Being Ringo: A Beatle's All-Starr Life - Rolling Stone
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Being Ringo: A Beatle’s All-Starr Life

After five decades, the happy-go-lucky sidekick in the greatest band of all time is finally getting his solo moment in the sun

Ringo Starr poses for a portrait at The London Hotel on Monday, March 30, 2015, in West Hollywood, Calif. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)Ringo Starr poses for a portrait at The London Hotel on Monday, March 30, 2015, in West Hollywood, Calif. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)

Ringo Starr poses for a portrait at The London Hotel on Monday, March 30, 2015, in West Hollywood.

John Shearer/Invision/AP

There are some things Ringo believes. “If you are on a desert island and you have coconuts, you can survive.” There are some things Ringo can’t answer. Was “Taxman” recorded on four-track or eight-track? “Ask someone who knows. I only know I’m on it.” There are times when Ringo can be quite acerbic. “I was having dinner with him recently in L.A. with Dave Grohl and our wives,” says Paul McCartney. “I know Ringo has been sober for years, so I joked, ‘C’mon, Ringo, have a whiskey.’ Ringo looked at me for a second and says, ‘What, and end up looking like you?’ I deserved it.”

And then there are things Ringo Starr wants to make absolutely clear. He is dressed all in black and turns his sunglasses toward the sun. He speaks slowly in his Beverly Hills-via-Liverpool Postal District 8 accent.

“You know my real name isn’t Ringo, right?”

His real name is Richard Starkey. His wife calls him Ritchie. He’s 74. He is one of rock’s greatest drummers, and — even if he doesn’t have the songwriting gifts of the other Beatles — he is one of the finest entertainers in the history of Western civilization.

Think about it. If you’re between 20 and 80 and someone mentions Ringo, what do you do? If you’re not Hitler, you start smiling. If you’re 67, you remember the nose and bouncing hair at Shea. If you’re in your thirties, you think of the little man narrating Shining Time Station when you were eight. And if you were ever a parent, you thank Ringo for the three minutes of serenity “Yellow Submarine” brings to every truculent four-year-old. He can work high — backbeating for John, Paul and George. He can work low — Wednesday night for the senior crowd in Fort Pierce, Florida, high-hatting Toto’s “Rosanna” at the Sunrise Theatre.

Ringo will bring his road show to Cleveland on April 18th for a different kind of event when he’s inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. McCartney will give the speech. There will be the usual hosannas, but probably not a lot of talk of Ringo as a tortured artist. That’s not Ringo, not the tortured part, even if he has survived alcoholism, growing up without a father or a toilet, and spending two years in a sanitarium with tuberculosis. “I always thought I had a great childhood,” says Ringo with a laugh, as he talks about his mum taking two buses and a ferry across the Mersey to visit him once a week. “Then a therapist told me, ‘Well, actually, it sounds like you were abandoned and lived in a slum.’ ”

Laughter as medicine agrees with Ringo. He is Gollum-skinny and appears younger than his son Zak, who drums for the Who. That’s probably because Zak doesn’t lives on vegetables, juices and broiled potatoes. “Every time I see Ringo, he smells of kale,” jokes Joe Walsh, Eagles guitarist and Starr’s brother-in-law.

Much of Ringo’s vitality comes from 34 years of marriage to Barbara Bach Starkey, a Bond girl who he fell in love with on the set of Caveman. (Bach was told her co-star would be a short Englishman, and she assumed it was going to be Dudley Moore.) Caveman is an underrated — no, seriously — comedy where Ringo plays Atouk, a puppy-dog prehistoric man not unlike the puppy-dog drummer walking alone, kicking stones along the Thames in A Hard Day’s Night. Sure, Ringo will tell you Hard Day’s director Richard Lester gave him screen time because he was the only one who showed up, and his brooding silence is only because he was too hung over to remember his lines. Not bloody likely. Ringo had a vulnerability that the other Beatles lacked.

“I don’t want to bring in the violins, but we all came from hardship,” says McCartney. “All of us except for George lost someone. I lost my mum when I was 14. John lost his mum. But Ringo had it worst. His father was gone; he was so sick they told his mum he wasn’t going to live. Imagine making up your life from that, in that environment. No family, no school. He had to invent himself. We all had to come up with a shield, but Ringo came up with the strongest shield.”

Part of that shield was playing the fool; part of that shield was booze. It led to a lost decade of L.A./London/Monte Carlo partying where Ringo woke up many mornings wondering, “Why are the birds coughing so loudly?” But he’s been sober for 26 years, and there’s one essential thing that keeps Ringo young: the sticks and the drum kit.

“I’ll play with any other musician all night, but I can’t do it on my own,” Ringo told me as we drove to what he estimated was somewhere between his 800th to 900th gig with the All Starr Band. “I don’t find any joy in sitting there by myself.” Adds friend and band member Todd Rundgren, “He always plays with a second drummer. I think it was comforting on the first solo tours, but now it’s a habit.”

Every night before a gig, Ringo stands in the wings, and when his name is called, he bounds onstage: a sequined Liverpudlian leprechaun. “He is Peter Pan, his face lights up,” says Barbara. “He’s a boy again when he plays. It doesn’t matter how far he has to travel to get to that stage.”

Ringo is an only child. He’s lost two of his surrogate brothers — Lennon and Harrison — and his best friend, singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, far before their time. He’s watched his solo career get nutty high — seven Top Tens between 1971 and 1975 — and then slide into oblivion. Now he’s reached a comfy groove in his golden years with a band that has included everyone from Billy Preston to Levon Helm to the Mr. Mister guy. Ringo is still here, a kiddish look of resigned wonder on his face at how he has outlasted his friends.

“Some of us made it to the other side,” says Ringo in a rare somber moment. “Others didn’t. Who knows why?”

But there are some clues. For one, Ringo Starr just wants to bang on the drum all day.

Ringo Starr

Unprompted, three members of Ringo’s posse repeat to me the same line with happy awe: “Ringo Starr is a fucking Beatle.” As such, things are done a little differently. I’m asked to meet Ringo for a quick hello at the Van Nuys Airport before the band heads out on a swing that will take it from Birmingham, Alabama, to the Dominican Republic to Sarasota, Florida, and on to Brazil. I’m waiting in the lobby when I get an urgent text from his tour manager: “Just a reminder Ringo doesn’t shake hands. He bumps elbows.”

It’s a germ thing. Inside a holding room, the band sits, a crack, tight unit waiting for its leader. There are sitcom possibilities. Former members of Toto, Mr. Mister, Journey and David Lee Roth’s band mingle, move stiffly in leather and arch aching backs before the flight.

Then Ringo arrives. He is jockey-small, maybe five feet six and 120 pounds. We bump elbows. I joke that this may be his one-millionth interview. He smiles. “Maybe the one-billionth. I passed a million back in the Sixties.”

He looks at me with not quite comprehension. (His people may not want to overload him with details.) “Tell me again why you’re here? You came to meet me for 15 minutes?” He shakes his head, pauses for a moment and makes a joke: “ ’Fifteen Minutes at the Airport’ — that sounds like a romance novel.”

He slumps into his chair and reanimates when he starts talking about the band. He nods out toward the Gulfstream GIV. “At this point, we only do it in luxury — private plane and the nicest hotels.”

The All Starr Band has existed for a quarter century now, and usually Ringo changes the lineup every year or so. This band has been together for three years and has one Ringo-mandated requirement: You must have been in a band with three hit singles. That way, Ringo can add to the illusion that he’s just one of the guys and only has to be the frontman for a third of the show.

“Every time I say, ‘This is the last tour for these guys,’ I add another leg,” Ringo says.

Someone comes in and tells him the jet is gassed up and ready to go. He thanks me for not leading with Beatles questions and then heads into the room where his band waits. The guys break into smiles and surround him, not unlike the Notre Dame football players with their pint-size teammate at the end of Rudy.

Starting with his Beatle days, Ringo Starr has always been the mascot of rock & roll. McCartney and Lennon started writing songs for him because everyone found him so adorable. “We wrote the line ‘What would you do if I sang out of tune?’ for him,” says McCartney. “When you think about it, how many people in rock & roll can sing? But Ringo can deliver a song.”

Ringo’s image as happy-go-lucky sideman first and rocker second nearly blocked him from entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo act. It started with a dinner between McCartney and Robbie Robertson, when the Band’s guitarist noted Ringo wasn’t in the Hall of Fame on his own. With Beatles manager Brian Epstein being inducted into the nonperformer wing, McCartney thought Ringo’s absence was an egregious oversight.

“I said, ‘Let me see what I can do,’ ” says McCartney. “And I talked to Bruce Springsteen and I talked to Dave Grohl, and they both thought he should be in. And I said I’d do the induction. That took care of it.”

Meanwhile, Ringo is on the road and doesn’t seem to care. (His people insist he would be happy with a Q&A and skipping the pain-in-the-assness of a cover story.) The band has survived some arctic weather in South Carolina and Alabama and made it to southern Florida. A gig in Orlando has been rebooked into the 1,200-seat Sunrise Theatre up the highway in Fort Pierce. Even with ticket prices in the hundreds, it’s hard to see Ringo making much on the tour with private-plane travel and a half-dozen well-paid hired hands, but since he’s one of the world’s richest drummers, with an estimated net worth of hundreds of millions, the bottom line is not a top priority.

Three and a half hours before showtime, a black SUV arrives in the hotel driveway. Ringo appears from a back stairway, is bundled into the car, and the SUV hits the street. At Ringo’s request, the windows stay up. Bruce Grakal, Ringo’s lawyer, sits in the back. Grakal, a wild, white-haired gent, was also the attorney for Nilsson, the critically acclaimed singer-songwriter known for hits like Three Dog Night’s “One” and his own “Everybody’s Talkin’ ” (both in 1969), and his friendship with the Beatles, particularly Lennon and Ringo.

Ringo first met Nilsson after the singer did a gonzo version of Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep-Mountain High.” “It was bordering on madness, and so we thought, ‘We gotta meet this guy,’ ” says Ringo. While Nilsson’s destructive friendship with Lennon got the ink — they drunkenly heckled the Smothers Brothers at L.A.’s Troubadour, and Nilsson infamously ruined his voice doing a cover of “Many Rivers to Cross” with Lennon sitting at the console — it was the drummer in the world’s most famous band and the songwriter who hated playing live who became inseparable as they drank away the 1970s.

“He was my best friend,” says Ringo softly. “Yeah. I loved Harry.”

The two made an unwatchable Dracula movie together and tried to collaborate through their drug-and-booze haze. “I had one song with 27 verses that I gave to Harry to edit, and he got it down to about eight verses,” Ringo says. “It never got recorded.”

He started ticking off the L.A. places they used to frequent back in the 1970s: the Troubadour, the Whisky and the Rainbow. “We all used to hang out at the Rainbow — me, Harry and Keith Moon,” Ringo says. I mentioned I’d seen Marilyn Manson burning the hours there last year, and Ringo laughs.

“Right now he belongs there,” he says. He mentioned an encounter with Manson at a John Varvatos fashion party in L.A. last year where Ringo made his debut as a male model. “Marilyn arrived, somehow,” says Ringo. “And of course you say hello. He was in party mood. He kept saying, ‘Thanks for inviting me.’ I didn’t invite you! Anyway, yeah, the party goes on, the names just change, you know?”

Ringo doesn’t skimp on the recovery details. I mention that during the same era he was lighting up the town, Robertson and Martin Scorsese were blacking out the windows in their L.A. crash pad. He leans toward my tape recorder and says, giggling, “Martin Scorsese? Junkie!”

Ringo and Barbara entered rehab together in 1988. I ask him what finally got him sober. “It gets really lonely, you know?” he says. “It’s just really cold and lonely. It’s a miserable disease, in the end. There’s a crowd of you, and it’s lonely. Because that’s all you’re doing is getting fucked, you know? But I haven’t been that lonely since.”

Ringo in the 1970s operated in an odd, insulated place in pop culture. With the breakup of the Beatles, expectations for the drummer were basement-low, but he managed a multitude of hits, often collaborating with Lennon and Harrison. There was a sly sense of humor lacking in his ex-bandmates’ solo output, and an audacity to songs like “No No Song,” an anti-drug hit recorded tongue-in-cheek while Ringo was partying his ass off.

Ringo Starr and his Barbara Bach

His songs often provided an arch reportorial look into life as a Beatle. In the Lennon-penned “I’m the Greatest,” Ringo sang the most Beatlesque “What do we do next?” song, including the lines “Yes, my name is Billy Shears/You know it has been for so many years/Now I’m only 32, and all I want to do is boogaloo.” The song fades out to a muted reprise of Harrison’s “I Dig Love.” On “Early 1970,” Ringo connected the dots even more, writing a verse about each member, stating he missed them all and slagging himself in 143 seconds:

I play guitar, A – D – E

I don’t play bass ’cause that’s too hard for me

I play the piano if it’s in C

And when I go to town I wanna see all three

“It was a time when Paul was angry at us,” says Ringo, staring out the window. “So if you listen to the song, it says . . .  about John, ‘When he comes to town, I know he’s going to play with me.’ George’s ‘long-legged lady . . . and when he comes to town, I know he’s going to play.’ And then Paul: ‘And I hope he’s going to play with me,’ because I didn’t know if he would, but that’s how it happened.”

Getting Ringo to talk about the Fab Four is tricky. He says he’ll never write a memoir because all anyone wants to read is dirt about the Beatles years, and he’s not bringing the shovel. Still, the fans tonight are not coming out to hear Toto songs: They’re coming to hear “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Ringo knows this and isn’t afraid to mine nostalgia on his own terms. His new album is called Postcards From Paradise, referencing postcards he got from other Beatles on holiday. The title track is essentially a list of Beatles song titles that Ringo wrote on an envelope and gave Rundgren, along with a demo track, to string together into a song.

Even Ringo’s rock-star brother-in-law Walsh is a little careful when he brings up the old band. “I’ll ask some technical questions — like, ‘What guitar was George using on this White Album track?’ ” says Walsh. “But it’s best when you sit back and let him bring it up. I treasure those moments, when Ringo remembers stuff like all of them sitting in a hotel bathroom in Germany, just talking.”

In many ways, Ringo is like any other man. He’d rather talk about food than his past. Growing up with a multitude of allergies, Ringo has never had pizza, curry or an onion. But he does love his goat cheese.

“I have goat cheese because of the molecule size,” says Ringo, behind sunglasses that he rarely takes off. “You know how you’re always full after a glass of milk? You’re always full because the molecules are huge. Look at a baby cow. Now, a goat is something our body can handle.” He smiles. “And that’s why they think I’m a little crazy.”

True to Walsh’s advice, the less I ask about the Beatles, the more Ringo talks about the Beatles. Ringo is proud he never missed a studio cue, sitting at his drum kit with a cup of tea waiting for the others to suss out what they would play next. But sometimes, he felt isolated. During the White Album sessions, he didn’t feel right.

“I went over to see John,” Ringo says. “Knocked on the door. And I said, ‘Listen, I don’t feel like I’m playing great, and I feel that you three are very close.’ And he said, ‘I thought it was you three.’ And then I went to Paul, and I said the same thing: ‘I don’t feel like I’m playing great, and I feel you three are really close.’ And he goes, ‘I thought it was you three!’ So I went, ‘Fuck, I’m leaving. It’s too
crazy now.’ ”

Ringo left for about 10 days and went to Sardinia with his kids and hung out on Peter Sellers’ boat. He ordered fish and chips, and the crew brought him squid instead. Ringo started asking the captain about octopus and was told they like to lie on the ocean floor and build a garden of shiny objects.

“And I thought, ‘How great is that?’ ” Ringo says. “I thought, ‘I’d love to be . . . it’d be very quiet down there, maybe stop your head chattering.’ And so I started writing the song: ‘I’d like to be in an octopus’ garden. All my friends would be there.’ ”

When Ringo returned, Harrison had covered his drum set in flowers. But the band would be finished two years later, in 1970. With the deaths of John and George, only Paul and Ringo remain. They have a twisty relationship, sometimes testy, sometimes one they lampoon.

“It’s family,” says McCartney. “Sometimes we get pissed off at each other. I’ll want something from him and he won’t give it to me, and I’ll get pissed off. But then it passes. Brothers fight sometimes. There’s this revisionist history that it was all John and Paul. But it was four corners of a square; it wouldn’t have worked without one of the sides. Ringo was the right angle.”

In 2011, the two shot a comedy video for a British charity where McCartney insists as the only Beatle left he must go on a mission of mercy. At the end, Ringo pops up on a TV screen and says, “What about me?”

“Paul said he’s going to do the Hall of Fame speech,” says Ringo. He then speaks in dry British wit. “I really think I’m doing it just to give Paul a night out. He likes to keep busy.” He pauses before turning serious. “But the other side of that coin is that we would not have made as many records if it hadn’t have been for Paul. John and I lived very close, and we could get lazy. And Paul would call: ‘Hey, lads. Time we went back in the studio.’ So we’ve got to thank him that you’ve got 12 records.”

The SUV pulls into Fort Pierce, but Ringo isn’t done talking about Paul.

“When Stu Sutcliffe left the band, we needed a bass player,” Ringo says. “And John certainly wasn’t going to play bass, and neither was George. So Paul did it. And he played incredible bass. People think, ‘Oh, that’s easy,’ but the bass player and the drummer have to be friends, you know?”

A few minutes later, the SUV parks near the stage door. A half-century of paparazzi and the murder of Lennon have put Ringo on permanent alert. His eyes dart around, but there’s no one there as he speed-walks for the door. A few minutes later, he is onstage for a soundcheck. He taps the microphone. An old colleague is still on his mind.

“OK, the first song we’re going to do is ‘Yesterday.’ ”

Ringo laughs. “No, not really.”

It’s an hour before showtime, and Ringo is hanging with the band members in the theater’s catering area. This wouldn’t have happened in the early days of the All Starr Band. To avoid temptation, Ringo and Barbara would jump into a waiting car immediately after the show. They would return to the hotel and hole up with television and a little ice cream. Half the band was in recovery looking for meetings. They would have one backstage if they couldn’t find one, while the other band members maintained their more traditional preshow libations.

“At first, Ringo was very insular,” says Rundgren, who was on one of the early All Starr Band tours, in 1992, as well as the current one. “Imagine if you went from a working-class kid to royalty. It got to be a habit for him, not relating to people and slipping back into the celebrity mentality. Now, he’s much more open and gracious with our guests and us. He’s become the person he wanted to be.”

Right now, he’s sprawled at the dining room table and taking the piss out of his Beatles-era drumming.

“You know that fill I do on ‘The End’ on Abbey Road?” asks Ringo. He starts beating out a bop-bop beat on the table, a facsimile of the original, sort of. Ringo smiles. “I’ve got no idea how to do it. I could never do it again.” He looks triumphant. “Can’t do it!”

McCartney says it didn’t matter. He remembers the first show the Beatles did with Ringo, in 1962, at the Cavern in Liverpool, was when they became a real band.

“The first few minutes that Ringo is playing, I look to the left at George and to the right to John, and we didn’t say a word, but I remember thinking, ‘Shit, this is amazing,’ ” says McCartney. He paused to think for a second and then gave an impolitic example. “Look, I love Led Zeppelin, but you watch them playing and you can see them looking back at John Bonham, like, ‘What the hell are you doing — this is the beat.’ You could turn your back on Ringo and never have to worry. He both gave you security and you knew he was going to nail it.”

The Beatles

“Few drummers can capture the feel of a song like Ringo,” says Rundgren. “A lot of drummers are on top of the beat, which gives the song a nervous, edgy feel. That’s not Ringo. He plays relaxed, and it sounds so natural.”

Perhaps the reason Ringo could never remember the solo on “The End” is he didn’t want to do it. “I never met a drummer who more hated the drum solos,” says McCartney. “We had to beg him to do it. The point where ‘Carry That Weight’ goes into ‘The End,’ I told him it’s a dramatic change in energy and tempo — we need just a few seconds. And he finally agreed to do it. And Ringo was great.”

A little later, we are in Ringo’s dressing room. Outside, Rundgren pulls on a psychedelic shirt and Toto’s Steve Lukather checks his pirate pants in the mirror. “Where else would I get to wear these?” Lukather asks no one in particular. Ringo checks a voicemail from Steven Van Zandt, who wants to feature on his radio show the song “Rory and the Hurricanes,” about Ringo’s first band, which leads off his new album. Van Zandt has just a few edits he wants to make. Ringo, ever the good soldier, laughs a little and calls him back and tells him whatever he wants to do is fine with him. After he hangs up, I dare to ask how sick he is of answering questions about eight years of his life that are now a half-century in the past. He sighs with a huff of resignation, but he knows there’s no escaping it.

“Yeah, but that’s what they do,” says Ringo. “I had a life before I joined, and I’ve certainly had a life after that. But . . . like you, you can’t help but ask me about the Beatles. You’ve got to do that. I understand.”

It’s probably the best attitude to have. A few years ago, Ringo and Barbara were on vacation in a small town in India. They took a walk. Suddenly, little Indian boys and girls clutching Beatles albums surrounded them. There’s no escaping those years, no matter where Ringo goes.

An assistant brings dinner. It is a mountain of broccoli and half a baked potato. Ringo smiles and waves the room clear.

“OK, off you go.”

Ringo eats alone.

The band takes its place. an announcer says, “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Ringo Starr.” Ringo gives his nose a blow into a hankie and then bounds onto the stage in black jeans, a sparkly black T-shirt and a black colonial-cut jacket. He sits behind the drums and breaks into “Matchbox,” a Carl Perkins song the Beatles and Ringo have been singing for a half-century: “Let me be your little dog, till your big dog comes/When the big dog gets here, show him what this little puppy done.”

The crowd hollers. Ringo flashes the first of dozens of peace-and-love signs. He hits the notes on his 1971 song “It Don’t Come Easy.” The room’s serotonin drops somewhat to make room for an overlong Lukather solo on “Rosanna” and the Mr. Mister guy singing “Kyrie.” But Ringo keeps smiling and making eye contact with the audience. He rips into “Boys,” a Beatles cover of a Shirelles song originally written from a girl’s point of view, but one Ringo has been pulling off for 50 years. Finally, he moves back out front and sings “Photograph” and eyeballs a dancing couple: “He’s gazing into your eyes, and you have your hands in his pockets!” He closes by playing “With a Little Help From My Friends.” A woman rushes the stage, and Ringo fake-kisses her rings and loses his place in the song but quickly recovers. There’s dancing in the aisles, and Ringo exits for a moment before returning for two choruses of “Give Peace a Chance.”

The last chord is still ringing, but Ringo is already gone. Back in the day, this is when the cognac or something else would flow. Now Ringo, in his own words, blathers as the stage adrenaline still pumps through his veins. There’s talk of how he once wrote a song in 48 minutes with Richard Marx, his love of coconuts and his Sunday diet-cheat day, when Ringo eats a bowl of oatmeal, has one croissant and drinks a cup of coffee.

“The mind is always waiting for Sunday,” says Ringo. “Three days from now! I’m getting known now as Broccoli Boy.”

It’s not all for vanity’s sake. Besides tuberculosis, he dealt with peritonitis and three bouts of pleurisy. But Ringo puts a happy face even on sickness. It was while he was being treated for TB that a nurse wheeled around a cart with various musical instruments. “They gave me the drum, and then I wouldn’t be in the band unless I got a drum,” says Ringo. “I was not going to play the triangle or the tambourine. I’d shout, ‘Give me the drum!’ I knew immediately: ‘I want to play drums. I don’t want to play piano, I don’t want to play guitar.’ ”

The conversation meanders to the fact that Ringo is scaling back his life. He recently sold his place in Monte Carlo and an estate in England where his family has gathered at Christmastime for decades. That leads to talk of when Ringo and Barbara moved into their current Beverly Hills home in 1997. Ringo popped open a long-forgotten trunk, and there was his Sgt. Pepper outfit. “I put the Pepper suit on,” he says, “and it still fit! George found his and wore it in a video. But he had to let it out, which is funny because he was always the skinny one.”

Ringo starts thinking of George, the Beatle he saw most in the post-1970 years. Ringo played on multiple tracks on Harrison’s landmark All Things Must Pass, not that either of them remembered. “He called when he was remastering and asked if I remember what songs I play on,” Ringo says. “I said I had no idea. He called me back after doing some research and said, ‘You played on most of them, you bastard!’ I said, ‘Well, you didn’t remember either.’ ”

The SUV is dark, and even though Ringo is sitting next to me, I can’t really see him. When Harrison was near death in 2001, Ringo went to visit him in a Swiss hospital. He apologized that he couldn’t stay long because he had to fly to America, where his daughter Lee was having surgery for a brain tumor. (She fully recovered.) Next to me, there’s a little sob.

“I’m crying now,” says Ringo. “That was one of the most beautiful things. He couldn’t move, he was riddled with cancer, laying down. And I said, ‘Look, I’ve got to leave. I’ve got to go to Boston to be with Lee.’ And he said, ‘Do you want me to come with you?’ ”

Ringo would have done the same. He waded through the crowds outside the Dakota to visit Yoko Ono the day after his friend John was shot, a subject that 34 years later, he still finds extremely painful to talk about. I ask him if he thinks about John and George a lot: “Not every day, mostly when someone brings them up. But they’re always in here with me.”

The death of Lennon put an end to all the Beatles reunion-madness talk that included a 1973 offer to play a one-off show for millions with a man wrestling a shark as an opening act. Ringo thinks if things had worked out differently, the band might have played again. One of the reasons, according to Ringo, that the Beatles stopped touring was they couldn’t hear each other among the screaming girls. Modern technology would have changed that.

“I think it would have been possible,” says Ringo. “With the stuff you have now, I think we could have got it together. I think the stumbling block was just sitting around and saying, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ And we never got to that. You know, we did in twos, we talked about it. But I think if we had just relaxed behind it long enough, we still had the songs, and we still could play. We could have put it together. And we could have done ‘A Day in the Life.’ ” Ringo sighs. “Of course, it’s ended now. John and George are gone.”

Fearing things are getting too melancholy, Ringo switches the conversation to the upcoming Hall of Fame festivities. He says he’s going to play, but not that long. “I mean, that Springsteen show! Bruce was great, but it was long. When he played in L.A. in the 1970s, I’d have Max Weinberg call me at halftime, and then I’d get in the limo.”

The ride ends, and Ringo steps out of the SUV, looking just as fresh as when the day began. He says goodbye quickly. Something is waiting for him. Ringo Starr has an appointment with two scoops of coconut ice cream.

The next morning, Ringo is in his top-floor suite, dressed in black. The television is turned to CNBC with the sound off. We’re supposed to talk on the balcony, but it’s windy. “You might do OK, but I might get blown off,” he jokes.

We listen to a few songs from Postcards From Paradise, including the nostalgic title track. Ringo knows his past will always be present in his present. Sometimes he fights it, but he knows deep down being the drummer in the greatest band isn’t a hardship; the weight is actually a gift.

He talks about his love affair with America and how he tried to immigrate to Houston based solely on his love for bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins. That was when he was 19, and the paperwork went nowhere. But just four years later, he was walking down the steps of a 707 in New York with John, Paul and George and into the embrace of what would become his adopted homeland. “You want to know my high point?” Ringo asks. “Walking down those stairs. It changed everything.”

We bump elbows a last time and he says goodbye. But it isn’t the last time I see him. That afternoon, I wander down to the beach and see a dozen or so tourists gawking and talking into cellphones. I move closer and see a small man. He holds a camera in his hand and is being chased by a taller man with a camera. It’s Ringo at a photo shoot. He darts one way and then another, his shoes hitting the waves, an ancient sprite wearing out a rival generation younger than him.

At this moment, it’s not hard to believe Richard Starkey will live forever.



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