The Beatles Anthology
by The Beatles
Published by Chronicle Books
368 pages, 2000
Buy it online
The Reunion Tour
Reviewed by Lincoln Cho
A lot of things happened on the day late in 1980 that John Lennon died. There are people who will tell you that, for them, the world of music would never be the same. Certainly, the light of a genius was senselessly snuffed out, arguably, in its prime. Likewise, the world was deprived of an unthinking amount of future photo ops: Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono had always provided fodder for the cameras of the paparazzi. But, of course, the single thing that had been possible until the time of Lennon's death that became impossible in an instant was The Beatles' reunion tour. Where there had been a Fab Four, there was now just a sad three and that really wasn't the same. You couldn't, for instance, pull a Van Halen and replace your David Lee Roth as required. The Beatles were The Beatles: no substitutions accepted.
And it's all so long ago now, isn't it? The only people that can possibly remember the first faint stirrings from Liverpool are either middle-aged, old or dead. None of this would prepare us for the keen -- almost manic -- interest in The Beatles Anthology, the book that was already roaring to bestseller status prior to its October 5th debut, released just a few days before what would have been John Lennon's 60th birthday.
Prerelease hype and hoopla aside, The Beatles Anthology is a startlingly magnificent book. Encyclopedic in its weight and dimensions, it's the sort of coffee table book heavy enough to put a bend in lightly built coffee tables. Beyond its physical magnificence, however, is the creative approach the remaining Beatles -- and their team of helper elves -- have taken in creating the work.
Perfectly chronological in nature, The Beatles Anthology begins at the beginning: with a first person narrative of each Beatle's childhood. And so the book starts, appropriately enough, with John Lennon's words, "What can I tell you about myself which you have not already found out from those who do not lie?" And later, "The first thing I remember is a nightmare."
Lennon's contributions to this interview -- and to all of the conversations that follow -- have been culled from published interviews. While this sounds a bit hokey, the result is smooth and finished and the end result is almost breathtaking: we hear his long-stilled voice and it's as though he'd been resurrected for this project. Risen again, like the Christ he had the temerity to compare The Beatles -- or rather, their popularity -- to in an interview with Maureen Cleave of the London Evening Standard in 1966.
After a personal introduction from John, Paul, Ringo and George, the story begins with 1960-62. In interview style, the story is told by The Beatles, with occasional comment from Sir George Martin, Neil Aspinall and Derek Taylor, who consulted on the book until his death in 1997. In an editorial note at the book's beginning, the The Beatles Anthology's innovative format is explained:
The text... comes in part from the interviews from which the television and video programmes The Beatles Anthology were made, and includes substantial material which was not included in either. Further major interviews were conducted with Paul, George and Ringo specifically for this book.
Also reproduced in The Beatles Anthology are a large number of photos, memorabilia and documents. Many of these come from the musicians' personal archives and have never been publicly displayed before.
The result, I'll say it again, is startling and as close to a reunion tour as it's possible to get. At the beginning: our Fab Four -- plus two and minus one -- looking impossibly fresh and young playing the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, or being guided from their customary leather garb to the black mohair suits in which they'd make their earliest marks.
The years spin by and we see them make their arrival in the United States and feel the craziness that followed from their perspective. Then success following success and their own evolution as musicians and icons becoming a metaphor for the changing times: Their introduction to various drugs, their marriages and breakups, the loosening of a tie, the lengthening of hair, the adoption of a more casual style of dress echoed precisely by an evolution in their sound. Their uniforms giving way to individuality.
The book's design echoes the changes we see. Most of the early pages have an almost newsreel quality about them. The photos are mostly black and white and the feeling is one of serious musicianship in the hands of humorous youth. While color has crept into some of the preceding years, it bursts forth with brilliance in 1965, with a quaking orgasm of fuchsia and orange when describing George and John's introduction to acid. It was the year of Rubber Soul and nothing would ever be the same again.
Appropriately enough, The Beatles Anthology ends abruptly in 1970, the year of the group's famous and final split. This split is explained in the musicians' own words, as is everything in the book: drug use (Including discussions around the pot it was said they smoked at Buckingham palace in 1965 while waiting to be introduced to the Queen.), Elvis Presley's attempt to get The Beatles ejected from America; trouble in Manila; various births, deaths, marriages; management and mismanagement; and all of it ending with the group's own end.
This end in 1970 is just as it should be. Aside from the closing business pages -- a very good index, pages of photo captions, acknowledgments, credits, sources and a discography -- the final image in the book is a photo taken in 1966. The Fab Four are dressed in black and on the ground -- the photo taken from above them -- each Beatle has his right hand on his own left shoulder, each set of eyes meets the camera squarely and their heads are touching: Clearly in each other's space. Each is given a final quote. This is right, somehow. As it should be. Because The Beatles ended there: with four men. No brutal slaying, no loss of beloved wives, no constant nagging about reunion tours. A chapter that ended. The Beatles Anthology captures it all as perfectly as can be imagined. | October 2000
Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe Magazine.