After over 50 years and thousands of Beatles books, it’s safe to say we’ve heard most of the firsthand experiences still out there. After all, there are few people from the Beatles’ inner circle who haven’t written a book by now, and if a guy rode a bus with a Beatle 60 years ago, he probably wrote a book, too. Rarer, though, are the firsthand perspectives from those who knew them intimately and have something new to share. So when a family member writes a book, Beatle People pay attention.
My Kid Brother’s Band, a.k.a. the Beatles! offers one of those unique perspectives, as George Harrison’s older sister Louise shares memories of a life inexorably intertwined with her famous little brother.
The title is a little misleading. This book isn’t about the Beatles, or even really about George. It’s about Louise, and while much of her life was — and still is — influenced by her brother, this story is hers, not theirs. She delves into many events — her childhood, World War II, her marriage, and her short-lived environmental organization, to name a few — that have little or nothing to to with George. But Louise is aware that readers might be surprised at the lack of Beatle-y content at the beginning, so she starts the book with “Chapter Zero,” which she describes as “an appetizer for Beatle People.” The chapter takes place in 1963, the year when she was most active in trying to get the Beatles on American radio, and when George visited her and her family — the last time any Beatle could travel as a private person, mere months before their first Ed Sullivan Show appearance. Louise hopes you’ve got your Beatle fix out of the way, since it’ll be a while until you hear about her kid brother’s band again.
However, Louise’s story is interesting in its own right. She experienced World War II and the bombings, the tragedy of daily casualty lists and of being one of thousands of children evacuated from the city, and she lived in four countries — all well before George’s band started making waves in the UK. Those who are plan to skim these parts just to get to the Beatle stuff may be pleasantly surprised at how engaging she can be.
But we all know why we’re here. And once Louise gets back to the Beatles stories, it’s worth the wait. Because Louise wasn’t just an onlooker; she took an active role in promoting the band in 1963, doggedly pursuing American radio stations and keeping regular correspondence with EMI, Dick James, and Brian Epstein. Louise’s influence is responsible for some of the Beatles’ first US radio plays, and she even became a bit of a radio personality herself. Her story of meeting the other Beatles for the first time at The Ed Sullivan Show — while caring for her brother, who was too ill to join his bandmates for most of the rehearsals — gives a little-known personal perspective to a story that most Beatle fans know so well they could recite by memory.
Louise’s stories are full of new and interesting bits of information — an incident where she accidentally overrode Brian Epstein’s exclusivity agreement with Murray the K is especially noteworthy and funny — but if you’re looking for a juicy tell-all, you’re not going to find it here. Louise remains fiercely protective of her “kid brother,” refusing to divulge too many private anecdotes, and does not discuss his personal life at all. She explains:
“Yes, this book is mostly of interest because of the subsequent fame of my kid brother. However, as many of you reading this already know, I have been very open about all parts of his Beatle life which I shared, but, I have always been protective and respectful of the moments in his childhood that were private. Although there are many cherished moments like those I have just revealed, please be satisfied with this little glimpse of a very dear soul, and allow me the discretion of stopping now and not making a mockery of my relationship by ‘telling all.’ He never behaved in a way I would be ashamed to tell about, but I think you will agree he deserves the small amount of privacy I can still protect.”
If anyone is the real focus of her story, it’s not George, but their parents, Louise and Harold. The Harrison parents loom large in Louise’s life, and she frequently gives them credit for instilling integrity, morality, and honesty into all four of their children. Louise paints a picture of a close, cozy, loving family who valued honesty above all — to the point of being “cursed” with a level of trust for others that landed them in sticky situations with people who didn’t share those principles. And by telling her family history through her parents’ lessons, Louise lets us in on the George she knew growing up without giving up the privacy she’s eager to safeguard. “George is widely known for his spiritual quest,” she says, “but in order to better understand the man he became, you may care to know how any by whom those early seeds were sewn.”
Surprisingly, many a story veers off into diatribes about political and social issues — the environment and corporate money in politics being some of her favorite topics. Her strong views may be off-putting to those who disagree with her. Louise, however, doesn’t care. In a recent interview with REBEAT, she commented on her decision to make political commentary so central to her story: “I can’t be true to anybody else so I might as well say what I think. I’m not running for office so I don’t have to court the voters or get billionaires to back me up, so what the heck?”
Politics aside, Louise Harrison has long been a controversial figure in the Beatles community. Rumors of a tenuous relationship with her brother and his wife in his later years and the claim that she exploited her brother’s memory by running a Beatle-themed bed and breakfast have dogged her for decades. Her defense is emphatic and fact-based; one hopes that after knowing more of her story, readers may feel more sympathetic about the rumors.
She consistently paints her brother as a good, kind person — a fellow carrier of the Harrison family “curse” — and shares her own potentially-devastating personal experiences with an attitude of resiliency and humor. But despite her unquenchable optimism, it’s easy to read between the lines and see that there were, and still are, some painful circumstances surrounding her relationship with George. She does not touch on other rumors involving her relationship (or lack thereof) with Harrison’s second wife Olivia and nephew Dhani — and perhaps she can’t; she briefly discusses a nondisclosure agreement from the Harrison family estate that she signed “under duress.” But regardless, she is always George’s loving sister who guards her brother’s memory and their relationship.
My Kid Brother’s Band, a.k.a. the Beatles! is worth the read, not only for the new insights into George and his family, but because Louise herself is an interesting, engaging woman whose story is a worthy addition to the Beatle canon.