Culture

Fifth Beatle Brian Epstein's Unsung Revolution

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Gay at a time when homosexuality was a felony and Jewish in an era of “polite” antisemitism, one Liverpool lad broke into entertainment management at a time when the Anglo Lords in London ruled the biz. 50 years later the music world is only beginning to acknowledge that there’d be no Beatles without their manager, Brian Epstein.

This past weekend, Vivek Tiwary, the Gen-X producer that brought Green Day’s American Idiot to Broadway, spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at The Fest for Beatles Fans about his mission to bring Epstein’s little known story to life via a critically acclaimed graphic novel, The Fifth Beatlereleased by Dark Horse Comics.

What I unearthed after much difficult research (there is a paltry amount of information readily available on Brian, which is part of why I want to bring his story to the world) was not just an inspirational business story and a blueprint for what I wanted to accomplish with my career, but also a very human story, as summarized above. It’s a story I could relate to—and wanted to relate to—on so many levels. Brian became my “historical mentor”, if you will. A person from whose history I’ve tried to learn from—both what to do and what NOT to do. Brian was certainly a flawed and imperfect hero, but a hero all the same.

Tiwary has drawn inspiration from Epstein’s trailblazing ingenuity, citing that without Epstein’s persistence, Ed Sullivan never would have brought The Beatles to America. “People scoffed when I brought Sean Combs to Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun because they didn’t believe that Broadway attracted a black audience. I told them that was ridiculous; if we gave them a product they wanted, they would come.” Like Epstein decades before, Tiwary’s was a winning gamble.

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The graphic novel has already garnered a cult following in the Comic Con community, where it premiered in 2012 as one of “the most highly anticipated projects of the year.”

At a time when most British bands didn’t even register on American charts, Brian Epstein had no problem telling executives that The Beatles were going to be bigger than Elvis. A classical music aficionado, Epstein made the bold choice to soften the four lads’ leather-clad look, complimenting their Hamburg-mod hairstyles with clean-cut suits and sweater-vests. Their resulting style, while criticized by some as effeminate, proved to be a welcomed, unthreatening alternative to the hypersexualized, pelvis-shaking rock n’rollers.

Epstein’s work with The Beatles also broke new ground in music merchandising. “If bands made t-shirts before [The Beatles] they were strictly for promotional purposes,” Tiwary explained. The buttons, lunchboxes, Beatle wigs, and thousands of other Beatles items were a new way to capitalize on a band’s success as well as engage a target audience. Later, Lennon would criticize Epstein for bad business deals that cost the band millions in royalties. “Brian did business with trust,” Tiwary explains, “Merchandising was so new to the music world that mistakes were bound to happen.” In the end, however, there has been a million made for every million lost.

When asked why Brian Epstein believed in The Beatles, Tiwary’s answer was simple, but profound: “He believed in their message of love.” Epstein, an outcast on many fronts, was drawn to The Beatles’ message of loving relationships that ranged from romance to love on a global scale. It was that spirit that made him almost a father-figure to the band, especially to John Lennon, who viewed Epstein’s untimely death from an accidental overdose as the death knell for The Beatles: “I never had any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music. After Brian died, I was scared. I thought, ‘We’ve f-ing had it now.”

This year, after nearly two decades of petitioning by music artists and fans, Brian Epstein will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Tiwary has been solicited by the museum to curate the Epstein exhibit, a task he views as a donation of his time and knowledge in honor of Brian. His graphic novel The Fifth Beatle features artwork by the acclaimed Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker. It has been hailed by IGN as a “masterpiece, a true work of art,” and is the basis for the film of the same name which is set to begin production later in the year. With Bruce Cohen producing and Peyton Reed signed to direct, the film has the potential to be an instant indie classic. What’s more, after 3 years of negotiations Apple Corps has authorized the use of original Beatles music in the film, a rarity in the movie business that attests to Epstein’s legacy, succinctly described by Paul McCartney in 1998: “If there ever was a fifth Beatle, it was Brian.”