Admittedly, there is some fascination with the lives of those musicians that played with The Beatles before there were THE BEATLES. Two come to mind, of course: Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe. Best was the pre-Ringo drummer, fired by new manager Brian Epstein when the boys returned from Hamburg in 1962 -- still prior to making it big. These days Best is touring as The Pete Best Band, playing Beatles songs and otherwise profiting from his early association with the boys. From what I have heard, Best was a mediocre drummer, out-bested by Ringo Starr. Can you imagine what he has dealt with all these years?
On the other hand, Stuart Sutcliffe was the best friend of John Lennon, having net him in the Liverpool Art School. Stu was primarily a visual artist, of the abstract expressionist variety. He learned to play bass, though, because the band needed a bass player. Some say he played well; others, McCartney chief among them, said otherwise. While in Hamburg, Stuart met and fell in love with (and ultimately married) Astrid Kirchherr, an attractive blond who apparently had quite an influence on all the Beatles. It is to Astrid we owe the many photos of the Beatles taken in those early days in Hamburg, as well as the mop-top hair, first on Sutcliffe, and then adopted by all the Beatles.
Stu Sutcliffe left the Beatles of his on accord, wanting to devote himself to painting and to Astrid. Sadly, he suffered a brain aneurysm or other disorder (it was unclear) in April 1962 and died in Astrid's arms. Prior to that time he had suffered a great deal from severe headaches, insomnia, nausea -- all making it difficult to work and live.
All of this was brought home to me in a 60-minute documentary on Sutcliffe I watched recently, entitled The Lost Beatle. I had never seen his art, but it was displayed on the video quite efectively. I found it arresting, and yet definitely an expression of a man in torment. Stu himself also had quite a look -- a sort of Liverpool James Dean. There were extensive conversations with Paula Sutcliffe, Stu's sister, and Astrid, now of course in her 60s! Along with excerpts of letters from Stu, it was an effective chronicle of a tragic life. Oddest of all was Paula Sutcliffe's belief that Stu's death was caused by an injury she said was received when Lennon hit Stu upside the head. Unproven, of course. It's a sad commentary on a life -- cut short, with no hope of salvation -- and yet it's not an uncommon one.