“I don’t think of the Fifth Beatle as an activist book. I certainly don’t have a political agenda but I do hope it’s an inspiring book. I hope that when people finish reading it they close the book inspired to chase their own dreams in the world however they see fit.” – Vivek Tiwary
The Fifth Beatle is the graphic novel debut of Tony Award Winning Broadway Producer Vivek J. Tiwary. This New York Times #1 Best Selling exploration of pop culture & personal identity brilliantly chronicles the story of “Gay, Jewish, Kid from Liverpool” Brian Epstein, The Beatles visionary manager. Myself being a “Bleek (Black Geek) from The Bronx” could relate to Brian’s outsider status and my discussion with Vivek (pronounced like cake) a self described, “Weirdo Indian Kid from the Lower East Side” made me realize what we shared in common.
Vivek and I are both first generation Americans. Vivek’s folks are Guyanese of Indian extraction, my parents were from Barbados. We bonded sharing West Indian tidbits and his parents traditional expectations on career choice really hit home for me. While at Wharton Business School, on track to join his family business, Vivek dreamt of a life in the arts and entertainment. “I realized that If I wanted to learn about the arts & entertainment industry, I would have to do it on my own. I also dreamed of working for myself being an entrepreneur. I was a lifelong Beatles fan. I believed Brian Epstein and the Beatles wrote and rewrote the rules of the pop music business based on the very little bit that I knew, so I thought I should study the life of Brian Epstein.”
He set out to realize his dream and study the things he was passionate about. Wharton in 1991 didn’t have resources for anyone interested in the arts, Vivek informed me this has changed greatly. Vivek still returns to guest lecture and supports the University’s Arts program, but the school at the time was very traditional. Focused on accounting, finance, investment banking and Wall Street jobs before the Internet boom. Vivek recalled, “I went to the Barnes & Noble on campus. I was stunned to find out that there were no books on Brian Epstein. In fact, that remains to this day, “The Fifth Beatle” is the only book on Brian Epstein in print, graphic novel or otherwise.”
It’s 1991 so there’s no Google, no Wikipedia, none of the online resources we take for granted. Undaunted, Vivek reads all the respective Beatles books he can find. He lamented, “You read these 200 – 300 page books about the Beatles and you maybe get 10 or 15 decent pages about Brian that were as I learned later, full of half truths or miss information.”
Through these books, Vivek got a sense of the people who knew Brian best, his colleagues, his family his clients his friends & his enemies. He looked up their contact information and cold call them. People like Matt Weiss the Beatles US attorney and Brian’s best friend. Syd Bernstein the gentleman who brought the Beatles to the United States and became a legendary concert promoter.
” I literally just dialed these people out of the blue and told the truth. I said I was a young person who was inspired by Brian and was looking for more and would you talk to me? I was so excited about reaching out to these people I forgot to be intimidated! Not one turned me down, and that’s that’s how I begin my study on Brian. Initially I just wanted the Beatles stories. I was a business student that was a Beatles fan you know? I’ll be honest I could’ve care less about Brian’s personal life, I wanted to know how did he get them a record deal when every single British label had turned them down? How did he come up the suits and the haircuts? Knowing my history I knew a British band had never made an impact in the United States prior to the Beatles so how did Brian convince Ed Sullivan to book them? These are the questions that I was chasing and I got those answers and they were inspiring and exciting and interesting, but as I became friends with these people I also learned about Brian’s personal life.”
He eventually covered this personal side of Brian’s story, which he found deeply inspiring and resonant.
“He was Gay and Jewish from Liverpool. It’s a felony to be gay in the U.K. Anti-Semitism was rampant in the country and Liverpool prior to the Beatles was a port town without any cultural significance. I don’t want to suggest I had a remotely the obstacles in my life that Brian faced, but I’m a first-generation American, my background goes back to India, I figured If a Gay Jewish kid from Liverpool could bring the world the Beatles, why couldn’t a weirdo Indian immigrant from the Lower East Side write comic books and produce Broadway musicals?”
Vivek is currently adapting The Fifth Beatle as a multi part event series with Sonar Entertainment and will serve as executive producer. On Broadway, his Tiwary Entertainment Group has won a combined 25 Tony awards over 45 Tony nominations, every single one of his shows has been decorated, they include groundbreaking original work like Green Day’s “American Idiot” “A Raisin in the Sun” and Mel Brooks, “The Producers”. He’s currently working with Alanis Morrissette and Pulitzer and Tony award winner Tom Kitt to adapt Morrissette’s breakthrough album “Jagged Little Pill” for Broadway. I asked Vivek what draws him to tell the stories of outsiders and underdogs.
“I guess the heart of why I relate to underdog stories is because I find them inspiring, that’s really what I look for in projects. I look for projects whether it’s a show I’m producing or a book I’m writing, that leave me with some point of inspiration, some desire or passion to make a difference in the world.”
The Fifth Beatle is a beautifully drawn collaboration between artists Andrew Robinson (Starman) and Kyle Baker (Nat Turner) they perfectly capture the 60’s esthetic and “Beatlemania” in America. On the cover, Mr. Epstein is dressed as a matador, the billowing cape invokes a superheroic esthetic that eluded to the danger of discovery for him. Vivek explained the matador imagery as the through line to Brian’s life.-
“The Matador dances with death, Brian chose a career that brought him in the public eye, with every accomplishment he made with the Beatles he risked his own exposure as a homosexual. The Beatles represented a Bull, they brought glory to him and convexly caused him the most danger.”
“My script it’s based on the realities of Brian being a huge fan of bullfighting. His parents took him to Spain to watch bullfights and when I was doing the research I couldn’t quite understand. Here’s a guy who dedicates his life to helping the Beatles spread a message of love around the world, how could he be interested in bullfighting? The beach scene between Brian and John Lennon in Spain about why he loved Bullfighting is based on my research. The theatricality and attractive men he found appealing, but the bullfighter achieves glory only by putting himself in danger, and then it clicked. It made perfect sense to use that as a metaphor for him throughout the story, it was something that I need to excavate about who Brian was as a person and why he took the risks he did.”
Beyond his comic writing and Broadway Production efforts, Vivek’s philanthropist venture Musicians On Call is a nonprofit organization that brings musicians into healthcare institutions to perform live bedside performances for patients, with a broader mission to use music and entertainment to help the healing process.
“There have been other groups that bring musicians into hospitals, but we’re the first to organize programs that bring them to bedsides and it’s a magical experience. It was born out of losing my mom to cancer. I wanted to do something positive with that experience using my musical background. My friend and MOC co-founder Michael Solomon had lost his girlfriend to cancer. While we were trying to come up with a project we brought musicians we were working with to Sloan-Kettering’s rec center. A Nurse came up to us after one of the performances and said that was wonderful but it’s a shame that some patients were too sick to leave their rooms. Michael and I said would be happy to bring the music to them we brought Kenny Mathis who performed acoustic guitar at bedside.”
“It was a magical feeling. I literally felt the atmosphere of the room change, the heaviness lift. It affected everyone. The patients enjoyed it but the patients relatives who reminded me of myself, started talking about the music. The exhausted nurses working 20 hour shifts were dancing, doctors poking their heads in enjoying themselves as well. The music had profound effects on all involved. On the way out of the hospital our musician friend claimed of all the concerts he’s done that was the most rewarding experience he’d ever had.”
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“Michael and I knew the big idea we were looking for was right under our noses! It was an example of that John Lennon line -“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That was 15 years ago Musicians On Call is nationwide, with artists like Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Brittany Spears & Bruce Springsteen. It’s been incredibly rewarding, of the many things I’ve done in my career, co-founding Musicians On Call I’m most proud of. It has a positive effect you see in action and you know immediately what we do with our lives working in entertainment has a positive benefit.”
Vivek found a historical mentor in Brian Epstein and felt compelled to share what he learned about him with the world. Epstein was a man who, before the internet, took a local Liverpool club band with zero American recognition to a live broadcast in 73 million American homes in three months. “I think a large part it goes back being an underdog, Brian achievements were 90% vision and passion but a critical ten percent was he had something to prove. To whom? The world? Ultimately it was to himself, against his own insecurities and I can relate to that. I was an Indian kid I was supposed to be a doctor or lawyer I was told who are you to write comics or musicals? Well, why can’t an Indian kid do these things? I definitely see points of connection between Brian and I of having insecurities feeling like an outsider, feeling for whatever combination of reasons people tell “you you can’t do that, people like you don’t do these sorts of things.”
“For me, that concept of being the underdog of having something to prove fueled my belief that arts and entertainment aren’t frivolous and silly but are sources of deep inspiration that can change the world. I don’t think I had the same obstacles in my life as Brian. I can’t possibly understand what it’s like being told that my form of loving is illegal. But emotionally I can relate to these beats, this desire to prove yourself and decide to make a difference in the world, the desire to spread love in the world. People can find inspiration in work long after the artist is gone. Brian Epstein believed in his heart the Beatles would be remembered hundreds of years in the future and elevate pop music into an art-form.”
I asked Vivek’s view on what’s important for a “Good Man” in the 21st Century as it relates to Brian’s story and his own. “I believe Brian viewed the Beatles as the children he knew he would never have. As a gay man in the 1960s he couldn’t imagine being openly gay or marriage being legal and gay men being able to have children and raise children. That’s why he called them “his boys” some in the press suggested something salacious or sexual. I think he literally meant sons he’ll never have. A father gives children unconditional love and that’s what Brian gave to the Beatles.”
“I’m a dad so I believe as a father my goal is to leave my kids with points of inspiration and raising my children so they will in turn spread a little more love into the world. It may sound corny, but today it’s more important than ever. I’ve always said I do what I do because I love it and I believe you do your best work when your passionate about what you do. When you have children you must set a good example. When I’m gone, I want my kids to remember my example and be able to say my dad came home from work he loved doing every day. He might’ve been stressed at times but he did what he loved and he was passionate about it.
If I want to make a bigger difference in the world it has to start at home. I’m working on projects I hope inspire people all over the world to make a difference but I’ve got to start at home. That’s my responsibility as a man and as a father.”
I was blown away by Vivek’s enthusiasm, drive and sharp insights in sharing Brian Epstein’s incredible true story. Vivek sees Brian as a historical mentor both as an artist and businessman. Vivek’s passion for philanthropy and producing artistic endeavors are exemplars for all those who dare to persue thier dreams and make thier dreams reality.
Vivek claims The Fifth Beatle has no political agenda, the graphic novel and his career are strident examples of how one person’s life can inspire positive social change. His 2014 TED talk below captures this philosophy brilliantly:
I thank Vivek for sharing his story and his time. It was an awesome experience that left me with my own personal point of inspiration and for all of us geeks, dreamers and outsiders out there that have been told, “This is not for you”.
I encourage you to read The Fifth Beatle and if you’re so lucky, take some time to speak with him at a book signing listed below:
Thursday, November 10
Barnes & Noble
7851-L Tysons Corner Center
McLean, VA 22102
Friday, December 9
Barnes & Noble
210 Commerce Blvd.
Fairless Hills, PA 19030
THE FIFTH BEATLE: The Brian Epstein Story Expanded Edition (On sale October 25, 2016 / 176 pages / $14.99 pbk / Dark Horse Comics’ M Press / ISBN 9781616558352)THE FIFTH BEATLE: The Brian Epstein Story Expanded Edition (176 pages / $14.99 pbk / Dark Horse Comics’ M Press / ISBN 9781616558352)