Finding the Fab Four

Paul Shaffer and Alessandro Nivola on their formative Beatles moments.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Paul Shaffer in the spotlight on the Beatles: "I was so enthralled with Jackie Wilson already and The Four Seasons that this was a new sound, brand new."
Paul Shaffer in the spotlight on the Beatles: "I was so enthralled with Jackie Wilson already and The Four Seasons that this was a new sound, brand new." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

I must confess, before I go on with this feature, that when I was 12, my girlfriends were obsessed with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, and George Harrison, so much so that when they played Beatles, I was Yoko Ono.

Paul Shaffer and the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation founder and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band member, Steven Van Zandt, hosted the rock 'n' roll New York premiere of Ron Howard's The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years, written by Mark Monroe. Whoopi Goldberg, Julie Taymor, Paul Rudd, Bobby Cannavale, Bob Gruen, Vincent Pastore, Max Weinberg, Tony Sirico, Maureen Van Zandt, and many other guests attended.

Favorite Beatle for Alessandro Nivola: "My dad's sister was always obsessed with George, so she kind of indoctrinated me from a young age."
Favorite Beatle for Alessandro Nivola: "My dad's sister was always obsessed with George, so she kind of indoctrinated me from a young age." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Alessandro Nivola, who will be seen in Barry Levinson's The Wizard Of Lies with Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, Liz W. Garcia's One Percent More Humid opposite Juno Temple with Julia Garner, and in Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here, based on Jonathan Ames novel starring Joaquin Phoenix, brought his children. He spoke with me about Dhani Harrison, and cryptically notes The Dave Clark Five as his first Beatles moment.

Canadian Paul Shaffer, who does not sound Canadian, whatever that is, comments that the Beatles did not sound British to him.

Anne-Katrin Titze: How did you discover the Beatles?

Paul Shaffer: I was in Canada at the time. I guess it was hearing about the Jack Paar coverage of this craze which was starting in Britain. Seeing it but not really getting to hear any music. I think that was my first introduction to it.

AKT: And when you did get to hear the music, what did you think about it?

PS: Honestly, being a Canadian, I was so enthralled with Jackie Wilson already and The Four Seasons that this was a new sound, brand new. Reminiscent of that American stuff but with its own edge. It certainly didn't sound British.

It had us all confused, because it really sounded so loose, but yet, hard to understand for me when it first came out. And then, of course, I grew to understand it thoroughly and study it - dissect it and study it.

Paul Shaffer with Steven Van Zandt, introducing the evening
Paul Shaffer with Steven Van Zandt, introducing the evening Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: The next question, I admit, is a bit silly, but here it is. Do you have a favourite Beatle?

PS: No. I don't think you can. There are so many of them. [Four? This is when I realised that he misunderstood my question - or decided to diplomatically misunderstand it] When each one comes up, there is something about it that could be your favourite. There's just too many.

AKT: Thank you so much.

Walking away, I see that somebody brought their kids to get them acquainted with the Fab Four. Only then do I realise that this somebody is Alessandro Nivola.

Anne-Katrin Titze: What was your first Beatles moment?

Alessandro Nivola: My first Beatles moment was listening to The Dave Clark Five.

AKT: Okay.

AN: All things stem from the Beatles and I noticed that they looked an awful lot like the Beatles on the album that was next to it in my dad's case. And I was trying to understand what the difference was.

AKT: Your answer is most original, as usual.

Steven Van Zandt arrives for The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years premiere at Village East Cinema.
Steven Van Zandt arrives for The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years premiere at Village East Cinema. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AN: They wore the same boots and the same pants and the same hair and they kind of sounded the same.

AKT: And then at some point you realised the real Beatles are a bit different?

AN: Yeah.

AKT: Did you have a favourite Beatle?

AN: My dad's sister was always obsessed with George, so she kind of indoctrinated me from a young age. She always said that he was the coolest because he was so mellow and wasn't trying to grab the spotlight all the time. And he was the handsomest because his teeth were fucked up.

AKT: George is the winner, so far, from the people that I talked to.

AN: Well, he's easy to like because he was so sort of laid back and everything. And I know Dhani a little bit and he's a lovely guy. I figure, that must speak well of his dad.

AKT: When I was 12, my friend Evi Steinbinder was totally obsessed with the Beatles. And my girlfriends and I "played Beatles," whatever that meant.

Guests await Ron Howard's Beatles at Village East Cinema
Guests await Ron Howard's Beatles at Village East Cinema Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AN: What's your favourite song?

AKT: I don't have a favourite song. I just played along. We were a group of girls and because I didn't care that much about the Beatles then, I got to play Yoko.

AN [laughs]: Excellent.

AKT: What is going on with you film-wise right now?

AN: The Wizard Of Lies is coming out in May - that's the thing I did with Robert De Niro. I just finished a movie opposite Juno Temple, called One Percent More Humid. And then I just did Lynne Ramsay's new movie with Joaquin Phoenix.

And off we go into the Village East Cinema theatre for the screening, with our pretzels and early Halloween candy bags.

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years is in cinemas in the US and the UK.

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