This July, the world's most famous drummer turns 52--old enough, it seems, to merit a full-length biography. And so from British rock-musician/writer Clayson (who chronicled Roy Orbison's life in Only the Lonely, 1989) comes an affectionate, well-researched, moderately incisive look at the Beatle who kept the beat. That Ringo is the last Beatle to be biographed isn't surprising. As Clayson emphasizes--hence the subtitle--Ringo's story has always been one of a struggle for identity. Drawing on archival material and myriad interviews (though none with any surviving Beatle), Clayson traces his subject's Liverpool youth (mostly well adjusted, even after early desertion by his dad and a battery of serious illnesses); rise to modest local fame as a drummer; and tapping by the Beatles in 1962 to replace their odd-man-out drummer Pete Best (who, despite drawing the short straw of the century, is today, it's nice to learn, a happy civil servant and fixture at Beatles conventions). But once a Beatle, Ringo's star, for all its luster, began to wobble as he was kept by the rest of the Fab Four from any significant role as a singer or songwriter: He was, Clayson says, the first of the group to smoke marijuana. And despite--as Clayson's intelligent musicological analysis makes clear--Ringo's great influence, if not skill, as a drummer, his career plummeted after the Beatles' breakup. What's an ex-Beatle to do? In Ringo's case, issue a series of increasingly awful albums, act in some forgettable movies--and finally coast into an alcoholic haze, from which he recently has emerged, with a new album and an American tour in the wings. A poignant portrait of an ordinary man cast in an extraordinary role--and just barely surviving.