The Beatles. Most people now know the story well about how the four young musicians from working class families in Liverpool became a world famous band. How Skiffle was the trend, how the drummer was removed and Ringo brought in. The years of going to the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Germany to make cash, playing at the Cavern in Liverpool, and encountering the quiet businessman Brian Epstein who became their manager. The wonderful alliance of Lennon-McCartney as the primary song writers, and the creative relationship with the late George Martin as their producer at EMI. Beatlemania, pop, rock, experimental music, trend setting, controversy, religion, drugs, a whirlwind of mayhem and success.
What makes me laugh out loud every time is the following comment by Decca records. The Beatles had been taken to London for an audition at Decca Records for new years day 1962, the session was recorded and a decision promised in the days after. Eventually Decca responded, rejecting the Beatles, saying: “Guitar groups are on their way out.” and “The Beatles have no future in show business.” I’ve often wondered if they did a debrief on that a couple of years later. Instead, Decca signed The Tremeloes (also known as Brian Poole and the Tremeloes), a band that performed well and hung around for forty years as consistent recording artists and concert performers, but were never famous. But maybe the Tremeloes had a better time?
By 1966, and five years of hits and relentless international concert schedules, the Beatles stopped touring. It was no longer fun. The freedom and success they had achieved had started to impact their lives in ways they may not have foreseen or understood. They were public property, cultural icons, trend-setters, and they were adored. Privacy was almost nil, and demands were heavy.
Fame also impacted the band relationships, tension, jealousy, power games all played their part, and eventually they went their separate ways, making it a public split in 1970. Even though over the years up until Lennon’s death they were offered staggering sums of money to reunite, they could not bear the thought of it.
The money the Beatles made must have been staggering, the adoration initially seductive and welcome, but for Lennon it contributed to his shooting, Harrison was attacked in his home and stabbed, McCartney lived in fear of being attacked, Ringo hit the booze for a time, it wasn’t pretty. Stress, relationship problems, anxiety, fear, substance abuse related issues, and more.
But while we sit in judgement of those who rise to stardom, where do we fit? At our own level, do we fall into the same patterns? How many of us have not coped with stress, responsibility, fear, money, relationships? As a parallel to the stars we too fall prey to our own behaviours, worries, and desires, just on a smaller scale. We may not have broken up the Beatles, but we may well have broken up with dear friends.
What I take away from the cost of fame for people like the Beatles is that I too can seek popularity, a more localised version of fame, I can seek wealth over relationship, I can ignore those closest to me, I can be busy with my important work to the exclusion of others, I can be jealous when I perceive that I fall short (the disaster of comparison), and I can be anxious about my image. The movie ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ (Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves) makes this point very strongly, the last scene is profound as a truth, that we will sell ourselves to fame and be totally unaware.
True contentment can only ever be in self-acceptance, and thereby building confidence and self-awareness. I believe that fame is best when it is conferred rather than pursued, when others see it in you, rather than making it happen. To be content, to strive, and to be real, that is the road less travelled, and a different type of famous.