Hamburg, hookers, uppers and punk rock meet the Beatles
Ahmanson Theatre LA, CA
Before they were four, there was five. And before that kerfuffle with Yoko that dismantled the band, are you keen with the fact that it happened before? And before she ground the Fab-Four to a halt, were you aware that a girl by the name of Astrid broke them up first when they known spiritually as the Fab-Five? If you aren’t acquainted with any of the backstory of arguably the greatest (I couldn’t dare defy) musical act of the past century, then maybe you should flick your wrist over to the text-entry above and find a Wikipedia-entry of their gradual rise from the grime and squalor of post-war Hamburg to worldwide recognition. Or if you’re not a big reader (which would be pointless to note if you got this far into reading), watch 1994′s Backbeat, which features their time as a resident-band at a club on the seediest locale of Hamburg, the Reeperbahn. Or better yet, catch the stage adaptation of the story – even if you’re not a theatre-junkie, I’m sure you’re more inclined to check out the Beatles in their come-up. The Reeperbahn at the time was the town’s concentration of nightlife, clubs, brothels and everything you can imagine fit for a squalid atmosphere. That corner of Hamburg today isn’t so much of a far departure from yesteryear. Having been there on a few occasions I’ve come to see that the long strip is a locale where people would flock to in effort to celebrate a variety of festivals in a frequency more than frequent. Hell, even the block-length red-light district carries the vibe that it’s kept around strictly for novel touristic pleasures of feeling ‘what it was like when the Beatles were here’. Hamburg (more so the Reeperbahn) to any foreigner can give off the air of being an Amsterdam Jr. Never one to neglect basking in the interstices of globally-spread music culture on a local-level, I would opt to a pub-crawl themed around the clubs and venues they’ve had a residency in. I felt intimate with where something tremendous began. The band had become such a fixture in the city itself that it was essential to showboat how their Hamburg days were the integral trebuchet to catapult them to their glory in the following years.
Of course the pre-Beatlemania duration was not without turbulence, this was around the time when the drummer was yet to be a Ringo Starr but a Pete Best. And a George Harrison was still underage, which prompted the deportation of the band back to London only to press them to return to Germany. And back when John Lennon shared the pack-leader crown with the basist, not a Paul McCartney but his art-school chum, a Stuart Sutcliffe. Despite going to Hamburg to contribute to the growth of a band he helped naming, he still had his passion dedicated towards his art and his German love. Yeah, he fell in love with a German girl named Astrid, who became the Beatles photographer since their inception and throughout the 60′s. And despite what you may have read about the band giving up their punk rock attitude in favor of well-dressed bespoke gentiles, it was surely Astrid Kirchherr’s molding of Stu into the look of teddy-boy/mop-top, a style which prompted the band to apply to themselves in tribute of Sutcliffe, who passed away in Hamburg from a brain hemorrhage.
Backpedalling to what I said when I made note of how punk-rock they were – a stark, antithetical analogy with how they are represented and grew to be; living conditions in Hamburg in the early 60′s couldn’t have dictated otherwise. Their sleeping quarters were housed behind the screen of a porn-cinema, ate whatever little they found and worked six hours a night playing sets for their residency. That’s right, six hour sets, which eased them into taking preludin, an upper not dissimilar to methamphetamine. Getting high to get one through the work-day is something that I wouldn’t associate with the band but hey, it happened. On top of all the sordid conditions, it was still crazy to imagine how much of an asshole John Lennon was. How coercive and contemptible he was, only to lay the ground-work for the contrast of how we all love to remember him.
Although the narrative of the stage performance features the band and their transition to worldwide fame and recognition, it really centers around Stuart Sutcliffe and his pursuit of continuing art and sharing his life with Astrid. Everything the band came to be occurred subsequently from the seeds that Stu had planted for the Beatles. I thought it was a good stage production that conjures up an intricate backstory to apply to something the audience already has framed out in their head. Musical numbers are played throughout the show that features the early singles of the Beatles to coincide with their residency sets as well as moments when we see John and the gang brainstorm and concept hits we’re familiar with. And after the players bow out, we are served with a small set of early Beatles numbers that got everyone especially the old people in the house dancing. Give yourself a little stage culture.
Irrelevant to note that the UK band was broken up twice – once by a German girl and the second time done by a Japanese girl. Brings to mind that one thing…
Enjoy a small set from Backbeat on Center Theatre Group’s Souncloud.
Get your tickets to the show here.
Ahmanson Theatre in DTLA
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012