The brief, striking life of Brian Epstein, who made the Beatles “bigger than Elvis” and broke the Liverpool sound worldwide.
TV journalist Geller constructs her narrative almost entirely from the recollections of Epstein’s circle, which gives the text a cut-and-paste feel common to oral histories. Fortunately, Epstein’s story is inherently interesting, resonant with the social turbulence pulsing below the staid surface of the early 1960s. Despite his correct British facade (employees called him “Mr. Brian”), the Jewish, homosexual Epstein felt himself a misfit. He countered by creating elaborate business environments he could control, initially making a surprise success of the family furniture store by diversifying into recordings, showing a keen aptitude for stocking the American pop and roots music that was “cutting edge” in late-1950s Britain, and for predicting hits. He demonstrated singular shrewdness by pursuing the Beatles when they were a little-known “skiffle” act with a silly tough-boy posture, and admirable persistence when he was rebuffed by numerous music executives. Finally, of course, he provoked “Beatle-mania” in 1963–64, inventing many pop marketing tenets along the way. Yet the stress of success was evinced in a growing snarl of lawsuits and Beatle-related controversy; Epstein’s demise at age 32, from an apparently accidental overdose of sleeping pills, universally shocked those around him and may have hastened the Beatles’ dissolution. Smoothly confident and ingenious in forcing a cultural sea change, Epstein experienced obvious conflicts between his proper, collected public persona and his tormented, rambunctious private life, which included liaisons with “rough trade” who blackmailed, assaulted, or hustled him. Geller captures Epstein’s personality and presents his associates’ collective take on the Epstein-Beatles relationship, but since Paul McCartney was the only former Beatle to speak with the author, the portrait of the interplay between the band and the “fifth Beatle” is not intimate.
A solid celebration of Epstein’s star-crossed life.