Vivek J. Tiwary is the writer of the Eisner Award-nominated graphic novel The Fifth Beatle. He is also an accomplished Broadway producer of plays such as A Raisin in the Sun and Green Day’s American Idiot and is the President and CEO of Tiwary Entertainment Group LTD. You can follow Vivek on Twitter @VivekJTiwary and @fifthbeatle.
Black Ship Books: What would you say set Brian Epstein apart from a lot of his peers?
Vivek J. Tiwary: Well compared to people like Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis Presley’s manager) what set Brian apart, and what he did for the world of artist management, is he created and defined the concept of the gentleman manager, the manager with artistic integrity. Managers at that time were considered sharks, they were exploitative and they could make you or break you. It might be cheesy to say but the most important thing he gave the Beatles was unconditional love. He believed in them and believed that they were going to be successful when no one else did and he chased that dream for them because he loved them. This was unusual, for an artist’s manager to love his clients.
He famously said that the Beatles were going to be bigger than Elvis but he went on to add that they would elevate pop music into an art form, and that’s what he cared about. Colonel Parker cared about money. Brian didn’t care about selling more albums than Elvis, or making more movies than Elvis. He was talking about cultural influence. I think that’s another thing that really set him apart from all the managers of the day, that he wasn’t just thinking about record sales or radio. He was thinking of esoteric things like influence, legacy, standing the test of time. He didn’t really listen to pop music; he listened to classical composers. He didn’t want to turn the Beatles into Elvis, he wanted to turn them into Beethoven. He wanted to be sure that, centuries after Lennon and McCartney were gone, that the Beatles would still be remembered, and that’s what was really revolutionary.
BSB: The Beatles are remembered for their singles and albums, as opposed to someone like Elvis who is generally just remembered for singles. Would you say that had a lot to do with the Colonel Parker management style vs. the Brian Epstein style?
VJT: Well, they (The Beatles and Elvis) were totally different musicians. Another thing that was radical for the time is that the Beatles were writing their own material. People say that Brian messed up the publishing for them, and they did lose it, but before the Beatles there was no such thing as publishing for rock bands. They didn’t write their own material. Even today, talent scouts at record labels are called A&R which is an old term meaning Artists and Repertoire. Prior to the Beatles, a talent scout picked their artists and then found them a repertoire. Musicians did not write their own songs, so material had to be found. So yes, Elvis was mostly known as a singles artist, but that is primarily because he wasn’t a songwriter.
BSB: Country music still seems to be based around the songwriter in a lot of ways, more so than rock at least. It’s kind of a holdover from pre-Beatles days in that way.
VJT: I’m not too familiar with the country scene, but I do know that the role of the songwriter is much more important in country music, and there are a lot of artists in Nashville that are successful as songwriters, but are not performers.
BSB: I’m from the southern United States, so it’s around whether you want it to be or not. It just always struck me that Elvis is still the mold for country performers in a lot of ways, and that Colonel Parker’s way of doing things still holds sway in some regards, for better or worse.
VJT: I’ll start off by saying something nice about Tom Parker. There’s no question that he made Elvis’s career. If you do read The Fifth Beatle, however, then you will know my opinion about him, and it’s none too complimentary. The sequence in the book dealing with Brian’s breakfast with Tom Parker, no one really knows what was said because both of them have passed away, but 90% of the things Tom Parker says in that scene are not things I came up with, they are things that he said in conversation or interviews. “Jews are going to take advantage of you, “ “the kind of assistant that I like is a homo because they are male, soft-spoken and have no marriage problems,” “Elvis gets 50% of the money I earn,” “Elvis is an attraction, not an artist,” those are Colonel Parker quotes. You can’t make stuff like that up.
BSB: Do you think that Brian Epstein’s importance to the Beatles’ legacy will ever be as widely acknowledged as it should be?
VJT: Brian Epstein’s legacy has largely gone untold and I like to think that I’m at the forefront of changing that, although I’m not the only one. There’s an Epstein play launching in London later this year, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, there’s a theater in Liverpool that’s just been named after him, so the tide is changing. I’m working my tail off so that one day Brian’s legacy will be as well-known as the Beatles’ story. I think Brian’s story is inspiring in the same way that the Beatles’ story is. It’s about chasing your dreams, holding on to hope, and spreading a message of love. So I certainly hope that one day Brian’s story will be at least as well-known as George Martin’s, or any of the other so called fifth Beatles, but I hope it will eventually be as well-known as the Beatles. I think it deserves to be that.
BSB: A film version is in pre-production and you are adapting the script yourself, correct?
VJT: I am. The screenplay is done and we are casting Brian right now, literally as we speak, and we hope to shoot early in 2015. We have secured Beatles music rights, and we are the first Beatles movie to get actual Beatles songs. Films like Backbeat and Nowhere Boy are based on the band but the Beatles had never approved a script for a biopic before and they approved ours so it’s a huge thrill for us. So McCartney, Ringo, Yoko, and Olivia Harrison all signed off, and McCartney in particular has been a huge fan of the book. He wrote us a lovely note saying how much he liked the book and complimented Andrew Robinson’s artwork so it’s been a great thrill and a huge honor and responsibility. We want to make sure that we’re telling the story right.
We have also secured Peyton Reed, the director of Yes Man, Down With Love, The Break-Up, and the first Bring It On [BSB: since this interview was conducted he has been named the director of Marvel Studios’ forthcoming Ant-Man as well]. He’s an amazing and wonderful director. Bruce Cohen is my co-producer on the project. He won the Academy award for producing American Beauty, and he has been nominated two other times for Silver Linings Playbook and Milk. He is an amazing producer and I am honored to be working with him.
It’s worth noting that everyone who has been involved with The Fifth Beatle, whether it’s Dark Horse or the producer and director of the forthcoming film, everyone involved is doing it as a labor of love. Yes it’s Beatles-related so there’s marketability there, yes, we hope to make money, yes, the book was a #1 New York Times bestseller, but no one is doing this as a cash-in on the Beatles.
BSB: Adapting your own work frees you up to take certain liberties between the mediums. Have you stuck fairly closely to the comic, or are you breaking away from that and going in a different direction?
VJT: When I only have a few seconds to explain, I just say the book is being adapted into a film, because people tend to understand that since graphic novels are adapted all the time. When I have a better chance to discuss it like we do now, I prefer to say that we are expanding the graphic novel into a film, so there’s a lot of stuff in the film that’s not in the book.
One big example of this is the Pete Best story, which isn’t covered in the book but will be covered in the film. I wanted the book to be a slim 125 pages, I wanted the book to be a quick, fun read; I wanted you to be able to pick it up at an airport book store and think “I can read this on the plane.” In order to do that, there were certain elements I had to leave on the cutting room floor, to use a film analogy, and now that we’re making a film I get to go back to some of those stories we weren’t able to tell in the book. So if we do our jobs correctly and you are a fan of the book and you go see the movie, then you will get two different beasts. The film will have some things that are not in the book and the book will have some things that are not in the movie. With that said, both have the same tone and the same fantastical feel, the dream sequences and the matador motif, Ed Sullivan with the puppet. It’s got a lot of the elements that I think make the book really special, but they are two very different animals.
BSB: I have to ask this question. Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s, White Album, or Abbey Road?
VJT: Oh, wow, they are all so different. I mean the progression from Revolver all the way through to Abbey Road chronologically; it’s just they are so different, but you can feel the movement into one another, I honestly can’t pick a favorite record. I will say that if I had to pick a desert island Beatles album it would be Abbey Road.
I can’t really pick a favorite Beatles song, but I can say that the song that represents me the most would be “With a Little Help From My Friends.” I feel like I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life: I’ve lost a lot of loved ones, I’ve had my share of tough knocks and I’ve always gotten by with the help of my friends and family. Another song that has really inspired me, that pushed the medium of what pop music can be, that really encapsulated what Brian wanted to do in turning pop music into an art form is “A Day in the Life.” So on one hand I’m saying that I would choose Abbey Road and on the other I am going with the two bookends of Sgt. Peppers, so how can I pick? It really is just too difficult.
BSB: If there is one thing that you would want people to understand about Brian Epstein from the story that you tell in The Fifth Beatle, what would it be?
VJT: That he was a person who believed in chasing his dreams no matter what obstacles stood in his way. If people take away just one thing from the book, then that’s what I want it to be. I hope that people will be inspired by Brian Epstein to chase their dreams no matter how impossible those dreams may seem and no matter how unlikely of a candidate they might think they are.
BSB: Last question and I’ll let you be on your way. Who are some of your comic influences?
VJT: I love Chris Claremont’s X-Men books, so he’s a hero of mine. Frank Miller is really responsible for bringing me back to comics. I stopped reading comics for a while in college partially due to studying and partially just moving on to other things, so I got back into them because of books like The Dark Knight Returns and Ronin. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman I think is one of the greatest pieces of literature of any kind. I’m a huge fan of Gaiman in general but of Sandman in particular. I love Warren Ellis and I think that he’s done genius work. Alan Moore, of course. I think The Killing Joke is one of the best, if not the best superhero books ever written. Everyone always talks about Watchmen, and I love Watchmen, but The Killing Joke is such a great story. With Alan Moore it all tends to be great, so it’s more of a do you prefer rubies or diamonds type of question with him. And I can’t forget to mention the Eastman and Laird run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original Mirage run before it became a kids’ series. Those books were hugely influential.
BSB: Well, Vivek, I want to thank you for your time and hopefully we’ll get to speak again real soon.
VJT: This was a lot of fun and a great chat. I’ll be around at various cons this year so please everyone come out and say hi.
To learn more about The Fifth Beatle and to buy your copy go here- http://thefifthbeatle.com/
To learn more about Vivek’s other projects along with The Fifth Beatle go to- http://www.tiwaryent.com/
All artwork used is taken from The Fifth Beatle by Vivek J. Tiwary and Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker, published by Dark Horse Comics.
Photo of Vivek J. Tiwary is taken from http://thefifthbeatle.com/
Photo of Brian Epstein and The Beatles is taken from http://beatlesysolistas.blogspot.com