There seems to be no end to the world's appetite for books about the Beatles. Especially biographies, which is odd when you consider that the Beatles have been mostly badly treated by their biographers. Philip Norman's 'Shout!' is sour, impatient and spoiled by Norman's evident contempt for McCartney; Ray Coleman's 'Lennon', although full of original research, is wrecked by Coleman's hero-worship of his subject; Chris Salewicz's McCartney biog is perceptive and well-written, but spends most of its length on the first 20 years of McCartney's life and practically skips over the Beatle period; Chris Sandford's McCartney book is gossipy and rather light; Albert Goldman's attempted demolition of Lennon has sunk back into obscurity; Bob Spitz's group biography is, by all accounts, wearyingly long and boring; and Geoffrey Giuliano's 'Revolver' is, so far as anyone can tell, pure fiction. I haven't read Philip Norman's 'John Lennon', although based on Norman's earlier performance I'm not sure I want to, and while Beatle fans everywhere are looking forward to Mark Lewisohn's giant three-volume biography, I don't think that the more literate of us expect that it's going to have the same level of critical insight as Richard Ellmann's 'James Joyce' or the rich wit of George Painter's 'Marcel Proust'. So far, Jonathan Gould's 'Can't Buy Me Love' is the only biography of the Beatles in which the quality of the writing is worthy of the subject. But Peter Doggett's book about the Beatles' collapse and afterlife (or afterlives) is a fascinating read, if not a book that exactly inspires you about the resourcefulness and resilience of the human spirit.
The trouble with books about the Beatles is that as long as the book focuses on the music it's liable to be inspiring, but the Beatles' actual lives are - like most people's - pretty sad. Doggett's book is especially so, because of the way it focuses on the splits and disagreements within and around the band. Nobody comes out of it very well: Lennon, especially in the last two years of the band, behaved with culpable fecklessness, jetting off around the world with Yoko and releasing albums of bad free improvisation when he should have been taking back his own responsibility as self-styled bandleader; McCartney, forced into the unwelcome position of boss, handled his own power clumsily, lashing out at Apple staff and alienating his bandmates; when Harrison wasn't being self-righteously pious he was having hissy fits about how Lennon and McCartney didn't take his songs seriously enough, even though he seldom bothered to present them properly to the band; and Starkey just waited glumly for the whole sorry drama to play itself out. The Allen Klein debacle saw the band rip itself apart, and then it was all lawsuits and sniping at each other in interviews until Lennon and McCartney managed to patch up their friendship in the mid-70s.
Even after Lennon's death, which helped bring the remaining bandmates closer together for a while, the legal problems persisted. A suitably symbolic end to the story is the fight for the Apple brand: decades ago, the mighty Apple Corps sued a tiny computer company and made them promise never to dabble in music, but thirty years later Apple Computer have bought the name and the trademark off the much-humbled Apple Corps, and lease it back to them. Apple Ltd. now pays Apple Computer for the right to use its own name.
The last ten years of the Beatles' afterlife have not, on the whole, been tremendously happy. Harrison's too-early death is yet another premature Beatle fatality. Not even the most nihilistic goth bands have been so death-haunted as the supposedly sunny Beatles: Lennon & McCartney each lost their mothers while still in their teens; Stuart Sutcliffe, brain haemorrhage; Brian Epstein, overdose; Mal Evans, shot by LA police; Lennon himself, shot by a nutcase; Harrison, dying of cancer only a couple of years after being stabbed multiple times by another nutcase; Linda McCartney, dead at 56; Maureen Tigrett, Ringo's first wife, the cheering 'Mo' from Let It Be, dead at 48. (One might add Neil Aspinall, dead from cancer at the relatively young age of 66.) Violence and premature death swirl around the Beatles in a way that makes G.G. Allin look like a wannabe.
For all that, it's a wonder that the Beatles aren't more miserable. McCartney finally got rid of that pesky, moany second wife in a way that gave him a mild flaying in the tabloids; the increasingly grumpy Ringo seems to be bored of being fab. Doggett's book is valuable for its honest look at the short-sighted squabbling that has accompanied the last forty years of Beatledom, but you'll want to go back to the music after you've finished, because if this book is anything to go by, there is nothing very enviable about being a Beatle.