In a recent two-part interview, Mark Lewisohn offered some interesting thoughts regarding why a premier Beatles history needs to be written, and written correctly; discussion of his own research methods and approaches, and his evaluation of where the Beatles stand in comparison to other titans of art and culture.
You can find the entire interview here.
The interview also covered more contentious topics, including Lewisohn’s evaluation of the posthumous lionization of John Lennon, how that lionization has impacted Paul McCartney’s reputation, and his conclusion that that lionization is now done; his current assessment of Philip Norman’s Shout!, a narrative-defining work on which Lewisohn served as a researcher; and his own professional interactions with George Harrison and Paul McCartney. In the second part of the interview, Lewisohn reveals that he has accessed the notes Albert Goldman compiled while researching The Lives of John Lennon and praises Goldman’s research methods while, at the same time, acknowledging Goldman’s fatal flaw of selectively choosing evidence to support his pre-determined thesis.
Karen was kind enough to transcribe some of these comments; the following is a selection covering Lewisohn’s discussion of these various subjects.
On the already existing Beatles biographies:
“I’m not happy with the biographies of the Beatles. I’m not going to go into too much detail…I’ve already had one of the biographers pull me apart for what he thought was me being overly critical. Ungrateful, of things, but I think Tune In showed it….1700 pages up to their breakthrough and it doesn’t drag for a minute. It’s not boring because…these are interesting people doing interesting things all the time.”
[Here Lewisohn describes his “duty” to write about the Beatles as a cultural phenomenan which has impacted his life and the life of others for other 50 years.]
“..A duty, yes. A duty to the Beatles who don’t always treat me as well as they could, personally; but that doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter how they treat me, good or bad. It’s about getting the story right.”
[Interviewer askes Lewisohn if he’s heard the Paul McCartney song, “Early Days” and how he interpreted the song, and whether he thought it was a dig at him.]
“George did say to my face “you weren’t there” [imitating liverpudlian accent.] George was quite critical of me for a number of years. It wasn’t me personally, but it was what I represent, which is the so-called experts who think they know my life, which is an absolutely understandable position to take. So Paul McCartney’s Early Days is essentially the same theme: “you weren’t there how do you know. I’m quite an astute watcher of Paul McCartney, more than most people I would say, because not only have I been watching for a very long time, but also I think I look differently. And I worked for him for a long time and got to know the man and got to see the things that riled him and got to see how he dealt with things that riled him. And I remember when he first started doing things like for the benefit of Mr. Kite on tour…and a whole load of people jumped up and said ‘you can’t do that, it’s a John Lennon song.’ He was pissed off [that people would presume to tell him which songs he can sing.’] But also he was particularly pissed off because he remembered being at John’s house in Weybridge when John was writing Mr. Kite and helping him–not only was he present…but was engaged in the process. Because the way they did things…alot of people misunderstand the Lennon and McCartney songwriting methodology, which varied through the years, but at this point in time, one of them would have the idea, and often the first verse and maybe as far as the chorus, and then you look to your partner for “where does it go from here?”. So you set the theme, lyrically and musically, but your still reaching out to the other…to get over the finishing line.”
Lewisohn continues: “So Paul bristled because as far as he was concerned he had been involved in the writing of that song; it wasn’t just a John Lennon song. So that annoyed him–and I watched him be annoyed by it in an interview [unintelligible] A raw nerve has been touched here, and I think that’s the result of lots of people telling him this is how it was, when it wasn’t. I worked with [Paul] for a long time and he and I always got along great. And he respected me. Look, he employed me because he knew I could deliver, and probably stopped employing me for some other reason [laughs]”.
Q: I’ve often wondered, because John was lionized and sainted in a way since his death, to many people he’s the icon of peace and love and can do no wrong, when in reality he was a deeply flawed and complicated man, I wonder to the extent to which that annoys Paul.
“First of all, I think the years of John Lennon being lionized, and I’ll touch on this in the second part of the answer, but the years of John Lennon being lionized are behind us now. I think, actually, there’s a lot of misinterpretation…misunderstanding of John Lennon and I’m beginning to find that people out there in 2018, who judge things by today’s standards…do an awful lot of that, far too much, really.”
“…The things that were perfectly permissible yesterday that are no longer so today are judged retrospectively; and John Lennon I think is beginning to fall into that category where people who are disliking him for things [unintelligble.]”
[Interviewer wonder if that’s a british phenomenan since he hasn’t seen that reaction in the US.]
“We’re a pretty critical lot in England…but generally, because John’s been gone for 37 1/2 years, we have more than one generation who did not know the man…I think John Lennon is becoming less understood, and with that…an intolerance with aspects of his personality which may appear with the distance of time less savory then what appeared at the time.
[Lewisohn referenced Lennon’s “cripple” act, and how, if that happened now, it would be ‘death.’]
“He didn’t mean to be offensive, which is why no-one took offense. And indeed he wasn’t the only one doing that kind of thing.”
“I think Paul McCartney has come to terms with where John is at, nearly 40 years after his assassination. But there’s no question that it affected Paul quite a lot, in the first….12 years maybe after John was killed. In the early 90’s there were quite a lot of obvious signs of his irritation. It was visible that night, when he came out of the recording studio and gave his first piece to camera…. when he said ‘it’s a drag’ whist casually chewing on gum–which upset quite a lot of people but I’m a McCartney watcher and I could see that he was irritated by what he’d been watching on television in the recording studio, the news bulletins–the lionization had begun. John was being promoted, Paul was being relegated, and he didn’t like it
[Interviewer states that when he viewed the footage, he saw a man who was in shock, rather than irritated.]
” He is shocked–I mean he has lost somebody that he loved–but he was also exhibiting irritation, and came out in this way that made him appear to be flip. When we lose loved ones, we don’t have cameras thrust in our faces. But like I said, if you’re a McCartney watcher you get to see beyond the surface, and I could see that he was irritated and that irritation lasted for years–through the Ray Coleman books, through the Alfred Goldman books–certainly through Phillip Norman’s Shout!, which he detested….quite rightly so, because Phillip Norman ridiculously detested Paul McCartney in the writing of it, which was insane. To actually make Paul Mccartney out to be this ludicrous lightweight, which was so stupid. Paul called that book ‘Shite” and called Norman ‘Norma Phillips’–and I had to help Phillip write the book, and I was embarrassed with that attitude, but I stil like the book. I still thought it was a good book. But if you read that book you’ll understand why Paul was mightily annoyed by it.”
In the second part of the interview Lewisohn refers to Goldman’s research notes, which he accessed: “He is a much more impressive researcher than I ever realized … extraordinarily thorough,” while also acknowledging Goldman’s habit of rejecting that evidence which didn’t suit his portrayals of John and Yoko.
There’s obviously a lot to consider here. The most telling moment for me is Lewisohn’s declaration that you can’t judge John’s 50s/60s actions (the “crip” act)by today’s standards. In that respect, Lewisohn’s methodology is correct. While historians disagree on whether to render moral judgements of historical figures, all agree that, if judgement is rendered, it should be according to the standards of the subject’s own time period; anything else is an anachronism. This comment, along with other aspects of Lewisohn’s writing, indicates to me that he has more than a passing familiarity with historical methodology and research methods.
What do other posters and commenters here think? Do you agree with Lewisohn that the lionization of John is over, and that John is now becoming increasingly misunderstood, particularly in England? If Goldman’s research notes are as thorough and impressive as Lewisohn indicates, what does that mean for our understanding of John — particularly his last few years — and for Beatles historiography, which eagerly embraced equally flawed works by Norman and Coleman but fiercely refused to find any value in Goldman for decades? Is Paul’s resentment at John’s lionization over, as Lewisohn declares? Thoughts and comments are welcome.
70 thoughts on “Lewisohn Interview”
Reblogged this on deidrekim.
“Do you agree with Lewisohn that the lionization of John is over, and that John is now becoming increasingly misunderstood, particularly in England?”
I think the lionization that occurred in the 80’s and 90’s is over. I think ironically, Paul McCartney may have had a lot to do with that with his participation in Mile’s book and other, high profile interviews. I also think Lewisohn himself had a lot to do with it, with books like Recording Sessions and The Complete Beatles Chronicles. That paved the way for other great, well researched, well balanced books, like Can’t Buy Me Love by Jonathan Gould. As for John being misunderstood I’m not sure what Lewisohn means by that. Does he think people misunderstand how complicated he was? Well, I think most people misunderstand how complicated Paul, George and Ringo were/are too. Do more people dislike John now than before, while Lewisohn thinks that more people should like him? I wish he had elaborated a little more.
“If Goldman’s research notes are as thorough and impressive as Lewisohn indicates, what does that mean for our understanding of John — particularly his last few years — and for Beatles historiography,”
I think it means we’re in for quite a treat when Lewisohn finishes the next two volumes. I think it’s going to be wonderful for Beatles historiography.
“which eagerly embraced equally flawed works by Norman and Coleman but fiercely refused to find any value in Goldman for decades?”
I think this is because of the early lionization of John Lennon. Norman and Coleman wrote what people wanted to read, while Goldman didn’t.
“I think this is because of the early lionization of John Lennon. Norman and Coleman wrote what people wanted to read, while Goldman didn’t.”
If Goldman’s research is as sound as Lewisohn implies (even if his interpretations are admittedly one-sided) than that’s something Beatles historiography needs to confront. In The Beatles Bibliography (which, yes, has its own issues but is overall a very good source) They basically declare that Shout! and the Lives of John Lennon are essentially equal on credibility. Yet one was unquestioningly accepted and used by countless other Beatles authors for decades — still is, in certain cases — and another, along with most of its findings, was instantaneously dismissed as illegitimate.
As Doggett says, Goldman is the one who introduced — or reintroduced — some key aspects of John back into Beatles historiography. HIs pervasive jealousy and insecurity; his conflicted relationships with women; his never-ending guru search; his addictive personality: Goldman deserves credit for drawing those issues back into what, up to that point following John’s death, had been a largely hagiographic discussion. Beatles historiography is only now just coming to grips with the reality that, hatchet job or not, some of Goldman’s interpretations and research have/had a solid base behind them. More Beatles authors need to start acknowledging that, although it may take until after Lewisohn has published his evaluation of Goldman for them to do so.
“hatchet job or not, some of Goldman’s interpretations and research have/had a solid base behind them.”
Imagine what kind of a book Goldman could have had if he had used all of his research instead of only the stuff he liked and he had refrained from the numb skull, editorializing.
That’s a serious missed opportunity, Linda. It’s a shame that Goldman did what he criticized other authors (Coleman) for doing: going into the project determined to view/portray/assemble evidence to fit his thesis.
The reality is that in some ways, Goldman’s work is methodologically superior to Norman’s/Coleman’s: it has a list of sources at the back, broken down chronologically. He has vastly more sources on Yoko and The Lost Weekend and John’s final years than anyone else has been able to produce. (Now, more doesn’t necessarily equate with increased credibility, but it demonstrates that he did the legwork). I’d love to look at Goldman’s notes, the way Lewisohn has, and see what material he rejected, and why. Had Goldman’s work had less of a prurient, judgmental tone, and had he toned down his editorializing, it would have been more difficult for everyone to sweepingly dismiss it. (And, had his public personae been less grating, that probably would have helped too). “The Industry,” as Sam coined it, wouldn’t have accepted it — there’s no way Wenner at RS would have permitted even a Goldman-lite analysis to go unchallenged — but it might not have taken thirty years for other Beatles authors to incorporate some of Goldman’s findings, if his tone and approach hadn’t instantly made his work and its findings so toxic.
“it might not have taken thirty years for other Beatles authors to incorporate some of Goldman’s findings, if his tone and approach hadn’t instantly made his work and its findings so toxic.”
I’m not even sure what he was going for with the type of book he produced.
Was he going for the lowest common denominator to sell as many books as he could, not really caring about his reputation? Did he dislike John personally or what John represented? Was he simply trying to debunk the myth of John, the Beatles and celebrity in general? I didn’t really care about the prurient content but that editorializing really got on my last nerve. It made him look like an idiot. He alternated between sounding like grandma trying to critique rock music and an overly enthusiastic, first year psychology student.
“I’m not even sure what he was going for with the type of book he produced.”
If you believe Goldman, in the interview he did for Newsweek when the furor over the book was at its highest pitch, he claims that he went into the project as a genuine fan of John. But, once he started doing his research and learned more about him, Yoko, etc., he felt betrayed and decided that it was his responsibility to expose the real John Lennon. It’s certainly possible, but you also have the issue that, his earlier celebrity bios (which I’ve skimmed but not intensely analyzed) have the same tone/approach as TLOJL.
However, that sense of betrayal from the author over having an image/perception of a Beatle, finding that image dented/shattered, and then allowing that sense of betrayal/disillusionment to impact their work is an interesting one, because, reality or not, other Beatles authors have cited the same exact issue in impacting their work. In a youtube interview I watched years ago (sorry, I can’t find the link) Bob Spitz talks about how he gradually soured on each of the Beatles as he did his research/writing for his bio. And, in my reading of Spitz’s work, you can tell, because his interpretations almost always slant negative. And Philip Norman basically says the same thing as Goldman in the intro to his new Paul bio: Paul was my favorite, I envied him, then he did a lot of stuff I didn’t like (supposedly breaking up the band, marrying Linda, his music, etc.), and Norman decided to get some of his own back, and wrote Paul as a shallow, inferior hack for thirty years.
“But, once he started doing his research and learned more about him, Yoko, etc., he felt betrayed and decided that it was his responsibility to expose the real John Lennon.”
Hmmm something doesn’t add up because yes, I too have read other Goldman bios. Didn’t he do one on Elvis? Yes I just did a search and it was the first suggestion even before I was finished typing. Years ago, probably way before the Lennon book, I read his book on Elvis. It was a hatchet job if I remember correctly. After I typed the words for the search the first example was Goldman’s Wikipedia page and without even opening it, the first words I saw was a quote from Goldman that said, “Elvis was a pervert (and) a voyeur.” Huh??? I thought he was just a really cool rock star with a great voice and a knack for picking great songs and then doing the best arrangements for those songs, using the best musicians available. Wow who knew he was “a pervert and voyeur”? Did anyone really want to know? Does anyone care ? So he thought it was his responsibility to expose these people? Knock them off of that pedestal? My question is, Why? Was he hoping that Rupert Murdoch would notice him and give him a job? To me he just sounds like a phony hiding behind some noble idea about “responsibility” when all he really wanted to do was make as much money as possible by catering to the lowest common denominator who enjoys reading filth about famous people. While he was exercising his “responsibility” why didn’t he also include some neutral facts? For instance I don’t remember reading in his tabloid style, biography that Elvis was fascinated by India and Hinduism. His Indian spiritualism practically rivaled George Harrison’s. No, I read all of that in Peter Guralnick’s excellent, two volume set of biographies on Elvis.
“However, that sense of betrayal from the author over having an image/perception of a Beatle, finding that image dented/shattered, and then allowing that sense of betrayal/disillusionment to impact their work is an interesting one, ”
It’s very interesting Erin. I feel almost, that it’s a result of being too close to the subject of their book because they are still contemporaries. Not enough time has passed. We/they grew up with these guys…John, Paul, Elvis, etc. We looked up to them and regarded them as role models. It’s jarring at first when you suddenly realize that they were never up to the task of role model. That they are seriously flawed individuals. Some of it is the result of fame and celebrity itself, but other character flaws were there before the fame. It’s a little upsetting (at first) when you realize that all that talent and charisma doesn’t hide the fact that they’re all pretty messed up in their own various ways. If you’re writing a book though, isn’t it your responsibility to grow up and separate yourself emotionally, from your teenage crush on your favorite rock star? Did Bob Spitz really believe that because they wrote beautiful songs, sang like angels and looked super hot, that meant they were perfect beings? Oh c’mon I’m sorry but that is ridiculous. Isn’t he an adult?
“Paul was my favorite, I envied him, then he did a lot of stuff I didn’t like (supposedly breaking up the band, marrying Linda, his music, etc.), and Norman decided to get some of his own back, and wrote Paul as a shallow, inferior hack for thirty years.”
Wow this is in a class by itself. He’s just crazy. I don’t even know what else to say.
“Wow who knew he was “a pervert and voyeur”? Did anyone really want to know? Does anyone care ? So he thought it was his responsibility to expose these people? Knock them off of that pedestal? My question is, Why?”
I agree, and this was my point with the comment about Mark Lewisohn and his alleged special insight down-thread. To psychoanalyze the Beatles seems a rather… fannish pursuit. I’m not sure anyone needs (or wants) Mark Lewisohn to be that person. He is not, for example, Rob Sheffield. He’s not a songwriter or a filmmaker, he’s a researcher.
“To psychoanalyze the Beatles seems a rather… fannish pursuit. I’m not sure anyone needs (or wants) Mark Lewisohn to be that person.”
Excellent point, Brit. Unfortunately, so many Beatles’ authors spent so many years offering speculative and partisan psychoanalysis to the band’s story that its inclusion has become somewhat tainted. Methodologically, I don’t have much of a problem with it, so long as its distinguished as what it is: speculative psychoanalysis from the author’s perspective. For example, I liked many of Doggett’s forays into individual or group psychoanalysis in “You Never Give me Your Money,” even if I didn’t always agree with them. But with Lewisohn’s status and influence being so immense, and research being his strength, I can certainly see how others would want him to take a more hands-off approach when it came to such things.
To be fair, that’s my paraphrasing of Norman’s justification for his anti-Paul bias, which he provided in the intro to the new Paul bio. However, in my recollection, it’s a pretty apt synopsis of Norman’s excuses/justification. (And, again, that doesn’t provide any motivation for his portrayal of George, in which Norman both negatively caricaturizes and marginalizes him).
Spitz’s discussion of cycling through each of Beatle as his favorite, becoming disillusioned with them, and then moving on the next (only for the pattern to repeat itself) is particularly interesting, given the period of Spitz’s research/writing. This is post-Goldman (whose research and approach Spitz had publicly defended). This is post Angie McCartney’s public criticism of Paul, post-Francie Schwartz, post-Peter Brown (George having an affair with Maureen), just to mention a few. If he was still viewing them through rose-colored glasses when he sat down to write the bio at that point, than that’s a pretty severe case of selective memory.
“I feel almost, that it’s a result of being too close to the subject of their book because they are still contemporaries. Not enough time has passed. We/they grew up with these guys…John, Paul, Elvis, etc. We looked up to them and regarded them as role models.”
I think that’s crucial, Linda. That element of historical distance allows for a lessening of personal detachment/identification for later generation fans. Part of my interview with David Wills involved his discussion about how, for some fans, it’s almost sacrosanct to ask them to reject their initial version of Beatles history, whether it was the official version, the Lennon Remembers Narrative, the Shout! version, etc. I think you can see that with journalists such as Spitz/Coleman/Goldman: when that first version gets rejected, they take it very personally. That’s one of the reasons I think Beatles historiography could benefit from the inclusion of more later-generation authorities.
“David Wills involved his discussion about how, for some fans, it’s almost sacrosanct to ask them to reject their initial version of Beatles history, whether it was the official version, the Lennon Remembers Narrative, the Shout! version,”
Yes it’s the nostalgia thing. It’s like a toddler who refuses to give up his pacifier. I’m looking forward to listening to that interview when I get some time.
The lionization issue interests me, but I think both Lewisohn and the interviewer approach it from a flawed premise. The interviewer states that John’s lionization began after his death, and that’s the point from which Lewisohn also discusses the issue. Now, you can make a case that the sanctification of John began after his murder, but, depending on how you define lionization, (and I would describe it as granting John excessive credit for his contributions to the Beatles and ignoring or downplaying the contributions of the others) there’s a significant amount of evidence to indicate that that began in the breakup, and that much of it stemmed from John’s own comments. It’s in LR, it’s in McCabe, it’s in HDYS, it’s in Klein’s Playboy interview (John had written most of the stuff under the Lennon/McCartney credit), etc. Time magazine even notes in its 1980 coverage of John’s death how his more recent interviews (presumably the Playboy and Rolling Stone ones) had attempted to backtrack from his previous breakup-era statements on contributions and establish a more equitable version of events.
The reality is that those inaccurate, agenda-laden breakup-era statements became the primary sources that those 80s writers Lewisohn mentioned in the interview — Coleman, Norman, etc. — used to seemingly buttress their biased interpretations. One of the striking things for me in writing my book is how little the LR and Shout! differ from each other. Both versions really argue the same major concepts, the difference is in who is saying them/dominating the narrative: in LR, it’s John, Yoko, Wenner and Klein, from 1969-1971. In Shout!, it’s Norman, Coleman, etc. It’s the classic transition from primary sources controlling the narrative to secondary ones doing so, only in this case, you have the added, crucial component on John’s murder, a grieving fanbase, and admittedly biased authors.
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You know, this got me thinking. One could argue that the foundation for John’s lionization began even earlier–during the Beatles’ heyday. There was already a tendency for fans and some music press to assume John was the driving force for the band’s creative endeavors (think Tomorrow Never Knows from the Revolver album; many touted the song as evidence of John’s genius, ignoring Paul’s contribution to its concept vis a vis tape looping and Martin’s creative production.) It might not have been a leap to build on that early lionization and catapult it into the stratosphere when the band broke up.
I think there’s some validity to that, Karen. (Although, I’d date that more to the band’s earlier days: by ’66 and ’68, you’re seeing a transition in that in contemporary Beatles articles: Paul’s Underground Times interview, The Authorized Bio.
For me, the fulcrum is Lennon Remembers because, while prior to that point a journalist might have had a favorite in the Lennon/McCartney partnership, it was a fundamentally different game. You could prefer either John or Paul (Cohn liked Lennon more; Tynan liked Paul) but that didn’t mean dismissing or lessening the other member. And, because of uncertainty regarding authorship, you couldn’t definitively apportion our John vs. Paul lyrics contributions. (In my mind, to a certain extent, I still consider that a fool’s task).
What LR does is it transforms John and Paul/John or Paul to John vs Paul. It twists the concept of the L/M partnership into a false equivalent of a zero sum game, whereby praising one’s work somehow diminishes the others, and so forth.
And while that overt lionization of the 70s/80s might be done, the legacy of it is still very much embedded in the band’s story. If, by arguing that John’s lionization is now over, Lewisohn is arguing that a Shout! would never be published today because of its diminishment of the other Beatles, there’s some considerable validity to that. But the influence of both those 70s/80s interpretations are still there, and so long as other authors/some fans still use those sources unquestioningly, (and yes, people were still citing/using Shout! as a source at the Pepper conference I went to last year) than the lionization of John is not over.
“But the influence of both those 70s/80s interpretations are still there, and so long as other authors/some fans still use those sources unquestioningly, (and yes, people were still citing/using Shout! as a source at the Pepper conference I went to last year) than the lionization of John is not over.”
The Compleat Beatles (remember that?) referred to John’s “assassination” in the epilogue. Assassination! John was killed by a stalker, no different than Celena or Rebecca Schaeffer.
“I think Paul McCartney has come to terms with where John is at, nearly 40 years after his assassination. ”
OMG, I just noticed Lewisohn did it too! In 2018! (sorry I can’t edit my comment!) That’s pretty egregious!
“Assassinate: murder (an important person) in a surprise attack for political or religious reasons.”
John was not IN ANY WAY murdered for political or religious reasons! It’s pretty offensive to use this term to inflate his murder with a sense of importance that regular women (or regular female celebrities) don’t have. Stalking and killing women is just as terrible as killing men.
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I see it differently than you do, Brit. What, by definition, makes John’s murder an ‘assassination’ is that it was committed by a person with social/political delusions, for the purposes of fullfilling those delusions, thereby ending the life of a prominent person. This is different from a stalker whose romantic delusions lead them to commit homicide. Both are heinous acts; but one meets the criteria, in the strictest sense, of assassination, while the other one does not.
“it was committed by a person with social/political delusions, for the purposes of fullfilling those delusions”
I’ve never read this anywhere. In fact, I’ve seen much to the contrary: that there was no manifesto, no clear motive other than the usual attention-seeking and obsession. I remember the (first?) article that the murderer was a big Lennon fan and married an Asian woman (evidently to emulate John), so that sounds exactly like a stalker to me. How was it political? What agenda was the murderer trying to promote? In 2016 Paul made the point on a TV show that John’s murder was truly senseless in that it WASN’T politically motivated. Is Paul misinformed too? I’m shocked that in all these years I (and apparently Paul) have never heard about this!
Chapman’s delusions were complex–religious, social, political–coalesced, it seems by his fixation on JD Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye.”
One has to be a scholar on JD Salinger (which I’m not), but from what I recall, Chapman believed he had to “save” young people from what he perceived as Lennon’s political and social hypocricy, just as Salinger’s Caulfield did.
Most likely there are several articles on the web, describing Chapman’s fixation on Salinger’s book and, in particular, on its political message of salvation from hypocricy and social bankrupcy.
Assassinations don’t have to make sense; clearly, Chapman was delusional. But the motivation, as delusional as it was, was to save the world–and youth, from John Lennon. He described himself at the “catcher”–catching kids as they plummet into a social and political abyss created by Lennon. It makes me shudder just to write about it.
IIRC, Holden Caulfield’s older brother is the “Hollywood phony” in question. The Catcher in the Rye is the guy who saves kids from pedophiles and murderers, and Holden uses it in reference to his sister. It had nothing to do with politics, IMO. (If it did it was subtextual, but I’ve never read it that way -or seen anyone else read it that way). But I guess we can agree to disagree about this!
I think there are copious reasons to consider John Lennon a hypocrite that have NOTHING to do with politics, but again…. we can agree to disagree about this too! 🙂
But I think if the motivation of the stalker/murderer is cloudy at best…. it’s most accurate to refer to it as a “murder” rather than an “assassination.” Just my opinion!
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My point wasn’t to debate the merits of the book or its interpretations, but to explain the ‘assassination’ description of Lennon’s murder. Personally, I think of it as a ‘murder’, but I have no quarrel with Lewisohn and others’ description of it as an assassination.
I think I may have put my response to you in the wrong place–or maybe you talked about this twice (or maybe I’m having a senior moment, lol).
Anyhow, not to repeat myself, but I think the assassination description is apt, for reasons I mentioned in my other response to you. 🙂
I could be wrong, but I think the Lionization will continue. As will the Jock&Yono™ story of the Greatest Love Story Of All Time.
In a few months, the Imagine album is being re-released. Remixed, and full of extras. This is from the press release:
Imagine tells the story of John & Yoko’s life, work and relationship during this intensely creative period. It transports readers to home and working environments through artfully compiled narrative film stills, Yoko’s closely guarded archive photos and artefacts, and stitched-together panoramas taken from outtake film footage that recreate the interiors in evocative detail. Each chapter and song is introduced with text by John & Yoko compiled from published and unpublished sources and complemented by comments from Yoko today.
I think the Lionization is an industry. Maybe the upcoming Lewisohn books will be a corrective, or maybe not.
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I agree, Sam. As long as Yoko is alive (and if Sean Lennon picks up the slack), it will be. It remains to be seen whether he will.
I love that comment, Sam. “The lionization is an industry.” That really sums it up.
I think what interests me is who, then, runs the industry. Wenner is selling (has sold?) Rolling Stone. RS has also, in recent times, implicitly distanced itself from earlier interpretations without explicitly denouncing them. Norman has conveniently recanted; just in time to attempt to redeem his reputation as a Beatles authority. Coleman reinterpreted, and then attacked other authors for promoting his own former, inaccurate view.
That Yoko promotes the industry is undeniable. It’s profitable and self-serving and it projects the reality she/the industry prefer., and your Imagine blurb is a great example. Who takes over once Yoko’s gone? Sean? I’m not overly familiar with the rock n roll industry, so I’m honestly curious about the answer? And what role would Paul’s (eventual) death play in this lionization industry? The reality is that a lot of the push back against the lionization (at least in terms of songwriting credit and experimental musical/avant garde issues) of John is due to Paul’s own interviews. You can label them conveniently self-serving and defensive and be right on target, but they provide a counterpoint. Once Paul’s active voice is absent, and he’s no longer alive to campaign in his own favor, that’s a fundamental, irrevocable shift in both Paul’s historiography and John’s, because their historiography’s are really too intertwined to separate. How much of it might depend simply (not to be morbid) on which one dies first: Paul, or Yoko? And if Lewisohn is going into Tune In with the belief that the lionization is over, is he willing to revise his interpretation if evidence indicates otherwise?
But how is that different than the rehashing of Paul’s whole catalogue in these huge boxes? That is an industry too. Does Red Rose Speedway and Wild Life need deluxe editions?
Personally, I think the re-release of albums–unless they contain new material–are a big waste of money.
I think the distinction is that McCartney’s re-releases aren’t designed to shape Beatle historiography in accordance with a skewed and inaccurate narrative. They’re just an attempt to make old albums current again.
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That’s my impression as well, Karen. You articulated it much better than I was going to, but here’s my best shot: The difference for me between the re-release of “Imagine,” as opposed to the re-release of “Venus and Mars” (neither of which I will purchase) is one of scale and mythos.
“Imagine” as presented in The Ballad is not merely an album: it’s one of the foundational documents (along with “Lennon Remembers”) etc. of the lionization of John. “Venus and Mars” wants to sell a product and an image: “Imagine” wants to sell a version of John and Yoko’s story that is somewhat mythologized.
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Clarity might have been lost in the transcription process, Linda.
As Erin described, what Lewisohn was cautioning against was the tendency toward presentism: using today’s standards to judge an historical event. John’s “cripple” act on stage, for example, would be absolutely unacceptable today, but didn’t raise any eyebrows in 1964. To excoriate him now for an act which was acceptable 50 years ago is, in Lewisohn’s view (and mine, actually) decidedly unfair.
Lewisohn’s reaction to criticism–from the other Beatles, from other biographers–was interesting. To defend the book in such subjective, general terms without specfics, particularly when criticisms are levelled by primary sources, seems somewhat ego-laden and defensive.
With all due respect to Lewisohn’s personal knowledge of McCartney, I think he missed the mark on this one. My impression? The press went for McCartney because they wanted a visceral, emotional reaction for the evening news. Paul knew it, it pissed him off, and he didn’t give it to them.
As an aside: I didn’t know (or maybe I did, but forgot?) that Lewisohn worked for Paul, and was the researcher for Norman et al’s bios. Lewisohn is very clear about his impression about Norman vis a vis Paul: his vendetta against Paul in Shout! was ridiculous. I wonder how Lewisohn, who prides himself on impartial analysis, managed working for someone he liked and respected, but felt was entirely out of his lane.
“With all due respect to Lewisohn’s personal knowledge of McCartney, I think he missed the mark on this one. My impression? The press went for McCartney because they wanted a visceral, emotional reaction for the evening news. Paul knew it, it pissed him off, and he didn’t give it to them.”
I agree completely Karen. I thought Lewisohn’s observation seemed off the mark too. I respect that he knows and understands McCartney and I’m sure that he’s right most of the time, but not this time. My instinct tells me that you’re observation is the correct one. Also at the time I remember that he looked distraught and shocked but he was also angry that he was being cornered by reporters.
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My issue with that is this: do we know Paul was watching TV coverage of John’s death in the studio?
It’s a reasonable assumption to make, and we have accounts from people who were with Paul in the studio that day: Geoff Emerick, George Martin — but I can’t recall if they mention it. Again, it’s a very reasonable assumption to make. But, if we don’t have someone indicating that Paul was actually watching TV at some point during that day, it is an assumption.
I wasn’t even born when John was murdered, so I didn’t live through the coverage of his death/legacy the way so many other Beatles fans did. I didn’t watch the memorials, hear the news and be “shocked and stunned,” etc. Doubtless studying the then coverage of John’s death would be absolutely fascinating — and you can access a lot of the print stuff, if not the tv material — and revealing. Who was giving interviews? What were they saying on the news/tv? Were the radio stations playing more Beatles songs, or solo stuff?
For me, Lewisohn’s contention that the media coverage in the immediate aftermath of John’s death was lionizing and therefore irritating to Paul is wrong-headed at its core.
I was 24 when John was murdered, and I gobbled up the news coverage all that week. I think it gave John due deference and credit for his considerable contribution to music, but didn’t do so at the expense of the other three Beatles. Indeed, Paul himself watched the news coverage that evening and said he “cried buckets”–he didn’t say that it was unfair or biased. That came later, I think, when the JohnandYoko cottage industry began.
“I was 24 when John was murdered, and I gobbled up the news coverage–radio, tv, print–that week. In my view, it didn’t “lionize” John. It gave him due deference and credit for his considerable contribution to music and didn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, do so at the expense of the other three Beatles. Indeed, Paul himself watched the news coverage that evening and said he “cried buckets”–he didn’t say that it was unfair or biased.”
Karen it seems our memories match exactly.
Karen and Linda, that’s fascinating.
And for me, who didn’t experience it, it prompts interesting questions. (At least, I think they’re interesting). Was the TV coverage more balanced in its depiction of John than the print coverage after his death? (Did you have the equivalent of a Christgau or RS on TV, or not?) How did the Canadian coverage differ from the English coverage, from the American coverage, etc. I know some of these questions are unanswerable, but they would be very telling.
In Canada, we get Canadian and American news equally–and we also get the BBC. I watched them all (when I said I gobbled up the news, I wasn’t exaggerating 🙂 ). I didn’t see anything that would remotely be construed as “lionization, in any form. That came later, when the Lennonono train left the station.
Edited to add: I wonder if Lewisohn was attempting to find an explanation for his misread of Paul’s reaction.
“Did you have the equivalent of a Christgau or RS on TV, or not?) ”
I definitely don’t remember anyone like that. I remember everyone was just a super Beatles fan who loved the band members equally. Even that John was the one being commemorated I always felt that the love was not only for him, but for all of them, their music and what they represented. Everyone was on he same page, which made the coverage emotionally powerful. I don’t remember the print media. I was probably too shell shocked to read. So Karen can probably tell you more about that. As she said, the lionization started later after the initial shock wore off, the coverage stopped and everything returned to normal.
“My issue with that is this: do we know Paul was watching TV coverage of John’s death in the studio?”
He says in Many Years From Now, that he watched at home, after he returned from the studio. He said, that’s when the floodgates suddenly opened and he couldn’t stop crying. Now, I’m not sure if he also watched earlier before he went to the studio. That would be key, but I can’t remember if he said that he did. I’m pretty sure he didn’t watch while he was at the studio.
“Who was giving interviews? What were they saying on the news/tv? Were the radio stations playing more Beatles songs, or solo stuff”?
As for the music being played, I remember it was about 60% Beatles and maybe 40% solo stuff. I seem to remember hearing cuts from the first solo album a lot especially the songs, Love, God and Working Class Hero. Then it was the song, Imagine and the new album that were played a lot too. But I remember lots of Beatles was played just as much. As for who was being interviewed and what they were saying, it was just what a great guy he was, with the constant punning and his crazy sense of humor. It was all positive (and accurate) stuff about his personality. I also remember there was a lot of delving into his childhood and his dysfunctional relationships with his parents. I have no memory of any pitting of John and Paul against each other..I.e. John was better, John was the driving force etc. I don’t remember anyone saying anything in that regard and believe me I was glued to the coverage night and day. There was a lot of old footage of the Beatles too. The only thing I will say, is I don’t remember anything about John and Paul as friends or their songwriting team. That seemed to be glossed over in favor of the Beatles as a group and then John and Yoko as creative partners. So that’s the only thing that I can see Paul being annoyed about. The bulk of the coverage was non controversial though if I remember correctly. Of course I can only speak about the American t.v. coverage. Perhaps the coverage in Britain was more grating to Paul? I suppose Lewisohn must be basing his assessment of Paul’s demeanor on the coverage he remembers seeing in Britain.
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“Lewisohn’s reaction to criticism–from the other Beatles, from other biographers–was interesting.”
I’m speculating here, Karen, but I think Lewisohn is obliquely referencing a SATB podcast/interview with Philip Norman, following the publication of the new McCartney bio. In the interview, Norman says something to the effect of feeling like he “created a monster” by introducing Lewisohn into Beatles historiography and criticizes Beatles biographies that, in his estimation, over emphasize facts/evidence/citations over writing style. Accd. to Lewisohn, Norman has also previously criticized Lewisohn’s own, earlier criticism of Shout! in the buildup to the publication of Tune In. It can’t be easy for Norman to acknowledge that his position as the premier Beatles authority — which was his in the 1980s, thanks to Shout! — has now been supplanted by Lewisohn.
The defensiveness regarding the primary sources is a whole different ballgame, though.
I think you could be right–that’s ringing a bell for me. But I wonder why Lewisohn didn’t say so? Or, alternatively, why he didn’t convey the essence of the criticism(s) without mentioning the source?
“My impression? The press went for McCartney because they wanted a visceral, emotional reaction for the evening news. Paul knew it, it pissed him off, and he didn’t give it to them.”
Doesn’t one of the Monty Python troupe memoirs say exactly that? His account of watching Paul on the news react to the press’s questions on the night of John’s death was very similar to: “Paul McCartney creditably refuses to emote for the cameras.” What makes that striking to me is that you have a celebrity analyzing the reaction of another celebrity. One of the fundamental things we have to remember when analyzing these guys is that, from the age of 20 on, they had to deal with an astronomic amount of fame and press attention, the likes of which non-celebrities cannot possibly comprehend. It’s an analysis coming from more of a peer perspective than any of us could offer.
That’s a great quote and I think absolutely accurate.
“One of the fundamental things we have to remember when analyzing these guys is that, from the age of 20 on, they had to deal with an astronomic amount of fame and press attention, the likes of which non-celebrities cannot possibly comprehend.”
Paul gave an interview in 1980 where he specifically speaks about this. And I agree, it is a very important to keep in mind!
To this point, I find it a bit concerning that Mark is using his (working) relationship with Paul as proof that he has special insight into Paul’s emotions. I mean, I’ve worked for famous people too, but I definitely don’t believe that gives me a special view into their emotions or personalities! From my perspective it may actually make him less objective because he has an employee-employer relationship with Paul, as opposed to someone who is personally uninvolved and distant and therefore must rely on empathy, creativity and listening skills. I’ve edited 4 feature length films about Paul at this point so I could argue that I’ve probably spent as much time as Mark “watching Paul closely.” And as closely as he “watches” Paul, ML doesn’t seem to listen so well if Paul was as displeased with Tune In as Mark seems to think.
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Not to mention that men are statistically and quantifiably worse at reading body language and interpreting facial expressions than women are. (see: his absurd conclusion about a shocked and grief-stricken Paul being irritated about “press coverage” a mere 12 hours after John’s death!) Which is to say that I don’t personally find Mark Lewisohn to be especially insightful into the emotional and personal dynamics of his subjects AT ALL. He seems to have a somewhat over-inflated opinion about his own magnificence as the Reigning Beatles Authority. (Which I get… People have given him that title, and it’s very easy to believe your own hype)
But this is where it all gets very murky for me. I think there are two separate issues here (maybe more?). There’s history, in terms of what happened when and where (which should follow the standards that Erin lays out), and then there is the personal and emotional stories of real people which are almost impossible to accurately represent and/or dissect. Approaching the Beatles break-up (and subsequent self-mythologizing) almost requires a Judge from Divorce Court to issue a verdict, right? Because it’s foolhardy and irresponsible to trust the personal accounts of the parties involved (and/or their new spouses- I’m looking at you, Yoko) in regards to “personal” issues. And authorship of Lennon/McCartney songs (and the entire John v. Paul thing that Erin articulated upthread) is ENTIRELY emotional and personal, IMO.
So I’m conflicted on Mark Lewisohn. We are reviewing him in terms of historiography (Erin’s expertise). But does being a thorough and/or responsible researcher qualify him to make conclusions about interpersonal dynamics and emotional connections between intimate friends?
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Lewisohn’s comment about being a “McCartney watcher” struck me as insightful, in that I think it correctly identifies Paul’s deceptively enigmatic personality. This doesn’t mean that Lewisohn’s read of McCartney is necessarily accurate; just that he knows that much more lurks behind Paul’s happy-go-lucky, thumbs aloft persona.
I’m not convinced that Lewisohn is the oracle that he is widely purported to be.
As an example, I’ve always raised an eyebrow whenever Julia Baird mentions the first meeting of John and Paul at the Woolton church fete, because she always – without fail – cites the date as 1956 and not 1957.
Now, I had a friend growing up in Liverpool whose dad swore that John brought Paul and George to Quarry Bank while he was still a pupil there and introduced them to the art teacher as new boys. My friend’s dad went to Quarry Bank and was there when this happened.
I’ve never thought much more about this, but I recently read an interview with William Pobjoy, who was the headteacher at the time at Quarry Bank, and he recounted this incident and said that it was logged in the school records (apparently Paul and George were entered on the admissions register!) as having happened in October.
Now, if John Lennon left Quarry Bank in July 1957 after taking his O Levels, he wouldn’t have been a pupil there in October 1957. So this must have happened the year before if not earlier. Which means that he must have known not only Paul but also George for a lot longer than Lewisohn alleges.
And if the incident is logged in the school records, why didn’t Lewisohn mention it?
If you are going to spend 10 years researching a book, it seems incredible to me that you could miss something like this.
The only explanation is that Pobjoy was wrong, but I find it very unlikely. In which case, Lewisohn either overlooked it or left it out on purpose. And if that’s the case, how useful is anything else that he writes?
To add to the above, I found the Pobjoy interview in ‘The Other Side of Lennon’ by Sandra Shevy, and the exact quote is:
“I recall one incident during the October half-term where John brought his friends from the Liverpool Institute, George Harrison and Paul McCartney, into the art class. And the senior art master, a very distinguished man, was told by John that they were two new boys. And the master entered them on his form list. It was a joke. When it was discovered the master was furious. And I remember when Lennon was brought to me what my attitude was: ‘What an amazing waste of half-term. What a fantastic thing to come into somebody else’s school and waste your time!'”
Presumably, the Liverpool Institute and Quarry Bank had different half-term breaks.
I wouldn’t have looked twice at this if it hadn’t been for the fact that my friend’s dad told me the same story 30 odd years ago.
It makes you think – exactly how much of the official story is actually true? And is Lewisohn actually as concerned about the truth as he says he is?
That’s really interesting, Alex. I’ve never heard that story before, although I do know Lewisohn mentions in a footnote in Tune In that Paul will admit, in certain company, that he and John knew each other before the Fete, although how well they knew one another is unclear. And you also have Tony Bramwell (I think) claiming that not only did Paul and John know each other (or know of each other) well before the fete, but Julia and Mary knew each other casually as well, enough to stop each other on the street and say hi and swap small talk.
As to why Lewisohn wouldn’t include Pobjoy’s information in a footnote (say, an alternative version of events) my best guess would be documentation. We have documentation — newspaper articles, fliers — for the fete. Maybe Lewisohn couldn’t access the school records Pobjoy says contain the dates that Paul and George visited the art class. (I am not familiar with the archival laws surrounding school records in England and, so often in history, you might guess or know a document exists, but it doesn’t help if you can’ access it). If he has proven documentation for one and not for the other, than the pattern is to side with the one that does have it.
“It makes you think – exactly how much of the official story is actually true?”
That’s a great question, and there are lots of conflicting thoughts on it. Spitz claims that Paul told him unofficially that only about 60% of the official version is true. I’m not sure if we’re ever going to know how much of the official version was mythologizing half-truth, how much was the Beatles themselves promoting their own mythology, and how much is them getting into patterns of reiterating the same stories, regardless of their truthfulness.
As to Lewisohn, I think his methodology is overall very sound. However, I don’t accept everything he writes/his interpretations unquestioningly, because that would be shoddy methodology on my part. Even his work will have some gaps: new evidence always becomes available, sometimes decades later — see the furor caused by the recent translation of Albert Einstein’s comments regarding the Chinese — and, due to publication dates/other issues, there are simply going to be moments in his work — or anyone’s — where evidence isn’t assimilated.
Interesting info, Alex.
I recall reading an interview with Paul (can’t recall the source) where he did indicate that he had a passing acquaintance with John prior to the fete, seeing him on the bus. Apparently, John made quite an impression with his sideburns and rocker clothing (which, of course, he put on after leaving Mimi’s house.)
Hello Erin, I’m not sure if my first comment went through before, so I’m trying again. If that first one did get through, this one turned out better (in my attempt to piece together my thoughts from before, I came up with new ones).
I’m with the poster above that I don’t think we should allow Lewisohn to be crowned as the “ultimate expert” on the Beatles. What concerns me about Lewisohn is how he’s been anointed as the ultimate Beatles authority within the fandom, so what he says carries so much weight with fans and “Beatles scholars” alike. That’s all well and good, but I find something problematic in this interview: how he asserts that he knew exactly what Paul was feeling in the moment the microphone was shoved into his face and he uttered the damning phrase, “It’s a drag, innit?” Forgive me, but how could Lewisohn, “McCartney observer” that is claims to be, actually know exactly what was going through Paul’s head in that very moment? How is Lewisohn projecting onto Paul McCartney in that moment valid methodology? I’m just curious about your take on that as a historian. As a regular human being with a mind capable of critical thinking and feeling emotions, I have concerns about Lewisohn purporting that he can know exactly what Paul was going through in that moment.
The reason I bring this up is that by all accounts of his wife, and those who were surrounding him that day (as well as Paul himself, which in my opinion should NOT be discounted because he was the one experiencing it after all), Paul McCartney was not in a mood to be thinking about his artistic reputation in the wake of John Lennon’s lionization. I don’t think a man who spent the entire day either weeping or attempting to distract himself via work, not to mention lamenting to a colleague that he would never again allow himself to have a falling out with another person in his life again, would be thinking, “I’m so irritation that John is being canonized right now!” I think the most selfish thought going through the man’s head that day was likely the safety of his family. Why wouldn’t the foremost authority on the Beatles look at all of the evidence and testimony of the people who shared that day with Paul? I’m just curious as to what you think when it comes to historians applying some measure of emotional intelligence into their work. I understand that one does not want to speculate too much (which in my opinion Lewisohn did that with this assertion that Paul was “irritated” the very day John was murdered). But there are ample sources that describe how Paul and the other Beatles felt and reacted that day. Why would Lewisohn only default to his being a “McCartney observer,” and acknowledge that the observer could be flawed?
Welcome, beyond. I’m afraid this has to be a placeholder reply, since I’m knee deep in grading Final exams at the moment, but I love your post, and will hopefully have a chance to respond soon. Thanks.
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Thank you, Erin! I patiently and eagerly await your reply! 🙂
I do think Lewisohn’ power in Beatles historiography is immense, and want to stress that no one — not even Lewisohn — should be accepted as gospel. Overall, his methodology is very good, his interpretations usually designated as such, his moral judgments balanced, and his citations impeccable. That puts him in a rare class within Beatles historiography. And remember; he’s giving this version of his interpretation of Paul’s feelings in a podcast interview. I know I mentioned this before, but its worth repeating: podcast interviews (I say, with my vast experience of 3 under my belt) are always going to be a little looser than writing, because you’re thinking on the fly: you have to simplify because of your medium. And there is not a single podcast interview I have given where I have not wished later that I could go back and explain better and in more detail, and perhaps this is one of those instances where, because it was an interview and not a book, we couldn’t get the clarification or detail from Lewisohn that we need.
Methodologically, Lewisohn has two sets of sources in this instance which lead to varying interpretations. He can lay out what he did in the interview, discuss how and why he interprets Paul’s ‘drag’ comment as being somewhat spurred by his growing irritation at John’s burgeoning sanctification, and what he’s basing that on, particularly his history of working with/observing Paul McCartney. That makes it clear that it is Lewisohn’s interpretation — and so long as he does that, designates that as such, that’s okay. However, he should also mention the accounts of others — Emerick, Martin, etc. — all of whom were with Paul that day before he left the studio — none of whom mention Paul’s supposed irritation at John’s press coverage — or even that they watched TV in the studio that day. Its one of those instances of letting the reader choose. However, given that Paul has spoken repeatedly about this day, and this comment, I think the proper thing to do is give Paul — and not Lewisohn/Martin/Emerick, etc. — the final word on what he was thinking/feeling.
I do think one of the interesting elements of Tune In –and some of Lewisohn’s more recent interviews have delved into this — is that while, he knew Paul well and was acquainted with George and Ringo, he never met John. You obviously don’t have to met someone to be qualified to write a bio on them, but it does distinguish John from the other three.
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Good point regarding the freedom of thought during interviews, Erin. I did a few interviews over the years, opining about children’s services and such whenever there was a slow news day and the paper would call us up. 🙂 I used to sit on tender hooks afterwards, hoping I didn’t put my foot in my mouth. I really feel for Paul et al who get cameras shoved in their faces every day.
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Erin, I can’t thank you enough for this amazing reply! Your answer is really similar to where my instincts lie, and It was really interesting to read your take on how a historian should handle interpretations around someone’s emotions.
I also have to admit that I didn’t think about the fact that a podcast interview may have the subject speaking more loosely, so I appreciate you bringing that up! I’ve been a guest on exactly one podcast, and I found myself later looking in my notes and saying, “Oh no, I forgot that!” a handful of times. Podcasts really are more similar to conversations in that way.
I recently finished Pete Shotton’s memoirs and he recounts the story of John bringing 2 Liverpool Institute students to art class. In Pete’s account it is not Paul and George but Len Garry and another friend who are introduced as the new boys. I don’t mean to be pedantic, but I do believe Lewisohn is correct. Not that there may not be errors in Tune In, but the man did his research.
Sorry to post on such an old thread. I recently came across the blog and really love the fresh perspective! I’ve been going through the old threads. So interesting! Thanks.
Hi Patti–Thanks for commenting and no apologies necessary. None of the threads are closed forever, so if any of the posts inspire a thought or opinion, reply away. 🙂
Could you focus my attention on where we discussed the Liverpool Institute situation? Was there a different opinion about who John brought there? I quickly went through the comments but couldn’t find a reference. And you’re right to say that Lewisohn does his research. I remember reading that he read through a zillion copies of the Liverpool Echo as background research, just to get a feel for the place and time. That’s dedication. Where some of us part company with Lewisohn, however, has been in his interpretation of events and the relative weight he gives to some informants over others, rather than with the research itself.
Hi Karen, I actually meant to post my reply in response to a comment by poster, Alex, but strayed off the track! 😯.
No problem, Patti; I was just curious which comment you were referring to.
I was reading a bit upstream and found a reference to Mr. Pobjoy, who, according to Sandra Levy, claims that John brought Paul and George to class, while Pete Shotton claims in his memoirs that John brought Len Garry and another friend. I take it Lewisohn agrees with Pete Shotton then? My question is how Lewisohn arrived at that conclusion: that is, to believe Shotton’s account vs Pobjoy’s account (unless it’s because Pobjoy’s account was reported through Levy, and therefore second hand?)
Hello BEYONDTHEMAINSTREAMBEATLES (whew–that’s quite a handle!), and thanks for posting.
There wasn’t a duplicate post so not to worry. I thought I would weigh in here as you anticipate Erin’s response.
You make such a good point that, considering the circumstances, the last thing on Paul’s mind would be John’s lionization. Unless the person is a complete narcissist, the shock of losing somene close to you to a criminal act would overwhelm any consideration about one’s personal status. From a psychological perspective, Lewisohn’s interpretation of Paul’s reaction simply doesn’t make sense.
While I appreciate Lewisohn’s competence as a researcher and consider him several cuts above the average biographer, I believe his interpretive errors demonstrate he’s far from Yoda when it comes to Beatle history.
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Thank you Karen for your thoughtful reply!
Lewisohn’s interpretation fits other evidence though, such as McCartney’s late-night phone call to Hunter Davies in 1981. According to Davies:
“Paul had a go at me for having gone on some TV program after John’s death. In my tribute to him, I had said that John was more the hard man, with the cutting edge, while Paul was more soft and melodic.”
I think Lewisohn is interpreting ‘It’s A Drag’ in that light.
Hi Jon. Thanks for posting.
I think you’re right in saying that Paul rejected arbitrary characterizations of his musical abilities and was keenly aware of John’s lionization in the months and years following John’s death. But I wouldn’t classify what he said to Davies as ‘evidence’ in support of Lewisohn’s interpretation. Paul has never explained his comments in those terms himself, although he’s been pretty open over the years about his resentment about John’s cannonization and the way in which his own contributions and talents were minimized. It makes more sense to me that Paul was reacting as someone in grief, shock, and in desperate need to get the press off his back. I don’t think he was in the psychological space to think of anything else.
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I think Davies’ comment does reinforce Lewisohn’s general claim that Paul was upset by John’s sanctification. But it doesn’t really prove that Lewisohn’s own interpretation of part of why Paul was upset that evening of John’s death — when he made the “drag” comment — is correct, because we don’t know when Paul saw Davies make that comment, except that it was some time in the aftermath of John’s death. In order for Davies’ comment to impact Paul’s ‘drag’ comment, it would have to have A. been made the day of John’s death, sometime in the morning/afternoon and B. Paul would have had to seen it on tv it when he was in the studio before leaving for the day. The issue is, we don’t even know that Paul was watching tv in the studio that day — I don’t think Martin or Emerick or anyone else who was actually there with Paul has ever commented on it. We know Paul watched TV that evening, but he’s never, so far as I can remember, mentioned watching tv coverage of John’s death in the studio. So if Lewisohn is interpreting Paul’s ‘drag’ comment through the lens of his complaints to Davies regarding John’s reputation, that’s pretty tenuous ground for Lewisohn to be standing on, IMO.
I want to stress that overall, I agree: I think we have an abundance of evidence arguing that Paul was obviously miffed at how his reputation declined in proportion to John’s lionization. I just don’t see enough primary source evidence indicating that that welling frustration — along with grief, anger, fear, etc. — was the motivation for Paul’s ‘drag’ comment.
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That was my other thought, too: that Paul’s comment was made the very next day, following John’s death, while Davies’ tv appearance was sometime after that. Davies’ comment, as you pointed out, is further evidence of Paul’s frustration with the music media in the months that followed, but not evidentiary of the motivation for his drag comment.
Since we’re talking about it, here’s an excerpt from the Playboy interview in which Paul explains his comment for the first time:
I thought the observation from Ruth McCartney, Paul’s sister, was also telling: “My beloved step-brother was never one to deal with soul wrenching grief in a practical manner. He was brought up in the guilt-ridden Catholic mind set of “bury-your-head-in-the-sand.com.” “Let’s not talk about it son,” a la father Jimmy Mac.”
What Paul didn’t reference, interestingly, was his obvious (to me, that is) irritation with the press. I wished he would have said “the press was pissing me off–but that’s not something Paul would say, or even allude to.
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The closest he gets to talking about his irritation with the press regarding this incident is in Many Years From Now: “I should have said, ‘It’s the most
unholiest of drags,’ and it might have been better. What I meant was, ‘Fuck off! Don’t invade my privacy.’ But I managed to pull something together, but
unfortunately it was something that would add to the McCartney idiot myth, some soppy guy who doesn’t care about anything,”
I too wish he’d bring up this”don’t invade my privacy” bit more!