THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY
by The Beatles
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The amount of ink dedicated to the Beatles since the band broke up 30 years ago is staggering, especially when one considers that they were only in the greater public conscious for about seven years. Since the band's dissolution, various members have had differing degrees of accessibility to the press and public, often providing conflicting versions of their history with the band and what caused its breakup. In The Beatles Anthology, the three remaining Beatles (George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr) combine with excerpts from interviews with John Lennon to tell the history of the band's rise and fall in their own words.
The Beatles Anthology isn't a sterile collection of reminiscences. The four men had differing views of the same events and are more than willing to argue in print, airing their dirty laundry in public. They aren't worried about offending each other or the near-canonized John Lennon, who was murdered in December, 1980 by Mark Chapman. Taken together the viewpoints conflict with what is stated in this book and what has appeared in earlier interviews or films. This is one of the strengths of the work. It shows men who are able to look back on their youth with maturity and some sense of disassociation.
The book is a companion to the three album set which was released from 1995-1996 and the concurrent documentary. As such, despite the vast amounts of information the book contains, it feels vaguely incomplete. There is a sensation that is needs a sound track (toss in the CDs while reading) or the narrative continuity of the documentary.
The book opens with brief biographies of the four major Beatles, practically ignoring any role by Pete Best or Stu Sutcliffe in the formation and early success of the group. In this, The Beatles Anthology has the feel of an "official" history in which certain aspects are purged. However, as the four Beatles are allowed to give voice to their concerns and memories, it becomes clear that this is not a sanitized, or hagiographical, version of their history
Perhaps the biggest problem with The Beatles Anthology is that the editors couldn't quite decide what role the book would play. The text of the book indicates that it is meant to be read and studied and will reveal much about the Beatles. Unfortunately, the size of the book and the layout, frequently placing text over multi-colored, busy backgrounds, seems to indicate the book is a coffee-table book, for show rather than for reading.
Although the photographs throughout the book are interesting, the decision to shunt all the captions to the end of the book, and not provide captions for each photo, is a strange one and limits the relevance of many of the photographs.
The Beatles' comments are sorted chronologically and by subject, nevertheless, they don't always flow, instead demonstrating that they were selected from a variety of interviews and statements made at different times and under different circumstances.
This organization is the book's strong point. A huge book that does not lend itself to bedside reading, it is easy for a reader to pick it up and dip into sections at random and come away with an understanding of the group, its dynamics, as well as interesting anecdotes.
The Beatles Anthology is a must-buy for any dyed-in-the-wool Beatles fan. It might have been more useful if it had been published in two volumes, one a straight-forward textual account and the second an illustrated history (with copious captions).
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