When They Were Boys

It’s safe to say that all Beatle books contain a few errors.

But not all errors are created equal. In the most recent edition of their “All Together Now” podcast, Karen and Erin used Larry Kane’s “When They Were Boys” to discuss the different ‘tiers’ of errors authors make, from lazy but inconsequential mistakes to the deliberate misrepresentation of evidence. They also discussed how crucial an author’s understanding of the current state of their subject’s historiography is to providing an accurate account, and why secondary works built on memoirs can be problematic. What value does Kane’s work hold? Find out in this episode of All Together Now: A Beatles Podcast.

11 thoughts on “When They Were Boys

  1. Erin says:

    The full title of the book I referenced on Abraham Lincoln is “Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image,” by Joshua Zeist. It’s actually been out since 2014: I just didn’t have a chance to read it until the last few months. Numerous aspects of the book have relevance to elements in Beatles historiography … score settling happens even to martyred, victorious wartime Presidents, evidently.

    Also, I will have to double check my notes when I get into the office regarding the page number in the Authorized Biography where you have Neil discussing Pete’s firing, because the page number I stated in the podcast just doesn’t seem accurate.

    What the podcast may not have made clear is why I assume the error in Brown’s book is purely accidental: the reality is that John’s “He’s as good as me” quote is one of the most telling, easily sourced, and famous quotes in all Beatles historiography. Deliberately changing the wording of such a famous direct quote to fundamentally alter its meaning would require a level of audacity that is incomprehensible to me … although, according to at least one other book on Lincoln, (I believe it’s by Henry Louis Gates, but can’t swear to it) one Lincoln scholar actually physically altered the date on a Lincoln document located in an archive, which is above and beyond misrepresenting primary source evidence and actually to the point of tampering with primary source evidence … Lest anyone think historians have sole claim to moral authority in areas of research.

    I’m afraid I don’t have a citation or book title for the “tabling” example of mistranslation of slang. That example came, as I said in the podcast, from one of the most cripplingly boring books I had to read in graduate school … and, in part because it was so boring, that “tabling” issue is the only thing I remember, off the top of my head, from an entire 300+ page book that I read cover to cover. I would have to hunt through old printed copies of my book analysis from that particular graduate school level reading seminar class in order to find the title of the book in question … and, frankly, that’s very low on my priority list, where item number one is currently potty training a stubborn 3 year old. Hooray.

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  2. Hologram Sam says:

    . . . the different ‘tiers’ of errors authors make, from lazy but inconsequential mistakes to the deliberate misrepresentation of evidence.

    An error I’ve noticed lately is when an author doesn’t quite understand the culture of the book’s subject. An example: a few years ago a biography of Buddy Holly appeared, self published by the author. The writer was on his own blog, hinting dramatically at all the “hidden stuff” he’d uncovered. One of his scoops was that the woman known as Aunt Provi was not really the aunt of Maria Elena, Buddy’s wife. She was just a friend of Maria Elena’s family. He tried to present this as some sort of scandal, without understanding that many families of color contain “aunts” and “uncles” who aren’t really blood relations. The author was an Australian guy writing about a family from Puerto Rico.

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    • Karen Hooper says:

      …cultural misinterpretations and generational, I think. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve felt obligated to explain the language used in the 60’s (ie., “negro” and “coloured”) to young people today. Don’t they teach history in school anymore?

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    • Erin says:

      You’ve mentioned before that you’ve read and researched a lot on Buddy, Sam. Would you like to talk more on why you find him such a compelling figure? My knowledge of him is, unfortunately, limited to mostly his Beatles influence and his tragic death, although I am at least aware that he was from Lubbock. (In a funny note, we had someone a few years ago in the local paper complain when Paul McCartney did a concert in Lubbock but not Wichita — this was before Paul came to Wichita a year or two later — ranting about how we had built this new arena and no one top tier ever came to it. The writer complained: What does Lubbock have that Wichita doesn’t? “The legacy of Buddy Holly,” is what I was tempted to write in to our newspaper — that’s why Paul said he wanted to perform in Lubbock — but I didn’t bother).

      I met a Professor whose name escapes me who taught musical theory at Tx. Tech, at least as of 2016, and he said he had been floating the idea to the university of a “Buddy Holly” symposium, similar to the Sgt. Pepper one I met him at; an academic exploration of Holly’s cultural and musical impact. I don’t know if anything came of it, but I told him I thought it was a wonderful idea. Alas, I never got a chance to ask him if he happened to have the greatest NFL QB of his generation in one of his classes; the Chiefs hadn’t drafted Mahomes yet when I met him, and so wasn’t yet on my radar.

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      • Hologram Sam says:

        Good question.

        I think it has a lot to do with the Beatles. I was six in 1964, and I lived with older record-collecting siblings. I went nuts when I heard the Beatles. I just loved the British invasion sound of jangly guitars and high, close harmonies. Before that, the only 1950s/early ’60s music I’d heard was doo-wop and artists like Bobby Rydell, which I found unappealing.

        So for many years I believed the Beatles had invented my favorite sound. It wasn’t until the nostalgia explosion of the late 1970s that I stumbled onto Holly & the Crickets’ records. I was astounded to hear Words Of Love, a record from 1957 that sounded like a British band from 1966.

        I think my continued fascination with Holly’s brief life is because of all the unanswered questions. For example, there’s been lots of discussions about the ballad (myth) of John & Yoko. Fans endlessly debate whether it was the greatest love of the century or a fraud. There’s a similar controversy about Buddy & Maria. The official story vs. what friends and family members have said about his future plans (divorce).

        There’s a new Holly biopic going into production, produced by his widow and her representatives, and fans are complaining about it being another misrepresentation of reality, just as Lennon fans are howling about an upcoming John&Yoko biopic misrepresenting the reality of their relationship.

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        • Erin says:

          Sam,

          Sorry for the very late reply. The semester started, and everyone came down with colds.

          Thanks for your response on Holly. Those are pretty important questions left to ponder, and what great parallels regarding Holly’s new biopic and the eventual John and Yoko movie. Are advocates of the ballad upset regarding that? I honestly had no idea.

          Holly, John and Yoko … the true state of their relationships is such a never-ending debate. We see this in Lincoln scholarship, too, regarding the role of Ann Rutledge; was she, as William Herndon, his former law partner and early biographer claimed, the great love of Lincoln’s life, whose early death forever emotionally scarred him, and left him incapable of truly loving another woman? (Herndon was not a big fan of Mary Todd Lincoln; they knew and despised one another). His case is built entirely on hearsay and unprovable eyewitness testimony. Or was she a young woman whom Lincoln knew, and was fond of, who simply died tragically young? We can’t verify. We just can’t. So we debate.

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          • Hologram Sam says:

            Are advocates of the ballad upset regarding that? I honestly had no idea.

            Sorry, I was unclear. I should have said Beatle fans are howling about the movie, rather than Lennon fans.

            Lennon fans who accept the Ballad narrative are probably thrilled about the upcoming John&Yoko movie.

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            • Erin says:

              I understand where fans are coming from, in a way, and yet, anyone who goes to a movie expecting historical accuracy is … expecting something movies generally don’t promise to deliver. Having said that, I realize that movies are incredibly powerful in offering initial and visual impressions of historical events and figures, and that those initial impressions can be next to impossible to dislodge.

              I regard the upcoming John and Yoko movie the same way I look at the upcoming Yoko Ono bio: what fascinates me most will be the elements they don’t include. The multi-sided elements and events that are presented only from their perspective. Will they maintain aspects of their relationship that have been factually disproven? How strongly are they going to adhere to the Ballad? What elephants in the room are they going to flat out ignore? And if both are hagiographies … what value can we glean from them?

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  3. Kristy says:

    Another enjoyable and informative listen. I find Larry Kane very frustrating personally, because he sort of changes his outlook from book to book. Ticket To Ride was not a bad book at all, but his Lennon Revealed was full of ??? moments and also focused heavily on Stu Sutcliffe and relied heavily on Pauline Sutcliffe’s memory. I have heard of the “Uncle George sitting in the corner” story and wondered which book that was from — now I know, hah! Thank you!

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    • Erin says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the podcast, Kristy. Like you, I enjoyed “Ticket to Ride,” and thought it had value, but have been increasingly disappointed with Kane’s other works. He’ll note the agendas of some sources, but not others. He will, as you say, contradict himself from book to book, with little to no explanation: Again, he’s rather positive regarding the Lennon/McCartney friendship in “Ticket to Ride,” from what I remember, but hte relationship hardly exists in “When They Were Boys,” (noting, of course, the differing time periods). To be fair, he’s not the first one to have a book where someone resurrects a long-dead family member — I believe Tony Bramwell does the same thing in “Magical Mystery Tours” when he claims that, on Linda and Paul’s first NY trip together, they met both of Linda’s parents (Linda’s mother, of course, having died in a plane crash years before; one assumes he meant her stepmother). Tony’s error simply isn’t as blatant, because it’s not in a direct quote, and it’s not used as evidence to support an interpretation, the way Kane’s faux paus is.

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  4. Karen Hooper says:

    Lennon Revealed gave me a migraine and frankly, I couldn’t get through it.

    I power-read Ticket To Ride last night (and by power-read I mean with a glass of wine at 1 in the morning, so take that as it may) and there were parts of it I liked but–besides stating that he didn’t witness any altercations or conflicts between John and Paul–Kane seemed oblivious to any sort of bond between Lennon and McCartney, unlike Alistair Taylor, Dezo Hoffmann, George Martin, et al., who were very frank and specific in their bios about how close John and Paul were.

    I’ll stand corrected if I’m wrong (and drink less wine when I read, promise), but I just didn’t see it.

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