To some readers — and you know who you are — there’s no reason to bother with a memoir by Pattie Boyd, the former wife of both George Harrison and Eric Clapton and the inspiration for songs like “Something” and “Layla.” Who cares what Boyd, one of the great beauties of ’60s Britain, has to say? What did she ever create? She was only a wife, far less interesting than the great men she was married to. What we really need is a chord-by-chord analysis of the genius of Clapton, or another book of obsessive Beatles minutiae, preferably written by an overeducated white man — you know, someone who actually understands the music.
But to other readers, the appeal of “Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me” is as self-evident as the seemingly simple but brash opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Boyd was working as a model in London when she was summoned to a secret audition for an undisclosed project, which turned out to be Richard Lester’s film “A Hard Day’s Night.” With her silky blond bob and irresistible chipmunk smile, the 19-year-old Boyd was cast as a schoolgirl who finds herself on a train with the four young men we know as the Beatles. Perched on a random crate in a baggage car, she watches the boys perform a faux-impromptu version of “I Should Have Known Better.” Watching the movie today, you could say that the rapture on her face is nothing more than passive femininity. Or you could see it as a far more resonant and telling image, one that has nothing to do with gender: to anyone who has ever loved the Beatles — and you know who you are — Boyd’s face captures the essence of falling madly for a sound unlike anything you’ve heard before, and also reckoning with the thrilling and vaguely terrifying possibility that it just might change your life.
The Beatles did change Boyd’s life: her first day on the set, Harrison asked her jokingly (or perhaps not) if she’d marry him, or at least have dinner. And if you have no interest in hearing that story — or the story that comes later, when Eric Clapton, Harrison’s best friend, announced at a party, “I have to tell you, man, that I’m in love with your wife” — then perhaps you deserve the purgatory of chord-by-chord analyses. The rest of us will just have our rock ’n’ roll, with all the passions that power it.
“Wonderful Tonight,” which Boyd wrote with Penny Junor, is a charming, lively and seductive book, and like all good memoirs, it also works as a cultural history. Boyd — who spent part of her childhood in Kenya, the child of divorced parents who never had much money — visited the Maharishi with the Beatles; she whirled and twirled in chiffon dresses created by her friend, the quintessential rock-royalty designer Ossie Clark; she pranced and partied with the Rolling Stones.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment