Neil Aspinall – just one of the "mad lads…"

I guess I could make my friend Denny the journalist happy and begin this way – with a lede:

Neil Aspinall, friend of Paul, then George, then John, then Ringo, then The Beatles’ road manager and personal assistant, then chief executive for Apple Corps for more than 4 decades has died. He was 66.

But since I’m a storyteller, let me begin somewhere else:

My first encounter with George was behind the school’s air-raid shelters.This great mass of shaggy hair loomed up and an out-of-breath voice requested a quick drag of my Woodbine. It was one of the first cigarettes either of us had smoked. We spluttered our way through it bravely but gleefully. After that the three of us did lots of ridiculous things together (Aspinall, McCartney and Harrison). By the time we were ready to take the GCE exams we’d added John Lennon to our ‘Mad Lad’ gang. He was doing his first term at Liverpool College of Art which overlooks the Liverpool Institute playground and we all got together in a students coffee bar at lunchtime…. – Neil Aspinall in The Beatles’ Anthology DVD

I’ve long held a hypothesis that my musician and music writer friends argue with me about from time to time. I believe that the best bands form from childhood or school friends who discover in each other a deep love and understanding of music and who somehow galvanize around that love. That’s certainly true about The Beatles – and Steely Dan – and U2 – and Nirvana. You are brothers in music. This gives you some sort of synergistic power that you might never have had…and sometimes, as in the above cited cases, it makes you rich and famous….

aspinallandevans.jpg (Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans)

There’s a corollary to my hypothesis. In the old days, when you formed a band, you had your brothers in music who were your fellow musicians, but you also had your friends outside the band. If or when the band got more serious, those in the latter group either became friends with your band mates and then took on roles as the band needed them to (roles ranging from roadie to business manager to understudy) or gradually drifted out of your orbit.

The relationships you had with these friends who followed you into the music were trust relationships based on loyalty and friendship built from childhood and only strengthened by what you and they did together. These were the guys who helped you carry your equipment – the guys who traveled and ate and drank with you. You loved the music – and they loved you and you loved them – because you made the music and they helped you to make it. And if you were smart and/or lucky, you remembered to tell them.

That’s a far cry from most of the relationships musicians have with record company executives, booking agents, and other figures in the “music business” as lovingly described by Hunter Thompson:

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.

Only yesterday Paul McCartney was at Aspinall’s bedside. Trust me when I say that most musicians think about their business managers’ health rather differently than Paul’s demonstration of care suggests….

Neil Aspinall worked with his fellow “mad lads” who became music legends as only their friend could do.

That’s why Paul and Ringo grieve today.

So maybe Denny will allow me to revise my lede to reflect what musicians everywhere would want written about their own “Neils”:

Neil Aspinall, friend of Paul, George, John, and Ringo for more than 4 decades, has died. He was 66.

2 replies »

  1. I’m sorry to hear of Neil’s passing. I like your hypothesis. I’d never given it a lot of thought, but I think it’s pretty true. Over the years, I’ve learned that to put a band together, you don’t put up ads looking for someone to play bass or drums or what have you. You start by looking at a friend whose music taste you respect and see if they can hold their own on an instrument. If they can’t, well then they can still be a part of it.

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