Do you ever wonder “What if?” Bryce Zabel obviously does. Once There Was A Way is the result.
As a music fan I lean more towards The Rolling Stones than The Beatles. Admittedly The Stones lost their relevance sometime in the 1970s, but I would till go see them perform if they were in my area. Septuagenarians they may be, but there is still power in the music.
There is no doubt though that The Beatles were (and indeed are) a much more potent cultural force than The Stones. Which is impressive for a band that broke up almost 40 years ago.
Once There Was A Way is an alternate history, a what might have been look at how The Beatles would have progressed as a band had they been able to resolve their personal differences. If you are a music fan it is a gripping tale. If you are a Beatles fan you fill find yourself nodding your head as you read: this book makes sense. If only it weren’t fiction.
Zabel skillfully weaves his tale, basing a lot of his material on historical fact. He looks at the solo material recorded post-breakup by the members of the group and manages to bring it into the Beatles fold. The battling personalities are all there, the tensions continue, and the band seems to always be on the verge of breaking up for good. But there is money involved, which can be a powerful motivator.
As I read, I had to keep reminding myself that this is fiction, it has the authority of fact. I may have preferred The Stones, but I know the Beatles canon as well as the next person. I’ve read about the four members of the Fab Four and their relationship troubles. I understand how unprepared they were for their fame. Yet Zabel has me convinced that it didn’t happen the way it did, that The Beatles didn’t have to break up, that if things had been handled just a little differently they could have gone on making great records for years.
We’ll never know of course. Two of the four are dead – there will be no Beatles reunion. If Paul and Ringo were to tour together now it just wouldn’t be the same (and I did see George and Ringo tour together in 1974 if my memory serves me correctly). That ship has sailed.
Once There Was A Way is a great read for any music fan. If only it were true.