One Less Puzzle Piece

A few months ago, contributor Steve alerted me to the upcoming book by Peter Doggett, to be published in April:

Prisoner Of Love, Inside The Dakota with John Lennon by Peter Doggett | 9781911036692 | Booktopia

My plan had been to review it here on the blog after securing a copy. To be clear: I fully expected greater clarity from Doggett and the publisher regarding Doggett’s access to Lennon’s diaries than was provided in the publisher’s blurb. While I respect Doggett, and find both There’s a Riot Going On and You Never Give me Your Money to provide good methodology and some sound analysis, I would have considered a more detailed explanation regarding his access to and study of such hard-to-access primary source material a requisite part of the book. I would have expected an authorial attempt at proving authentication, presumably in the introduction, before regarding the evidence as credible.

Unfortunately, it appears as if the book is now on hiatus, with no explanation given, for reasons on which we can only speculate. And while Amazon is evidently still accepting orders, rumor are swirling the book has been canceled.

In my Fab4ConJam panel, I mentioned how each bit of Beatles history we get, regardless of how seemingly trivial, adds another layer or puzzle piece to the greater picture. That Doggett — a reputable Beatles author, and one willing to acknowledge both sides of a debate and the negative along with the positive — was on the cusp of seemingly providing his interpretation of the Lennon diaries, access to which has been severely limited, and possibly including direct quotes from said diaries, would have been far from trivial.

Would Doggett’s interpretation have been vastly different than that of Robert Rosen, who covered the subject and offered his own interpretation of the diaries retrospectively in Nowhere Man, or the recollections of Fred Seaman? I cannot say. Right now, my frustration is that we are not going to get the chance to even see Doggett’s interpretation.

One of obfuscating aspects of Beatles historiography is how crucial primary sources, such as Lennon’s diaries, are privately held, and therefore unavailable to the point of inaccessibility. This inaccessibility restricts new analysis and potentially differing interpretations and, incidentally, accountability among researchers. (In layman’s terms, it means no one is looking over your interpretive shoulder). This restriction, in part, incidentally grants enormous significance to those very rare interpretations of hard to access sources that do exist, regardless of the validity or accuracy of the interpretation. When a largely inaccessible primary source has been interpreted or evaluated only by one or two people, and their interpretation is often the only interpretation available, the reader is perpetually stuck in a singular interpretation of a secondary source. That is a situation that rarely benefits the reader or boosts the accuracy of a historical interpretation.

Lennon’s diaries are one example of virtually inaccessible sources, but others exist: We have only one discussion of McCartney’s Japanese prison memoir by one individual who read it. Among the most influential documents in Beatles historiography are the Abbey Road tapes; the primary sources from which Mark Lewisohn wrote The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. When I recounted the history of the tapes to another historian, my emphasis was on the tapes’ financial value and the security measures in place guarding them. Her take was the correct one: she was amazed and appalled that such crucial primary sources were so inaccessible to virtually all Beatles researchers, noting how, regardless of Lewisohn’s excellent reputation as a researcher, that aspect troubled her, in that it granted one man’s interpretation sole influence over our understanding of the tapes.

I don’t know whether Doggett’s interpretation would have confirmed or contradicted the very few and limited previous interpretations of John’s diaries. I know Beatles historiography, and readers, are poorer for not getting the chance to read what Doggett had to say.

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Comments and questions are welcomed.

Unpublished Excerpts: Comparing “Apple to the Core” and “You Never Give Me Your Money.”

One of the sections I cut from The Beatles and the Historians was this excerpt from “Chapter Four: The Lewisohn Narrative,” where I compared and contrasted two influential books: Peter McCabe’s 1972 Apple to the Core, and Peter Doggett’s 2008 You Never Give Me Your Money, both of which attempted to determine responsibility for the Beatles breakup.

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