So, here is chapter 3-C, so we're caught up now. Chapter 3 covers 1959-1960, and by now we're in 1960.Again, THIS IS ENTIRELY FICTIONAL, although based very loosely on things that probably did happen, more or less, in real life.
Repeating my dismal performance in grammar school, I – for all intents and purposes – flunked out of art college. I later told friends and reporters that I ‘dropped out’, which is true. I dropped out because they weren’t offering me another year. This was in May 1960. I lied, and told Mimi I had successfully completed the courses, and she asked me what I was going to do. I told her I was going to be a musician. She was not thrilled by this response since she’d financially supported my dream of being an artist, and started pushing me to get a “real job”. Oh no! She was turning into Jim McCartney!
Speaking of Jim McCartney, from my perspective one of the watershed moments of the year was June 18, 1960 – the day Paul turned 18. He had finally completed grammar school, and I had great hopes that I could finally exert more influence over him than Jim McCartney did.
After Paul’s last day at the Inny, his humongous family gave him a party, along with two others of his cousins who graduated from other schools that month. The party was held at the home of one of his aunts, and naturally Paul’s friends and band mates were invited. Stu didn’t come, but George, Pete and I showed up, and the four of us played a short set for the partygoers. Paul warned us that his family was very conservative, so our set that afternoon was pretty tame. After the set, Paul and I rode our bikes over to Paul’s house, where we enjoyed the place to ourselves since Jim and Mike were still at the party. It was a warm evening, and we sat in the back garden in beach chairs, with our guitars and beers, not talking. But it was in a good way. My mind was filled with how great it was going to be to not have to hear any more nonsense about his schoolwork, and why he couldn’t hang out with me late at night.
My excitement was short-lived, because within a few weeks of Paul’s graduation, Paul’s father started in on him about his A levels. Paul hadn’t studied for the bunch of A levels he’d been scheduled for, and even so he had passed one of them (English). Jim was furious because he was certain his son was capable of passing them all. He wanted Paul to buckle down and revise and re-take the A level tests in order to get into a teacher’s college, at the very least. Paul had told his father he would honor his request, although the promise was a half-hearted one.
I was furious at Paul. “Why didn’t you fail all the stupid tests?” I yelled at him when he told me the bad news. (Well, it was bad news to me, anyway.) I knew the answer to the question, probably better than Paul knew himself. It was that irritating perfectionism trait rearing its ugly head again. He minded very much people knowing things that he didn’t.
“I thought I’d messed up the English test,” he said. “I’m really surprised I passed it. And me dad’s right. If I had studied harder, I probably would have passed some others.”
I was just beside myself in frustration. I had waited three whole years for him to graduate from the Inny, with the hope that when he did his father’s influence would finally wane. Why this was so important to me was a question I did not examine. But now his father was expecting him to take his A levels and then go to college! That was much worse!
All summer long I was on Paul’s case to concentrate on the band, and not on revising. I went after him relentlessly and ruthlessly. I did everything I could think of to distract him. I think of this now as a horribly selfish thing to do. In 1960 we had no way of knowing the band would ever make it or even earn enough to pay our living expenses. Paul had come from a poor family, had no money, and this was a golden opportunity for him. His 18th birthday party became the whole McCartney / Mohin family celebration of Paul’s completion of his course work at the prestigious Inny. I remember slinking around that party overhearing all of Paul’s relatives bragging about him and predicting great things for his future. It made me feel scared, alone, and – of course - abandoned.
It was about this time that Paul got his first serious girlfriend, one Dorothy (“Dot”) Rhone. Dot was a girl who hung out at the clubs where we played. She had been attracted to the band’s vibe, and hung around before and after our sets. She claims she was first interested in me until she learned that I had a steady girlfriend in Cynthia. I don’t remember it that way. I noticed immediately that she was attracted to Paul. I had Paul-dar, and knew immediately when someone was threatening my territory. One night while a bunch of us were seated at a table in a diner, she swooned, apparently not feeling well, and went outside. I noticed she didn’t get up and leave until it was clear that Paul had noticed. As she left, of course Sir Paulahad followed her outside to make sure she was okay. One thing led to another and...
Dot had a pixie-ish face, and was working as a secretary, so she had beautiful stylish clothes, and was always in the height of fashion. The two of them made a very attractive couple. Of course, this doesn’t mean Paul was faithful to her - far from it. Somehow both Cynthia and Dot knew that Paul and I were not the kind of boyfriends who could be counted on, or even trusted. But for whatever reason, they did seem to love us and they certainly put up with us! It is hard for me to understand why. Still, Dot kept Paul on his toes. Whenever she felt he was losing interest or was attracted to someone else, she would stage a flirtation with some boy from the audience, and Paul would snap right back into line. (This is something I have done from the beginning of my relationship with Paul all the way to the present day: I monitor his relationships with other potential love objects, and studied my opponents’ strategies. It is as if I can read their playbooks through telepathy.)
Paul turning 18 meant a lot of things to me. There was promise for the future, but there was fear of the future too. As we grew up, would he grow away? Would we lose each other? I actually spent a good deal of time worrying about this that summer. My romantic view of the Artiste Stu had begun to wane already (as all of my ‘crushes’ eventually did), and I found myself more and more thinking about Paul and the future. I didn’t yet know what the anxiety was about, but I did sense that it was there, and that it would probably get worse. I have come to believe that my earlier transfer of affections to Stu was a defense mechanism on my part. I was afraid of the feelings I had for Paul, and needed to quickly distance myself before I got burned. In a way, I was spreading my risk by hedging my bets. But now here I was again, haunted by the deep crevasse that lay between my feelings for Paul, and his for me.
In many of the Beatle biographies, the authors take the strange position that my ‘real’ ideal partner was Stu Sutcliffe because he was supposedly so unlike Paul. I always found this ridiculous, even in the ‘70s when I had very mixed feelings on the subject of Paul. Paul and Stu were incredibly alike! Both were creative geniuses – Stu in art, and Paul in music. They were both physically beautiful. They were both extremely smart and organized and absolutely dedicated to their muses. They both were willing to put in countless hours of study and practice to perfect their skills and develop their genius. Neither was good at expressing his feelings or motivations with words. Neither was self-aware, in the sense that they were both so much more aware of the content of the thoughts in their heads than they were interested in why they had those thoughts, if that makes any sense. Neither was overtly possessive, and both attracted women (and me) like nectar attracts bees. They both had a rather ethereal, I’m off in my own world quality, and if you were lucky they might let you visit them there from time to time. Of course, my goal wasn’t to visit, but to move in permanently.
I’m not sure how so many biographers could be so wrong for so long. I think it is because they all are too dense to see who Paul really is. They have him pegged as a somewhat shallow, empty shell. How stupid are they? What is clear to me is that I definitely had a “type”, and if you haven’t been paying attention, let me remind you of who it was I first loved. If someone was the original mold for the pattern, I guess we can safely rule out Stu and Yoko. In other words, it was and always has been Paul.
So now that the summer was ending, Paul’s father was expecting Paul to go back to revising. Paul was absolutely torn in half. I was on his case day and night: “You can’t leave now; we’re finally getting somewhere!” I knew what Paul wanted. Paul wanted to be in the band. He lived, breathed, and dreamed that band. But it was extremely difficult for him to cut the apron strings from his father. He tried to explain it to me one night when I was taunting him about it. I wrote it down in my journal afterwards:
“After mum died, Mike and me were all he had, and he was all we had. He put everything into us. He doesn’t even date! I don’t want to hurt him, I really don’t.”
I think of these sentiments now and realize how beautiful and unusual they were for an 18 year-old boy, but at the time all I could think about was me, me, me. So I kept pushing.
Paul finally found a way to get what he wanted without completely devastating his father. He told him he wanted to take a year off studying to get his head together, and then he promised he would “buckle down.” He said he wanted to try to make a living as a musician, and if that didn’t work, he would get another job to contribute to the family income. I never heard the full story of what happened when Paul gave his father this news, but I got the gist the next day when Paul told me he was being subjected to what he called “the silent treatment” from his father. (“That’s where he talks to you very politely, and never says anything amiss, but you know there isn’t any warmth in it and he’s still furious with you.”)
I considered this to be a significant step in the right direction, if it wasn’t the all-out victory I had hoped for in my ongoing war with Jim McCartney over the soul of his son. (I later would have an almost identical struggle over Paul with Jane Asher, and then again – briefly – an unsuccessful one with Linda and the Eastmans.)
You might be wondering what Stu and I were up to while I was relentlessly riding Paul to give up on his A levels. Well, Stu and I spent many nights in clubs together, drinking and getting into little quarrels. The bloom was beginning to fade off the rose, for sure. I had finally cottoned to the realization that I had latched on to yet another Paul: someone who was far more independent and interested in his own inner life than I wanted him to be. With Paul, my competition had been his family, his schoolwork, his after school jobs, and his ever increasing stable of female admirers. With Stu it was his art, his art, his art, and his girlfriend, whoever that might be at any given time. For each of them, I was his best male friend, but they also had other male friends. They tried to keep me in the dark about them because I would become aggressively territorial, and go after these other male friends to either coopt them or scare them away. Neither Stu nor Paul was allowed to have other male friends (except our other band mates, of course) because I was too jealous. Thus, they hid them from me.
That summer of 1960 I found out about a friend Stu had made - the guy was kind of a beatnik and he worked in (yes, I know it’s a cliché) a coffee house. (Clichés are clichés for a reason.) I don’t remember the bloke’s name. But he claimed to be a poet, and had thick wild hair and wore glasses. Stu wore glasses also, but around me he was shamed into removing them. (I didn’t think they were cool.) But this friend of Stu’s wore his glasses proudly, so Stu started wearing his glasses proudly. Believe it or not, this became a huge problem for me. It was the influence this other guy had over Stu that bothered me (I realize now), but at the time it felt to me to be an inexplicable betrayal. We bickered about it constantly:
“So take the glasses off Stu,” I’d snipe. “You look better without them.”
“Well, I see better with them,” he’d retort. “I’m done with walking into posts. I’ll leave that to you.”
Stu and this beatnik-poet guy began to spend a lot of time together. When Paul and I were working on our music, Stu would be off two-timing me with this other guy. He should have been rehearsing with us, but Stu never took the band seriously enough to actually show up for the rehearsals. I’m sure that Paul must have experienced at least a little bit of schadenfreude over my growing displeasure with Stu, after 18 months of hearing me go on about the wonderful Stu.
One night I confronted Stu about it. We were in a club and were a bit drunk. Stu was quite nasty about it. I wrote it in my journal. He said, “You’re acting like a jealous woman, John. We’re not lovers, even if you think you want to be, so you don’t get all my time.” In my journal I had printed these words out in all capital letters, and then underscored them twice. I don’t remember how I reacted to this, but I have a pretty good idea, knowing myself the way I do. Stu had hit the nub on the head: I wanted to be his lover, and I doubted I would ever be his lover, so every other person who came into his life was a real and present danger to me.
Another thing we started quarreling about was how he’d let his girlfriend of the moment move into our flat. She didn’t technically move in, because she wasn’t contributing to the rent, but she spent 90% of her time at our flat and not in her flat. I started picking fights with Stu about it, because she was cramping my style. I complained about her eating all the food (she didn’t eat much food, really, she was as tiny as Stu was). I complained about the smell of her perfume all over everything (it was actually rather a nice scent). I complained about her hair in the sink (there was no saving grace about that). Oh, and don’t get me started about her knickers and stockings drying on the radiator! We quarreled constantly about that. A few times I even slammed out of the flat in a rage and went running over to Paul’s house to complain about Stu!
One of the times when I went running over to Paul’s house to complain about Stu I found him in the backyard having a small gathering consisting of his brother, one of his cousins, and a bloke I did not know. I was outraged! Paul was having fun and entertaining friends behind my back! I kind of barged in and, glaring at this bloke, demanded to know who he was. The poor guy looked like he was going to faint - some raving lunatic just materialized in front of him! Paul was used to my little brain farts and told me he was a mate of his from the Inny. I spent the whole evening making snide remarks about the poor guy until he finally got up to leave. By then, Paul was pretty upset with me for my behavior, so he got up to accompany the guy out. I followed behind them at a safe distance, and watched jealously as Paul was no doubt apologizing for my behavior. He was furious with me after the guy left. I was unrepentant.
A week or so later when I called to see if he would hang out with me, he told me he was busy. I snapped, “You spending time with your little friend from the Inny?”
And Paul told me, ruefully, “he doesn’t want to hang out with me anymore because he’s afraid you’ll show up again.”
At that point I should have felt guilty, or at least a little bad. Not so much. I felt victorious! I had vanquished my competition yet again!
As sick as all this stuff was from Stu and Paul’s points of view, it was still a hundred times harder being me. I was torn between these two men, and I loved them both madly, hankered after them sexually, and even wanted to be them, in a weird, conjoined, sci-fi kind of way. I couldn’t make up my mind between Paul and our music, or Stu and our art. And, worse, neither one of them was all consumed with me, the way I was with them. They had other interests, other friends, and other lovers. My mood thrashed to and fro like a boat with a broken sail in the middle of a storm. It was agony.
Starting in the summer of 1960, Allan Williams, who was the owner of the Jacaranda Club and a promoter who acted as a sort of manager for us, asked us if we wanted to spend two months as a residential band in a club in the Reeperbahn – the notorious red light district near the Hamburg docks. We were all for it. He said we had to have a permanent drummer, though.
We set up auditions, and Paul even responded to an ad placed by a drummer in the newspaper. Pete Best auditioned the same night as the letter went out (August 12, 1960). Suddenly, now that we had at least a 2-month gig, Pete was interested in our band. The anonymous ad-drummer didn’t show up for the audition, and Pete did, and Pete got the job. (The letter showed up inside of a book in the trunk of an old car, and we purchased the letter directly from the seller for our collection.)
You had to be 18 years of age to get a work license in Germany in those days. Stu was 20, I was 19, Paul and Pete were 18, but George was only 17.
Allan Williams did not see this as a problem. “We lie about it,” he said matter-of-factly. This might be a solution for Allan Williams, but not so much for George, who had real live parents to deal with. What’s more, Jim McCartney was excessively protective of Paul, and was very much against the Hamburg trip. Aunt Mimi was irritated by it because she wanted me to get a job if I wasn’t going to be in art college anymore, but when I lied to her by increasing the amount of money I was going to make, she agreed and signed the permission forms. While George shrugged off the weight of lying to his parents, Paul was very opposed to lying to his father about the location of the gig, the working conditions, or the amount of money he would earn. I worked on him incessantly for 3 days and nights, and finally convinced him it was - at worst – a little white lie. ‘After all, you’re going to be doing a real gig with real money; there is no schoolwork to worry about; and you have a place to live right there in the club.’ These were my talking points. He finally agreed to go along with what I wanted. (He still feels a little guilty about it to this day, by the way, even though his dad died in 1976.)
Both George and Paul, however, did rather sugarcoat the circumstances of the gig when talking to their parents, as I had done with Mimi. I don’t think it was egregious lying, really, because we were clueless. We had no idea what the Reeperbahn was like; nor had we any experiences that we could compare it to, so none of us had any idea how rough and ready and over-the-top those clubs would be. So we all acquiesced in the big lie and we got our paperwork for the Reeperbahn gig, although I had a last minute fright in obtaining my birth certificate. We left one gloomy day, August 16, 1960. We got on the ferry to Hamburg, and settled in for our first journey abroad. We had no way of knowing that this was the start of a far longer, more fantastic voyage.
The first thing I did was vomit all over Paul’s brand new shoes. Not an auspicious start to the adventure. (This would not be the last time Paul would be the recipient of my vomitus. He cleaned up my vomit after a failed suicide attempt in 1965. And I threw up on him and his rental car in 1974. This doesn’t include the dozens of times he cleaned up my vomit when I was going through chemo in 1994. He only threw up on me once, and that was after he got stabbed in a bar fight defending me from Greek sailors in 1961…but we will come to that soon…)
As we boarded the ferry, I was bragging about the Lennon family history with the sea. Telling the others how I had the stuff in me to withstand whatever the English Channel had to throw at me. They were making derogatory remarks, as usual. We got about 20 minutes off shore, and the waves were huge. The ferry was being tossed around like a rubber duck in a bathtub. I started feeling very ill. I didn’t like to admit it, so I was keeping it to myself. I think I fooled most of them, but not – of course – my alter ego.
“So, how’s the sea legs going, Cap’n John?” he asked me, with a vicious twinkle in his eye.
“Oh fine, fine.”
“I suppose a stroll up on deck wouldn’t go amiss about now?” he asked playfully. I was in so much discomfort I was willing to try anything to feel better.
“Sure, let’s go.” I followed him up on deck, and we went to the stern of the ferry, and leaned over the railing.
As if the subject were a random one he had just thought to mention, Paul said, “I read somewhere that if a bloke is seasick, he should stand at the stern on the deck. It is supposed to be the best place because there’s the least amount of motion there, and the fresh air.”
“Is that right? Why do you mention this fact?”
[Turning to me with an evil grin] “Aim at the ocean, John.”
I turned to him to object to his implication, and suddenly I threw up. All over Paul’s brand new shoes.
“Oh, bloody hell John! Oh yuck! My new shoes!” I started laughing uncontrollably. “This is disgusting! Why couldn’t you just look the other way?” More laughter. After about 5 minutes of me laughing and Paul swearing, I finally stopped laughing.
“I feel much better now, thanks mate!”
Although I had stopped laughing, Paul hadn’t stopped swearing.
The Indra Club was quite a scene. How to describe it? To the eyes of a kid not yet 20 from a middle class neighborhood in Liverpool, the scene was like out of a Shanghai brothel. The club itself was not very large. It was about 20 feet wide, by about 30 feet long with a relatively small stage on one end (about 10’ by 15’) and several iffy looking tables with mismatched chairs on the other end, and a smallish mosh pit in between the two. Off in one corner was a rickety looking bar. There were about 12 stools along the bar, and 2 huge bouncers, including the Gigantic Horst Fascher, a bald Frankenstein looking creature, who had the personality of Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes. But he was stronger and meaner. If he liked you, you were golden and he would do anything for you. If you were a nobody who had too much to drink at the bar – well, good luck to you, because you would need it.
The bartender was a 40ish guy named Wilhelm, who had a scar across his right cheek, and another one across his forehead. We suspected a murky Nazi past. (This was only 15 years after the end of World War II, after all.) He had something wrong with his vocal chords, and he spoke like a frog, in German. I never understood a single word he said. Pete, who had passed an O level in German, worked out a kind of way to communicate. He spoke Wilhelm. Wilhelm would go on for about 5 minutes, and then Pete would look at us and say, “He wants us to stop stealing beers”, or “He is upset that we don’t take a long enough break. He needs the patrons to have enough time to get drinks at the bar.”
The owner of the club was a guy named Bruno Koschmider. Bruno had a loud voice, and a propensity not to listen to anyone. He was a cutthroat type of person, and for him it was all about the last Deutsche Mark he could squeeze out of each situation. His best friends were underworld gangsters, who frequented the club and populated our audiences. He soon introduced us to our luxurious residential accommodations – one dark, damp room with a bunk bed and a cot behind the screen of a movie theatre with another small room connected to it with one bunk bed, through which we could hear the disturbing sounds of German porn starting at noon everyday until midnight. It was unheated, and there were only union jack flags for blankets. The walls, I swear, were slimy with mold. These were our digs. Talk about a come down. We all 5 of us were horrified. Being the oldest, Stu and I took beds in the main room, and George got there first and claimed the third bed. Paul and Pete, coming in last, were relegated to the separate bunk bed in the little anteroom. Paul was not at all happy about this, and let everyone know it. (More about that later.) There was a ladies’ toilet just next to the room, and our room smelled like a toilet as a result. It was revolting. The nearest men’s room was down the hall, but it was shared with the general public (ick), and there was no bathing facility. We had to use cold water from the toilet to shave. This was especially distressing to Paul, who was and is (sorry, luv) a real prissy one about personal hygiene. He was okay with the slimy walls in the room, and the cramped living conditions, and even was pretty sanguine about the smell from the ladies’ loo. But I thought he was going to have hysterics when he found out we didn’t have a clean, separate bathroom.
Bruno also owned a slightly better club in the Reeperbahn, the Kaiserkeller, with slightly better living conditions, where another Liverpool group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were playing. But he was locked in a life or death competition with his rival, Peter Eckhorn, who owned the Top Ten Club, which was much newer and aimed at a younger crowd. The Top Ten was the “jewel” of the Reeperbahn at the time, and he had more top-drawer groups playing there; it was managed by the organist in Tony Sheridan’s band the Jets, an Englishman named Iain Hines. Because we were treacherous sons of bitches, our group would soon become a pawn in the struggle between Bruno and Eckhorn.
At that point we were no longer the ‘Quarrymen’. I had settled on the name ‘Silver Beatles.’ Where had the name come from? Well, it was a play on words. Silver beetles were a kind of common household pest in Liverpool kitchens. The ‘Crickets’ were a famous American band that worked with Buddy Holly, one of Paul’s and my idols. Beatniks were the utmost personification of cool at the time. So, “Silver Beatles” sounded like a good idea to me. Paul, wallowing in boredom after Stu and I had volleyed names around for hours, and who could care less what the band was called, finally spat out, his voice steeped in sarcasm: “How about ‘Purple Throated Warblers?’” That was my cue to just pick a name - any name - and get back to rehearsal. But I wonder if we would have made it as the ‘Warblers’ instead of the ‘Beatles’? Just another one of life’s imponderables, I guess.
Our first gig is a kaleidoscope in my memory. There were people drinking, and shouting, and prostitutes who were wandering the dance floor looking for paying customers. Loudly dressed women would turn out to be transvestites. There were drunk merchant seamen from all over the world singing shanties at the bar, competing with our performance, which was getting washed out in the craziness. There were people out in the alleyways blasted out of their minds, passed out in their own vomit, and johns having stand-up sex with prossies leaning up against the wall just below our digs. We could hear the “Oh! Oh! Oh!” while we sat around trying to practice. As Paul said once to a very appreciative audience (us) when we heard some prossies and johns going at it behind one wall, and the German porn going at it from the movie screen behind the opposite wall, “Ah, we’re getting it in stereo now!”
We were in way over our heads. Our sets weren’t long enough, our repertoire was too thin, and our performance style was too genteel, apparently, because Bruno would be standing in the mosh pit screaming “Mach shau! Mach shau!” at us, over and over. Paul and I would look at each other anxiously (still singing and strumming meanwhile) wondering what the hell he was on about. We found out what he meant the night, in frustration, he jumped up on the stage and started miming the activity he wished us to reproduce: stomping, twisting, making wild faces, mouthing into the microphone. We all stood around watching his mime act (we weren’t playing and there was no music) as the audience applauded. I looked at Paul, who did his familiar one shoulder shrug, and we didn’t have to speak. If that’s what they want….
We started out wearing black pants, black shirts and lilac sports jackets that Jim McCartney had insisted upon. We paired these with (wait for it) lilac colored winklepickers. We only wore the jackets for a few nights, because the audience laughed at us. The only other clothes we had were casual street clothes, all mismatched, so we began to wear those instead as our black duds became threadbare. Without sufficient laundry or bathing facilities we soon looked as scruffy and smelled as rank as our clientele. And the winklepickers had been a cheap buy; they soon fell apart and we reverted to less eye-catching footwear.
Lots of crazy stuff happened to us in the first 2 weeks we were in Hamburg. We soon were utterly exhausted and our voices were hoarse, because we would start performing at 5 p.m. and do a 40-minute show every hour until 1 a.m., having only 20-minute breaks between sets. That was about 8 shows a night, if you’re counting. By the fourth day we were running on empty, and were dying for new material. Paul and I started staying up all night picking out the chords of popular songs, and rather unsuccessfully trying to write a few of our own. That is when Paul wrote the song that later was reworked to become “I’ll Follow the Sun.” We (mostly Paul) figured out the chords to a handful of other standards that became staples, including "Mr. Moonlight," “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me,” “Red Sails in the Sunset”, and “Anna”.
To pump us up, Horst suggested we try “prellies” – pills that were supposed to keep you awake and amp you up (“preludin”). We soon were all taking them hand over fist. Years later we were to learn that these pills we were taking were highly addictive and powerful amphetamines. They don’t even make them anymore in that concentration because they were so addictive. In those days, everyone in Europe was using them. Actually, in 1960 Elvis was in Germany too, stationed there during his Army stint, and he was introduced to prellies also so he could stay awake for all-night guard duty. This apparently started a lifelong dependence on uppers and downers for him. So it was a high-class clientele using prellies in the day. It got to the point where we would take handfuls of the stuff, and our eyes would be rotating around in their sockets like pinball machines. This led to manic behavior on the stage. There are some photos of us performing at the Indra Club during that gig where Paul and I look out of our minds. I guess we were. You can practically see our eyeballs rotating.
But the audiences loved it and soon we were the talk of the Reeperbahn. Apparently, the “tonier” crowd over at the Kaiserkeller and the Top Ten Clubs (mainly college students and a few bold high school kids) would hear us playing as they passed by the Indra Club, and started dropping in out of curiosity and then brought their friends. Soon we had loud crowds of young people dancing and singing and drinking and making requests and spending money…Bruno was in seventh heaven. In my memory, I still have a vision of him standing off to the side of the stage, with his arms folded across his chest, and a big beaming proud and greedy grin on his face.
We played at the Indra from August 17 through October 4, 1960, and then he moved us to the Kaiserkeller for the last 2 weeks of our original 2-month contract. So we moved to the nicer, bigger club, with a slightly better room over the club that we shared with the Jets; we also shared the stage with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (who were staying at the seaman’s mission). They had an outstanding drummer with a warm and friendly personality. His name was Richie Starkey, and his stage name was Ringo Starr. George bonded with him almost instantly.
The Jets had a gregarious lead singer, Tony Sheridan. He was the hottest thing in Hamburg at the time (at least until Rory Storm et al arrived), and he made sure everyone knew it. He was boisterous, and full of tall tales and unkind gossip. The first time we all met, he turned to Paul and said, “Are you a queer?” We all froze in our seats. George became very angry on Paul’s behalf. He started to get up to punch Tony in the nose. I grabbed George by his belt loop and pulled him back in his seat. Tony would have pulverized George, who was still very short and skinny. He hadn’t had his growth spurt yet. Instead, I took over with my snarky wit. (Tony was never very clever with words; that was the only way I could keep that guy in check since he was bigger and stronger than me.)
I said, “Why do you ask him such an impertinent question?”
Tony responded, “He plucks his eyebrows!”
I said, “I think you’re the queer, and you fancy Paul.”
Paul, who was quite drunk, (which was unusual in itself) seemed not to be following the conversation. He suddenly declared dramatically, “I don’t pluck my bleeding eyebrows, and I’m not sitting here listening to this crap! I’m going to shave the fooking things off!” He got up and headed out the door, staggering a little as he went.
“Oh no!” I cried (or so I said in my journal), and ran after him, George on my heels. We chased after him right up the stairs to the little bathroom in the digs, and there we had a three-way struggle over the razor. He literally was going to shave his eyebrows off! In my journal I wrote that Paul became enraged by our interference, and I had to calm him down by telling him:
“If you do it now while you’re drunk, you’ll cut your face up. Wait until tomorrow when you’re sober.”
This apparently made sense to Paul at the time, and he agreed that tomorrow would be better. So George and I tucked him up in his bed, where he fell promptly asleep. Of course, when he woke up in the morning he had forgotten it had ever happened. Of if he did remember, he obviously decided he liked his eyebrows too much to part with them, however much they turned Tony Sheridan on. (Tony is stillgoing on about Paul’s eyebrows. He includes his views on them in every interview he ever does about the Beatles. What a weirdo!)
This thing about Paul’s face - it caused him nothing but trouble during that first gig in Hamburg. He was still a boy, really, and too beautiful for his own good; other men just didn’t know how to handle it. When you added those beautiful looks to his heavy beard and the tight pants he always wore, it caused havoc. Men whose own insecurities were deeply buried would take their own masculinity fears out on Paul. I guess they blamed him for making them feel all funny inside, but all he was doing was sitting there minding his own business. Tony Sheridan - I believe - had a thing for Paul that he simply could or would not acknowledge or rationalize. He couldn’t stop talking about Paul’s looks, but always in a bordering-on-derogatory way that was demeaning to Paul’s dignity. It pissed me off. I got into a drunken fight with him one night over it, although Paul didn’t know. This fight happened after Paul had stopped hanging out with the rest of us. (More about this later.)
And then there were the drunken sailors off the commercial ships who would come flooding through the Reeperbahn when their ships docked, loaded with cash and loaded for bear. Many of them were at least bi-curious, shall we say, if not queer. (They’d spend months at a time out at sea, and thus developed a, shall we say, flexible attitude towards sexual partners.) They would take one look at Paul, and (as the young people say) OMFG. It was terrible. He was almost kidnapped off the street one night. The three of us - me, George and Paul - were walking down the street, and Paul was on the outside of the sidewalk nearest the street. A car pulled up, and two burly men grabbed Paul from behind and were trying to shove him into their car. George and I started pulling Paul out of the car as they were trying to pull him in. I had a police whistle and I started blowing it and screaming for help. We weren’t far from a little bar, and the bouncer came out and made quick work of the would-be kidnappers. He slammed one of them on the car’s trunk and punched him until he was out cold.
We were all quite shaken by this - Paul appeared to be in a spooky daze for hours afterwards - and the bouncer (who turned out to be a Cockney from London) privately explained to me, “They’re sex traders. They steal boys who they think are runaways off the street to sell them on the black market.” I didn’t tell Paul what the bouncer told me. It was horrifying just to think of it. But I mentioned it to George, Pete, and the bouncers at the Kaiserkeller, and we all agreed that we would make sure Paul would never be hanging around on the street by himself, and when we walked down the street, we’d be sure to put him in the middle. He’d go out for a ciggie, and suddenly a bunch of us would go out for a ciggie too. He’d start down the street, and suddenly he’d find himself being jostled into the middle. He didn’t realize what was going on at the time, and he was quite embarrassed when I told him about it years later.
Thus we were summarily introduced into the seamy, steamy secrets of the Reeperbahn, circa 1960.