Thursday, 6 January 2011

Miss O'Dell

A dose of Christmas flu confined me to barracks and gave me the time to indulge in the frothy pleasure of reading Chris O'Dell's memoir: Miss O'Dell: Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. As the subtitle is nearly longer than the book, not too much more explanation is required. Suffice to say that Ms O'Dell met Derek Taylor in 1968, found her way to Apple's London HQ, became an insider with the Beatles and then the Stones, and spent most of the 70s and 80s in and around the superstar end of the music business.

During her journey, she slept with Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Leon Russell and Bob Dylan; became Pattie Boyd's best female friend; fell out big-time with Eric Clapton; and was celebrated in song by George Harrison. To be fair, she also acted as a tour manager, go-fer, secretary and Ms Fix-It for most of her celebrity friends.

The formula for celebrity-associated kiss-and-tell ghost-written autobiographies is simple: your ghostwriter squeezes as much mileage as possible out of your close encounters, and fills out with the rest with poorly researched retreads of familiar anecdotes about the stars. Miss O'Dell, however, is definitely a cut above the average: though it's still easy to tell where memory leaves off and research takes over, the book has commendably few of the howlers that litter the pages of most such volumes.

And the story is undeniably gripping throughout. It begins as every Beatle fan's fairytale, with O'Dell nervously entering the Beatles' entourage and discovering, to her amazement, that she is being accepted, despite the fact that she expects to be denounced and expelled at any second. This is the part of the book we'd all love to have played out - as an employee during Apple's brief spasm of idealism, before Allen Klein took over. Then the Apple dream fades, and the melodrama begins, with O'Dell becoming an increasingly enmired observer of, and then participant in, the collapse of the Harrison and Starkey marriages. She also slips ever more deeply into alcohol and drug abuse, and soon any glamour (by association) is outstripped by her increasing awareness that she is only clinging to reality by the most tenuous of chemical threads. A hangover is bound to follow, and even what appears to be a happy ending (her 80s marriage to a British aristocrat) turns out to be another nightmare. Long before this point I was thanking the gods that I'd never been anywhere near the Beatles or the Stones at a vulnerable stage of my life - there but for the grace of George go I, indeed . . .

It's well worth reading, anyway - pure indulgence, but a guaranteed page-turner throughout, and often genuinely revelatory about life in the Beatle fast lane.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed. And certainly better than Pattie Boyd's book.