Thursday, March 6, 2008

Queering the Beatles #1

Though many don't know it, The Beatles have rich a queer history. There is certainly much to say on this issue, but I will limit this discussion for today being John Lennon and Brian Epstein's relationship.

Although it's hard to get at "the real" in beatles lore, as account after account after account has been given, yielding book after book after book of interpretation-- it's hard to take anything one reads as gospel. The only text we have of any validity is the words of the Beatles themselves. Thankfully Lennon has always been a reliable source for a wealth of candid retellings of his own history. Nothing is "off limits" for Lennon, but he has been oddly silent on one topic: this alleged affair with manager Brian Epstein.

This is the legend:
Brian Epstein, was an upper-middle class record store heir, who was haunted by insecurity and depression, presumably a result of his closeted homosexuality for which his wealthy family was ashamed. A lost soul, Epstein found himself at Liverpool's Cavern Club by chance one night, a seedy rock and roll joint featuring regular headliners, The Beatles. At first sight, Epstien fell for the smart-mouthed, "rough trade" leading boy, John Lennon. His fascination with John compelled him to take the boys on as their manager with no previous experience in the field, (though he demonstrated some showmanship know-how by immediately issuing them matching suit and tie wardrobes). Epstein, so lost before, had found inspiration in Lennon and his vision, putting all his resources into The Beatles.Throughout their career, Lennon held particular sway over Epstein, and knew from the start that for their manager, making The Beatles stars was his best way to win John Lennon's affections.

Just as the Beatles were about to "hit it big" in 1963, John agreed to go to Barcelona, Spain with Epstien for four days, alone. Pete Shotton, John Lennon's long time friend is quoted recalling Lennon confiding "I let him toss me off", and biographer Hunter Davis claims in an interview with Lennon the Beatle had admitted to having a full-blown affair to "see what it was like", and others still claim that the encounter was an ongoing transaction between the two. Lennon's last word on his relationship with Epstien in a 1980 Playboy interview claimed "it was never consummated, but we had a pretty intense relationship," contradicting previous admissions.

Given these conflicting accounts, we have to remain skeptical of the "sensational" as a homosexual relationship between (then married) masculine hero John Lennon and his manager would be. What we do know is that Lennon was moved by Epstein's struggle with his unaccepted queer identity and penned the great "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" from Epstein's point of view (the pronouns have been changed to denote a heterosexual lament for mass-consumption).

Here is a clip from the film The Hours and Times depicting those infamous four days in Spain:

Epstein would die of an accidental overdose in 1967 while the Beatles were on their famed Indian retreat. Lennon maintains that losing Epstein was the moment "The Beatles" ended.


jen said...

GAWD, this makes me want to read about 700 Beatles books.

Pop Feminist said...

WAIT till I get to my John and Paul theories!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story.