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Book Review: Wonderful Tonight by Pattie Boyd

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Because George Harrison was my favorite Beatle, I devoured Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me, a memoir by his first wife Pattie Boyd (of whom I confess I was, in my Beatle phase, horribly jealous) within days of its publication last year. Since recovering from her marriages, Pattie has become known as a photographer. This Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m., a show of her photographs opens at the Morrison Hotel Gallery on Sunset Boulevard. She will read from Wonderful Tonight this evening at 7 p.m. at Book Soup.

Pattie Boyd’s early relationships marked her as a musician’s muse, yet by page 202 – sometime in 1974 – she comes to terms with the reality of that tag, as she recounts how her second husband Eric Clapton wrote the song “Wonderful Tonight” for her:

To have inspired Eric, and George before him, to write such music was so flattering. Yet I came to believe that although something about me might have made them put pen to paper, it was really all about them.
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Appearing two-thirds of the way through the book, this is a welcome revelation in a book that is to a large extent framed as a journey of self-discovery. Over the course of Wonderful Tonight, Pattie Boyd recounts her odd, uprooted childhood (Kenya, followed by boarding school in East Grinstead) and pleasure in finally escaping the nuns and being on her own as a model in early 1960s London (Carnaby Street! Mary Quant! Biba! Granny Takes a Trip!). Pattie almost refuses to go to a casting call for A Hard Day’s Night, and turns down George Harrison’s initial request for a date even though she dislikes her boyfriend, but she finally gives in:

George, with velvet brown eyes and dark chestnut hair, was the best-looking man I’d ever seen…..We were both shy and spoke hardly a word to each other, but being close to him was electrifying.

And, as they say, the rest is a rock and roll fairy tale. Or not. Pattie makes clear how baffling Beatlemania was to the actual lads, barely men, whose spirits were challenged by the complex existences that their unpredictable success created. George, Paul, John, and Ringo had been brought up to lead simple lives, although it’s difficult to imagine any sufficient preparation for what happened to them in the their first few years of success. In public, George pursued various obsessions – Transcendental Meditation, which Pattie discovered first, the Maharishi, Indian music – but at home, as Pattie describes, he drank and rarely spoke.