In February, I will be giving a small, 45 minute presentation at one of Wichita’s history museums: The Museum of World Treasures, for their Coffee with the Curator series. This is the second time they’ve asked me to do a presentation on the Beatles. The last time I gave an overview of the band’s history and historiography: basically, I provided a rough outline of my book. This time, I want to discuss something more in-depth: The Lennon vs. McCartney schism which has had such a fundamental impact on the band’s historiography.
My stance on viewing the band’s story through a Lennon vs. McCartney, zero-sum lens is pretty evident to anyone who has read my book or is familiar with this blog. At best, I find it a tired, exhausted narrative that, at its peak period, stifled more nuanced and balanced interpretations and employed confirmation bias. More, that interpretation’s longevity (it was the predominant lens through which these men and their partnership was viewed from approximately 1970 until at least 1995)also reinforces the necessity for an interpretive change: Pitting John vs. Paul has been done so exhaustively, and for so long, that we have presumably extracted all the value out of it and it has little more to reveal to us.
At its worst, and most damaging, viewing the band’s story and their music this way has resulted in some of their historiography’s most partisan and inaccurate sources. More than simply being obscuring, major works such as Shout!, Ray Coleman’s Lennon, and Jann Wenner’s efforts, among others, proved toxic: with the Lennon vs. McCartney lens motivating authors to provide readers and Beatles fans with imbalanced, methodologically flawed, yet highly influential works that concretized imbalanced, partisan and highly inaccurate narratives which dominated the band’s historiography for decades. Simply put: because certain authors, and fans, chose to view the 20th century’s most important songwriting partnership as a zero sum game, in which praising one somehow diminished the other, we received a more inaccurate version of the band’s story than we otherwise would have.
But those are my conclusions, and I’m curious to hear the thoughts and conclusions of others, including those who have been involved in Beatles fandom, and reading/interacting with Beatles historiography, for far longer than I have. For any interested readers and posters, I’d like to hear your thoughts regarding any or all of these questions:
When do you believe or remember the Lennon vs. McCartney lens began? (I’m not talking about people having a favorite Beatle/preferring John or Paul, but rather when did praising one (either musically or otherwise) begin to seemingly require diminishing/criticizing the other?)
What advantages, or insights, if any, do you think Beatles historiography has gained by employing this Lennon vs. McCartney lens? How much validity does the interpretation have?
Is there a generational aspect to this? Are younger fans less prone to viewing the band’s story this way, or not? For older fans, what sources or events strongly influenced you to view Beatles historiography in this way? Which sources prompted you to move away from that lens?
Is there a gender aspect to this? Various authors (including Schafner and Norman) have argued that during the Beatles period male fans tended to prefer John, and female fans tended to prefer Paul. Did that harden from preference to partisanship, largely broken along gender lines, after the breakup?
How prevalent do you perceive this Lennon vs. McCartney zero-sum interpretation to still be? Do most or many fans still employ it? Are most fans you have encountered willing to take in new evidence that might change their POV on that interpretation, or are they locked into it?
What authors/Beatles authorities do you think still use this interpretation, either in its obscuring or toxic form?
What authors do you think have done the most significant job of combatting it, and what are their primary arguments against it?
I swear the point of this is not to use all of you to do my own research. I want to get some fresh eyes on the subject before I launch into working in depth on the presentation.
As always, comments are welcomed.