Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The fifth Beatle?

1964 was one hell of a time to be a Beatle. Beatlemania was raging across the world like wildfire, mop top was astronomically hip, and a seemingly endless supply of teens swooned at the merest glimpse of anything Beatle. Amidst this hubbub, the Fab four planned an extensive international tour, stretching from Denmark to Australia.

As June arrived, they began preparing for this tour in earnestness.

When one oh-so slight snag hit them smack in the faces. Or in the tonsils. Ringo got struck down with tonsilitis.

Uh-oh. Ringo was never that prominent in the vocal department (at least back in those days), but he did get by with a little help from his friends (sorry, I had to use that. There is an obligatory bad pun rule when discussing anything about the Beatles).

In any event, our heroes had two gut-wrenching choices: cancel the extravaganza or leave Ringo behind and find a replacement. Ever the supreme perfectionists, the band initially pondered calling the whole thing off. Enter manager Brian Epstein.

The mercurial Epstein (sometimes called the fifth beatle) had taken control of the band from the very early days and he firmly believed that the show must go on. If that meant overriding the most brilliant musical minds of the 20th century, the hell with it. Epstein summoned all his skills to conjure up an eleventh-hour replacement.

The replacement drummer was a chap called Jimmie Nicol. He literally packed a couple bags and hopped on a plane. The next day, a dazed Nicol played in Copenhagen. He was given a crude mop top haircut, and he even wore Ringo's suits (leading one of the Beatles to telegram - yes they still existed then - Ringo that Nicol was going to wear his suits out if he didn't get better soon).

Over the span of two weeks or so, Nicol found out what it feels to be a rocket. He went from dirt to stratosphere at a dizzying pace. Soaring above, he got a glimpse of the good life. Romping in the Amsterdam red light district with Lennon, sight-seeing in Hongkong, reveling with screaming fans....

John, Paul, George and...Jimmie?[]

And it all ended. Ringo got better and flew out to join the band in Australia. A platoon of policemen were deployed to guard their motorcade. That night the Beatles threw one of their legendary parties that lasted till 4 am. Nicol wasn't invited. In the morning, Epstein drove him to the airport. He didn't say goodbye to his "bandmates" because he didn't want to wake them up. At the airport, he was given 500 pounds and a gold watch. His name was spelled wrong. "Thank you Jimmy", it read.

One would think some of that magic dust would have worn off and he would find huge success in his later ventures. Instead, his life took an inexplicable wrong turn. He floundered from band to band, rarely finding any stability or success. Less than a year after his stint in the stratosphere, he declared bankruptcy.

Nicol withdrew into his shell and despite rumors of his death, a Brit newspaper tracked him down in 2005. He lives in a tiny apartment and doesn't talk to anyone - including his own son, who is now a sound engineer himself. Apparently, Paul offered Nicol some money to be in a Beatles documentary in the 90's but he refused.

Jimmie Nicol in 2005 []

Thus endeth the ballad of Jimmie Nicol. Fame is fickle, folks.

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