Being an ex-Beatle in the 1970’s was both a bless­ing and a curse.  Each for­mer Fab had the advan­tage of the com­mer­cial cachet that came with being part of the most suc­cess­ful and influ­en­tial group in pop music his­to­ry.  However, each ex-Beatle also had the dis­ad­van­tage of liv­ing under the tow­er­ing shad­ow of that past suc­cess and try­ing to reestab­lish them­selves in the eyes of a record-buy­ing pub­lic that was dis­il­lu­sioned by their breakup.

Similarly, any­one look­ing to write a book on the Beatles is in a posi­tion almost as tough as the one the ex-Beatles founds them­selves in dur­ing the 1970’s.  The his­to­ry of the group and each indi­vid­u­al mem­ber has been combed through, chron­i­cled, ana­lyzed, sat­i­rized and reex­am­ined sev­er­al times over.

Finding a fresh hook for such fre­quent­ly explored mate­ri­al seems impos­si­ble but Robert Rodriguez has man­aged to pull this tricky feat off with Fab Four FAQ 2.0.  This sequel to his ear­lier explo­ration of the Beatles’ career suc­ceeds where a lot of Beatles-ret­ro­spec­tive books fail because it is actu­al­ly sev­er­al books at once:  it is a his­to­ry, a source of triv­ia and a crit­i­cal guide to the ex-Beatles music, films and t.v. appear­ances all in one care­ful­ly-assem­bled tome.

Part of the appeal of this book comes from the way it is orga­nized.  Its reams of info are bro­ken down into 33 metic­u­lous­ly orga­nized chap­ters.  Eleven of the­se chap­ters devote them­selves to a year-by-year sur­vey of the per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al events in lives of the ex-Fabs and they act as a sort of nar­ra­tive anchor for the book.  The oth­er twen­ty-two chap­ters inter­sect with the­se cap­sule his­to­ries in a vari­ety of ways, explor­ing their music, their ven­tures into oth­er forms of media, their col­lab­o­ra­tions and their feuds.

Armchair musi­col­o­gists will delight in the musi­cal­ly-mind­ed chap­ters, which break down each man’s respec­tive solo cat­a­logs in a vari­ety of ways: biggest and low­est-chart­ing sin­gles, best and worst albums, the #1 hits, etc.  These chap­ters aren’t mere “lis­ti­cles,” either:  Rodriguez goes into great detail about the sto­ries behind the songs and albums.  His pen­chant for thor­ough behind-the-sce­nes detail real­ly yield div­i­dends in the chap­ters where he explores the group’s col­lab­o­ra­tions with oth­er artists and their unre­leased record­ings: high­lights include the tale behind an abortive, oft-boot­legged stu­dio jam between Lennon and McCartney in 1974 and the sto­ry about “Too Many Cooks,” Lennon’s unre­leased col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mick Jagger.

Rodriguez proves equal­ly adept at siz­ing up the ex-Fabs work on tele­vi­sion and in films:  he makes a good case for how That’ll Be The Day shows that Ringo could have had a legit act­ing career if he’d real­ly want­ed one and offers fas­ci­nat­ing descriptions/analyses of John Lennon’s con­tro­ver­sial early-1970’s t.v. appear­ances with Yoko Ono.  On a sim­i­lar track, there is a fas­ci­nat­ing chap­ters chron­i­cling shows and events that attempt­ed to explore (or exploit) the public’s nos­tal­gia for the Beatles (yes, it includes a look at the infa­mous 1978 film-musi­cal stinker Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — and that entry offers an insight­ful, well-informed analy­sis of the cir­cum­stances that made it such a fias­co).

However, the most fas­ci­nat­ing and valu­able chap­ters might be those that explore the per­son­al inter­ac­tions between the for­mer band­mates.  Chapters on their post-Beatles col­lab­o­ra­tions and — even more inter­est­ing — their feuds over the years are engross­ing reads that offer up all the per­ti­nent details behind each inci­dent with­out devolv­ing into tabloid-style innu­en­do.  A chap­ter on the roman­tic involve­ments of the Fabs is done in a sim­i­lar­ly infor­ma­tive yet classy style and the clos­ing chap­ter about Lennon’s untime­ly death is han­dled with a well-judged sen­si­tiv­i­ty, focus­ing on Lennon’s sched­ule that day and the reac­tions of each of his for­mer band­mates.

And for those won­der­ing why a Beatles book is being cov­ered on a schlock site, well, Rodriguez nev­er shies away from schlock when it pops up.  Each of the ex-Beatles made some ques­tion­able career choic­es that came back to haunt them and there is also plen­ty of cov­er­age on attempts to exploit the Beatles’ mys­tique.  Highlights on the schlock tip include the sto­ry behind Ringo’s appear­ance in the spaghet­ti west­ern Blindman, the afore­men­tioned explo­ration of the awful Sgt. Pepper’s movie as well as details about the stage show that spawned it, a look at John Lennon’s awk­ward rad­i­cal-chic album Some Time In New York City and the sto­ry behind Alpha-Omega, a bootleg Beatles comp that inspired Capitol to begin a series of Beatles repack­ages.

To sum up, Fab Four FAQ 2.0 is a true work of pop schol­ar­ship.  It would take tons of col­lect­ing and read­ing to find all the infor­ma­tion that is cov­ered so suc­cinct­ly here.  Better yet, this book is as acces­si­ble as it is impres­sive.  It’s orga­ni­za­tion scheme allows to deliv­er plen­ty of enlight­ment whether it is read in a start-to-fin­ish style or just thumbed through in a casu­al man­ner.  If you want to under­stand the twisty-turny path that the for­mer Beatles had to nav­i­gate to find suc­cess in a post-Fabs world, Fab Four FAQ 2.0 is an ide­al place to begin.