were like these four guys in a van, and it was very, very close. And in the end, we ended up like this family and we had, to quote the old show, family feuds."
"It didn't stop us playing, you see," he added. "That was the deal."
With his hair trimmed short and orange-tinted shades perched on his nose, Mr. Starr, a 63-year-old grandfather, is still the easygoing Beatle, the working-class spirit just goofy enough to pull off the lead vocal on "Yellow Submarine." His Liverpool drawl is unchanged; sentences have their own nasal backbeat as they drop and rise and stretch.
One postcard reminds Mr. Starr of the time he ordered fish and chips during a holiday he took in Sardinia in 1968 to get away from the Beatles. He was brought fried squid. "Oh my God," he remembers telling the waiter. "You got any fish? We don't eat that." Later, the captain of the boat briefed him on octopus: "How they put, like, shiny things that had been tossed over boats around their cave, like a garden, and I thought that's the best thing I've heard."
"So I went and wrote the song just because of that," he said. "I wrote it on the boat. Because at that moment, mentally, spiritually and physically, I wanted to be under the sea." Then he broke into song: "In an octopus's garden, in the shade."
A postcard from India from Mr. McCartney reminds Mr. Starr of the time the Beatles met the Maharishi. He had no idea who they were. "He was like this incredible guy, trying to bring meditation to the world," Mr. Starr said. "And he says, hmmm, who are they, and then he had this brain wave: `Well now, you boys will tour.' "
"He thought it would be good if we did a world tour — and we weren't touring then! — to spread his message," Mr. Starr writes.
A card signed by John and Yoko in 1970 sent Mr. Starr spinning off into a tale about a movie Lennon was making, titled "Self Portrait," otherwise known as his "manhood rising film."
At the time, the couple were staying in one of Mr. Starr's homes. Mr. Starr recalled that he drove up to say hello, only to find a camera crew at his house and Lennon standing naked. "It was for him to raise his manhood, and you know, it's not easy with a gang around you," he said.
Yoko "was trying to be very encouraging," he added.
Mr. Starr, who with Mr. McCartney last month released a stripped-down, acoustic version of "Let It Be" called "Let It Be . . . Naked" ("the naked bit was mine," he said), has never stopped recording. This year he released "Ringo Rama," and toured with his group, the All-Starrs.
George Harrison died of cancer two years ago at 58, so half the Beatles are gone now. ("I miss George, and I miss John," Mr. Starr said. "They were good, deep friends.")
All these years later, the Beatles remain wildly popular. But things have changed. Mr. Starr, who keeps houses in England, Monte Carlo and Los Angeles, said he even blends into the scenery sometimes, especially in Los Angeles, where fans are "looking for Ben." Affleck, he means.
They will point to Mr. Starr, he said, and say, "Oh yeah, there's one of 'em" — not knowing for sure which one he is or what exactly he belonged to.