In this excerpt from “Chapter Three: The Shout! Narrative,”I discuss a subject which, unfortunately, I didn’t have too much time to delve into in The Beatles and the Historians: the selective use of primary source evidence by a secondary author to support an already determined thesis. In this particular excerpt, I discuss two primary examples: Philip Norman’s use of Yoko Ono’s comments regarding John Lennon’s trip to Spain with Brian Epstein, and his use of Paul McCartney’s retrospective testimony regarding Lennon’s alleged attack on Stuart Sutcliffe.
While not included in the excerpt, it should be noted that, in Ray Coleman’s later editions of John Lennon: The Definitive Life, the author displays a pattern similar to Norman’s: relying heavily on testimony from a source they had previously disparaged, evidently because such testimony suited their purpose. Coleman uses McCartney’s retrospective testimony to discredit the “Goldman” version of Lennon, arguing that few people knew Lennon better than McCartney and that, due to this closeness, McCartney’s denunciations of Goldman’s depiction are therefore more informed than the testimony of Jonathan Green, Fred Seaman, etc. Coleman asserts this evidently with a complete lack of irony; despite, in earlier editions of the Lennon biography, having explicitly dismissed the closeness of Lennon and McCartney’s relationship and disparaging McCartney’s overall source credibility by painting him solely as an agenda-driven P.R. man.
Parts of the work (John Lennon: The Life) seemed designed to discredit any lingering remains of the perception of Lennon and Ono left by The Lives of John Lennon. In the book, Norman dismissed Goldman’s interpretation of two of the most debated events in Lennon’s life: first, whether his trip to Spain with Epstein had resulted in any sexual activity between the two, and second, whether a fight had taken place during the group’s Hamburg days in which Lennon had reportedly kicked Sutcliffe in the head, possibly leading to the latter’s cerebral hemorrhage and early death. In arguing against the first, Norman relied heavily on Ono’s credibility as a source: in the second, with unacknowledged irony, Norman found his version dependent on retrospective testimony by McCartney.
Lennon had reportedly and privately admitted that he and Epstein had experienced sexual contact during the Spain trip to Hunter Davies in 1967, Pete Shotton soon after the trip, and Allen Klein by the early 1970s; a chronological immediacy which grants such admissions a greater amount of credibility. But Norman rejected the idea on the grounds that, if something had happened, Lennon would have informed Ono. Since Lennon said nothing to her, Norman concluded nothing sexual happened between Lennon and Epstein.
This was not the only instance in John Lennon: The Life in which Norman credited Ono’s retrospective hearsay/unverified eyewitness testimony with greater weight than that of multiple and more contemporary sources which contradicted her version: Norman also did so when discussing the questions surrounding Ono’s pursuit of Lennon prior to their relationship and in his portrait of Lennon’s last years.
Norman also disagreed with Goldman’s account of Lennon’s attack on Sutcliffe. Using McCartney’s e-mail responses as a source, Norman argued that the account of Lennon kicking Sutcliffe in the head (an event which McCartney had supposedly witnessed), and which had originated from Sutcliffe’s sister, Pauline, whom Sutcliffe had reportedly told the story to, had also never happened, although a minor physical scuffle may have broken out between the two. As hearsay — a second-hand statement that can’t be proven — Pauline Sutcliffe’s version of Lennon’s assault on Sutcliffe ranks among the least credible form of evidence.
What Norman did not acknowledge when he relayed McCartney’s dismissal of Lennon kicking Sutcliffe in the head was that the accuracy of McCartney’s testimony could have been influenced by the musician’s agenda. Norman himself had previously accused McCartney numerous times of re-writing history and glossing over the more negative aspects of the group’s story; Lennon’s reported fight with Sutcliffe would certainly qualify as negative, if not tragic. In addition, if McCartney had supported Pauline Sutcliffe’s account, it would have had a negative impact not only on Lennon’s reputation, but also on McCartney’s. In the harshly divided camps of Beatles historiography – a schism that Norman, as much as anyone, had helped cement and sustain — any admittance by McCartney that Lennon had physically attacked Sutcliffe and possibly brought about the young man’s death would have been viciously denounced by those Beatles writers and fans who favored Lennon and accused McCartney of re-writing history by demeaning Lennon’s reputation.
For the record, I don’t find Pauline Sutcliffe’s hearsay account regarding John’s attack on Stuart credible. What interests me more is the irony of Norman and Coleman repeatedly disparaging Paul’s source credibility but then relying on his retrospective testimony and finding it credible in those instances where its suited their purpose. Thoughts and comments?
For those who are interested, especially anyone in the Michigan area, here is a copy of the program for the Sgt. Pepper’s Conference this June:
It’s open to the public, although a certain amount of payment is involved. If anyone is interested in coming, I’d love to see you there. I’ve been working hard on my presentation (which is why I haven’t been posting too much) and look forward to presenting it at the Conference.
For anyone else who’s still wondering about the “Eleanor Rigby” video, I’m still waiting on my University’s Advancement Department to send me the video of my February presentation. Hopefully, I’ll have a new book review up soon.
25 thoughts on “Book Excerpts: Selective Source Analysis”
The Beatles and the Historians is the gift that keeps on giving. 🙂 Thanks for another interesting excerpt, Erin.
If something happened, so assumes Norman, John would have told Yoko? Maybe, but I doubt it.
Like so many others, I think Norman’s read of the Lennono relationship is hugely erroneous. He assumes a level of trust, maturity, and psychological health that simply didn’t exist. Yoko was required to be the epicenter of John’s existence; anything or anyone that threatened her preeminence was minimized or outright dismissed. Admitting that he consummated his relationship with ANOTHER important parent-authority figure may have been a gamble John was unwilling to take. Yoko’s take on John’s reluctance to seek out men as a means to fulfill his sexual angst–“he’d have to be in love with the guy and he loves women too much”–sounds more like a ringing endorsement for Yoko rather than a statement about John’s inherent heterosexuality.
(I’m glad you said that, Erin, because I give as much credence to the John-kicked-Stu-in-the-head-and-caused-him-to-die story as I would give to any conspiracy theory based on questionable sources and a ridiculous premise. Which is to say, nothing.) It is ironic, as you point out, that sources gain or lose credibility with these authors, depending on the narrative they’ve already bought into.
“The Beatles and the Historians is the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks for another interesting excerpt, Erin.”
That’s kind of you to say, Karen but, unfortunately, I think its almost tapped out at this point. I couldn’t see many more relevant excerpts when I was looking for this one.
“I think Norman’s read of the Lennono relationship is hugely erroneous. He assumes a level of trust, maturity, and psychological health that simply didn’t exist.”
I love how you always bring new levels to the discussion. I tend to lock in on the historical methods approach, but your point here is crucial and, as you say, overlooked, either willfully or otherwise. Particularly that issue of psychological health: does anyone believe now that John was capable of a psychologically healthy relationship? Or that, given her own traumatic upbringing and distant relationship with her family and own documented psychological issues, so was Yoko? Your point — that you cannot judge the Lennon/Ono relationship as a normal, healthy relationship between two psychologically healthy adults — has been terribly neglected by Beatles authors. It’s a relevant point that we are only now starting to scrape the surface of; similar to how we’re only now really discussing the impact of drugs on the Beatles behaviors and breakup.
Again, my understanding of psychology is pretty basic, but following the evidence — evidence from Shotton, (friend of John) Davies (who didn’t believe John’s account of his fling with Brian at first but now does) and Klein (not the most credible source in Beatles historiography) all tell us of separate conversations where John acknowledged something happening with Brian. So you have three relatively contemporaneous sources, two of whom have no obvious agenda for arguing that John told them this. Now, their accounts are hearsay, because none of them revealed John’s statements until after John’s death. (Unless Davies included something about John’s comments in his biography notes, but I don’t believe he did). So they can’t be proven, and they can’t be disproven. But when you have three independent sources, with no obvious agenda for telling this story, arguing one side of an event, and your sole piece of evidence to the contrary is another piece of hearsay that resembles a fallacy: 1. If John and Brian had done something John would have told Yoko 2. Because John didn’t tell Yoko, nothing happened and relies on a premise which ignores the psychological underpinnings of the John/Yoko relationship — and you choose the inferior evidence — wow.
And that relates back to the introduction to my post: Norman seemingly wanted to use John Lennon: The Life to erase and re-write over the Goldman bio version of events. Goldman says John and Brian did something sexual in Spain, so Norman has to disagree with stance, even if it means accepting and endorsing inferior methodology and evidence. And even if it means unquestioningly accepting evidence from a primary source — Paul — whose credibility he had repeatedly derided. I can understand why Norman and Yoko wanted to push back against the Goldman image of John; absolutely: the same way it suited Fred Goodman to try and push back against the “Demon King” caricature of Klein. But you can’t pick and choose which evidence to include and which to exclude, or which to believe and which to reject, (as Goodman and Norman and Coleman all did) simply because it suits the story you, the author, want to tell. Then you’re building your revisionist narrative on sand.
Thanks Erin–it’s kind of my automatic default. 🙂 And to answer your question, I think there are many who still believe in the Lennono narrative, and they–authors, documentary film makers, etc–should know better. I wonder if, with Yoko’s passing, the narrative will be more in line with the truth.
“I think there are many who still believe in the Lennono narrative, and they–authors, documentary film makers, etc–should know better. I wonder if, with Yoko’s passing, the narrative will be more in line with the truth.”
Issues surrounding John’s final years, and particularly Goldman’s version of John’s final years, are so tangled up in various other issues — politics, the rock press, Goldman’s malevolent glee in bashing John and Yoko — and emotions, that I think we’re only now getting to the point where many Beatles authors or fans can begin to approach the subject with any sort of objectivity. Beyond those people, such as Yoko and Mintz, who have obvious agendas for promoting the “happy house husband” version, I think there’s a real, deep strain from some journalists and biographers to want to believe that John, after years of suffering, was happy in the last few years of his life. John had endured so many issues over the years — some of his own making, others not — that the writer’s emotions influence their selection of evidence. I can understand wanting to believe that John found happiness in the last few years of his life — after all, he gave so much happiness to the world: I would prefer to believe that he was genuinely, consistently happy. But that version requires me to ignore so much contrary evidence I can’t find it more credible than the opposing narrative. But if you as an author/biographer/documentarian can’t separate what you want to believe is true from what the evidence says than, IMO, you need to walk away from the project.
This is just my speculation, but I don’t see any great outpouring of evidence following Yoko’s death — or Paul’s, for that matter. I imagine that both of them have ensured that their i’s are dotted and their t’s crossed when it comes to their respective legacies. There may be a few people who will crop up posthumously to cast stones, but the accusation can always be made against those people: “Why didn’t those people say this when X OR Y was still around to contradict them?” I could very well be wrong, though; maybe there are undiscovered troves of sources. Maybe someone will steal Paul’s Japanese jailbird memoir and publish that.
I don’t think there will be an outpouring of evidence either, truth be told–but I kind of wonder if people would be more willing to open up about what they DO know/believe, when the principals are gone, especially with respect to Yoko, who is notoriously litigious.
Karen, you’re the one with the most extensive education and experience in psychology: What are the patterns/behaviors of a healthy relationship? And do you see any of John’s relationships fitting those standards/patterns? Just running down a list of the key relationships in John’s life — Mimi, Paul, Yoko, George, May, his father, his mother — and none of those relationships strike me as psychologically healthy.
Sure–ask me a hard question. 🙂
The simple answer, I think, is whether the relationship supports ego health. There are relationship imperatives between parent and child that aren’t in play between adults, but basically you can look at a relationship and ask whether the relationship is:
Affirming or Restrictive– Is the relationship’s success dependent upon one or both parties giving up their sense of self, goals, interests, etc? Is their world made larger, or smaller, by being in the relationship?
Supportive or Controlling–Does one or both parties attempt to impose their rules and expectations in the relationship? Is autonomy discouraged, or seen as a threat?
Respectful or Abusive–Are one or both parties abusive, critical, demanding? Is this a strategy used to gain control?
Joyful or Conflicted–Does the relationship increase personal joy and fulfullment for both parties, or is one person’s happiness more important than the other? Are there ongoing and unresolvable interpersonal/psychological conflicts?
Obviously, relationships are only as healthy as the people who are in them, although the relative health of the individuals involved aren’t predictive of relationship longevity, and vice versa.
In John’s case, his significant relationships—parents, Mimi, Yoko, etc-—seem to have been on the
restrictive/controlling/abusive/conflicted end of the scale. His relationship with Paul had the most positive elements, I think: they had a mutually supportive relationship, with shared goals; it was expansive rather than restrictive, and brought joy and fulfullment. However, it was also somewhat conflicted, especially in later years, and there were also control issues. Still, though, I think the Lennon-McCartney relationship was the healthiest of all John’s relationships while the John/Mimi and John/Yoko were the unhealthiest, IMO.
“Still, though, I think the Lennon-McCartney relationship was the healthiest of all John’s relationships while the John/Mimi and John/Yoko were the unhealthiest, IMO.”
Have you read “The Guitar’s All Right as a Hobby, John,”? It’s a memoir by a fan club member who during the 60s/70s/80s corresponded and at times stayed with Mimi. The ironic thing is that, while the author is obviously a big supporter of Mimi, and argues that she wants to “redeem” Mimi from this negative caricature, her incidental depiction of the woman reveals where John learned a lot of his own issues: the narcissism, the viewing of love/relationships as a zero sum game, (If you love someone new (Sean) you have to love someone else less (Julian)); the sense of victimization; the refusal to allow reality to intrude into their preferred version of events — Mimi always blamed the divorce on Cynthia’s infidelity. I don’t want to demonize Mimi — I think all the women in Beatles historiography, including her, have been caricaturized to a considerable extent — but it certainly does reinforce the theory that John learned a lot of his psychologically unhealthy behaviors at her knee.
What would you regard as the primary factors allowing for the Lennon/McCartney relationship to gain a greater, if still problematic level, of psychological health than any of John’s other major relationships? I’d go out on a limb and argue that gender similarity would be part of it; it certainly seems that John faced his most significant struggles in his relationships with women.
I haven’t read “The Guitar’s Alright” but recall it. Mimi is such an interesting character; fiercely loving and loyal to John, yet his worst critic and relentless antagonist. That, coupled with his fragile bond with his mother, set the stage for how maladaptive all of John’s future relationships were with women.
Yup, I think gender definitely was a factor. I think you referenced an author (Joshua Shenk?) who said that John’s relationship with men was just “weird.” On one hand there’s the absent father, and on the other there’s loving Uncle George. What does a boy make of that, in terms of future relationships with men? Clearly, he needs them–but does he trust them? And, if he’s conflicted about relationships with women, does he see men as safer? Does he take the chance?
It makes my head hurt, thinking of how conflicted young John likely was and how tormented adult John likely became.
“I think you referenced an author (Joshua Shenk?) who said that John’s relationship with men was just “weird.””
Actually, Shenk describes John’s relationships with women as “weird.” It’s in the part where he’s speculating about John’s psychological/subconscious motivations during the breakup-era:
“I don’t see John as closeted in the typical sense, but there was a weirdness between him and women, and he had a yearning for a certain kind of closeness with men that one feels in the pit.”
“It makes my head hurt, thinking of how conflicted young John likely was and how tormented adult John likely became.”
Indeed. And to heap on that early instability and conflicting feelings regarding both his mother and father figures astronomic fame and copious drug use; partnering with another psychologically unhealthy individual …
I believe I’ve mentioned before; that’s where my reasoning simply finds it impossible to accept the Happy house-husband years. The sources for the happy house husband version and the John the bleak addict version are, all things considered, fairly equal in terms of amount and credibility. In those circumstances, when all other avenues are exhausted, that’s where the “common sense” rule applies. And while I might prefer, as a fan, to believe that John’s last years were content, the “common sense” standard tells me that John who had struggled all his life with issues from his unstable childhood, his addictive personality, his insecurity/jealousy, depression, conflicting feelings regarding parenting, his creative muse, etc., did not magically see all those lifelong issues vanish from 1975-1980.
I knew there was a reference to men in there somewhere. 😀.
And that’s the thing–I think he was less conflicted about men than he was about women. And your point is an excellent one: John’s issues would likely have gotten worse, not better, with fame, drugs, etc., & without some sort of psychological intervention. The “happy househusband” seems more wishful thinking than anything grounded in fact.
“And that’s the thing–I think he was less conflicted about men than he was about women.”
Yes, that’s what the evidence indicates to me as well. Not that he didn’t assess them as threats/rivals, but there was less extremity attached to men than women.
Which is why I’ve always found Yoko’s 1968 taped monologue where she dismisses George and Ringo as beneath her, John and Paul as artists — something to the effect of “they’re not on the same level” (a condescending sentiment which I’m sure George was aware she felt, and presumably didn’t appreciate) — interesting, as that’s the same tape where Yoko declares that if Paul were a woman, he’d be a great threat. (Presumably to her and John’s relationship). John and Paul’s relationship was the way it was in large part because they were both male. By virtue of his masculinity, Paul could never be slotted into the emotionally fraught “mother” role, even if he evidently did adopt, in John’s mind, much of the role of “authority figure.”
Interesting. But I think that, to whatever degree possible given their gender, Paul was in a nurturing/mother role with John. Ringo as well–soothing him through his tempers and depressions, acting as apologists when John screwed up, etc. You probably couldn’t be in a relationship with John without being a caretaker of some sort.
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I’m so glad you chose the example of Norman using McCartney as his suddenly credible source regarding the alleged, beating of Stu Sutcliffe by John. When I first saw Norman say in a filmed interview, that Paul McCartney was there and he says the beating never happened, so of course it never happened, end of story….I just sat there stunned. I thought, Wow really? Because he was there? So that proves it never happened? Ok so….suddenly Paul McCartney doesn’t “have an agenda” because in this case it suits you that he doesn’t?? And suddenly it actually matters to you that Paul McCartney “was there”? But it never seemed to matter to you that he was in fact, “there” when you accused him of “rewriting history” because he “has an agenda”….oh my God…just unbelievable. And don’t even get me started on Coleman.
“When I first saw Norman say in a filmed interview, that Paul McCartney was there and he says the beating never happened, so of course it never happened, end of story….I just sat there stunned. I thought, Wow really? Because he was there? So that proves it never happened? Ok so….suddenly Paul McCartney doesn’t “have an agenda” because in this case it suits you that he doesn’t??”
Isn’t that funny? Paul — or George, or Ringo — is an unquestionable credible source when they say what particular authors want to hear. Now, to be fair, I do think that Norman’s John bio demonstrates a shift, in that Norman does recount other quotes by Paul as credible: what I don’t recall is whether those instances also tend to be regarding instances where Paul’s statements further Norman’s authorial agenda. But there are certainly other areas where Norman, when faced with contradictory accounts: say, one version from Yoko, and another differing version from Paul — endorses Yoko’s version even though the stronger, more credible evidence indicates Paul’s version is the more accurate one.
Various authors are also guilty of this in the reverse. The authors who pursued George Martin for interviews, sat down and interviewed him, praised his credibility as a source and then simply overrode or ignored Martin’s statements simply because it didn’t fit with their pre-determined thesis are truly astonishing. If you, as an author, are going to praise a source as credible, but then ignore their analysis and evidence, you need to explain why. In reverse, if you are going to regard and refer to as source as less than credible, but than turn around and use that source’s account as conclusive, you need to explain why.
“And don’t even get me started on Coleman.”
Someday we will have to do a post on Coleman. The hagiography, the shoddy, biased methodology, the selective use of source evidence — and then the convenient reversal on Paul, albeit without the forced public mea culpa that Norman had to make.
“But there are certainly other areas where Norman, when faced with contradictory accounts: say, one version from Yoko, and another differing version from Paul — endorses Yoko’s version even though the stronger, more credible evidence indicates Paul’s version is the more accurate one.”
I know. They are not historians. Norman, Connelly, etc . They are entertainment biographers. And we don’t need or want that type of writer anymore. They’ve become redundant.
“The authors who pursued George Martin for interviews, sat down and interviewed him, praised his credibility as a source and then simply overrode or ignored Martin’s statements simply because it didn’t fit with their pre-determined thesis are truly astonishing.”
It made me second guess my own memory and evidence that I had seen. It’s very confusing.
I would enjoy discussing Connelly and that awful book!
Before I forget were you planning on continuing that interesting discussion of different sources and their credibility? You discussed Yoko Ono and I think George Martin was the second one?
“I know. They are not historians. Norman, Connelly, etc . They are entertainment biographers.”
Poor Ray Connolly. He keeps getting accidentally bashed, simply because of his first name — I think one of the TBATH reviews argued that I found him illegitimate. I don’t: I love Ray Connolly; (his e-book of Beatles interviews/articles is a marvelous source): I have major issues with Ray Coleman. And yes; sometime we will have to delve into the Coleman corner of Beatles historiography, and particularly the hagiographic Lennon: The Definitive Life.
“Before I forget were you planning on continuing that interesting discussion of different sources and their credibility? You discussed Yoko Ono and I think George Martin was the second one?”
Well, I did George Martin in “The Beatles and the Historians,” Chapter Two, so I wasn’t planning on doing him again. (Don’t want to step on my own copyrighted material). The next person would probably be John, and now that I think about it, that would make an excellent lead-in for the review of “The Beatles Forever,” where Schafner refers to John countless times as “honest,” and recounts John’s words without question.
I believe John was “honest” in that he refused to cover up/diminish the genuine emotions he was feeling regarding any particular event in time, or during any particular interview — if John was angry, he was going to be visibly, verbally angry — but the things he said in these emotional moments were, more often than not, wildly exaggerated or untrue. Strong emotion actually diminishes a source’s accuracy and credibility; it doesn’t enhance it. So John’s willingness to convey his strong emotions was “honest,” but the statements he made in the grip of that strong emotion often were not. But you don’t have anyone acknowledging that until … MacDonald? Hertsgaard? So hopefully I’ll have a chance to do John’s credibility soon, before I get slammed with grading.
“Poor Ray Connolly. He keeps getting accidentally bashed, simply because of his first name”
Oh crap!! I knew I was going to make that mistake no matter how hard I tried not to! I’m always doing that! Yes poor Ray Connolly, my bad! I absolutely love Ray Connolly. It is a shame that their names are similar. However Connolly did write a from what I’ve gleaned, not so great, sort of cash in book in the early 80’s that seemed to ride the anti Paul wave. From the descriptions it seemed really bad.
“The next person would probably be John, and now that I think about it, that would make an excellent lead-in for the review of “The Beatles Forever,” where Schafner refers to John countless times as “honest,” and recounts John’s words without question.”
Sounds so interesting. I can’t wait!
“Strong emotion actually diminishes a source’s accuracy and credibility; it doesn’t enhance it. So John’s willingness to convey his strong emotions was “honest,” but the statements he made in the grip of that strong emotion often were not. But you don’t have anyone acknowledging that until … MacDonald? Hertsgaard? ”
The Beatles bibliography is a real mess. It took way too long to get to the bottom of it. Speaking of which, do you think the fact that Lewisohn took so long to do it will have a negative impact because it’s so late in time, and almost everyone is dead? Do you think he waited too long, or do you think that won’t really matter in the long run?
“Oh crap!! I knew I was going to make that mistake no matter how hard I tried not to! I’m always doing that! Yes poor Ray Connolly, my bad! I absolutely love Ray Connolly. It is a shame that their names are similar. However Connolly did write a from what I’ve gleaned, not so great, sort of cash in book in the early 80’s that seemed to ride the anti Paul wave. From the descriptions it seemed really bad.”
I made a similar mistake with David Sheff and Joshua Wolf Shenk, and they don’t even have a common first name!
That’s interesting: do you recall what work it was by Connolly that was criticized for buying into the Shout! narrative? And where you saw it criticized as such? IIRC, The Beatles Bibliography notes that Connolly did a pseudo-bio of John following John’s death, but TBB finds it as less partisan and hagiographic than almost all the others. And, to his credit, if Connolly did buy into the Shout! narrative, he distanced himself from it much quicker than Coleman or Norman and was explicitly denouncing it by the mid-90s. I might try and get a hold of more of Connolly’s stuff.
“Speaking of which, do you think the fact that Lewisohn took so long to do it will have a negative impact because it’s so late in time, and almost everyone is dead? Do you think he waited too long, or do you think that won’t really matter in the long run?”
I do remember thinking, reading “Tune In,” that I hoped Lewisohn had asked George Martin every possible question he could think of, because, given Martin’s then-age and the “Tune In” publishing schedule, it didn’t seem likely that Martin would be available as a source for all three volumes.
I don’t think Lewisohn waited too long; again, good history requires striking a balance between historical distance and still gaining access to primary sources. Since documentation is almost always preferable to eyewitness (either contemporaneous or restrospective accounts) and Lewisohn tries to dig up as much documentation as possible, I think he’s striking the best balance he can. And he’s not just using the sources specifically gathered for “Tune In,” (or I assume he’s not): He’s been researching them since the late 70s, so he’s got loads of interviews, notes, etc. from previous decades that he can utilize. The great unknown, with primary sources dying off, is whether Lewisohn will find out new versions of events but be unable to corroborate or get greater detail about them because the sources who could have done so — Neil, George Martin, etc. — are gone.
Of the people whom I’d love to see Lewisohn interview, one of them would be Judy Martin. She wasn’t just George’s wife; she was also his secretary, and, as such, would have known an enormous amount of the ins/outs of what was going on. (Have you ever encountered a secretary who was “out of the loop?” But Judy has, to my knowledge, been almost completely overlooked.
“IIRC, The Beatles Bibliography notes that Connolly did a pseudo-bio of John following John’s death, but TBB finds it as less partisan and hagiographic than almost all the others”
Oh that’s interesting. I didn’t read it. This is probably the book I saw the info on though. I’m not sure which blog it was on but I remember reading a discussion about it where someone transcribed a description Connolly gave of John, Paul, and George in 1957 that described John as making fun of people especially people with some sort of handicap. The description of John concluded by saying John had an outrageous sense of humor. Then he goes on to describe Paul as a bully but Connolly gave no evidence to back it up. Well hmmmm so John makes fun of disabled people but he just has an outrageous sense of humor. Yet Paul is the one Connolly describes as a “bully” but gives no reason or evidence to support this label. I think there was an ensuing argument on the blog IIRC because someone pointed that out and then others accused him /her of not understanding Connolly or always “defending” Paul. I think the point was that Connolly gave someone a label with no corroborating evidence, and then went on to sugar coat someone else’s bad behavior. It had nothing to do with defending your favorite Beatle. It had everything to do with writing non facts and not being able to back them up. Someone rightfully pointed out that they’d never heard of any incidents indicating that Paul was a bully at that age (15). Maybe later on, in his adult years, but not at 15. Then Connolly described George as a nice, quiet boy. George even by his own admissions was far from “nice and quiet” at that age. So John who makes fun of disabled people is described as merely having a sense of humor. George who again by his own admission, did bully people sometimes at that age, and was extremely anti establishment and openly rebellious, is referred to as a nice quiet boy. And Paul who, from everything I’ve read was probably the only one of the three who could actually be described at that age as “nice” ….maybe even slightly on the quieter side, is for some inexplicable reason, randomly described as a bully. It’s as if Connolly took the Lennon Remembers and Shout Narratives and applied them to the pre – Quarry Men era. Ok again I didn’t read the book. I’m only going by what I read in some long ago blog discussion but if my memory of the book’s passages is correct, this type of thing ties in with what we’ve been discussing regarding the early narratives and their blatant inaccuracies and authorial agenda. I don’t know if it was laziness on Connolly’s part rather than agenda. Perhaps he just wanted to get a book out in the aftermath of John’s death.
Not having read the excerpt — or even knowing which book it’s from — it’s hard to say. I would grant Connolly a little more slack if I knew it was intended for an article, rather than book; you only have so much space/word count in an article, after all.
“I think there was an ensuing argument on the blog IIRC because someone pointed that out and then others accused him /her of not understanding Connolly or always “defending” Paul. I think the point was that Connolly gave someone a label with no corroborating evidence, and then went on to sugar coat someone else’s bad behavior. It had nothing to do with defending your favorite Beatle. It had everything to do with writing non facts and not being able to back them up.”
Unfortunately, I’m not familiar enough with journalistic standards to know what proper procedure would have been for a newspaper article. By historical standards, though, yes, it’s spurious to make such a declaration of behavior and then not back it up with either A. an example or B. supporting evidence from a legitimate source. For example, when I characterized John as “jealous and insecure” in TBATH, I didn’t just label him that way and then blithely go on my way — despite that those are now regarded as integral aspects of John’s personality — I gave the sources (Paul, Yoko, Cynthia, etc). that supplied those statements. It’s a rather fundamental issue in historical writing: if you make a claim, either support it or provide an example or distinguish it as personal, authorial opinion. That also goes for when you’re analyzing a source. In my first draft of Chapter Three, I labeled Coleman’s John bio as “hagiographic,” and stated that it either excused or applauded all John and Yoko’s actions. My Department Head wrote: “Give me an example,” so I went back through my notes and included the bit from the intro where Coleman argues that its okay that John occasionally hit people because, when John hit people, those people became famous. So basically, yes; support your claim.
“would grant Connolly a little more slack if I knew it was intended for an article, rather than book; you only have so much space/word count in an article, after all.”
No it definitely wasn’t an article. It was a full fledged biography. This blogger wrote that she/he had come across it either in a bookstore or library, picked it up and read the book, then the blogger posted excerpts from the book. Connolly is great. This changes nothing about my opinion of him. I and obviously people who were involved in the discussion/argument ( I wasn’t involved, I only read it) just found it odd that someone of his caliber would write like that. But if the Beatles Bibliography said it was a decent book then maybe that was the only transgression in it.
” But Judy has, to my knowledge, been almost completely overlooked.”
Given the track record regarding women I’m not surprised she was overlooked. But I agree I would be thrilled if Lewisohn interviewed her. I hope she would agree to it.
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Re Judy Martin – I think she might be unwilling to talk to Lewisohn. I attended a talk he gave, and he said it had come back to him that George and Judy were extremely unhappy with his description of how the Beatles EMI contract came about. As you’d expect, the fact that it overturned decades of belief about how George Martin saw something “special” in the Beatles and gave them a contract had the Martin household thinking they’d been lied about.
For us, it makes the Martins much, much more sympathetic – George still comes across as fantastically creative and passionate, but deeply human and in an awful situation both emotionally and financially. It makes perfect sense that he would turn down the Beatles. It feels weird that he would be “forced” to record them by a boss who was disgusted at his affair with Judy, but I’ve had my fair share of petty bosses who’ve treated people like dirt cos they feel threatened by them. So it’s entirely plausible – much more plausible than seeing something special in a rock and roll covers band which didn’t perform particularly well in the studio and had a few not-very-good-sounding songs in their catalogue.
Of course, over time she might reassess her feelings, but the psychology of the people around the Beatles is intensely complicated.
It’s similar to how Julia Baird is (/was) upset at Lewisohn for his description of John Dykins being indirectly responsible for Julia Lennon’s death because of his drink-driving conviction. Julia Baird strongly rejected what Lewisohn said, and Lewisohn indicated that she was telling people that Lewisohn was a liar.
None of this is anything other than what you’d expect when people are invested in a particular telling of their personal history. For us, it radically expands their lives and our sympathy and connection. For them, it undermines their sense of their own place.
The real loss for all of us is Aspinall, who finally decided to tell all after being forced out of Apple. You can feel it in Lewisohn’s footnotes – Neil was still reticent about talking about some things, but even in the two big interviews he gave for the book, he revealed so much. It seems clear to me that he would gradually have opened up much more to Lewisohn, who he had known for decades and had come to trust. I know this is selfish, but I wish Mark had been able to say to Neil “you’re dying – can I come to the hospital and spend 2-3 hours a day interviewing you while you’re still strong enough”. Mark doesn’t like being pushy though.
It was 10 years ago that Neil died and we’ve not heard a peep out of his estate – so it seems as if there are no diaries or memoir waiting to be published. Such a tragically missed opportunity.
“Of course, over time she might reassess her feelings, but the psychology of the people around the Beatles is intensely complicated.”
Absolutely. I remember watching a video of that Lewisohn talk, where he mentions that George and Judy were less than thrilled with that revelation in “Tune In” and had subsequently cut Mark off. I can understand Judy’s subsequent reluctance to be interviewed by Mark, although I’d consider it a serious loss. Possibly Kenneth Womack, who is publishing a forthcoming biography on George Martin — I believe it will be published in September — was able to secure interviews with Judy. I admit to finding myself astonished that, over the past fifty years, no one thought to interview her — or, if they did, she refused. But her position as George’s secretary as well as his wife ensures she was privy to a lot of information/stories: who doesn’t come home and want to describe their day to their spouse?
“None of this is anything other than what you’d expect when people are invested in a particular telling of their personal history. For us, it radically expands their lives and our sympathy and connection. For them, it undermines their sense of their own place.”
Wonderfully put. I think it underscores the necessity of historical distance — as Gaddis says, a biographer’s greatest nightmare is to have their subject return like a ghost and denounce the way they’ve been depicted. Particularly on an issue, such as Julia Baird’s, as emotionally fraught as the causes of her mother’s death. That’s not a subject you could expect her to display complete objectivity on; it concerns the greatest tragedy of her young life, as well implicitly blaming her father for her mother’s death. That’s an enormous issue to struggle with, especially if you’ve been told a different version of events almost your entire life, and if the people who told you the initial, incorrect version were people you loved. People are hardwired to believe and trust the people we love and know; our siblings, parents, relatives. etc. From Julia’s perspective, she was told one version of events for fifty some years, when a biographer she doesn’t know as well asserts a version that implicitly blames her father for her mother’s death. It’s no wonder she rejects Lewisohn’s version.
“It was 10 years ago that Neil died and we’ve not heard a peep out of his estate – so it seems as if there are no diaries or memoir waiting to be published. Such a tragically missed opportunity.”
I agree: Neil’s loss was irreplaceable, in terms of the information he could have provided for Beatles historians and Beatles historiography. His primacy, his source credibility, his lack of partisanship were all invaluable. I’m positive a lot of Beatles history — facts and stories and information that we will now never know — died with him. The only information I think we’ve heard from Neil’s estate are the interviews I believe Norman did with Neil’s widow for his 2016 Paul biography. Which, again, parallels Judy Martin: with Neil gone, his widow might be the closest available source. Now, unless she was present at the event, then she’d be recollecting hearsay, but there still might be valuable information.
As an aside; thanks for posting! We’re always looking for new posters and perspectives.