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Living The Beatles Legend: The Untold Story Of Mal Evans


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Living The Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans
Kenneth Womack
592 Pages
ISBN: #978-0063248526
Dey Street Books

Kenneth Womack covers a tremendous amount of ground in writing The Untold Story of Mal Evans. Granted, Living The Beatles Legend runs nearly six-hundred pages including scrupulous footnotes as well as a lengthy index plus all the appropriate references. But in doing so, this professor of English and popular music maintains a charming approach similar to the persona of his subject, the Fab Four's long-time roadie, personal assistant, and devoted friend: in his deceptively straightforward writing, Womack is unassuming yet discerning and imposing but not overbearing.

Even more impressive is the fluent means by which the author of Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles (Cornell University Press, 2019) alternates his perspective on his subject's discovery of and allegiance to the iconic band from Liverpool, England. In his low-key, forthright prose, Womack indiscernibly shifts from the perspective of Mal Evans himself to that detached observer witnessing the man in action.

In this agile approach, Womack captures markedly different but complementary subtleties that emerge from those respective angles. And given the speed at which the narrative progresses when focused in on the meteoric rise of the Beatles' world-wide fame, it's an efficient means of maintaining the flow of their story. The writer completes his outline of Evans' early years in very short order, but adequately fills in the spaces in doing so in order to expand upon implicit themes more than satisfactorily over the rest of the book.

Given that Kenneth Womack provides virtually a day-by-day account of the watershed period of the Beatles' career from late 1963 into mid-1964, it's a wonder the tempo of his chronicle(s) never flags. But it does not, this despite the fact his descriptions of the global tours contain much of the same information no matter the locale; the homogeneity indirectly supports the Beatles rationale for giving up live performance.

The roadwork, including the concerts themselves plus the sundry travel adventures (and even candid accounts of the foursome's pre-and post-concert dalliances), are, in the end, less than stimulating. This despite the band's (and their entourage's) reliance on certain substances to keep up the pace, not to mention their fondness for the stimulation they derive from marijuana after discovering it courtesy Bob Dylan.

This particular content renders Living The Beatles Legend an apt companion piece to Paul McCartney's excellent 1964: Eyes Of The Storm (Liveright/W. W. Norton, 2023). Much like perusing that coffee table-sized book of photos, reading Kenneth Womack's matter-of-fact writing style gives credence to his work almost by default.

There's no sense he's straining to make any given point(s), but only sharing experiences as they happened. For instance, he supplies a virtual play-by-play of the conception and (much of) execution of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol, 1967) from its earliest stages (based on the Beatle bassist's conversations with Evans) to the elaborate photography of the cover (facilitated to a great degree by the latter).

No question too that the fluidity of the copy has much to do with the source material. As Gary Evans (son of Mal) explains in his 'Foreword,' his father made a concerted effort to record his life within and without the Beatles inner circle. The material therefrom, however, languished for some years before Kenneth Womack was contacted to sculpt the writings, drawings and photographs into a cohesive whole. The unity of that effort thus turns the apparently apocryphal—such as John Lennon's acid-blitzed trip to the roof of Abbey Road studios in 1967—into reliable anecdotes within the band's lore.

In the post-touring portion of Living The Beatles Legend, the pace doesn't alter appreciably, but only becomes more unpredictable, in keeping with what goes on. In fact, it's a welcome dynamic to follow the erstwhile Beatles roadie after the group quits live concerts in 1966: if this were a work of fiction (or music for that matter), the subtle shift in tempo would be most laudable as it precludes any sense of rote movement arising from and impeding the commentary.

Evans' succumbing to the pleasures of the mind and flesh become the barometer of the action consuming his later years. He slowly but surely dissipates physically and emotionally through the gestation and evolution of Apple Corps, the Fab Four's business venture, and his awkward work/life balance shortchanges his family more than his employers, long-term and otherwise.

Even as the foursome splinters in 1969, so too does Evans' prestige within the Beatles operation dissipate. His days (and weeks) that involve spur of the moment travel for both business and pleasure combined with the usual mundane activities such as procurement of equipment for the band, plus nourishing refreshments in a variety of forms; it all provides novelty he lacks at home, but his avoidance of the latter humdrum isn't wholly a subconscious act either, hence a burgeoning sense of guilt.

The quotes from the subject's diary in Living The Beatles Legend do not exactly correlate to the array of photos peppering these forty chapters. But the images themselves, along with a book design that wisely avoids the collection of such shots to a single insert, almost indiscernibly generates suspense; in the end, this is the tale of a man whose (misplaced?) devotion to his famous employers undermines that which he might otherwise be tendering his wife and children.

Increasingly frequent mentions of Evans' voracious appetites for drink, drugs, food and women are the tell-tale signs of a theme Kenneth Womack handles with as much grace as discretion, albeit not without some discernible measure of candor. Little wonder then that he enacts an almost imperceptible shift in the tone of his prose when covering Evans' later years, where Beatles-related activity diminishes in proportion to an increase in self-styled (and perhaps deluded) entrepreneurial efforts.

Yet the ex-roadie's ambitions as a record producer and songwriter are fraught with the guilt of ignoring his family, a character fault in proportion to his overall lack of confidence. Formulating his autobiography, however, is something else again, but as the author depicts the sequence of events involved in its gestation and formulation, an almost dizzying array of people become involved in that project, more than a few, not surprisingly, motivated by money. Ultimately, there are too many contributors to avoid some detriment to the work in its early stages, then again after Evans' death in 1976 under suspicious circumstances.

It is thus literally eye-opening to read Kenneth Womack describing the sequence of events surrounding the very book he's written. In fact, he may deserve no greater kudos for the disinterested air he adopts and maintains during these passages. Thoughtful and affectionate inclusions such as the captioned photo on the last page, plus Evans' drawing embossed on the front of the hardcover, may belie the writer's objectivity to some degree, but such small touches elevate the deserved warmth in his empathetic adieu on the final page.

In his composition of Living The Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans, Kenneth Womack was clearly as charmed by his subject as anyone who actually met and worked with the man.

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