Kendra Steiner Editions

March 12, 2020

“Blues For Brian Epstein,” a poem by Michael Layne Heath

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:03 am

brian epstein

I was in elementary school when Brian Epstein died in 1967, only 32 years old. Epstein had first seen The Beatles perform in November 1961 and passed away in September 1967, so his managerial career (not counting his work at his family’s NEMS store in Liverpool) last justed under six years.

As I got older and read more about Epstein’s life and career, heard the stories of those who knew him, and compared him with his contemporaries, it became VERY clear to me what a unique and special person he was. He was a bit out of his element when he initially approached The Beatles, but they felt that his class difference, along with his enthusiasm, could work to their advantage, and it did. Their previous manager/booking agent/whatever Allan Williams certainly would not have gotten them out of the club scene and had no vision for the future the way Epstein did. Williams could never have even dreamed of coasting on the sea of entitled charm and network of connections that Epstein brought to the table on behalf of the Fab Four. Brian Epstein carved his own path through the forest, and did it in a way different from any of the earlier UK or even US showbiz managers, with a combination of naivete and drive that made it possible. As a child, I’d seen clips of Epstein on TV while he was still alive, so I had a mental picture of him. The more I learned about him, the more the picture became clear that the man was always a gentleman, both in his manner and in his business dealings. He radiated that certain something that Americans admire so about Brits—-an American and a “posh” Englishman can say the same words, but somehow they sound classier and more profound coming out of the mouth of a Brian Epstein, who radiated elegance while seeming “real” and not putting on an act.

brian epstein 2

As I learned more about Brian Epstein over the years, it was also clear that he was always, on any number of levels, a bit of a fish out of water—-he must have initially appeared naive and foolish to British entertainment promoters such as Don Arden. He also probably feared rejection and always ‘wondered’ about his acceptance, being both Jewish and gay. This was a complex, admirable, and fascinating man, and it is sad to see how his fears and his self-perception as an outsider led to his decline and his early death.

Poet Michael Layne Heath has been a music writer for over 40 years (he recently compiled the amazing book ‘My Week Beats Your Year: Encounters with Lou Reed’, published by Hat & Beard Press, which I gave a rave review to in a recent issue of UGLY THINGS magazine), and he too “gets” what was special and magical about this man, a powerful force but also a bird with a broken wing. One of the walking wounded, perhaps, but also a strong individual who had learned to grow a thick skin, trying not to show the hurt, trying to insulate himself from that hurt.

KSE published a number of chapbooks of Heath’s poetry, and he was also featured, along with LUIS CUAUHTEMOC BERRIOZABAL, JIM D. DEUCHARS, A.J. KAUFMANN, and MATT KREFTING in our March 2014 collection of newly written poems in honor of Reed, POLYMORPHOUS URBAN: POEMS FOR LOU REED.

One of the poems Michael submitted for his second KSE chapbook, GREY RAGE (DYED), published in March 2009, was a beautiful meditation on Brian Epstein, the man, called “Blues For Brian Epstein.” It brought me to tears when I first read it. Alas, the chapbook containing it has been out of print for many years and there is no “Selected Poems” collection of Heath’s work presently available (let’s hope THAT changes soon!). Last week, as I was cleaning out an area in my home where I used to keep my old computer and do a lot of the KSE work (formatting poetry chapbooks, etc.), I found my original typed copy of Michael’s Epstein poem, re-read it for the first time in maybe five years, and I was once again moved. Fortunately, the poet has granted me permission to reprint the poem here because I feel that it should always be available. Mike has always been one of my favorite writers, going back to his punkzine days in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and in recent decades, one of my favorite poets. In 2009, I said the following about his work: “As Mike has a lifelong involvement in music, both as a writer-historian and as a musician-songwriter himself, it’s not surprising that there is a musicality of phrase and a wonderful sense of tone and modulation to his verse….Whether writing about sex or longing or poetry readings, or describing the yuppie condo block that now sits where SF’s legendary Winterland once rocked, Michael Layne Heath is an original. He manages to nail the uncertainty and ennui of this curious age in which we live, but he remains positive because the future always has promise, and that next cigarette or the next poem or the next attractive guy met at a watering hole just might bring some kind of salvation…or at least keep one occupied!”

Let’s forget about the poet for a minute, though, and focus on the poem….and then focus on the man who is the subject of the poem, Brian Epstein. Let the poem take you into Epstein’s world–not into his mind (how presumptuous it would be for someone to try to do that!), but into Brian as seen by those who knew him and cared for and about him, those who saw the trajectory of his life at close range, those who lived alongside him. Those who knew….

============================================

brian

BLUES FOR BRIAN EPSTEIN

 

And the week before

Best friends and business associates alike said:

 

There are people who love you

You don’t have to shell out for it

Do not trust tight Levis and unfiltered ciggies

Especially among Midwest Americans

Who in bed call you pardner instead of dude

When they mean ‘I hate weak faggots like you’

Don’t get mile high it is not worth losing a briefcase

Put the keys to the Bentley away

The downers away

The doubt away

You have the vision you know

The ears the instinct

That no one can take away

That owns three houses in three parts of the continent

Any number of queer dudes on either side of the pond

Why pay for it and yeah you think why not

But then there are as many

Even smarter even more discreet

Who care for you and your career.

 

 

What does it take

Who does it take

But does it take the night watchman

Waking you up at four a.m.

Casting your vision to the phial of Seconal

Your maid, knowing barely

a string of English phrases, asleep

While Avalon and the ghosts of music hall

and Cochran and Holly beckon

after far too late a night over Iowa skies

Hey Brian put on the Motown

It’s Smokey and the Miracles child

Let them have the cars the homes

All you had to do

All you ever did was dream

Of a favorite band

You could hang at the back of the hall and scream for

 

 

So yes Brian

Queer Jew visionary

Rest and rest assured

Yours was not a life wasted if perhaps insecure

You are honored by those

who would have honored you

at least secretively

A cuddle across the miles for awhile

Before trashing Stonewall or the Sorbonne

Which was if you think of it

All the same fight

and remains so

 

 

Meanwhile yes

since you asked I’m the taxman

Your new landlord

Your parents await you

Your admirers occupying more than

one country one tongue

 

 

Oh dear man you’ve done enough for  us

Keep the pennies

 

—————————————————————–

Michael Layne Heath

11.9.08, San Francisco

MLH

MLH, reading in San Francisco from the chapbook in which the poem originally appeared

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