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Craig Browns portrait of the band recaptures their heyday in a series of shimmering vignettes

Fifty years since their dissolution in April 1970 the Beatles live on. The bands music, their significance and their individual personalities exert a hold on the cultural consciousness that seems to tighten as their heyday recedes. But is there anything new to say? Craig Browns One Two Three Four, the latest to enter the crowded library of Beatles books, is not a biography so much as a group portrait in vignettes, a rearrangement of stories and legends whose trick is to make them gleam anew.

The subtitle, The Beatles in Time, marks out the books difference from the rest. Brown goes on Beatles jaunts around Liverpool and Hamburg, visits fan festivals, tests the strength of the industry that has agglomerated around them. So many of the clubs where they played are now lost or changed beyond recognition a memory of a memory and the fans who do the pilgrimages are simply chasing shadows.

Brown, the arch-satirist, is wry about the 1,000-plus Beatles tribute acts worldwide. At times, the slightly desperate nostalgia of International Beatle Week in Liverpool reminds him of his parents watching The Good Old Days in the 1970s, a collective delusion that the dead can be revived. But then he watches tribute band the Fab Four play She Loves You and hes transported. A double fantasy is at work for as long as they play, we are all 50 years younger, gazing in wonder at the Beatles in their prime.

The book is a social history as well as a musical one. Success came slowly at first, and then quickly, as a landslide, flattening those ahead. Cliff Richard, once the golden boy of British pop, sounds (even decades later) mightily miffed about the way the Beatles displaced him. Prime ministers were as susceptible as teenagers: Harold Wilson sought an audience with them and later arranged their MBEs.

In the US, their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show had a seismic effect: it seemed nobody could talk about anything else. Some responded in bemusement. Cassius Clay, after a jokey photo session with the boys, asked a reporter: Who were those little sissies? The actor Eleanor Bron recalls girls screaming like starlings as the Beatles landed at Heathrow a high sighing hopeless poignant sound, unrequitable. You can almost feel the 1960s bloom from monochrome into colour as the band plays irresistibly on.

Brown is an able memoirist, with an instinct for selection that quite eludes the Beatles most exhaustive chronicler, Mark Lewisohn, whose basic principle is to include everything he knows. One Two Three Four hasnt the authority or the insight of Ian MacDonalds sacred Revolution in the Head, and lacking an index it isnt as useful as Philip Normans 1981 biography Shout! But it does an intriguing sideline in characters who were tangential to the Beatles story such as Richard and Margaret Asher, who welcomed Paul as one of the family into their Wimpole Street home when he was going out with their daughter, Jane. Or the drummer Jimmie Nicol, a Beatle-surrogate for 10 days when Ringo had tonsilitis and whose life thereafter fell through the cracks. Or the sad figure of Eric Clague, former police constable, who discovered by chance that the woman he had accidentally run down and killed years before was Julia Lennon, Johns mum.

The Beatles in Washington DC, 1964. Photograph: Copyright Apple Corps

This is the strange paradox of the Beatles. Listening to the sound that John, Paul, George and Ringo created still plugs us right into the happiness and exhilaration that their producer, the gentlemanly George Martin, talked of. Reading about them, conversely, is quite a melancholy experience, because the end seems always in sight.

Its noticeable in this book how, once they are famous, they become prey to the most outrageous hangers-on. This vulnerability is most evident in John, the prickliest of the four, and also the neediest. He was first seduced by Magic Alex, a Greek conman whom he appointed his guru and electronics expert. Then he and George fell under the spell of the Maharishi.

Finally, and fatefully, came Yoko Ono, who John initially assured his wife Cynthia was crackers, just a weirdo artist who wants me to sponsor her. Brown reserves a particular scorn for Yoko, not because she broke up the Beatles that was inevitable but because her narcissism egged Lennon on to painful extremes of silliness and self-importance.

The saddest irony was that the Beatles once did have someone to take care of them. The Hamlets Ghost of this book is Brian Epstein, whose story Brown plots in reverse from the eclipse of his lonely suicide to the bright-eyed overtures as manager and impresario. It makes a poignant epilogue. Of course that story is nothing without the Beatles talent, but here is the reminder of how Epstein discovered it, packaged it, and sold it. Had he not taken himself down the steps of the Cavern Club one lunchtime in November 1961, the world might never have heard of the Beatles. As Lennon once admitted: Brian made it all seem real. We were in a daydream til he came along We stopped chomping at cheese rolls and jam butties onstage.

One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Timeby Craig Brownis published by Fourth Estate (20). To order a copy go to Free UK p&p over 15

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Taking heroin, being flashed by David Bowie, and punk-pop brilliance but in this long-awaited memoir the Blondie singer remains mysterious to the last

When Blondies singer, Debbie Harry, was crafting her image as a pop star in the mid-70s, she looked first to cinema. Her love of cartoon fantasy figures led her to Barbarella, as portrayed by Jane Fonda in the Roger Vadim film, though her biggest influence was Marilyn Monroe, who she recognised was playing a character, the proverbial dumb blonde with the little-girl voice and the big-girl body a woman playing a mans idea of a woman. As the only woman in an all-male band, Harry knew she had to make her mark. With her peroxide hair, thrift-store clothes and expression that sat somewhere between a pout and a sneer, she was a pin-up with a subversive streak: My Blondie character was an inflatable doll but with a dark, provocative, aggressive side. I was playing it up yet I was very serious.

In Face It, Harry, who is now 74, outlines the influences and events that led to her rise to fame. Written with the music writer Sylvie Simmons, the memoir is based on a series of lengthy interviews, which makes for a conversational style, though anyone looking for an excavation of the soul might be disappointed. Harry has rock n roll stories to burn but the memoir as a confessional isnt her style. For the most part, the Blondie character remains.

The music, which merged punk rock with pop sensibilities, is only part of the picture; having been awarded the title best-looking girl in her school yearbook, Harry knew the value of her attractiveness early on, and later created an industry around her image. It was she, for instance, who saw an upturned car on a New York street and, rather than moving on, declared it ideal for a photoshoot. Before designers were lining up to work with her, she would find a pillowcase and turn it into a stage outfit; later, years before Lady Gagas meat dress, she would step out in a gown made of razorblades. Harry was driven not by a quest for fame but for creativity. Ultimately for me, she notes, its the overwhelming need to have my entire life be an imaginative out-of-body experience.

We learn how, having been given up for adoption at three months old, Harry was raised by her adoptive parents in New Jersey. Before Blondie took off, she worked variously as a model, a secretary at the BBCs New York office, a waitress and a Playboy bunny, all the while trying to figure out her next move. When she first moved to New York, she wanted to be a painter but, after seeing the likes of Janis Joplin, the Velvet Underground and, later, the New York Dolls, she decided music was her calling. Harry joined and left various bands including the Stilettos, through which she met Chris Stein, who would become her principal collaborator as the guitarist in Blondie, her partner for the next 13 years and, after their split, one of her dearest friends.

Caustic and funny. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein in New York, 1980 Photograph: Allan Tannenbaum

Early on, Harry offers a vivid portrait of a seedy, bohemian scene in late-60s New York in which drugs were part of your social life, part of the creative process, chic and fun and really just there. No one thought about the consequences. Describing her first encounter with heroin with her then-boyfriend, she recalls: It was so delicious and delightful For those times when I wanted to blank out parts of my life or when I was dealing with some depression, there was nothing better than heroin. Nothing.

A similar matter-of-factness runs through her recollections of the man who approached her and Stein one night outside their front door and threatened them with a knife. When they said they didnt have any money, he insisted on accompanying them into their apartment. There he tied up Stein and Harry while he piled up their guitars and amps by the front door. He then untied Harry and raped her. I cant say that I felt a lot of fear, she recalls. Im very glad this happened pre-Aids or I might have freaked. In the end, the stolen guitars hurt me more than the rape.

Her account of the incident indicates the somewhat detached tone of this memoir. Whether reflecting on her fruitless search for her birth parents, or the New Jersey ex-boyfriend who stalked her and threatened her with a gun, or the close shave with a man who offered her a lift, and whom she believes to have been the serial killer Ted Bundy, Harry allows no room for shock, sadness or vulnerability. This is, of course, the authors prerogative and doesnt mean that the book is without depth or charm. She can be caustic and funny, and is drily unfazed by the antics of her mostly male peers. While on tour with Iggy Pop and David Bowie, the latter flashes his penis at Harry in the dressing room as if I were the official cock checker or something. Noting Bowies generously proportioned appendage, she is moved to wonder why Iggy didnt let me have a closer look at his dick.

As her star rises in the late 1970s, towering cultural figures drift in and out of her orbit, among them Miles Davis, Patti Smith, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol. While playing a series of shows in LA, she and Stein are invited to meet Phil Spector at his mansion. He greets them with a Colt 45 in one hand and a bottle of Manischewitz [kosher wine] in the other. Elsewhere, there are forays into film she played a neglected wife in Marcus Reicherts Union City, and Velma Von Tussle in John Waterss Hairspray. She and Stein were keen to re-make the 1965 film Alphaville, and even bought the rights from its director Jean-Luc Godard for a thousand dollars. Only later did they learn that they werent his to sell.

By the early 1980s, band relations were fraught. A last-minute tour cancellation because of Steins ill health (he was later diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease) was the final straw and Blondie fell apart. Shortly afterwards, they discovered they had accrued two years worth of unpaid taxes, prompting Harry to lose her house, her car and even some of her clothes. Swallowing her fury, and having nursed Stein back to health, she got back to work.

Inevitably, Harrys tales of her solo ventures and Blondies eventual reunion lack the atmosphere and excitement of the early years, and its with more than a little awkwardness that she shoehorns in details of her current day-to-day life to spice things up. Could my routines reveal further insight into what makes me tick? she asks, treating us to her morning schedule of letting the dogs out and making coffee, to which the answer is: no.

But when not resorting to padding, Face It makes for an engaging and occasionally surprising read. Its a shame that Harry passes up the chance to dig deeper into her experiences of objectification and the nature of fame, but more disappointing is that we learn so little about her interior life, and how she really thinks and feels. Perhaps thats to be expected from a notoriously private star with such an acute understanding of image. Rather than expose her inner workings to the world, Harry has determined to stay mysterious to the last.

Face It by Debbie Harry is published by HarperCollins (RRP 20) To order a copy go to or call 020-3176 3837. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

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Bass guitarist said he pretty much raped a woman in band autobiography The Dirt, but now apologises for possibly making the story up

Nikki Sixx, bassist with 1980s rock band Mtley Cre, has apologised over a story from the bands autobiography The Dirt in which he admitted to pretty much raping a woman.

In the book, Sixx recounts an incident in which he tricked a woman into believing she was having sex with him in a dark closet at a party, when it was actually bandmate Tommy Lee. The woman reported being raped later that night in a separate incident as she attempted to hitchhike home. On hearing of the second incident, Sixx said that it made him realise I had probably gone too far At first, I was relieved, because it meant I hadnt raped her. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I pretty much had. I was in a zone, though, and in that zone, consequences did not exist.

Mtley Cre in their pomp, in 1984. Photograph: Paul Natkin/WireImage

In a statement to Rolling Stone, Sixx has somewhat retracted the story. I dont actually recall that story in the book beyond reading it, he said. I have no clue why its in there other than I was outta my head and its possibly greatly embellished or [I] made it up. Those words were irresponsible on my part. I am sorry.

He said he did not recall the story because, when the book was being written in 2000, he was at a really low point in my life. I had lost my sobriety and was using drugs and alcohol to deal with a disintegrating relationship which I still to this day regret how I handled. I honestly dont recall a lot of the interviews with Neil, referring to Neil Strauss, who wrote the book with the band.

He added: There is a lot of horrible behaviour in the book. What I can tell you is that we all lived to regret a lot and learned from it. We own up to all our behaviour that hurt ourselves, our families, friends and any innocents around us.

The Dirt has been adapted for a film biopic by Netflix, to be released on 22 March.

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