Conversations With McCartney

 

All Together Now The world doesn’t need another Beatles podcast. It simply doesn’t. 

There are already countless podcasts, and many of them are very good; well researched, insightful, and fun. Everyone has their must-not-miss favorites to listen to while they drive or jog or cook. (Once, while listening to a SATB episode — which did not include myself, thank you very much — I was so distracted by the show that I labeled the peaches I was putting in the freezer “Beatles.”  That raised a few eyebrows when we pulled those peaches out months later).   

So, having already determined that the world doesn’t need another Beatles podcast, why am I writing a manifesto justifying the existence of my new podcast? 

 That’s a good question. Now watch as I dodge and choose not to answer it in the next sentence. 

When Karen floated the idea of the podcast, my first reaction was reluctance, due to my already hectic schedule. If I were to agree, it would add another task I was simply not sure I had the time to do. I also didn’t want to infringe on the other podcasts who cover the same territory, considering I’ve interviewed with more than a few of them and always had an excellent experience. I’m also, to be blunt, fairly inept technologically, which means any and all tech would fall on Karen’s (more than capable) shoulders. 

However, I miss writing the book reviews and analyses that I used to be able to write when I had the uninterrupted time to work on them. Viewing the podcasts as the verbal equivalent of those reviews — ones which I could produce in a discussion with Karen over approximately an hour, rather than the several hours, at least, it takes to produce a written analysis — convinced me that the podcast approach was a good idea. What Karen and I want to provide with the podcast — what we believe “All Together Now” offers, hopefully episode in and episode out — is the same level of analysis you would receive if you were taking a graduate-school level reading seminar on the Beatles. We’re going to categorize, and discuss, and look at methodology, chronology, and sourcing. And, if people want to hear them, I will occasionally digress down various history-related rabbit holes to provide examples of certain issues from other historical subjects.

That’s our hook, and our goal. If it works for you, and you find the podcast worthwhile, then I guess the world did need another Beatles podcast. Sorta.

Thanks, Erin

 

Erin is being modest.  Of COURSE the world needs another Beatle podcast–especially one hosted by our favourite Beatle historian!  The link below should take you to our podcast website, where you will also find a brief descriptor of our podcast approach and a few words about the hosts, Erin and yours truly.  If you have any problems connecting, please let me know.  

So, without further ado,  our first podcast:  A review of Conversations With McCartney, by Paul Du Noyer. 

~Karen

Introducing:

Erin and I are happy to announce that we’re taking our blog to the airwaves!

In this podcast, Erin and I will delve into the band’s historiography— the study of how their story has been told over time — by reviewing beatle biography in the context of its data sources, the objectives and biases of the individuals who have constructed its narratives, and the varying versions of Beatle history contained within its pages. It’s a podcast for Beatles lovers, readers, and history lovers alike. 

Stay tuned!

Testing, Testing

Some of you might have recently received a blog update entitled “test.”

Erin and I are in the midst of experimenting with podcast applications and one test went AWOL. Sorry `bout that!

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.

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