My Week as a Member of the Beatles

Mark Rozzo of Maplewood and three of his fellow American indie rockers spent a week in Hamburg, Germany, where they meticulously re-created the Beatles' early-sixties sound and style. Here, the behind-the-scenes photos of the group channeling the young Fab Four.

September 7, 2010

"I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg." John Lennon supposedly said it, in reference to the Beatles' storied visits to the bustling German port city. When they were first starting out, the young band regularly mounted stages around town and played marathon shows, fueled by Holsten lager and a walloping, now-banned stimulant called Preludin, in an effort to feed Hamburg's growing appetite for rock and roll. It all began on August 17, 1960, when Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, doomed bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, and original drummer Pete Best, all dressed in lilac jackets and pointy winklepicker shoes, mounted the stage of the Indra, a club better known for striptease acts. Over the next two years, the band played hundreds of cover songs—rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and even old dancehall numbers—to unforgiving German audiences. When they weren't performing or sleeping in shabby quarters behind the screen of the Bambi Kino, a seedy local cinema, they talked about Sartre with local existentialists, occasionally pranced about with toilet seats around their necks, and enjoyed all that Hamburg's Reeperbahn, one of the biggest red-light districts in Europe, had to offer. It was the apprenticeship that made the Beatles the Beatles.

Fifty years to the day after that first performance, a group of American indie rockers that included drummer Ira Elliot (Nada Surf), bassist Erik Paparazzi (Cat Power), and guitarists Doug Gillard (Guided by Voices) and myself performed as Bambi Kino at the Indra, which still survives in its original location. For a week, we played nearly four hours a night, precisely re-creating the Beatles' expansive 1960-62 set lists, in an attempt to channel the energy and excitement of the group's Hamburg heyday—arguably the most potent creation story in all of rock music. The whole town got in on the celebration, with posters proclaiming 50 YEARS AGO TODAY, TV cameras everywhere, and survivors from the glory days partying like it was 1960. In the middle of the maelstrom were the four of us Americans: sweating, destroying our vocal chords, and having the time of our lives.

Look familiar? In April 1961, during the Beatles' second trip to Hamburg, Jürgen Vollmer snapped an iconic image of John Lennon in a doorway with bandmates Stuart Sutcliffe, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney walking by in a blur, which Lennon would use, 14 years later, for the cover of his album Rock'N'Roll. Our great ukulele-playing tour guide, Stefanie Hempel, took us back to Jägerpassage, the courtyard where the photo was taken, to re-create the image. Everyone took a turn (I'm Lennon in this one), doing our best not to trigger the building's intercom.

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