You’d think, given the iconic legacy of the Beatles, that everyone would know who Pete Best is. But I’ve had several conversations lately where he’s come up, and all I’ve heard in response to his name is the sound of crickets. It’s weird. I mean, there’s even a TV Trope named after him – how can they not know who he is? He’s like the Venn diagram intersection between famous and not famous. He’s also this week’s Awesome Man, so he’d better not go all Vaclav Havel on me any time soon.
Pete, in case you readers don’t know, was the Beatles’ first drummer, who was in the band when they were playing crappy nightclubs in Germany and dressing like Gene Vincent. His story is really interesting because it illustrates what a thoroughly well-grounded guy he is, and what colossal pricks the other Beatles were (except for Ringo, who didn’t really have anything to do with Best’s firing).
What happened is this: the Beatles had gotten a residency in Hamburg, Germany, but they didn’t have a touring drummer, and they knew Pete from the Casbah Club, which his mom ran and where his band, the Black Jacks, played all the time. They hired him after an audition, he accepted, and off they went.
There was friction, though, between Best and the other Beatles. He was shy and solemn compared to the others, and didn’t adopt the band’s signature look (mop-top haircuts and, at the time, leather jackets and jeans). He wasn’t all hopped up on speed like the rest of the band, either, which was another bone of contention between them. It makes its own weird kind of sense, too; like roommates and marriages, bands don’t survive unless all the members have the same habits (or lack thereof). The Odd Couple approach never works.
It has also been said that the other Beatles were jealous of Pete because of all the tail he pulled in around Liverpool. Pete was a groupie magnet due to his looks, which might explain why he was replaced by the most awkward-looking man the other Beatles could find. God bless Ringo Starr, but he looked like a stork.
Whatever the reason, the Beatles got their manager to fire Pete Best in 1962, just two years after they’d hired him. Pete was mad about that for years afterward – being fired was bad enough, but having your friends fire you through a third party is a pretty deep insult. One can only imagine how pissed off he was when he found out that they’d fired him to use a session drummer for their sweet recording contract with Parlophone/EMI, which they never told him about, even though he was still in the band when they landed it.
Pete was depressed for weeks after that, understandably, but rather than wallow in bitterness forever (although he did attempt suicide during the height of Beatlemania), he went on with his life. He got out of show business after a few more attempts to hit it big and became a civil servant, helping displaced blue collar workers find new jobs or retrain for different work. He also got married, and has remained that way for over 45 years now.
He has also, over the past couple of decades, done some interviews about his time with the Beatles. The Spinner interview is the best one, no pun intended, and Pete comes off as a very modest, likeable guy who took the high road in a situation where just about anyone else would have lashed out in anger forever.
Granted, he was also set for life financially by his inclusion in the 1995 Beatles anthology, and that kind of money can heal a lot of wounds. But regardless, Pete is at peace and loving life, and after what he’s been through, that makes him awesome.
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