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.
*(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.