Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with the Beatles

by Tony Bramwell, with Rosemary Kingsland
440 pages,
ISBN: 031233043X

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Tony's Bramwellmania
by Gerald Lynch

Encouraged by a favourable review in the Globe and Mail, I bought this book at full price from amazon.ca. The Globe's reviewer must have read only the first hundred pages or so, where the focus is on the ragged teenagers who were becoming the rich Beatles. In this early part, even Tony Bramwell must keep his attention diverted from what eventually becomes his unabashed subject: himself. Bramwell is an epically self-centred chronicler with a picket of blunt axes to grind (440 pages worth). If that seems harsh, let me remind you: Bramwell is, or should be, talking the Beatles here. But Tony is so chock-full of Bramwell that for interminable stretches at a time he loses sight of the book's monumental subject. In addition, Tony Bramwell's version of one of the greatest stories ever told smacks of numerous score-settlings, and his biases are so extreme that he undermines the reliability even of his earlier, and often charming, reminiscences of Dickensian days in Liverpool.
Despite the fact that he was three years younger than George, the youngest Beatle, Bramwell claims he was first Harrison's close boyhood friend, then Paul's, then John's, and much later Ringo's. In other words, Bramwell would have us believe that he collected his first-hand stories while chumming around in his early teens with 'friends' who were, in John Lennon's case, some six years older than him. As every schoolchild knows, even six months makes a big difference when you're twelve-and-a-half years old.
That said, Bramwell does have his engaging tales to tell. Interesting old and new Beatle lore is retailed and published. John's single mother walked out on him when he was a child, depositing him with his Aunt Mimi; unknown to John for years, his mother had moved in with a man just across the way. Strange days indeed. When John and Paul met as sixteen- and fifteen-year-olds, John was unwittingly tuning his guitar like a banjo, because that's what vaudevillian Aunt Mimi had taught him. Bramwell's focus on himself actually improves his recounting of the first radio broadcast of "Love Me Do" in 1962, as his intense subjectivity gives readers sound sense of what that experience must have been. It's interesting to think that England was introduced to the Beatles through the bluesy "Love Me Do", followed in short order by the Lennon classics "Please Please Me" and "From Me to You", and then the explosive "She Loves You", while we in North America first had the somewhat silly "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". The Beatles replaced Pete Best with Ringo in 1962, when they were already fairly fab in England, not, as believed, because Ringo was better than Best but simply because they didn't like Pete and everybody liked Ringo. As for the famous first worldwide satellite broadcast of "All You Need Is Love" in 1967, this is worth knowing: "Mick [Jagger] sat on the floor near Paul and puffed on a massive reefer, in front of 200 million people-and he was due in court the next morning. ... [John] was so wired and speeding that all the way through he chewed gum incessantly."
Bramwell's memoir convinces me for the first time that the Beatles would have been the Beatles without Brian Epstein or George Martin. Epstein may have recognized the greater market value in the talent that was already attracting fan devotion, but after he signed the Beatles he proved himself to have no head for the Beatles' publishing and merchandising value and so cost them an even greater fortune, while thanks to a Colonel-Parker-Elvis-like contract, he earned more off the top than any of the four.
Regrettably, Bramwell's insights are most often of this sort: "Because they came from Liverpool, most people think of John and Paul as 'English.' In fact, their roots were Irish and they thought of themselves as Irish." I had to smile at that "most people". Are there some people (Bramwell excepted) who don't think of the Beatles as 'English'? As much as my Irish heart quickened to believe this, Bramwell's Irish bull reminded me of the bombastic father in Eugene O'Neil's A Long Days Journey Into Night, who claims that Shakespeare was Irish; when contradicted with the facts, he counters that the only proof required is in the quality of the work. Unlike O'Neil, Bramwell is serious. The Irish Beatles led the British Invasion.
Bramwell likes John, loves Paul and Linda, hates Yoko Ono ferociously. Yoko is Bramwell's Beast of the Beatles. Introducing Yoko, he writes, "An artist of mass destruction named Yoko Ono was heading toward London from New York early in September 1966." Forget that the little Asian woman with the quiet demeanour single-handedly broke up the world's most powerful group-she was hypnotizing John! Bramwell suggests so repeatedly. But Bramwell takes no hostages when he dislikes anyone, especially one who came between him and his Beatles (for example, post-Epstein manager "Allen Klein was fat and grubby. He was a multimillionaire but used to wear filthy white polo-neck sweaters under food-stained jackets"). Even so, I had to marvel at the exceptional vitriol he dishes Yoko, some of it implicitly racist. In a conspiracy theory of Oliver Stone reach, Bramwell alleges that Yoko masterminded Paul's drug bust in Japan, using her Japanese connections and what Bramwell calls, in quotation marks, "Japanese politics"? Even for a Yoko-basher like Bramwell this sort of delusional vehemence seemed excessive, until it hit me: Tony is jealous. Yoko took away his Beatles and his John, and Tony is still furious about it. It may be Bramwell's lovelorn blindness to Lennon's complicity in his own kidnapping that makes the spurned author portray him throughout as someone so intent on fame and publicity that, it seemed to me, had Lennon not become a Beatle he could well have grown up to become Mark David Chapman. Instead, John found Paul, George and Ringo, fame and fortune; then Yoko, love and security. Till that sick prick, Chapman, the obsessive fan turned delusional fanatic, found Lennon and ended his life.
Tony Bramwell lucked into a job as one of the first PR men in the record business (actually he claims to have invented the business of record promotion), and he earned his chops with none other than the Beatles. What he has written in Magical Mystery Tours is a promotion man's prose, with at least three-quarters of the book consisting of idiotic self-promotion: "Julie Ege, a Norwegian film star and model, was my girlfriend for five or six years [the memory man doesn't remember!]. Rosemary Frankland, my previous girlfriend, had been Miss World and Julie represented Norway in the Miss Universe competition. Both of them were incredibly beautiful." You don't say, Tony? Bramwell claims to have done everything from fetching McCartney's tandoori curry take-out to single-handedly launching the career of Jimi Hendrix. "I could go into virtually any company, any music business office, or any club, frontstage or backstage, or whatever-stage and they knew who I was. They would let me in, be glad to see me. The music people knew what I did, and what I could probably do for them if let loose. I was liked-I was even envied." I don't know, but I won't take Tony's word for any of it. I do get the feeling, though, that had Tony Bramwell been associated with that other giant icon of the 1960s, Muhammad Ali, he would have been the one in charge of the spit bucket, claiming later to have convinced Cassius to become Muhammad.
Bramwell, "let loose" here by St. Martin's Press/ Thomas Dunne Books, pulls from his suspiciously omniscient memory some absolute gems of nonsense and banality. On John and Paul and their dead mothers: "In quieter moments, they sometimes shared their feelings, not in words, but on an intuitive level ..." I'm not saying that this is utter nonsense, but if such unutterable communication ever transpired, Lennon and McCartney did it in their music.
On Brian Epstein's discovery of the Beatles, the account of which begins with the usual Bramwellian braggadocio and ends in the usual clichT: "When I told Brian that the Beatles were regulars down in the Cavern,... The day he went, November 9, 1961, was to prove very important in the history of pop music." Come on, Tony.
On the envy directed at Beatle girlfriends: "... a fan spotted Ringo getting into his car and chased him down the road. She managed to open the car door and saw Maureen. She dragged her out, scratching and kicking her on the cobbles of Mathew Street. In no time, a dozen girls surrounded them." Ringo, you chivalrous lout, where were you? Hustling Tony to safety?
This sort of thing is surrounded by high walls of yet more tedium: "We used to go drinking at Dehams in Dean Street, the Marquis of Grangy on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue ..." Right, there. "I don't think I went anywhere back then without seeing someone I knew in each and every watering hole." No one, after reading this book, will doubt him, as readers waste time in them all. And by all such points, wasted readers will look about for the Beatles in vain.
Is there anything else to dislike about this book? Yes, plenty, but this especially for Canadian readers: Bramwell goes out of his way towards the end of Magical Mystery Tours to take gratuitous slams at Leonard Cohen, comparing him to the number one paranoiac in the record business, Phil Spector (of the murder rap). But here, as in so much else, Bramwell must remain a suspect judge of another's psychology. By way of illustration, I offer his compassionate insight about a Hollywood bimbo who leaves her rich and famous older husband at restaurant tables to go out and have sex with the chauffeur: "She only wanted his attention and some reaction." And only Bramwell could divulge this "industry" insider's exclusive, which I had first heard only about thirty years ago: "There has always been a running joke in the industry about Leonard Cohen. It is said that his records are music to commit suicide by." Italics Tony's. On the very next page he repeats this pathetic appraisal, while snickering over Cohen's financial misfortunes.
Apart from the story of the early days, the only other thing attractive about Magical Mystery Tours is its cover, and that is merely image exploitation. Bramwell wisely opted for a simple chronological narrative, but even in this, the general sweep forward from about 1957 becomes very confused, like the handling of time by an increasingly drunken raconteur who gets lost straining to establish the nickname of the third cousin who finally got weird Uncle Willie to smile for the camera. And hardly surprising, Magical Mystery Tours is riddled with errors, from basic grammar mistakes, to its plethora of horribly turned sentences, to wrong word choice (for example, "compulsive" for "compelling"), to typo after typo after typo.
For us middle-aged people, the Beatles were an intense experience, part of breaking from the cocoon of childhood. If you're like me (and apologies for getting all Bramwellian), the Beatles maintain their place in the magical mystery of who you are. And what made the Beatles remains a mystery; how those scruffy Liverpudlian lads wrote the songs that provide the score for one's own personal cavalcade-of-youth movie. Others' analyses of what contributed to the cultural phenomenon of the Beatles often make some sense: the mass maturing of the post-war generation of Baby Boomers with their surplus of hormones; the slough of despond into which rock-n-roll had slumped with all the music-massacring Bobbies and the mascara-ed Ronnies; the coming to full force of a democratic affluence that the world had never seen on such a scale. More micro-oriented in his history, Bramwell and his unnecessarily padded tome did make me wonder whether John Lennon's obsessive intensity wasn't the largest part of what made the Beatles. Then I remembered the alchemy of Lennon and McCartney's teamed talent, the inexplicable miracle of talent, the perfect grace of it. The work ethic and devotion to craft such as made George play till his fingers bled. Ringo's steady drumming and diplomatic nature. The fire of desire. It may have been the unexpected license granted by the exhilarating freedom that was part of growing up in post-war Liverpool (that Irish town). The luck o' those Brits. Lucky us.

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