As in many areas, Ringo gets the short end of the stick when it comes to biographies. There are very, very few books about him — not just when compared to his fellow Beatles, but in comparison to almost anyone with a similar level of fame. Michael Seth Starr has begun to remedy that with Ringo: With a Little Help, the first biography of the Beatles’ drummer released in over 20 years. Starr gives readers a fascinating look into the rarely-told story of someone everyone knows of, but few know much about.
The author addresses everyone’s first question straight away: he was born with the last name Starr, and Ringo was not, so there’s absolutely no relation. The second point he makes is equally important: this is not a Beatles book. And he’s right; while there’s a meaty section devoted to 1962-1970, more than a full third of the book focuses on the post-1970 years, and this section contains a wealth of new information and anecdotes. Though still disproportionate to the length of time covered, Starr gives more attention to these years than most Beatles biographers — a welcome treat for those of us who have read many Beatles/Beatles solo biographies, only to find the same stories again and again.
Starr begins at the beginning: the young Richard Starkey’s sickly, impoverished childhood, the welcome addition of his stepfather to his life, and his attraction to the drums while living in a children’s convalescent home. While his account of Ringo’s Beatles years will not reveal many new stories, hearing about it from Ringo’s point of view gives a slightly different perspective from the usual Beatles biography. However, With a Little Help is most interesting once it reaches the post-Beatles years, documenting Ringo’s wild party life with best buds Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson, his string of hit singles in the early ’70s, and some of the oddities of his career — like his role in the movie Sextet, starring an octogenarian Mae West in her final screen appearance, and his now-iconic turn as the tiny conductor in Shining Time Station.
The author isn’t shy about exposing Ringo’s low points: his raging alcoholism in the ’70s and ’80s, the physical fights he’d had with his wife Barbara prior to getting clean, and the poor reviews and journalistic snark he faces with every new artistic endeavor. He also explores the dichotomy of present-day Ringo, the guy who offended so many fans by threatening to trash all requests for autographs after a certain date, while at the same time, compulsively talks about “peace and love” wherever he goes.
Yet the overall portrayal is positive, as Starr sheds light on his positive personality, caring nature, and his drive to always keep trying. It also documents his continuing relationship with the other ex-Beatles, from the hit singles his former bandmates wrote for him in the early ’70s, to the Anthology days as the “Threetles” in the mid ’90s, to his continuing relationship with Paul McCartney, who most recently inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. The epilogue is filled with stories from other famous musicians, who remind us that despite the ridicule, Ringo is highly respected as an innovator in his field, often cited as the man who inspired many musicians to pick up their first drumsticks.
This an unauthorized biography; the author even prints Ringo’s statement confirming this to emphasize the fact. And while much of the earlier information is culled from sources familiar to Beatle fans, Starr digs deep into rare sources — and conducts a number of interviews of his own — to tell the story of Ringo, post-1970. Starr himself makes no judgments about Ringo’s talent or technique, but lets his professional colleagues make that assessment. Notable drummers such as Max Weinberg (E-Street Band), Kenny Aronoff (John Cougar Mellencamp), and Phil Collins muse on Ringo’s style, his legacy, and his importance to the next generations of drummers. The book ends with an extensive notes section detailing the author’s sources; while it’s interesting to see where he found his information, the lack of note markers in the text made it difficult to know exactly what each reference is tied to.
Among the thousands of Beatle-related books out there, Ringo: With a Little Help is a unique new addition, covering a long period of Ringo’s life that is often forgotten, yet still quite interesting to Beatles fans. Even the most knowledgeable fans will learn something new, and that’s always good news for Beatle People.
To get your copy of Ringo: With a Little Help, head over to Amazon.