The Magazine

Fab Foreign Adventure

The Teutonic roots of Beatlemania.

Apr 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 31 • By DAWN EDEN
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Although Inglis’s historical scholarship is generally first-rate, his original observations are few and uneven. He is most convincing when analyzing why Pete Best, the Beatles’ enormously popular drummer who was replaced by Ringo Starr, was dismissed. The reasons most commonly given for the dismissal—personal conflicts, jealousy, or Best’s lack of ability—were likely overshadowed by the birth of a new member of the drummer’s family: Vincent “Roag” Best, the child of Pete Best’s mother, Mona, and his best friend, Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall.

[A] significant proportion of [Beatles manager] Brian Epstein’s energies were devoted to concealing any factors that might threaten the success of the Beatles: his own homosexuality, Lennon’s marriage to Cynthia Powell in August 1962 and the birth of their son Julian in April 1963, the paternity suit brought by Hamburg waitress Erika Hübers against McCartney after the birth of her daughter Bettina in December 1962. Epstein’s concerns about the damage that would have been caused to the group’s newly polished image by revelations that the drummer’s mother had given birth to a baby fathered by her son’s best friend are easy to imagine.

Getting inside Epstein’s psychology comes easily to Inglis; the Beatles’ own psychology, not so much. One doesn’t have to read too far into The Beatles in Hamburg to realize that it is unlikely that the author has had much contact with rock bands on tour—at least not ones of such humble origins as the Liverpool lads. For example, in an effort to discern the extent to which the Beatles took advantage of the prostitutes, drugs, and alcohol available on the Reeperbahn, he repeats various oft-told stories of the band’s misbehavior, but then asserts that the comments of one Jim Hawke are perhaps “most revealing.” Hawke, the (presumably British) manager of the Seaman’s Mission in Hamburg, claimed that the Beatles “were never any trouble .  .  . just nice, quiet, well-behaved lads. They didn’t even smoke then. They’d sit and play draughts or go upstairs for a game of ping-pong with my daughter Monica. .  .  . [They] liked reading. .  .  . They’d be quite subdued.”

Inglis seems to believe he has found something new here. He observes that Hawke’s words “could not be more remo ved from the stereotyped accounts of sex, drugs and violence that abound in the pages of the group’s many biographers.” It never seems to occur to him that young men from working-class families, lonely for their homes and relatives, might put on their best face for a middle-aged seaman and his daughter.

In the years since Beatlemania broke, Hamburg, compared with Liverpool, has done “relatively little” to capitalize upon its pivotal role in Beatles history, Inglis says. He attributes this to the difference in fortunes between the city on the Elbe and Alster—Germany’s wealthiest metropolis—and the one on the Mersey, one of England’s more depressed: “Put crudely, Liverpool needs the Beatles; Hamburg does not.”

Perhaps. But in implying that Beatles fans need a trip to Hamburg to understand how the group became fab, Inglis lacks (dear) prudence.

Dawn Eden is the author, most recently, of My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.