Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1, by Mark Lewisohn
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Three Rivers Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
This book, at about 800 pages of very detailed and well-cited material, is not a book to be read lightly. Covering the family background of the individual Beatles and key members of the larger circle the band operated in, the book ends with a well-timed intermission at the end of 1962, with the Beatles on the verge of superstardom after having paid their dues as an act over the courses of several years with lineup problems as well as a host of struggles in making a good living coming from working class Liverpool backgrounds. If the next two volumes in the series are like this one, then they will be large and detailed and also immensely gripping. The story this book offers is a compelling one, going into immense detail about the daily life and personal background and professional ambitions of the Beatles over the course of their early period. This is a story full of myth and legend, and the author does his best to come up with sound conclusions and to give as complete a picture as he can. The research done is staggering and impressive, and the resulting picture is compelling and complete, and an exciting enough story to justify someone wanting to read 2400 pages of it over the course of many hours of reading.
Who would want to read this book? For fans of the Beatles Anthology who wanted to read about the course of the Beatles’ career and its larger context in greater detail than was provided in that series will likely find much to enjoy here. The author does not only give biographical details of the family background and education of the Beatles themselves, but he does so much more. He looks at the pattern of how the Beatles struggled to find continuity with drummers, how the Beatles dealt with conflict, how they struggled with their careerist and creative ambitions as musicians, how they dealt with touring, how they combined politeness with immensely cruel humor, how they combined ferocious ambition with a certain lacksidaisical attitude at times, how the band frequently had tensions and nearly broke up irrevocably on numerous occasions from the beginning, and even how the dual publishing and recording contracts engaged in toward the end of the book led to a great deal of tension between John and Paul and George in particular. The book has the air of a Greek tragedy, and the author spends a lot of time addressing the divisions within companies and institutions, within the Beatles (especially during the time when Pete Best was their drummer), and within British society as well.
It is noteworthy that the author spends so much time dealing with questions of class structure within England. Over and over again the author comments that the people of Liverpool were looked down on by those in the London area, that even within Liverpool the various Beatles themselves came from the lower end of the social scale, and from different types of family backgrounds, some of them broken by death and divorce, others more or less intact. If anyone has dreams of making it like the Beatles did, this book does not in any way minimize the sort of drama that happens within bands, the sort of scoundrels that attach themselves to bands, the sort of difficulties that bands have getting good pay for gigs, finding good equipment, dealing with contracts, honoring contracts, recording songs, writing songs, and performing at a high level. The Beatles are portrayed here not as plaster heroes ready to be carved in marble, but as real people who act cruelly to others, have genuine flaws as well as massive ambitions, have fans who are themselves real people who occasionally act in fearful and petty ways, and have management problems and struggle to hone their talents and then have their talents recognized by others. Besides the compelling nature of the narrative itself as far as music history is concerned . Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the narrative is the way that the Beatles were genuine students of music, with a love of deep tracks and obscure music, and how they were connected to the larger trends of continental art and fashion. This is a book that will likely hold surprises for any reader who loves music history and the Beatles in particular, and remind us all of the humanity of those who create art and music.
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