Tag Archives: Hamburg Germany

Book Review: “The Boys Next Door” by Dan Greenberger

This review is written by Amy McGrath Hughes.

The Boys Next Door Dan GreenbergerIn the surroundings that revolve around The Beatles history, none is more fascinating than their time in Hamburg. Setting off that, author Dan Greenberger immerses his narrator and chief character Alan Levy into an alternate universe where Levy delves into the dirty, foul and fascinating period in those all-to-real hard times.

The Boys Next Door (Appian Way Press, 2020) is a coming-of-age story – albeit one that involves copious amounts of booze, drugs and sex. In this situation, Greenberger lets loose the unhinged, rogue-like characters of 1960 Beatles that we’ve come to know – all very un-PC in language, attitude and social interaction. And with Levy, migrating from the comforts of the US, he quickly realizes his standing here is on shaky ground.

Levy sets out as a post-graduate student from Columbia University with hopes for higher education in Hamburg. Nearly immediately we see him set down in that Beatle-y familiar hellhole: living in squalid conditions in the Bambi Kino, arranged by the thoroughly unlikable Bruno Koschmider and being awoken at night constantly by this band he has yet to meet. By casting Levy as an American Jew, we know right off the bat where this is headed in humor: off-color descriptions from Levy’s first-person account on the German people (and vice versa on the anti-Semitism still prevalent in post WWII Germany), the temptations of the Reeperbahn red-light district and through letters back home, we get an idea that he believes he is ‘all that’ as a poet and serious artist. Until he meets Astrid Kirchherr.

As he becomes smitten with the cooler than cool photographer, he manages to finally meet his next-door neighbors: John (all potty-mouth and pusher-of-buttons), Paul (all touchy-feely-huggy), George (all puppy-eyed and young), Pete (all nothing) and most importantly Stuart, who becomes the object of Astrid’s affection and the thorn in the side of Levy’s pursuit of her.

We get an eye-opening sense of the carnal atmosphere and near lethal encounters that The Beatles endured during that first club run. Author Greenberger weaves well-known scenes: Astrid’s photographing the band, the revolutionary haircut and the introduction of Klaus Voormann and Jurgen Vollmer with the fictionalized characters that showcase Levy’s interaction as a student which makes way for a dive down a rather unexpected path.

As posed here Levy works his way into The Beatles inner circle, hanging with them (in and out of the clubs), fantasizing that he and Astrid are a couple and using this time period to showcase the harsh realities of how life can change so dramatically – from promising student and aspiring poet to beer-guzzling, pill-popping hanger-on willing to throw away a pretty good life and become one of them. For good measure, Greenberger exits the story with Levy hastily leaving via the real-life incidents that led to The Beatles deportation and wondering about his and the band’s future; for good or bad is left up to the reader.

I found the writing style alternatingly engaging and repulsive and by repulsive, I mean the transformation that took place in Levy’s character – not the way he visualized but certainly crafted by his involvement with the group and their lifestyle. Not everyone who orbited around The Beatles in real-life at this time escaped without damage and Greenberger’s take was fairly point on without being overly maudlin or drama filled.

I also found his letter-writing to friends and family back home hysterical. Without giving away a spoiler, a near-to-the-end note composed as a bit of farewell to his best friend back in NYC had me howling at the reveal.

Appreciative of the period narrative, the immersion into the seediness that ultimately was The Beatles real growth as a unit and an unusual perspective that involved clever character dialogue…

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Baby’s In Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles” by Arne Bellstorf

Baby's In Black Arne BellstorfBaby’s in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles a black and white graphic novel by German cartoonits Arne BellstorfThis hardcover book measures approximately 6″ x 9″ and is 195 pages long. It was originally published in Germany in 2010 under the title Baby’s In Black: The Story of Astrid Kirchherr and Stuart Sutcliffe, and later translated into English in 2011 and released in the U.S. in 2012 with its new title.

This is the latest graphic novel in my quest to find the ultimate Beatles graphic novel. I bought a used ex-library copy off of Amazon.com, so I can really comment on the cover since mine has plastic covering it. I will say that even though this book is in black & white, I enjoyed the artwork much more than the book I read last week in which I had a hard time telling the individual Beatles apart from the artist’s renditions. I believe the author of Baby’s In Black, Arne Bellstorf, was much better at pulling off the emotion of the characters much better than some other cartoonists who used more color and detailed drawings.

This book is the love story of Astrid Kirchherr and Beatles’ bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, from the moment they set eyes on each other at the Kaiserkeller club in Hamburg, Germany, until the day Astrid broke the news to John and Paul that Stu had died. George, Paul and John also play a big part in the story with barely a mention of Pete Best. Klaus Voormann also figures prominently in the story, as does Astrid’s mother. You have to give the author a lot of credit for getting the real Astrid Kirchherr to help in making the story as true as possible. It made it a real delight to read knowing that it came from source. And though I’m weary to label this as the ultimate Beatles graphic novel (since it’s really about Astrid and Stu), I really believe that any Beatle fan would truly enjoy this book. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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