A Cellarful of Noise
by Brian Epstein
Doubleday, 120 pp., $2.95
Lately some of the middlemen of British pop-music, the managers and agents, have been splashed with a little stardust of their own. In fact young Brian Epstein (manager of the Beatles among others) complains in his brief autobiography that he has been interviewed too often, that he is suffering from “over-exposure”—just like a star. He is not really a star. The prime reason for those persistent interviewers is that he never tells us what we all want to know: how much? and how do you make it?
Yet another interview was published a few weeks ago: “Are you a millionaire?—I refuse to answer that question…Has your fee for handling the Beatles and the other artists risen as their earnings have risen?—Yes, but there are all sorts of variations…At the moment I am receiving hardly any commission at all!” He doesn’t explain this odd statement very clearly; but at least he has touched, however daintily, on the most impressive result of his labors: money. This is more than he does in his book, where he insists that money is a mere by-product. “I would like to look after the Beatles in some way throughout their lives, not because I want a percentage but because they are my friends.”
Yet with such a quantity of cash acquired—and surely so much expended in dealings with press, radio, advertising, and the other organizations concerned with the working-girl’s paycheck—he might give the stuff a brief mention. We want to know how he made the Beatles so rich. True, he tells how he checked their shocking frivolity on American radio, plugging products regardless of financial reward. But any of us could have advised the Beatles on this point. What was Epstein’s special flair, his expertise? How did he do it?
Perhaps he didn’t. We see the suave, competent administrator behind the wild-eyed performers, and we think him a Svengali, a Frankenstein—or, alternatively, a ruthless exploiter of susceptible youth. But his book presents a very different Epstein—a gentle, tidy, worried man who took up with the Beatles because he liked their style, and learned how to manage them as he went along. The Beatles seem more ruthless than he. When they were mere local entertainers in Liverpool, the original three surprised Epstein by coolly dropping their drummer and taking on Ringo Starr instead—not for the drumming but for the Image. “Peter for ever, Ringo never,” chanted their former admirers, and came to blows with them. This unpleasantness worried Epstein more than the Beatles.
I am not convinced that it was Epstein’s organization which transformed these singing-boys into a cult, foisting them upon a gullible public. His other discoveries seem to be still little more than hard-working professional entertainers. He hoped to startle the world with Cilla Black (a solid British version of Dionne Warwick) and with Billy J. Kramer, “the best-looking pop-singer in the world.” I recently heard Kramer top the bill …