December , 2013
By Elaine McAfee Bender
The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story
Author Vivek J. Tiwary
Art by Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker
Lettering by Steve Dutro
Photos Courtesy of Brian Epstein's Facebook
"If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian." - Paul McCartney, 1999.
Had it not been for Brian Epstein's business savvy and sheer determination to bring four scruffy lads from Liverpool to the attention of the world, we may have been deprived of the greatest rock phenomenon in history! Simply put, the Beatles changed our lives. But first, Brian changed John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. He changed up their appearance, and worked tirelessly to get them out of the dark Cavern Club, into the spotlight, onto a major record label, and under the brilliant direction of George Martin. Brian stepped outside of his family's record store and ventured into the tough business of managing musical artists at a time in England when record companies were not signing bands. Why did he do it? He believed in their talents, came to love them as friends, and Brian himself was searching for his own identity... and a place to belong.
The Fifth Beatle is a graphic novel which finally gives the credit to Brian Epstein he so richly deserves. Brian personally cut a deal with Ed Sullivan, which was an amazingly clever marketing ploy! At the time of negotiations, the Beatles had not yet achieved a hit on the US charts, and Sullivan refused to make them the headliners on his television show. "Give the Beatles top billing and we will give you three shows for half the price of one," offered Brian. If the author is to be believed (and he swears this is a fact), Ed Sullivan used a ventriloquist's dummy to negotiate that day! Anyway, the rest is history. Most of us who were alive in February, 1964, and old enough to watch TV can tell you exactly where we were and how it felt to hear "She Loves You" for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show. A musical coming of age for millions!
Why is the story of Brian Epstein (pronounced Epsteen) told in the form of a graphic novel? Why not? The author, Vivek J. Tiwary, has thoroughly done his homework and states that "most" of the story is true. Some of the details have been modified or omitted entirely. Overall, it works and is a must read for music historians, Beatles fans, and collectors. It is an easy read for anyone curious about the man who launched the Beatles to stardom. The author wishes not only to reveal the facts, but also the "poetry" behind the man. His story is painful at times, full of human frailties, and a struggle to overcome what appeared to be insurmountable odds.
The story opens in 1961, with a young girl coming into NEMS, the Epstein-owned record store. She asks for "My Bonnie" by the Beatles. Eager to please his customer, 26-year-old Brian investigates this local band that backed singer Tony Sheridan on the requested record. After seeing The Beatles perform at the Cavern Club, he embarks on a mission of making them stars, and entices them into cleaning up with the promise of securing a record contract. When they hesitate, Brian tells them a story of the matador and bullfights he has witnessed in Spain. Most matadors started life as peasants, but their ambition dressed them up like kings to captivate the audience. "I love the bulls - and I love your leather look," Brian explains to John, "But the world will not follow such a group dressed in leather."
Brian had a few connections in the recording industry in London, and in securing the success of the Beatles also secures his own place in the world. Being gay at a time when it was a crime to be a homosexual, as well as being Jewish in a society full of prejudice, and failing at other career attempts, had already taken a toll on Brian, but made him fiercely determined that his beloved Beatles would become famous.
Of particular interest to me is the fact that it was Brian who seized the opportunities, marketed, negotiated, pushed, and arranged much of what the world saw of the Beatles. Carefully orchestrated interviews, magazine covers, recordings, being seen with all the beautiful people of the day, Beatles merchandise such as wigs and lunchboxes... arranged by Brian, who also worked hard to make amends when one (or all) of the four stepped out of line. Brian never gave up. Driven, he could not stop and celebrate the victories for planning the next event, which would top the last!
There were many failures along the road to success, filled with self-doubts, and meetings with ruthless characters such as Colonel Parker (Elvis Presley's manager). Brian admits to New York business associate, Nat Weiss, in 1965 that he felt like he had lost a tremendous amount of money for the Beatles. The Fifth Beatle doesn't soften Brian's suffering, loneliness, and dependence on medications. He saw himself as that bullfighter, completely alone, being watched by thousands of people, and yet he cannot take his eyes off the bull. What loneliness!
When Brian passed away on August 27, 1967, he had accomplished more by the age of 32 than most people do in an entire lifetime. The book suggests that he may have simply given up, but offers little more than speculation as to whether or not he deliberately caused his demise.
"I knew that we were in trouble then. I didn't really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music, and I was scared. [When Brian died] I thought, 'We've fuckin' had it.' " - John Lennon, 1970. Within 2 years, the Beatles disbanded.
There are many who are baffled that Brian Epstein has not been posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Non-Performer category. He certainly accomplished what no other has done before or since. In the words of Andrew Loog Oldham, "If Brian had loved himself as much as he loved the Beatles, he may have still been with us today. But we do have all that they did together..."