New Podcast: Interview with Glass Onion

As a wise man once said, “It’s Deja vu all over again.”*

Here’s yet another new interview, done with Antony Rotuno’s Glass Onion podcast. It’s a nice companion piece to the One Sweet Dream podcast I did with Diana, in that my discussion with her primarily focused on McCartney, whereas the one with Antony is more Lennon-centric. We discuss the issues surrounding both Coleman’s Lennon and Goldman’s version, along with less polarizing portrayals, such as the one provided by Pete Shotton. I hope you listen and enjoy; feel free to ask comments or questions.

Here’s the link:

Episode 67- John Lennon and the Historian with Erin Torkelson Weber by Glass Onion: On John Lennon | Free Listening on SoundCloud

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(For all that Yogi Berra was more recently most well known for his malapropisms, he was also a well-decorated World War II soldier who served bravely in the Pacific Theater. All honor to him).

Podcast alert: Interview with One Sweet Dream

Everyone,

I’m very pleased to report that today Diana Erickson of One Sweet Dream has posted the single longest podcast interview, to date, I’ve ever done (although I suppose if you combine all my SATB interviews, it would rank a distant second). We cover a lot of ground, with particular emphasis on the Maureen Cleave interviews and the sculpting of the Beatles image. For those who are interested, here’s the link:

Player FM – Internet Radio Done Right

Questions and comments are welcomed.

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Completely non-Beatles related note: For anyone who is even remotely interested in Abraham Lincoln, The American Civil War and historiography, I cannot recommend Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image, by Joshua Zeist, strongly enough. Zeist delves into the lives of Lincoln’s two secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, their roles as witnesses to history and, more importantly, their crucial and massive impact on Lincoln and Civil War historiography.

Lincoln’s only authorized biographers, they published a ten volume biography of Lincoln in the late 19th century that benefited, immensely, not only from their own personal memories and documentation, but from the privilege and power of being the only researchers allowed, until 1947, full access to the Lincoln papers. (As we have recently noted on this blog, regarding the cancellation of Doggett’s Prisoner of Love, control over rare documents ensures a measure of control over a historiography). Zeist discusses issues familiar to readers of Beatles historiography: influential secondary sources far too dependent on retrospective interviews, rather than documentation; authorial disputes regarding crucial and legacy defining writings; how elevating the reputation of one individual in history seemingly can require demeaning another; and the role audience plays in demanding a preferable interpretation from its historians. If given a chance, I hope to write a post further exploring the parallels.

One Less Puzzle Piece

A few months ago, contributor Steve alerted me to the upcoming book by Peter Doggett, to be published in April:

Prisoner Of Love, Inside The Dakota with John Lennon by Peter Doggett | 9781911036692 | Booktopia

My plan had been to review it here on the blog after securing a copy. To be clear: I fully expected greater clarity from Doggett and the publisher regarding Doggett’s access to Lennon’s diaries than was provided in the publisher’s blurb. While I respect Doggett, and find both There’s a Riot Going On and You Never Give me Your Money to provide good methodology and some sound analysis, I would have considered a more detailed explanation regarding his access to and study of such hard-to-access primary source material a requisite part of the book. I would have expected an authorial attempt at proving authentication, presumably in the introduction, before regarding the evidence as credible.

Unfortunately, it appears as if the book is now on hiatus, with no explanation given, for reasons on which we can only speculate. And while Amazon is evidently still accepting orders, rumor are swirling the book has been canceled.

In my Fab4ConJam panel, I mentioned how each bit of Beatles history we get, regardless of how seemingly trivial, adds another layer or puzzle piece to the greater picture. That Doggett — a reputable Beatles author, and one willing to acknowledge both sides of a debate and the negative along with the positive — was on the cusp of seemingly providing his interpretation of the Lennon diaries, access to which has been severely limited, and possibly including direct quotes from said diaries, would have been far from trivial.

Would Doggett’s interpretation have been vastly different than that of Robert Rosen, who covered the subject and offered his own interpretation of the diaries retrospectively in Nowhere Man, or the recollections of Fred Seaman? I cannot say. Right now, my frustration is that we are not going to get the chance to even see Doggett’s interpretation.

One of obfuscating aspects of Beatles historiography is how crucial primary sources, such as Lennon’s diaries, are privately held, and therefore unavailable to the point of inaccessibility. This inaccessibility restricts new analysis and potentially differing interpretations and, incidentally, accountability among researchers. (In layman’s terms, it means no one is looking over your interpretive shoulder). This restriction, in part, incidentally grants enormous significance to those very rare interpretations of hard to access sources that do exist, regardless of the validity or accuracy of the interpretation. When a largely inaccessible primary source has been interpreted or evaluated only by one or two people, and their interpretation is often the only interpretation available, the reader is perpetually stuck in a singular interpretation of a secondary source. That is a situation that rarely benefits the reader or boosts the accuracy of a historical interpretation.

Lennon’s diaries are one example of virtually inaccessible sources, but others exist: We have only one discussion of McCartney’s Japanese prison memoir by one individual who read it. Among the most influential documents in Beatles historiography are the Abbey Road tapes; the primary sources from which Mark Lewisohn wrote The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. When I recounted the history of the tapes to another historian, my emphasis was on the tapes’ financial value and the security measures in place guarding them. Her take was the correct one: she was amazed and appalled that such crucial primary sources were so inaccessible to virtually all Beatles researchers, noting how, regardless of Lewisohn’s excellent reputation as a researcher, that aspect troubled her, in that it granted one man’s interpretation sole influence over our understanding of the tapes.

I don’t know whether Doggett’s interpretation would have confirmed or contradicted the very few and limited previous interpretations of John’s diaries. I know Beatles historiography, and readers, are poorer for not getting the chance to read what Doggett had to say.

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Comments and questions are welcomed.

My (un)Favorite Beatle

One of the questions I answered for the Fab4ConJam Q&A involved a number of people asking who was my favorite Beatle.

I answered, honestly enough, that I don’t have a favorite so much as I’m aware that I feel greater sympathy for certain Beatles at certain points in their lives: John during his unstable childhood; Ringo during his first few years of not feeling fully integrated into the band; George during the draining experience of touring, and Paul during the period in which he took most, if not all the blame, for the breakup, with a considerable share of that blame being undeserved.

As a casual and relatively uninformed fan, I can safely say I never had a favorite Beatle growing up.

However, I definitely had an un-favorite. And that dubious honor undoubtedly went to Paul McCartney.

There were two reasons for this. The first involves “Give My Regards to Broad Street.” The second involves “Band on the Run.”

Now, someone saying they dislike McCartney due to “Give my Regards to Broad Street” probably doesn’t raise too many eyebrows. The film, a critical and popular failure, is generally regarded as one of the biggest missteps of McCartney’s entire career. But, in this case, context is crucial.

I was four years old when, for some reason unbeknownst to me, our family went to see the movie when it was in theaters. (My parents were both only casual Beatles fans, which makes the choice that much more baffling). In my case, the quality, or lack thereof, of the movie didn’t really matter: “Broad Street” could have been a brilliant mix of “Citizen Kane,” “Back to the Future,” and “When Harry Met Sally” and I still would have been bored to death simply because it wasn’t a cartoon. I resented my parents for dragging me to a movie I didn’t want to see (presumably because they didn’t want to pay for a babysitter), and resented McCartney for making the movie in the first place. I spent most of the movie in a state of utter boredom, wanting only for it to end. (However, four-year-old-me found the frog chorus utter cinematic brilliance). My enduring memories are, first, searing boredom and resentment at McCartney for making the movie and, second, pity, because even as a four year old I could tell that McCartney was trying desperately hard but it simply wasn’t working.

“Band on the Run” is a different matter. If “Broadstreet” was considered a professional disaster, “Band on the Run” is widely considered one of McCartney’s great solo triumphs. Disliking McCartney because of this particular album would seem to be a curious choice, especially when albums of considerably lesser quality, such as “Pipes of Peace,” exist. I discussed this briefly in the Q&A, but, for those who want a little more context on why I have a love/hate relationship with McCartney’s most successful solo album, here’s’ the unabridged version. Mundane family details to follow:

Right around the time following Broad Street my father initiated Saturday morning housecleaning, with me and my two older siblings all assigned to do the same chores in the same order until the job was done. After a few weeks, my father became irritated with how he would have to repeatedly go from room to room and child to child and tell his reluctant children, three or four times, that they needed to come to the living room, *now*, and start cleaning. Dad could spend almost 15 minutes simply trying to get his less than enthusiastic kids all in the room in order to give us our marching orders.

So my father devised an auditory cue: every Saturday morning, when the chores were supposed to begin, he placed “Band on the Run” on the turntable. (Yes, my parents still had a record player in the mid-80s). He would crank up the volume to the max, so that everyone in the house could hear it, regardless of what room we were in. And when the title song reached the loudest part – “the rain exploded with a mighty CRASH” — we were to report to the living room, no exceptions, get our cleaning supplies, and start on our chores.

Every Saturday morning, for the next few years, until the record player broke, I cleaned to that music. Dusting, vacuuming, taking out the trash (and wiping out the trash cans) cleaning bathrooms, mirrors, etc. Because I did the same chores in the same order, I came to associate not only Paul McCartney with drudgery and crushing boredom, but also certain songs with certain chores. My most hated chores were collecting and taking out the trash (my father was a pipe smoker, and old tobacco, which I found disgusting, would inevitably be in the trash bag or on the side of the can) and moving the dining room chairs, which were heavy, in order to vacuum underneath the dining room table. (And, as the youngest and smallest, my job was to climb underneath the table and pick up any stray bits of food or debris too big for the vacuum). These were my first two chores of the morning, done back to back, and each happened to coincide with a song: the trash with “Jet” and the chairs and vacuuming with “Bluebird.”

To this day, I *hate* both of those songs. While I am now capable of recognizing the reasons behind my irrational dislike, words cannot express how much I loathed them then, “Jet” in particular. I found the the “Wooo-ooooos” particularly infuriating, as the band was so clearly having fun when I most definitely was not. While even then I appreciated the title song, I detested that album and its creator for years. It wasn’t until I was well into my twenties that I could listen to the album with anything close to objectivity and admit, hey, “Let Me Roll It” has some merits.

Now, I could frame this post as part of the deeper issue regarding emotional response and bias, and how difficult it is to move past our initial, ingrained reactions in order to view something with greater objectivity, but that would be attaching a higher level of analysis than went into it: I’m relaying my story because people asked and also because, I’m assuming, just as there are those who have a favorite Beatle, there are those who have an (un)favorite Beatle, and I’m curious as to A. whether your reasons for disliking your (un)favorite were as irrational as mine and B. whether that view has shifted or softened, as mine did. Just as I don’t have a favorite, I no longer have an unfavorite Beatle. However, I can happily die never hearing “Jet” or “Bluebird” (or “Mamunia”) ever again.

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Thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Book Review Questions and Requests

Hi everyone;

Awhile back, Erin and I suggested that you email one of us should you have questions about the blog or ideas for a book review. Upon reflection (and after finding a bunch of emails in my file folder that somehow missed my attention–sorry!) we decided that emailing us probably wasn’t the best method of communication. In the future, please direct your questions and suggestions to the comments section of the blog and that way we’ll be sure to see it.

Your imput is important to us!

Erin and Karen

An Inside Look

As I mentioned, I’m thrilled to be participating the upcoming Fab4ConJam. But my two presentations will be very different in nature.

The first, the book analysis and discussion, is right in the middle of my comfort zone. It’s a book review! (Eons and two toddlers ago, book reviews were this site’s bread and butter). What’s more, it’s a book review and discussion that includes analysis about a severely underserved subject in Beatles historiography. It is, frankly, the stuff I love to geek out on. And I can’t wait.

The second is a bit more outside of my comfort zone.* I’m a lecturer by nature. I can ad-lib in the classroom, but usually attempt to direct the conversation back to the subject after I feel a digression has gone on long enough. When I do podcast interviews, I methodically go through my notes before hand, researching for several weeks beforehand. (And yes, I re-read my own book). But I usually have a rough idea and/or outline of what the discussion is going to be.

So the Q and A on Sunday is what’s going to test my nerves. I’m looking forward to it in the way you look forward to a challenge that makes you flex skills you feel you don’t use terribly often. (I have done multiple Q&A’s before, but all of them have been live and in-person).

All of this is not to discourage anyone from asking questions. I hope one thing I’ve managed to convey with this site is that I genuinely enjoy the back and forth of questions and discussions we have, with people of different generations, perspectives, analyses, etc.

I do want to make something very clear, however, for those who are considering submitting questions: I have not studied music. I don’t know music theory. I don’t know how to play an instrument. I can’t read music. I can’t even play chopsticks on a piano. I’m not saying this out of some false sense of humility or in the hopes of gaining some reassurance from readers but to lay the foundation for this next statement: If you want to ask me about music, you certainly may, but know that I know about as much regarding the physics of rocketry as I do about the mechanics of music. So any and all answers from me in that regard will be informed by nothing more than my opinion. There are people far more qualified than me to answer questions on that subject.

The preceding paragraph probably left a few of you wondering how someone who doesn’t know a b flat from a treble cleft can analyze books that go in-depth into musical analysis. I did, after all, analyze Wilfred Mellers, Ian MacDonald, and various others in my own book who go deep into musical analysis in their books. The simple answer is that I didn’t analyze other authors’ musical analysis when they were using musical terminology with which I was unfamiliar, because it may as well have been written in Urdu.

Instead, I analyzed the areas of the book that I could understand. I started, as always, with the bibliography and/or works cited, to see if they had one and, if so, what sources they used. I noted the time period of their publication, assessing what primary sources, such as The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, were available to them at the time of publication, and which weren’t. I looked to see if they offered any source analysis of frequently used primary sources, and addressed or noted contradictions or issues with those primary sources. I looked to see if they published, like Mellers, in a time period in which the primary sources available to them were limited in both amount and accuracy. I assessed whether they used fundamentally flawed secondary sources as the basis for their basic understanding of the band’s creative and personal relationships even after methodologically superior biographies were available.

If the book’s author was analyzing a song where a significant amount of its songwriting authorship was under dispute, I noted whether that dispute was acknowledged, or whether only one version of authorship was provided. I evaluated whether a disproportionate amount of attention was devoted to one particular artist’s material, with other artist’s material being analyzed or neglected. I looked at whether authors demonstrated reciprocity in acknowledging contributions regardless of who made them, or only noted contributions if they came from particular individuals. I compared musical evaluations with the evaluations of others, determining whether there was a broad consensus on a song’s greatness or whether the evaluation of one writer seemed to be an extreme outlier, such as Ian MacDonald’s dismissal of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I paid attention to what attention was granted the creation of the songs in the studio, and whether the contributions of non-writers were acknowledged. I analyzed the musical analysis within the greater context of the book, and whether other areas of writing demonstrated issues with bias. I noted sweeping and absolutist statements. And finally, I laid an extremely low bar for any other author’s musical analysis: their evaluation of a song had to be defensible. As in, if pressed, they could make any argument to support their stated view of the song, good or bad. (Shockingly, a few authors *still* somehow managed to trip over that bar at least once).

That’s how I analyzed books written on a subject I am no expert in. So, to bring us back to the beginning, if there are people who want to ask me music questions during the Q&A, you’re welcome to; just know you’re getting nothing more informed than my personal opinion. And I look forward to talking with you on the 21st.

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*(You know, like Patrick Mahomes was out of his comfort zone, running for his life — he scrambled for 497 yards behind the line of scrimmage — on every snap Sunday night, getting pressured faster and more than any quarterback ever in any Super Bowl. Turns out having one original starter on your offensive line is not a great recipe for winning the Super Bowl. And thus concludes my final football reference for a while. I’m disappointed, but I’d still bet Mahomes gets at least two more Super Bowl victories, and I get to watch him play for my team for the next decade. And as a Chiefs fan who desperately hoped not too many years ago that somehow Tyler Thigpen/Tyler Bray/Damon Huard/Ricky Stanzi/etc. would somehow magically transform into a decent starting-level quarterback , I will *so* take that. )

Comments and questions (even about music!) are welcomed.

Erin