Yet another scribe takes a run at the Fab Four’s legend and comes up empty.
“Why on earth would anyone need another book about the Beatles?” A very good question, posed without irony by National Public Radio commentator and author (Telemania, 1997, etc.) Stark at the outset of his ultimately pointless cultural history of the English quartet. The title—also the title of the Beatles’ first American album—portends much, as if we’re going to encounter the band for the first time. But Stark brings little that’s fresh to the table and relies heavily on the work of such earlier, astute Beatles chroniclers as Hunter Davies, Philip Norman, Mark Lewisohn, Tim Riley and the late Ian MacDonald. The story is now so familiar that it virtually tells itself. Beginning with the Beatles’ sensational arrival in the U.S. in February 1964, Stark slogs through the tale even casual readers will know by heart: Liverpool roots, Hamburg trial by fire, nurturing by manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin, worldwide fame and acclaim, and the flameout of utopian dreams in a bitter breakup. Stark, who displays an encyclopedic knowledge of the more engaged writers who have come before him, tries to dress things up by emphasizing certain aspects of the saga: the band’s androgynous appeal, the role of women (fans, girlfriends, wives) in the group’s image and success, the impact of Epstein’s homosexuality and of the band members’ drug use. But all those roads have in fact been traveled before, and the slim insights Stark provides in no way justify another trek down Penny Lane. The author lived in Liverpool for a spell and interviewed several dozen witnesses, but his original research likewise unearths nothing blazingly original.
To quote the Fabs: “Dear sir or madam, will you read my book, it took me years to write, will you take a look?” No, thanks.