Neil Aspinall Died

Now interrupting your regularly scheduled feminism . . .

I don’t know how I missed it, but I did. It seemingly didn’t get a lot of press in the U.S. I just came across an obituary today, a week later. Neil Aspinall died of lung cancer. And it makes me very sad.

If you’re not an obsessive Beatles fan like me, you probably haven’t got the slightest clue who Neil Aspinall (pictured back right) is. And it’s funny, because he was many things. He was The Beatles’ driver then tour manager. He was their personal assistant. When Brian Epstein died, Aspinall took over duties of managing the band. Until last year, he was the CEO of Apple Corporation. And he was a lifelong friend of every band member. Of course, every rock music fan knows Brian Epstein’s name, and for good reason — but Aspinall managed the band for decades longer. From the LA Times:

Aspinall, whose early role for the Beatles was driving them from gig to gig in a cramped van, conceived the “Anthology” project that ignited a new wave of Beatlemania in the 1990s and sold nearly 8 million copies of the three double-CD sets that accompanied the TV series.

He helped realize George Harrison’s dying wish for a final collaboration among the surviving Beatles, facilitating the participation of longtime Beatles producer George Martin and his son, Giles, to oversee the musical mash-up soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil’s show “Love” in Las Vegas.

He also was executive producer of the “1” hits collection, which jolted many in the music industry when it debuted at No. 1 on the national sales chart in 2000 and went on to spend eight weeks at the top of the chart. The “1” album has sold more than 11 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, and in excess of 30 million worldwide.

Of course, like Epstein, Aspinall was hardly a perfect manager. And I disagree with many of his decisions — spending so much time fighting with Steve Jobs’ Apple after he had clearly lost and refusing to release the band’s catalog digitally, to name a few. But I think it can be said, without a doubt, that Aspinall did everything he could to protect The Beatles’ legacy with integrity, and that’s more than you can say for most. He was also responsible for negotiating with four people who occasionally hated each other, and managed to get Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney to agree on several projects — which is a difficult feat if I’ve ever heard one.

For me, Aspinall’s death is mostly symbolic. The Beatles — its four members and all “fifth Beatles” included — are dying too young. Aspinall was 66. Mal Evans was 40. Stuart Sutcliffe was only 21. Epstein was 33. George Harrison was a tragic 58, and of course John Lennon was only 40 when he was murdered. Hell, even Billy Preston didn’t make it to 60. With the exception of Epstein, none of them died sensationalized rock star deaths, only sad and senseless ones.

It’s depressing how little of the inner-circle is left. Excluding McCartney and Starr themselves, we’re down to George Martin. It sucks, and of course there’s nothing we can do. It’s also very sad that Aspinall never wrote an autobiography and refused to participate in a biography about himself. His insights into The Beatles’ relationship(s) would have been invaluable. But as many of noted, the loyalty that kept him from cashing in is precisely what allowed him to be such an important part of The Beatles legacy.

So what else is there to say? Thanks for The Anthology, Neil, and for making sure that the amazing Love production was completed. Not to mention helping to hold the band together while they made what I consider to be their finest music. R.I.P.

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