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How Can You Mend a Broken Group? The Bee Gees Did It With Disco

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The sun rarely sets on Stigwood. He is a constant traveler, a bachelor with homes in Los Angeles, New York and Bermuda (alas, the one in London had to be sold for tax reasons), a peripatetic power broker with a penchant for style and a fondness for life in the grand manner. Like Brian Epstein before him, he lives in the Noel Coward tradition – but where Brian pioneered in translating the Coward style to the purposes of the businessman, Stigwood adds a crucial refinement: it is not sufficient just to be a businessman; one must also be a good businessman.

"We believe in working hard and having fun at the same time," he says. "It's a way of life for me, and I feel tremendous. I feel very lucky to have the freedom to do the things I want to do. And as I say, my clients are all my friends as well."

Maurice has this story about how he and John Lennon became friends. "Robert introduced us. He said, 'John, this is Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees, a new group I just signed up,' and I said, 'It's nice to meet you, John,' and he said, 'Naturally.' Right? So I said, 'Oh, stuff you!' Then a little bit later he came over and offered to buy me a drink. He said, 'I like you, you know.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I like the way you answered that.' I said, 'Does that mean we're friends then?' And he said, 'You bet.'"

This transpired at the Speakeasy one night when Cream was playing, not long after the Bee Gees had arrived from Australia. As Maurice sat there, with Cream onstage and John Lennon on one side and Keith Moon on the other, he felt very much a part of things. As he tells it now, sitting in the living room of his house on the tax-haven Isle of Man, he still doesn't seem ready to relinquish the thrill.

Maurice lives with his wife, his children and his wife's parents in a large gray farmhouse on the edge of a working-class beach resort in the middle of the Irish Sea. Barry and his wife and family live nearby. They plan to move to Miami soon. (Robin will remain in Surrey.)

Although they are all family men, the Bee Gees are not without their little idiosyncracies. Maurice has this fantasy thing about cops, for example. Once he got busted by the Miami police because he tried to make a citizen's arrest in a bar. He likes to fire a pistol during his interviews. He collects police memorabilia. "The cops in America weren't safe when we were on tour," laughs one of the band members. "They were liable to lose their clothes."

"Nobody has ever matched the Beatles," Maurice announces, apropos of nothing in particular. "I don't think anybody ever will. It's very bad taste to compare anybody with the Beatles at this point – and especially the Bay City Rollers. If I were them, I'd be embarrassed.

"We were compared with the Beatles at first," he continues. "Most of the publicity we had was actually true. But the Beatles never had one publicity stunt. You could see people working behind us – but the Beatles, all they had to do was say, 'Oh, people seem to think we're bigger than God,' and all of a sudden – boom! They're burning their records in America!" There is awe in Maurice's voice, an awareness that he is talking about a level of stardom he will never experience.

If the Bee Gees spend any time brooding about the ironies of their appearance in a Hollywood-revival Beatles musical about the redeeming power of music, they don't show it. They seem much too absorbed in their work for that. They take their work very seriously, but they maintain perspective. They need perspective; they are craftsmen. Back in Australia, when they were first writing songs, they spent hours and hours listening to the radio, trying to figure out what people like. They found several kinds of music that always held up: ballads, soul, country... "You study your craft," Barry says. "You find out what moves people, where you rise and fall."

The Bee Gees maintain no illusions. "We're fully aware that our music is almost totally commercial," says Barry. "We write for the present." That's part of their secret: the Bee Gees know who they are and who they aren't. They ought to; they went through enough trouble, back when they broke up, to find out. Odd, then, that they never quite figured out the proper stance. There was always something awkward about them, even when they were fresh and tender. They were rock stars, but they weren't really a rock band; they were a showbiz family in an age when rock was king. Thirty years earlier, they might have complemented the Andrews Sisters; but it was 1967 when they came along, and they were compared to the Beatles.

You might think now, with showbiz on the rebound and disco in the air, that the Bee Gees feel more comfortable. But no; now that it's fashionable to wear white shirts and spiffy suits onstage, they no longer do so. "It's too hot up there," says Barry – and so once again the Bee Gees look slightly out of synch with the times. They also look as if they don't care. In fact, nothing about these boys looks calculated. They may be older, but they're still natural, still innocents. That could be why people like them so much.

This story is from the July 14th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.

 

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