This is the real story of the Beatles' harrowing rise to fame, focusing on that seven-year stretch from the time the boys met as teenagers in the 1950s to early 1964, when the Fab Four prepared to invade America. From the boys' humble beginnings in Liverpool, to the cellars of Hamburg, When They Were Boys includes stories never before told, including heartbreaks, lucky breaks, and dramatic twists of timing, fate, loyalty, and betrayal. Included are an eyewitness account of that first meeting between Lennon and McCartney, the inside story of how Ringo replaced Pete Best, an exploration of the brilliant but troubled soul of manager Brian Epstein, the real scoop on their disastrous first visit to Germany, and the death of Stu Sutcliffe. With an eye for life in Liverpool during the 50s and 60s, and with the help of his own conversations with the Beatles in the early years, Larry Kane brings to life the evolution of the group that changed music forever.
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Some new stories, many inaccuracies, poor narrator
I found the narration quite irritating. The narrator's voice is cheesy, his pace is slow, and he constantly sounds amazed by everything, which gets old very quickly. The overall effect is that he almost sounds like he is speaking to an audience of young children. When reading quotations by interviewees, almost all of whom are British, he adopts a very gruff, folksy (American) style that seems totally out of place. If he couldn't do a Liverpudlian accent, he should have just read the quotes in his regular voice instead of using an exaggeratedly American accent that obviously sounds nothing like the original speakers. In contrast, German interviewees were portrayed with German accents, which was weird and inconsistent. The narrator's mispronunciation of names was also annoying; for example, he repeatedly pronounces the name of Liverpool's famous Liver Building as in the organ rather than as in the word "alive".
The most positive thing that I can say about this book is that it contains quite a bit of original research; Larry Kane clearly conducted new interviews with many players in the Beatles' early days, both in Liverpool and Hamburg. As someone who has read MANY books about the band, I appreciated hearing new stories and perspectives.
Unfortunately, the book is riddled with inaccuracies that are very obvious to the well-versed listener. For example, when Kane describes Yoko Ono's first visit to John's Aunt Mimi, he quotes her as saying something along the lines of "John's Uncle George was just sitting in the corner, like he was afraid to speak." It's not surprising that Uncle George didn't say much, given the fact that he had been dead for more than a decade. Since this is a book that only covers the band's early days, I felt that the treatment of their childhoods was generally quite superficial, and this is borne out by the fact that Kane fails to mention Uncle George's death at all (possibly not being aware of it himself?). The obvious misquoting of Yoko also makes me wonder who else he is misquoting throughout the book.
The book is not very well-written and its style can be very grating. When Kane quotes interviewees, the constant interposition of his own name is totally excessive, and suggests that he is trying to reinforce his own "insider" status. Even if everyone he interviewed really did preface all their statements with "you know, Larry," and "I'll tell you, Larry," these phrases should not have been included in the quotations. The style is generally very informal and at times it seems like it is aimed toward children rather than adults, due to digressions like "Can you imagine what it was like to use an outdoor toilet in 30 degree weather?" Also, I got the impression that Kane pretty much took the part of everyone he interviewed, so that if he had happened to interview a different set of people, the book's perspective would have been totally different. He is especially credulous when it came to the sacking of Pete Best, pretty much accepting the Best family's interpretation of events without looking very much to other sources or perspectives. Without any comment, he repeats a Best family claim that George Martin told Pete's mother that he had booked a session drummer because Pete's drum sound was "too big," which makes no sense (as well as coming from a very biased source). Kane never seems to evaluate the reliability of his interview subjects or to assess their possible motives, which I think makes his reporting much less credible.
Overall, the book is probably worth a listen if you are a serious fan, because it does contain some new information, but do not expect an excellent piece of journalism. Having access to many Beatles insiders, I think that Kane largely wasted his opportunity to produce a definitive document of Beatles' early days.