Here is the second part of my interview with Matt:
This one deals primarily with the John vs. Paul debate in Beatles historiography and Beatles fandom (those of you who have either read my book or are constant readers of this blog will know precisely where I stand on the questionable merits of that particular approach). As always, questions and comments are welcomed.
9 thoughts on “Pop Goes the 60’s, Part II”
Correction: In the podcast, I mistakenly said Michael Brocken and Melissa Davis wrote “The Beatles: The Authorized Biography,” when I meant to say they wrote “The Beatles: The Annotated Bibliography.”
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I mentioned this to Matt on his Channel, but when and where I was growing up we all thought the Beatles were equals. I was 11 yo in Orange County, CA when we saw the Ed Sullivan show. I’ve followed them ever since. We never thought Ringo was dead last in fans, he became a personality when they hit our shores as was not considered any less than a full participant. It was the rock journalists’ crowd that divided and conquered the media narratives about anything rock, let alone John vs. Paul. Except for myself, I knew of no one who read RS, let alone ANY mag or even a book about the Rock Scene or artists here or abroad. We friends clued us to bands or albums, played and discussed or rated them by hanging out. Also some FM radio playing and taping were involved, but only with the technically inclined to do such.
In all the years of reading rock journalism, there is only one artist that an article in a local rock tabloid that turned me on to a good find, and the rest was pure garbage. That one artist was Kate Bush.
Thanks for sharing your experience: I’m always very interested to hear about what it was like for first generation fans, because it absolutely was not a monolithic experience; some fans devoured fan magazines, while others, as you say, got their information from their friends and from FM radio. It’s not as if every Beatles fan had a subscription to Rolling Stone, and certainly many Beatles fans appear to disagree with Ringo’s own diminishment of his popularity.
What I find surprising was the vast difference between American and British viewpoints on the Beatles. I never knew that after the break up that the English virtually disowned, or maybe better expressed as dismissed, the Beatles as if they never existed! For them it seemed like ‘on-to-the-next-thing’. Yet, in the US, they were a vital musical force on AM and FM radio for many years after. Maybe because the US was the Beatles biggest market. But still…
Unlike here in the US they also had no commercial radio until the pirate stations started, while we were saturated with them. They had no Wolfman Jack for Christ sake! I think that had a lot to do with the enduring admiration of the US public and the Beatles.
I think that could absolutely be an essay — or even a book — of its own: the contrast between the fan experience in the U.K., as opposed to the U.S., and how it has impacted the historiography, for both the chroniclers and the audience. And, for the record, let me clarify that I believe that the Anglo-American domination of Beatles historiography — while very explainable — is a weakness, and that more national diversity among Beatles authors would only strengthen the historiography.
But yes: the contrast between the U.S. breakup reaction and the U.K. version: the semi-disavowing of the band from its home country (what Robert Rodriguez, I believe, described as “eating your own),”, as opposed to the American response; the contrast between the U.K. version of fandom (un-ironic devotion is simply incomprehensible) and the American version, where adulation is acceptable; the contrast, as Brocken and Davis discuss in “The Beatles: The Annotated Bibliography,” in the perception and press coverage of John as the “American” Beatle following his settling down in New York: all of these are key issues that underlie our national perceptions of them. (If anyone with the time wants to take this idea of contrasting the American and British versions and run with it, I will be first in line to read your book, because I think it could help clarify a lot). Ideally, you’d get an American author and a British one to co-author the book and delve into the issue. As much as I still greatly enjoy SATB, one of the initial reasons I enjoyed it was because of the contrasts between Robert and Richard: an age difference that allowed for differing perspectives, and a nationality difference that did, too. Those issues matter, and it would be great to see them explored in depth.
Enjoyed the talk — I like the enthusiasm of the presenter and your insights are great as always. You’re right about the John/Paul debate. I wish it had never been a thing in the first place and I wouldn’t feel the need to defend my own fave at times. 🙂
Having a favorite is such an emotional element to any kind of fandom, and makes our reaction to information that much more complicated. Reflexive defensiveness is a part of favoritism, not only with the Beatles, but also with sports fandom, too. And one thing that complicates fandom when you’re arguing over who is “the best” at something, (as we see all the time in Beatles fandom) is what information do you pick and choose in order to determine who is “better” or “best”? 49ers and Chiefs fans are forever arguing over who is the better tight end; Travis Kelce or George Kittle. 49ers fans: “Kittle’s the better blocker; he’s the most important player on the team; they built their entire offense around him. Kittle’s the best tight end in football.” Chiefs fans: “Kelce’s the better route runner; Kittle’s injured half the time (while Kelce hasn’t missed a game in 7 years) and, oh, Kelce has a Super Bowl ring. Kelce’s the better tight end.” We pick and choose not only the evidence we consider more weighty and valuable, but also the standards themselves. What’s the most important job of a tight end? To block? Then your answer is Kittle. To catch? Kelce. What’s most important to you as a Beatles fan? Raw emotion? I imagine you’ll lean towards John. Contemplation? George. Melodicism? Paul.
I sincerely wish that highly influential sources in Beatles historiography had never legitimized approaching the band’s story through an A vs. B lens, taking the natural predisposition of Beatles fans towards choosing a favorite Beatle and escalating that into pitting them against one another. People would still have favorite Beatles, and that that favoritism would predispose them towards preferring or rejecting information regarding their favorite. But legitimizing John vs. Paul elevated what I perceive to be a fundamentally flawed lens to an almost requisite approach.
Philip Norman makes an interesting comment in either an interview with The Guardian or the introduction to his John bio where he declares that it wasn’t until his own personal email correspondence with McCartney for the John bio that he, Norman, finally fully understood why John Lennon would want McCartney around. That statement exemplifies everything wrong with codifying John vs. Paul in Beatles historiography and fandom. Norman, a John fan, could not, in the depths of his fandom and personal preference, acknowledge and/or comprehend McCartney’s contributions until he, personally, was willing to acknowledge them. The evidence was there. It already existed. Norman just could not integrate it into his understanding of the Beatles until he was willing. That’s John vs. Paul at its most destructive.
Was that kind of a back-handed compliment from Norman–that he didn’t think much of Paul, and then through his personal correspondence with Paul he changed his opinion? Norman’s statement here is so weird.
Upon reflection (I didn’t check the cite, though) I believe the comment comes in one of Norman’s interviews with the Guardian.
Yes, that appears to be Norman’s argument. From what I remember, the context is the discussion of Norman’s poor writing on Paul in Shout! — his bias, to be frank. And Norman’s argument for why his John bio is not going to suffer from the same issue is because he has now corresponded with Paul for the John bio and, upon that correspondence, has a better view of McCartney and now he, Philip Norman, understands why John Lennon would want Paul McCartney around. So yes: it is a back handed compliment to Paul’s skill as a correspondent that he was evidently able to nudge Norman into not disliking him.
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