Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: A Novel

1978, Pocket Books edition from later that year
Henry Edwards
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: A Novel
Original price $1.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback

This is possibly worse than the movie it's a novelization of, which is saying something, particularly since Edwards also wrote the screenplay.  For those who have missed the Stigwood "musical," you should know that there's very little dialogue, and it's mostly narrated by George Burns, as Mr. Kite.  So here we get not only conversation, but huge chunks of description.  And random characters that have nothing to do with anything.  Edwards loves to name everyone who passes through, whether a henchman's sidekicks, or the dog of the Heartland teacher.  Heartland is the name of the town the band hales from.  And, unlike Goin' Coconuts, I can't possibly briefly summarize the "plot."

But since you asked:  Brits Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees play respectively Billy Shears and the Hendersons, all-American boys (in their mid 20s) who form the modern-day version of the band founded during WWI by Billy's grandfather Sgt. Pepper.  Billy has a girlfriend named Strawberry Fields, whom he must leave behind when the band goes to LA to become instant stars.  Strawberry is also lusted after by Billy's "stepbrother" (actually half-brother) Dougie and by mean Mr. Mustard (Frankie Howerd), who works for FVB, the Future Villainband played by Aerosmith.  Billy cheats on Strawberry with Lucy (of the Diamonds), although this has no real consequences.  Heartland becomes Mustardland when the original band's instruments are stolen, then there's a benefit for Mr. Kite, which the evil producer plans to profit from, but Dougie and Lucy team up to steal the money, and then they and Strawberry are kidnapped, and then Strawberry dies, till Grandpa Pepper, whose spirit lives on in a weathervane, comes to life as a young black man (Billy Preston) and brings Strawberry back to life, while turning some of the villains into priests and a nun.  And then even more guest stars show up and humiliate themselves for the big finish.

This last part is represented in the book by over five pages of celebrity names, ranging from Fanny Brice to the Sex Pistols.  At least they get only one mention each, as opposed to "the brashy boys" and "the silly girls" (Heartland fans), or the computerettes who work for Mustard.  The book is not only cheesy but deeply sexist, since nearly every female character-- from an old woman to Lucy-- acts like a groupie.  At least the ethnic stereotypes on p. 11 are ludicrous, for example, "'Ha!  Ha!  I love to laugh.  It has been a long time,' trilled an Italian.  'This beats driving a Maserati through all the traffic lights in Rome!'"  It's actually surprising that Maserati was around in 1916, because Edwards isn't exactly a fact-checker.

Almost every sentence in the book is either weak or terrible.  I'm trying to limit myself in quotations, but here are two of the worst passages:

"Billy and Strawberry run through the fields.  'I love you, Strawberry Fields!' Billy shouts as they frolic together."

"She is furious.  'Whoever is she?'  I'll dismember her!' she says to no one in particular."

The only redeeming feature is the mild social satire of L.A. and Beverly Hills.  Even the Beatles lyrics are misquoted.  I suppose I could rate the book higher, on a so-bad-it's-good basis, but the fact remains that it's still bad.  As with Goin' Coconuts, I'd recommend you watch the movie instead (if you're strong enough), because at least then you get to see the bad acting, particularly by Frampton, and learn that "wife" can be a five-syllable word when the Bee Gees sing "Good Morning, Good Morning."

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