Book Review: The White Book - The Beatles, the Bands, The Biz: An Insider's Look at an Era by Ken Mansfield
Written by CindyC
Published November 13, 2007
Don't let the cover design and concept of this book fool you. Although Ken Mansfield's life touched and was touched by the phenomenon called The Beatles, The White Book is not a detailed account of the Fab Four when they recorded the famous so-called "White Album." Nor is it an insider's exposé about the rise and fall of Apple Records. It is more of a loose set of recollections of the special events and friendships formed and lost during the glory days of Ken's record-industry career.
In 1968, Ken Mansfield went from being a promotions and artist relations executive at Capitol Records to being the U.S. manager of Apple Records, reporting directly to John, Paul, George, and Ringo. These were heady days for all involved. As Ken writes, "Ševerything was changing - music, mores, and mankind." Ken writes about his days with the Beatles with a wistful air, and a viewpoint that seems to have been tempered by time and everlasting loyalty.
The book is illustrated with pictures and memorabilia that a true Beatles collector would envy. The stories and anecdotes of his relationships with each of the Beatles are so intimately written that we get a sense of how blessed Ken feels about having been a part of their world. He writes amusingly of little things like George's insecurity about being so thin; Paul timing his outings at restaurants so that he knew just when to leave before fans started to show up; and about taking Ringo to see Elvis in concert and showing up wearing a similar velvet suit, both of them looking as chagrined as a couple of girls wearing the same dress to the prom. His tenure with the Beatles appears to have been wholly positive, and he recalls enduring friendships with all of them, except John Lennon.
By the time Ken joined Apple, John was becoming increasingly "bitter, angry, and cynical." Ken's relationship with Yoko was icy at best and he found himself intimidated in their presence. According to Ken, "[John] used to call me, write me caustic letters, send obscenity-laced transatlantic cables Š and constantly badger me on a variety of topicsŠ" The relationship was not all bad, however, and Ken fondly writes of instances of seeing a lighter side of John Lennon. He goes on to say that years later, former Apple President Ron Kass told Ken that John was so aggressive with Ken because he felt comfortable enough to be open with him.
Unfortunately, we miss getting complete insider information of the day-to-day business at Apple because Ken intersperses the Beatles chapters with information devoted to highlights from other areas and times throughout his career. The short chapters are not set chronologically and we are given fleeting glimpses of Ken's work with such artists as The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, James Taylor, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Andy Williams, and David Cassidy.Ken also lightly touches on the many ups and downs of his career: hot-shot executive at Capitol Records and Apple, being one of the driving forces of the Outlaw movement in country music, independent record producer, stagehand at the Starwood Amphitheater in Nashville, and producer of Ringo's "Time Takes Time" album in 1990.
Each of Ken's industry experiences seem to have been colored by his reputation as "the Beatles guy." Even after leaving Apple, the Beatles seem to occupy a big space in Ken's world. Perhaps the clumsy chronology of the book is supposed to represent how the Beatles were woven in and out of the tapestry of Ken's professional and personal life.
Despite the casual reminiscent style of The White Book, it is a pleasure to read about the Beatles and the luminaries that inhabited their world. Ken was reluctant to write about his experiences with the Beatles because he did not want to betray their trust and to honor their professional relationships and subsequent friendships. It wasn't until he got the okay from Ringo to write about his experiences that prompted Ken to share the magic with readers.
In sharing his story, Ken manages to humanize these icons that seem to most of us as being larger than life. The portrait he paints of the Beatles in the studio, of the last concert on the roof of the Apple offices, and of social gatherings and informal jam sessions leave us wanting to read more, and envious of Ken's having lived the ultimate rock and roll fantasy.