In the early 1960s, Beatles manager Brian Epstein made two bold and visionary statements about the future. He's famous for the first one: "The Beatles are going to be bigger than Elvis!" (At the time, the Fab Four were a middle-of-the-road Liverpool band rejected by every record company in the business.) Epstein's second visionary statement has been largely overlooked, but it was in fact bolder, more inspiring, and not only dangerous but borderline seditious. During a media appearance, after dashing lovestruck fans' hopes by revealing that the Beatles would one day be married, Brian added, "And someday, I might be married too!"
No one paid much attention to that sentence. The media recorded it, thinking it a lighthearted joke, but it was hardly a laughing matter. What the public didn't know was that Brian Epstein was gay. And in 1960s England, forget about being allowed to marry; gay men and lesbians weren't allowed to openly walk the streets! It was literally a felony to be attracted to a member of the same sex.
Brian died lonely at the age of 32, never having had a proper boyfriend, and with the colloquially known "Oscar Wilde laws" declaring homosexuality illegal still in force. The year was 1967, and it was the "Summer of Love" -- as long as you weren't gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. If you were, you'd better spend your summer indoors, in the closet.
No one will fully understand the pressures Brian Epstein faced or the obstacles he had to overcome to realize his dreams. But for me, plumbing the depths of the human sides of his story has been incredibly inspirational, and this inspiration has guided me through my entire adult life. It's the reason I want to tell his story at all, the reason I spent over 20 years researching and writing The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story. Yes, what Brian Epstein accomplished with the Beatles is historic, and he should be remembered as one of "the great unsung architects of 20th-century culture," as the writer Warren Ellis describes him. But I hold that it is not the Beatles that Brian Epstein should be most remembered for; it's the personal obstacles he overcame while pursuing his dreams that makes his story truly inspiring and important for the world to know. The law said Brian had to hide his own love away -- so instead, he worked tirelessly to spread the Beatles' great message of love across the globe, and in so doing Brian Epstein made the world a far richer place for love than it would have been without him.
Six years after Brian died and thousands of miles away, I was born in New York City. My parents were from Guyana, and my grandparents were from India. There aren't a lot of people of my background and ethnicity entering the arts and entertainment industries (with the exception of Bollywood, which is a very specific art form); we are typically steered toward and expected to enter medicine, engineering, information technology, computer science, or business, not graphic novels, Broadway, film and television! But Brian's steadfast belief in himself and his dreams inspired me to believe in my own professional dreams and to pursue a career in the arts and entertainment. It's a career that I've been fortunate to enjoy for the past two decades. I can honestly say that I do what I love, and I have Brian's example to partially thank for that.
And in my personal life, the Brian Epstein story has been even more inspiring. My wife Tracy is half-Italian, half-Irish. For me, it doesn't seem farfetched to imagine a time when a brown man like me was not to marry a white woman like Tracy, regardless of the depth of our love and connection. I know our circumstances are not nearly the same as the obstacles Brian and other gay, bisexual, and transgender people have faced over the years -- and, in the case of marriage, continue to face in 34 of the United States -- but emotionally, Tracy and I could relate and empathize. We've always felt that finding each other was a blessing, but our freedom to celebrate our love by getting married was a right, and one that's not available to everyone. So when Tracy and I wed in 2005, we made a donation to Freedom to Marry, the organization at the vanguard of the marriage equality movement, and we highlighted them in our first toast as a married couple. Some of the older wedding guests weren't quite sure what to make of that speech, and I suspect they were relieved when John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over" started playing and we moved on to our first dance.
Forty-six years after Brian's untimely death, eight years after my wife and I made our own vows, and just as The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story was heading to the printers, the United States Supreme Court made two landmark rulings on marriage cases, striking down the core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (which prevented married same-sex couples from sharing in more than 1,000 federal protections) and restoring the freedom to marry in California. We've won the freedom to marry in, now, 16 of the United States and the District of Columbia. And at virtually the same time, Parliament made marriage for same-sex couples legal in England and Wales.
I don't think of The Fifth Beatle as an activist book, but I hope that it is an inspiring one. I hope that our readers will walk away wanting to pursue their own dreams, and to do something that will make a genuine difference in this world -- maybe make it a richer place for love, as Brian Epstein did. So The Fifth Beatle highlights Freedom to Marry at the novel's conclusion to provide our readers with one suggestion on how they can immediately and quickly make a difference, one place they can immediately apply much-needed passion and inspiration. I'm immensely proud of the partnership The Fifth Beatle has forged with Freedom to Marry; it's an organization that I think is every bit as rock-and-roll as the Beatles were.
There's more work to do, to be sure, but had Brian Epstein lived to 2013, he would have been pleased about a lot more than the enduring legacy of his Beatles. He might even have attended the wedding of Sean Lennon's godfather, Elton John, to David Furnish. And yes, someday, Brian Epstein might have fulfilled his own dream of getting married too.