Updated to include Paul McCartney’s knighting and the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison.
Philip Norman’s biography of the Beatles is the definitive work on the world's most influential band—a beautifully written account of their lives, their music, and their times. Now brought completely up to date, this epic tale charts the rise of four scruffy Liverpool lads from their wild, often comical early days to the astonishing heights of Beatlemania, from the chaos of Apple and the collapse of hippy idealism to the band's acrimonious split. It also describes their struggle to escape the smothering Beatles’ legacy and the tragic deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison. Witty, insightful, and moving, Shout! is essential reading not just for Beatles fans but for anyone with an interest in pop music.
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Philip Norman is a journalist and a novelist who in 1968 was assigned to cover the Beatles’ own business utopia, Apple Corps, from the inside. He is the author of Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly and many other books.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
CHAPTER ONE: "HE WAS THE ONE I'D WAITED FOR"
John Lennon was born on October 9, 1940, during a brief respite in Nazi Germany's bombing of Liverpool. All summer, after tea, people would switch on their radios at low volume, listening, not to the muted dance music but to the sky outside their open back doors. When the music cut off, before the first siren went, you knew that the bombers were returning.
Liverpool paid a heavy price for its naval shipyards, and for the miles of docks where convoys stood making ready to brave the North Atlantic. The city was Britain's last loophole for overseas food supplies. Night after night, with geometric accuracy, explosions tore along the seaming of wharves and warehouses and black castle walls, and over the tramlines into streets of friendly red back-to-back houses, of pubs and missions and corner dairies with cowsheds behind. During the worst week so many ships lay sunk along the Mersey there was not a single berth free for incoming cargo. But on Lime Street the Empire theater carried on performances as usual. Sometimes the whole audience would crowd out into the foyer and look across the black acropolis of St. George's Hall to a sky flashing white, then dark again as more bombs pummeled the port and the river.
Mimi Stanley had always worried about her younger sister, Julia. She worried about her especially tonight with more Luftwaffe raids expected and Julia in labor in the Oxford Street maternity home. When news of the baby came by telephone Mimi set out on foot from the Stanley house on Newcastle Road. "I ran two miles. I couldn't stop thinking, 'It's a boy, it's a boy. He's the one I've waited for.' "
She held John in her arms twenty minutes after he was born. His second name, Julia said -- in honor of Britain's inspirational prime minister, Winston Churchill -- would be Winston. Just then a parachute-borne land mine fell directly outside the hospital. "But my sister stayed in bed," Mimi said, "and they put the baby under the bed. They wanted me to go into the basement, but I wouldn't. I ran all the way back to Newcastle Road to tell Father the news. 'Get under shelter,' the wardens were shouting. 'Oh, be quiet,' I told them. Father was there, and I said, 'It's a boy and he's beautiful, he's the best one of all.' Father looked up and said, 'Oh heck, he would be.' "
Mimi's and Julia's father was an official with the Glasgow and Liverpool Salvage Company. He was aboard the salvage tug that tried to raise the submarine Thetis from her deathbed in Liverpool Bay. He had five daughters and brought them up strictly, though he was often away from home salvaging ships. "We loved Father," Mimi said, "but we liked it when he went away to sea and we girls could kick over the traces a bit. If ever there was a boy I had my eye on, I used to pray at night, 'Please God, let no one be hurt but let there be a wreck.' "
Mimi was slender, brisk, and dark, with fine cheekbones like a Cherokee. Julia was slim, auburn-haired, more conventionally pretty. Both loved laughter, but Mimi insisted there should be sense in it. "Oh, Julia," she would endlessly plead, "be serious." Julia could never be serious about anything.
Her marriage to Freddy Lennon in 1938 had been the least serious act of her life. She met Freddy one day in Sefton Park, and commented on the silly hat he wore. To please her, Freddy sent it skimming into the lake. She started bringing him home, to her whole family's great dismay. He was only a ship's waiter, erratically employed; he preferred, in the nautical term for malingering, to "swallow the anchor." Julia married him on an impulse at Mount Pleasant Register Office, putting down her occupation as "cinema usherette" because she knew how it would annoy her father. "I'll never forget that day," Mimi said. "Julia came home, threw a piece of paper on the table and said, 'There, that's it. I've married him.' "
Within little more than a year, World War II had broken out, sending Freddy to sea on a succession of merchant ships and condemning Julia to a life of alternating grim boredom and terror in the Liverpool Blitz. Freddie was doing war work requiring as much courage and self-sacrifice as any other. But he also loved shipboard life, where he was always the star turn in amateur concerts, "blacking up" like Al Jolson or singing torrid ballads like "Begin the Beguine."
After John was born, in 1940, Freddie's spells of shore leave became increasingly more erratic. His longest absence was a bizarre eighteen-month odyssey that saw him variously arrested for deserting his ship in New York and stranded in Bône, North Africa, while, back home in Liverpool, his family presumed him dead and payment of his wages to Julia was suspended. When eventually he arrived home, it was to find Julia pregnant by another man, a Welsh soldier stationed in Liverpool. The baby, a girl, baptized Victoria Elizabeth, was born in 1945, a few weeks after the war's end. Freddie was willing to forgive Julia, adopt Victoria, and bring her up alongside John. But Julia's family, fearing a public disgrace, insisted that the baby must be put out for adoption.
Though his marriage was clearly on the rocks, Freddie was unwilling to relinquish John. In April 1946, hearing that Julia had acquired a new man friend, he abducted John and fled with him to the seaside resort of Blackpool, planning vaguely for the two of them to emigrate to New Zealand. Before he could take the scheme further, however, Julia turned up in Blackpool and announced she was taking John home to Liverpool. The six-year-old was then faced with an agonizing choice: "Do you want to go with Mummy or Daddy?" He chose Julia. A crushed Freddie made no move to keep them from going off together.
All Julia's sisters lent a hand in caring for John. But one sister cared specially -- the one who, having no babies of her own, ran through the air raid to hold him. From the moment John could talk, he would say, "Where's Mimi? Where's Mimi's house?"
"Julia had met someone else, with whom she had a chance of happiness," Mimi said. "And no man wants another man's child. That's when I said I wanted to bring John to Menlove Avenue to live with George and me. I wouldn't even let him risk being hurt or feeling he was in the way. I made up my mind that I'd be the one to give him what every child has the right to -- a safe and happy home life."
The fires ceased falling on Liverpool. The city, though cratered like a Roman ruin, returned to its old, majestically confident commercial life. St. George's Hall, badly scarred, still stood within its columns, between equestrian statues of Victoria and Albert. Along the docks, the overhead railway remained intact, passing above the funnels and warehouses and branching masts, the horse-drawn wagons and clanking, shuffling "Green Goddess" Liverpool trams. Business resumed in the streets lined by statues and colonnades and Moorish arches and huge public clocks. At the Pier Head, that broad riverfront, congregations of trams drew up between the Mersey and its three gray waterside temples: the Cunard Company, the Docks and Harbour Board, and the Royal Liver Insurance Company. The "Liver building" was still there, its twin belfries soaring higher than the seagulls and crowned with the skittish stone silhouettes of the "Liver birds."
Liverpool was still business and banking and insurance -- and ships. From the southern headland, under rings of tall cranes, came the rhythmic clout of Cammell Laird's yard where they built the Alabama, the Mauretania, the Ark Royal, the Thetis. Across from Birkenhead, brisk river ferries crossed the path of ocean liners, warships, merchantmen, and the smaller fry of what was still Europe's busiest shipping pool. Ever and again, from a slipway on the broad river bend, some fresh ungarnished hull would slide backward, and ride there, free of drag chains, while tug whoops mingled with cheers from the bank.
Liverpool was docks and ships and as such indistinguishable in Britain's northern industrial fogs but for one additional, intermittent product: Liverpool was where music-hall comedians, such as Tommy Handley, Arthur Askey, and Robb Wilton, came from. Some elixir in a population mixed from Welsh and Irish, and also lascar and Chinese, and uttered in the strange glottal dialect that simultaneously seems to raise derisive eyebrows, had always possessed the power to make the rest of the country laugh.
Liverpool "comics" were always preferred by the London theatrical agents. But there was a proviso. It was better for them to lose their Liverpool accents, and omit all references to the city of their origin. No one in London cared about a place so far to the northwest, so gray and sooty and old-fashioned, and above all, so utterly without glamour as Liverpool.
Woolton, where John grew up, is a suburb six miles to the southeast, but further in spirit, from the Liverpool of docks and Chinatown and pub signs pasted round every street corner. From Lime Street you drive uphill, past the grand old Adelphi Hotel, past the smaller backstreet hotels with no pretense at grandeur, past the Baptist temples and Irish meeting halls and grassed-over bomb sites turned into eternal temporary parking lots, lapping against some isolated little waterworks or church. Eventually you come to a traffic circle known by the name of its smallest tributary, Penny Lane. Woolton lies beyond, in wide dual carriageways with grass verges and mock Tudor villas whose gardens adjoin parks, country clubs, and golf courses.
Woolton, in fact, is such a respectable, desirable, and featureless suburb as grows up close to any British industrial city. Until 1963, it had only one claim on history. A lord of the same name was Britain's wartime minister of food and inventor of the "Woolton Pie," which boasted total, if unappetizing, nourishment for only one old shilling a portion.
The country village that Woolton used to be is still distinguishable in narrow lanes winding up to its red sandstone parish church, St. Peter's. In the early 1940s, it was still more villagelike. It even had its own small dairy farm, to which people would go for fresh milk ladled straight from the churn. The farm and dairy belonged to George Smith, the quiet kindhearted man whom high-spirited Mimi Stanley had married.
George and Mimi lived at "Mendips," a semidetached house on Menlove Avenue, round the corner from the dairy, almost opposite Allerton golf course. Built in 1933, it was a semidetached villa designed for the aspirational lower middle class, with mock Tudor half-timbering, windows inset with Art Nouveau stained glass, and the tiny living room beside the kitchen grandly described as a "morning room." In the years before Mimi and George brought their little nephew, John Lennon, to live here, the house had even had live-in domestics. The untold million future acolytes of the self-styled "working-class hero" never dreamed he actually grew up in a house with a morning room, Spode and Royal Worcester plates displayed on ledges around its quasi-baronial front hall, and servants' bells in its kitchen.
Julia had settled only a short bus journey away, at Springwood. Her man friend, John Dykins, was headwaiter at the splendiferous Adelphi Hotel. Every afternoon, she came across to her sister's to see John. He called her "Mummy"; his aunt he called plain "Mimi." "John said to me once when he was little, 'Why don't I call you Mummy?' I said, 'Well -- you couldn't very well have two Mummies, could you?' He accepted that."
From the moment Julia gave him to her, Mimi devoted her life to John. "Never a day passed when I wasn't with him -- just that one time a year when he went up to Scotland to stay with his cousins. And at night, for ten years, I never crossed the threshold of that house. As I came downstairs I'd always leave the light on on the landing outside his room. This little voice would come after me, "Mimi! Don't waste light."
"I brought him up strictly. No sweets -- just one barley sugar at night -- and no sitting around in picturedomes. He never wanted it. He'd play for hours in the garden in summer, in his little swimming shorts. I'd go to the butcher's for pheasants' feathers and I'd make him up like an Indian with gravy browning, and put lipstick for war paint on his cheeks. And when he said his friends were dead, they were dead.
"He never had a day's illness. Only chicken pox. 'Chicken pots,' he called it. And he loved his uncle George. I felt quite left out of that. They'd go off together, just leaving me a bar of chocolate and a note saying: 'Have a happy day.' "
Mimi, for all her briskness, liked nothing better than laughter. Julia had always known how to get her going so that she threw her head back and guffawed, slapping her knee. "I was very slim in those days. Julia would come in in the afternoon and dance up to me, singing, 'O dem bones, dem bones -- ' She'd only got to lift her eyebrow and I'd be off.
"John was the same. I'd be battling with him. I'd send him out of the room, then I'd flop down exhausted in the big armchair next to the morning-room window. He'd crawl round on the path and pull faces at me through the window. He'd come at me like a monster, going, 'Woooo!' He could get me off just the same way Julia could."
When Mimi took charge of John she sent him to Dovedale Primary School, near Penny Lane. She took him there each morning, and each afternoon met him at the bus stop, near the Penny Lane traffic circle. In his class at Dovedale Primary was a boy named Peter Harrison whose younger brother George sometimes came with their mother to meet the three-thirty outpouring from school.
John did well at Dovedale, learning to read and write with precocious speed. He liked sport, especially running and swimming, but was inept at soccer. The discovery was made that he had chronically poor eyesight. His teachers thought that must be what made his English compositions so unusual. He changed almost every word into another one like it. Instead of "funds," he would write "funs." He loved reading, especially Richmal Crompton's Just William stories about a lawless eleven-year-old. He loved writing and drawing and crayoning. He could amuse himself for hours with books or pencils in the tiny bedroom above the front door that had little space for anything but its red-quilted single bed, undersized wardrobe, and one-bar electric heater. Each Christmas, when Mimi took him to the pantomime at the Liverpool Empire, he would endlessly retell the experience in stories, poems, and drawings. At the age of seven he began writing books of his own. One of them was called Sport and Speed Illustrated; it had cartoons and drawings and a serial story ending: "If you liked this, come again next week. It'll be even better."
One day, while playing in a nearby field, John encountered another seven-year-old with a pale pink-and-white face and fuzzy blond hair. The boy's name was Peter Shotton; his mother kept a small needlewoman's and grocery shop in Woolton village. The encounter quickly turned into combat. "I'd found out his name was Winston," Shotton says. "I was calling out to him, 'Winnie, Winnie...' He got me down on the ground with his knees on my shoulders. I said: 'OK, go ahead and hit me. Get it over with.' But he couldn't. He said: 'OK, I'll let you off. Just don't call me that name again.' I walked away, then I turned round and shouted, 'Winnie, Winnie.' He was so angry, he couldn't speak. Then I saw his face break into a smile."
Pete Shotton and John Lennon became inseparable friends. Pete lived on Vale Road, just round the corner from Menlove Avenue. The addition of another Vale Road boy, a m...
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