28th July, 2017

50 Years Ago: The Summer of Love and The Beatles' Gay Manager

In August 1967, Beatles manager Brian Epstein passed away at the age of 32. He spent his entire adult life introducing The Beatles to a global audience and helping them spread their message of love around the world. Yet Brian himself died lonely, never having had a proper boyfriend, and with the colloquially known “Oscar Wilde laws” declaring homosexuality illegal still in force. The world would remember those days romantically as the “Summer of Love”, from London to San Francisco—and it was indeed a time of love, freedom, openness, and passion… as long as you weren’t gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. If you were, you’d better spend your summer indoors, in the closet.

Earlier in the decade, Brian made two bold and visionary statements about the future. He’s famous for the first one: “The Beatles are going to be bigger than Elvis!”. At the time, the Fab Four were a middle-of-the-road Liverpool band rejected by every record company in the business. Epstein’s second visionary statement has been largely overlooked—but it was in fact bolder, more inspiring, and not only dangerous but borderline seditious. During a 1960’s media appearance, after dashing lovestruck fans’ hopes by revealing that the Beatles would one day be married, Brian added: “And someday, I might be married too!”.

 

 

No one paid much attention to that statement. The media recorded it, thinking it a lighthearted joke. But it was hardly a laughing matter. Because what the public didn’t know was that Brian Epstein was gay. In 1960s England, forget about being allowed to marry—gay men and lesbians weren’t allowed to openly walk the streets! It was literally a felony to be attracted to a member of the same sex.

Very few of us can fully understand the pressures Brian Epstein faced or the obstacles he had to overcome fifty years ago, in order to realize his own dreams and in furtherance of the dreams of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. But lucky for all of us, Brian wasn’t just right about the Beatles. In 2013, forty-six years after his untimely death, the United States Supreme Court struck down the core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and at virtually the same time Parliament made marriage for same-sex couples legal in England and Wales. Had he lived to 2017, Brian Epstein might have attended the wedding of Sean Lennon’s godfather Elton John to David Furnish… And perhaps he might have fulfilled his own dream of getting married, too.

 

 

For me, plumbing the dark depths and bright heights of the human sides of Brian’s story has been truly inspirational, and his inspiration has guided me through my entire adult life. It’s the reason I want to share his story, the reason I spent over 20 years researching and writing The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story. Yes, what Brian Epstein accomplished with the Beatles is historic—and he should be remembered as one of “the great unsung architects of 20th-century culture,” as the writer Warren Ellis describes him. But I hold that it is not The Beatles that Brian Epstein should be most remembered for—it’s the personal obstacles he overcame as a gay man in the 1960’s while pursuing his dreams that makes his story not just inspiring but important. The law said Brian had to hide his own love away—so instead, he worked tirelessly to ensure that The Beatles’ great message of love would be heard not just in 1967—but fifty years later in 2017, and forever and ever after. That it would be timeless. In so doing Brian Epstein made the world a far richer place for love than it would have been without him.

 

 

Six years after Brian died in Liverpool, I was born in New York City to immigrants of Indian origin. And like other young people of Indian origin, I was steered towards careers in medicine or engineering. I wasn’t supposed to write graphic novels and produce Broadway shows, film and television! But Brian’s steadfast belief in himself and his dreams inspired me to believe in my own professional dreams, and to pursue a career in the arts. It’s a career that I’ve been fortunate to enjoy for the past two decades. I can honestly say that I am proud of what I do, and I have Brian’s example to partially thank for that.

 

 

Speaking of pride, Brian Epstein would have been amazed to see July 2017 welcoming an official Liverpool Pride Festival. It’s important to point out that there’s far more critical work to be done—LGBTQ rights are still under siege all over the world. But had Brian Epstein lived to celebrate Liverpool Pride fifty years after his untimely death—and the simultaneous 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love and the Sexual Offences Act’s decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales—he would have been pleased about a lot more than the enduring legacy of his Beatles.

 

 

I don’t think of my work on The Fifth Beatle as activist, but I hope that it is inspiring. I hope that my readers, audience, followers—and everyone everywhere celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love—will work hard to pursue their own dreams, and to do something that will make a genuine difference in this world.

Let’s make it a richer place for love, as Brian Epstein did...

Vivek J. Tiwary

@VivekJTiwary is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer and writer of “The Fifth Beatle”.

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