Beatles Historian Provides Inside Look at Best-Selling First Installment of 3-Volume Fab Four Biography
The long-awaited 944-page paperback edition of renowned Beatles historian, expert and author Mark Lewisohn’s “The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1 – Tune In” was published October 11, 2016 by Three Rivers Press, the trade paperback imprint of Random House’s Crown Publishing Group.
“Tune In” was published in Lewisohn’s native Great Britain, the United States and Japan in hardcover in October 2013, to massive acclaim and sales (a New York Times best-seller).
Beatles Book Backstory & Preview
In October 2013, Lewisohn traveled to the U.S. for a series of special events promoting the hardcover’s publication, and again in early 2014 for more events related to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first visit to the States in February 1964.
The 2013 events included Beatles-related panels at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, and a pair of book signing-slide show-Q&A sessions at Bloomingdale’s in Century City and Sherman Oaks, hosted by this author.
Lewisohn and this writer have known each other since 1988, when I was the producer-writer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from early 1988 to mid-1990, and he was the series’ research consultant. We have stayed in touch over the years and especially over the past decade as he researched and wrote “Tune In.”
In August 2011, about seven years into the project, primarily doing research, Lewisohn gave me his first interview about it in about four years. At that point, he had just begun to write.
Topics of our conversation included comments about the pre-Fab Four’s childhood pals Lewisohn most wanted to interview, but couldn’t; the Beatles insider who Lewisohn finally interviewed, and who died before they could talk again; the author’s reaction to reviewers’ and readers’ rave reception of ‘Tune In’ upon its fall 2013 publication.
Vol. 1 of the Lewisohn Beatles bio took the Fab Four saga from the mid-1800s to Dec. 31, 1962, and we talked about where Vol. 2 might end; where Vol. 3 might end (not necessarily with McCartney’s 4/70 press release); and a quick flashback to “The Lost Lennon Tapes.”
As of early 2015, Lewisohn projected the second volume would be published in 2020, with the third following in 2028.
Here’s the video of the conversation; the transcript follows:
Stephen K. Peeples: Mark, you just published a monumental piece of work, Vol. 1 of the three-volume Beatles biography. Seven years in the researching, three years in the writing. I’m really interested in the new voices that have told their stories in a way that have not been told before. People have given you pieces of the puzzle that were missing forever, and now we have the definitive version of what happened.
Mark Lewisohn: As close to definitive as we can ever get with something, yes, I think so. The point is, there are so many more witnesses to events than you would ever normally see in other Beatles books in the past. You tend [to see] the same people quoted time and time again in Beatle books, and I was really anxious to have some fresh voices in there. So, yeah, I tracked down people. A big part of the job was tracing people and persuading them that they could share their stories with me safely, and they could trust me and I wouldn’t abuse their trust.
You build bridges with people and then they tell you great things. Often there were people who had never talked to anybody for a book before, because just as there are always people who stick their hand up and say, “Come and interview me, please,” there are plenty others who don’t put their hand up, and you have to go and find them and you have to treat them well and gain their trust. Then, everything opens up.
SKP: One of the great things is that you were able to contact so many of the guys’ contemporaries, their schoolmates and girlfriends, and they were really able to fill in a lot of blanks.
ML: Yeah, they were. This all happened a long time ago, but the thing about The Beatles is that when they became big, it was often only three or four or five years after these events that are being described, and these stories just kind of solidified, if you like. Whereas one might forget so much from the distant past, these stories stuck. The great thing is because they haven’t been told so many times, they haven’t gathered the layers of extra dimensions, if you like – they haven’t been embroidered in the way that something that is very frequently retold inevitably becomes.
SKP: Right. It tends to take a life of its own after a while.
ML: Yeah, and I just want the truth. I don’t want any of the artificiality that sometimes comes with it. My own sense, anyway, of what’s true and what isn’t true – my knowledge of the stories is such that I would know what to use and what not to use, because people inevitably do add layers to a story, whether it’s intentional or otherwise. And as an interviewer, you cannot simply use everything that people tell you. You have to be very, very careful to ensure that you’re using what’s right and leaving aside what is questionable.
SKP: In the back of the book, you list dozens and dozens of interviewees.
ML: Hundreds, yes.
SKP: I was curious as to who you might have wanted to interview but weren’t able to get to, for some reason.
ML: John Lennon’s best friend Pete Shotton – childhood best friend and then lifelong friend, but childhood best friend – would have been great to speak to. I spoke to so many people who knew John really well. I spoke to other members of his gang and his group and all of that, but Shotton was obviously the closest of them. But he did write his own book, and I have other interviews with him done by other people.
The point is, with a book like this, it’s not necessarily essential that people have spoken to me for it. It’s good if they do because I will ask different and maybe original questions, but provided that they’ve spoken at some point to somebody and this material is usable, I will use it and say where it comes from.
SKP: I think it’s really cool that you’re able to piece together a composite story from two or three different quotes from different places and tell the picture more completely.
ML: Yeah. It’s a tricky thing, to do that, but I would only do it if it was editorially sound. In this book, it is. For example, if I’m quoting about a particular incident and Paul McCartney’s talked about it several times, but on each occasion said something a little bit different or a little bit extra, to actually thread them together into a cohesive sense without changing any words, and to say where each of the quotes comes from, it works. And they are still all his own words, they’re just not from one interview.
SKP: But the complete story that it tells has not been done before.
ML: No. I’m always after complete. I did “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions,” I did “The Complete Beatles Chronicle”… There was a possibility that this book might have the word “complete” in the title and I actually fought against that, because I didn’t want to just make this one of a series. I want this to be standing alone. But it is in every essence a complete story. That’s what needed to be done, to be honest.
SKP: What’s your reaction to how the world has reacted to your book?
ML: Ahh, a couple of not-so-brilliant reviews and many, many really good ones, so I’m very happy with that. I think the reviews that haven’t been so good I think is a case of the reviewer not quite getting what this is trying to achieve. But yes, the reviews have been wonderful. More than the reviews – it not just about reviews, it’s about readers. What do readers think of it? Because I’ve written this book to be read by people who are interested in the subject or might wish to know more about this subject, and so far, the feedback has been fantastic and I’m very, very happy.
SKP: Coming to America on this 50th anniversary Beatles blitz, how has the trip been?
ML: It’s been fantastic. I had a remarkable week in New York, and now I’m in the middle of another remarkable week in L.A., then San Francisco, then back to New York and back home. This comes on the back of several weeks of promotion in the UK.
The only downside to any of this, and it needs to be said because it’s true, and that is that I should really be at home working on Volume 2. So I’m enjoying myself and I’m spreading the word about the book, and of course I do want this book to be read and seen by people, but I do have to get home and get on with the next one.
SKP: You’re just chomping at the bit to get to it.
The Beatles rehearse at the Cavern in Liverpool, circa 1961.
ML: I am, I really am. I actually had quite a frustrating summer because I thought that through the summer, once this book went into production, I would have an opportunity to do many weeks’ work on Volume 2. But the production processes were very complicated and I didn’t get to it, so I really do need to get back and get on with this.
SKP: Right. You had said that you weren’t really sure where Volume 2 was going to leave off and where Volume 3 was going to pick up.
SKP: What are people suggesting (to) you? I’m sure everybody’s got a suggestion.
ML: Yeah. It’s great that people want to engage with the process, so I’m really happy about that. But my line is, and I think it’s the truth, which is that the material will tell me where it should end. It’ll be sometime in 1966 or ’67 where Volume 2 breaks and I really don’t know where Volume 3 will finish.
I don’t believe that The Beatles broke up in April 1970 just because of a press release in the newspaper. That day, April 10, ’70, is simply the date when the press release went out. Well, The Beatles didn’t break up in a press release. They broke up at other times, and never quite so precisely. So I’m not quite sure about where Volume 3 will finish. Volume 2 will break ’66-ish, ’67-ish. It’ll tell me.
SKP: Of all the people you did speak with, who do you think was the most valuable in terms of putting together missing pieces, debunking myths, clarifying things that might have been unclear in the past?
ML: Oh, I spoke to so many people like that. In a way it would be wrong to kind of single out someone because I had a lot of contributors to this book tell me very important material that I’ve never heard before.
The Beatles ‘mach schau’ at Top 10 Club in Hamburg.
But one that springs most instantly to mind is Neil Aspinall, who was The Beatles’ road manager through the ‘60s, ran Apple for them from the late ’60s until the mid-’70s, when he really kind of just became their manager, if you like – manager of The Beatles for 30 years.
When he left Apple, he said – because he never did interviews, really – and when he left Apple, he said, “Okay, let’s do it.” He was going to get fully involved.
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We had an amazing first interview, and then he died. It all came very, very suddenly, and this history is a lot worse for not having Neil more in it. He’s heavily in this book, he’ll be in Volume 2 and 3 as well, but it would have been so much better if he had lived to tell me more.
SKP: Mark, thank you very much. I really appreciate your time here, it’s been a lot of fun. We’re going to have more fun today.
ML: Yes, we are.
[Lewisohn also wrote a review for Beatles Monthly magazine after listening to each final show. Here’s what he wrote about the three “Coming to America” episodes:
“Programme 55 of ‘The Lost Lennon Tapes’ was the first part of a trilogy, sub-titled ‘The Beatles: Coming to America,’ broadcast in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the group’s historic first US visit, in February 1964.
This subject has been the focus of numerous US radio programmes over the years, but none has been as well-informed, researched or presented as these three programmes, which mixed source interviews with archive material to great effect, setting the scene in good and always interesting detail.
The rare music in show 55 comprised alternate versions of two of the Beatles’ 1963 EMI recordings, ‘From Me to You’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ plus the group’s October 1963 Swedish radio performance of ‘Twist And Shout’ and a welcome though brief spin of the first cover version of a Beatles song by an American artist, Del Shannon’s ‘From Me To You.’
The remainder of the show was based on interview items, featuring the voices of John Lennon, Brian Epstein, Sid Bernstein, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, supplemented by archive radio material of Beatlemania in Britain during 1963.
Parts two and three of the trilogy took care of Programmes 56 and 57.
The rare music in these shows included ‘Twist and Shout’ from the Beatles’ Nov. 4 1963 Royal Variety engagement (prefaced by John’s infamous jewellery joke); a BBC radio performance of ‘She Loves You’ from the same year; ‘From Me To You’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ and ‘This Boy’ from the group’s January 1964 stage stint at the Paris Olympia; an alternate EMI take of ‘There’s A Place’; and all five songs from The Beatles’ sensational debut performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on the night of Feb. 9, 1964, ‘All My Loving,’ ‘Till There Was You,’ ‘She Loves You,’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand.’
The spoken word elements in Programmes 56 and 57 came from a variety of interviews, 1964 to date. There was plenty of John Lennon to be heard, of course, plus George, Paul, Ringo, Brian Epstein, Walter Cronkite (a famous TV newscaster in the USA), Philip Norman, Victor Spinetti, Mal Evans and George Martin.”]
ML: The pleasure was definitely mine. What a great series that was to be involved with.
SKP: Thank you! And best of luck with ‘Tune In.’
ML: Thanks, Stephen.
Photos: Lewisohn and Peeples by Nadine A. Peeples; Beatles photos courtesy Mark Lewisohn/Crown.
Special thanks to A. Paige Hagen for the transcription.
Watch the four-part Mark Lewisohn-Stephen K. Peeples update from April 27, 2016.
Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for the Westwood One Radio Network from 1988-1990. Mark Lewisohn was Peeples’ invaluable Research Consultant. Peeples, a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival,” MIPF/Rhino, 1992), is a veteran record industry media relations executive (Capitol Records, Elektra/Asylum Records, Westwood One, Rhino Entertainment, 1977-1998) and website content manager (Rhino, 1996-1998; Warner New Media, 1998-2001). Opting to work closer to home, he was music and entertainment features writer and columnist for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal (2004-2011), and soon became the newspaper’s award-winning online editor (2007-2011). Going independent, Peeples then wrote features for Santa Clarita’s KHTS-AM 1220 News (www.hometownstation.com) and SCVNews.com (2011-2016). He hosted, wrote and co-produced the WAVE-nominated “House Blend” music and interview television show on SCVTV, community television for the Santa Clarita Valley (2010-2015). He also served as Vice President/New Media & Editorial with Los Angeles-based multimedia pop culture company Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. (2010-2015). Now CEO of the Pet Me Happy Treats, Peeples still occasionally posts exclusive music news, reviews and interviews on his website and on his YouTube channel. For more information, email skp (at) stephenkpeeples.com.
Article: UPDATED: Lewisohn Beatles Bio ‘Tune In’ Paperback Due October 2016
Category: Beatles; tag Mark Lewisohn
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com