31 August 2006
The thing that fascinates me about tower blocks is that you have so many unrelated lives neatly stacked. Through each window, you'll see somebody with different friends, dreams, work, problems and achievements. As you glimpse these lives, from a passing train for example, you get just a tiny taste of the scale and richness of human existence.
Everybody has a unique story to tell. Even shared experiences like 9/11 and Live Aid affect people physically and emotionally in different ways. Sometimes a well-worn story can have some life injected into it by being reviewed from a new angle.
So we come to The Beatles, perhaps the most documented band in history. Their own autobiography extended to five DVDs and three double albums of out-takes. There is no shortage of unofficial accounts either.
The book 'At the Apple's Core' (first published 2002) reviews the Beatles experience from the point of view of Denis O'Dell, one of the directors of Apple and a producer of several of the Beatles films.
The making of films like Magical Mystery Tour and A Hard Day's Night naturally dominates the story, although there's also a lot about The Magic Christian (starring Ringo) and some aborted film projects. There are a few chatshow anecdotes, such as Paul buying a horse and the Beatles hiding their stash in film cans so they could be ordered from Abbey Road if needed. O'Dell comes across as a gentleman, unwilling to be too harsh to his former employers, but there are hints of how unreasonable they could be. Paul asks him to organise a wedding reception for Magic Alex at a few hours' notice, for example, so used to having things done that he is completely unaware of the work involved in doing them.
The book gives a few insights into how the Beatles lived. The rooftop concert is famous now, but O'Dell's take is partly that they were too afraid to hold the concert in public given the excesses of Beatlemania. Paul used to wear strikingly unfashionable clothes as a disguise so he could get about town without being mobbed too.
Much of this book's material is well known, particularly the Beatles' own story arc. There's not much fresh insight into the collapse of the Beatles or into their relationships with each other. But since this is written by someone who was actually there, it's a bit like spending a night in the pub with him reminiscing. With no disrespect intended towards O'Dell's talent, his was another relatively ordinary life touched by the Beatles. While none of us could have been in the band, many people could have been near them, and it's interesting to see what life might have been like if we had. This is not the most thorough Beatles book available, but by focusing on one man's experiences at Apple, it gives an interesting contribution to the Beatles library.