I would not say this is a particularly illuminating read. Nor would I say it is a book that puts any of the Beatles in a good light. But that is the book’s draw. I lapped it up, if only because my fan-boy’s flights of Beatles-infused fancy require morbid scratching. We all know that the group dissolved in a series of business-related spats. We all know that these guys were human — four tough working-class blokes who had little to no idea how to navigate the choppy music-business waters. This book documents all of that. Its unique property, though, is: It’s unrelenting. It’s the coldest such shower around. The Beatles, as it turned out, were complete bastards — to themselves most of all.
What is the expression? You (as in: we) act most viciously toward the ones you (we) love.
You Never Give Me Your Money spares no-one and leaves no stone un-turned. Peter Doggett, the author, has done an incredible job researching the demise of the band. At work I spend an ungodly amount of time inspecting financial documents (e.g., P&Ls, balance sheets, etc.); and I hear all the time about grantees who have to pay us back due to deficient record-keeping — and, perhaps most dispiriting of all, I see the reams of paper, the back-and-forth mountain of bullsh*t that passes between us and our clients — and all this red tape and weedy financial documentation has convinced me it’s foolish to enter into any kind of a contract with ANYONE. That, of course, is an exaggerated, even childish reaction to something that helps the world go round; but in reading Doggett’s look at the Beatles’ money woes, I was reminded of how poisonous money can be. I never thought I’d say something like that; but there you go. Money may not be the root of all evil, but people with large sums of cash may want to get a word in edgewise.
A few years back, in a cover story on the end of the Beatles, Rolling Stone magazine posited that Paul McCartney called quits on the group because he could not stand to see a good thing die. That, essentially, he had been the band’s biggest champion and John Lennon’s ego could not stand it — so Lennon, in his way, sabotaged the whole thing. It’s a fascinating and well-written piece, I cannot deny it. Doggett’s book, too, is a fantastically researched postmortem, yet his approach never betrays a sycophantic slant, nor does it feel like he’s trying hard to stay objective. His achievement is more notable because it takes no prisoners. Rolling Stone‘s article made the case that the band was petty with each other; but Doggett adopts a slightly more clinical approach, I feel, in that he’s only too careful to not even subtly cast the players as heroes or villains. Everybody’s trapped by their own egos. Without succumbing to what feels like mudslinging, he paints a portrait of mates who, faced with one of the most unique and surreal experiences anyone can ever claim to have had (i.e., being inside the pressure cooker of THE BEATLES), became vicious toward each other because they were practically the only ones who could take it.
And is that not what speaks to the core fascination with this entity, these…Beatles? Theirs is a love story nigh unparalleled in the western part of the 20th Century. No other pop group had so much talent, so much daring — so much visible excitement and private humor at playing and recording with each other. Reading You Never Give Me Money (I can’t bring myself to quote the quotes on offer, from any of the parties involved) is tantamount to seeing someone rape and pillage what was best about the band (its youthful, tuneful charm and creativity) for the sake of landing a cheap shot. No one, not Yoko Ono, not Allen Klein (their last business manager), could prevent these chaps from f*cking or trying to f*ck each other over.
Most amazing of all: In spite of the business squabbles, which were considerable and quite hostile, the Beatles still maintained a sliver of affection for the Beatles — and Doggett’s scrupulous research makes that plain. (Each Beatle’s actions, loathsome or lovable, make sense in the context of his personality and behavioral patterns.) I already knew, being the obsessive I am, that they had cameo’d on each other’s solo records in the 70s. Doggett’s book, though, leaves you gutted, all too aware that these mates were privately and publicly torn about being linked to each other forever.
It was a deep, complicated kind of love. The real kind. You Never Give Me Your Money busts any hope, any scintilla of hope, that relations between the Beatles could have mended amicably (as if 1967, or 1980, never happened).
And it hits you in the face with that truth from the first page to the last.