Comments

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Here’s the place to give us feedback about the blog, ask question about new book reviews, or stop by and say hello. We love hearing from our readers!

Erin and Karen

43 thoughts on “Comments

  1. Erin says:

    Thanks, Edward. I’m very pleased to hear that you read and enjoyed the book; if you have any comments or questions about it — or Beatles historiography in general — please feel free to ask.

    I hope to post something new in a week or so, but it won’t be a new review; it will be a video of a presentation I’m giving this Thursday: an expanded look at the Lennon vs. McCartney debate concerning “Eleanor Rigby,” which I also discussed in Chapter Two of “The Beatles and the Historians.” But there are a number of Beatles works — including “Conversations with McCartney,” “The Beatles Forever,” and “The Macs,” among others, that have already been read but are waiting in the queue for analysis.

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  2. Brit says:

    Hi Erin and Karen! Sorry it’s taken me so long to come over and check out your blog. 🙂 . It looks great! I can’t wait to join in on some intelligent discussions soon. Love, Brit (aka the poster formally known as ChelseaQW)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erin says:

      Great to hear from you, Brit!

      We (well, I) have been slacking off recently in terms of starter posts, but once the beginning of the semester dies down, I hope to introduce some new posts in to the mix. I intended to work on a post yesterday, and was pulling out some quotes/sources when I realized that my more recently acquired sources were woefully disorganized.

      So instead of writing a new post I spent at least two hours organizing my second accordion file folder of Beatles sources/interviews/etc. (I should call my accordion file folders “Mal” and “Neil.”) Hopefully when that’s done, I can write the post I intended to write; I miss the discussion as well.

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    • Katelyn Roeder says:

      Do you ever do phone interviews for information? I’m currently doing a History day project for my 8th grade social studies class.
      Thank you!

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      • Erin says:

        Certainly; I’ve already helped someone with their AP English paper, although that was an e-mail interview. Why don’t you send me an e-mail and we’ll work out the details.

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  3. Chris S says:

    Dear Erin –

    Greetings from Estonia!
    
    Your book was a fascinating read! I was up until 1 am last night to finish it.
    
    In passing, you mention Fred Seaman’s “The Last Days of John Lennon.”
    
    You say that Lennon biographer Ray Coleman’s analysis is “methodologically sound” when “he argues that Seaman’s theft of Lennon’s personal diaries in the days following the musician’s death demonstrates a lack of honesty and credibility and accuses him of pursuing an anti-Ono agenda because of his position as a disgruntled ex-employee.”
    
    Later, you say that Seaman “would not be considered by any historian as a particularly trustworthy source.”
    
    I wonder if you could elaborate on your assessment of his book’s veracity.
    
    It seems to me that Seaman’s crime (and his self-serving explanations for his actions, for which he acknowledges a degree of guilt) does not *necessarily* discredit the rest of his account, namely, his description of John Lennon and life inside the Dakota.
    
    Furthermore, the veracity of this book seems like an important issue, since *if* his account is true, it is an exceptionally valuable one.
    
    Seaman tells us that throughout his two years as Lennon’s assistant, he kept a detailed diary. The book contains a photo of one of the pages in his diary, showing at least four entries for a single morning [!].
    
    On this blog, you cite Garraghan’s remark that “accounts containing an excess of detail do not automatically grant testimony a greater amount of credibility.” I agree. However, detailed accounts (with specific names, dates, places, etc.) are far more verifiable.
    
    Seaman does not come across as someone with a partisan agenda.
    
    He has no particular motivation to lie about Lennon’s life.
    
    Moreover, Seaman’s not self-aggrandizing. In fact, he’s often self-deprecating.
    
    He is in close proximity to the Lennons and sees them at their most unguarded moments.
    
    His stories about the Lennon household sound plausible, and his descriptions of people are three-dimensional. (Granted, he loathes Yoko, but he follows the rule “show, don’t tell.”)
    
    In the UK, Channel 4 broadcast a show called “Lennon/Goldman: The Making of A Bestseller” that included an interview with Seaman (available on Youtube – part 8). Seaman says (among other things) that Yoko’s grieving after John’s death seemed like an act to him. Then he qualifies his remarks: “But again, if you talk to other people, they’ll tell you the exact opposite…. That’s what we’re talking about here, a difference in perception – what is the truth.”
    
    That kind of acknowledgement of one’s own subjectivity is certainly a desirable (and all-too-rare) quality in an eyewitness.
    
    So my questions are:
    
    * Are you aware of anyone challenging specific facts in Seaman’s account of the Lennon household? and
    * How else could we or should we analyze the veracity of his account?
    
    Thanks!
    

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    • Erin says:

      Chris,

      Welcome! It’s always great to have a new poster jump in.

      I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to respond to this earlier — I’m swamped at the moment — but I hope to try and give you as thorough an answer as possible in the next few days. Thanks for your patience.

      Erin

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    • Erin says:

      Chris,

      First, sorry for the egregiously late reply. I normally don’t take nearly so long to respond, but I’m currently at the end of the semester, which means grading research papers/exams and meeting with students. And, in my limited spare time, we’ve been trying to prepare the bedroom for our new baby, due this Summer. It takes an obscenely long time to hang up baby clothes.

      Apologies aside, welcome to the blog. And thanks for the greetings! Unfortunately, I never made it to any of the Baltic countries during my semester in Europe — I was a poor college student, and only managed to get as far East as Berlin: Maastricht, the Netherlands, was my base.

      I’m glad you liked the book. It really seems to strike a chord with some readers, and I really enjoy when that occurs. I know when I first was introduced in-depth to the concept of historical methods, I appreciated how the standards and concepts provided a great deal of clarity to my historical understanding of numerous subjects. I’m now generally of the opinion that, in order to truly understand the history of a subject, you also need to have a good understanding of its historiography as well.

      On Seaman’s source credibility, I want to stress that the first discussion I included him in was primarily to highlight Ray Coleman’s unbalanced and biased approach to source analysis in his John biography. (If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know I’ve highlighted other aspects of Coleman’s methodological errors too). Coleman’s concentrated, in-depth analysis of Seaman’s credibility was a stark contrast to his utter failure to apply any source analysis to Eliot Mintz, Yoko’s employee and P.R. guy. Now, I haven’t read Coleman in a few years, but my recollection is that he argues that he undermines Seaman’s credibility because of Seaman’s theft of John’s diaries, and because other primary sources, including Yoko and Mintz and Bob Gruen, dispute Seaman’s accounts. He also attacks Seaman’s credibility by dismissing him as a disgruntled ex-employee who was fired by Yoko. I think at one point he even gets personal and mocks Seaman’s name.

      I don’t agree with all of Coleman’s analysis, but I do agree with parts of it. IIRC, Coleman attempts, using these various reasons, to sweepingly dismiss virtually the entirety of Seaman’s testimony. That’s methodologically incorrect. But Coleman’s argument that Seaman’s credibility is/was dented by his theft of John’s diaries is sound analysis, and that’s what I was referring to in my book. Regardless of the constraints he was under, Seaman’s credibility is negatively impacted by this illegal and dishonest act. (A reputation for honesty is something to take into account when evaluating a source’s claims, although such reputations can obviously be undeserved). I do not agree with Coleman that, because of this, everything Seaman says can be conveniently thrown in the trash and forgotten; and, if that’s the impression you got from my book, I apologize; it wasn’t my intention. One thing I want to stress is that you cannot ignore a primary source. For example, I was recently at a conference where a rather full-of-himself professor criticized a student for using Julius Caesar’s accounts in his paper. The student had noted in his presentation that Caesar’s accounts of his enemy’s numbers and strength is well known to be exaggerated; Caesar liked to over exaggerate the strength of his enemy in order to make his own battlefield victories that much more impressive. But the professor criticized the student for using Caesar at all, and implied that one shouldn’t bother using Caesar because of his aforementioned accuracy issues. My department head and I discussed it later and agreed: methodologically, the professor had it wrong, and the student had it right. First off, methodologically, you can’t simply ignore a primary source, whatever its established accuracy issues. Second, you particularly can’t do that in regards to classical history, with its relative scarcity of primary sources. You do what the student did, which is use the source while noting its methodological weaknesses. So, long story short, if I gave the impression that I supported Coleman’s self-serving and unbalanced methodology of totally denouncing/ignoring everything in Seaman’s account, let me assure you that’s not the case.

      You mention the pictures of Seaman’s own diary, supposedly filled out on a day-to-day basis when Seaman was working for John and Yoko. I would agree that that diary, as a contemporaneous source, would be more credible, because it pre-dates John’s death, Seaman’s theft, and his firing. However, and you can certainly correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t believe the diary has ever been authenticated by an independent source, proving it is what he says it is. I am unfamiliar with whatever legal constraints Seaman finds himself under, regarding what he can/cannot say or can/cannot publish regarding his time with John and Yoko and why, then, he has never published this particular diary. The reality is that, without authentication, the diary remains a dazzling but unknown entity, raising questions about its credibility. I’m not trying to pick on Seaman, here — there was a scandal a few years ago when a highly respected American Civil War Historian altered a date on an actual archival copy of one of Abraham Lincoln’s letters, held in a regional archive — so such issues with authentication and independent verification are crucial. I simply want more information regarding Seaman’s documentation/diary.

      My assessment of Seaman as “not a particularly trustworthy source” may have come across as more damning in the book than I intended it to. The reality is that many sources (particularly retrospective eyewitness accounts) in Beatles historiography are not particularly trustworthy. Seaman is not unique in that regard. Essentially, he needs verification from an outside, independent source to corroborate with his version of events. I want to stress: I don’t discredit Seaman’s version of events. But it would be a much more credible version if he didn’t have the other elements (his termination, the theft of the diaries) impacting his personal credibility.

      *Are you aware of anyone challenging specific facts in Seaman’s account of the Lennon household? and
      * How else could we or should we analyze the veracity of his account?

      In all honesty, it’s been too long since I read Seaman and the other, contradictory and/or corroborating accounts of that 5 year Dakota period to remember any specific facts of Seaman’s that were challenged. Some of his key points — Yoko’s 1980 heroin addiction, for example — have been verified, and that helps, although being right on one issue doesn’t automatically confer credibility/accuracy on the others. While I can’t recall specific facts, you do have general disagreement with Seaman’s version of events from primary sources including the likes of Yoko, of course, Eliot Mintz (who has his own credibility issues, to say the least) and, to a lesser extent, Bob Gruen. There are also sporadic accounts of a relatively non-basket case John from Klaus Voorman, who visited the Dakota in 1978 or so, and a few from Elton John. Having noted those, it’s also crucial to acknowledge that people like Bob, Klaus and Elton would have significantly more restricted access to John and Yoko than Seaman would; as their employee and assistant, he saw them daily and witnessed their private lives. Bob, Klaus, etc. would have presumably had to be invited, with the presumption that, if you regard Seaman’s account as the more accurate, they would only be invited when John was having a good day.

      As to the veracity of Seaman’s account, as I said, some elements his version have been increasingly widely accepted. Having outside, independent, non-overtly agenda driven testimony from another source would also help. Overall, I do think its important to note that Seaman’s version of John’s final years roughly corresponds with Jon Green’s, the couple’s tarot reader. I don’t believe that Green was around as much as Seaman was, and I wish he didn’t implicitly claim credit for seemingly every intelligent business decision John and/or Yoko made, but he, Jack Douglas, May Pang and, yes, Julian, as well as other more suspect sources of Goldman’s, certainly reinforce a very different version of events than the officially sanctioned version. When you get to that point: Source A vs. Source B., and you’ve exhausted all your other methods/standards, than the last ditch measure is to go with your own rational thinking/common sense.

      Under those guidelines, given that both sides have credibility issues, I tend to 1. Conclude that there was some hyperbole involved: John wasn’t solely a cocaine/addled psychological basket case/junkie hermit for five years or a domestically contented househusband blissfully baking bread and wholly uninterested in making music/keeping track of his old ex-Beatles. I conclude John had good stretches and bad stretches, and the real question is one of proportion: was his experience in those 5 years overall negative, (say, 70-30) or overall contented? 2. Given the rational thinking principle, my conclusion would be, overall, negative. I find it irrational to believe that someone with John’s history of psychological issues, addictive personality, conflicted feelings regarding parenting, rampant insecurity and envy, hair-trigger temper and history of drug use could be overall contented without having sought some sort of therapy/treatment/medication for all those long-standing issues. Others may interpret Seaman’s evidence and those who corroborate with him differently, but that’s my rational thinking conclusion.

      Anyway, apologies again for such a late reply, and thanks for asking such an in-depth, thought provoking question. What are your thoughts on the issue of the two very different versions of John’s final years?

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  4. Chris S says:

    Hi Erin,

    Many thanks for your response. Congratulations on your impending arrival – that is exciting news!

    The Seaman account is obviously only a tiny part of your book, but I asked about it because to my mind it’s one of the trickier and more interesting test cases in Beatles literature for evaluating source credibility.

    I enjoyed the book a lot, and the notion of a college-age journalist going undercover and getting such an incredible scoop on Lennon captured my imagination. Naturally, those are subjective feelings and cry out for cross-examination!

    So I looked online through reviews, Beatles forums, etc., and tried to find the most specific and damning critiques of Seaman’s book that I could. However, Seaman’s critics do not generally interrogate his book for its veracity or falsehood, as to them his deception and theft speak for themselves. (About the theft, perhaps the most damning account I’ve come across is at https://www.vickisheff.com/johnyoko-playboy.html.)

    On a different issue, I note that your book addresses thoroughly the differing narratives on the issue of Paul vs. John – their relative genius/talent and contribution to the Beatles. As you note on pp. 7-8, Beatles literature has far less to say about George and Ringo. Even so, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the conflicting narratives about George’s contribution to the band.

    There’s the one view, presented by Harrison himself and his supporters, that he was the “Dark Horse” whose potential was neglected for too long and who deserved far more attention within the Beatles than he got. There’s also the view, expressed variously by Geoff Emerick and (tactfully and with regret) by George Martin, that (at least until “Abbey Road”) Lennon and McCartney’s work far outshone Harrison’s. This would imply that Harrison simply didn’t merit more writing collaboration from Lennon/McCartney, or mentoring from Martin, or more than the one track per album he usually got.

    Trying to reconcile these two views, I found the biography “George Harrison: Behind the Locked Door” by Graeme Thomson to be an absolutely invaluable takedown of the “Dark Horse” perspective.

    Admittedly, this is a broad topic, but I hope you’ll write about it in some form!

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    • Erin says:

      Chris,

      I am so sorry: for whatever reason, I didn’t see this post in the comment section until just now. I don’t know whether Karen approved it and I overlooked it, or whether, because it would have been posted during Finals week last Spring, I approved it, intending to reply, and then promptly forgot about it amidst the rush of grading. My apologies for waiting six months to reply. Yeesh.

      “However, Seaman’s critics do not generally interrogate his book for its veracity or falsehood, as to them his deception and theft speak for themselves.”

      You’re right — I noticed that from Coleman: his primary defense against Seaman involved employing an ad hominem fallacy: attacking the messenger, rather than addressing the accuracy or credibility of the information Seaman offered. Which is a rather lazy and convenient way to ignore Seaman’s accounts, given Seaman’s daily access to John and Yoko’s private lives. Methodology tells us that you can’t ignore a primary source, even one that has a less than sterling reputation. In terms of more credibility, it would have been preferable for Seaman to publish his own daily diaries from that time period, rather than stealing John’s. It would have been more difficult to label Seaman as a dishonest source had he not had that issue of theft hanging over his head. What other authors have you seen using the ad hominem rejection of Seaman?

      Another thing I think Coleman does — its been years since I read him — is attack Seaman on small mistakes/errors and then use those to sweepingly dismiss the entirety of his account. That’s something that, unfortunately, I’ve seen various authors and fans do with accounts and sources that offer versions they dislike: nitpick errors and then use those relatively minor errors to argue that the entire source should be ignored. (There’s also the tendency displayed to believe a source when its saying something you like, but disbelief it when its saying something you don’t. See both Philip Norman and Ray Coleman regarding Paul’s rejection of Albert Goldman). That’s also shoddy methodology. I’m not saying that factual errors are good, but I guarantee you that every book, either primary or secondary, on the Beatles contains some, and selectively chucking only the ones that offer a counterview to your preferred version of history is just a form of confirmation bias. If we threw out every book in Beatles historiography with factual errors, we’d be left with …. nothing. Even Lewisohn has admitted that TCBRS has some mistakes in it.

      I really enjoyed your comments and questions regarding the differing narratives on George. That’s such a major, underserved topic: I think I’d like to do more research on that one, and turn it into a major post. I’ll revisit Thomson’s work and do some comparison/contrast with some of the other sources, and see what analysis emerges. Thanks for the George-centric inspiration: unfortunately, despite our best efforts, I think this blog tends to gravitate towards John and Paul. It will be nice to look at it from a different angle. If you have any thoughts on the issue, beyond what you offered in the above post, let me know: I promise this time you’ll get a reply in less than six months.

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  5. Robbert says:

    Hi Erin and Karen,

    I stumbled upon this site through sheer happenstance, and I just spent the better part of two days reading through its archives. What an absolute treasure trove! For someone who considers himself a Beatles-fan, I’ve not actually read that many books about them. Revolution in The Head is my bible, and I own and have enjoyed Miles’ “Many Years From Now”, but off the top of my head I couldn’t name many other works I’ve read. (Works I’ve read in full, that is.) Still, I love the fact that Erin in her book has found a fresh and interesting way of looking at the abundance of material anew, and I’ll certainly be looking to find a copy.

    I was very interested in reading your thoughts on the partisan look at John and Paul, since that has long been a bugbear of mine. As you’ve correctly pointed out on several occasions, that approach isn’t very interesting at all and only serves to obscure, rather than illuminate, our understanding of these men and their art. But I’d go further than that and say it’s reductive even on its own terms. By which I mean, in order to maintain the stereotypical notions – that John was the artsy rebel who only wrote envelope-pushing songs, while Paul was the straight whose contributions were soppy, trite and sentimental -, one has to wilfully ignore so much of the work. On Paul’s side, one has to ignore Carnival Of Light, as well as his contributions to Tomorrow Never Knows and A Day In The Life, to name just a few things off the top of my head. Whereas on John’s side, one has to ignore songs like All You Need Is Love and Imagine; songs that definitely have a tinge of the trite and the sentimental to them. (The hardcore John-partisans with whom I’ve discussed this topic in the past usually solve this conundrum by claiming the latter songs are Deeply Profound, which is a position I find risible. The fact that these songs handle grand, universal themes don’t make them profound by default, that’s not how it works. How the handling of these themes are executed matters, and in these cases that execution is (imo) clumsy at best.) I don’t see what’s wrong with concluding that both men brought both elements to the table; that both of them were capable of writing songs that were either mawkish or deep. It only makes them and their art more interesting. It makes them real people, as opposed to one-dimensional cartoon characters.

    Anyway, sorry for the overly long rant, that really went on for considerably longer than I’d intended.

    Warm greetings from the Netherlands,
    Robbert

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    • Erin says:

      Robbert,

      Thank you for the greetings! I am very fond of the Netherlands: I spent a semester there in college, at the University of Maastricht, and found it to be a very welcoming country. Unfortunately, my Dutch language skills were pretty poor then, and are almost nonexistent now. I’m glad you enjoyed meandering through the blog. If you want to comment on old threads, feel free: although other posters probably won’t see it, Karen or I will, and you should eventually get a response.

      “As you’ve correctly pointed out on several occasions, that approach isn’t very interesting at all and only serves to obscure, rather than illuminate, our understanding of these men and their art.”

      I think the first part of your statement can get overlooked, and I think it needs emphasis: John vs. Paul just isn’t very interesting anymore, because its an exhausted, tired narrative. It was new in the breakup era, because it was contradicting the original version of the indissoluble Lennon/McCartney partnership, but its dominated the historiographical interpretation of those two ever since. Its been done. Regardless of how accurate or inaccurate the interpretation is — and there’s a lot of evidence to indicate that its more inaccurate than not — the horse is dead and people need to stop beating it.

      Is there anything new that pitting John against Paul can tell us? Any insights it can reveal regarding either man, or their partnership, or their music, that has not already been covered by the numerous authors and writers who chose to view the two men through this zero sum lens? Its not a rhetorical question: I’m honestly asking for comments or answers from readers.

      “I don’t see what’s wrong with concluding that both men brought both elements to the table; that both of them were capable of writing songs that were either mawkish or deep. It only makes them and their art more interesting. It makes them real people, as opposed to one-dimensional cartoon characters.”

      I don’t see anything wrong with that conclusion … but then, I don’t have a horse in the Lennon vs. McCartney race, beyond believing its a flawed premise to begin with. And the more evidence I have seen, the more credible the nuanced, multi-dimensional aspects to these men and their partnership becomes. Its what the music tells us — Paul evidently came up with the absolutely biting ending to Norwegian Wood of burning down the woman’s house: John wrote “Goodnight.”Its what credible sources, such as George Martin, tells us. Its what the better biographers — the Gould’s, as opposed to the Coleman’s, tell us.

      I’m actually working — in very rough form at the moment — on a museum presentation on this very subject: how Beatles historiography is viewed through this Lennon vs. McCartney lens; how it begun, what its impact has been on their historiography, and whether this flawed premise is finally crumbling. My presentation won’t be until February, but hopefully I can share some of my research and thoughts here on the blog.
      Thanks,
      Erin

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  6. Lizzie says:

    I absolutely adore this blog! Apologies if this is the wrong place to ask, but I’ve read about how critics/biographers may feel about John (i.e., the idea that he “let them in” and the feeling he created that they could have “been his friend”) and how that may have inspired a slant more sympathetic to John in criticism and biographies (not even necessarily directly at the expense of Paul–but just a more general willingness to consider context for John’s actions more often) and I wonder whether part of the issue critics/biographers have with Paul is not only that he’s more guarded, creating a charming but seemingly less intimate vibe, but also that they’re frustrated on some level that they haven’t “cracked” him when they feel they should have been able to, either because they’ve been provided with tacit approval (Norman) or in cases where they’ve worked with him (Lewisohn). I know it’s pure speculation, but just a sense I get!

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    • Erin says:

      Welcome, Lizzie. I think this comment works just fine here, unless Karen wants to move it elsewhere.

      The intimacy and connection John inspired in his interviewers is, to me, an interesting element that has been fairly overlooked in the band’s historiography. Paul’s reserve — which has been noted on, multiple time, not only by interviewers but also by Paul’s associates and Paul himself — has also played a role and, I believe, been misinterpreted. You’re right that authors can be frustrated with Paul’s reserve and unwillingness to connect: Carlin’s Paul bio explicitly states that very frustration on the part of the interviewers: “In contrast to the soul-baring extravaganzas of his former partner, Paul McCartney gave away nothing of himself whatsoever. Reading an interview with him became a frustrating experience.” (This was talking primarily about the 1970s, but it applies to a longer period of Paul’s interviews than just that decade).

      John left interviewers believing they had gotten the real truth, that they had made friends with him, even though May Pang declares that those supposed intimate connections were just another defense mechanism. Paul doesn’t even offer you the illusion of “cracking” him. And of course, it looks better for the journalist to be able to claim/believe they established a real connection with John Lennon — I got the real story, because John really liked me (ala Wenner) — rather than admit to themselves that they got John’s agenda, emotion-driven snapshot of that moment in time. In one version, they’re a savvy reporter who makes a personal, real connection with a great artist who reveals the secrets of the 20th century’s greatest band. In the other, they’re a dupe who was used by a canny P.R. star in order to vent his issues and offer up his propaganda. If you’re one of those journalists (Coleman, Wenner, etc). which version of yourself would you prefer to believe?

      I think that perceived connection between journalists and John is a real issue — again, John’s charisma was evidently off the charts, and evidently many journalists believed they had made this connection with John and managed to get the real truth from him. But I think there are also elements of the reality of journalism that also contributed to more interviewers favoring John than they did Paul. The reality is that interviewers are people too, and they want good material.

      This is true in rock journalism, news journalism, sports, etc. I was just listening to a podcast about the Patriots/Chiefs AFC Championship game on Sunday, and a journalist commented about how, after the Patriots won in overtime, everyone in the press box was kind of muttering “What on earth are we going to write about the Patriots that we haven’t already written in the last 18 years? How are we supposed to come up with new, fresh stories with this storyline and this matchup?” You could argue that most people in the press box (at least the ones not from Boston) would have objectively, from a professional standpoint, preferred a Chiefs victory, because it would have given them new stories, new angles, fresh ideas, etc. That matters. Journalists want readers, and they want good material, and John gave them good, interesting, new material, every time, regardless of whether it contradicted his last interview and would be contradicted by his next. Paul has a long-running script he produces on autopilot and only detours from when he is repeatedly challenged.

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      • Lizzie says:

        Thanks so much, Erin, and apologies for the late reply! This is such a great point, and I hadn’t thought of it the way you put it here:

        And of course, it looks better for the journalist to be able to claim/believe they established a real connection with John Lennon — I got the real story, because John really liked me (ala Wenner) — rather than admit to themselves that they got John’s agenda, emotion-driven snapshot of that moment in time. In one version, they’re a savvy reporter who makes a personal, real connection with a great artist who reveals the secrets of the 20th century’s greatest band. In the other, they’re a dupe who was used by a canny P.R. star in order to vent his issues and offer up his propaganda. If you’re one of those journalists (Coleman, Wenner, etc). which version of yourself would you prefer to believe?

        I love your point re: the need for good material, too!

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        • Erin says:

          Thanks, Lizzie. The “I built up a real connection with John” element seems to be something that you see from the point of view of a number of his interviewers, but the people who actually knew John well, like May Pang or Pete Shotton — really dismiss that strain of thought. John may have been good at feigning that sort of connection, but the less, shall we say, star-struck reporters — like Ray Connolly or Hunter Davies — didn’t gush over their deep, personal connection with John or declare that it gave them better access to the truth. Whereas Paul doesn’t even bother to feign that connection: with him, its P.R.: he’s not going to pretend that its anything other than the 36th interview he’s given this week.

          The “reporters want a good story” comes more from my background reading about sports — esp. the NFL — than Beatles stuff, so I hope I’m not crossing wires, here. There’s a very good sports reporter, Sam Mellinger, in Kansas City whose says he always gets accused of playing favorites when it comes to covering the area’s college teams: fans complain in their comments that he favors KU, or Mizzou, or K-State, or any number of other fanbases. (And of course, you’re not going to have a fanbase that’s more grassroots partisan than sports). But he denies that, arguing that he’s not really a fan of any of them: as a reporter, he’s a fan of whatever is going to give him the best story. That, combined with the podcast discussion from Terez Paylor about how everyone in the press box was kind of throwing up their hands after the Patriots won the AFC Championship and going “How are we supposed to come up with new, interesting material on the Patriots to fill the next two weeks when we’ve already been covering them in this situation for the last eighteen years?” is what put the “reporters want good material” issue in my head. And frankly, if that’s one of the standards here, John gave much better material than Paul did. Especially during the breakup. I mean, which one of these comments does a better job of grabbing your attention? Which one makes for a better story if you’re a reporter or a reader?

          Paul in April 1971, in the Life Interview: Linda and I went through a bit of a rough time after the Beatles broke up, but we’re doing fine now.

          John in December 1970, in Lennon Remembers: Yoko and I took heroin because of how the other Beatles treated us.

          I know which one is more attention grabbing to me, if I’m a reporter.

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  7. Laura says:

    Erin, I enjoyed it very much! I sincerely appreciate your analysis of Beatles history and thank you for calling attention to the rampant bias that’s been passed off as biography for so many years.

    Even though McCartney can be all kinds of annoying and egotistical, it’s been hard to see his contributions to be Beatles diminished and to see him blamed for everything (at least when Yoko wasn’t being blamed).

    One thing that caught my eye is from David Sheff’s All We Are Saying published in 2000: “Ten years later, Lennon declared that the other Beatles had treated Ono quite well in the studio. Ono agreed: ‘None of them were nasty to me.’”

    I don’t think that was in the 1980 Playboy magazine version of the interview, but was it in the book of the full(er?) interview that came out the following year? At either point (1981 or 2000), do you know if anyone noticed John had backtracked on that accusation? If so, I missed it! It seems like a big deal to me, but maybe I‘m too focused on Blue Meanies.

    As long as I’m asking questions, do you know if John ever said publicly that he felt betrayed by Paul’s purchase of 1,000 shares of Northern Songs stock? I believe Klein claimed he did, but he also made it sound like Paul had bought a large number of shares (over 100,000) in an attempted power grab.

    Like

    • Erin says:

      Laura,

      Sorry for the late reply; its been a bit frantic here.

      What great analysis, regarding the Playboy interview. I would have to look back at my own bibliography to see which one I used, because I know I looked at both sources with that interview, the same way I looked at the different editions of all the major works.

      I don’t recall anyone, and certainly no authors in the early 80s, noting John’s change of story regarding the others’ treatment of Yoko, but that seems typical for his various reversals/shifting stories/contradictions, etc. John could blithely declare in the Lennon Remembers interview that he and Paul stopped writing together in 1962 — and then, in the same interview, discuss how closely they were writing together on Sgt. Pepper — and never get called out on it. At least, not until at least fifteen/twenty years had gone by. No current author comes to mind that’s addressed the contradiction, either, although that may just be a gap in my memory; it seems like the sort of detail that someone like Robert Rodriguez would pick up on.

      I am trying to recall John’s statements on the Northern Songs issue, and memory (which, again, is fallible) is telling me that the entire thing is conveyed via Klein, in Apple to the Core or, much later, Peter Brown. I don’t recall John’s exact statement on the issue, anyway; which I assume would have been in Apple to the Core. I don’t think we have a direct quote from John on the issue: we have Klein telling us John felt betrayed, and we have Peter Brown describing John’s angry reaction, but I can’t recall a direct quote from John.

      Interesting tangent, but from what I recall, Klein uses the Northern Songs shares issue in Apple to the Core to deflect from his own unwillingness to share documents with the Eastman’s that he had been legally required to share with them, in their position as Beatles counsel and then as Paul’s representatives. It reads like a fight between my 9 and 11 year olds: McCabe points out the charge that the Eastman’s levied against Klein, that he refused to share these documents with them, even though he was legally required to, and his response was yeah, they started it, and mentioned the Northern Songs shares issue. Its a classic deflection.

      Like

  8. Michael St Pierre says:

    As a child growing up in the fifties I struggled to find role models. My Father passed away when I was seven and quite frankly the World seemed completely insane. Atomic Bombs and Air Raid sirens and most of the male role models seemed to have guns. Even Abbott and Costello enlisted in the army. And then along came the Beatles. They represented a new paradigm .Guitars instead of Guns. Life instead of Death. They were self effacing , optimistic and anti Authoritarian. They recognized the importance of the long suppressed feminine side of a male’s personality. To my childish eyes finally there was some sanity. I don’t know if the Beatles completely understood the Power of their mythical presence .Living up to that myth must have been a great deal of pressure. It was no wonder they broke up. Alas, they were only human. But I think they changed the World for the better.

    Like

    • Karen Hooper says:

      Thanks Michael for such a thoughtful reply. I have the same sort of unique appreciation as you do, being in the same age range. I still remember having to hide under my desk in school during those atomic bomb drills. The Beatles represented positivity and hope, something we desperately craved.

      Like

    • Erin says:

      Grame,

      There are tickets still available, should you wish to watch it now: everything is available except for one segment, which was a one time only broadcast, but there’s a make-up segment to add on at the end.

      Any reflective piece I’d give would, at the moment, be entirely self-centered: I have not yet had a chance to watch the other segments. I hope to watch and listen over the next few weeks, and take notes when something particularly interesting pops up, but I didn’t have a chance to start on that yet. It’s an intriguing idea, though; one I may put in my back pocket

      Like

      • Grame says:

        Thanks for the heads-up. To be honest, yours was the contribution that most interested me – I very much welcome how you bring the techniques of historiography to the ways the Beatles are constructed as a cultural narrative. Most academic analyses of popular cultural production are socio-cultural in approach, so your historiographical perspective is particularly refreshing. I have listened to all of your podcasts appearances with much pleasure – would love to hear you and Lewisohn in discussion some time. We can but hope!

        Like

        • Erin says:

          Thank you, Grame. I’m glad you enjoyed my segments.

          You make a good point about how much of the academic analysis of the band is socio-cultural and/or musicological. That makes perfect sense, but it does mean that my approach is rather an outlier. (I was the only historian at the 2016 Pepper Conference I attended, but there were a lot of music theorists/sociologists). Incidentally, that made it much easier to shop my book proposal, as one of the key things you’re supposed to do is explain what makes your book different than other books on the same subject: being able to say “it’s the first historiographical analysis ever of the Beatles” certainly helped. If you’re particularly interested in essays on the Beatles of a historical bent, I’d heavily suggest The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles, Reading the Beatles, and the Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock: all contain marvelous essays dealing with some of those areas. I particularly enjoyed Michael Frontani’s “The Solo Years,” and had to restrain myself from quoting more of him directly than I am allowed.

          Oh, I’d love to sit down and have a conversation with Lewisohn about his methods, his research, his own experiences shaping and witnessing the growth of Beatles historiography, his awareness of that historiography, etc. In fact, I’d love to sit and pick the brains of numerous Beatles authors and discuss sourcing, interpretative shifts, research methods, inclusion and exclusion of evidence, etc. Lewisohn would certainly be up there, but so would Doggett (particularly given his soon-to-be-released book on John); Ray Connolly; and of course individuals like Paul and Yoko. One of my first Beatles related questions for Paul (and Yoko) would involve how closely they follow their own historiography and, assuming complete honesty, how that’s impacted their P.R. One of my first questions for Lewisohn would be when he stopped believing in/supporting the Shout! narrative (as he’s stated he supported it when the book was first published) and why; one of my first questions for Connolly would involve in what ways his closeness to John and Yoko impacted his coverage of them, as he said it did; one of my first questions for Barry Miles would be whether there was ever any discussion of bringing in, say John Eastman for quotes when they were discussing the breakup in MYFN.

          Like

  9. Rod says:

    Hello Erin and Karen, I hope you’re doing good. It’s Rod from Uruguay. First of all, thanks for all the content and for taking the time to reply to us!

    I have been a real Beatles fans from years and I wanted to ask you something. Inspired by the upcoming “Lyrics” book by McCartney, I wanted to have a similar resource on the Beatles songs.

    I found some options on the internet, and I wanted to know your opinion on which one do you think is the most accurate and sticks more to the facts.

    The Beatles Lyrics: The Stories Behind the Music, Including the Handwritten Drafts of More Than 100 Classic Beatles Songs – by Hunter Davies
    The Complete Beatles Songs: The Stories Behind Every Track Written by the Fab Four by Steve Turner
    All The Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon
    Beatlesongs by William Dowlding.
    Tell me Why by Tim Riley

    Thank you very much in advance and look forward to receiving your reply!

    Kindest regards,
    Rod

    Like

    • Erin says:

      Rod,

      Nice to hear from you!

      I’m adopting and see approach to Paul’s new book: if there’s new material, I think it would be a great addition. If its mostly rehashed stories, then I’ll obviously be less interested. Here’s hoping.

      In my view of those books, I’m afraid any response I give is going to depend entirely on memory: my notes would help immensely: unfortunately, they’re in my office at work. Memory is telling me that I didn’t think too much of All the Songs: and Riley suffers, at least in the first edition, by publishing before the publication of The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, so there’s some primary source information he didn’t have. I’m pulling a blank on Beatlesongs, but I remember liking Davies, but other than the general, vague memory of liking The Beatles Lyrics, I can’t remember anything specific regarding its methodology. Having said that, I think Davies is a good biographer, so I’d probably start there. I hope that helps.

      Thanks
      Erin

      Like

  10. Debi Alves says:

    Hi, Erin

    I listened to your One Sweet Podcast (very enjoyable, btw) today and wanted to share some Beatles memories and a couple of theories I have.

    I was a 9 year old girl in 1964, and I don’t remember seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan on tv until after we moved to New Mexico from Oklahoma, so it must have been their 1965 performance (or maybe a rerun of 1964? I don’t know if the Sullivan show did reruns). I do know that in fourth grade I had a large black fake velvet bow that had BEATLES and all the Beatle names on it in white lettering. Also, my mother’s youngest sister was only 8 years older than me (therefore a teenager) and either before we left Oklahoma or on a trip back, I was in her room looking through her albums and she had Meet The Beatles! I said to her I couldn’t believe she had it and she said “Oh, I don’t even really like them that much”, so I started begging her for the record and when she said no, I ran crying to my grandmother and she made me give it to her…what a brat, huh. Anyway, The Beatles started me on a lifetime love of music. And, anyone who doesn’t think everything changed with the Beatles is so wrong. We dressed differently, music was much different, of course, the hair thing was huge at the small schools I attended…the older conservative people were outraged and flabbergasted!

    Anyway, now I’m 65, retired, and had lots of time in lockdown to read books about The Beatles and listen to some fantastic podcasts.

    My question is, I never have read or heard the possibility that John Lennon was possibly bipolar? I have a brother who is bipolar, worked for a gal who probably is undiagnosed bipolar, and am pretty sure an ex-husband is bipolar. I see so many similarities in their behaviors compared to John.

    Anyway, I’ll look forward to your reply.

    Debi in Texas

    Like

    • Karen Hooper says:

      Hi Debi–if you don’t mind, I’ll butt in here (And we’re the same age too–I turn 65 in December. :))

      As someone whose been living with bipolar illness for years, and as a former mental health practitioner, it’s been my pet theory that John indeed suffered from a mood disorder and possibly a bipolar disorder. I don’t recall this possibility floated anywhere in the rock press because, frankly, that’s not the domain or subject expertise of rock biographers and they don’t want to get sued. But the idea that John suffered from a mood disorder, be it unipolar depression or bipolar disorder, is certainly alive and well in fandom.

      Like

    • Erin says:

      Debi,

      Loved your personal stories of growing up with the Beatles, and how you saw them change everything. And I’m very glad you are at least finding a silver lining in the lockdown with exploring an issue you’re passionately interested in further.

      You’re right, in that I don’t think any authority in Beatles historiography has actually used the term “bipolar” to flat our diagnose John, although I think Turner or MacDonald does use the term “bipolar muse,” which does raise a few eyebrows. Turner, in Beatles ’66, does brush against the periphery of John’s psychological issues, without flat out diagnosing. MacDonald flat out says that John was really screwed up but, again, doesn’t diagnose. Doggett does the same. Pete Shotton says John used LSD as self-medication for his psychological issues (hinting that John was well aware of those issues) but, again, doesn’t diagnose.

      My background in psychology is that of a layman. My personal experience with bipolar extends to a member of my extended family, and having closely witnessed both the depressive and the manic phases. (It is the only time in my life anyone has actually said to me “I’m going to kill you” with perfect seriousness. Luckily they were in no way an actual threat to me at that moment and, not to go all Monty Python, they eventually, with therapy and medication, got better). So my inexpert opinion is that we can’t role bipolar out, but I can understand why authors hedge their bets in not wanting to use the actual term to posthumously diagnose John. Karen is the in house expert here, so I’d defer to her. I’m sure there are many areas where bipolar fits John, but I’m sure there are other diagnoses that fit him as well, that overlap with bipolar symptoms, and/or may exist simultaneously. But I do certainly see similarities, and believe now that there’s really no question regarding the existence of John’s psychological struggles: now the debate is really what his diagnosis would be and how those struggles influenced his behaviors/decisions/artistry and, therefore, Beatles history.

      Like

  11. Debi Alves says:

    Hi, Karen and Erin, thank you so much for your replies. Karen, I sympathize with your struggles and hope you’re able to keep your illness under control. Sadly, my brother refuses to take his meds and blew up his marriage and chooses to live by himself in the state we grew up in…he has cut ties with our remaining brother and me because we refused to bolster his ridiculous claims about his former wife (who I will always view as a saint for living with him as long as she did). Our mother’s father was obviously mentally ill as well and our mother certainly struggled with some type of personality disorder as well. I just read things about John Lennon that remind me so much of things I’ve seen in family members and I really want to hate him for his cruelty, especially to Cynthia and Julian, and find it disingenuous when I read books and listen to podcasts about the pain he suffered from his parents abandonment of him with never any mention of how he basically abandoned his own son. Of course I knew little of him other than the music when I was a child and young teen until Yoko Ono came into the picture and I was pretty appalled at their shenanigans! However, when I listen to his songs, particularly the ones on Rubber Soul onward, I can’t help but love him for his musicallity. All the people in my life who I either know or suspect were mentally ill also had great charm and charisma and great intelligence.

    I also have a theory I’d like to put forward about the Beatles more well known than Jesus theory that I formed by listening to you, Erin, and Diana on the podcast. When you we’re talking about the Maureen Cleeves interviews and mentioned George objecting to the war in Vietnam, John’s comments about religion and Paul’s moral objection to the pervasive racism in the USA, it made me wonder if the main concern for the members of the press in the South was the racism comment. Racists in the South were very vicious (I had a family member in Tulsa who had a 45 record with two sickening songs my cousin played for me once on a visit to her house and she also cautioned me to hide my Supremes album while there). I’m wondering if some other men met with the DJ who started all the ruckus and said we can’t really talk about the racism thing because civil rights are such a political cause right now, but we need to muzzle these Beatles because they have too much influence on the youngsters, but we can really get a lot of people to turn against them over religion. I don’t know, but I do know how small town, rural minds think because that’s where I was raised. Luckily, I had parents (or I suspect mainly my Dad) who didn’t get riled up over things. Anyway, I’ve rattled on long enough. Thank you for listening to me.
    I’ve missed talking to people during the pandemic! Next time I’ll tell you the story of the sit-in I participated in my senior year of high school! Bye, Debi

    Like

    • Erin says:

      Sorry for the late reply, Debi. There is never enough time the last few weeks of the semester.

      I am trying to recall where there was information/interviews with some of the DJ’s who participated in the “ban the Beatles” furor once it got underway. (It wasn’t research I uncovered for my book, I know that). Perhaps it was Mojo’s 10 Years that Shook the World? I’m drawing a frustrating blank, but I recall that the DJ’s went into detail discussing their reasoning (or the reasoning of their fellow DJ’s) for leading the anti-Beatles campaign. In all honesty, I don’t remember them discussing doing a “bait and switch” — well, this Beatle criticized us on race, and we’d like to shut them up, but race is too politicized, and too regional, so lets attack the Beatles over the religious comments the other one made — but rather focusing on it because they were pandering to the audience. They wanted ratings, and attention, and knew that John’s comments would upset some people. They were, in today’s terms, essentially begging for clicks.

      But I have always found the lack of furor over Paul’s comments nothing short of astonishing. Americans, to put it mildly, do not like being lectured on their failures. Particularly not on race, and particularly not by the English, who have their own history and issues regarding race and imperialism and discrimination. And the discrimination against African-Americans was one of the most hot button subjects of the 1960s in the U.S.. Race riots. Medgar Evers. MLK. “Bombingham.” The Civil Rights March. The Civil Rights Act. Juan Carlos in 1968 would get castigated for raising his fist at the Olympics. But Paul McCartney calls the U.S. as “lousy country” because of its discrimination against African-Americans — a discrimination that certain people and areas are then fighting fiercely to maintain, through quotas or Jim Crow laws or lynchings or redlining — and the national response in the U.S. is … nothing. Does John’s comment suck the air out of the discussion so much that there is nothing left for any attention to Paul’s comment? I simply find it astonishing.

      Like

  12. Shaun says:

    Great to get a much needed female perspective into the Beatles historiography, absolutely fascinating and compelling as well as being incredibly insightful.

    Like

  13. Debi Alves says:

    Thanks for your reply, Erin…don’t apologize for a late reply,,,I know you’re very busy and expecting a new baby soon! If you haven’t watched Ron Howard’s Eight Days A Week, it has a nice section on the furor. I was about to be 11 at the time of their 1966 tour and do remember people talking about it. Even though we were Baptists, I never stopped loving the Beatles and my parents never asked me to stop listening to them. I do recall my grandmother having a mild conservation with me in later years about how vulgar she thought Come Together was…particularly the line “so you can feel his disease “, but I didn’t care. Frankly, I never paid much attention to the words, it was all about the music, rhythm and how a song made me feel. Maybe it’s a girl thing versus a boy thing. When I listen to the male podcasters it amuses me how they analyze every lyric endlessly.
    As an aside, my folks bought me a handheld transistor radio, probably this same summer of 1966 and I would lie in my narrow bed at night listening to KOMA out of Oklahoma City which had a signal that would reach Loco Hills in Southeastern New Mexico at night and I would listen to all the latest hits they played…bliss!

    All for now, thanks! Debi

    Like

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