By Vivek J. Tiwary
“If anyone was The Fifth Beatle, it was Brian.” – Paul McCartney, 1999
“Like the great classical composers, the Beatles will inspire people, and they will stand the test of time.” – Brian Epstein, 1961
Fifty years after The Beatles’ triumphant first visit to the United States, their legacy and impact is still being enjoyed, their great message of love still cycling around the globe and down through the generations. Even my daughter, who was just born in 2011, has a favorite Beatles’ song (“Come Together”). But in 1961, there was only one man who believed, only one man who had the vision to see what the Beatles would leave the world 50 years on—and his name wasn’t John, Paul, Ringo, or George. It was Brian. And putting it bluntly, The Beatles would never have come to America if it weren’t for Brian.
Brian Epstein was a 27-year old Liverpool dreamer, restless and bored with his life, much like The Beatles were. When he saw a scruffy-looking rock band singing about love with reckless rock ‘n’ roll abandon in a dank Liverpool basement, his dead-end world was infused with infinite possibility. Brian was confident that with his help, The Beatles could be “bigger than Elvis!” and that they could break out of Liverpool to make a positive influence not just on the rest of England—but on the entire world. An influence that would be felt hundreds of years into the future. Fifty years on wouldn’t have impressed Brian.
Everyone else just laughed at him.
A British band had never made an impact in the United States, much less the entire world. The Beatles weren’t going anywhere. Until they met Brian.
In 1961, Brian Epstein became The Beatles’ manager, mentor, and friend—and he would swiftly push the boundaries of the music industry to allow the Beatles to push the boundaries of pop music. In my book The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, Brian tells the young Beatles, “Play your instruments, and I will play the business as my instrument.”
Brian devised the famous Beatles’ suits and Beatles’ haircuts, and orchestrated their performance-ending bows—thereby packaging and presenting the band in a way that could be embraced by boys and girls, men and women, people of all ages and ethnicities. He secured a publishing deal for The Beatles at a time when rock bands simply did not write their own songs. And when no record company wanted to sign The Beatles, he convinced George Martin to take a chance by signing them to underdog label Parlophone, known only for classical and comedy records.
Then when The Beatles went on to achieve massive early pop success—and laid the mold for every boy band that’s followed up to today’s One Direction—Brian fought the record label and promoters to allow the Beatles NOT to cash in on their success, but to take time off to study Eastern music forms and instruments like the sitar. It was a move Brian was ridiculed for, but it paved the way for the next wave of Beatles’ albums and masterpieces like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Indeed, Brian was also ridiculed for saying that The Beatles would “elevate pop music into an art form.”
And when Ed Sullivan had no interest in booking The Beatles for CBS—with all due respect to the late, great Sullivan and to CBS, my fine host of this blog—Brian negotiated the following deal, while our country was about to be devastated by the tragic assassination of one of our most beloved Presidents. Without Brian’s success here, The Beatles would never have come to our shores, and we would have no anniversary to celebrate this year. As dramatized in The Fifth Beatle
Brian was a true visionary, in every sense of the word. Although, as he puts it in The Fifth Beatle, he not only played the business as his instrument, he did it in such a way that The Beatles would “never have to hear it.” And so it was with the rest of the world as well. Brian’s contribution to rock ‘n’ roll and pop culture has gone unsung.
So while Brian would not be surprised that The Beatles arrival in America is being celebrated 50 years after the fact, he would be very surprised—and proud—to see that his own life story is finally being told in a best-selling graphic novel and forthcoming film; there’s a theatre in Liverpool christened The Epstein; and at long last… Brian Epstein will take his rightful place as a 2014 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Happy 50th Anniversary! And on behalf of all us American fans—Thank You for bringing us the Beatles, Brian.
Vivek J. Tiwary is a New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning producer of Broadway shows, film, television, and graphic novels.
He is the producer and writer of “The Fifth Beatle,” a New York Times best-selling graphic novel based on the life of Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. “The Fifth Beatle” has secured unprecedented access to Beatles’ music and a feature film is in development to shoot in 2014.
“The Fifth Beatle” will be produced by Tiwary and Academy Award-winning producer Bruce Cohen (AMERICAN BEAUTY, MILK, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK) and directed by Peyton Reed (THE BREAK UP, BRING IT ON.)