Book Review: When They Were Boys by Larry Kane

Larry Kane’s newest book about The Beatles, When They Were Boys, boasts that it tells the “true” story of the group’s rise to the top. At one point in the narrative, however, Kane notes that “foggy memories and omission” make the “real truth elusive.”

Kane, a reporter who accompanied the Beatles on their North American tours in 1964, 1965, and part of 1966, has previously published two books about The Beatles and his experiences with them, Ticket to Ride and Lennon Revealed. I remember these books as being insightful and informative; When They Were Boys sadly is not.

There are two main problems with When They Were Boys: style and content. The writing style is grating and infuriating. The content is primarily superficial, full of empty and unfounded statements, and even some glaring inaccuracies.

First and foremost, it should be noted that this book is not so much about The Beatles as it is about the people who helped The Beatles rise to the top. Having read countless books about the band, there are many stories of many people I had not heard before found in this book. It is the manner in which these stories are told, however, that I find difficult to swallow.

For example, when Kane is discussing the real reason John, Paul, and George decided to eject Pete Best from the band, Kane states that, as with the rest of the Beatles’ story, the truth is dependent upon whom you speak with. And yet, Kane’s entire book seems to be based on constructing the “truth” around one person’s (who has been underrepresented or completely ignored by Beatles historians and biographers in the past) versions of events.

An example of this is when Kane details how The Beatles’ famous hairstyle was born and brings a new source to light: a childhood friend of Brian Epstein’s, Joe Flannery, claims the source of their hairstyle was found in a 1920s photograph of his mother and that John Lennon picked up this photograph of his mother and declared, “That’s the way I want my hair to look.” Furthermore, according to Flannery, Epstein took the Beatles to a barber shop and had the cut created, using the photograph as a reference and inspiration.

Really?

Really?

I repeat: REALLY?

Because let’s look at a picture of The Beatles, reported to be taken at The Cavern in November 1961 by the great and reliable Mark Lewisohn (who has a new Beatles book out in a few weeks!!):

cavern_nov1961

Epstein reportedly saw The Beatles at The Cavern for the first time on 9 November 1961. They would have been sporting this haircut. So…how did the Beatles visit the home of Brian Epstein’s friend and get this haircut weeks later? THEY DIDN’T. It’s one thing to listen to the guy’s story, but why bother printing it?

This is not the only inaccuracy found in the book. Kane cites Klaus Voorman as designing the album cover for Rubber Soul. He reports Yoko Ono as saying that when she met Lennon’s Aunt Mimi for the first time his Uncle George was sitting in the corner, not saying much. He wouldn’t have been saying much because he would have been dead for about two decades by the time Ono could have possibly met Aunt Mimi. At one point he describes Ringo as having a “sullen demeanor” throughout the Beatles’ career.

The most frustrating aspect of the book is Kane’s writing style and organization, or lack thereof. There is a lack of a flowing, coherent narrative. Each chapter of the book focuses on an individual or event of the Beatles story–Stuart Sutcliffe or their first trip to Hamburg or The Beatles’ topping the poll as most popular group in Mersey Beat. It would have been a smoother read if Kane had organized the story chronologically, inserting characters as they became relevant. Instead, we only get part of the story part of the time.

Kane also feels the need to insert his name into the story as often as possible. When quoting an interview, Kane is careful to not remove a single mention of his name. “Let me tell you, Larry…” “The truth is, Larry…” “Larry, you know…” This is unnecessary and annoying, as is his penchant for bestowing dumb nicknames upon key players in the story. For example, he calls Lennon “The Milkman” and Sam Leach, a promoter instrumental in the Beatles’ early career, “The Prince of Matthew Street.” He repeats these nicknames frequently, as if they are so memorable and true that they should automatically be ingrained into our brains, just as he repeats pieces of information. I lost count of how many times Kane told us about The Chants, a black group from Liverpool, and how The Beatles helped them in breaking racial barriers. He reminds of his every time he mentions The Chants or any member of The Chants. Got it the first time, dude.

When They Were Boys is dedicated to highlighting individuals not as well-known in the history of The Beatles, and Kane seems to take pleasure in criticizing every other book about The Beatles that does not do the same. He describes The Beatles Anthology as being biased. Well…how many interview subjects are 1000% objective? Interview subjects–including those interviewed for When They Were Boys–tell their remembrances, their perceptions, their opinions. That doesn’t make it completely true or accurate. The Beatles Anthology is The Beatles telling their story in their words. And shame on them for not remembering every single person in Liverpool who helped them in some way! Give me a break.

And why does Kane feel the need to repeatedly bring up May Pang and how she is underrepresented in Beatles history? May Pang is not even a player in the early history of The Beatles, so why mention it? Nobody knows. While Kane laments the lack of attention paid to May Pang and her relationship with John Lennon in Beatles history, he fails to make the characters actually relevant in the early history of the Beatles full and real. He describes Lennon’s Uncle George as an “unsung hero” in Lennon’s life, yet he tells us absolutely nothing about him. Forget telling us anything new about Uncle George, his relationship with Lennon, and the importance of his presence in young Lennon’s life–he simply tells us NOTHING. Except that he sat in the corner, silent, when Yoko Ono met Aunt Mimi for the first time, of course. He continually tells us how important Pete Best was to the Beatles, but he doesn’t show us. He informs us that Best was an adequate drummer, popular with the girls, and his mother owned The Casbah Club, but that’s about it.

I could go on and on, but the point is When They Were Boys is a disappointing book, and I expected so much better from Larry Kane.

Can’t wait for Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In, the first in a new trilogy about the Fab Four, to be released on October 29!

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One thought on “Book Review: When They Were Boys by Larry Kane

  1. Pingback: The Toppermost of the Poppermost | The Hand of Count Petofi

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