Brian Epstein: The Man Behind the Beatles

By | Feb 08, 2013
2006 July-August, Arts & Culture

The family wanted a quiet Orthodox funeral at the Greenbank Drive Synagogue and asked the Beatles not to attend for fear that it would draw too much public attention. Following Orthodox tradition, only the men accompanied Epstein’s body to the Jewish Cemetery on Long Lane in Aintree. Epstein was buried near his father. “After the burial, the rabbi, who didn’t know Brian, said something about him being a symbol of the malaise of his generation, which was amazing,” says Weiss. “How can a man who filled stadiums, who literally was the catalyst for the greatest musical event of the 20th century, be treated as a malaise of his generation? It was such an unjust epitaph. It was disgusting.”

Six weeks later, the Beatles attended a memorial service at the New London Synagogue on Abbey Road. All four wore black paper yarmulkes. This time the officiating rabbi, Louis Jacobs, praised Epstein, “He encouraged young people,” Jacobs said, “to sing of love and peace rather than war and hatred.”

In the months after Epstein’s death, the Beatles would come to realize what they already suspected: Brian Epstein was irreplaceable. Without him, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had no one they trusted to look out for their interests. Without Epstein’s unique combination of ethics, protectiveness and charm, they were forced to handle business details and interpersonal squabbles by themselves.

There was no obvious successor. McCartney, then engaged to Linda Eastman, supported her brother, Lee, a lawyer, for the role. (Eastman’s family was Jewish; coincidentally, Eastman was an anglicized version of their original name, Epstein.) The other was Allen Klein, an established rock manager who handled such acts as the Rolling Stones. Klein did take care of some key record company negotiations and reorganized the new company that the Beatles had formed—Apple—with the blessing of Lennon, Harrison and Starr, but McCartney never signed on.

The Fab Four began managing themselves but without their long-time mediator and polished representative, the atmosphere grew increasingly acrimonious. In his book Here, There, and Everywhere, studio engineer Geoff Emerick remembered the 1968 sessions for what became The Beatles album, most commonly called The White Album, being painfully difficult, as interpersonal tensions spilled into the studio. Viewers of the theatrical feature Let It Be, filmed during recording sessions held in early 1969, could see the tension for themselves on screen.

Even as the band identity that Epstein had so carefully crafted began to disappear, the momentum he had helped build, continued. From 1967 to 1970, the Beatles went on to produce some of their greatest music, including “Hey Jude,” their most successful single, and Abbey Road, one of their most respected albums. But the old feeling was gone. “We made a few more albums but we were sort of winding up,” said McCartney. “We always felt we’d come full circle and Brian’s death was part of it.” In 1970, less than three years after Epstein passed away, the Beatles disbanded. “After Brian died, we collapsed,” said Lennon in a 1971 Rolling Stone interview.

There are few reminders of Brian Epstein left in Liverpool. A plaque and an oil portrait hang in the lobby of the Neptune Theater, which is currently closed for remodeling. Photographs and notes about Epstein line the wall of “The Beatles Story Exhibition.”

Outside of town is the small Jewish cemetery where the Epstein family plot can be found. “It’s the saddest thing,” says Glenn Frankel, who visited the cemetery recently. “Brian had finally escaped Liverpool and was back before he was 33. Clive died of a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 51. And there is Queenie, who survived all her men and who was pretty miserable at the end of her life, having her golden family fall away.”

The epitaph on Epstein’s tombstone does not say anything about his life accomplishments. The grave is simple, says Weiss, as befits a man whom he calls a good Jew. “Brian adhered to the best tenets of Judaism, he kept to the highest values of the Jewish faith,” he says. “He was an honest man, extremely fair in his dealings. He was very compassionate and understanding of his fellow man, he believed in mercy and compassion. He was very kind and very generous. He was like a saint in that respect.”

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