Love and Let Die by John Higgs

Like me, you may have seen mixed reviews for this book, which has as its central thesis an inextricable link between The Beatles and James Bond, both ‘born’ on the same day. As far as James Bond is concerned, Higgs is referring to the EON-produced films (first appearing in the shape of Dr No); and as far as The Beatles are concerned, he is referring to their Parlophone releases, starting with “Love Me Do”.

So, yes, starting on 5 October 1962 (it was a very good year), Britain produced two cultural phenomena which have endured down the decades.

Which is nice.

Which is unusual, because nothing lasts that long. Consider Elvis. You might have said, in the first couple of decades following his death, that Elvis has endured. And of course there was a biopic released not long ago. But really? Teenagers don’t tend to talk about Elvis. I meet a lot of them. Just the other day, I saw one with Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four sitting at the top of her school bag. But you don’t see them with Elvis books, badges, merch. Except (very) ironically.

And the same sort-of goes for film franchises, if you’re talking about a sequence of films featuring the same central character. Rival Jason Bourne lasted for three good films and then everyone wished there weren’t any more. Indiana Jones, likewise.

So this book has an interesting premise and a good thesis: Bond is Death (thanatos) and the Beatles are Love (eros), and they are the weft and warp of the British cultural psyche, each balancing the other.

And, for a while, it works quite well. But then it gets messy. Once you get into the 90s and the early 2000s and beyond, there’s more to say about Bond and less to say about The Beatles (beyond repeating yourself), and the book kind of sprawls into a series of anecdotes. Each on its own would make for an interesting blog post, but the sense that it all hangs together in a book starts to fall apart. At 300 pages, Higgs might have had something; at 515 pages (including notes etc.), it loses focus and becomes less convincing.

Enjoyable enough: I didn’t know much about Bond, so I felt educated. In terms of The Beatles, there was nothing new to me (bar this link to Bond), but it was good to see how bang up to date Higgs is with the fandom, making reference to the critical reappraisal of McCartney and podcasts who have challenged the Beatles narrative (Another Kind of Mind and One Sweet Dream — although they don’t make it into the index, unfortunately). But perhaps it was that attempt to bring the book as up to date as possible that was its undoing, because the final chapters do feel less cohesive.

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