I’VE GOT A FEELING
John and Paul do Paris
This was a very interesting year for the band. This was the year we got a steady gig at the Cavern, and had our second far more successful trip to Hamburg. The Cavern started seeding us as their house band in the beginning of 1961. Paul was trying very hard not to show his annoyance with Stu, and I was riding Stu pretty hard, trying to keep him somewhat in line. In the early part of 1961, without Jurgen Vollmer, Klaus Voorman and Astrid Kirschherr et. al. there to distract him, even Stu appeared to be making an effort. During that time period, Pete Best was far more reliable than he had ever been in the past in showing up for gigs, and even showed up for rehearsals fairly regularly. As a result, the band was really gelling.
As always, a few things would go dramatically wrong: Paul would get his girlfriend pregnant and plan to marry her, and then she would lose the baby. Stu would announce that he was leaving the band, and then Paul would leave the band before being coaxed back. Still, during this eventful year, Paul and I would reach an important milestone in our relationship. And, by the end of 1961, Brian Epstein will have “discovered” us, and we will have signed with him.
Our return to Liverpool following deportation and ruin was a big let down. We had had high hopes for Hamburg. Although our Hamburg gig had been a success, no one in Liverpool seemed to notice or care. It was like treading water endlessly, and never getting anywhere. We were offered our first gig at the Cavern in February; we sauntered in wearing our black clothes and looking world-weary and a lot less fuzzy-cheeked than we had when we left. Without even realizing it, we had all grown up that fall, literally and figuratively.
I had put on some weight, and no longer looked like a grammar school student. George had gained a little height, and actually started growing whiskers. His voice had changed. (At almost 18, he was a late bloomer). Stu still looked the same, and Pete still looked like a ruggedly handsome rugby player, but the biggest transformation was in Paul. It had happened very suddenly. One day he was thin and innocent looking – almost fragile. After Hamburg 1960, he was taller than me, had put on just enough weight in all the right places, his face had filled out and he was – I hadn’t thought it was possible – even more beautiful than before. His voice had deepened and had developed a bluesy, smoky quality that infused all of his rock vocals with a dirty, sexy ‘soul’ energy the Beatles never had before.
We were now officially the “Beatles”, having dropped the “Silver” during the Hamburg trip. (A happy accident; the Kaiserkeller promoter had left the word ‘Silver’ off our name when making the signs, and Bruno had refused to redo the signs. We liked ‘Beatles’ better, so we kept it.)
Our new tougher, sexier look and tighter sound was soon attracting older and larger crowds to the Cavern and the Jacaranda. Because of our increased maturity and popularity, Allan Williams of the Jacaranda Club agreed to find us some bookings. We had our Cavern and Jacaranda gigs, and were taking other club dates around northern England. We needed a van to travel in, and we needed people to help us lump the equipment. Pete’s best friend and lodger was a graduate of the Liverpool Institute - Neil Aspinall - the same guy who was also a friend of Paul’s when they were a bit younger. (For some reason, at the time I hadn’t realized that Neil and Paul were close. I am sure Paul was careful to keep this information from me, based on the way I treated all of his other friends. And he was right in this regard; had I known he had a friend he was close to other than me, I’m sure I would have done whatever I could to sabotage it.) Neil was willing to drive and lump part-time for a reasonable fee. (The rest of the time he was an accountant.) Following Allan’s advice, we pooled all our earnings and savings and bought a wretched old van, and some low-end used amplifiers, and were able to take gigs outside of Liverpool more regularly.
But we still weren’t making enough money to cover all our living expenses because of band overhead. In other words, it was not really a full time paying job yet. This didn’t matter to me, because I was living with Stu, and Mimi was content to subsidize my lifestyle for the time being. Stu was fine, because of his monthly allowance from Mum and Dad. Pete was okay, because he had a day job with his family’s business and lived at home. He could get away with missed practices and gigs because he was a drummer, and drummers were so rare on the ground, so you had to put up with their eccentricities. George was okay because he was still in grammar school, and he was the much-pampered youngest son of a couple who worshipped the ground he walked on. He could do no wrong. The only one in a difficult spot was Paul.
Paul, who had put off revising for his A levels and thereby gravely disappointing his father and his family. Paul, who was no longer in grammar school, and yet wasn’t contributing money to the family – a family that was just barely scraping by with his father working all hours to try to make ends meet. Jim was already furious with him over the A level fait accomplis, and now that it turned out that Paul wasn’t making any money, it pushed him just that much further over the edge. As a consequence, one evening I got a telephone call from Paul. I was at Mimi’s at the time for some reason. “John, I’ve taken a job for a lorry company, making deliveries. I have to have a steady job to help the family with expenses. Its daytimes only, so I was hoping we could find a way to push our rehearsals later in the day so I can catch at least the tail end of most of them.”
Notwithstanding the fact that Stu rarely made the rehearsals and Pete only occasionally did and I was sanguine about that, hearing this from Paul sent me into the stratosphere. Mimi later told me that I was literally screaming into the phone: “Either you make the fucking rehearsals or you’re out of the band!” Fucking Jim McCartney. He always got me coming and going! No school? Well then, A levels! No A levels? Well then, a “steady job’’! I slammed down the phone.
Now, many biographers have inferred from this anecdote that this was an example of how I was the leader of the band, and of how little importance Paul was to the band in my estimation. Well, that’s bull cock! The fact is there WAS NO BAND WITHOUT PAUL, and I knew it! He was simply not capable of being replaced. The band couldn’t afford to have him phoning it in like Stu did, or showing up or not as he liked as Pete did. The band would have collapsed in a heap within weeks of Paul’s taking a lower profile in the band. He was the one who charmed the club owners, made and distributed the posters, gave instructions to the roadie and planned the trips, negotiated the terms of many of our gigs (when we were manager-less, which we often were), wrote and performed half the songs, and – through the pure perfection of his timing and pitch – kept the band on time and in key. He was also drop dead gorgeous and the girls were crazy about him. We could not survive without him. My reaction to Paul’s announcement was pure panic, plain and simple. It wasn’t a well-thought-out response; it was visceral. And again – it seemed like abandonment to me. We all know by now that I was never at my best when I was feeling insecure.
I didn’t kick him out of the band (as if I ever could or would), but I was not happy about the later and later rehearsal times, and the things we had to do to accommodate this new schedule of his. What’s more, I could tell he was absolutely miserable in his job. After about a month of this, I asked him how the job was going, and he replied in a weirdly cheerful tone of voice:
“Oh, soul-destroying, as usual, John,” delivered with a big flashy grin. (He waspleased that he was paired with an experienced driver who let him sleep in between drop offs.)
At this point I truly believed I was fighting for his soul. Yes, it was about me, too, and knowing the band would go nowhere without him, and that I –John Lennon – would be absolutely bereft without him next to me all the time. It really was more than that. Paul was a huge talent, and I knew this even then. There were no rational explanations for where the music came from; it just was always there, pouring out of him as if there was an overflowing fountain of creativity inside of him. If he couldn’t find the will to fight for his talent against the mediocrity planned for him by his family, then I would! It became my goal in life. This time, I was going to fight for a complete and overwhelming victory. Just the thought of him going to college so he could be an English professor – no doubt the world’s best English professor - pulling out his music after work, and conducting the school choir to placate his love of music; well, just the thought of that filled me with rage. I just would not let that happen.
On February 25, 1961, George (finally!) had his 18th birthday, and the Beatles were (finally!) street legal. The band threw him a huge birthday party in the Cavern, where he chugged beers all night. Paul and Pete had found a couple of very experienced call girls to provide George with an unforgettable evening of entertainment, and Stu and I had decorated the inside of the van so it looked like the Sheik of Araby’s tent to aid in this evening of pleasure.
Unfortunately, Paul and I got drunk and had the great idea of serenading the trio from the sidewalk outside the van. We started out okay, with soft ballads. But at some point (was it five - or was it six – beers later?) we couldn’t help ourselves and slipped into raunchy Liverpool shanties about good-hearted prostitutes (“Sally” and “Maggie May” among them). This soon attracted a crowd of club and pub guests from the nightclubs on the street, and it turned into a crowd sing-along. This, in turn, attracted the police. Seeing the police coming, Paul jumped into the van and yelled ‘scram! The bizzies are coming!’ Half-clad prostitutes burst out of the van and ran off into the night, followed by George, dazed and hopping on one foot as he tried to put his pants on. Realizing there was no time before the police were upon us, Paul put George in a fireman’s carry and rushed him into the Cavern dressing room, and off the street. We could hear the whistles blowing and the crowd grumbling for over an hour after that. Finally, all was calm.
From inside the safety of the Cavern dressing room, George puffed on a ciggie, stared at Paul and me with his usual deadpan expression, and, with a voice dripping with sarcasm, said, “Gee, thanks mates.” Paul and I fell about laughing. I don’t blame George for hating us; not one little bit!
It was in the early part of 1961 that Paul came to my flat on Gambier Terrace and flopped down on our dilapidated sofa. This was fairly uncharacteristic of our Paul. Stu and I looked at his brooding face and then looked at each other. I decided to take the plunge. I asked Paul what was wrong, and for a while he refused to discuss it. But after we’d plied him with all kinds of alcohol, he loosened up a bit. Still, he waited until Stu left the room to unburden himself.
It turns out that his long time girlfriend, Dorothy Rhone (known to all as “Dot”) told Paul that she was pregnant. I’m uncertain of the dates now, but I know it was in the months leading up to our return to Hamburg. Paul (all together now) “doesn’t remember.” However, I remember that his first reaction was panic, and his second reaction was to do the right thing. He told me they’d revealed this explosive information to Paul’s dad, who had handled it extremely well. Apparently old Jim would not hear of Dot going to some backstreet abortionist, and when Dot’s parents said they would throw her out once her pregnancy was noticeable because it would be too shameful for the baby carriage to parade down their street, Jim said she could come and live in his house, and he’d be proud to have her walk the pram there. It seemed that Paul was going to get married, and he wasn’t even 19 yet.
I didn’t handle it anywhere near as well as Old Jim did. I was furious! How could he go and get her pregnant! What was he thinking! Now his dad was going to insist that Paul leave the band and get a ‘steady job’ for sure! Worse than that, although I didn’t focus on it at the time, I realized that Paul getting married meant more than me losing him as a friend and a band mate. It meant that my already very unbelievable fantasies about a sexual relationship with Paul would come to an abrupt and painful end. Of course, when Paul came to me to give me the news, he was hoping I’d be a mensch, and help him through it. I’m sure it was an ugly surprise for him to find me so judgmental and angry.
Luckily for the band and for me (and I think also for Paul and Dot), Dot suffered a miscarriage just two weeks or so after she had disclosed her pregnancy news to Paul and before the wedding could take place. This news came to me just as we were getting ready to pack up and head for Hamburg. I was far too cheerful when I heard the news, and I didn’t even feel guilty about it because Paul looked shaken but also tremendously relieved. It wasn’t long before he was over the loss. He had been way too young to get married, and so was Dot.
On March 25, we all (except Stu – he was already in Hamburg) packed up and headed back for our second trip to Hamburg scheduled to start on March 27th, this time booked straight into the Top Ten Club, with its relatively swanky living conditions, and with all of us (finally) having legal permits. (Paul and Pete were almost excluded because of their arrest and deportation during the last trip; Eckhorn had to pay the cost of their deportation before they were let back in.) Upon arrival, it felt like old home week. We greeted the Hurricanes, who were there to play the Top Ten also. They always stayed at the seaman’s mission a few blocks away; they felt they were a sight above the terrible digs where the Beatles had to stay.
Back above the Top Ten, there were two connected bedrooms with bunk beds for our use (which we shared with Tony Sheridan and the Jets), the public bathrooms were not within smelling distance, and no movie screen with German porn seeping through the slimy, moldy walls: just fairly normal rooms. The bonus was that there was an actual bathroom that we only had to share with club staff and other musicians. We all used to wash our socks and underwear in the sink, and hang them to dry on the radiators. This did bring a particularly pungent smell to our digs; whenever I smell wet woolens, or slightly-less-than-clean drying laundry, my mind goes straight back to the Top Ten Club.
To Paul’s relief it actually had a shower. Granted, it was just a showerhead with a drain under it, with no shower curtain or surround, and the water - at best - was lukewarm, but it was better than nothing! We would play 90 minutes, and then Tony would play for 90 minutes – on and off all night long starting at 4 p.m. and ending at 2 a.m. (Later, after the Jets left, the Hurricanes took their place.)
Stu had left for Hamburg a few days earlier than the rest of us in order to see Astrid, and as soon as his foot hit the ground in Hamburg, he was off to stay in her house. He had been pining over and writing to her for months, and had even snuck over the channel a few times to spend days at a time with her. I was still clinging to the illusion of a close relationship with Stu; we were still nominally roommates on Gambier Terrace in Liverpool. But I was clearly yesterday’s news to Stu; he was besotted with Astrid.
After a few weeks, after the Jets moved on to another club, we met up with our mates from Rory Storm’s group, including the one and only Ringo Starr. George and he hung out together all the time, and we became friendly with him. He was great fun; he had a wonderful aura. When Ringo was around, it was difficult to be down. When Pete had to go back to Liverpool for two weeks during the gig, Ringo agreed to sit in with us, and it was a world of difference from when Pete was at the skins. We were not of Ringo’s caliber at this point. He was in a band a cut above us. Still, the seed was planted.
One night at the Top Ten, a tall, bald, aristocratic-looking German showed up and watched us play. He actually had a single spectacle in his eye. I thought that only happened in the movies. It turned out the man – Bert Kaempfert – was an orchestra leader and producer of pop records for Polydor Records. He had signed our friend Tony Sheridan to a record contract. Tony was kind enough to persuade Kaempfert to come see us play. He was planning to record a rockier version of “My Bonnie,” and needing a back up band (Tony was trying to go solo), and Tony suggested us for the job. Paul, George and I were so excited – another record, and this one with a credit! Unfortunately, when we showed up for the recording session neither Pete nor Stu were there. I don’t remember now why Pete wasn’t there. Stu, however, had chosen to go up to the mountains with Astrid that day and hadn’t bothered to tell me. We had a great day recording in a real live studio, and Bert even broke down and produced a record of the Beatles singing “Ain’t She Sweet.” I got to sing lead, and I was very full of myself. But I came back to the club furious with Stu for having missed this first big break. For once, Paul said nothing. I think he knew that I was the one who felt most betrayed by this and he made himself scarce while I ripped Stu a new one.
This second trip to Hamburg had us feeling our oats. We knew the landscape, had developed a number of German fans who came back to the clubs regularly to see us, and who egged us on to ever weirder behavior. It didn’t require much encouragement, what with the prellies and the alcohol and the general feeling of being young and off in a foreign country away from parental influence. Paul and I were the worst. We were constantly trying to prove to each other that we were capable of almost any outrage. For the first few weeks of our time there we did some serious acting up. After our shows were over for a night, and we were released from bondage at the Top Ten, we were often so hopped up on Prellies and adrenalin that we couldn’t possibly consider going to sleep, and thus was born the period which Paul and I still jokingly refer to as our “Reign of Terror.”
The first “happening” we staged was by accident. We thought that we had to set ourselves apart from Rory Storm and his group – all in their lovely matching jackets – so we decided costumes would be just the thing. The old toilet seat I had ripped off from the men’s loo in the Kaiserkeller club while in a drunken rage inspired the first costume I made. After I had detached it from the Kaiserkeller bathroom several months earlier, I had brought it with me as a gag to the Top Ten Club, operating under the theory that you never knew when you might need some random toilet seat. I had stuck it in the back of a storeroom there when I left, operating under the theory that I would never be able to explain this particular piece of luggage to Aunt Mimi. When we returned to the Top Ten that March I had found it still there, much to my delight. I set it up against a wall in our digs and stared at it for a good 5 minutes wondering what I could do with it. George Harrison walked in and asked,
“What are you looking at?”
“The toilet seat of course.”
George did not find this response weird at all. He just went on about his business and then left. A few moments later Paul came in. He looked at me, looked over at the toilet seat, and sat down next to me on the bed. He, too, leaned forward, elbows on his knees, chin in his hands, and now we were both staring at the toilet seat. This went on for a few minutes until I finally knew what I had to do with it.
“I think I need to wear that thing around my head as a kind of uniform.” I said.
“Yes, it would look as though you were coming up through the plumbing. Funny. But clean it first.”
This was all the encouragement I needed. Soon the two of us were scrounging around backstage looking for excess material so we could surround the seat to make it look like an actual toilet, with my head sticking out. By this time George had gotten involved, and suggested we all wear costumes. Pete Best, of course, thought it was an embarrassing idea, shook his head, wanted nothing to do with it, and quickly disappeared.
Stu thought he would look good as a ballet dancer. “I can use my long underwear!” Paul brightened up at the suggestion, and disappeared into the maid’s closet and came back with several rolls of really rough toilet paper (which is all that they gave us), from which we all set about making Stu’s tutu. “This should work,” Paul opined, “so long as you don’t sweat too much.” The rest of us pictured the tutu progressively turning into an ever-soggier mess as the night went on and we collectively burst out laughing. Paul snapped his fingers and disappeared again. He came back moments later, again from the maid’s closet, with the starch spray she used on the linens before ironing. He sprayed it on some toilet paper and damn if it didn’t make it sturdier and less likely to wilt! So, we sprayed it all over Stu’s tutu and he was almost good to go. “Wait!” George said. He disappeared down the hall and came back with some old, fake flowers made out of cloth that he had nicked from one of the lobby planters. He weaved them together so they looked like a swan hat and presented it proudly to Stu, who placed it on his head and immediately transformed himself into a rather seedy looking Black Swan.
George thought it would be funny if he were a businessman who went off to work having forgotten to put on his suit. We scrounged up a top hat, a posh umbrella (we actually nicked them from Iain Hines’s office), and using his own woolen scarf, black socks and shoes, and skivvies – George was done. Easy that.
Then Stu, George and I all looked at Paul. What were we going to do with him? Far from being intimidated by being the sinecure of all speculative eyes, Paul hopped up, threw his arms up in a girlish way, and did a very swishy turn ‘round for us – presumably to inspire us to come up with a good idea. I suggested that he should be a plumber, and he could hit me over the head with the toilet plunger periodically. Paul considered this idea and then put his own McCartney spin on it:
“No – a lion tamer with a plunger instead of a whip!” We all thought this was brilliant, so George – who was the skinniest – offered up an old pair of black pants to Paul, who wore them as jodhpurs after messing about with the hems a bit. George had also bought a huge blousy type shirt with big poufy arms while out shopping one day (he was always partial to those), which we thought would look good with the “jodhpurs”, and Paul added his suit vest and boots – voila! He also conjured up a fake mustache using his girlfriend’s eyeliner pencil, and a kind of 3- musketeers-type hat with a giant ostrich feather on it he’d found in a junk store for a final flourish.
When it was time to debut our new look, we decided to come in from the outside as if we were a weird marching band. We prevailed upon Pete to at least lead the procession, beating on a drum. So, there we went: Pete in his black clothes looking humiliated and beating a drum, George, starkers but for his underwear, scarf, socks and shoes, Stu in his long underwear and toilet paper tutu and swan hat, me in my toilet costume, and Paul following behind with the huge ostrich feather bobbing up and down, while he periodically bopped me over the head with the toilet plunger. We made quite a splash, or, as Paul later joked – referencing my costume particularly - “quite a stink.” Of course, Stu’s tutu lasted all of 15 minutes, so he kicked the sodden mess off the stage and performed in his long johns all night. We did the whole gig all night long in these costumes (it was a bit tricky playing a harmonica with a toilet seat around your neck, let me tell you) and then, exhilarated and finished with all of our sets, we spilled out into the street a little after 2 a.m. Lucky for us, many of the clubs in the Reeperbahn remained open until 5 a.m., long after all the music acts and strippers had gone home to bed.
Pete had tired of the whole thing, and had disappeared, so Paul commandeered one of his smaller drums, and we began marching up and down the Reeperbahn singing raucously while Paul banged steadily on the drum. We were quite drunk at this point, and every time we hit a bar we would stop outside and serenade until someone would stand us a drink each, and then we would continue on to the next club. At some point first Stu, and then George dropped off – Stu no doubt to go find Astrid, and George to stumble into a booth at the Top Ten and fall dead asleep (not waking up until 3 p.m. the next day in his almost naked state, surprised to find the booths on either side of him filled with guests who nodded pleasantly to him when he suddenly sat up).
But Paul and I kept marching, banging, singing, and drinking until after 4 a.m. Apparently something that had escaped our notice was the fact that it was illegal to drink alcoholic beverages in a public street. On our tenth or eleventh parade down the street we were met by a couple of very amused and long-suffering German cops who promptly placed us both under arrest. It took us a while to figure out it was for real. I thought it was a couple of Reeperbahn jokers dressed like cops, but Paul cottoned to the reality first.
“John,” he said to me with something approaching a hurt look on his face - (I remember this so clearly, even though I was drunk at the time, that it might as well have happened yesterday); “John, I don’t think these gentlemen appreciate our singing!” He then offered up his wrists quite cooperatively for the handcuffs.
I admit that my first thought when I saw the handcuffs was that some really kinky sex might be in the offing, but I was soon disabused of this notion, as the two amused but bored cops dropped us off at the local jail – called the Davidstrafanstalt. We were escorted to a jail cell, and invited in. At this point I was so tired I was eyeing the bunks on the sides of the cell and looking forward to a nice rest. I remember removing my toilet seat and lying there with the room rotating around me, like it does when you lie down after having too much to drink, and hearing Paul conducting a very soft and pleasant conversation with the equally drunken bloke in the cell next to us. They were exchanging slurred opinions on English versus German football in a kind of confabulated Anglo-Deutsch patois. Pretty soon one of the jailers came by and was leaning against the bars and joined in on the debate. He, at least, wasn’t drunk. I finally fell asleep.
Some hours later Iain Hines sent his bouncer to bail us out, and there we were in our louche costumes, looking pathetic and gritty in the harsh light of a spring’s day, taking a van trip back to the Top Ten, where a very irritated Iain proceeded to lecture us for a good 4 or 5 minutes.
Of course, once we had come up with this costume idea, it became necessary to outdo ourselves. One day, about a week after the toilet bowl controversy, while I was walking down the street with Paul and Stu, we spied a costume shop. We all shouted ‘yeah!’ and went charging in. That was when I found the monkey costume. It was love at first sight. Paul tried to dissuade me, pointing out that it would be difficult to sing with the monkey head over my actual head. I was not to be deterred, so we pooled our pennies and rented it. It came with a collar and leash, which I thought was incredibly sexy. Stu chose a dashing French guards costume, and I insisted Paul get the sheikh costume with a huge turban hat that had a big fat fake ruby on it. (He looked absolutely gorgeous in the vest without a shirt, and those balloon pants and sandals.) This meant that George was going to get the slave girl costume. “His fault for not coming with,” Paul pointed out logically.
So we returned to the Top Ten with our newly rented treasures. Far from being offended by the slave girl costume, George was quite enthusiastic. He embellished it by copying Paul’s fake mustache and added a frightening witch nose. When you factored in George’s actual uni-brow, he was one scary looking chick.
In the end, Paul was right about the monkey head. I had to take it off to sing, but after our gigs were over Paul and I were too amped up and thus we decided to go on a pub crawl – he in his sheikh costume, and me in my monkey costume -complete with head on - and he holding my leash and carrying the toilet plunger, as if he were now a plumber-cum-monkey-tamer from the circus. The first three clubs were just good fun. Everyone laughed, everyone stood us drinks, everyone slobbered all over Paul, including one bloke at the bar who kept stroking Paul’s naked stomach until Paul finally hit the guy’s hand with the toilet plunger. (He told me later, “At first it felt kind of good, but then he got cheeky.”) However, as the night progressed, and we became ever more drunk, our behavior (especially mine) deteriorated somewhat. I don’t remember all of it, though Paul confesses that he sometimes suffers from some horrifying flashbacks from that night. And then there is this from when I interviewed Paul for this book on the topic:
PAUL: “You started lifting up the ladies’ skirts and sniffing under them. I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
JOHN: “I did? Why didn’t you stop me – you had the leash!”
PAUL: “I didn’t want to choke you. I thought perhaps the collar was too tight.”
JOHN: “That’s a lame excuse.”
PAUL: “Well, I also got off on watching it, vicariously. Until that exact moment, I hadn’t realized how much I had always wanted to watch someone lift up strange ladies’ skirts and sniff under them.”
After about the fourth club visit that night, our two policemen friends from the previous week greeted us outside in the street. Without a word we both simultaneously just offered up our wrists. After the jailer took away my monkey head, collar and leash - (“He thinks we’ll hang ourselves with it, I think”, Paul said when I asked why they wanted the collar and leash. “More likely I’ll hang them with it!” I snarled back) - we went back to the jail cell, and I settled down on my usual bunk. Paul was still awake and leaning on the bars, looking like a still from a 1930’s movie about Araby in his sheikh costume. He had charmed the jailer out of a ciggie and a light, and he was smoking in a thoughtful haze. Then our eyes met, and he observed conversationally: “They’ll be calling this cell the Lennon/McCartney Suite when we’re famous.”
For Paul and me, the next morning it was again with the bailout, again with the sadly kitschy costumes, again with the lecture, and again with the hangovers that lasted all day long. As we nursed our respective headaches in the privacy of our room over the Top Ten, I turned to Paul and told him that jail would have been a bore if he hadn’t been there with me. Paul accepted this backwards but sincere compliment for what it was, and added, “I think we’re growing on those cops. Maybe one of these times they won’t arrest us.”
Unfortunately, the “next time” they did, in fact, arrest us. By then we had tired of the whole costume thing (maybe because we had to pay for the damage to the monkey and sheikh costumes). This didn’t mean we weren’t still filled with high spirits and nothing to do after our sets. It started innocently enough. We thought we could still do the club crawl but we’d just have a pint in each club, and then move on to the next. We couldn’t see how this could lead to any serious trouble. George, Pete and Stu all decided to come with us, so we’d all saunter up to the bar in our black clothes and act all important, much to the regular patrons’ irritation. As we moved from club to club and became ever more drunk, ever more high on prellies, things kind of spun out of control. I found myself, finally, bored by merely sitting and drinking, and decided that a little entertainment was called for. I turned to the others and suggested that we should all take over the bar itself, and do an old-fashioned comedy/music/dance routine.
Pete said, “I’m off!” and he turned on his heel and left the club immediately.
Stu whispered in my ear, “I can’t do that kind of thing, John, it embarrasses me.”
George looked at me and said in that flat sardonic way of his, “I’ll watch for a bit and if it isn’t too bad, maybe I’ll join in.”
So that left Paul. I turned to him, and he looked up from his pint and, with that always-perfect timing of his, presented me with a very elegant shrug. We then both jumped up on the bar, and I announced that the show was going to start! The bartender, who no doubt at first thought we were going to rob him, backed up against the rows of alcohol behind him with a terrified look in his eyes. Paul winked at him and said, “All in fun mate!” The bartender’s face went from scared to irritated in seconds.
We were very drunk, and even though Paul and I sat around for quite some time while I was writing this part of the book trying to remember what we did, the most we can remember between the two of us was that we made a few very pathetic attempts at a tap dance routine, an even worse “Oh Mr. McCartney? Yes, Mr. Lennon?” Vaudeville routine, and at least one sloppily harmonized imitation of Marlene Dietrich singing “Falling in Love Again”, complete with me pulling my pants legs up to appear as though I had sexy legs. (That was actually one of the numbers in our repertoire at the time – the song that is, not the imitation and the legs bit.) George and Stu were banging the bar top and leading the crowd in assorted rousing cheers.
Someone called the cops. We suspect the bartender, but have no evidence to back that up. This time, we were on a first-name basis.
“Offizier von Werner!” Paul greeted his old friend from his place atop the bar. He then spied the other one, “And Offizier Meyer! To what do we owe this pleasure?” (Privately Paul and I referred to them interchangeably as ‘Donnie’ and ‘Phil’ after the Everly Brothers.)
Offizier Meyer said, “Guten abend, Pauli”, and then pointed at Paul’s wrists.
“Oh no, not again,” Paul moaned.
“Kommen quietly, Johan,” said Offizier von Werner, not unkindly, (as he was the only one of the two of them who had any English.)
“Well, since you asked so nicely,” I responded, yet again offering up my wrists for the cuffs. But then I turned to the watching crowd and shouted drunkenly, “Every week, these two officers take us away to a dungeon and subject us to unspeakable sexual acts!”
When the crowd stopped hooting over that one, Paul added loudly and cheerfully, “And it’s not half bad!” We were led out of the bar accompanied by raucous cheering, jeering and applause.
Back to the Davidstrafanstalt and the ever-commodious Lennon/McCartney Suite. Paul, as usual, was still chipper from the prellies, and he wheedled one of the jailers into playing poker with him. So there they were, as I was relaxing on my bunk – Paul on one side of the bars, the jailer on the other, with a tiny table in front of him, Paul drawing cards from between the bars, and doing his usual distracting patter and thereby winning every game. Ah, those were some good times.
After this third event, Paul and I finally realized that Offiziers von Werner and Meyer were not kidding. They really didn’t want us running amok on the Reeperbahn. If we did it, we would end up in jail. So we stopped. Neither one of us felt like we were caving in to pressure, though, because as Paul said at the time,
“This whole jail thing is getting boring anyway.” Hence, the quiet end to John’nPaul’s Reign of Terror.
Meanwhile, happening simultaneously with the start of the Reign of Terror, the Stu/Paul conflict had for the most part been almost a non-issue, as it had been back in Liverpool. Stu had done his best to stay engaged in the band and had earned some credit in Paul’s eyes, and I think Paul actually had high hopes that Stu had turned the corner and would start taking the band more seriously once we were in Hamburg. He did seem to be playing better and with more vivre. Unfortunately, of course, as the weeks progressed Astrid proved to be an insurmountable distraction. After a few weeks Stu was worse than he ever was, in terms of showing up for rehearsals, and for the quality of his performances. Sometimes he didn’t show up until the third or fourth set, dragging Astrid and her friends behind him as if they were royalty deigning to grace us with their presence. This – truthfully – hurt me very badly. But it annoyed the hell out of Paul, who was thoroughly sick of being patronized by a bunch of upper-class dilettantes. I took my irritation out on Stu by going after him verbally at the few rehearsals he actually showed up for. Naturally, this had the opposite effect than I wanted: he just started showing up for fewer and fewer rehearsals.
At least the band was far more professional this time around. We had decided to wear black pants and black shirts on stage (eschewing dinner jackets), and had finally figured out what to expect from the audience. Over the past several months we had increased our repertoire, and we had a much tighter, harder sound. We still suffered from a well below par rhythm section, since Pete was not a great drummer, and Stu couldn’t really play bass with any sustained reliability, and - what’s more to the point - he didn’t really have any interest in learning it. We got away with it for one reason, and one reason only: Paul. His timing and sense of rhythm on the guitar was uncanny. George and I keyed our timing off of Paul’s. Had he not been there we would have sounded like total shit. (Paul does everything in perfect rhythm: he makes a rhythmic sound while going up stairs, or just knocking his knuckles on the table, or even – in George’s oft-repeated joke - while he is having a wee. The guy moves in time to the rhythm line of some inner music all the fucking time. It is like he has a built-in metronome or something.)
The college kids still remembered us from the previous year, and once they heard we were there, they started showing up in enthusiastic droves, and this time the high school kids were showing up in numbers as well. We met Horst the Indra /Kaiserkeller Club bouncer out in the street one night, and told him we missed him. We urged him to leave Bruno and come work at the Top Ten Club. A few days later he did. So now we had the better club AND Horst. Heaven! Within a week, Wilhelm the bartender had moved as well. This was the beginning of something of a pattern with the Beatles. No matter how unpredictable and irresponsible we could be, and let’s face it – we were often both, outrageously so - we would pick up loyal followers wherever we went who seemed willing to follow us right through the gates of hell and beyond.
One night in between sets we were all sitting around a table when the Exi’s came in and joined us and we all got in a discussion of what it meant to be an existentialist. I remember that I did not understand a single fucking word, but also that I wanted desperately to appear as though I did. These were ideas I had never heard before, and they were pretty metaphysical. Pete was drifting off to sleep, as was George. Stu was listening as though he actually understood what was being said, and looking dreamily at Astrid. I doubted he either understood or cared about existentialism; he was head over heels in love with Astrid and everything she did and said was fascinating to him. After about 20 minutes of this dialogue, with some debate occurring between the Exi’s, Paul - who had sat a bit apart from us and had been glumly silent throughout - finally interjected a comment:
“Isn’t this just all that Sartre stuff? I read about it in school. It is very self-centered, don’t you think, to believe that the whole bleeding world revolves around you and what you can perceive with your senses?”
They all stopped talking and stared at him in open hostility.
“It is a bit more sophisticated than that,” said one of them.
“Yes, Sartre is certainly full of himself, and came up with an elaborate explanation for why everything was really all about him, but just because it is complicated and hard to understand doesn’t mean it holds any water.” Paul was speaking in a very reasonable tone of voice, without rancor. But I could see the Exi’s were not taking it in the spirit in which it was offered. I kicked Paul under the table. Paul looked at me derisively and with the first sign of irritation, which was directed at me and not the Exi’s:
“Is no one allowed to disagree with them? Come on, John, you can’t believe all this stuff, can you?” I didn’t meet his eye. I suggested that we were all tired, and should go to bed. I was not mature or aware enough to see that I had let Paul down.
This was just another of the many occasions when– by refusing to take his side - I had, by default, stuck up for Stu and the Exi’s over Paul and the band. I could tell he was pissed at me, because when we went into the room to grab some sleep, he got in his bunk, turned his face to the wall, and went straight to sleep without even saying ‘goodnight’.
Astrid’s earlier ideas about ‘open’ relationships came to an abrupt halt when she had fallen in love with Stu; once she met Stu she had eyes for no other man. And Stu, of course, only wanted Astrid. They quickly became inseparable, and by now the poor Klaus had gotten over the loss of Astrid, and was able to socialize with them and the band as though nothing had happened. I remember mentioning this to Paul incredulously, and he just shook his head and said,
“Existentialism may be a load of crap, but Klaus really seems to believe it. Otherwise, how could he handle all this?” I couldn’t disagree with him on that point.
With Stu swept up with Astrid, I could see the next several weeks in Hamburg stretching out ahead of me like an empty road. To make things worse for me, Paul had found himself a girlfriend. She was actually another stripper/prostitute, but she was so in love and taken with him, that she refused to take his money, and had stalked him relentlessly for a few weeks before finally landing him. (One night she had gotten into a fistfight with another girl Paul had been fucking, and giant Horst got a black eye from her while trying to break it up. Seeing this, I turned to Paul and pointed out that the woman was dangerous, and Paul said – admiringly and enthusiastically – “She sure is!” I had hoped for a different reaction, by the way.) This woman was about 25 years old, which was ancient from our perspective at the time. I asked him why he wanted a stripper / prostitute for a girlfriend, and he gave me the kind of answer only Paul McCartney could give – logical, calculated, goal-oriented, and inspired all at once:
“You wouldn’t believe what I’m learning from her! I had no idea there were so many positions! It’s really interesting.”
About this time, an innovation Astrid and the Exi’s suggested to us was to wear black leather pants and jackets and cowboy boots on the stage, and to top it all off we wore pink berets. Don’t ask me why. Maybe we thought it was a gimmick that would set us apart. I have to say the look was – er, unusual. By the end of the Hamburg gig we had eschewed the pink berets entirely, and the cowboy boots were switched for the latest in European cool footwear - black leather boots that zipped up the side with Cuban heels. These eventually became known as “Beatle boots”, although we were only among the first vanguard of followers, and not amongst the original fashion leaders.
John chuckled as he remembered the getup they had settled on halfway through their Hamburg gig. Each item they had chosen - the leather pants and jackets, the black t-shirts, the cowboy boots, and the pink berets - they each were stylish on their own. But put altogether it was fashion overkill. The pink berets had gone first, followed by the cowboy boots.
He turned to Paul, who was seated on the sofa next to him, and said, “I’ve just read the part about the clothes we were wearing on our second trip to Hamburg.”
In response, Paul slapped his forehead, and he didn’t need to say anything. It was one of those memories that makes one cringe, even decades later.