In both The Beatles and the Historians, as well as various podcast interviews, I’ve mentioned the concept of historical distance: the passage of time which allows for more objective analysis of an event of individual. One of the elements of historical distance which, incidentally, can but does not automatically ensure revising or reevaluating history, is the willingness of authors to re-evaluate their own work. As I’ve mentioned in previous interviews, this was an understood element among the first historians of the First World War: intelligent enough and politically savvy enough to understand that there were documents and sources unavailable to them, the first wave of French historians of the Great War made a conscious effort to accept new evidence as it became available, and adjust their interpretations accordingly.
In that vein, upon reflection, there are three particular areas in The Beatles and the Historians that, upon editing or the publication of a future, revised edition, I would revise and/or add:
The first involves the historiographical comparison regarding the depictions of Yoko Ono and Cleopatra. While aspects of the comparison still seem apt (particularly how the male-dominated historiography impacted her portrayal) a better parallel female historical figure might be Mary Todd Lincoln. The wife of the U.S.’s 16th, and most revered, President, Mary Todd Lincoln was a controversial and primarily disliked figure from the moment she entered the White House. Dismissed as too provincial, shrill, and demanding, Mrs. Lincoln was not liked by the established Washington social circle, (particularly Kate Chase, whose father, Salmon Chase, Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, coveted of the Presidency himself). Lincoln’s extravagant (if needed) renovations of the White House during wartime; her shopping sprees in New York and Philadelphia, and her interest in the occult and mysticism, particularly following the death of her 11 year old son Willie in 1862, already earned her significant criticism, regardless of the brutal reality regarding the schism of the Civil War.
A product of a Kentucky family who had moved to Illinois (where she met Abraham), four of her half-brothers rose to the rank of Confederate General, a fact which did not go unnoticed or unacknowleged by the Northern Press. (Mary was also not above incidentally providing fodder to the Southern Press, referring to General U.S. Grant, following the Union victory at Shiloh, as a “butcher.”) To detail the private and press criticisms of Mary would be a daunting list, and one which would monopolize the entire post: the reality is that, in addition to the contemporary criticism she faced, she is a controversial figure today in Lincoln scholarship. Some Lincoln scholars, professional and self-taught, regard her as a professional and personal hindrance to her husband: a woman whose emotional outbursts, poor press, and demands for his time and attention weighed on an already overburdened leader. Others contextualize her behavior by noting her own tragic losses, including the deaths of several of her children and her witnessing the murder of her own husband. They also note her absolute loyalty to Abraham, and her fervent defense of any criticism directed his way. Having taken into account both the criticism of Mary Todd, and the controversy still surrounding her, it appears that Lincoln may have proved a better historical comparison than Cleopatra, on whom, as a figure of ancient history, we have considerably fewer sources.
The second area involves the section regarding the debate over whether John Lennon’s final years were happy ones, as portrayed primarily by Yoko Ono and journalists such as Jann Wenner and Phillip Norman, or relatively bleak, as argued by sources such as Fred Seaman, John Greene, and authors such as Albert Goldman. In the book, one of the quotes I use in regards to settling the debate: “the principle of contradiction pitilessly denies that a thing can be and cannot be at the same time,” is a poorly chosen one, in that it implies a level of absolutism on a debate that requires greater nuance. Having looked at the sources and their relative arguments, agendas, and claims, my interpretation is that the debate regarding the unhappiness or happiness of Lennon’s final years is essentially an argument over proportion: how much of Lennon’s final years did he spend happy, and how much unhappy? Was it 90/10, 30/70, or 50/50? The reality is that, in cases such as these, reaching a conclusion that is accepted and beyond debate is probably not possible. In such an area, the appropriate thing to for an author to do would be to present all the evidence, acknowledge the issues with any and all sources, and then allow the reader to draw their own conclusions.
The third involves an area which, unfortunately, I insufficiently explored during my writing but which has loomed larger in retrospect: the extent of Paul McCartney’s awareness of his depiction in Beatles historiography, his relationship with various members of the press and/or publications involved in that historiography, and how those areas have intersected. (While this is an area that could apply equally to all Beatles, McCartney’s status as the sole surviving member of the Lennon/McCartney partnership infuses the issue with considerable significance). Any accurate exploration of McCartney’s relationship with the press over the decades requires a close look at the various publications and power brokers involved. While the stereotype of McCartney as the world’s greatest PR man is somewhat overblown, multiple sources from the Beatles period including Tony Barrow, Tony Bramwell, and Alistair Taylor, attest to his press savvy and keen awareness of the roles and reputations of numerous publications. Yet coverage of this crucial issue suffers, often because journalists or biographers fail to ask the right questions. Lewisohn informs us that McCartney’s relationship with the New Musical Express was one of mutual contempt in the 1980s, but offers no greater context or explanation; Joan Goodman mentions the disdain for McCartney’s intelligence and creativity among her fellow journalists, also in the 1980s, but does not specify which journalists from which publications warned her against liking McCartney. McCartney’s relationships with Ray Connolly, Ray Coleman, Philip Norman, and Barry Miles and their various publications, all have significant impacted Beatles historiography, yet questions on this subject have been spare to non-existent.
One of the the only authors to delve into the area was Joe Hagan, author of Sticky Fingers: the recent biography of Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner. In a recent podcast interview, Hagan noted how extraordinary it was to be the first to question McCartney regarding the issue of Rolling Stone‘s long acknowledged pro-Lennon bias:
It was interviewing [McCartney] that I realized the opportunity I was suddenly in the middle of because I was asking him questions that nobody had bothered to ask him “what’s your opinion on Rolling Stone and the coverage you got in your relationship to its publisher?”, and it turned out, because of the way that Rolling Stone was sort of betwixt to between the Beatles breakup, you know that they were partisans for john lennon and that john and Yoko used Rolling Stone is kind of a platform to telegraph their independence from the Beatles.“
During the podcast interview, Hagan discusses how McCartney did not hold back when giving his views on Wenner:
And I thought, “oh, well that’s interesting, you know he meant to, he wants these stories out there, and I thought they were important stories”. I mean you’re talking about a view of the Beatles history and legacy through a different lens, you know the lens of a magazine that mediated a lot of their mythology. Rolling Stone Jann’s Wenner had a lot of power in that, at the outset was a John Lennon devotee who took John Lennon’s side really.
Find the podcast interview here:
The quotes I selected include only a small part of the discussion regarding Hagan, McCartney and Wenner. (Thanks to Bella Bee for alerting me to Hagan’s interview and its contents.)
Hagan’s questions regarding Wenner are crucial, given the status and influence of Lennon Remembers and Wenner on Beatles historiography, but, given that his focus is obviously on Rolling Stone, Hagan understandably leaves other crucial questions on other publications and journalists unasked. Information on McCartney’s understanding and interpretation of his own historiography, and his relationship with those who have exerted control over that historiography (including, of course, Lewisohn) is a necessary but, unfortunately, unexplored aspect of the band’s later history that, in the event of future editions of The Beatles and the Historians, I intend to explore further.
Much of the analysis of how Mary Todd Lincoln has been portrayed is taken from The Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library in Springfield, Illinois (if you have the opportunity, please, please go: much thanks to my husband for dealing with the kids by himself for a few hours so I could have the chance during our short stop in Springfield) the work of Henry Louis Gates, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, and the recent novel Lincoln in the Bardo whose author includes marvelous contemporaneous newspaper quotes chronicling the at time vitriolic coverage of Mary and Abraham.
Comments and questions are welcomed!
Public Service Announcement: I have had discussions with posters and interviewers who have expressed difficulties with getting ahold of certain hard to find or prohibitively expensive Beatles books, and I have urged them, and would urge every reader who is unfamiliar with inter-library loan to explore the possibilities of the system. (Full disclosure: I did inter-library loan work for a summer in college, and have utilized my university’s inter-library loan system as fully as possible, so virtually all of my knowledge is based on the American system, but I assume there are similarities between it and other countries inter-library loan systems).
For those who are unfamiliar with the system, the basics are this: every public and academic library in the United States and much of the World are cataloged in a database, WorldCat, that catalogs their articles, books, movies, ,etc. When your local public library or academic library does not have a copy of a book or an article you need, you can either ask at the desk or go to WorldCat yourself: WorldCat.org: The World’s Largest Library Catalog and request the item. Because I work at Newman University, an academic library, all of my inter-library loans are free: depending on the rules of your particular library system, it may cost you two to three dollars at a public library to borrow an inter-library loan, which is still preferable to the hundreds of dollars some out-of-print Beatles books cost. If you are close enough to an academic library at a University, but are not employed or a student there, many of them issue community cards; whether those allow you to use inter-library loan through the university’s library is, I believe, at the discretion of the university.
What many people don’t know is that libraries actually receive (or, at least, used to; it’s been a while since I was in the game) more funding the greater amount of material they loan out, so it financially benefits the lending libraries. In my experience, you will get to borrow the item for approximately a month, and sometimes can renew it via your own branch. International inter-library loans are rare to nonexistent: while you can get articles from overseas libraries, shipping books is prohibitively expensive, and almost never occurs. Libraries will also not loan out items that are simply too valuable to risk losing: (Thanks again, Derek Taylor, for jacking up the price of Fifty Years Adrift). It will also not loan very recently released books, so if you want the newest biography, you will have to wait. However, I was able to acquire 99% of the books and articles I needed for writing The Beatles and the Historians via inter-library loan, and I would urge anyone who is unfamiliar with it to explore it: it’s a marvel.
End public service announcement.
40 thoughts on “Employing Historical Distance”
It occurs to me that a key element of historical distance is the way in which societal change overall provides a different context or interpretation of an event. The best example of this, and one which is discussed a lot in Beatle circles but not necessarily within an historical distance conceptual framework, is how perceptions of Paul–his ’normalness’, his devotion to family, etc– have evolved over time. It took 50 years, but now Paul is trendy. I think the ‘tortured artist’ archetype will never entirely disappear, but it seems that at least it’s on the decline.
It never ceases to amaze me that there was such a concerted effort to dismiss Paul as an artist in the early period of his post-Beatle career. Without the JohnandYoko media machine, would this have happened, or was the rock press primed to disregard Paul anyway because he was the “cute one” and therefore not to be taken seriously? I tend to think the latter.
(Edited to add: there are some good on-line web sites to order out-of-print books at a reasonable cost. Alibris is one; Biblio is another.)
That’s a key issue, Karen, and one that can relate back towards Mary Lincoln (and, incidentally, towards John). One of the reasons that current biographers may express more sympathy for Mary, given her tragedies, when her contemporaneous press reports did not, is because so many others during the Civil War were suffering similar losses. Her losses, while still awful, did not appear extraordinary, and so her grief was judged rather harshly. It’s similar to the reaction to a few of John’s friends following Julia’s death; yes, it was a terrible loss, but almost everyone had lost someone, and so they thought John’s grief was excessive. But just because something is more common in a society doesn’t mean it’s any easier to cope with, emotionally. We understand that now.
My analysis is that, so long as the breakup unfolded along its fault lines the way it did, with the perception of the Eastman’s as the establishment and Klein, John and Yoko as the counterculture, the rock press would still have been inclined to dismiss McCartney’s artistry, even if John, Yoko and Klein hadn’t said a word about the Beatles or the solo work and stuck solely to business and financial beefs in their interviews. I’d have to review the sources that really discuss it, but the ethos of many members of the rock press at the time seemed to be that, if you weren’t overtly political, advocating change, or fiercely confessional, your art was inadequate, because rock and roll was one of the forces that was going to revolutionize politics and society.
Paul’s artistic refusal to do so (coupled with his alignment with the Eastman’s) automatically placed his work on a lesser tier. And that quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if only art which meets a very narrow (and, frankly, politicized) definition is “great” art, then people who didn’t see that in his solo work retroactively began granting him less credit for it in his Beatles work. There’s a comment in Peter Doggett’s There’s a Riot Going On (which is an excellent look at politics, the counterculture, and the Rock Press in this time period) where someone on the fringes of the New York political/rock scene describes having a conversation with John in either 71 or 72, and discusses the Beatles catalog with him. And the fan (whose name I can’t recall, but is most famous for pawing through Bob Dylan’s garbage) ascribes multiple Beatles songs (including, I believe, “Hey, Jude”) that were written by Paul to John. (John didn’t bother to correct him, evidently). The reason the fan gives is that Paul couldn’t have written those Beatles songs, so John had to have written them.
That’s so interesting when you consider Paul wrote “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” in 1972, “Another Day” (which could easily be cast as an early feminist anthem) in 1970, and a few others which were social/political in nature. It really shows the immutable power of bias.
I think by the time Paul released “Give Ireland back to the Irish” the damage had been done. The lazy analysis is always to compare Paul’s Irish song to John’s Irish song, and even though John’s contains some, err, lyrical missteps (leprechauns!) by then he’d already built up enough countercultural cachet that he could weather the storm of shoddy lyrics. I’ve seen Nicholas Schaffner argue that the death knell for Paul’s countercultural credentials was his November 1971 Melody Maker interview in which he infamously declared: “I like straights.” Some people seemed to interpret “Give Ireland back to the Irish” as a desperate attempt to claw back some anti-establishment cred by Paul.
I’ve never seen much critical appreciation for “Another Day,” well, anywhere, and I’m not expert enough to proclaim its musical merits, but I like the sympathy and portraiture in the song. It’s an honest question: Are other rock titans of this time writing sympathetic, non-sexualized portrayals of lonely single women? There are elements there that remind me of “Lady Madonna,” an exploration of a woman from an angle that rock music usually doesn’t bother with.
And that’s the point, I think: aside from whether one likes the song as a rock song (and no-one apparently did, including my own sister who hated the song when it was released), no-one made the connection.
On the flip side, I wonder how historical distance will impact the JohnandYoko narrative. Yoko, bless her, is coming up on her 88th birthday, is in poor health and wheel-chair bound. She won’t be around to continue the work on the legacy she created. I don’t know that Sean has the same vested interest in perpetuating the narrative as did Yoko.
Another Day got to #2 in the UK and #5 in the US, as well as #1 in several other countries. Not bad for a song no one apparently liked… 🙂
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It seems the rock press gave JohnandYoko counterculture credit for their politicized songs, while completely ignoring Paul’s contributions.
As you mentioned they ignored the message in Another Day, but did they ever give Paul credit for writing Blackbird? It may have gone over their heads. I had also read or heard that Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da was also a political song as it was about an East Indian immigrant family in London during a period of much anti-immigrant feelings caused by the notorious politician Enoch Powell.
And in the “Get Back” recordings of January ‘69 the director Michael Lindsay-Hogg is talking with Paul and refers to Hey Jude as a political song and Paul responds,”It’s very political.” I never interpreted it that way mainly due to Paul’s well recited story of how it came to him while driving to see Cynthia and Julian. But it is a message about overcoming loss, which in 1968 there was much loss in the U.S. to overcome.
Anyway, it seems to me that Paul’s songs with a political message were often overlooked by the rock press. His writing style was never in-your-face, and perhaps the rock critics only noticed the songs that were angry and blatant.
That’s a really provocative comment from Paul regarding “Hey, Jude,” Bill. I had never heard that Paul intended it to be political, and have never seen anyone interpret it as such.
“Blackbird” is an interesting case, in that I don’t recall contemporaneous reaction evaluating it as a political song, and even some retrospective evaluations of it miss on its political commentary, despite Paul’s contemporaneous recorded comments from 68/69 that it is song about racial inequality and the struggle of African-American women. (One individual who, unfortunately, did read racial overtones into “Blackbird” was reportedly Manson, but that’s a discussion for another time).
I’m not sure about Ob-La-Di, but Paul has commented that “Get Back” started out as a commentary on Powell, and a criticism of Powell’s policies. I recall reading in “Read the Beatles”, which is a compilation of essays and excerpts from various Beatles authors (Norman is one whose work is excerpted several times) an article where the author apparently misconstrues Paul’s comments on “Get Back” and seemingly interprets them as Paul endorsing Powell’s views. (I am afraid I can’t recall the essay’s author: I read “Read the Beatles” years ago, and was so unimpressed with the selection and various methodological weaknesses of the work that I took maybe half a page of notes on it and then didn’t even bother to write a review, because I felt it would be a waste of my time. And please don’t confuse “Read the Beatles” with “Reading the Beatles,” which is another collection of essays but is an infinitely superior work). So there certainly seems to be evidence to support the theory that even in areas where Paul’s songs contain political messages, his lack of, as you say, “in your face” writing style contributed to a perception that his songs lacked political overtones. And, in certain cases, such the author of the “Read the Beatles” essay, they misconstrued the message Paul intended to send.
There were two episodes, 190A and 190B on the SATB podcast (“Memo to Peter Jackson”) from last March where they played several segments of conversation and songs from the Get Back sessions. I believe it was on those where Paul briefly mentions Hey Jude as political, which made my ears perk up as I never considered it as such.
And you’re correct, the song Get Back began as a satire from Paul reading the front page of a newspaper regarding the anti-immigration attitude in England. There were a few other satirical songs where Paul began riffing and the other Beatles collaborated to flesh it out. It’s clear they were ridiculing, not endorsing, those attitudes and having a blast doing so.
I think I’ve heard that section of the Get Back tapes as well and thought they were referring to the performance of Hey Jude rather than the song itself. Just the fact that the Beatles performed with a crowd with a wide range of ages and races I think was the political statement that was referred to.
Thank you, that makes more sense. Yeah, it was a multicultural crowd which which was groundbreaking at the time. And since Michael Lindsay-Hogg had filmed that one too, it’s obvious now that he and Paul were discussing the concert rather than the song itself.
AJ Weberman is the guy who went through Dylan’s garbage. I read an interview he did with Dylan from the 1970s that was just wild; I recall they ended up arguing. I don’t know why Dylan even bothered to talk with him.
The late 1970s Lennon years are a fascinating topic, sort of a litmus test by which to judge Lennon authors, with Coleman at one extreme and Goldman on the other. I think I’ve read every book that explores the topic. I thought John Green’s book was persuasive. I would say Lennon had writer’s block during that time and also suffered depression but it was not all bad and he got a second wind in 1980. He and Yoko must have come up with the househusband/ “baking bread” narrative in advance once they decided to do all the interviews that fall. They were PR masters in that regard.
Thank you, Steve: I couldn’t recall Weberman’s name at the time (which is ironic, considering how similar his name is to my own).
The only place I’ve really read about Weberman is in Doggett’s “There’s a Riot Going On,” where Weberman describes his meeting with John and his erroneous song analysis, although I’m sure there is discussion of him in more Bob Dylan centric books. I’m going purely off of memory here, but my recollection is that Weberman’s interview was actually more retrospective: something from the 1990s or later, rather than at the time of the actual meeting with John. More, I believe Weberman gives the impression that he still supports his flawed analysis (John wrote all the great stuff, because Paul was incapable) in part because John didn’t correct him.
I agree that John’s final years is a sort of litmus test, and its one that, unfortunately, many authors have failed. Again, my advice would be to take the Ray Connolly approach: Here’s version A: Here’s version B: Here is the source analysis and/or credibility issues regarding version A: Here’s the same for version B. Then, if you are the author, you have two choices: You can let the assessment stand as is, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions, or you do that while also saying: “And this is the interpretation which I best believe is supported by evidence,” without being too absolutist or sweepingly dismissive of other interpretations.
I admit to being amused with authors or analysis of the John and Yoko relationship and industry which fail to acknowledge their P.R. savvy. I know its something that can dent their otherwise “authentic” reputation, particularly given that they criticized other celebrities’ for embracing P.R., but while I can see the hypocrisy, I’m also impressed by their sheer skill. When you are that good at something, you should own it! That’s one of the reasons I have issues with authors who paint Yoko as an unrelenting victim of the press: she was viscously attacked, no question. But concentrating only on the attacks on her ignores her own very capable counterattacks and construction of her and John’s mythology: Ignoring the accuracy of their mythology, the reality is that their P.R. campaign(s) were well constructed, pervasive, and persuasive. In all honesty, kudos to them in that regard.
Really interesting read thanks!
Interesting especially regarding how Paul engages with Beatle historiography and those who are now seen as the arbiters of it e.g. Lewisohn.
Was listening to the Adam Buxton podcast interview Paul did today and he was asked about his thoughts on the film “Two of Us” which dramatises his 1976 meeting with John at the Dakota. It was interesting that Paul acknowledged that the film was based in fact but he wished the real meeting had gone more like it did in the film – would definitely recommend giving the podcast a listen.
I’d also be interested to know exactly what level of relationship Lewisohn has/ had with Paul, George and Ringo. From a general perspective would it be better to write a biography on a subject that you had a relationship with versus one you never met? I.e. if someone had access to all of Lewisohn’s notes and wrote a biography in 30 years time would that be considered to be more likely to be objective?
Thanks for the recommendation on the Buxton podcast, Lizzie. Paul’s been doing a lot of P.R. recently, with the upcoming release of McCartney III, and its hard to keep up with some of it. I just saw a clip off of the recent Howard Stern interview where Paul, prompted by Stern, acknowledges that he hated his moniker as the “cute” one, in that it encouraged some people not to take him seriously, which is the first time I think he’s stated that position so bluntly. (Although you can certainly draw that conclusion reading some of his comments in MYFN).
Lewisohn’s relationships with Paul, George, etc., is something he’s discussed in podcasts and interviews, which is crucial: if he weren’t discussing the issue, it would be a failure to acknowledge that it is an issue that could impact his work. If you’re going for pure objectivity, my assessment would be that it would be better to have never met the person you’re profiling. You can and should strain for objectivity; you can and should acknowledge the elements that could impact your objectivity (like, for example, having personally met Paul and George, but never John) and do your best to ensure that those elements don’t impact your work, but the reality is that it is an issue.
And yes, overall, I’d argue that, 30 years from now, someone with full access to Lewisohn’s notes but none of his personal experiences with the Beatles and their inner circle, etc., should be able to start from a basis of greater objectivity, although whether they would be able to maintain it would be the issue. Frankly, that’s why many historians prefer their subjects to be dead by at least several decades before really tackling them. Distance provides an advantage in achieving the greatest amount possible (because complete objectivity is a myth) of objectivity. Someone thirty years from now would have an advantage in that regard that Lewisohn doesn’t, although you have to balance that out with Lewisohn’s encyclopedic knowledge and the value he gets from those first-hand experiences. Those first-hand experiences strengthen his case in other areas, (he’s been privy to pieces of information others have not) but not in the area of greater objectivity.
It looks like Peter Doggett, who I really like, is working on a book about the Dakota period. https://www.amazon.com/Prisoner-Love-Inside-Dakota-Lennon/dp/1911036696/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=peter+doggett&qid=1608314670&sr=8-2
Thanks for alerting me about Doggett’s new book, Steve. I, too, like Doggett’s work, and I’m pleased to see he’s concentrating on this time period and, according to Amazon’s blurb, anyway, has been able to access John’s diaries. It’s interesting that the blurb declares that the private diaries have never been accurately represented in earlier books on the Beatles: I’m trying to think of secondary authors (beyond Goldman) who really do much regarding John’s diaries beyond mentioning them. Obviously, Seaman and Rosen have accounts regarding John’s diaries, but they’re primary sources and, to this point, (to my knowledge; someone can certainly jog my memory if necessary) Beatles authors have largely skimmed the issue due to lack of access and, in certain cases, not wanting to acknowledge sources that may contradict their preferred version of events. I admit also to being very curious regarding the “mysterious set of circumstances” which led to Doggett’s access: I’m getting flashbacks to “All the President’s Men.”
I have to say, I don’t love the title. (And that’s not automatically a criticism of Doggett: my understanding is that the publishing company lets the author make title suggestions, but they get final say on the title. Movies too: the head of Universal evidently wanted the title “Spaceman from Pluto” instead of “Back to the Future,” all because of the one scene where Marty pretends to be a martian, but I’m spectacularly digressing, and trying to connect the dots from how I got from the Dakota to Pluto). I thought both “There’s a Riot Going On” and “You Never Give Me Your Money” were marvelous titles: indicative and evocative. I understand what “Prisoner of Love” is trying to evoke, it just doesn’t evoke much gravitas as a title, in my opinion. I will be very curious to see Doggett’s new evidence, more than anything, and his interpretation too, although new primary sources always take priority for me.
I don’t much about Doggett. This part made me wonder:
How did he get a look at the diaries? Is that ever explained?
I want to believe, but nonfiction book blurbs that mention a mysterious set of circumstances that set the whole project in motion… I don’t know, maybe I’m too suspicious.
Well, it’s certainly not explained in the Amazon publisher’s blurb. I would assume he would have to go into greater detail on how he accessed such sources as we get closer to the book’s publication: especially given that the only people who could verify the diaries contents are, so far as I recall, Seaman, Rosen, and Yoko. Having such a tightly restricted, almost inaccessible source, and being able to be the first to reveal evidence from that source, is a double edged sword: It gives your work new evidence, which is awesome, but also means that there aren’t many others who can confirm your evidence or interpretations of that evidence, and I’d hazard a guess that Yoko (whose health is evidently poor) would not be inclined to verify Doggett’s evidence or claims, given that my reading of the blurb is that the evidence in the diaries tends to tilt away from the “Double Fantasy” version of John and Yoko’s final years.
In fact, that issue regarding the restriction of access to evidence reminds me of a conversation I had with my department head regarding the Beatles Recording Sessions: I was describing to her the security surrounding and the importance of the Beatles tapes at Abbey Road, but her take was: “So, out of all these Beatles researchers, only one person (Lewisohn) has had access to them? And therefore his interpretation is the only one?” I told her about Martin and the EMI employee who archived them prior to Lewisohn, but that was her main takeaway: not the financial value of the tapes, but how restricted access to them is, and how that restriction has granted the very few individuals have had the chance to listen to them a significant amount of power in Beatles historiography. I’m suspicious myself, Sam — I respect Doggett, but I cant help but wonder how much of this “mysterious room” stuff is publisher’s spiel — so we’ll just have to wait and see.
Hi everybody, Robert Rosen here. Regarding Doggett’s “Prisoner of Love,” this is what I posted on my blog a few weeks ago, after I found out the book had been cancelled: http://www.robertrosennyc.com/blog/posts/38566
Hi Robert–sorry, your post flew under my radar. Another commenter did provide a link to your blog and your thoughts about the cancellation of Doggett’s book.
I’m so glad to hear that you think the book will be published—albeit heavily edited. That alone will make it an interested read to sleuth what’s been left out.
Hi Karen, I’d like to put out for discussion a rumor I’ve heard since I posted the blog [http://www.robertrosennyc.com/blog/posts/38566]. I hope to comment in more detail later if I can get more information. But I now have reason to believe that Jawbone is involved in a “catch-and-kill” scheme, which is why “Prisoner of Love” was cancelled so close to publication and why nobody is willing to comment on it.
Looking forward to your comments and info, Robert. The mystery deepens.
Thanks for the reply, and the explanation. My sympathies to your friend. That sounds like an immensely frustrating situation to be in, through no fault of his own. In this situation, as well as Doggett, I’m hopeful that its catch and delay: I would prefer to see the book, even years later, than not at all.
Erin, please delete my previous post, the one that begins “I don’t want to post this on the site.” I replied to it as an email to you, not a public post. Very confusing!
Understood and done: I deleted my reply as well. My email is on the contact page, if and when you are interested in talking away from the forums. Thanks.
This interview with Chris Rock is a much better interview (in my opinion) than the Howard Stern conversation. Better questions. Two artists talking:
Thanks for the link, Sam. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to look at that after the Chiefs play the Saints in what (knock on wood) is hopefully a Super Bowl Preview.
What a great story, and visual!
I remember when I first saw the photo a few years ago (I think it was in a book of his photographs) I wondered where those teenagers are now.
And now I get to see them! They look great. I hope Ringo got a chance to see their update.
Weberman ascribing multiple Paul songs to John is similar to Klein “reminding” John he wrote most of the lyrics of “Eleanor Rigby” – neither thought Paul was up to it. His looks have surely done him a disservice when it comes to being taken seriously, and probably have something to do with his ability to empathize with women.
About “Blackbird,” maybe something happened that caused Paul to shy away from saying it was inspired by race riots until many years later. In the 1968 recording where he told Donovan race riots were the inspiration, he also said he’d played it for Diana Ross and she’d taken offense. Perhaps she chastised him for acting like the great white hope? Of course it may simply be that he preferred to be oblique, at least until he saw that the prevailing perception is that he’s a lightweight – “form not substance” per John in Lennon Remembers.
I also wonder if Paul may have been reluctant to discuss “Blackbird’s” inspiration due to Manson’s inclusion of it as one of the Beatles “songs on the White Album that the Beatles used to communicate with me regarding their instructions on when and how to wage my race war.” I’m not completely clear on how much information the Beatles themselves knew regarding Manson’s twisted interpretations of their songs, but I do recall reading in “Helter Skelter,” by the Manson prosecutor, Bugliosi, that there was actual discussion of subpoenaing Paul to have him verify that they did not, in in fact, have any intention of instructing Manson, via their songwriting, to murder people. Which is a long winded way of saying that, if Paul was aware that “Blackbird” was interpreted as a racial song by Manson, he may have been reluctant to publicly mention its origins as being racial-justice inspired. And, as you said, the negative response to it from Diana Ross may have increased that reluctance.
I find myself wondering how much Klein believed his statements in the Playboy interview about John writing “most of the stuff under the Lennon/McCartney credit” or his private meeting with John and Yoko reminding John that John had written “70% of Eleanor Rigby.” As in, did Klein genuinely believe that when he said it; did he say it (because “Eleanor Rigby” was such a critically acclaimed song from the moment of its release) solely to flatter John in an effort to gain his position as Apple’s manager, or was it some combination of the two? And if he did genuinely believe those comments (one made in 69; the other in 71) what does that say about Klein’s failure to get an accurate read on Paul McCartney and the Lennon/McCartney partnership?
I think it is simply that he hardly ever talked about his songs’ meanings. Here is an interview he gave to Radio Luxemburg about the White Album upon release in November 1968, before the Manson murders. On some songs he will give a little info about inspiration or meaning, on others he just won’t . I suppose he really prefers people to decide for themselves what a song means to them…..
Thanks for the contemporaneous interview, Jesse: stuff like that usually has some good information.
There’s also the possibility that Paul himself doesn’t realize the inspiration of some songs until later — in some cases, much later. You have him wryly joking in MYFN (and subsequent interviews) that his first song, “I Lost My Little Girl,” has a title that would seemingly be an obvious mother-Mary connection, yet he never made that connection at the time: the other obvious one is “Yesterday,” which he has claimed in more recent interviews — as in, the last twenty/thirty years — is probably about his mother, but I believe the first time he ever offered that interpretation was around 1994, around 30 years after he wrote the actual song.
Thanks for the link, Jesse. I think you’re probably right.
I hadn’t thought of the Manson connection, but that makes a lot of sense. As for Klein, maybe he had no idea how creative or how steely “the cute one” was, although you’d think John would have clued him in that Paul’s looks were deceiving.
That said, it seems like John misread Paul. I’m being swayed by the Another Kind of Mind podcast as well as Mikal Gilmore’s 2010 RS article, which I didn’t read back then. Both say John wasn’t out to push Paul completely away, it just turned out like that.
I find myself wondering, if we go with Gilmore’s argument that John intended not to breakup the band but to reassert his position as leader, and grossly miscalculated, how that corresponds with Lewisohn’s argument that one of the key characteristics of Paul’s personality is that he balks at being told what to do: instructed to do something, he will do the opposite because he chafes at being told what to do.
One would think, if this was such a driving aspect of Paul (as Lewisohn argues repeatedly it is) than it is an element of Paul’s personality that John and George, certainly, would have been aware of. Therefore, they would have had to at least suspect that demanding Paul accede to Klein would meet Paul’s fierce resistance and potentially utter refusal, leading to an irrevocable schism, which makes their supposed miscalculation, accd. to Gilmore, (we don’t really want to break up the band: we’re only enacting these changes to reassert John’s unquestioned dominance as the grand high poobah) that much more egregious. In that reading, it seems that Gilmores’s breakup interpretation is potentially incompatible with Lewisohn’s character interpretation. We may have to wait and see regarding Lewisohn’s breakup interpretation.
I’m afraid we’ll be waiting a long time for Lewisohn’s take on the breakup!
While I don’t consider Lewisohn infallible by any means, I do think Paul is often stubborn and contrary. I recall a couple of stories about other musicians visiting recording sessions, Paul asking them what they thought, then doing the polar opposite. Still, perhaps John couldn’t imagine Paul walking away from the Beatles. He certainly put up with the first volley – Yoko’s constant presence.
I’m not 100% sold on the AKOM/Gilmore theory… Taken together, the stuff thrown Paul’s way might drive anyone away. I’ll have to see what I think after the next AKOM episode.
I just want to add something about the possibility of John misreading Paul, unwittingly leading to the end of the band.
Maybe he kept escalating in his attempt to get something from Paul – acknowledgement of his leadership, more support… John was using heroin much of the time so may not have been thinking clearly.
There’s also the Yoko factor. I wouldn’t be surprised if John thought anything he did to bother Paul would please Yoko.
Perhaps he ended up backing himself into a corner he didn’t know how to get out of.