My Kid Brother’s Band, aka The Beatles!
By Louise Harrison
Published by Acclaim Press, 2014
Review copy sent by publisher
Review by Ida Vega-Landow
I first saw Louise Harrison at this year’s Fest for Beatles Fans in Rye, N.Y. She spoke about her brother George with so much love and affection that I decided I had to read her book to learn more about the man we Beatles fans call The Quiet Beatle, but she called her little brother. I was half expecting a puff piece making George look more angelic than was humanly possible, like another Harrison bio I read (see my earlier review, “Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison” by Joshua M. Greene). Instead, I found an honest, in-depth history of the author’s life during World War II as well as before and after her little brother became famous.
She doesn’t even mention George until Chapter 5, entitled “He Has Arrived, And To Prove It, He Is Here!” (a catch phrase from a popular BBC comedy). It begins with the preface, “When I was eleven, I met my 8-hour-old brother, George”. She elaborates further on; “he weighed in at 10½ pounds at birth, and due to the extra three weeks he waited to make his entrance, his face was smooth and pink, he had a thick tuft of blond hair (it must have gotten darker with age; all George’s pictures show him as a brunet!), his eyelashes were long and curved, his fingernails were fully grown, he was…absolutely perfect.” This is a strictly unbiased opinion from George’s big sister, mind you.
Thus began a life-long, loving relationship between these two siblings from a working class family in Liverpool, one of the poorest sections of England. I know because I’ve been there twice, on the two-week London to Liverpool Tour from Liverpool Productions, hosted by my friend Charles Rosenay. Liverpool bears a remarkable resemblance to the Lower East Side of New York, where I grew up. A working class area bordered by a slum, filled with immigrants, unemployment, and alcoholism, a high crime rate, and kids who end up working in a factory or on the docks, unless they’re talented enough to become athletes or musicians. Yep, been there, survived that. Except that all the little mom and pop stores are owned and operated by East Indians, and all the fast food joints sell fish and chips instead of cuchifrito, you’d never know the difference.
Anyway, Louise Harrison, beloved older sister of George (and not the only biological sister of a Beatle, as she claims in her introduction, since John Lennon had three half-sisters from his mother Julia’s second “marriage”, and Julia, the oldest, wrote a book about her famous half-brother too), first became involved in plugging her kid brother’s band after she was married and living in America. Her engineer husband was transferred to Benton, Illinois, where Louise and her two kids lived in suburban splendor among all the other middleclass wives and kids, in the days when a married couple could afford to live on one person’s income. In 1963, her kid brother’s band released a single called “Please, Please Me”. It became so popular among her neighbors and friends that Louise, who always yearned for the bright lights of showbiz herself, decided to publicize her kid brother’s band on her side of the pond.
Despite the prevailing attitude among the mostly white, male-dominated culture of that time period, which maintained that women shouldn’t meddle in men’s business, young Mrs. Caldwell (her married name) found “competent caretakers for my children whenever I wished to drive to visit potential radio stations in larger markets” to promote her kid brother’s band. Her efforts on the Beatles’ behalf were welcomed and encouraged by Brian Epstein and Dick James, among others. Unfortunately, she wasn’t always taken seriously because of the aforementioned attitude among the predominantly male music execs that a woman’s place is in the home, not interfering in “men’s business”.
Louise turned out to be the better business person than Brian; poor Eppy was just as young and inexperienced as the boys in the band. For example, the first Beatles’ single came to the U.S. via Vee-Jay Records. When Louise drove to the address of Vee-Jay in St. Louis, she found an abandoned, vacant lot at the address. So she immediately wrote to Brian and warned him that “without the financial and influential backing of one of the major record companies, our little band might as well be nowhere men!” So Brian promptly arranged for the Beatles to be released by Swan Records, an equally small, obscure label in Philadelphia, which no doubt seemed glamorous to a Liverpudlian lad from England. Oh, Eppy! *sigh* To further demonstrate what a great businessman Brian wasn’t, Louise tells how after the boys’ triumphant debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, some enterprising fellows created Beatles wigs and approached Brian about licensing rights to sell them. They were prepared to offer the boys a 50-50 split of the profits, but before they could make their offer Brian insisted that the Beatles should get at least five percent. Naturally, the wig guys agreed. Oh, Eppy! *sigh*
Louise turned out to be such a successful businesswoman that her husband became resentful of her. When a local radio station offered her a live interview show, for which she would be paid quite handsomely to talk about the Beatles with guest questioners, tapes of which would be distributed in several major radio markets, she thought it was a good thing: “Although money was never my goal, at least maybe now my husband would see my efforts could now contribute to our financial well-being. But I reckoned without the blow it would be to a Scotsman’s pride to have a mere wife contribute substantially to the family coffers.” Frankly, I have difficulty imagining any Scotsman resenting a wife who could make money. He was also very bitter that his wife’s little brother, who was a mere lad of nine when they met, had grown up to become a well-paid celebrity. That marriage didn’t last much longer; his bitterness led to alcoholism, which led to physical and verbal abuse, which led to divorce. But it freed Louise to travel more often with her brother, after finding another competent caretaker to mind her children while she was on the road with George.
All in all, “My Kid Brother’s Band” is about a life well lived, despite the ups and downs of show business. I should say two lives, since Louise writes predominantly of her life and how it was affected by her famous brother. There are lots of photos of the Harrison family, before and after George became famous, as well as of George and the other lads (you remember them, John, Paul and Richard, aka Ringo?). Louise’s parents, Harold and Louise Harrison, were also big supporters of their son’s band; they answered tons of his fan mail at their kitchen table, as well as entertaining any fans who showed up at their house with a proper English tea, not to mention how Mum frequently showed up at the Cavern Club when the boys were playing there in the early days. George’s generosity to his friends and family is also remembered, along with the way his generosity was frequently taken advantage of by unscrupulous people who just wanted to hang onto a celebrity’s coattails.
Fellow celebrities weren’t always very nice either; would you believe Tony Bennett once gave Louise the brushoff at a Florida nightclub in the 80’s, because he didn’t want to be bothered by what he thought was just another fan? When informed by a friend that he was “not very polite to George Harrison’s sister,” he replied “If that’s George’s sister, then I’m Hitler’s brother!” Well, I hope Mr. Bennett gets a copy of this book to remind him of his less than shining moment. He just turned 90 this year, so he should have had plenty of time to reflect on his mistakes by now. Louise may have forgiven him (she remarks that he did do a good version of her brother’s song “Something”, though she never got to tell him so), but I’ll have a hard time doing so, even though I like his music.
George’s song ended on November 29th, 2001 when he died of brain cancer. His sister was with him two weeks before, holding his hands while they talked about their childhood; he told her not to be sad, that “he was not at all reluctant to leave this life and proceed to the next “level”—hopefully to re-connect with his sweet Lord. Therefore, I did not view his departure as a loss, but rather as a stepping stone to enable him to begin his next great adventure…” I hope that George was able to find his great adventure in death, “The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn no traveler returns”. I hope that his sister lives long and prospers as she continues to attend Beatle cons and other Beatle-related events to keep her brother’s memory alive. And I hope that you and many other Beatle fans will buy and enjoy this book as much as I did. Remember, as George himself sang, “this song is for you and for me”.