The PopCult Bookshelf
The Beatle Who Vanished
by Jim Berkenstadt
Rock and Roll Detective Publishing
The Beatles are the most documented rock band in history. Thousands of books have been written about almost every aspect of the band-their music, the people, the mystique, and anybody even peripherally involved in the universe of The Beatles. It’s rare to find a new book that has anything approaching new material.
Yet, with The Beatle Who Vanished, Jim Berkenstadt has pulled back the veil on the one figure who has never had his story fully explored, Jimmie Nicol, who for 13 days at the height of Beatlemania, was a full-fledged member of The Fab Four.
On the eve of The Beatles’ first major international tour, Ringo Starr was stricken with tonsilitis and had to be hospitalized. Jimmie Nicol was chosen to fill in for the ailing drummer, and performed live with John, Paul and George for ten dates in Denmark, The Netherlands, Holland, Hong Kong and Australia.
Conventional wisdom is that he dropped off the face of the Earth after that, but Berkenstadt weaves an intricate tale that reveals just what happened to Jimmie Nicol, whose story is much more fascinating than that of a simple “footnote to the history of The Beatles.”
The first eight chapters of the book are dedicated to Nicol’s life before being asked to join the most famous rock group in the world. This is really meaty stuff for anyone interested in the early days of the British rock and roll scene. Nicol crossed paths with many people who went on to play pivotal roles in music. We also learn Nicol’s personal history as a musician who was more accomplished than most of his peers and was equally at home playing rock, jazz or even musical theater. Berkenstadt does a marvelous job evoking the excitement of the era and he provides an extensive biography of Nicol’s pre-Beatle life.
This is an impeccably researched book, with over thirty pages of end notes and bibliography, as well as loads of Berkenstadt’s first-hand interviews and investigative reporting.
Once Berkenstadt gets to Nicol’s days with the Fab Four we are treated to an almost minute-by-minute account of the days that would forever change Nicol’s life. The rabid Beatle fan will eat up this fresh account of the life-in-a-fishbowl existence that The Beatles endured at the height of their fame. Those familiar with The Beatles’ story will recognize key players like George Martin, Brian Epstien, Mal Evans and Neil Aspinal. Berkenstadt does a great job recreating the events in a manner that rings true and adds new depth to previous versions of the Beatlemania story.
Berkenstadt also does a credible job of sussing out Nicol’s inner thoughts, no mean feat without having access to the man himself. Berkenstadt’s well-researched insight into what made Jimmie Nicol tick is key to the rest of the book, after Nicol hands the drumsticks back to Ringo before a concert in Melbourne, Australia.
While the main attractions of The Beatle Who Vanished are the chapters devoted to his days as a Beatle, the real meat of the book comes after, as Nicol fails to parlay his Beatles association into any long-term success, and winds up on a musical journey that takes him from Sweden to Mexico and other points, before ending in 1975, when he puts down his drumsticks and picks up a hammer to work in construction. Along the way he spends time as a drummer, bandleader, record producer, film composer and small businessman.
Nicol has not spoken publicly or performed since a Beatles fan convention in Holland in 1984. Berkenstadt speaks with his estranged son, Howie (himself an award-winner who worked on The Beatles Anthology), but despite a nicely-done epilogue where he hunts for Nicol, the author never comes face-to-face with his subject. He does disprove many of the various rumors that he’d passed away in the 1980s.
The Beatle Who Vanished is more than just another Beatles book. It’s indespensible for the die-hard Beatle fan. A quarter of the book is devoted to his brush with fame, but the rest of the book presents a fascinating life-long journey of a man who deserves to be known as more than just a footnote to The Beatles.
The Beatle Who Vanished is the complete life story of Jimmie Nicol, and it’s well worth reading. Jim Berkenstadt has done an impressive job and the only thing lacking are fresh words from Nicol, himself. We can only hope that a second book, or at least a second edition, might turn up someday. This is not a book that you want to reach the ending of. The Beatle Who Vanished can be ordered directly from the author.
If you are reading this because you are a Beatles fan, and you live in the Charleston, West Virginia area, you might want to know about this show, taking place this weekend, April 19 and 20 at the Alban Arts Center in St. Albans.