Today is the birthday of the great British impresario Brian Epstein (1934-1967), the man who got the Beatles signed by EMI, sparking the “British invasion”, and largely influencing pop culture for the better part of a decade (well past his own lifetime, in fact).
An influential retail record buyer working for his family’s Liverpool department store, he went to see the locally popular band and was struck by their “personal charm” and their humor on stage — which indeed is the quality that set them apart. Many groups possess musical talent; very few possess verbal WIT from even one, let alone ALL of the band’s members. This wit would not only inform the Beatles performances, but their songwriting, and relations with the media. Epstein instinctively saw all that right off the bat at once. Stardom is rooted in personality; the lads were worth gambling on.
And then he groomed them and transformed them from a bunch of scruffy, semi-criminal punks into an act, in the sense of a music hall or vaudeville act. Under Epstein’s disciplined management, the Beatles were magical, perfection. Epstein put them in suits, got them matching haircuts, codified their brand, set up worthy movie vehicles, booked them in music halls and on television variety shows. The instant Epstein died, they began to disintegrate as an act, and became (while frequently as creative) progressively more self-indulgent and occasionally quite bad. Perhaps they could have been persuaded to have kept their excesses within bounds. Perhaps, for example, John Lennon might have persuaded not to insult the British public by returning his MBE (and come to think of it, a thousand other things).
There’s no way of knowing what would have been the normal course of things if Epstein had survived. But perhaps they would have done more movies like Hard Day’s Night and Help (Magical Mystery Tour was a critically panned experimental mess; they didn’t even bother to do their own voice-overs in Yellow Submarine and Let it Be is a documentary about their disintegration). Maybe they could have been persuaded to remain together, while pursuing their own solo projects simultaneously. Maybe they would have toured again as a group (as they all certainly did plenty of live performing as solo acts within months of the breakup).
The irony of course is that it was the job that killed him; he got involved in the usual cycle of amphetamines and barbituates to keep going. I elect to think the loss was much greater than most people suspect.
To find out more about show business past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.