Friday, May 16, 2008

Let it be.

I was talking to one of my cancer patients. It was my first patient, actually. He called me up a couple of days ago and invited me to lunch. He's doing fine. So far, his treatments have worked out, though now he's got something wrong with his kidney.

"Old age," he told me. "It's always something."

He reminded me again, not to get old. I told him, I wasn't planning on it.

We were talking about Pete Best. I told him I was supposed to talk to Best later in the week. My cancer patient asks me about what I do. Mostly, I talk to musicians, but he's in his 80s and not much of a rock and roll fan. The names usually go right over his head, but he's always game to listen.

Pete Best was the original drummer for The Beatles. Right around the time they were really about to take off, the lads from Liverpool kicked him out and replaced him with Ringo Starr. It's a pretty complicated story and heart breaking. You can read up just a little about him and figure that John, Paul and maybe George were ace sons of bitches long before they were music Icons.

Anyway, Pete could have started another band. According to stories, he was well-liked by the fans and there was an offer on the table to build a band around him. He might have done that, might have gone right back into music, but he didn't. He was more than a little overwhelmed by the situation and so, became a civil servant. Pretty weird, huh? He did that for twenty some years. He retired from it.

A few years ago, The Beatles released another retrospective, another collection of songs. This time around, for whatever reason, they decided to include some of the very early recordings which also featured Pete on drums. He got a check for a boatload of money, several million dollars. Part of me would like to think that the remaining Beatles maybe felt like they'd fucked the poor guy just a little. All of them are richer than Midas, what would it hurt to give the guy some share of it?

Anyway, at 65 or so, he's back out on the road with a band.

So, the cancer patient and I talked about how you can end up doing things you never meant to do. My cancer patient was an engineer. He worked on ships and at chemical plants. He was born in England, but came to America and stayed. He's lived a fairly interesting life, traveled the world, though he only lets the interesting places drop in conversation by accident. He asked me if I'd ever really wanted to be anything else? I said, not really. As soon as I knew you could make a life as a writer, it was what I wanted. How about you, I asked. He laughed. He grew up in a small village two hundred miles from London. There was just one radio in the village. About every other day or so, a truck or two would pass through, not really stopping on its way to the city.

"It was only two hundred miles away," he laughed. "It seemed like forever."

All he wanted, he said, growing up, was to be a truck driver. He was glad it didn't work out that way, he told me, but he would have been okay.

I thought about Pete Best, who was kicked out of the band by his friends, who maybe knew what he wanted, but thought he wasn't worthy because it was his friends who told him he wasn't good enough. He gave up what he thought he was meant to do and did something else. God knows what he would have felt watching his former band mates go from relative obscurity to worldwide prominence.

My cancer patient friend, who no longer has cancer, found his calling around 20. That was sixty plus years ago. After a long time in the dark and coming close to writing, I found my way to a writing life not that long ago. I can't say for sure whether Pete found his calling then lost it. It seems like that to me, but here he is again. Pete is in his 60s and he's got himself a band. He's never going to have a hit single. He's never going to get the screaming fans or be in any of those stupid sixties music movies, but he gets to play. People will come see him because who he could have been. To be willing to do that, he has to love what he does more than any man I can think of.

Speaking to Pete will be a let down. It can't help but be less than I hope, but it's still kind of a privilege.

Update: And every now again, it's nice to be wrong. Best told me about John, Paul, George and Stuart Sutcliffe. He remembered John best and that Stuart was a better player than people gave him credit.
Turns out he'd been asked for years to play again, but was talked into it in 1988 during a Beatles festival in England. His mother and wife convinced him to give it another go. He's been touring pretty much ever since. He sounded happy.
Article in next week's Gazz.


Anonymous said...

Pete best actually DID record a record well after the Beatles became famous. I found a brand new copy in a juke-box business (that was going out of business) back in 1971 in Belle.

I kept that record until a few years ago and sold it on E-Bay. I cant recall what it brought, but maybe $40-$50.

primalscreamx said...

So he said. He mentioned putting together another outfit and playing for a couple of years. He said they were modestly successful, but it wasn't stable.

It was a good interview and really fun to hear the Liverpool accent.