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Book Review: The Beatles, The Bible, And Bodega Bay: My Long And Winding Road By Ken Mansfield

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A couple of weeks ago, I happened across an interesting advertisement in my community newspaper, the West Seattle Herald. The ad was for a presentation being given at a local Calvary Chapel church about the Beatles. What caught my eye, was the name of the speaker, a guy named Ken Mansfield.

Having been a pretty hardcore Beatles fan for most of my life, I knew that name from somewhere. I just wasn't sure exactly where the recall came from. With my curiosity appropriately piqued, and with the church in question a convenient two-block walk from my house, I decided to check it out.

Now, if your experience has been anything like mine, you already know that at least part of me expected the worst. When Christian churches or organizations do any sort of special presentation having to do with rock music, it is most often intended to expose it as the evil scourge it surely is, what with all the backward masking and those satanic heavy metal bands out there.

If you've ever come across one of those late-night broadcasts from something like The 700 Club, where some guy who worked as a roadie for say, Marilyn Manson, is dishing up salacious tales of group orgies and blood drinking, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The message is usually something along the lines of you need to burn all of your rock CDs and get with Jesus.

Which is why Mansfield's presentation ended up being such a pleasant surprise.  Mansfield's church lecture turned out to be a truly wonderful remembrance of his time in the inner sanctum of the greatest band of all time, complete with music and lots of rare slides.

Mansfield did not dish up a single sordid tale of drugs or groupies (though he did verify this sort of thing went on… I mean, let's be honest here). Nor did he have a single bad thing to say about "The Lads" as he referred to them often in the most endearing of terms. In fact he described them as "the sweetest, most polite group of guys you'd ever want to meet." Perfect Gentlemen, was how he put it. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was really in church.

So the expected "burn your rock CDs" part of the program never did come. The "Get With Jesus" part, of course did. But here again I was rather surprised and somewhat taken aback by the gentle and non-judgmental way this was presented.

Mansfield wrapped up his remembrances of the Beatles with his personal testimony of his eventual fall from the music business (again revealing none of the sorry details in the same show of class that characterized his earlier memories of the Beatles). He went on to tell a simple story of finding personal peace with Jesus and settling down in the quiet California fishing town of Bodega Bay with his wife.

There was no hell and brimstone preaching to be found anywhere in the entire presentation. Yet, I was absolutely riveted by it. The part where he talked about one day not being able to find a job in the business he devoted so much of his life to hit me especially hard. As someone who worked in that business myself for over twenty years (though at nowhere near Mansfield's level), his was a testimony I had no problem relating to myself.

I decided to buy a copy from Amazon the very next day and devoured it in a single six-hour sitting. In much the same laid-back style of the presentation I saw in church, The Beatles, The Bible, And Bodega Bay alternates chapters between Mansfield's Beatles memories of the past, with his present-day prayers and meditations with God, most taking place from the idyllic Bodega Bay home he so clearly loves.

Alongside the Beatles pages, run chronological event summaries in the form of bullet points highlighting the Beatles' career milestones. Meanwhile, selected biblical passages run alongside the pages recounting his bayside devotional conversations with God.   Despite what one might see as a contradiction here, the two themes weave together remarkably well, and never for one second does the Christian part of his story come across as preachy or judgmental.

In the Beatles portion of the narrative, Mansfield traces his journey from his humble Idaho beginnings to the ivory tower of Capitol Records in Hollywood, to being asked by the Fab Four themselves to run their Apple Records operation in the United States. Along the way, Mansfield recounts numerous personal recollections from those heady days in the form of some very interesting and telling anecdotes.

This is all wonderfully illustrated with priceless, never before seen pictures and memorabilia from his personal collection. He even tells the story of nearly selling one such piece — a handwritten and signed note from John Lennon — to a used record dealer when he was later down on his luck. As soon as he realized what he almost did, he snatched back the picture as well as the 25 cents the dealer was about to pay him for it.

Mansfield describes the thrill of being at the Beatles historic final London rooftop concert for the Let It Be film, with all of the excitement and awe of being a kid in what had to be the world's greatest candy store. He also details the negotiation tactics of a ruthless Allen Klein as he was in the process of taking over Apple. In what came down to a tennis match for Mansfield's job, Mansfield won, enabling him to wisely walk away from Klein's offer. He talks about how Capitol Records handled the "Paul Is Dead" rumors which swirled about after the release of Abbey Road. They eventually got a handwriting expert to verify that everything Paul had signed for Capitol came from the same man.

There are also the numerous personal stories of his private moments with the most famous four men on earth. Such as the time Mansfield had to be literally saved by Paul McCartney at a meeting where he was first shown the nude photographs of John and Yoko for the Two Virgins without prior warning. Or when he witnessed an impromptu living room jam session at George's house with the likes of Eric Clapton, Donovan, and the Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady taking turns trying to one-up each other.

Of course there are also tragedies as Mansfield recounts the deaths of close friends such as Beatles confidant Mal Evans, who was found shot under mysterious curcumstances while Mansfield was across town accepting a Grammy Award. The two had spoken earlier the same day and Mansfield recalls sensing there was something terribly wrong. When Mansfield got the news of John Lennon's death, he was in the process of going through his archive of Lennon photos at his home in what proved to be a moment of bittersweet, poetic irony.

Amazingly, Mansfield recounts these stories (and many more) not only fondly, but without even a hint of the scandal which colors so many of the other Beatles biographies and tell-all books which have come out over the years.

His credentials of having actually been there at a very high level are without question, having run Apple in the U.S. for the Beatles. The numerous photographs and personal recollections which color this book only further cement Mansfield's credibility. Yet it's clear that despite being the ultimate insider, Mansfield was also the Beatles' friend first and foremost. And that he remains so without a single ax to grind here.

It is little wonder that this book is the only Beatles retrospective outside of the official Anthology that McCartney, Harrison, Starr, and the Lennon estate represented by John's widow, Yoko Ono, personally signed off on and approved.

Likewise, Mansfield never really dishes up any dirt on his own eventual fall from grace in the music industry, though it is clearly implied that such a fall did in fact take place at some point. Rather he fast forwards throughout the book to the present. This is a time which finds Ken Mansfield at peace. With his past. With his family and his marriage. With his life. And at peace with the God who he finds himself in deep devotion and prayer with in his daily walks along his beloved Bodega Bay.

Mansfield is a man who has lived several lifetimes worth of experience, and any one of us should find ourselves so lucky at the journey's end.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Nice write-up, Glen–evocative.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx Gordon.

    I not only found Mansfield’s memories absolutely fascinating, but I found his perspective to be the purest I’ve ever read on the Beatles.

    This is a guy who was unquestionably there, and witnessed everything first hand, yet came out of it not only relatively unscathed, but with his very soul rejuvenated at the end of the day.

    In my personal opinion, it is the single best book I have ever read about the phenomonon that was the Beatles.

    But more impotantly it’s about a guy who lived through it all from the inside, and came out on the other side with his soul not only intact but unscathed.

    As a guy who has experienced the “music business” (albeit at a far lesser level than Mansfield did), I know exactly of what he talks about in this book.

    I cannot recommend Mansfield’s book highly enough.

    Thanx for publishing the review Gordon.

    -Glen

  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Wow…very cool. Thanx for the good news Natalie.
    -Glen

  • The Eggman

    Sounds like a pretty good book. From his lofty position, Mr. Mansfield had to have seen it all. As a Christian, I’d be very interested in hearing his thoughts this many years later as to what exactly motivated Lennon’s statement about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus. Everybody knows that Lennon, despite his genius, could be a very impulsive guy…and the quote heard round the world was also clearly cast out of context. I just wonder how Mansfield feels in retrospect about it…now that he has found his peace with the Lord himself. Good review and I’m sure I’ll check out the book.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Mr. Eggman,

    I wouldn’t mind hearing Mansfield’s take on that question myself. Unfortunately, it isn’t addressed in the book. Maybe in the sequel?

    Goo Goo Ga Joob Mr. Eggman.

    -Glen

  • Scott Marshall

    This is one of those times when I realized I had the book on my shelf but had not read it. Thank you, Glen, for the pleasant review (a sensation I normally don’t experience when reading a book review–be it a positive or negative review).

    As for the Lennon/Jesus controversy, I suspect (although it occurred a year before I entered the planet) it was overblown and what Lennon was saying was more of a tough truth than him saying “they” were “better” than Jesus.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Scott,

    My reviews have been called a lot of things over the years, but I don’t recall “pleasant” ever being of them. So thanks for the compliment, I guess anyway…LOL. Glad you enjoyed reading it.

    I remember the Lennon comment about Jesus pretty well, though I was just a young kid myself at the time. And I think you have the gist of it correct. Lennon was not saying his band was “better” than Jesus at all, but like you say making a comment on the ridiculous popularity of the Beatles at the time.

    Like Eggman though, I still would be interested in Mansfield’s take on this all these years later in light of the author himself having found his own faith in the Lord though.

    Anyway thanks for the comment Scott and I’m glad you enjoyed the review.

    -Glen