Larry Kirwan, Liverpool Fantasy (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003)

Recently, it was all over the media. "It was forty years ago today" — many paraphrased the famous Sergeant Pepper line — when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, effectively introducing them to the United States and beginning the avalanche that would result in the British Invasion and everything that followed.

But what if that hadn't happened? What if the four lads never made it out of Liverpool? What if the Beatles — with their constantly clashing personalities — had imploded before they "exploded"? What if, I'm trying to say, we lived in a world that exhibited no influence in any way by the Fab Four? I'm trying, and it's hard to imagine. But when I think of it, it's close to catastrophic.

No "A Hard Day's Night," No "Sergeant Pepper," "Rubber Soul," or "Abbey Road." No British Invasion, no "Beatlemania." No "Yesterday."

The Monkees and Oasis . . . patterned after the Beach Boys!

I'm making light of it, but Larry Kirwan goes much deeper in his debut novel, Liverpool Fantasy. Deeper in the sense that he really gets into the heads of his main characters: the never-ubiquitous "nowhere men." A different set entirely than the ones we're used to: a John Lennon embittered, on the dole, laughed at for that song he wrote about the walrus; a "Paul Montana" ruling the Las Vegas stage and going through wives like guitars; former asylum inmate and Jesuit priest Father George Harrison having second thoughts about his choice of vocation, especially after he picks up a guitar again; and a Lord Ringo married to the owner of a chain of hair salons but still sitting in with John on jams with Gerry of the Pacemakers.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this book would have been nothing more than a high-concept novelty, but acclaimed playwright Kirwan respects his subjects and gives them the attention they deserve. Yes, they're miserable, but it's a misery based on the consequences of their own actions. Kirwan gives the reader a view into the lives that could have been had this infamous clash of personalities ended in a break before it really had a chance to take off — but then decided, twenty-five years later, to give it another go.

His main gift lies in his power of description, his ability to make the scene at hand feel true in the face of unreality. A perfect example is the first reunion scene, when the four come together in a pub and go onstage together, trying to forget their anger and resentment and recapture what one was:

Lennon was still screaming the lyrics, his back arched over the microphone, mad at Montana and the world; but as the familiar bass lines snaked around the groove, like everyone else in the pub, he felt the smack of recognition. At first he resisted, quickening the tempo and then dragging his heels on the bridge in a self-destructive notion of shaking the section, waking them, breaking the spell that they were casting on themselves and the audience. But then he'd lose track of their antics as he soared with George's fiery, fluid solos, and when he came back down to Earth, he'd find that they had him spiked to the floor in that indefinable but particular rhythmic space where all great rock & roll hovers, halfway between the hammer and the anvil.

Liverpool Fantasy is wonderfully detailed and entirely believable as alternative history because Larry Kirwan's knowledge of the inner workings (read: conflicting egos) of a rock band — from his own with Black 47 — make every page shine. More than anything else, Liverpool Fantasy is a moving portrait of shot dreams. This makes it a difficult read because no one wants to see their heroes in distress, even fictionally. And it's Kirwan gift to make this story true — if not in fact, then emotionally. So much so, that for a time after I finished the book, a mention of the Beatles would unearth feelings of sadness and frustration.

One can go on and on pontificating about the possible repercussions of the music world in the absence of the Fab Four — all the lost music, the bands influenced by it, and a culture forever missing an unexplainable something that only they provided. But all our guesswork is unnecessary, because fortunately, Larry Kirwan has done all the hard work for us. Just sit back and immerse yourself in a world of what-might-have-been-but-thankfully-wasn't.


[Craig Clarke]

Green Man is happy to offer an exclusive download of
Black 47's song Liverpool Fantasy