Ringo Starr—born Richard Starkey—celebrates his 74th birthday on July 7th. (Fellow Baby Boomers, don’t freak out…just lean over, put your heads between your knees…breathe deeply…) Everybody okay? Good.
Ringo replaced the famously fired Pete Best as the Beatles' drummer in 1962. One reason for the move was that the rest of the boys thought he was limited as a musician, but it’s also said his personality just didn’t fit with the others—not as “fun loving.” So Ringo got his shot.
Things can be tough at first for a young rock band. Gigs in skanky venues with dodgy sound systems. Crashing on friends' sofas. Riding around in a van that's on life support. Club owners who try to shortchange you. Belligerent drunk guys, pissed because their girlfriends are are making cow eyes at you. It’s you against the world, and you tend to stick together.
But once you succeed other agendas emerge, which is why so many bands implode when they hit the big time. If you want a long run at the top there’s a delicate ecology to maintain. For a while the Beatles pulled it off. They had two alpha dogs who worked well together and wrote most of their songs—John the politically and socially conscious one and Paul the tunesmith with the brilliant sense of melody. And George, the spiritual center of the band whose ego could handle John and Paul’s creative control and who made sure everybody played in tune.
Then there was Ringo. Some casual music fans never rated him very high as a musician because he wasn’t a “viruoso.” But he enjoys much respect among his peers; he was an absolute metronome—a fantastic timekeeper. And listen to any Beatles song while concentrating just on Ringo. I’ll bet my lunch money you won’t hear a single cut where you think, “That’s a cool song, but I wish there’d been a different drummer.” His drum parts were always just right.
And Ringo had the perfect personality for this particular band. They needed a joker. Or more accurately, a wise fool. If things started dragging in the studio during a long session, or John and Paul started getting on each other’s nerves he’s crack a joke to lighten the mood.
But not even Ringo could smooth over the tensions that flared once Yoko hit the scene. John committed an unforgivable sin recognizable to anyone who’s ever been in a band; he brought an outsider to recording sessions and let her make critical comments about the music. Although it's unfair to blame her for breaking up the band; she was just the catalyst. John's attention was already elsewhere. Ringo tried to play the peacemaker, but it was clearly time to move on.
Ringo had a great ride with his lads from Liverpool. He's comfortably settled in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's a mega-millionaire. He's on the road now with "Ringo Starr's All-Stars" because he enjoys it, not because he needs the cash.
Not bad for a kid who spent two years in a sanitarium with tuberculosis and was first exposed to music when the staff got him playing percussion in the hospital band to give him something to do...
Charles Coe is author of two books of poetry: “All Sins Forgiven: Poems for my Parents” and “Picnic on the Moon,” both published by Leapfrog Press. His poetry has appeared in a number of literary reviews and anthologies, including Poesis, The Mom Egg, Solstice Literary Review, and Urban Nature. He is the winner of a fellowship in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Charles’s poems have been set by a number of composers, including Beth Denisch, Julia Carey and Robert Moran. A short film based on his poem “Fortress” is currently in production by filmmaker Roberto Mighty. Charles is co-chair of the Boston Chapter of the National Writers Union, a labor union for freelance writers. He has been selected by the Associates of the Boston Public Library as a “Boston Literary Light for 2014.” His novella, "Spin Cycles," will be published in September by Gemma Media.