The Biggest Bastard in the Valley

Klein bookAllen Klein by Fred Goodman (HMH $27.00)

 

Allen Klein, one of the most controversial managers of all time, has not been treated kindly by posterity. John Lennon slagged off his hygiene – “you leave your smell like an alley cat”- Bill Wyman refers to him as “Allen Crime” and, well, even Klein famously referred to himself as “the biggest bastard in the valley.”

Unsurprisingly, Klein played a key role in the story of the Rolling Stones, whose management he took over in July 1965 – it was a fait accompli by Andrew Oldham, who hired him as his own financial manager, and the emergent lead duo, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Wyman reckons he and Brian Jones were against the deal, but their concerns were brushed aside. It’s a decision Jagger and Richards would repent at their leisure, for it cost them control of all their early recordings. The same applied to Brian Jones, who in the spring of 1965 was contemplating leaving the band. The loss of original manager Eric Easton lost him a vital managerial confidant, and Brian never jumped – with terrific consequences for the Stones music, and terrible ones for Brian.

I found Klein a fascinating character – was he really as bad as people reckoned? In my own research, I found intriguing examples of his often baleful influence, in particular his masterful manipulation of the much younger Andrew Oldham. I was looking forward to Fred Goodman’s book on the man, whether it turned out to be positive or negative about this controversial figure – for Goodman actually started out the work at the suggestio of Klein’s son, Jody. Goodman gained access to the family reords, as well as a number of tapes of interviews, conducted by (one-time MOJO contributer, and editor of Musician) Bill Flanagan.

Yet, Klein remain something of an enigma, even after this book. Goodman is a balanced, reasonable writer, and seems reluctant truly to dive in, to fully depict Klein’s charm, or his chicanery. Although the subject is not really broached until late in the book, it seems Klein’s life was one long search for validation, following his father’s rejection of him as a child, consigning him to an orphanage. Yet there’s only minimal insight into Klein senior. Philip Klein was “sent to America at the age of 13”. From where? Eastern Europe was in a state of permanent flux with widespread anti-Semitism and pogroms. Was Philip fleeing such travails, was he scarred by the experience? We never find out.

Goodman, as we’d expect from Mansion On The Hill, is good on the money. There is the most lucid explanation I’ve yet seen on the breakdown of Stones royalties, and exactly how and when Klein got ultimate control of the band, purchased from Andrew Oldham for $750.000. The analysis of the Beatles’ court case, or even the bizarre way Klein bought control of He’s So Fine, just as George Harrison was fighting a plagiarism suit involving the song,  boasts examplary clarity. Yet ultimately Goodman proclaims Klein an “enigma.” I couldn’t help feeling one reason for this is Goodman’s constant reference to secondary sources. The Beatles’ chapter in particular quotes one book after another in what becomes a repetititive sequence of over-familiar material. If Goodman had gone back to, say, Tony Bramwell, he could have interrogated the Beatles’ insiders’ loathing of Klein – for perhaps, whoever cut out the excess at Apple was destined to be loathed. Instead, we’re left with a summary of Klein’s behaviour that’s pretty much business as usual. It’s actually the stellar supporting cast – especially Paul McCartney, enraged by Klein’s empire-building – that’s more richly portrayed than the subject.

There are intriguing moments –  his secretary, Beverly Wilson, tells Goodman how she’d spend hours on the phone discussing the ethics of life with her boss. If only we were told more about this conversations, perhaps we would know more about Klein himself. The man had immense charisma,  and could be both clumsy in his dealings, yet incredibly far-sighted. One aspect of Klein I find intriguing is how Klein encouraged Oldham’s terror of arrest after the Redlands bust, causing him to disappear – an action which the Stones naturally construed as desertion of duty, causing Oldham to lose control and, ultimately, sell his share of the Stones to Klein. As Oldham’s partner, Tony Calder, told me, “Allen totally played Andrew… it was horrible.” Oldham’s description of their conflicted relationship in his own book, 2Stoned, remains far more insightful.

Klein’s achievements, Klein’s hubris, were so immense that a major book on him is to be welcomed, and Goodman does a great job of showing how Klein transformed artists’ relationships with the record industry – reaping the benefits for himself in the short term, but also for musicians in the long term.  This is the strength of this book, which never really gets down to analysing his charm, or whether he really had BO. Allen Klein is a forensic investigation into the manager but not, alas the man.

A version of this review appears in the current issue of MOJO Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Brian Jones

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