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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Video Drone: Beatles Stories

Posted By on 09.25.12 at 04:00 PM

Everybodys talkin bout John Lennon, Ronald Reagan, Brian Wilson, Henry Winkler . . .
  • Everybody's talkin' 'bout John Lennon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Brian Wilson . . .
In the summer of 1978 or '79, I was making a road trip west with my family when a station wagon went roaring past us on the interstate. At the wheel was a white man with glasses, a beard, and hair past his collar; in the driver's seat sat a moon-faced Asian woman with long black hair; and in the backseat frolicked a little boy about three years old. "That's John Lennon!" I exclaimed. My father—who never posed nude on an album cover or underwent primal scream therapy or drove above the speed limit—told me I was imagining things. The car disappeared ahead of us, and eventually I forgot about the incident. But years later it came flooding back to me when I read, in one of the approximately 900 Beatles books I own, that during this period Lennon, Yoko Ono, and their son Sean liked to take car trips west to visit national parks.

This anecdote is probably more interesting to me than it is to you, but apparently there's no limit to people's interest in the Beatles. Exhibit A would be Seth Swirsky's documentary Beatles Stories, scheduled for a DVD release on October 2. Swirsky, a professional songwriter, strings together nearly four dozen anecdotes from people who knew, or at least met, one or all of the Beatles. Their stories are probably more interesting to them than they are to me, but that didn't stop me from watching this all the way to the end.

One of the stories has already become a news item: Fred Seaman, who served as Lennon's personal assistant from 1979 until the musician's death in 1980, claims that Lennon had drifted rightward, written off President Carter, and liked Ronald Reagan, who he'd met in December 1974 at a Los Angeles Rams game. I remember all the liberal hand-wringing back in July 2011 when this little tidbit broke, but it doesn't seem that incredible. First, Lennon was always a work in progress, and second, he loved nothing better than to wind people up, whether they be Fred Seaman, Richard Nixon, or Paul McCartney.

I can understand why Swirsky has been looking for a distributor for over a year: some of the stories are old news (Brian Wilson recalling the first time he heard Rubber Soul, Davy Jones of the Monkees remembering his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show the same night as the Beatles), and almost all of them are negligible. There are a few gems, though: Mitch Weissman, a ringer for McCartney in the original Broadway production of Beatlemania, remembers meeting Lennon on a New York street and being warned that the Beatles were a hard band to escape; Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles recalls being introduced to Ringo Starr at a party and gushing so furiously that the drummer fled; and right-winger Jon Voight describes how, just after becoming a star in Midnight Cowboy, he angled for an introduction to Lennon at a London restaurant but was told to get lost.

There are also quick hits with people who have much more than a single anecdote to share: Sir George Martin, the band's legendary record producer; Norman Smith, their engineer from 1962 to '65; Klaus Voorman, a pal from the band's Hamburg days who designed the cover for Revolver and played bass with both Lennon and George Harrison after the Beatles broke up; and May Pang, Lennon's lover in the early 70s when he and Ono were split up. In the end Beatles Stories may be most useful as a barometer of just how fanatical you are; it's more or less the video equivalent of a car zooming past you, never to be glimpsed again.

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