Friday, 11 June 2010

I Call Your Name

John, Paul, George and . . . Richard? Or Richie, maybe? Though he's 'Richie' to his family and friends, Ringo Starr is known around the world under the stage name he adopted at the start of the 60s. Back then, he was playing with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, alongside a guitarist who dubbed himself Johnny Guitar, and behind a lead singer who had been christened with the less tempestuous and romantic name of Alan Caldwell.

So it was Ringo Starr who enjoyed his moment of 'Starr Time' on stage with the Hurricanes, and who went on to join the Beatles in 1962. And yet . . .

On every page of You Never Give Me Your Money, I refer to the Beatles' drummer by his real name: Richard Starkey. When the book was published in Britain last September, I heard murmurs of complaint that I was being sarcastic towards the man I am quite happy to call 'Ringo'. That's probably because the only reason I gave in the book for my decision was to quote what Ringo said in that really annoying TV advert last year for a product that, thankfully, I've already forgotten: "Don't call me by my stage name".

So I didn't. Except that the advert wasn't actually why I took that decision. I was clear from the start that I didn't want to call the subjects of my book 'John', 'Paul', etc. when I was writing about four adults who had led very adult lives. That left me with Lennon, McCartney, Harrison - and Starr? Not a problem if I was writing a book about their careers as musicians. But You Never Give Me Your Money was much more than that. It was about what happens when four ostensibly ordinary people become the most famous human beings on the planet, and have to live with the consequences of that fame. And one of those four ordinary people from Liverpool was a sickly but determined child called Richard Starkey.

It was Starkey, not Starr, who signed all those contracts, earned and spent all those millions, sued some people and was sued by plenty more, and who carried around the burden of being not only a Beatle for life whether he liked it or not, but also 'Ringo Starr', the happy-go-lucky drummer with the sad face. It's Ringo Starr who makes albums, leads the All-Starr Band, and gives occasional interviews. And it's Richard Starkey who goes home afterwards and probably asks his wife why every interviewer insists on quizzing him about the Beatles. 'Ringo Starr' is a fantasy in which we've all bought shares. Richard Starkey is something much more interesting than that - a human being, with the same strengths and faults as you and me, who also turned out to be a rock'n'roll drummer with a backbeat that wouldn't quit.

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