by Binky Philips)
I met a Beatle once.
It was an after-soundcheck meet 'n' greet for one of his All Stars shows at Radio City Music Hall, 1992. There were about 35 of us, waiting in the dead-center of the orchestra seats at Radio City, about 5:30 in the afternoon. If you've ever been there, you know the intersection. Mostly couples, I was by myself, standing off to one side. While everyone else was chit-chatting, I saw figure emerge from behind a draped curtain by the stage door.
And now, here was Ringo Starr, drummer of The Beatles, strolling towards the knot of people I was with, all by his lonesome. It was a 15 second dream-like moment. And I had it to myself. No one else noticed him until he was less than 25 feet away.
Ringo was very pleasant to one and all. His almost-cartoon-affable self.
Everyone was dazzled to the point of incoherence. Barely anyone said more than Hi. One woman did have the nerve to say, "Our son loves you on 'Thomas the Tank Engine'... "
Lots of chuckles, Ringo, too.
I was the last person to shake his hand.
As I did, I blurted, "The last time I saw you in the flesh, Ringo, was when my Dad took me to see you at Forest Hills on August 29th, 1964."
Ringo pulled down his sunglasses, gave me a good stare, pushed 'em back up his nose and replied, utterly deadpan, "Nope, sorry. Don't remember you."
Pushing my luck, I ventured, "Well, will you allow me to be the 300th person today to tell you that you changed my life?"
"301, actually." Ringo shot back... with a smile in his voice.
Okay, don't worry, I'm not doing the horrendous babyboomer cliche memory lane stroll regarding 8:0whatever pm on February 9th, 1964. You're welcome. Thank you.
Suffice it to say, I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show that Sunday evening, fifty years ago, and was taking my first guitar lesson Wednesday, three days later.
So, you aware of this growing genre in book publishing, the over-priced, very limited edition, Boutique Coffee Table Rock Photo book, yes?
Big picture books aren't new. But, these are not available in stores. They are ultra-deluxe, over a foot-wide, thick-as-a-brick books encased in their own protective candy-shell, put out with little or no fanfare. They are so pricey and there are so few printed that you have to be Into It to even know of their existence. I've seen a few. While they are a load of fun, and usually well done, they all are chocked with photos we've all seen at least two or three times before. Frankly, annoying for the money spent.
Well, we got a brand new one of these high-end-y no-ads word-of-mouth books here. It's devoted exclusively and exhaustively to the three tours of America that The Beatles plowed through the Summers of 1964, 1965, 1966.
And since I just brought it up, regarding The Big Draw of any Beatles book, the photographs...
I am fairly devout. I own a lot of books on The Beatles. I have counted less than ten photos throughout both of the volumes I'm about to tell you about that I've ever seen before. This is a visual cornucopia without equal in my Beatle Fan experience. An absolute over-stuffed feast of virgin images.
The author, and not-to-be-dissuaded compiler of Some Fun Tonight!: The Backstage Story of How The Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964 - 1966, Volumes One & Two, is one Mr. Chuck Gunderson.
Mr. Gunderson has not come up with a Boutique Coffee Table Rock Photo book.
He has created a monument.
This two volume book is only available at www.somefuntonight.com for $175.00. This is inexpensive, folks! This book will sell out! This book will be on eBay going for over $400 within the next 18 months. Guaranteed!
Full Disclosure: I was remunerated for this article with a copy of the book(s).
I love who wrote the Foreword for Volume One...
Bob Eubanks [WTF?!].
"This is the most complete factual material you will ever read about a band that changed the music in America forever. I believe this book will go down as the Bible of Beatles concert history."
Well, yes, I exactly and precisely agree, Bob... Ummmm...
BOB EUBANKS? What?! Why?!
Okay, dig... more from Bob E's Foreword...
"I was working at the number one rock station in LA. I wasn't a very good disc jockey and knew I'd better do something to make myself more important... I was privileged to be one of only three promoters to produce a Beatles concert during each of the three years they toured America."
Oh. Okay. Wow!
"Their wide-eyed innocence in 1964, the air of being amazed by all that was going on around them, was gone, replaced by a reserved attitude in 1965. And by 1966, they were a totally different group of guys: harder to please, a change in personalities, and, I believe, tired of their world."
And Bob would know!
Volume Two begins with a Foreword by Barry Tashian, guitarist of Boston's The Remains, ones of the support acts. His piece is highly personal with memories of The Beatles launching a sing-a-long of "Yellow Submarine" as their plane (Beatles and support acts all flew together) was taking off, hanging out in hotel rooms with the boys ("Don't go new the windows, Barry!"), witnessing The Beatles awkwardly meeting The Beach Boys, both bands in mutual awe, even a night spent with Barry, David Crosby, Paul, and George stuffed into tiny Porsche careening around LA. Barry also lets us in on a secret; George was the friendliest and most thoughtful.
An author, and traveling reporter on Beatles tours, in Larry Kane's Introduction in Volume Two, he reveals that John Lennon once smushed mashed potatoes and peas into his, Larry's, hair. Paul was an unrepentant and crazed pillow-fighter, to the point of the pillows disintegrating. Both Paul and John, when they found out that Larry's mother had recently died, sat down with him and went through their agonies with Larry regarding their own mothers' early deaths (wow). The Beatles threatened to cancel a concert in Jacksonville, Florida when they found out that the audience might be segregated. It wasn't. George, very afraid of flying, had a motto, "It's Beatles and children first."
The author, and not-to-be-dissuaded compiler of Some Fun Tonight!: The Backstage Story of How The Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964 - 1966, Volumes One & Two, Mr. Chuck Gunderson, explains his mission...
"My goal for these two books was to give the reader an all-inclusive 'backstage' story of how The Beatles rocked America during their historic tours of 1964, '65 and '66. I produced a factual account of every tour stop during those three amazing summers in the mid-1960s, from the moment The Beatles landed in America to the time they left. I recorded the goings on that occurred before the band ever set foot in each town, such as local promoters dueling for the rights to present them, 'boss' radio stations squaring off to sponsor shows, and fans lining up for tickets that would be snapped up in a matter of hours. I also wanted to give a nod to the fourteen supporting acts that shared the bill with the biggest band on the planet.
Of course, the book had to be filled with high-quality images of The Beatles onstage, backstage, at press conferences, in hotels, limousines and decoy vehicles, at airports, colorful concert memorabilia, legal documents, and the fans who followed them. Many images were unearthed from long-forgotten files and dusty archives. To achieve this vision, dozens and dozens of interviews had to be conducted, thousands of emails sent, hours upon hours of research and fact-checking in newspaper morgues, and tremendous expense incurred to license high-quality photographic images - let alone compiling the actual history!
The Beatles stood on North American soil for only a brief moment in their career - a grand total of just ninety days... Look carefully at the faces of the fans in these books; they may be your friends, parents, grandparents - or even you! - but together, they made Beatlemania happen."
That is a Mission Statement!
Back to the photographs here...
More than half of the photos included, these books being exclusively about their touring, feature the band on stage, guitars strapped on, plugged in, drums being pounded, faces being made, sweat on brows.
I was hit hard by one very powerful impression as I wandered through these pages several times...
The Beatles were four guys (human beings) in a rock band.
Read that sentence again, please.
The Beatles were two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, all four could sing songs they'd written or covered.
These volumes bring this simple but profound truth home with a sledgehammer.
This was... a fuckin' GOOD rock band.
Seeing just one fantastic stage photo after another of them with all their equipment... the amps, the cables, the back up guitars leaning haphazardly against the drum riser...in use... (a real treat for gear-heads)... Well, it really brings this extremely important factor to the fore in a way that packs a wallop!
As the years go by, The Beatles, for me, are becoming only more important, more monolithic.
It has become genuinely difficult to think of them as four really young guys (George turned 21 during their 1964 US tour... Ringo, the oldest, wasn't going to be 24 'til that July!), who played musical instruments, wrote songs, and sang 'em. The fact is, I never really saw The Beatles as 'guitarists' and 'bassists'... that would happen in June of 1964 with The Rolling Stones for me, Keef being my first "guitar hero".
No. The Beatles were The Beatles. A type of gods.
Sorry... More of... Back to the photos in these books...
There are a bare minimum of ten portraits of each Beatle sprinkled around these books (Vol. Two, especially) that you will simply want to cut out and have framed by a professional (maybe buy two copies?). Truly, some of the most gorgeous and revealing photographs of the individual Beatles I've ever seen in the past 50 years, and again, for the first time!, are in this book.
There are dozens and dozens of shots where the photographer clicked at the exact right moment. The guys' personalities are in full view throughout.
I had intended on compiling a list of great shots. Well, actually, I did. I went through the books and jotted down the page numbers for about 50 photos per volume that I felt were ultra-special. But, now, I realize it's pointless. There isn't a dull page in this book.
One of the unexpectedly creepy things you see here... The JFK assassination had occurred only 77 days before The Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, Feb. 9th, 1964. Lots of the backstage shots in this book are heavily reminiscent of the photos of Lee Harvey Oswald being, marched through the halls of that Dallas Police station to his death. The vibe in many about-to-hit-the-stage shots is inadvertently pretty goddamn spooky.
I must admit, I really love "noisy muffler" on page 76 of Vol. One. The Beatles wearing Stetsons on page 280 in One is a riot. It's also really obvious on page 209 of Vol. Two that The Beatles showed up to at least one press conference ripped on marijuana.
The amount of specific-concert-related promotional flyers, ads, contracts, memos, gathered in these two volumes is just frickin' nuts. How did Chuck find this stuff?! It's mind-boggling, really. Oh, and the reproductions are superbly crystal-clear, every damn one of them. Crazy!
That reminds me... All the photos in this book are printed in a high-end intensity when it comes to sharpness of image. The paper used through every page of this set of books is the heaviest finest stock available that still feels like paper, as opposed to oaktag.
The spare-no-expense ethos is rampant... as befits the subject and the amount of loving work put into this exquisite presentation.
Lastly, the text... It really is hard to pull yourself away from the 450+ photos, but, when you finally do, a veritable textbook of facts, figures, and anecdotes awaits you. The text certainly isn't dry, but, as a juxtaposition to all the lush visuals, it is very very straight. No fan-gushing whatsoever. Facts, facts, facts. Figures, figures, figures. History, history, history. Stones are just not left unturned anywhere. It's almost overwhelming. My one and only complaint about these volumes... the photo captions are, for the most part, seriously bland... and given how many utterly incredible photos there are, it gets kinda funny how understated everything written-word is throughout.
Next week, I'll rerun by experiences on August 29th, 1964, when I saw The Beatles live at Forest Hills Tennis stadium. Today, I'll leave you with this little story...
Oh, but... BUY THIS BOOK, Beatle Fanatic. You will NEVER EVER regret it!
Pharrell's hat's off to Chuck Gunderson, whose hard work and time has achieved that rare rare state...
My daughter, Eleanor, now 23, was about to turn 5. For almost a year, I'd been playing her old songs by The Who on my acoustic guitar. The 'kid stuff', as it were... "Happy Jack", "I'm A Boy", "Boris The Spider", "Maryanne With The Shaky Hands"...
Then one day, it hit me... It would be much more fun and much more educational for ME to just leave Ellie's musical taste to her own devices. That was it. No more 'indoctrinating'. But, first, I needed to do one more thing.
I walked into Ellie's room while she was playing with her dolls and said, "Hey, Pup, I think you might like these guys. They're called The Beatles." I then dropped CDs of the first five albums on her bed and left the room... real low-key.
The next day, I got home from work to find Ellie sitting on the couch looking very grim.
"What's the matter, sweetie?"
"You're gonna be mad at me, Daddy."
"What?! No, I won't! Why?"
Very chastened, she announced, "I like The Beatles better than The Who."
Trying not to burst out laughing, I replied...
"Oh, Ellie! The Who are Daddy's favorite band. The Beatles are THE BEST BAND."
Smiles... Storm passed.