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Reference Library: Brian Epstein

From: ptrob@earthlink.net (PTRobertson)
Newsgroups: rec.music.beatles
Subject: Brian Epstein
Date: Sat, 15 Jun 1996 01:15:57 GMT

On 11 Jun 1996 20:51:53 -0400, gurzeler@aol.com (Gurzeler) wrote:

Brian was very doting and protective of the Beatles but how protective were the Beatles of Brian? Or was Brian's homosexuality not a "big deal" within the social circle he and the Beatles travelled in?

IMHO the Beatles were ambivalent about Brian's sexuality. That it was known to them from almost the start can hardly be doubted; there are several documented incidents of John, in particular, and the others, pricking up their ears or making comments that show they were aware. John was *certainly* also uncomfortale on those early occasions where he felt Brian was approaching him. But with time, I think their opinions evolved into a kind of benign neglect. They just didn't think about it, or deal with it -- except on those occasions where it couldn't be ignored. Brian, unfortunately for a man in his social situation, was attracted to what was then called 'rough trade,' and often found himself drawn to the tougher parts of Liverpool in search of companionship. John Lennon vividly recalled later several times when Brian had "had the shit beaten out of him in Old Dock Road" and had to be picked up and put back together. When he said it, it was with a kind of pity.

Brian Epstein's story has many tragic sides. He was born into a prosperous family in Liverpool and from an early age had evinced an artistic temperament. He used to go with his mother to symphonies as a child, and knew all the actors in various Liverpool legit theatre companies. As he matured, however, he also realized he was homosexual, and this -- besides branding him permanently as an outsider in the tough working North of the '50s and '60s -- led to a lifelong yearning to belong to something. When Brian finished a disastrous stint in the National Service in the mid-'50s, his father brought him into the family business, but Brian rebelled and insisted he wanted to be an actor. With his mother's support, he auditioned for, and was accepted at, RADA, but stayed only two years. Returning to Liverpool, Harry Epstein put his foot down and this time Brian submitted. But he surprised himself and others by appearing to "discover" himself in the environs of H. Epstein & Sons. It turned out Brian had a flair for selling. He was a born shop manager.

Life at the Epstein shops was fun for Brian but hardly fulfilling. In the next few years he remained restless and creative -- and easily bored. When he finally began managing the Beatles, it was, in many ways, a dream come true for him. It was at last a chance to belong to a club where he was both accepted (show business, more tolerant than other industries of homosexuality) and valued ("The Manager") as an important member. That the Beatles were outsiders in the music business ("So what's from Liverpool?") further bonded him with them -- he, the ultimate, sexual outsider. Lastly, as their fame grew, they were a personal vindication of Brian. His chance to say to the world: "See? I was right and you were wrong all along!"

Brian invested himself emotionally in the Beatles in a way that, I think, they recognized, but made them uncomfortable (as working-class Northern lads) and couldn't bring themselves to openly requite. They knew he valued them; and they valued him; but they couldn't express it openly. Brian would fuss and hover over them (wishing he could say more); they would make fun of him in return (and hope he wouldn't). This led to a kind of mutual tension that never went away. There are stories of the Beatles' early 'screaming' tours where Britain was just starting to going nuts over them, and Brian is off to one side, watching the show -- with tears streaming down his cheeks. That he loved the Beatles is unquestioned. But it's also seldom realized how badly he wanted to be one.

The Beatles' relationship with Brian was always a complex blend of management, business, and friendship; and in their harried life-schedules it was easy to ignore Brian's private life. I believe this is exactly what they ultimately chose to do. And for the most part, they did so successfully. As time wore on it became easier; because they needed him less and less; and he became wrapped up in other activities -- managing other artists, and an increasingly baroque personal life. Then, by around 1966, feelings on the Beatles side began to noticeably cool. They were gradually becoming aware by this time that many of Brian's business deals on their behalf (i.e., American merchandising rights -- a huge potential moneymaker -- which were virtually given away) were nightmarish mistakes. With the permanent end of touring that summer the Beatles' need for Brian (in their eyes) dwindled to practically zero. They'd keep him around to handle details in the future. But his presence certainly no longer justified 25 percent.

Brian sensed this shift, and it was a crisis in his life of the first order. He always saw himself as the fifth Beatle, and now this was being taken away. He spent much of 1967 convinced -- probably rightly -- that the Beatles would not renew his contract, which expired that October. As the months wore by and his belief and paranoia grew, so did his despair. He was already a full-on drug addict; now he retreated even more into drugs, pills, and prolonged sexual escapades -- only to wrench himself back for weeks at a time, then lapse again. There were two incidents in the summer of 1967 when Brian overdosed and had to receive emergency medical attention. When his death came in August, it was a horrific shock to everyone, but not a complete surprise.

Part of the Beatles' stunned reaction must surely have been that they regretted how things had gone in the past year or two between themselves and their once-much-loved, lately-estranged, manager.

>And lastly, what did Brian Epstein mean when he suggested the
>Sgt. Pepper album be wrapped in a brown paper bag (or something
>like that)?

This is a measure of how out of touch Brian was by mid-1967. The Beatles' decision to make the Sgt. Pepper album a reflection and expression of their lately drug-drenched lives terrified Brian. Remember, Paul had been raked over the coals that same spring for admitting he'd taken LSD (at which time Brian, protectively, stood up and said he'd 'dropped acid' too). Mindful of the backlash, Brian was afraid that the drug-culture subtext of Sgt. Pepper might be a disastrous choice. At one point he scrawled on a piece of paper, "Brown paper bags for Sgt. Pepper." But he must have known (pathetically) by that point that he no longer had any serious influence over their career.


****************************

From: dlm3@midway.uchicago.edu (saki)
Subject: Re: Brian Epstein is underrated
Newsgroups: rec.music.beatles
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 1998 03:58:46 GMT

In article <1998040702321400.WAA21046@ladder01.news.aol.com>, Lizzie909 <lizzie909@aol.com> wrote:

When I read books about the Beatles, anything that mentions Brian Epstein is bad. Almost every book I read bashes him for being a crummy manager; they list his faults and not his good points. I just think it's unfair for these authors to sit behind their typewriters/computers and criticize a man who brought the Beatles into the public eye. Brian Epstein was inexperienced, so he was bound to miss things. He didn't take full advantage of the Beatles marketing potential (which is almost an understatement considering so many items were sold with the Beatles name on them). He took a lot of flack from his peers, critics, and from the Beatles themselves (especially Paul McCartney considering how bossy he was). Everybody seems to be missing the main point--he made the Beatles. The Beatles had their music, but he created their image to go with that music. Can anyone honestly say that the Beatles would have been as popular without Brian Epstein??

Brian was first and foremost a businessman, impressive of demeanor and earnest of belief. And he was one of the few originals---among family and local fans---to believe unequivocally in the Fabs.

A group of bandmembers will always believe in themselves; they must in order to survive. Hence their game---'The toppermost of the poppermost". But they cannot necessarily speak the language of promoters, contractors, press representatives, club and concert bookers, and if there's a semantic mismatch in those areas, there won't even a modicum of fame, even if they're blazing with talent.

Someone has to be the go-between, the messenger who convinces the unconvinceable that he has the biggest phenomenon in creation. Bigger, perchance, than Elvis?

The Beatles went through a few managers, official and not-so-official: Allan Williams, Nigel Whalley, even Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best (the latter two masquerading as mediators in the mad rush to make the grade) but found limits to their success. Sure, Hamburg was nice; Allan Williams was responsible for that. And had they remained with him, the Fab Foursome might just now be anticipating retirement from their day jobs while looking back on the fun they had as teens on the Reeperbahn.

Oh, yes, and they would have made that one record, "My Bonnie". Pretty good little number too. Might have made the charts, if they'd had the right management. Hell, they Beatles *might* have been as big as Tony Sheridan!

Within weeks of their agreement with Brian Epstein (which involved several meetings and an almost intuitive go-ahead from Lennon), they were getting better salaries for their live gigs...not much at first, but an improvement. Brian also booked the Fabs on the same bill with bigger bands, to associate them with more prestigious co-stars.

Within four months of Brian's managing them, they debuted on BBC radio...a Northern band at that!

Within weeks, the Beatles had their first British recording studio audition...at Decca. Decca blindly picked Brian Poole and the Tremeloes as their band of choice, rather than the Beatles, but that seems to have been a logistical decision: Poole and crew lived near London.

All was not lost. Brian persevered, and so did the Beatles.

Within half a year, the Beatles recorded a second audition, this time at Parlophone. As some of you may have guessed, this is the one that took.

Within ten months, the Fabs were recording their own single, both sides penned by the previously-unheard-of duo of McCartney and Lennon...and had successfully convinced their producer to leave off already with tin-pan-alley piffle (viz., "How Do You Do It?").

Within eleven months, the Beatles had recorded their first number-one single.

You know what came after that.

Let it be clear: Brian Epstein did not invent the Beatles. They had invented themselves. But their image required focus. Brian helped them realize that during a time when the Fabs couldn't muster the clout to do it themselves. Their youth and class worked against them in any attempt at self-management---though ironically these were two vital elements of their creative fire.

Brian helped them refine a graphic, visual image, and as much as you might want to scoff at the suits and stage-presence, it worked---that curious combination of tonsorial rebellion and sartorial suavity. Couple this with an already-proven photographic ideal (Astrid Kirchher's stark, grainy shots were the inspiration for choosing Bob Freeman's famous style) and there's suddenly a balance between the image of the men and their musical beat.

Brian worked relentlessly for them, exploring avenues that had seemed closed just months earlier (he'd already been turned down by EMI once before; then he sought out George Martin, A&R man on their lesser label).

Even when the Beatles thought it was hopeless, Brian didn't.

Just as they had done---closing off all other alternatives for work or remuneration---Brian had made the Beatles his wager in pop music's lottery. He had to succeed...because they had to, as well.

Epstein's gifts were not financial or economic ones. Admittedly he *did* underestimate the Beatles' worth (to their consternation as well as his), and perhaps because his vision was limited, he failed to secure for them the most vital sustenance of all: rights to their own publishing empire.

But that's a tangled story, and its loss is less one man's fault than it is an inability on the part of many (even on the part of the songwriters themselves) to anticipate the future.

Brian loved them, too...however you want to interpret that. More clearly than anything, he felt both paternal and beholden to them.

From the time he offered to manage them, his life was theirs, and his belief in their own genius impressed the Foursome themselves---as well as weary record executives who were unused to encountering such managerial persuasiveness and conviction.

And of course there's one more vital point.

Had Brian not been there, it's likely that neither you nor I would be sitting here today, enmeshed in the unutterably extraordinary sounds the Beatles created.

Except for a few lucky souls from Liverpool (who might have recalled---had they cared to---what heat there once was at a little spot called the Cavern), not one lyric, not one note, might have emerged from Merseyside to illumine our time.

How dark these decades would have seemed (in hindsight) without those circumstances of history...and without the persistence of one man who shared a dream of fame with the Fabs---the group that still determines and inspires the direction of pop music. Dare I say it? They always will.

-------------------------------
"Don't say that I told you so!"
-------------------------------
saki (dlm3@midway.uchicago.edu)


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