Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I Manage the Beatles!

There is a seat near the front of every LA Metro bus reserved for the elderly and infirm. I can no longer credibly pretend not to be elderly, but I’m still pretty firm, so when, at the end of my daily Long March late yesterday afternoon, I relinquished the reserved seat, the only one available on the 316 when I’d boarded at 3rd and Western, to an ancient Korean-looking woman with obvious osteoperosis who boarded at 3rd and Wilton.  I did it because it was the decent, courtly thing to do, and would have been content with a small nod of acknowledgment, but the beneficiary of my kindness professed to have extraordinary powers. She said that before the bus got to Rossmore, I could choose a time and place to which to travel, and that she would propel me there. 

I’d been thinking only that morning about how (forgive me:) cool it would be to meet The Beatles before they became famous, and to become their manager. I’m no businessman, but neither was Brian Epstein, from all accounts, and I’d thought that signing The Beatles to a management contract and then riding their rocket to superstardom a few years later would be an exciting way not only to make a great deal of money, but also to secure a prominent place for myself in popular cultural history. 

I’d no sooner confided this to the ancient Korean lady than I found myself in what I guessed from the squalor and neon and noise must be Hamburg, Germany, at the dawn of the 1960s. It was nighttime. I tried to ascertain the date on my iPhone, only to discover that it wasn’t working. A passer-by who spoke something roughly resembling English told me it August 1960. The month my future meal tickets arrived!

I had to ask directions of around a dozen locals, as English wasn’t yet the universal second language in 1960, before I was finally able to make my way over to 64 Grosse Freiheit, which all true Beatles fans know to have been the address of Bruno Koschmider’s Indra club. I fairly shook with excitement as I offered the cashier at its entrance my Visa card, only to realize that she’d probably never seen such a thing. I told her I was on the guest list. She shrugged so as to make clear that she wouldn’t summon the prolifically scarred doorman I’d seen outside if I went in.

I went and there they were, John, Paul, George, Pete, and Stuart, playing to an audience of perhaps a dozen, Astrid Kirchherr and her so-called exi (exhibitionist) friends apparently hadn’t yet discovered them. No one was paying much attention, and understandably. The group wasn’t charismatic. All three guitars were out of tune, and Stu and Pete made up a truly woeful rhythm section. It seemed to me that replacing Pete might serve to launch the group’s rocket to superstardom well ahead of schedule, and I resolved to do so as I’d gotten the three main ones’ signatures on a management contract.

Getting them to sign was hardly more difficult than opening my mouth. I sound American, in spite of my seven years in the UK, and they in 1960 were besotted with all things American. When I told them, somehow keeping myself from giggling, that I foresaw great things for them, they pretty nearly snatched the pen out of my hands.

I flew over to New York, auditioned drummers, hired the one who’d played on the Dion & The Belmonts hit “A Teenager in Love,” and flew him back to Germany with me. I made clear that he would ultimately be replaced by Ringo Starr. I was of course loath to tamper with The Fab Four’s special chemistry. “As long as you pay me every week in the meantime, chief,” he said, “you can replace me with whoever the hell you like.” Paul wasn’t pleased about having to switch to bass, though hugely pleased by Stuart’s departure, as he’d been jealous of Stuart’s having become the apple of John’s eye.

Sure enough, the group sounded 100 percent better with the reconfigured rhythm section, but their audience remained tiny and indifferent. I felt sure their hometown fans, at least, would be delighted with the new lineup, but no such thing turned out to be the case. The general consensus, new drummer or no new drummer, was that the group was no Gerry & The Pacemakers.  Within three weeks, to my astonishment and despair (the drummer’s plane ticket from New York hadn’t exactly been cheap!) they’d broken up out of frustration. John allowed his girlfriend Cynthia to support him with what she earned as a teacher of art to special needs students. George became a roadie for Derry & The Seniors. Paul’s father got him a job as a cotton salesman.

I returned myself to the here-'n'-now by rubbing the talisman the Korean lady had given me. She was surprised to see me back so soon. When I confessed my great disappointment, she shook her head and asked, “Did you not realize that if you changed any part of their history, the whole story might turn out different?”

Now she tells me!


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