With the recent passing of Neil Aspinall…
One of the more memorable characters whom I’ve come across was Michael, a diminutive Englishman who was one of our staff at a record store where I worked for several years. He was nearly twenty years older than most of us twenty-somethings and, because of his age and more proper demeanor, had our respect like few other grown-ups. He was akin to that one uncle we all seem to have.
Michael was ecentric and enigmatic. He reminded me of a craggy-faced, tousle-haired Gilligan (of Gilligan’s Island) and, like Gilligan, his wardrobe rarely changed – worn, faded blue jeans, a plain, brown-leather belt, simple, white tennis shoes, and a white t-shirt which, during the colder months, would be covered by a flannel shirt. The only concession to fashion was his occasional donning of a red bandana around his neck.
Polite and proper, Michael was generally aloof as though constantly daydreaming. It only added to our curiousity. However, what really piqued the interest of many of us, who were music junkies, was Michael’s past. It was all so cryptic like his mutterings about the moon when it was full. We knew that Michael wasn’t famous, but it was rumored that he had often kept the company of those who were during the late ’60s in London.
Steve Winwood was supposedly a friend. As were several, if not all, of the Rolling Stones. There were stories that the legendary Nick Lowe’s song “I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock & Roll)” had been inspired by one of Michael’s ex-wives. We knew that Michael had written a song for a singer named Mary Hopkins whose albums had been among the first released on Apple Records, the label created by The Beatles. There were rumors that the song was the cause of a rift between him and Paul McCartney.
We’d heard that he had been friends with The Beatles.
The subject of The Beatles was one that those of us who worked with Michael for years never brought up (despite the obvious temptation). Finally, I was presented with the opportunity. One of my co-workers had loaned me a copy of The Love You Make, a behind-the-scenes account of The Beatles by Peter Brown, the group’s longtime business associate. It was in my backpack one day as Michael checked me out as I ended my shift. He saw it.
“Excellent book,” he said. “That’s just the way it happened.” I had an opening. As casually as possible, I took it.
“So, Michael,” I said informally, feigning indifference, “you knew those guys, right?”
His reaction was a prolonged, gutteral groan and a waving of his hands, an expression of frustration from him that the staff was long familiar and I had always found rather endearing. I also considered it the end of my attempt to get the truth. I was distracted by a co-worker and was quickly engaged in another conversation at the store’s main counter.
Moments later, Michael crept up beside me and slid a slip of paper in front of me. All it said was “yes.” I just smiled at him and he rubbed my shoulder and walked off.
Several days later, I was again completing my shift and Michael, again, was checking my backpack. The book was still there. Michael said nothing. He checked me out and wandered off.
I stood behind the counter, gathering my belongings, preparing to leave. Michael, again, crept up beside me.
“It was just like you and me,” he whispered loudly, almost hissing the words. I had no idea what he meant and my face registered confusion which Michael picked up on.
He glanced around before returning his attention to me. His voice was now so quiet that he practically mouthed “The Beatles.”
“They were just like you and me,” he continued, his hands gesturing between the two of us. “They were just regular guys. We’d just have conversations like you and I do.” He seemed to be as awed by the idea as I was at his cryptic confession.
The Beatles. I was standing next to someone, someone with whom I had worked for several years, who had known The Beatles. I wanted to know more. I wanted to ask questions.