“I love you in a place
Where there’s no space or time.
I love you for my life
You’re a friend of mine.
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together.
We were alone and I was singing this song to.” (1970) “A Song For You” – Recorded & Composed By: Leon Russell
Does the name, Stuart Sutcliffe mean anything to you? Does his name sound familiar, as if you think you “should” know who he is? If you’re in the dark on Stuart Sutcliffe, don’t feel badly. Most would be, if asked.
Stuart Sutcliffe was an artist (mainly abstract paintings). In fact, as a teenager, he attended the Liverpool College of Art. While there in the late 1950’s, he met another blooming artist named, John Lennon. As friendship grew, John and Stuart found yet another love, other than artwork, in the form of music. John had a struggling band of young musicians, and asked Stuart to consider joining his group. Before you could say, The Quarrymen (One of John’s earlier titles for the band.) Stuart was playing the bass in this ragtag Liverpool crew of schoolboys. At times it was a band of three lads, other times a band of five. If you’ve ever been part of a music act, than you know this is so common of a problem.
Photo: Amazon.com Stuart, with John Lennon and George Harrison
It’s funny how things work sometimes when unforeseen events help to make other unforeseen events happen. Step 1-2-3…
Stuart was a good artist with the brush and canvas. In fact, one of his paintings sold while he was learning songs with the band-mates. Paul McCartney speaks today of how poor they were. They couldn’t even afford a tape recorder. When the proceeds landed in Stuart’s pocket, John & Paul persuaded him to buy a quality electric bass guitar with it. Feeling the pressure, he did just that.
Stuart can also be applauded for helping John come up with the name, Beatles, although it did go through a couple of spelling changes. So, off they went, playing mostly cover songs in any and every club in Liverpool, along with, surrounding villages, school and church dances, even hitting the road up to Scotland for a short tour.
Photo: All That’s Interesting – The early Beatles, with Stuart seated on the left.
Early 1960, (Two years before Ringo joined the band.) when Stuart was only 19 years old, and George Harrison even younger than that, the manager of the Beatles booked a 3.5 month residency in the red light district in Hamburg, Germany. They were contracted to play a certain amount of gigs at a club which had recently made a conversion from a strip joint to a live music club. What could go wrong, right? Well, lots did in between packing in the crowds. (Yeah, I won’t go into all that.) Because of some bad episodes, and bad decisions, the contract was cut short. However, not all things were bad, depending on who you ask.
While the lads were turning up the volume in Hamburg, Stuart met a German girl who was a shutterbug with a camera, Astrid Kirchherr, who was also an art lover. Astrid took loads of photos of the band live on stage and elsewhere. Stuart and Astrid spent a lot of time together during their stay in Hamburg. When it came time to leave Hamburg, Stuart wanted to stay. He even went so far as to enroll in the Hamburg College of Art. While there, he told his new love, he thought he might like to become an art teacher someday.
Before you could say, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, the decision was made. Stuart left the Beatles, but gained a fiance.
I know, the two don’t look too happy. But they were both artistic, so they could get away with not smiling. Frankly, I couldn’t find a photo of Stuart smiling or laughing…anywhere. I’m not sure what that says, if anything.
Of course, many will say, “Oh, wow! What a missed opportunity! This guy probably kicked himself later. He should’ve stuck with the lads and said so-long to the photographer.” Others will look at Stuart’s choice as, “Awe, how sweet. He loved her so much that he was willing to leave behind his Beatle band-mates. Instead of rolling in the dough, he wanted to roll in his his love for Astrid. How romantic.” Then there are some who will be more cynical with something like, “Yeah, it was love alright. Truth be known, he loved the art-world too much and it messed with his head. Priorities, priorities.” Paul McCartney says Stuart left for love, no matter what other sources might print. How do you see it?
Here’s what we DO know. Beyond, “Love, love me do…” if you live long enough, you find the richness, and the depths of love. If you live long enough, you’ll discover love changes everything. It can change your outlook, your scope on life, your plans, and priorities. Love defined is a mystery, really. For me, love is like a powerful current, an undertow beneath the surface unforeseen, undetected by sight. Love can donate a kidney. Love can empty out all self-awareness. Love can give away life for the benefit of another.
Could it be, Stuart left something he loved for something he loved more?
“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson
Jesus defined love in John 3:16, “For God SO loved the world, THAT He gave his only begotten Son, THAT whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting (eternal life after physical death) life.” (emphasis mine)
Notice the “action” love takes in that passage.
Somehow, in someway, love is linked with loss. It is like a clipping of the wings that we have grown accustomed to since birth. When a parent holds a newborn in their arms for the first time, suddenly there is a shift. Inwardly, we declare, “I will do whatever I must do to give you a good life.” In a strange way, in that moment, we put “self” on the shelf.
I, for one, have failed at love many times in my life, especially as a younger individual. Yet, life has taught me that when true love is exercised, one does not mind cutting off part of one’s “self”. Stuart Sutcliffe, all of 19-20 years old, may have understood this.
Unfortunately, Stuart and Asdrid had very little time together. In 1962, while in art class in Hamburg, after complaining of headaches and sensitivity to light, he collapsed and passed away. After an autopsy, the cause of death was listed as a Cerebral Hemorrhage. In a twist of fate, it was yet another unforeseen event for Stuart Sutcliffe.
Astrid was asked to be an advisor on a 1994 film, “Backbeat”, which focused on the Beatles early years in Hamburg, which included Stuart and Astrid. She kept her toes in the love of photography all of her life.
In May of 2020, Astrid died after a short illness at the age of 82. She lived alone.
Be ready for the unforeseen. The instructions were left with love in fuel for the race.
“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was hurt because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.'” – John 21:17 (NAS)