Long & Winding Road



Photograph by ChiChi Ubiña

(page 1 of 3)

This reporter met Spitz by chance in 1998, at the old New Canaan Book Shop on Elm Street. His name tripped a memory switch, but the usual short circuit prevented me from making the proper connection. “Well, I wrote a biography of Bob Dylan,” he said as I dealt myself a mental head-smack. Of course. I had read the book. Though expertly researched and brightly written, Dylan: A Biography (1988) is best remembered for angering Dylan’s apostolic fans. Most would have preferred to watch the great man fade elegantly into the mists of legend. Instead, Spitz had the effrontery to part those mists and discover a live human being (and occasional jerk) where the golden calf should have been.

So what was Spitz working on these days?

“A biography of the Beatles,” he said matter-of-factly. Spitz had succumbed to Beatlemania with the release of Rubber Soul (1965), on which the Fabs Four’s musical ingenuity mated with a new thematic maturity. Gone were lines like “Love, love me do/You know I love you”; soon to come were “Father Mackenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave/No one was saved.” The Beatles followed Rubber Soul with Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), stupendous advances that reconfigured the boundaries of popular music. “I could no longer ignore what these guys were doing to music,” Spitz would say later. “By the time Rubber Soul came out, they had changed everything for me. And Revolver is, I think, the most amazing album ever made. They took rock ’n’ roll from songs about cars and girls to an extraordinary place.”

But a biography of the Beatles? Spitz could not have chosen more overworked terrain than if he had set upon a Founding Father. As John Lennon put it, “What can I tell you about myself which you have not already found out from those who do not lie?” Oh, well. If anyone was crazy enough to tackle the Beatles, perhaps it should have been Spitz: Dylan had proved his investigative tenacity, and his earlier Barefoot in Babylon remains the last, best word on Woodstock. The Beatles biography would form the third and dominant panel of a glorious sixties triptych.  

Back in 1997, when Spitz embarked on the project, he anticipated spending two years on it — one to research and another to write. Four, five, six, seven years passed. No book. In the spring of 2005, I called to ask what the devil had become of his presumed folly. Spitz was in an excellent mood. After two-and-a-half years of research and five-and-a-half years of writing, after $375,000 was spent chasing down 600 interviews, after a divorce, after 2,800 manuscript pages had been written and 1,900 had been cut, The Beatles: The Biography was done.

Spitz’s luxuriant gray hair had gone shimmery white since our last encounter, but his somewhat melancholy visage was unchanged. The fifty-five-year-old Darien resident admitted to being a little jumpy as the November publication date approached. If you spend eight years of your life on a single book, it had darn well better sell. Early reviews were a writer’s dream. The all-important New York Times said: “A consolidating and newly illuminating work … Time and again, it chooses perception over presumption in ways that set it off from the pack of Beatle stories.” The Boston Globe called the book “startlingly well-researched and consistently engaging.” Publisher’s Weekly gave it a coveted starred review: “With this massive opus, veteran music journalist Spitz tells the definitive story of the band that sparked a cultural revolution.”

Rock biographies typically are not very good, lacking some combination of thorough reporting, good writing and insight. Peter Guralnick’s two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis (1994) and Careless Love (1999), is usually cited as the high-water mark. Guralnick notes in the first volume, “I wanted to rescue Elvis Presley from the dreary bondage of myth, from the oppressive aftershock of cultural significance.” Spitz had similarly majestic ambitions for The Beatles, as the subtitle makes plain: This wasn’t another biography, but the biography. “I knew I had an important story — as important, historically, as Bob Caro working on Lyndon Johnson,” Spitz said. “So I endeavored to formulate a major biography of perhaps the most major cultural force of the twentieth century by using the standard biographer’s tools. The tools that David McCullough or Robert Caro or Neal Gabler would use. And those are good research and judgment, and evenhanded writing. That was my goal.”

As for the “about 540” Beatles volumes already published? “They were mostly Mickey Mouse,” Spitz declared. “Not one decent biography.” The Beatles: The Authorized Biography by Hunter Davies, published in 1968 and long taken as Beatles gospel, glossed over troubling facts like John Lennon’s episodic cruelty and manager Brian Epstein’s suicidal depression. “Paul McCartney told me that, back in 1967, when Hunter Davies was their appointed biographer, the Beatles agreed on a story of which about 60 percent is true,” Spitz said. “The other 40 percent was either made up or embellished or changed so that people’s feelings wouldn’t be hurt. And that became the agreed upon biography for almost forty years.”

Actually, good Beatles books do exist among the crush of memoirs, commentaries, chronicles, exegeses, encyclopedias, oral histories and hybrids of the above (there are even a Beatles for Dummies and a Rough Guide to the Beatles). Not one of these books, though, is a literary biography of quality. Spitz had indeed sighted a gaping hole in the bookscape. This assertion is nominally open to argument. Some cite as authoritative The Beatles Anthology, published in 2000, a lavish oral history for which McCartney, Harrison and Starr provided notes and documents and submitted to extensive interviews. Spitz smiled and said Beatle-scenti sometimes refer to Anthology as Mythology. “The Beatles in essence were the most unreliable of the narrators. They have told the story so many times that they aren’t sure what’s true or not anymore. Paul would tell me, ‘Well, I think that may have happened. I’m not sure. That could have been part of the myth.’”

Ringo Starr did not cooperate with Spitz — his manager asked for money — and George Harrison offered limited help before his death in 2001. “Like most of the Beatles, George was paranoid about saying anything,” Spitz said. “I never understood that, because this wasn’t like the Pentagon Papers. There wasn’t something dark and dirty lurking underneath. I’ve gone in and out of every corner of the Beatles story. There are no dark secrets. It’s a nice story.”

McCartney proved compliant but not terribly reflective. “I had a couple of good interviews with him, but he wouldn’t budge from the myth,” Spitz continued. “I felt that McCartney especially was the holder of a public trust, and not to deal that legacy an honest biography was, to me, a miscarriage of history. So I went to eyewitnesses and to artifacts to get the story straight.”

 

Greenwich Agenda

  • The Wilton Fall Antiques Market

    2014.10.26
     @ Wilton High School Field House

    Barnstar Productions and the Wilton Historical Society will present the Wilton Antiques Market. More than 80 exhibitors are expected to...

  • YMCA of Greenwich Harvest Art Week

    2014.10.18
     @ YMCA of Greenwich

    YMCA of Greenwich Harvest Art Week now - October 26, 2014 The YMCA of Greenwich second annual Y Harvest Art Fair kicked off Wednesday night...

  • Exhibit Ira BARKOFF

    2014.10.11
     @ Canfin Gallery

    “The beauty of the physical world becomes a metaphor for the capacity of the spirit to reveal itself". Ira Barkoff Evocation of...

  • Trunk-or-Treat For UNICEF

    2014.10.26
     @ Island Beach Parking Lot

    U.S Fund for UNICEF Greenwich Committee invites you to the 1st annual Trunk-or-Treat for UNICEF Join friends and neighbors for an afternoon of...

  • Nigh Season: New Paintings By David Konigsberg

    2014.09.13
     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    Dates: September 13 – October 31, 2014 Opening Reception: September 13, 6 – 8:30 PM  Public Invited   NIGH...

  • Undulate: Paintings By Julie Gross and Margaret Neill

    2014.09.13
     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    GALLERY II Dates: September 13 – October 31, 2014 Opening Reception: September 13, 6 – 8:30 PM Public Invited...

  • Parties at the JCC Center

    2014.09.02
     @ Stamford JCC

    A place to celebrate birthdays and special occasions. Be a guest at your own party! The JCC offers a wonderful space for you and your guests to...

  • SPLURGE Matches Scarf Donations for Cancer Patients

    2014.10.01
     @ SPLURGE

    SPLURGE and the Cancer Institute at Greenwich Hospital are partnering to bring comfort and encouragement to cancer patients.  From October...

  • La Soirée d’ Automne at Bistro Versailles

    2014.10.27
     @ Bistro Versailles and Patisserie

    Wine dinners at Bistro Versailles are entertaining social events held on a regular basis. Socialize with friends and mingle with other attendees...

  • Flower Power

    2014.10.08
     @ SM Home Gallery

    SM Home Gallery show featuring two Greenwich based artists: Margaret Bragg and Penny Putnam. The art show runs thorough November 22nd....

  • Explore the Bruce Museum

    2014.10.28
     @ Stamford JCC

    Join us at the Bruce Museum for a private tour of the inaugural showing in the U.S. of “Northern Baroque Splendor: The Hohenbuchau Collection...

  • Educational Seminar - Effective Resume Writing & Interviewing Skills

    2014.10.29
     @ Greenwich Library

    Are you sure you are putting your best foot forward in your job hunt?  What will make employers pick your resume and ask you for an interview?...

  • Meet Bestselling Author Ayelet Waldman

    2014.10.30
     @ Organic Planet

    On October 30 at 10am, JCC Greenwich will present New York Times bestselling author Ayelet Waldman, who will discuss her latest novel Love and...

  • Flinn Gallery Art Opening

    2014.10.30
     @ Flinn Gallery 2nd floor

    FLINN GALLERY Opening Reception 'IN FOCUS' Thursday October 30, 6 - 8pm Seven artists share their visions - Carolyn Conrad,...

  • Laurel House Family Seminar Series

    2014.09.18
     @ Laurel House

    Thursday evenings, September 18, October 2, 16, 30, 6:30-8:00 pm Join us Thursday evenings for this four part Family Seminar Series as...

  • IMAGINE CANDY- SWEET TASTINGS!!!

    2014.10.24
     @ Imagine Candy

    Imagine Candy located in Scarsdale Village- Winner of 2014 Best West of Westchester by Westchester Magazine- holds a Belgian Chocolate and Candy...

  • Harvest Fair and Gift Show

    2014.11.01
     @ Second Congregational Church

    Event Will Include Hay Mazes, Games, Crafts, Food, Holiday Shopping The community is invited to a Harvest Fair and Gift Show on Saturday, Nov....

  • Free Screening of Documentary ' Children of the Inquisition'

    2014.11.06
     @ Bush-Holley House

    Join filmmaker Joseph Lovett as he presents his documentary film and multi-platform project of personal exploration and...

  • P.A.L.S. 2nd Annual Soarin' Soiree~ November 7, 2014

    2014.11.07
     @ Greenwich Country Club

    You are invited to join our State Senator, L. Scott Frantz and our First Selectman, Peter J. Tesei, for an awe-inspiring evening to benefit Patient...

  • John Hardy Event

    2014.11.08
     @ Bloomingdale's

    John Hardy One of a kind. One at a time. Each by hand. Bloomingdale's is inviting YOU to meet the head designer Guy Bedarida as he presents...


Show More...

Most Popular Articles

  1. Henry & Me
    Greenwich
  2. B2B Blast Off Event
    Greenwich
  3. Go For Pink
    Greenwich Avenue
  4. Joie Shopping Event
    Joie Greenwich
  5. 100th Annual Hunt Ball
    Conyers Farm