An Inside Look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erin

18 thoughts on “An Inside Look

  1. Carl Woideck says:

    Erin,

    You’ll be fine! Don’t feel self-conscious that you’re not a musician. You’re a historian. A lot of analysis of the Beatles’ music (not Walt Everett!) is vague, debatable, and sometimes on shaky ground.

    Carl

    Like

    • Erin says:

      Thanks, Carl. I just wanted to make sure anyone interested in asking questions knew what they were getting into: it’s a “buyer beware” warning when it comes to asking me for a musical evaluation.

      The debatable aspect of the musical analysis is one of the fascinating things for me. Not being a musician, I can’t analyze it accurately, but I’d love to see someone who does know music apply the tools I use to non-musical areas to the debates contained in the musical analysis, in at least so far as it’s possible.

      Like

      • Tony Collins says:

        Every time I hear you being interviewed, you’re incredibly engaging and you explain your concepts so that everyone can share what you’re saying. I don’t think I can watch the event cos I’m working in London (I drive subway trains so I’m working normally) but I’ve got no doubt you’re gonna be as brilliant as you always are

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        • Erin says:

          Thank you, Tony. I appreciate your words of reassurance. I feel fairly comfortable discussing historical issues, I just wanted everyone to know that they were getting a decidedly un-expert opinion if they chose to ask musical questions. And it’s too bad you won’t have a chance to watch. I’m unsure whether the content of this will be available later on: I believe so, but I’d have to look over the specifics again. Thanks again.

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  2. lizzy9591 says:

    Looking forward to both talks. Having been through a lot of the discussions on this site I think that should be a great basis for the Q&A session as such a wide range of topics have already been discussed in great depth. As long as none of your answers state anything along the lines of a certain Beatle being 3/4 of the band then you should be fine!

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  3. Laura says:

    I enjoyed your segments very much, Erin. I’m glad I “went.”

    The other highlight for me was Chris O’Dell and Nancy Andrews. I’ve never heard/seen Andrews (a Ringo ex) interviewed before.

    I was a bit annoyed at a few comments made in the discussion of the Let It Be movie, but overall it was a good time.

    Like

    • Erin says:

      I’m so glad you went too, Laura. I’m glad it worked for you.

      I am getting impatient to watch the panels, and the one with Chris and Nancy was one I was intrigued by; I’m glad to hear that you really enjoyed that one. But they weren’t up the last I checked, although I know they will be up, and soon. I’d also like to watch mine, of course, just to see for myself how it went. Honestly, one of the main things that kept going through my mind was the mantra: “Don’t look at the screen: look at the camera. Don’t look at the screen; look at the camera.” I infinitely prefer real eye contact during a conversation, so it was very frustrating — although very necessary — to not look at the person you’re conversing with.

      What comments bothered you regarding the “Let it Be” discussion? And did you enjoy the running viewer commentary feed? I didn’t have that running on my computer, thank heaven: it would have been far, far too distracting.

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      • Laura says:

        I did have the running commentary on and made a couple of comments, although only during the Let It Be segment.

        My first comment was in response to Dan Rivkin empathizing with George who was having trouble at home and then had Paul yelling at him in the studio. I just asked if Paul really yelled at him (even though I know he didn’t), but there was no response. I didn’t mention that maybe George brought the troubles at home on himself by bringing another woman home – and not exactly letting her chill on her lonesome in the guest room. Gee, I wonder why his wife left.

        My second comment was in response to Robert Rodriguez saying if only Paul had had a different response to being asked to move his release date. I pointed out that he wasn’t asked – they just moved and then informed him. Dan did acknowledge that this was a fair point. Yuh think?

        I’m suppose I’m just your typical aPaulogist :0)

        I missed the end of the last discussion when real life showed up (my son called).

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  4. Jesse says:

    Hi Laura,

    It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it! 🙂

    I contemplated booking a ticket, but in the end decided against it due to being in Europe and also not being too tech savvy….

    Did it work well overall? Any idea how many people were ‘ in the audience’ ?

    Like

    • Laura says:

      I think it went really well. I don’t know how many people signed up – I’d also like to know.

      I think you can access the archived sessions when they’re available by buying a ticket, hopefully at a reduced price.

      Like

  5. Karen Hooper says:

    I couldn’t make it to the Sunday segment but was able to listen to the Saturday. Your convo with the other author (good lord I’ve forgotten her name!) was great. Gotta say the birds in her yard were driving me crazy though :))

    Like

    • Laura says:

      I thought you might be the Karen who got a bit annoyed (like me) during the Let It Be movie discussion. There’s more than one Karen who’s a Fabs fan! ,0)

      I’d love to hear what you think if you get around to checking it out when the archives go up.

      Like

      • Karen Hooper says:

        I hear that, Laura.

        It’s so hard to believe that people still maintain that erroneous narrative when there is so much empirical evidence–the actual recordings–to the contrary. And when these narratives persist among beatleologists–even more egregious.

        That’s the reason why I’m usually reluctant to participate in beatle events–this kind of stuff makes me nuts. 🙂

        Like

        • Laura says:

          Yeah… I’ve been listening to a podcast called Winter of Discontent about the LIB sessions (5 short episodes so far) and it’s kind of a downer in that regard. The guy concludes that John let his bandmates figure out how to do his songs and they enjoyed it because he’s was true leader, but bossy Paul nitpicked and made everyone miserable because he had no idea how to lead. Maybe he’s wrong, but I don’t want to listen to 100+ hours of Nagra reels to judge for myself!

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          • Jesse says:

            Lol – I think I listened to the same episode last night and when he said that was going “what??” I blame Mark Lewisohn for this John Lennon as the ultimate leader nonsense…
            And I also think it is pretty simplistic and biased to always use that Derek Taylor quote ( “I never hated anybody as much as Paul McCartney in 1968” ) as undisputable proof that Paul was an unbearable a** . I would like to have that discussed in context, please!

            Like

            • Erin says:

              I think John as the leader, certainly at the beginning of the band, has been very well established, well before Lewisohn came along. It sounds as if this podcast (which I haven’t listened to) advocates the argument that John retained that leadership throughout the band’s end, as opposed to the differing interpretation that John saw significant aspects of his leadership slip away, primarily through apathy/drug use, during and following his LSD binge. If the podcast wants to argue that, then they need to deal with countering evidence, particularly Davies comment in the Beatles Authorized Biography declaring that (not an exact quote, sorry) “in many ways, Paul is now the leader.” I also think that trying to anoint them as such in black and white misses a great deal of nuance: the best discussion I’ve seen of the leadership issue was Joshua Wolf Shenk’s essay and book, where he delves deep into the issue.

              Liked by 1 person

          • Erin says:

            That’s a pretty strong reversal from the Sulpy and Schweghardt (sp. probably: I didn’t look up his name again) interpretation. Going off off memory, but certainly their interpretation is the opposite: John’s willingness to take a step back was less an aspect of his leadership and more a symptom of his drug use and, at times, apathy about the project. I certainly don’t recall much from them regarding the strength of John’s leadership skills at the time.

            Having said that, there certainly appears to be a pattern in Beatles studio sessions wherein John was more willing to let the others offer input on his songs — although, interestingly enough, not in the LIB sessions in regard to George’s contributions on at least one song — whereas Paul, who came into the studio, particularly post-1966, with a more wholly conceptualized finished product, from start to finish, wanted the others to help him create the vision he had already mapped out.

            Given the creative contrast between how John and Paul apparently created songs — John’s heartbreaking “I don’t hear the flutes playing, y’know — I don’t think any one approach is superior to the other, although John’s, by default, does seem to be more open to accepting other contributions. Paul appears to have created in a way that filled in all the creative blanks, laying the song out for the others and having them follow his step by step instructions to achieve the end product he could already hear in his head: John with more of a general starting point, letting the others fill in the blanks as the song evolved. To simply place that issue down to leadership style (which is, in itself, a controversial statement to make given, again, Sulpy’s analysis) is a less nuanced interpretation of the evidence that doesn’t account for other factors, such as creative style. The reality is that each man created in different ways, and brought those differing approaches to the band, which led to different interactions with their fellow bandmates.

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    • Erin says:

      Her name was Christine Feldman-Barrett.

      How funny. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the birds — I was focused more on her content, going over my mantra: “look at the camera; not at the screen” and trying to stay a step or two ahead to make sure the conversation kept flowing — but I loved hearing them when we were doing our prep. Although it was also somewhat of a cruel, unintentional taunt on her part: it didn’t get above 30 here for two weeks, so seeing someone else lounging outside in warm weather, amidst plants and flowers, made me desperate for non-frigid weather. I am ready for spring.

      I have actually had a chance now to see the Sunday Q&A, and I thought it went well too, although I did lean forward too much. But watching it after the fact, there aren’t really any answers I gave where I watched later and thought “why on earth did I say that?” Which is a good sign.

      Like

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