John Lennon is an easy man to track down, but he’s a hard man to pin down. He hasn’t released a record of new music since 1980, thus he’s not affiliated with a label, so there isn’t a publicity manager you can call to set up an interview. He doesn’t give a damn what people say about him in the press, so he has no need or desire for a PR person. He’s a hermit who doesn’t answer his phone, return emails, or leave the house. The only difference between him and fellow zombie recluse J. D. Salinger is that everybody knows where Lennon lives: The Dakota on 72nd and Central Park West, Apartment 72, New York City, America.
But if you make nice with the Dakota’s concierge, and slip him a few sawbucks, he might deliver John a package. If you load the package with several boxes of Corn Flakes and ten pounds of Kopi Luwak—a painfully bitter coffee from Indonesia that costs almost six hundred bucks a pound—John might ring you on your cell. If you can persuade John that you don’t have an agenda other than finding out the story behind the Beatles, and you don’t have an axe to grind, and you’ve never touched a diamond bullet in your life, John might invite you over to share a bit of that Kopi. And then maybe, just maybe, after a while, he’ll talk to you on the record about his life and career.
It took me two years of rambling cell chats, bottomless bowls of Corn Flakes, and horrible java to get John to submit to a formal taped interview, but once I fired up the recorder, the guy was an open book. For the first two weeks in November 2005—while his wife, Yoko Ono, was out of town, natch—John talked. And talked. And talked some more. He was sometimes mesmerizing, sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes infuriating, and sometimes violent (my doctor told me that with regular physical therapy, I will someday regain full motion in my left shoulder), but for those fourteen days, John Lennon was There. And thank God for it.
JOHN LENNON: At this point, nobody wants to hear about my childhood. I don’t even want to hear about my childhood. My mum died, I brought her back to life, I went to Quarry Bank High, I drew cartoons, I mucked about with rock ’n’ roll, I killed a bunch of people, and zombified eight of ’em. Big fookin’ deal.
People probably don’t want to hear about the skiffle days either, but sod ’em. If there’s no skiffle, there’s no Beatles.
Me and my mate Eric Griffiths took guitar lessons out in Hunts Cross, but the teacher wasn’t teaching us anything we couldn’t have taught ourselves. And the teacher—I forget his name—treated me like a leper. In retrospect, I can understand his reaction, because during my first lesson, my left pinkie fell off while I was trying to shift from an F chord to a D sus 4, but that doesn’t give him the right to look at me sideways, for fook’s sake. That’s racism, pure and simple. I bet if Big Bill Broonzy or some other black man walked into his studio, he wouldn’t have said a damn thing, but show him a zombie, and ooooooh, we’ve got an international panic. He was a right bastard, that one.
Anyhow, I got fed up with his attitude by the seventh lesson, so that night, after I packed up my guitar, I ate the teacher’s brain, then threw his body into the River Mersey. The man weighed twelve stone, and getting him from his studio to Wirral Line and all the way down to the river was rough. If Eric hadn’t helped, I would’ve had to leave the corpse on the train.
I started my first band in 1957, and I suppose my initial concern was our name. The biggest skiffle unit around was called Lonnie Donegan’s Skiffle Group, and musically, we weren’t nearly as good as they were, so we had to do something to make ourselves stand out until we learned how to play our instruments … like come up with a better name than Lonnie Donegan’s Skiffle Group, which I figured wouldn’t be that difficult, because Lonnie Donegan’s Skiffle Group is a fookin’ boring name.
First, we were the Blackjacks, but Pete Shotton, who was our washboard player for a while, didn’t like it, and wanted us to change to the Quarrymen, which, of course, referred to our school, Quarry Bank. I pushed for the Maggots, but Eric nixed that because he thought it would draw too much attention to what he called my “situation.” Then good old Lenny Garry piped up and said he thought calling ourselves the Maggots would frighten people—but Len was scared of his own shadow, so he wasn’t the best gauge. I did see Eric and Len’s point, however, so the Quarrymen it was. But I wasn’t happy about it. I thought the Maggots was a brilliant name. Still do, actually.
The two Quarrymen gigs everybody talks about were in ’57, at the end of June and the beginning of July, but the one that I personally remember the best—and the most important one, as far as I’m concerned—was that May, I think the fifteenth. It wasn’t a gig, really, just me and the guys muckin’ about on the street in front of Mendips, which is what we used to call my aunt Mimi’s house over on Menlove Avenue. But that’s when the brilliant stuff happens, when you’re muckin’ about.
I knew none of the local mortals would want to spend a beautiful spring day listening to a batch of local rugrats stumble through “Rock Island Line,” so I telepathically summoned all the undead within brain-shot to come to Mendips and watch us do our thing. Even though they were only a few dozen meters away, those bloody shufflers took a good half hour to arrive. I know for certain they could’ve moved faster, because they were zombies of the higher-functioning variety (I guess they weren’t motivated enough) but that was fine, ’cause it took me a while to figure out how to keep my left pinkie attached. Shotten suggested I tie the finger to my hand with some twine. It worked, and off we went. Cheers, Pete.
Our first tune was “Worried Man Blues,” not exactly a number you can dance to, but that didn’t stop our audience from trying. It was the first time I’d seen a gathering of undead try to dance, and it wasn’t an impressive display—only about half of them could bend their knees, which made it tough for them to do the Mashed Potato. I will say they were an appreciative crowd, though; so much so that they begged to turn our bass player Bill Smith into one of their own. I told them no way, he was my friend, and if anybody was gonna transform him, it would be me.
But it wasn’t.
I don’t know who turned Bill, but if I ever find out, that arsehole’ll get a diamond bullet right up his bum. See, I hated it when my mates got turned by somebody other than me—still do, matter of fact. Think about it: it was me who started the modern Liverpool zombie movement, and if a friend of mine needs to be finished, then restarted, I deserve to do the finishing and the restarting, d’you know what I mean?
Bill left the band soon after his transformation, and I never saw him again. I remember in ’61, Paulie told me he’d heard some bollocks that Bill was living underground. Even though I despised being anywhere near the sewers, I went looking for him. No luck; all I got out of the trip was a load of cack under my fingernails. I hated the fookin’ sewers, and I wouldn’t go underground for just anybody, but Bill was a good man, the kind of guy you’d walk through filth for.
Bill’s gone now, mate. You’ll never find him. I tried hard, man. Really, really hard.
Considering Lennon’s swift and horrifyingly violent attack upon my person—a shockingly fast attack that I’ll always consider myself lucky to have survived more or less intact—after I contended that George Martin was just as important to the musical success of the Beatles’ final three albums as George Harrison was, I hesitate to question to his face the veracity of any of his claims, for fear of my life. That said, thanks to a tip from one James Paul McCartney, it took me a grand total of three minutes to track down Bill Smith, so one has to wonder how hard Lennon really looked. According to Paul, Smitty’s always been an accessible zombie, always armed with smiles and jokes, always eager to gossip about his days as a Quarryman.
A cheerful sewer dweller who doesn’t like to come aboveground for any reason other than to dine, Smitty would speak to me only on his home turf, so on August 3, 2007, I donned a biohazard suit and made the first of my three forays into the Liverpool sewers.
The local undead populous has done wonders with the place—there’s a lovely Internet cafe, a well-stocked trading post/general store, and velveteen sofas and soft recliners wherever you turn—and if the ground wasn’t covered with a two-inch layer of liquidized shit, decades-old piss, clotted blood, and chunky brain matter, it would be quite an enjoyable place to visit.
Like the majority of those who’ve undergone the Liverpool Process, Smitty is a gracious, gregarious sort and was more than happy to spend several hours regaling me with tales about what he called, “Me first band, me first life, and me first death.”
BILL SMITH: Me mate Pete Shotten brought me into the Quarrymen, and Johnny and I got on right away. Even though Johnny was smarter and more popular than I was, we clicked. He was funny, and I was funny, and he liked the blues, and I liked the blues, and when you’re a kid, sometimes a mutual love for music and similar senses of humor are enough to form a solid friendship, regardless of social status. Over the years, I’ve learned that it doesn’t always happen that way. The cool kids gravitate toward the cool kids, the uncool kids be damned; that’s certainly the way it is down in the sewers. The irony is that now, because of my association with the Quarrymen, I’m just about the coolest kid in the sewers … or, at this point, the coolest old wanker, I suppose. But none of your readers give an arse about my philosophy of life; they want to know the good stuff about me and John Lennon.
Okay, I remember in the summer of 1957—right after that first Mendips concert—Johnny and I were messin’ about in Calderstones Park, eating sandwiches, watching the girls, and working out vocal harmonies on some Buddy Holly songs. Then out of nowhere, right while I’m singin’, “Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue,” he turns to me, smiling, and says, “Smitty, you’re me best mate.”
Back then, not too many sixteen-year-old males would show such affection for a mate, so I was a bit of surprised. But this was, oh, four years before he became prone to random bouts of violence, and the Johnny Lennon of 1957 was a sweet sort, the kind of guy who was so talented and funny that, well, let me just say, when a guy like that tells you you’re special, you have to be flattered. So I told him he was my best mate, too.
Then he says, “I want to be best mates forever, Smitty.”
Again, I was surprised, but remember, this was Johnny Lennon, man, Johnny fookin’ Lennon, and when he gave you a certain look, you couldn’t help agreeing with everything he said. Everything. If he gave me that look, then told me to climb to the top of St. Saviour’s Church over on Breckfield Road and jump off, I’d have said, “You bet, mate. Shall I go headfirst?” (I now realize that’s less of a charisma thing and more of a hypnosis thing.) So naturally, I told him I wanted to be his best friend forever, too.
I remember exactly what he said then: “I’m gonna do it. Right here. Right now. In Calderstones.”
Those thin eyes of his were making me feel squiffy. I said, “Do what, Johnny?” My tongue had become thick, and I could barely get the words out.
He looked down, and when he broke eye contact, I snapped back to myself. I still think it was very gentlemanly for him to have stopped hypnotizing me and let me make my own decision. “Your brain, man,” he said. “I’m gonna eat a bit of your brain. Just a bit. What d’you think about that?”
I didn’t think much of it. See, I’d always wanted to find a wife and raise me a houseful of kids, and reproducin’ would’ve been a difficult proposition if me Jolly Roger could produce only dustmen, so I told him, “I don’t think that’ll work for me, mate.” He looked like he was gonna burst out crying then, so I said, “It has nothing to do with you. If I wanted to be undead, there’s nobody I’d want to kill me more than you. You know that.”
He said, “Yeah, I do know that,” then started picking individual blades of grass from the ground and throwing them over his shoulder, one by one. We were both silent for a while, then, after a few minutes, he finally said something like, “Who’s gonna help me get to the Toppermost of the Poppermost?” I asked him what the hell he was talking about, and he said, “Nothin’, nothin’, don’t worry about it. Listen, Smitty, if I’m gonna be on this fookin’ planet forever, I need to have people whose company I like, and that means transforming blokes, and how’m I gonna make that happen without gettin’ all of England in an uproar? And if folks start thinking of me as, I dunno, the Killer from Menlove Avenue, or John the Ripper, nobody’ll come to our shows. And how’m I gonna take over the world?”
Johnny was prone to exaggeration, so I let the comment about taking over the world pass. I told him, “I guess when you transform somebody, you’re gonna have to pick your spots carefully. And it’d probably make more sense, instead of asking people, to just do it.” The second that left my mouth, I realized I might’ve pulled a cock-up. John’s eyes flashed red, and there was a small part of me that thought he’d consider just doing it to yours truly. He was a zombie, after all, and even if an undead individual has good intentions, they sometimes can’t help being irrational. They get hungry, after all.
But he was a top geezer, Johnny was. He nodded and said, “You’re right, Smitty.” That’s all. Just, “You’re right, Smitty.” Johnny Lennon, if you’re reading this, you were the best. I suppose you think I’m a liar and an arsehole, but I think you’re aces. Always have, always will.
Listen, don’t get me wrong: I know and understand why Johnny wants bugger-all to do with me. See, I got turned in the fall of ’57, a mere three months after those Quarrymen gigs, and he didn’t do it. Her name was Lydia. If you’d have gotten one look at her back then, you’d have let her turn you, too. I’d introduce you, but she’s hideous now, simply hideous. She oozes some kind of green shite from her ears, mate, and it ain’t pretty.
Anyhow, long story short, I feel like I planted the seed. I was the guy who suggested Johnny take who he wanted, when he wanted. It probably would’ve happened sooner or later anyhow; there’s no way a guy like Johnny Lennon would’ve gone through his life politely asking if he could turn you instead of just doing it … especially after he got famous. So yeah, wasn’t all my fault, but I still feel bad.
A dapper gent who perfectly illustrates the Liverpool Process’s “stop physically aging at fifty” axiom, Paul McCartney was sixty-four during our interview sessions in May 2003, but he could’ve easily passed for thirty. The guy was the Cute Beatle, is the Cute Beatle, and always will be the Cute Beatle … this despite the shiny green kiss-size scar beneath his left earlobe. What with those dewy eyes and apple cheeks, it’s easy to see how, at the height of his musical and other-wordly powers, had he so desired, he could’ve hypnotized and sexually enslaved legions of teenage and twenty-something girls throughout the world. The key phrase there being “had he so desired.”
As an interview subject, Paul was a toughie. Lennon was a compulsive truth teller, unconcerned with whose feelings he might hurt, what murders he might uncover, or which interviewer he might injure. Honesty wasn’t the best policy for John; it was the only policy. McCartney, on the other hand, oftentimes seemed evasive—especially when it came to the subject of mass murder—and was hesitant to look me directly in the eyes. (Two friends of mine floated the theory that McCartney was avoiding eye contact in order to keep from accidentally hypnotizing me. A good theory, but Paul McCartney doesn’t do anything by accident.)
But here’s the weird part: about half of what Paul told me sounded as if it was pulled almost verbatim from Harold Misor’s controversial—and very poorly written—unauthorized biography from 1988, Macca Attack: James Paul McCartney Uncovered. Beatleologists feel much of the book’s biographical content was invented, and experts on the undead dismissed the zombie portions of the book as conjecture. Despite McCartney’s numerous protestations, the public ate the book up, and it became a bestseller, and many of Misor’s suppositions have been embraced as fact—possibly even by McCartney himself.
Taking all that into consideration, my interviews with Paul raised numerous questions: Was McCartney’s brain permanently altered by his LSD and marijuana consumption, and thus did Misor’s tall tales became McCartney’s memories? Was Misor’s reportage actually on target? Did Paul calculatedly want to use my book as a platform to shape the Beatles myth the way he saw fit? Or was Macca simply messing with me for his own enjoyment?
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Paul’s word is Paul’s word, and we have no choice but to take it as gospel.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: I died on July 7, 1957, and it was John Winston Lennon who killed me. When you say it black-and-white like that—or in ebony and ivory, if you will—it sounds ugly, y’know. Imagine that as a London Times headline, in bold, capital letters: LENNON MURDERS McCARTNEY. But that’s what happened. And I suppose when you think about it, it was ugly.
We met the day before, John and I did, on July 6. The Quarrymen were doing a show at St. Peter’s Church, and our mutual friend Ivan Vaughan told me they were a nice little band, and there weren’t too many nice little musicians, let alone nice little bands, in Liverpool, so I hopped the Woolton bus and made my way over.
Now, I’d seen a few undead individuals before—one of our neighbors over on Forthlin Road was a Midpointer, as a matter of fact—but never one as young or healthy-looking as John. The zombies I’d met had horrible complexions, just horrible, y’know; some reddish, some greenish, some with permanent blue tears dried on their cheeks. But not John. He glowed. Granted, it was a grayish glow, but it was impressive nonetheless.
After the Quarrymen show—which, erm, wasn’t too bad, really—I borrowed a guitar (I believe it was John’s) and played him a tune by Eddie Cochran called “Twenty Flight Rock.” He stared at me and said, “Wow.” That’s all. Just “Wow.” It was about the only time I’ve ever seen him at a loss for words. And I still believe that if we hadn’t been in public, he probably would’ve murdered me on the spot.
I don’t know if he was thinking of giving me a straight-up transformative bite, or tearing me limb from limb, but that look in his eyes told me, I want you dead fast, mate. What makes me say that? Well, erm, I was dead fast. Very fast. Eighteen hours later, to be exact.
JOHN LENNON: Of course I wanted Paulie dead. Anybody who played guitar that well should either be in my band, or sucking on maggots six feet under. Or both.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: When I finished up the Cochran song, John invited me to bring my guitar over to Mendips the next day, and I said yes. I mean, he seemed like a good chap, y’know, and Ivan’d vouched for him, so why not? I figured we’d play some tunes, have a few laughs, and I’d be on my way. I never even considered an attack. A whole lot of people heard John give me the invite, and if I disappeared, everybody’d know who did it.
I went over after breakfast. John answered the door wearing a blue-and-white-plaid shirt and those thick, clunky government-issue glasses of his. He pulled me in by my elbow—almost dislocating my shoulder in the process, y’know—and dragged me and my guitar to his bedroom.
After that, things happened fast.
JOHN LENNON: Rod Davis didn’t want me to Process him. Neither did Lenny Garry or Colin Hanton or John Duff Love or Eric Griffiths or any of those other blokes who drifted in and out of the Quarrymen. Pete Shotten got so offended when I asked him if I could Process him that I thought he was gonna quit the band and get a job, just so he could afford to buy himself a gun and a handful of diamond bullets. None of the Quarrymen wanted it, none of my friends at school wanted it, and I was gonna be alone. It was disheartening, because I knew that, come the year 2040, when I’d be one hundred years old and not even in the prime of my undeath, there wouldn’t be a single one of my Liverpool mates around to jam with. Paul wasn’t a mate yet, but seemed like a good chap, and he was a helluva guitar player, better than anybody around, and Ivan’d vouched for him, so why not?
PAUL MCCARTNEY: John didn’t tell me the full details of my transformation until, erm, I believe 1962, but I’m not sure how good his reportage was, because when you’re in the throes of brain-sucking, things can get hazy. To this day, I don’t know how much of what I know about that afternoon is true.
JOHN LENNON: I wasn’t going to muck about. I wasn’t going to take any chances. No casual bites. No half-arsed fluid transfer. I decided Paul was the guy who could help me take over the world, and if I was gonna do him, I was gonna do him right. I suppose I went a bit overboard, but I knew I’d get only one chance, and like they say, better safe than sorry. In the end, it turned out brilliant anyhow.
With the Liverpool Process, when you’re transforming someone, you don’t need to take that large of a bite; the entryway only has to be big enough to fit your tongue, and since we Liverpudlian undead can make our tongues as skinny and as long as spaghetti, that’s not a problem. You don’t even need to take any of the victim’s skin with you, but with Paul, like I said, I didn’t want to take any chances, so my thinking going in was to take skin and veins and muscle, and lots of it.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: The last thing I remember for certain was John jumping onto his bed, and then leaping off like he was diving into a swimming pool. And in this instance, yours truly was the swimming pool, an’ that.
JOHN LENNON: I leapt off the bed, parallel to the floor, and landed right on Paulie. Of course, I went for his neck first, because from everything I’d heard, the neck-first approach had worked for over a century, so why mess with success?
I opened my mouth as wide as it would go, then bit off a chunk of his neck about the size of a scone. I wanted to keep the scone intact so I could slap it back over the wound; that way, none of the zombie cocktail could escape. I spit out the sconey thing into my hand and placed it gently on the floor—moving very quickly, of course, so Paul wouldn’t bleed out—then did the usual tongue up past the ear and to the brain, and get the brain juice, blah, blah, blah. I kept all the liquid in my right cheek, which wasn’t altogether pleasant, but it wasn’t unpleasant, either. Then, after I spit a bit of my goo into Paulie, I picked up Mr. Scone, jammed it back into the gouge, and sealed it shut with my tongue, as if I were licking an envelope. I’d never done the licking thing before—I never knew of anybody who did it, for that matter—but somehow, deep down at a gut level, I knew it’d work.
But I still had some goo left. Thus, the business with the arm.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: Not too many people know this, but I was a right-hander before that day in John’s bedroom.
JOHN LENNON: My thinking was, better safe than sorry, so why not take the leftover goo and spit it up into his arm socket?
It’s fair to say that by ’61, I’d become an expert at removing and reattaching limbs. But this was ’57, and it was my first time taking off anybody’s arm other than my own, and looking back on it, aesthetically speaking, I did a crap job, just dreadful. Part of it was indecision: I couldn’t figure out whether to yank off his arm at the elbow, by a joint, or in the middle of a muscle. After a minute or two of deliberation, I tore off Paul’s black jacket and went for an elbow tear. No idea why, really. Instinct, I suppose. Zombie nature, I guess. Who fookin’ knows? Anyhow, it turned out to be the ideal choice for my purposes, but really, it was dumb luck; I could’ve just as easily gone for the shoulder.
Paul started gushing like a bloody geyser—there was spatter on the ceiling that Aunt Mimi wasn’t too thrilled about—and I got kind of frazzled, so I didn’t do any tidying up at the tear point, and it ended up all zigzagged. If it’d been four years later, we’d have been looking at a straight rip and a barely noticeable reattachment line, but I was new at that sort of thing. (I should mention that just be cause I figured out how to tear neatly doesn’t mean I always did tear neatly. Sometimes neatness doesn’t count. Sometimes sloppiness is called for.)
I laid Paul’s forearm and hand where I’d put the scone earlier, then wrapped my mouth around his elbow and blew the rest of the juices up into his arm. For good measure, I snaked my tongue around his humerus bone and past his biceps, all the way on up to his clavicle. After all, I had to make sure that none of those precious fluids dribbled out, because I didn’t want a brilliant musician like Paul to be a good zombie—I wanted him to be a fookin’ great zombie.
I reattached his arm and licked it closed. Then I went over to the kitchen, tracked down a bottle of cooking sherry, threw down a big drink, which went straight into the hole in the roof of my mouth and into my brain, making me instantly rat-arsed, and I sat down at the table. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, I went back to my room, and there’s Paul, curled up in a little ball, snoring away, sucking his thumb, looking rested, content, and slightly grayish.
I felt his forehead. It was ice cold. Success. Paul McCartney was as undead as a fookin’ doornail.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: John’s often claimed that he set up my guitar for left-handed purposes while I was down for the count, but I don’t believe that for a second, because I’m not entirely convinced he remembered I was right-handed in the first place.
JOHN LENNON: How the fook was I supposed to remember if he was right- or left-handed? I’d only seen him play one fookin’ song, and it was right after a Quarrymen show, and after most gigs, my head was in the clouds. Man, if Paul had an elephant trunk for a nose, I wouldn’t have noticed.
The fact is, I didn’t redo the guitar. Paulie did. And he did it the second after he opened his eyes. I could tell he didn’t have any clue what he was doin’ while he was doin’ it. His hands were working of their own accord, and they were workin’ blurry fast. It was a sight to behold. How he knew he’d become left-handed, I have no idea. The amazing thing was that he played even better as a lefty, so it turned out I’d made a solid decision.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: John says that after I regained consciousness, we jammed on blues tunes for six or seven hours. That I can believe, because I remember when I woke up the next morning, both of my index fingers were lying under my pillow.
That’s the moment I realized I wasn’t alive anymore. And I wasn’t a damn bit happy about it.
Lennon claims he doesn’t remember killing any of his Mendips neighbors, but he doesn’t remember not killing them, either. I don’t disbelieve him: being that he’s eaten, transformed, or mortally wounded several thousand people, it’s understandable he’d forget (or block out) a handful of capricious childhood murders.
But the stats don’t lie: of the eighty-eight people who lived within a one-block radius of Mendips, circa 1957, eighty-two of them are dead. And of the seventy-nine death certificates I managed to track down, sixty-three of them list the cause of death as “unknown,” and in four of those cases, the only identifiable part of the bodies uncovered were the victims’ teeth. That’s undoubtedly the work of a very, very potent zombie. John Lennon wasn’t the only zombie in the area, but he was certainly the strongest. You do the math.
Three years younger than his former neighbor John Lennon, Lawrence Carroll is one of the Menlove Avenue men who survived to tell some tales. A loyal Beatles fan and self-professed “nosy parker,” Lawrence grew up on the corner of Menlove and Vale Road, a mere stone’s throw from Mendips. His family moved to Brownlow Hill early that fateful fall, which likely explains why he was still amongst the living when I spoke with him at Bramley’s Cafe in Liverpool during May 2002.
LAWRENCE CARROLL: I was kind of chunky and unathletic as a child, and I didn’t have too many friends, so I spent a lot of my time wandering around the neighborhood and watching. I was a lurker, I suppose you could say. I hid behind trees and bushes and cars, and liked to pretend I was a newspaper reporter, or a spy. I always took notes on a little pad of paper, but very rarely saw anything of interest. Aside from John Lennon’s periodic antics, the only thing that made an impression was the couple that I caught in flagrante delicto in the back of their silver AC Ace Bristol Roadster.
On July 8, 1957, a boy who I now know was Paul McCartney made his way down Menlove, to the Lennons’ house. He was trying to run, but he kept stumbling; it was like his legs couldn’t keep up with his upper body. It looked to me like the guitar case he was carrying was slowing him down, and I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t just drop it if he was in such a rush. It wasn’t like anybody on our block would’ve bothered stealing it. Anybody except John Lennon, of course.
Paul was moaning so loudly that Mrs. Leary, who lived three houses down from the Lennons, stuck her head out her window and told him to stop that infernal racket. Once she saw he was undead, she slammed her window shut. I can’t blame her, as I was frightened myself. But a good newspaperman or an honest-to-goodness spy wouldn’t run away from a teenage zombie, so I held my ground. Granted, I was crouched down out of sight behind a thick bush, but at least I stayed.
Paul bashed his guitar case against the Lennons’ front door over and over again, and yelled, “You get out here, John Lennon! You get out here right now, y’know! You get out here and take your medicine!” And he yelled loud.
JOHN LENNON: Paulie hadn’t even been undead for twenty-four hours, so there’s no way he could’ve known his vocal cords were considerably stronger than they were the previous day. I leaned out my bedroom window and chucked one of my school textbooks at his head, then told him to shut his gob and that I’d be there after I put on a shirt.
I never went outside without a shirt back then. Some zombies grow a lot of chest hair, and I was one of them, and it was embarrassing. It never dawned on me to lop it off until my first girlfriend, Thelma Pickles, gave me a straight razor for my birthday. It grew back faster than the hair on my head, so I had to shave it once or twice a week … yet another reason being undead isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: When that textbook nailed me in the noggin, I felt rage, y’know. I’d never felt true rage before—maybe some very mild anger, or a bit of frustration—but I started seeing red, and then blue, and then purple, an’ that. Literally. If somebody came across my path right at that moment, it’s a guarantee I would’ve hurt them. Badly.
LAWRENCE CARROLL: It felt like Paul’s piercing screams were emanating from a pinprick in the center of my brain. If automobile alarms existed back then, every car within five kilometers would’ve been buzzing or beeping like nobody’s business.
John finally came out the front door, and thank God, because what with all the commotion, the next-door neighbor’s schnauzer sounded like it was gonna have a heart attack. Paul let out a wordless roar, then smashed his guitar case against the side of John’s head. Then—and if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes, I’d never have believed it—John’s head flew about ten meters in the air and bounced off a lamppost. He was screaming “Ahhhhhhhhhh” the entire time, and when his scream mixed with Paul’s roar, it was deafening, but also, in a weird way, lovely. Imagine the vocal outro of “Twist and Shout” being played through ten thousand stereos, all turned up to ten, and you’ll have an idea of what sweet yet terrible sounds I experienced on that hot summer day. My left ear started to bleed, and I yelled, “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” but naturally, they couldn’t hear me over the sound of their own harmonized crowing.
John started running around like a chicken with his head cut off—or a zombie with his head cut off, I suppose. His mouth continued to shriek, so I suppose his vocal cords didn’t get severed, but I don’t know anything about undead science, so maybe zombies can’t have severed vocal cords. In any event, it looked to me like Paul was about to smash John with his guitar case again, but before he could even lift it up, the right arm of John’s headless body ripped off its own left arm and swung it wildly at Paul. Somehow, some way, headless John connected on the second swing, and Paul went down, and went down hard. John’s body felt around blindly on the ground until it found its head, then he ran inside, holding the head like it was a damned rugby ball. Paul was facedown on the sidewalk, clutching what looked like a pair of sausages.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: I was carrying my guitar in my left hand, and my two index fingers in my right, and I was holding on to those fingers for dear life. I can look back at it now and laugh, y’know, because reattaching fingers—especially index fingers—is about the easiest thing you can imagine.
JOHN LENNON: I wanted to glue my head back on the same way I’d closed Paul’s wounds the previous day, but, as I immediately learned, when a Liverpool zombie’s head is detached from its body, it loses the ability to alter the size and shape of its tongue, until the extrinsic muscles fuse back into place. So after I went inside, I tracked down my aunt Mimi’s sewing kit and did some amateurish stitching, and voila, a working head for good ol’ Johnny, almost as good as new.
LAWRENCE CARROLL: When John came back out about ten minutes later, Paul was sitting on the ground with his legs folded like he was meditating or something, staring at his guitar case. I knew for sure he was undead at that point, because had he been an average mortal, there’s no chance he would’ve survived getting smacked upside his head by a zombie arm that’d been swung at one hundred kilometers per hour.
John hunkered down beside him and draped his arm around Paul’s shoulders. I crawled out from behind the bush a bit so I could hear what they were saying. John was doing most of the talking, because Paul was sobbing so hard. John said, “Listen, mate, I barely know you, and you barely know me, and who knows if we’ll even like each other next week, let alone next year? But you’re a fookin’ great guitar player and singer, and I can sing and play a little bit too, and the worst thing that can happen now is we’ll be able to jam together for all of eternity. When we take over the world, you’ll thank me.”
I assumed at the time that when he mentioned taking over the world, he meant taking over the record charts.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: He could’ve asked first. It would’ve been nice to have some time to mentally prepare. All John had to do was say, “Wanna live forever, mate?” I probably would’ve said yes.
LAWRENCE CARROLL: And then Paul let out this high-pitched, falsetto moan, which got the schnauzer in a lather again. Then John moaned even higher, and they held it for a good long while. It was almost hypnotic. The next time I heard that beautiful sound was when the two of them harmonized the second please in the first chorus of “Please Please Me.”
PAUL MCCARTNEY: My family wasn’t too keen on having an undead boy at their breakfast nook, y’know, but they said I could keep on living at home, so long as I didn’t slurp out anybody’s brains in the middle of the night. I told them they had themselves a deal.
As he’s a man who has gone through numerous physical, metaphysical, and spiritual transformations, it’s little surprise that any conversation with George Harrison runs the emotional gamut. One minute, he’s waxing poetic about the joys of sitting atop a peak in the Zaskar Range, studying transcendental meditation with a translucent guru named Kamadeva Kartikeya (which, for those of you keeping score, translates to “God of Love/God of War”), then the next, he’s waxing sarcastic about his years as a Beatle, a period that he repeatedly—and, at times, grouchily—refers to as the Mania.
That said, George is nearly as honest as John Lennon, albeit he’s less chatty and has a significantly lower level of angst. Another similarity he has to John: George made me jump through a few hoops before he deigned to chat on the record … except his hoops were—hmmm, how does one put this accurately?—sadistic. And I mean sadistic to the tune of making me drop a poker-chip-size tab of acid, then meditate while standing on my head for twenty-four hours straight while reciting the mantra, “Chiffons to hell, hell to the Chiffons.”
Fortunately, I passed George’s drug-and-meditation test, so in August 2006, he invited me to spend three weeks at Friar Park, his one-hundred-plus-room Victorian mansion near Henley-on-Thames. Unfortunately, for the majority of my stay, Harrison was off in India doing that whole head-cleansing thing, so I was able to get only about six hours of on-the-record material. Luckily, George had fallen off the vegetarian wagon and had recently feasted on the brain of two Bengal tigers and one Bengal fox, and with all that protein floating through his system, the aptly named Quiet Beatle was focused and energetic.
It should be noted that while I didn’t suffer any violence at the hand of Mr. Harrison, I was stabbed on three separate occasions by three separate intruders. (Apparently, knife-wielding intruders had been a problem at Friar Park since 1999.) My injuries were minimal, as I was able to retaliate with some ninja stars I’d recently been given as a gift. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Thank you, Ringo!
GEORGE HARRISON: For me, the Mania started fast. One day, I’m talking to Paul McCartney about how I’d learned to play the tune “Raunchy” by Bill Justis, and the next, he’s blowing brain fluid into the conical stump where my big toe used to be, and I’m in the Quarrymen.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: It seemed strange that John didn’t want to transform George, y’know. He knew George was a great guitarist, better than anybody else he’d played with, myself included. He also looked good onstage and was a nice bloke, but, erm, John wanted nothing to do with killing him. And he never really gave me a satisfactory explanation.
JOHN LENNON: George was too young. Plain and simple. After I reanimated Paul, I vowed never to transform anybody under the age of seventeen again. I was almost twenty at that point, and killing somebody in their teens felt wrong. Even if they asked for it.
And Georgie asked for it again and again and again.
GEORGE HARRISON: Yeah, I guess you could say I pestered John about it. My usual line was, “You killed lots of other people. Why can’t you kill me?” After a few months, I gave up and went to Paul.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: I was happy to oblige George, and would’ve dropped everything I was doing to make it happen sooner than later … but I’d never transformed anybody. Never even considered doing it, y’know.
At that point, I was ambivalent about my undead situation. On one hand, the thought of being in a band with John until the end of time sounded cool, an’ that, but on the other, I rarely used what John liked to call my “zombie powers,” so I sometimes felt like there was no point to any of this. Oh, sure, I hypnotized a bird or two, but only girls who I knew wanted to be with me in the first place; it was more about speeding things along than taking advantage.
GEORGE HARRISON: Paul transformed me in my bedroom, and it was awkward, to say the least. It was like being on a blind date, complete with stilted conversation and elliptical innuendo.
He said, “So.”
Then I said, “So.”
Then he said, “So.”
Then I said, “So.”
That went on for, I dunno, five minutes or something, then I said, “Erm, d’you think we could get started?”
Paul said, “Starting would be a good thing to do. How would you like to begin?”
I said, “Well, Paul, I’m new at this sort of thing. How would you like to begin?”
He said, “Dunno. I’m new at this sort of thing, myself, y’know.”
That went on for another five minutes. At no point did either of us say the words zombie or undead.
Finally I said, “Come on, Paul, just bloody bite me already.”
He went after my neck first. He was very gentle. I barely felt it, and when I didn’t say, “Ouch” or anything, he said, “D’you think it took?”
I said, “No clue, mate.” I felt dizzy and strange, but that could’ve been from the blood loss.
He said, “I don’t want to take any chances, so I’m gonna try something.”
PAUL MCCARTNEY: John may have told me about the toe thing, but there’s also the chance it came to me in one of my many dreams about scrambled eggs.
GEORGE HARRISON:The world started closing in on me, and the last thing I recall before I woke up undead was Paulie saying, “Take off your shoe, mate.”
PAUL MCCARTNEY: By the time I began work on George’s big toe, he was at least somewhat undead, because it came off in my mouth like it was a Mars bar—and when I compare George Harrison’s toe to a Mars bar, I’m only referring to the consistency, not the taste. Tastewise, it wasn’t anything close to nougat and caramel. Fact is, a half-zombified toe tastes like a combination of rancid sweat socks, burnt asafetida powder, and, naturally, rotting human corpse.
In the end, it all came out fine—as everybody knows, George became a great zombie, an’ that—but I never again bit off a toe, zombie or otherwise.
GEORGE HARRISON: Nobody was shocked when I turned up undead, and everybody assumed John did it, because all of Liverpool thought of him as the kind of guy who’d kill and reanimate his bandmates at the drop of a hat. I didn’t dissuade anybody of that notion, and neither did John. Even then we realized the value of mystique.
For a few weeks, I had the same problems every zombie guitarist has immediately after transformation—randomly detaching fingers. I’d switch from an E-minor to an A-major, and next thing I know, plunk, my left ring finger’s lying at my feet. I’d take a tricky solo, and plop, off’d come my right thumb and index finger, still clutching my plectrum. It took some messing about, but I got it mostly under control; still, once in a while, I’d forget myself and strum a hard chord, and my whole hand would take a swan dive. That happens even today. Old habits are hard to break. Clapton has the same problem.
For the most part, things went on as they always did: school, friends, family, music. Yeah, I ate a few folks here and there—I had no choice; brains were the only thing that filled the raging, burning hole in my belly—but trust me, I didn’t kill anybody who didn’t deserve to be killed.
In 1958, John entered his second unhappy year at the Liverpool College of Art. He was frustrated because his band wasn’t taking off as quickly as he would have liked, and the LCA faculty and student body were less than thrilled with his state of being. It was a rough time for John, but, resourceful as always, he made the best of it.
In July 1998, former classmate William Norman and ex-painting instructor Dr. Forrest Stephens discussed with me Lennon’s hardships with understandable sympathy.
WILLIAM NORMAN: It wasn’t like we weren’t fully aware he was undead. Hell, the bloke wore his zombieness on his sleeve, shuffling and moaning about the campus like he was William Baskin or Robert Cherry. We all knew full well he could speak normally and walk quickly, but he insisted on rubbing it in our faces. It was almost like he wanted us to be scared of him.
John was a skilled illustrator, but his choice of subject matter was a bit on the limited side. Most everything he drew was morbid: cemeteries with elaborate headstones, mutilated corpses, human heads with insect bodies, and the like. Once in a while he’d doodle a music- or history-oriented picture, and I seem to recall him slapping together a comic book of some sort, but the majority of his work was gruesome, simply gruesome.
DR. FORREST STEPHENS:When it came to painting, young Lennon had more talent in his little gray finger than 95 percent of my students, but he had difficulty focusing. During class, he had a tendency to go off into the ozone for minutes at a time. I have a distinct memory of him standing motionless in front of an easel, staring out the window, and still holding his wet brush, with red paint splattering on his shoes: drip, drip, drip, drip, drip. It was such a brilliant tableau that I wondered if he was pretending.
JOHN LENNON: Of course I was pretending. Each and every one of those ponces at school was a racist. They all grew up in nice neighborhoods, in nice houses, with nice parents, and nice friends, and nice bank accounts, and heaven forbid they socialize with the likes of me. Heaven forbid they get their hands a little bit dirty. I was different. I was the other. I was an alien, and you can’t forget that alien is the first half of the word alienated. So yeah, I spent most of my four years at that fookin’ school all by myself.
The only good thing that came out of the entire experience was meeting Stu.
Lennon’s college chum Stuart Sutcliffe died in 1962 of a brain hemorrhage. Or did he?
Considering how much the two budding artists respected and—let’s just go ahead and say it—loved each other, and considering John Lennon’s habit of murdering and reanimating those closest to him, it’s little surprise that Beatleologists worldwide have long theorized Sutcliffe continued to shuffle about this immortal coil post-1962. Unfortunately, none of them had the wherewithal, connections, or financial means to do the legwork. That’s where I came in.
Lennon was uncharacteristically evasive when I asked if Sutcliffe was still around, saying, “No comment, mate. You’re on your own with that one.” When I pressed the issue, John gave me a backhand to the noggin that sent me flying across his living room. After I wiped the blood from my face and sloppily taped up my broken nose, I changed the subject and made a mental note to never again mention Sutcliffe in Lennon’s presence.
So in the fall of 1999, it was off to Germany for the first of my three meetings with Astrid Kirchherr, photographer/stylist/early Beatles worshipper, and Sutcliffe’s fiancée at the time of his supposed death. When the talk turned to Stu’s current, shall we say, situation, Astrid was polite but vague; she insinuated that there was a possibility he was still around but provided no concrete leads. Realizing Lennon was right—that I was on my own with this one—I followed a hunch and made what some might construe as a questionable decision: I flew to Liverpool, bought myself the biggest shovel I could find, took a taxi out to the Huyton Parish Church cemetery, and dug up Stu’s grave.
Turned out my hunch was on target: Stuart Sutcliffe’s death was a nondeath, an elaborate piece of performance art. His casket was empty, save for an index card that said, “Probably in Ibiza, living the eternal nightlife. Ta-ra!” Based on the two-sentence note, my gut told me that Stu had been turned into a vampire; after what I’d seen over the previous several years, somebody Stokerizing Sutcliffe seemed like a logical conclusion. My gut, it turned out, was right.
The vampire community in Ibiza is downright cordial—hell, if you got to spend eternity partying in paradise each night from dusk to dawn, you’d probably be pretty darn cheery yourself—and I had no problem finding Mr Sutcliffe. After offering a succinct, sarcastic, and patently false story about how he was transformed from human to bloodsucker (“John knew a guy who knew a guy”) and snidely explaining why he’d gone underground (“I was trying to avoid journalists—you know, like you”), Stu bought me one of the best meals I’d ever eaten—the so-called blood martini was a little creepy, but when in Ibiza, do as the Ibizans—then spoke until sunrise about his brief tenure with John’s merry band of misfit zombies.
STUART SUTCLIFFE: I couldn’t play a damn bit of bass, and it drove Paul “Mr. Perfectionist” McCartney nuts. Yeah, I sometimes played a half step out of key, but so what? Where’s it written that just because everybody else is playing in E, the bassist can’t play in E-flat? Nowhere, that’s where. Okay, I’m having a laugh here. I couldn’t play for shite, but John’s attitude was, you look good, you dress cool, and, frankly, we can’t find anybody else we can stand, so climb aboard.
Sometimes after we finished up a rehearsal, I’d hang out in the doorway and listen to John and Paul have these endless arguments about me. John would say things like, “Band unity, mate. All for zombies, and zombies for all. Toppermost of the Poppermost.”
Paul would say, “What the bloody hell is ‘Poppermost’?”
John’d say, “Don’t worry about it. So listen, I’m transforming Stu.”
Then Paul’d say, “No. Don’t. We need somebody in our group who has blood coursing through his veins. The audience has to have one person onstage—just one—who they won’t be afraid of, y’know.”
John’d then say, “Stu’s a pussycat. Nobody’s gonna be scared of him, dead or alive.” Frankly, he was right about that one. Nobody was ever scared of me. Even now, even when I’m trying to suck the blood out of some poor soul, they’re like, “Oi, Stu, lookin’ good, mate! Properly pale, an’ that! Talk to Johnny Moondog lately?” Why do you think I always wear shades? It adds mystique, brother … and maybe a tinge of fear.
And then one day—it was a Sunday afternoon, I recall—Paul let his true feelings out: “The man can’t play, John. If you zombify him, we’re stuck with him, y’know. Forever.” Obviously they didn’t know I was eavesdropping.
John said, all quietlike, “I don’t have a problem with that, mate. He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have around forever.”
Paul said, “Yeah, he’s a decent bloke, I suppose, but if you want this band to make it—if you honestly, honestly want to take over the world like you’re always bloody saying—we need to keep our options open. If he’s undead, he’s with us for eternity, y’know. If he’s alive, we can sack him whenever we want.”
I couldn’t listen to any more, so I tiptoed out of the house and headed home. Music wasn’t my true artistic love—I was a painter first and a bass player second, or maybe even third—and Paul wasn’t exactly my best mate in the world, so I wasn’t particularly concerned what he thought about me. But I did respect him, and hearing him say that hurt.
And by the way, that particular Lennon/McCartney discussion led to a, ehm, physical altercation that left Paul with a cracked guitar, and John with a missing ear … which George discovered when he slipped on it at rehearsal the next day.
GEORGE HARRISON: I tried my best to stay out of the arguments. John wanted Stu in the band, and Paul didn’t, and I kept my opinion to myself. As a matter of fact, I’m still keeping my opinion to myself.
They argued about everything, those two. After the blokes from Quarry left the band, John wanted us to be called Johnny and the Maggots. Paul said no way, and if John wanted it to be Johnny and the Something-or-others, it would have to be Johnny and the Moondogs, because he’d heard that moondog was an American slang term for “oversize zombie pecker.” I actually spoke up that time and took Paulie’s side.
STUART SUTCLIFFE:I should note that Paul fancied me enough to keep me around for the Larry Parnes thing. Man, witnessing that cock-up was worth the price of admission.
A well-known English club owner and music impresario who shaped the careers of pseudonymous teen sensations such as Duffy Power, Lance Fortune, and Dickie Pride, Larry Parnes allowed John, Paul, George, and Stu to audition for him in 1960—not, however, as an entity unto themselves, but rather as backing band to one Ronald William Wycherley, aka, Billy Fury.
The audition was held at the Blue Angel, a Liverpool club owned by Allan Williams, a local music heavy who’d taken on the position of manager for the artists temporarily known as the Moondogs. Several Liverpool bands and a whole bunch of hangers-on were at the Angel that day, but only one was able to speak about the audition on the record. Neither Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, nor Sutcliffe wished to discuss what went down that afternoon, and Parnes and Fury had both been dead for decades, and who the hell knew where all those other bands disappeared to. So, in December 2003, after dozens of unreturned phone calls, letters, and emails, I had no choice but to invite myself over to Allan Williams’s house in Liverpool.
Williams greeted me at the door with a big smile on his face and a bigger shotgun pointed at my schnozz. Knowing he was a rabid jazz fan, I came armed with a copy of Hard Bop Academy, my biography of jazz drummer Art Blakey, which had been published back in 2001. His smile expanding by the second, Williams took the gift, tossed it into the air, pulled the trigger of his Remington Express Super Mag, and blew my book to confetti; it was literary skeet shooting at its finest. He then invited me in, prepared me a cup of tea, and told me exactly what happened on May 5, 1960.
ALLAN WILLIAMS: The boys’d played a few shows at the Jacaranda in Liverpool, but nobody paid them much mind—nobody except me, of course, because I was the only bastard in the whole city who had any ears. John and Paul were frustrated with the less-than-enthusiastic response, so a week or three before the audition for Parnesy, I suspect in order to bolster their confidence, they did a few gigs at a place in Caversham called Fox and Hounds. Since it was just the two of them, they didn’t want it to be a Moondogs gig, so John suggested they call themselves the Rotting Oozing Fetid Corpses. Fortunately for everybody, Paul convinced him that the Rotting Oozing Fetid Corpses was a tad too long for the marquee, and he suggested they call themselves the Nerk Twins, NERK being an acronym for Never Eat Road Kill. They both found that hilarious, but I didn’t get it. Zombies have an odd sense of humor, I’ve found.
They played all right for Parnesy at the Blue Angel, the four of ’em did. I don’t remember what they started out with—probably some Buddy Holly song or some blues tune or another—but it sounded fine, just fine. They weren’t world beaters yet, but anybody with even an iota of musical know-how—like me, thank you very much—could tell they had something. Little Billy Fury, however, didn’t even crack a smile, but I don’t think the boys were particularly concerned with his opinion. I know I wasn’t, because the bloke was, at best, semitalented. No, Parnesy was the one we wanted to impress. He had a proven track record, and if he got behind the boys, he’d be able to get them some gigs and some dosh. And that’d make me look good, damn good.
So they finish up the second song, and Parnesy doesn’t move a muscle. No nod, no smile, no thumbs-up, no clapping, no comment about Stuart playing with his back to the crowd, no nothing. All you could hear was crickets, and I don’t mean crickets of the Buddy Holly variety. Paul looked over John, then back at Larry, then he gulped and said, all dodgily, “Er, wouldja like to hear something else, Mr. Parnes?” That was the first and last time I ever heard Paul McCartney sound nervous.
Before Larry could answer, I stood up and said, “Hold on, lads,” then I ran over to John and Paul—the zombie brains of the outfit, at that point—and gently led them into a back corner. I told them, “As your manager, I’d like to make a business suggestion. I recommend that you put down your instruments and do that hypnotizing thing you always talk about. Make him give you the gig. You deserve it. Shit, we deserve it.”
John glared at me, and for a minute, I thought he was gonna tear my head off. He said, “Listen, Allan, we will never, ever, ever use fookin’ hypnosis to get a gig. I’ll take a job only if we’re hired on merit. If Parnes likes us, great, and if he doesn’t, sod him, we’ll find somebody who does.”
I told him if that’s the way he feels, I was behind him 100 percent. I’d seen what an angry zombie could do, and even though I wanted to earn a few bob off these blokes, I didn’t want to die doing it.
So we all went back to our proper places, then Paul counted off “Bye Bye Love,” and despite the fact that Stu flubbed note after note after note, they were spot-on; in comparison, the Everly Brothers sounded like rotting oozing fetid corpses themselves. Billy Fury clapped for a bit, until he noticed that Parnesy still wasn’t moving, at which point he folded his hands on the table and said, “That was all right, I suppose.” Billy Fury wasn’t one to cheese off the boss.
Parnesy walked over to the bandstand and said, “Boys, boys, boys, I don’t hear it, I don’t feel it, and I don’t want it.” He pointed at John and said, “You can sing a little.” Then he pointed at Paul and George and said, “And you two can play a little.” Then he pointed at Stu and said, “As for you, well, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing, mate. If I were you, I’d take off those shades, cut my hair, throw that bass in the river, and apply for a job down at the local chemist.”
Now even at that early date, there was no love lost between Paul and Stu, but seeing one of his bandmates get blasted set Paulie right off. He dropped his guitar and said, “Excuse me, Mr. Parnes? Can you repeat that?”
Parnesy shook his head. “Not necessary. You heard what I said, mate. Loud and clear.”
John put down his guitar, very calmly—too calmly, as far as I was concerned—strolled up to Parnes, grabbed his earlobe between his thumb and index finger, and lifted him off the ground, then said, “Paulie asked you to repeat what you said, mate. If you do, maybe I’ll let you live. Maybe.”
Parnes was a soft cunt who probably hadn’t been in a fight of any kind since primary school, and he was pissing his pants. Literally. George pointed at the front of Parnesy’s trousers and said, “Looky, looky, Parnesy went wee-wee.” Back then, George generally kept quiet in public, and he was rarely snarky, so for him to have opened his mouth, you know he was cheesed.
John then did something I’ll never forgive him for: he let go of Larry’s ear, dropped him on the floor, grabbed him by his wrist, picked him up, twirled him over his head—around and around and around, like he was a football hooligan waving an Arsenal banner—then he threw him across the club, right into the bar, breaking every bottle of booze in the place. That cost me about three hundred pounds, which, in 1960, was a fookload of dosh. Like I said, unforgivable. But if violence was what my boys wanted, I was all for it. Back then, I stupidly supported all their decisions. If I knew then what I know now, I might’ve tossed those cunts out right then and there.
And then Paul, in what seemed like three steps, bounded across the room, grabbed Parnesy by the ankle, and did the same thing John had done: Arsenal banner spins, then a toss. John caught Larry, and for the next few minutes, Lennon and McCartney alternately kicked and threw Larry Parnes across the Blue Angel. I yelled at them to watch the furniture, and they were somewhat respectful. I asked them if they wanted any help, and they just laughed. Cunts.
Parnesy screamed and screamed and screamed, and, finally, after Paul accidentally-on-purpose dropped him on his arse, Parnesy said, “Okay, okay, you’re hired, you’re hired. My boys are going on a Scottish tour. Get a drummer, pick a better name, and you can back up Billy Fury.”
Fury said, “Mr. Parnes, with all due respect, there’s no fookin’ way they’re backin’ me up. I don’t want to fookin’ die.”
Parnesy picked himself up, dusted himself off, and shot a long look at Fury. After a moment, he said, “Understood,” turned to the lads, and said, “You’ll back up Johnny Gentle.” Johnny Gentle was another singing mediocrite who I wouldn’t have hired to wipe my bum.
John said, “Brilliant. So you’re hiring us on merit, right?”
Parnes said, “Fook, no. I’m hiring you because you’ll kill me if I don’t.”
John grabbed his guitar from the bandstand and brandished it over Larry’s head as if it were a mallet, then said, “I asked you, You’re … hiring … us … on … merit. Right?”
Parnes cringed and said, “Of course I’m hiring you on merit, Mr. Lennon. Of course.”
John put down his guitar, smiled, and said, “Great! We’ll take it.”
GEORGE HARRISON: Picking a name for our band was a contentious struggle, and I wanted no part of it. It was a powder-keg topic, and in those early days, I didn’t offer up an opinion unless I was asked, and even then, I was as noncommittal as possible. You never knew what would set off John or Paul. And if they disagreed with something you said while they were hungry, forget it.
The day after the Blue Angel audition, John showed up to rehearsal with a long list of name suggestions, and I remember each and every one of them: the Deads-men, the Deadmen, the Undeads-men, the Undeadmen, the Rots, the Rotters, the Dirts, the Dirty Ones, the Grayboys, the Eaten Brains, the Eating Brains, the Mersey Beaters, the Mersey Beaten, the Bloodless, the Graves, the Headstones, and the Liverpools of Blood.
Paul ripped off John’s right arm and used it to slap John across the face, then he said, “Those’re horrible, mate, just horrible, y’know.”
John took back his arm, bit off the pinkie, spit it toward Paul’s gut—apparently Johnny didn’t take too kindly to being slapped, especially with his own hand—and said, “I had this dream last night—”
Stu interrupted him. “Brilliant. Here we go again with the dreams.”
STUART SUTCLIFFE: It seemed like every fookin’ evening, like at three in the fookin’ morning, John would ring me to tell me about some fookin’ dream he’d had. One night he’d dream about being in heaven and talking with Robert Johnson about the Devil, then the next, he’d dream about being in hell, talking to the Devil about Robert Johnson. Even if it was a good dream, he’d be upset, and I was happy to try and calm him down, but, well, shite, he could’ve called Paulie once in a while.
GEORGE HARRISON: I ignored Stu and asked John what his dream was about. If nothing else, it would be an entertaining story.
He said, “Right, then. So I’m sitting on a canoe in the middle of the Thames, floating about without a paddle, and the sky is fookin’ orange, and I see some girl in another canoe, and she’s got two paddles. She’s got these eyes that’re shining like silver or diamonds, and she says, ‘John Winston Lennon, d’you want to eat a piece of pie?’
“I say, ‘I don’t want any pie, I want one of your fookin’ paddles. This river smells like shite, and I wanna get back to Liverpool.’
“She says, ‘What if I set the pie on fire, John Winston Lennon? What if the pie has flames shooting out of it? Tasty, tasty flames.’
“I say, ‘It’ll probably improve the scent around here, but I don’t want any pie. If you wanna feed me something, get me some fookin’ brains.’
“She says, ‘So I can’t interest you in a flaming pie, John Winston Lennon?’
“I say, ‘No, you can’t interest me in a flaming pie, you sparkle-eyed wench.’
“She says, ‘You know what? You’re a right cunt, John Winston Lennon. Can I interest you in flaming hell?’ Then she sets me on fire, whacks me on me head with her paddle, and turns into a giant silver bug.
“I jump into the water so as not to burn, then I say, ‘What’s this Kafka shite, then?’
“She says, ‘I’m not a cockroach, idiot. I’m a beetle. And you’re going to die a real death. Unless you call your band the Beatles. And that’s Beatles with an a.’
“I say, ‘What d’you mean Beatles with an a? Are you talking B-E-A-T-L-E-S or B-A-E-T-L-E-S or B-E-E-A-T-L-E-S or A-B-E-E-T-L-E-S or—’
“She says, ‘Figure it out for yourself, cunt. Figure it out for yourself.’”
John ran his hand through his hair—which was getting a bit shaggy, I should note—and said, “And then I woke up.”
PAUL MCCARTNEY: I was tired of arguing, y’know. By then, I didn’t care if it was the Deads-men or the Deadmen or the Undeads-men or the Undeadmen or the Rots or the Rotters or the Dirts or the Dirty Ones or the Grayboys or the Eaten Brains or the Eating Brains or the Mersey Beaters or the Mersey Beaten or the Bloodless or the Graves or the Headstones or the Liverpools of Blood or B-E-A-T-L-E-S or B-A-E-T-L-E-S or B-E-E-A-T-L-E-S or A-B-E-E-T-L-E-S or A-B-C-D-E-F-G. If Johnny wanted to let a giant dream bug dictate our name, that was his prerogative.
He declared we would be the Silver B-E-A-T-L-E-S, and I gave it a thumbs-up, because I needed to focus my energy elsewhere. Y’see, I was having some issues with a certain percussionist.
Sacked just before the Beatles exploded onto the international scene, Pete Best is the unluckiest footnote in rock ’n’ roll history. A solid if not unspectacular drummer and a notorious grump, Pete joined John, Paul, et al. in 1960, right after the Scotland tour with Johnny Gentle, a tour that left the boys miserable and broke. Pete was a classically attractive young man, and, almost immediately, a goodly portion of the band’s ever-growing female fan base took to him like flies to a corpse.
Pete, who still resides in Liverpool, has mixed feelings about his twenty-four months as a Beatle (or, more accurately, his one month as a Silver Beatle and his twenty-three months as a regular Beatle), and during our five-hour, increasingly drunken chat at Le Bateau over on Liverpool’s tony Duke Street during the summer of 1997, his emotional conflict was always evident, and I couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy. But Pete Best doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him. He just wants you to listen.
PETE BEST: Except for George, who was a couple of years younger than us, we were all about the same age, but John and Paul were clearly the bosses. You know how sometimes when you have a boss who’s really charismatic and mysterious, you spend a lot of time with your coworkers trying to analyze him? Well, that was what it was like with Stu and me. We used to talk about John and Paul all the time: Did John like my snare fill on “Be-Bop-A-Lula”? Did Paul notice that Stu’d dropped a couple of notes on “Long Tall Sally”? Did they mind that I’d scooped that blond bird who was off to the side of the stage, shaking her big titties at us? Were they going to kill me and turn me into a zombie without any advance notice? It was always a head game with Lennon and McCartney, and what with their habit of murdering at the drop of a hat, the stakes were high.
Two weeks after they brought me aboard, we went to Hamburg to play what seemed like five hundred shows at a sleazy joint called the Indra Club, run by this dodgy bloke named Bruno Koschmider. Bruno ran us ragged: we played seven nights a week, and some nights we’re talking six hours straight. It got to the point we were eating uppers like they were sweets.
You could always gauge how many uppers John, Paul, and George had taken by their skin tone: If they took four pills or less, they turned green—like as green as a lawn in the middle of the summer. Anything beyond that, they turned bright fookin’ yellow, so yellow that they glowed in the dark. Green and yellow complexions are the best advertisements for undeadness, so everybody knew what we were about. But even with the stench of death that permeated the club, the crowds packed the joint night after night after night.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: Pete wanted nothing to do with death or undeath. I told him over and over that I wouldn’t hurt him and that he should ask George how simple and painless it was. Of course, I talked to him about it only when John was, erm, out of earshot. Sometimes I just had to throw John’s “all for zombies, and zombies for all” precept right out the window. Sometimes I had to make a decision for the band all by myself, y’know.
PETE BEST: The one thing that almost convinced me to let Paul do his thing to me was the birds. No matter how unhealthy looking those zombies’ faces may have been, and no matter how many times their fingers fell off during guitar solos, those blokes had the girls drooling over them, and drooling girls looked pretty fookin’ good to me. The thought of that dustmen shite shooting out of my plonker wasn’t very appetizing, however, but having the ability to hypnotize twin sisters into bed, well, that was kind of appealing. Not that they did hypnotize twin sisters into bed, but knowing the ability was there was greatly comforting and greatly exciting.
Six months before this book was to go to press, I received a scary-as-hell email from a certain German-born, Spain-based photographer-cum-artist-cum-vampire who’d been all but invisible for almost three decades.
Jürgen Vollmer and his pals Astrid Kirchherr and local artist/musician Klaus Voormann were a tight-knit clique who dubbed themselves the Exis, and that’s “exi” in honor of their pet philosophy, existentialism. (Jürgen cheerfully admits the Exis were a tad on the pretentious side.) The threesome discovered the Beatles when the band was relocated from the Indra to another Bruno Koschmider–run venue called the Kaiserkeller. With their ever-increasing musical confidence and ability to simultaneously entertain and scare the crap out of their growing audiences, the five Liverpudlians knocked the three Hamburgers on their collective hindquarters. The smitten Exis immediately latched onto the undead quintet and held on for dear life.
By all accounts, Jürgen was the quietest of the Exis, and his near silence came about because he simply didn’t have enough energy to talk; turned out, the poor guy was always starving. After all, what with the scurvied prostitutes and drunks clogging up the streets surrounding the Kaiserkeller—streets that were home to Hamburg’s red-light district—it was difficult for a young vampire to find quality blood without drawing attention to himself. So it was either scurvy-flavored hookers and gin-soaked alkies, or nothing at all.
In the summer of 2009, Jürgen stumbled onto my website, where he read one of the many blog entries in which I bitched about Stuart Sutcliffe’s reticence to divulge the specifics of his transformation from meat eater to bloodsucker. Jürgen sent me an email:
MR. GOLDSHER, I WISH TO DISCUSS MR. SUTCLIFFE WITH YOU! MEET ME AT CA L’ISIDRE IN BARCELONA ON AUGUST 15 AT EXACTLY MIDNIGHT! SHOW UP AFTER 12:01, AND I’LL BE LONG GONE! SHOW UP AT OR BEFORE 11:59, AND I WILL KILL YOU IN A HIDEOUS FASHION! I’LL BE THE ONE WEARING THE PRETENTIOUS BLACK CAPE ! YOURS ALWAYS, MR. JÜRGEN VOLLMER.
What with the formality, the capital letters, the numerous exclamation marks, the incongruous smiley face emoticon, and the threat of a painful death, how could I refuse?
Despite the menacing tone of his missive, Mr. Vollmer—like his fellow vampire, Mr. Sutcliffe—is as gracious a dinner partner as one could hope for. Better yet, he’s painfully honest and has a fine memory of his brief period as a Beatles-worshipping Exi.
JÜRGEN VOLLMER: We fancied all five of the boys, but we fancied Stu the best because he was the most interested in what the Exis were all about. He and I had long talks in the Kaiserkeller’s piddling little dressing room about Sartre, and Heidegger, and Jaspers, and Stoker … although he didn’t know I was a vampire, so my lengthy forays into the hidden meaning of Dracula probably confused the hell out of him.
I knew he was at ease with the otherworldly beings—if you’re with John Lennon and Paul McCartney twenty-five hours a day, eight days a week, you’d better be comfortable with the inhuman—but I still didn’t want to spring my vampire life on him. I mean, if your bandmates are zombies, you might be hesitant to become a friend to a Child of Osiris, because, let’s face it, how much inhumanity can one person take? But that all changed when Stu started falling for Astrid.
I’ll freely admit it: I was jealous; I was the odd man out, so how could I not be? John and Paul gravitated toward Klaus because he had an aptitude for music, and Astrid was trying to seduce Stu, and Pete was always trying to score with girls, and George was off doing whatever a zombie who’d taken too many amphetamines does at three in the morning, so I didn’t have a Beatle to call my own. I tried to ingratiate myself, believe me, but outside of Stu, they simply weren’t all that interested. In retrospect, I feel it had a lot to do with the fact that I was too quiet, but I couldn’t help it. I was exhausted, as good blood was at a premium.
One night while Stu and Astrid were kissing in the corner of the club, I got fed up with the whole situation, so I grabbed Stuart by the collar of his leather jacket and hauled him back to the dressing room. I carried him like he weighed nothing, and I could tell he was taken aback by how strong I was. I held him against the wall by his neck and gave him a brief history of vampires, everything from revenants of the twelfth century to good old Vlad Tepes to the falsitude of bat transformation to the enlightened vampire colony that was already forming in Ibiza. I purposely didn’t mention what is going to happen in Swaziland in 2028, because a prophecy of vampire-based genocide would likely have soured him on the concept of me giving him a nibble on the neck, wouldn’t you say?
After I released him and he crashed to the floor, he told me the thought of immortality was suddenly appealing now that he’d met the girl of his dreams. He told me that John and Paul weren’t going to zombify him because he wasn’t a good enough bass player. He told me that at first, the thought of living forever sounded kind of daunting, but now with Astrid in the picture, it sounded farkin’ good.
I said, “I’m glad to hear that, Stuart, just thrilled.” Then I asked him if he wanted to share my life.
Stu looked at his hands and asked, “How do you think Astrid will feel about the whole thing?”
I told him that never once in the years we’d known each other did she say anything disparaging about vampirism, and that she was an all-embracing woman who would spend time with Negros, Orientals, Christians, Jews, vampires, zombies, or werewolves, so long as they brought something interesting to the table.
He asked me, “So let me get this straight: with this vampire thing, unless somebody jabs a stake into your chest, you’re immortal?”
I told him that was more or less the case.
He stood up and gently kicked Paul’s guitar case. “To tell you the truth, mate, I don’t know if I’m long for this band. Paulie doesn’t like having me around. John loves me, but he doesn’t like having me around as a musician. And I miss painting. And I love Astrid. I love her a lot, mate.”
I told him she loved him a lot, too.
We spent the next few minutes talking about vampire logistics, then Koschmider poked his head in the door and said, “Sutcliffe, get onstage, mach schnell, mach schnell!”
Stu looked at me and said, “Okay, Jürgen. Let’s do it. Tomorrow at sundown.”
I couldn’t have been more pleased. Stu was going to be my friend for life.
STUART SUTCLIFFE: The choice was simple, really. I loved Astrid, and Astrid loved me. Jürgen was a good, kind man, and as much as I loved John, well, let’s just say, if he was a moody cunt in 1960, imagine what he’d be like in 2060 or 2160 or 2260. So Jürgen did his thing, and here I am.
Paul and Pete were deported that December. The cover story we came up with was that they got sent back home because they set fire to a johnny-hat in the Kaiserkeller dressing room, then were thrown in jail. The real reason they went home was that John Q. Law got wind of John W. Lennon’s plot to go to Magdeburg and dig up Hitler’s brain as a laugh. (The cops watched our every move, and who could blame them? At the time, Germany had the smallest per capita zombie population in the world, so they didn’t know what John, Paul, or George might do.) After Jürgen turned me out, Astrid and I went underground for a while; then in ’62, when the Hamburg cops decided they wanted to rid the city of vampires, Astrid and I staged my funeral, and it was off to the Spanish islands.
Jürgen spends his winters here in Ibiza, and his summers in Munich, and he’s still my best mate, and when he’s in town, we’re inseparable. As for Astrid, I get to see her maybe six or seven weeks out of the year. See, she had to continue her life in Germany as if I was dead, so in ’67, she married a nice bloke named Gibson Kemp. I’d bet most of your readers won’t know that he’s the drummer who replaced Ringo in Rory’s band.
Like I said, Gibson’s a nice bloke, but I’m sure when they were together he touched Astrid in places where I’d prefer she not be touched by anybody but me. That being the case, given the opportunity, I’d fookin’ suck him dry in a heartbeat.
A quick backtrack:
In the months before German law enforcement officers sent the Beatles back to the UK, the lads made an interesting discovery: Rory Storm was a Fifth Level Ninja Lord.
A Liverpudlian singer who had a head of hair to die for, Storm (who was born Alan Caldwell and passed away in 1972, found dead next to his equally dead mother; some say they were both mistakenly killed by a confused low-level yakuza lackey) always had an affinity for the world beyond the world, so much so that in 1958, he named his first band Dracula and the Werewolves. Rory considered the Quarrymen as rivals, and even though he would’ve been thrilled to be undead, he refused to approach Lennon or McCartney with his zombification request, telling anybody who’d listen, “Fook the Quarryboys. I want to have me own bag.”
A Sixty-sixth Level Ninja Lord,—which loosely translates to Badass Ninjutsu Dude—relocated to Liverpool in 1955, partly because he was fed up with the bureaucracy of the Iga Ueno Ninja scene, and partly because he had an inexplicable affinity for drab cities and lousy restaurants.
In 1958,quietly opened up a secret-but-not-as-secret-as-a-Ninja-should-be dojo on Molyneux Road, right by the Mersey River. He didn’t do any advertising, per se, and how Rory Storm heard about it is anybody’s guess. But hear about it he did, and Rory became’s first British student.
Aside from evolving into a solid but unspectacular Ninja Lord, Caldwell was a marketing genius, and when he realized his band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, simply didn’t have the firepower of Lennon and McCartney’s crew, he decided to sprinkle some Japanese flavor into his skiffle stew. But we’re not talking a tinge of Japanese music—that would’ve been tough, as kotos, biwas, and samisens weren’t easy to come by in Liverpool—but rather a sampling of Ninja demonstrations in between songs.
was less than pleased with his disciple, taking the understandable stance that Ninjas and rock ’n’ roll shouldn’t share the same stage. The old hurts are still there, a fact that was made abundantly clear when I spoke with the then-305-year-old warrior at his home near the top of Mount Omoto in February 2004.
: Alan Caldwell was a great disappointment to me. His skills: solid yet unspectacular. His demeanor: courteous yet envious. His discipline level: sizeable yet inconsistent. His ultimate life goals: unsatisfactory. He wanted to be an artist—specifically, a musician. Now, I have the utmost respect for music makers, but what Alan Caldwell never realized is that Ninja warriors are just as artistic as the best singer or guitar player or drummer … if not more so. He was quite vocal in his opposition to my opposition to modern music.
This is not to say I dismissed Alan Caldwell’s goals entirely. As a matter of fact, I thrice watched Alan Caldwell and his band perform. (I refuse to refer to him as Rory Storm; that is a ridiculous name for a Ninja Lord, and no matter what I thought of his skills, Alan Caldwell was a Ninja Lord.) Had Alan Caldwell’s Ninja moves been more than merely solid, and had his band’s music been less derivative, I might not have been so saddened by his choice to merge the worlds of Ninja and rock ’n’ roll. Besides, there was already one Lonnie Donegan walking the Earth, and even to my unenlightened ears, one Lonnie Donegan was more than enough.
Most galling to me was that he taught the members of his band numerous Ninja moves … and he taught them sloppily. Double spins became half spins. Graceful cat somersaults became clumsy dog rolls. Please do not get me started about their abominable work with the shuriken, as my stomach becomes pained when I think about it.
However, there was one gentleman in the band for whom there was hope, who had a glimmer of talent. With regular training, with hard work, and with proper discipline, young Richard Starkey—who became known to the world as Ringo Starr, a pseudonym that was far more palatable to me than the silly stage name Rory Storm—had the potential to become Great Britain’s first true Ninja Lord.
Ringo Starr is happy to talk to you. He’ll tell you stories, he’ll crack some jokes, he’ll laugh, he’ll cry, and he’ll drink you under the table. Thing is, you have to find him first, and good luck with that one.
Lennon thought he was somewhere in China, studying kung fu with a rogue group of former Shaolin monks. I wasted ten days and almost ten grand on that tip.
McCartney said he hadn’t spoken with Ringo in several years, but added that one of his mates told another one of his mates that Starr was in Los Angeles, holed up with a swimsuit model. Wrong-o.
Harrison didn’t have a clue, but he had a gut hunch that the drummer was in South America, possibly Brazil. All I got out of that trip was sun poisoning and the knowledge that I look horrible in a Speedo swimsuit.
If the rest of the Beatles didn’t even know where Ringo spent his time, how the hell was one little journalist from Chicago supposed to track him down?
Ultimately,pointed me in the right direction, explaining that after the Beatles’ demise, Ringo made it his goal to move up fifteen levels on the Ninja Lord scale, and the only way to make that happen is to practice your Ninja art in the coldest place on Earth. So, since 2001, Ringo has been bopping between London, the North Pole, and the South Pole.
In December 2005, before I’d fully healed from the various beatings John Lennon imparted upon my body, I went to my friendly neighborhood camping supplies store, bought nearly three thousand dollars’ worth of cold weather gear, and boarded a plane to Bumfuck, Antarctica, where, for twelve days, I drank a whole lot of piping-hot miso egg-drop soup with good ol’ Richie Starkey.
RINGO STARR: The Hurricanes only did three Ninja/rock shows in Liverpool. Rory wanted to keep the Ninja stuff secret until we got it just right, and, man, talk about secret—outside our families and our Ninja master, he didn’t tell anybody about the gig. Our audience consisted of Rory’s sister, , and two of ’s disciples. Not an auspicious way to start a new trend, eh?
But Rory’s goal wasn’t to start a trend; all he was concerned about was, as he so inelegantly put it, “kicking some fookin’ Quarrymen arse.” Nobody was beating down my door with an invitation to join their band, so I stuck with Rory, even though I didn’t want to kick anybody’s fookin’ arse. Personally, I thought John, Paul, and George were fine fellows, spot-on musicians, and a credit to the living and undead alike.
The Hurricanes had already been playing at the Kaiserkeller for a good long while when the Beatles were unceremoniously dumped into the club, and I’ve gotta tell you, the audiences that saw both bands play were treated to one helluva show. The Beatles’d go on first, roar through fifteen or twenty songs in forty-five minutes, then John would pick three girls from the crowd, bring them up onto the stage, and juggle them, while the other guys played circus music in the background. I still have no idea how he was able to do that without hurting anybody.
Then it was our turn. Rory liked to structure our sets so we’d play two songs, then give five minutes of Ninja demo, then two more songs, then more demo, and so on. Musically speaking, we weren’t too bad, and our Ninja moves improved more every day, especially those of Johnny “Guitar” Byrne, who got to the point where he could open a bottle of beer with a Ninja star from ten meters away. Bruno probably could’ve charged more than a three-deutsche-mark cover—today, it’s a common triple bill, but in 1960, no club in the world could deliver a Ninja/zombie/music trifecta—but Mr. Koschmider wasn’t exactly the brightest star in the Hamburg sky.
I thought Pete Best was one helluva drummer, and aside from that one Wednesday night when George broke a guitar over his head, hauled him up with one hand, and threw him all the way across the club, I saw no indication that any of the other Beatles were dissatisfied with his drumming. I jammed with them every so often, and though they always liked my playing, they never came close to asking me to join. And I was cool with that. I knew if I left the ’Canes and neglected my Ninja studies, would be pissed. And is the last person in the world you want to piss off. So I treaded water and waited to see what would happen next.
JOHN LENNON: It was the day after Crimbo, 1960. Paul, some bird that Paul’d picked up, and I were at a party at Paul’s mate Neil Aspinall’s flat. Right before midnight, I dragged Paul into Neil’s bedroom—I accidentally ripped off his right hand, but he slapped it right back on, so that’s neither here nor there—then threw him onto Neil’s bed and asked him, “What the hell’re we doing, mate?”
He said, “I dunno about you, but I’m repositioning my hand, which you just ripped the hell off. And I’m drinking, y’know.”
I said, “I don’t mean here, I mean here.”
Paul said, “Umm, you lost me.”
I said, “What’re we doing with the band? What’s the point?”
He gave me a funny look, then said, “I thought the point of being in a band was that there’s no point. We play a few tunes, we drink a few drinks, we have a few laughs. That’s enough for me. Who needs a point? It’d be nice to have some dosh in our pockets, and maybe make a record someday, but if we keep going the way we’re going, I think that’ll come.”
I said, “That’s not enough for me.”
He said, “Well then, what do you want?”
I said, “You have to remember, Paul, we’re different from any other band in the world. Nobody’s got what we got.”
He said, “What’s that?”
I said, “We’re on this planet forever. For fookin’ ever.”
Paul said, “Yeah. I’m well aware of that, y’know. What does that have to do with our band?”
I said, “Ten years from now, do you want to be some sad cunt cranking out Chuck Berry tunes at the Cavern Club for ten shillings and two pints?”
He said, “Erm, I suppose not.”
I said, “Ten years from now, do you want to be playing at, I dunno, Wembley Stadium in front of tens of thousands of people?”
He said, “That sounds good.”
I said, “Yeah, but here’s something that sounds better: ten years from now, do you want to rule the world?”
PAUL MCCARTNEY: I laughed so hard that I almost chundred my champagne. I asked him, “Okay, mate, you’ve been talking this shite for years, y’know. What the fook do you mean, ‘rule the world’?”
He said, “Just like it sounds. Do you want to rule the world?”
Now, one of the things I’ve always loved most about John is that he thinks big, an’ that. I was happy making slow moves, taking baby steps: play for a few people at a little party, play for a few more people at a big club, make a record, play at a bigger club, get on the radio, play an even bigger club. Up the ladder one rung at a time, y’know. John, on the other hand, apparently wanted to go immediately from the Kaiserkeller to the moon. After I got my laughter under control, I readjusted my hand, which I’d done a lousy job of reattaching, and asked him, “Erm, why, Johnny? Why d’you want to rule the world?”
He said, “We’re a bunch of yobbos from Liverpool. It’ll be a laugh. Plus, those Hammer movies are pretty cool, and if we get big, maybe they’d make one about us: The Curse of the Beatles or something.”
I said, “Erm, okay. Not the best reasons, but I’ll accept it. And how exactly do you intend to take over the world?”
He kneeled down on the floor, gave me a huge grin, and said, “First of all, we have to get to the Toppermost of the Poppermost.”
Again with the Poppermost. I said, “Give me a straight answer, Johnny: what the bloody hell is the Poppermost?”
He got a dreamy look in his eyes, then said, “The Poppermost is the Toppermost, man, the top, the summit of the mountain, the place where we can do whatever we want, whenever we want. In the Poppermost, if we feel like starting a zombie colony in Glastonbury where the undead can roam free without fear of being popped with a diamond slug, we can. Or if we want to draw and quarter Cliff Richard, then cook his cortex for supper, we can. If we want to zombify Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers so The Goon Show can live on forever, we can. Whatever we want, whenever we want.”
I said, “That sounds brilliant. But again, how do you plan to do it?”
He asked me, “What do we do best?”
I said, “I suppose we’re good at being a nice little rock ’n’ roll band.”
He said, “Right. Now we have to figure out how to become a nice big rock ’n’ roll band. First, we have to start writing more of our own songs. Fook playing covers. That isn’t gonna get us out of the small clubs.”
I wasn’t sure what writing tunes had to do with world domination, but in terms of advancing the Beatles, that made solid sense. I said, “Right. I can get behind that. What else?”
He said, “We tour and tour and tour and tour, and we try not to cause any trouble … or, at least, not get caught. I know we have to eat—and sometimes we have to eat a lot—but no obvious murders, no public decapitations, no castrations just for the fook of it, kill only those who deserve to be killed, no sex slaves …”
I said, “I haven’t made any sex slaves.”
He said, “Yeah. Right. Sure. And neither have I. Wouldn’t even consider it.” He said that in his famous John Lennon sarcastic tone, which made me certain he had created a few sex slaves. But I’d never know for sure, because there’s an unwritten zombie code: keep your sex life to yourself. You could talk about drinking the postman’s brain fluid all you wanted, but a discussion about how big of a dustmen pile you blew on some bird’s bum is a no-no.
I said, “Right, then. No sex slaves, an’ that. Next?”
He stood up and scratched his head, then said, “I haven’t quite gotten that far yet. I’ll figure it out when we get there.”
I got up, then clapped him on the shoulder, and told him, “Sounds like a plan, mate. Let’s get rolling on this next year, cool?”
He said, “Cool. But this being the holiday season and all, I don’t think we need to put our plan into effect until January second. So what d’you say we go and cause some trouble?”
I said, “Absolutely.” And then, right after midnight, John and I snuck down Neil’s back stairs, went down to the Mersey River, and feasted. Over many glasses of champagne and many handfuls of fresh, firm, warm brains, we decided that 1961 was going to be a big year.
The year 1961 saw a major change for the infrastructure of Liverpool’s soon-to-be-finest: with Stu Sutcliffe back in Hamburg guzzling down all the German blood he could get his fangs on, the quintet became a quartet, forever and ever, amen. They booked dozens and dozens of shows throughout the UK and soon realized that driving the van and hauling their gear themselves put a crimp in their style, so they asked Paul and George’s childhood pal Neil Aspinall to become their roadie. A loyal, hardworking sort, Aspinall stayed with the band until the end, becoming one of the many so-called Fifth Beatles.
Nobody knows for certain if John, Paul, or George jammed their respective tongues into Aspinall’s neck and gave him eternal life, because nobody could ever tell whether or not Aspinall was a zombie. He’s always sported that gray English pallor, but that could be credited to living in Liverpool. He has an ageless look about him—he could be forty or ninety or anywhere in between—but that might be due to, I don’t know, cigarettes or something. He refuses to discuss whether or not he’s a living being, but any other topic is fair game, as I learned when I spoke with him in January 2006, two years before he either passed away or relocated to the Liverpudlian sewers.
NEIL ASPINALL: I couldn’t tell you exactly how many concert dates we did in ’61. I’d say as few as one hundred and as many as two-fifty. It became a blur.
John told me right after I was hired that they were going to be good lads, or, at least, as good as they could be, and his definition of being good meant no deaths—or, at least, no obvious ones. Like all Liverpool zombies, the boys ate people food for enjoyment, but they had to eat brains to survive, so they had no choice but to, ehm, take care of their business every once in a while. I can’t blame them. If you crave a fried Mars bar, you go and get a fried Mars bar. If you crave a brain, you go and get a brain. End of story.
As far as I know, nobody died in ’61 at the hands of Lennon, McCartney, or Harrison, but that’s not to say they didn’t feed—trust me, they fed. That somehow didn’t hurt the development of their loyal fan base. I’d suspect that if you loved a zombie band, you’d be thrilled to have one or both of their lead singers murder you.
But John and Paul didn’t do all the killing. George took on his fair share, and the interesting thing about that was, all the folks George reanimated that year became virtuoso guitarists.
GEORGE HARRISON: Back then, the thing I lived for the most was music, and I figured if I thought that way, then everybody should think that way. So whenever I had a brain craving, I’d pack up my trusty Gretsch 6128 Duo Jet and head over to the trendiest part of whatever town we were gigging in. I’d look for a cool-looking guy or girl in their late teens or early twenties who was carrying a guitar; if they recognized me, so much the better. Then I’d invite them for a walk, and if they needed a little nudge, I’d look into their eyes and bend their will, but thanks to either my Beatle status or the fact that I was carrying a cool guitar, most came willingly. I’d ask them if they wanted to go back to their place and jam on some Leadbelly; if they said no, I’d move on, but if they said yes, it was off to their flat.
Once there, after a few tunes, I’d put them to sleep, then, after a quick cuppa cuppa, I’d take the traditional zombie chomp right beneath their earlobe, then, after I did the brain fluid switch, I’d jam the fretboard of my Gretsch into the wound and circle it around for a bit, like for thirty-one seconds, then I’d replace the divot, seal it shut with my tongue, and voila, an undead teenager who could play the hell out of their axe.
I purposely never found out any of their names, so it’s possible that some of them became stars. If I were to venture a guess about who I turned into an undead fretman, I’d go with Dave Davies. I mean, just look at the bloke. Those’re some zombie eyes if I’ve ever seen ’em.
Arguably the Beatles’ most important moment of 1961 went down at the end of June, when the boys took to producer Bert Kaempfert’s studio to record a backing track for UK rock crooner Tony Sheridan. Sheridan, who refused numerous invitations to speak with me, was going to have his name front and center on the record sleeve; for that matter, there was the possibility the Beatles moniker wouldn’t appear on the cover at all, a fact that either wasn’t communicated to or understood by the Beatles.
GEORGE HARRISON: I left the studio before most of the bad stuff went down at the Sheridan session, and what I did see was a bit of a blur. But I think Pete was the instigator.
PETE BEST: I was a troublemaker, but my trouble was mostly juvenile shite—you know, messing about with girls I probably shouldn’t have messed with and playing practical jokes, that sort of thing. I wasn’t into destruction for destruction’s sake.
No matter what anybody says, I had nothing to do with what happened to Bert’s studio. Seriously, how could I? I was a regular living human being and didn’t have anywhere near the strength necessary to cause such a ruckus. But they tried to pin it on me, John and Paul did, and I think for yours truly, that was the beginning of the end, although the end wound up being quite a ways away.
Besides, I know for a fact that Paul started it. I saw it with me own two eyes.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: I didn’t start it, y’know. I mean, you’ve seen the pictures of Pete’s drum kit, right? It was obvious that he started it.
John and I might’ve finished it, though.
JOHN LENNON: That hour or two is a little hazy, but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t Pete or Paul. I think I cast the first stone. I think I threw the first amp. But I refuse to accept the entire blame. I was bad, and Paul was bad, but Pete was worse.
PETE BEST: Here’s what really happened, and if any of those undead fookers tell you differently, they’re feeding you more shite than you’d find in the sewers.
So we run through the arrangement a few times, and once Bert and the engineer are pleased with the mix, they give us the go-ahead, and we rock out for forty-five minutes. Bert says he’s happy with the material, and thanks for coming, then John puts down his guitar, walks right up to Kaempfert, and says, “That’s it?”
Bert says, “Yes, that’s it, Mr. Lennon. Were you expecting something else?”
John says, “I was under the impression we’d get to do a couple tunes of our own.” I don’t know where he got that impression from.
Bert says, “Ehm, no, I’m afraid not. This was always Tony’s session, and Tony’s session alone.”
John says, “That’s not what Tony told us.” Truth is, Tony didn’t tell us fook-all. We had, maybe, five words with the bloke.
Bert says, “Well, that’s between you gentlemen. You have thirty minutes to pack up. Please turn the lights out when you leave.” And then he splits.
And then John throws his Fender Deluxe amplifier at the wall across the room.
GEORGE HARRISON: Pete did or said something to Bert, and Bert looked pissed, and I was ready to go to bat for Pete. All for zombies, and zombies for all, and yeah, Pete wasn’t a zombie, but he was still one of us. But the second John’s Fender whizzed by my head—and missed knocking off my nose by only a couple of millimeters, I should note—I packed up and cleared the hell out. I wasn’t gonna let Johnny lay a finger on my GA-40 Les Paul, that’s for damn sure.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: From the beginning of the band, John was the idea man, and most of his ideas were good ones. So I figured, if he thought destroying the studio was a wise move, I was game.
Problem was, my Selmer Truvoice Stadium was a solid piece of equipment, y’know, and seemed like it was built to survive a nuclear holocaust. Now, what with my so-called zombie powers, I’m a strong bloke, but it took me three chucks to turn that baby into sawdust. John, however, trashed his Fender in one toss.
JOHN LENNON: There was a method behind my mad amp-toss. I’d had my Rickenbacker 325 for three years, and I wasn’t about to turn my beloved guitar into firewood, so I did the next best thing.
PETE BEST: Man, I loved my Premier drum kit. The cymbals were cherry, the toms rang across the room, and my snare head was to that point where it was broken in but not too broken in. Needless to say, I was livid when John started going to town on it, just fookin’ livid.
JOHN LENNON: The first thing I did after my amp went to the great Fender factory in the sky was take off Pete’s ride cymbal and sharpen it on my teeth. I gave that thing a razor’s edge so sharp it could’ve decapitated a fookin’ elephant. Then I threw it like a Frisbee toward Bert’s recording setup … and I put some quality spin on it, so it did maximum damage. The reel-to-reel machine was in tatters, and the mixing board had sparks shooting out of it.
That felt good, but it wasn’t enough. I was hungry, you see, and that’s the kind of thing that happens when I don’t have access to sustenance.
I retrieved the cymbal, flung it at the wall, flicking my wrist just so. It cut through like a chain saw, and it moved so fast that it started smoking. The smoke turned to a campfire, and the campfire turned to a forest fire. We grabbed our gear—broken and unbroken alike—and got the fook out of there. For some reason, the story never made the paper.
Good thing Bert took the master tapes with him, or else the world wouldn’t have been treated to our first real record, a cover of “My Bonnie,” which wasn’t released under the Quarrymen or the Silver Beatles or the Beatles or the Maggots, but rather Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. The whole thing was ridiculous, but I suppose you’ve gotta start somewhere.
One afternoon while I was at the Dakota, out of nowhere, Lennon turned to me and said, “Eppy’s still around, you know.”
I almost dropped my cup of Kopi. “Bullshit. Quit fucking with me, Lennon,” I said. As far as I knew, Eppy—John’s nickname for the Beatles’ brilliant manager Brian Epstein—died of a drug overdose in 1967. Whether or not it was a suicide has always been up for debate.
“Not fucking with you, mate. It’s true,” Lennon said. “Dunno where he’s at, though. Aspinall probably knows.”
Neil Aspinall was the de facto Beatles gatekeeper, and it was his job to know that sort of thing … and to keep it quiet. Turned out John was right on both counts. Eppy was still around, and Aspinall knew his whereabouts—specifically, Edinburgh. (It also turned out that this was the one and only time John blatantly lied to me; he knew exactly where Brian Epstein was.)
I wasn’t comfortable approaching Epstein myself, but Neil kindly offered to set up the meeting. Much to my pleasure, Brian agreed to see me immediately, which was a shock, as I assumed he wasn’t the kind of guy who’d speak to the likes of yours truly. I’m certain the only reason he okayed the meeting is because of Neil’s endorsement.
Brian’s wheelchair-friendly house—it’s a mansion, really—is set so far back from any road in Edinburgh that if you didn’t know it’s there, you wouldn’t know it’s there … and that’s just the way Eppy wants it. Courteous and affable as one would hope, if not somewhat guarded, Brian insisted on discussing his personal, more recent backstory first, before he launched into the back-backstory.
BRIAN EPSTEIN: It doesn’t matter whether or not I committed suicide. It doesn’t change the story before, and it doesn’t change the story after. I was unhappy, I took a lot of drugs, and I died. The end.
John was off in Lennonland for most of ’66 and ’67, but he sensed my state of mind, even though I thought I was doing a fine job of keeping up appearances; he’s always been good like that, John has. One afternoon, he asked me if I wanted him to turn me, claiming that a transformation might brighten my mood.
I said, “No way. My life will end when it’s time for it to end. I don’t want to be around five hundred years from now. I don’t even want to be around fifty years from now. Life is meant to be lived finitely.”
He said, “I’m infinite, and I’m doing okay.”
I said, “Well, John, you’re you, and I’m me. So don’t reanimate me. Ever. Don’t try to sneak up on me when I’m asleep or hypnotize me or pull any of that bollocks you pull when you kill a stranger.” I made him promise. And he kept his promise. For seven years.
In 1974, John Lennon and Yoko Ono dug up my grave, and John reanimated me. Initially I was livid, but when he apologized and said he did it because he was lonely, well, I had to forgive him, didn’t I? He bought me this house and made arrangements so I’d have enough money to be solvent until the end of time. In 2001, he said, “I’m glad I set you up with the dosh, Eppy. Imagine if you had to go back to work. You might get stuck managing some sad cunts like those fookin’ Gallagher brothers.”
The problem is, since I’d been dead for so long, John was able to reanimate only my head. My body, as you can see, is mostly paralyzed. I can move my neck, and my hands are fine, and I have some slight movement in my arms, but my legs are useless. I have live-in help, and John made sure that will always be the case. John Lennon has murdered God knows how many thousands of people, but he’s a good man.
I’m blathering on. You didn’t come here to talk about me. You want to hear about the lads.
I saw them perform for the first time at the Cavern Club, and I knew right away they had something. I didn’t know anything about the undead—after all, there weren’t any zombies on tony old Rodney Street, where I grew up—and I wasn’t sure whether I should expect a murderous rampage for an encore, or what. Turned out the lads could keep it under control … most of the time. But only most of the time. Once in a while, they went off the rails. I assume you’re familiar with the Shea Stadium show.
In any event, our business marriage happened fast. After that wonderful Cavern performance, I told John that they needed a manager. He immediately agreed and asked where he should sign. The rest, as they say, is history.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: Some folks say the Beatles’ story began after that Quarrymen show at St. Peter’s, y’know. Some say it was when we went off to play in Hamburg. Some say it was when Stu went vampire on us, and I took over on bass. Some say it was when we started our residency at the Cavern Club. Me, I point to the day we brought Brian Epstein aboard … and we restrained ourselves from zombifying him.
That’s when I realized John might be right. Maybe we could do it. Maybe the Beatles could take over the whole world. And our first step toward world domination took place at the Decca Records studio, way out in bloody West Hampstead.
© 2010 Alan Goldsher