Fab Foto Fakes: Photoshopping Beatles History

DEVIN McKINNEY  •  There used to be a fun little shadow business going in fake Beatles records—songs with a Beatlesque sound, or just a Beatle-sounding name on the label, that got taken, however briefly and inexplicably, for the real thing. The Knickerbockers’ highly convincing knockoff “Lies” lay at one end of the scale, with something like “The Girl I Love” by “the Beatles”—in reality, a New Jersey doo wop group known elsewise as The Five Shits—at the other. (Castleman and Podrazik’s All Together Now [1975] gave the first comprehensive listing of these purposeful or inadvertent fakeries, under the succinct and irrefutable chapter heading “No, You’re Wrong.”)

There’s a new kind of Beatles fake abroad on the Internet these days. It’s usually photographic, not musical; intentional, not incidental; and created for emotional or fantastical rather than commercial purposes.

This occurred to me just a couple of hours ago. I had no idea there was any publicly obtainable photographic trace of the night the Beatles met Elvis Presley—August 27, 1965, at Elvis’s house at 525 Perugia Way in Bel Air. (Even the 1994 Elvis Meets the Beatles, written by English journalist Chris Hutchins, who was there, lacks any photos of the meeting itself.) But a few snapshots taken by an observer, apparently from the far side of E’s massive driveway, are floating on the net. Blurry but clearly authentic, they show Elvis, Priscilla, and a retinue of Memphis Mafiosi saying goodnight as the Beatles head for their limos and drive off. Here’s the best I’ve seen, with Elvis in the background, Paul McCartney in the near rear seat of the limo, and, just as identifiable, Beatles driver/bodyguard Alf Bicknell walking alongside.


One or two other shots from the same few minutes of time are equally real, including one showing a white-trousered John Lennon walking down the drive, and George Harrison, slightly obscured, at the far right. (Who’s that in the sharkskin? Derek Taylor?)


Other photos have cropped up on the net from time to time, purporting to depict scenes that are known to have happened, but not to have been photographed. One, supposedly of John recording his “Tomorrow Never Knows” vocal while upside down, has been around for a few years. It’s tantalizingly near-convincing: looks like it could be studio two; and we know John had a pair of white trousers at the time.

upside down 1

But all anyone has to do to confirm or disconfirm is rotate the photo two turns to the left

upside down 2

to see that the face is clearly not John’s. (In fact, it looks remarkably like, and just may be, that of Denny Laine—future Wingman and, at the time the photo may have been taken, a member of the Moody Blues.)

There are many, many Beatles photos around that are obvious fakes, PhotoShopped for comic or ironic effect. Some, like this one, are clever, even piquant:


We know, of course, that Pvt. Presley and Sgt. Lennon could never have met in Germany; but plausibility is not the goal of this brand of fakery. Other shots, though, are being created and disseminated as the real thing. Here’s one that a Facebook friend and Beatles fanatic posted several weeks ago, with a comment to the effect of, “How could I have missed this photo? It so perfectly expresses their relationship.”


Several people posted comments, their responses running the gamut from “Aww” to “Awwwwwww.” Joy-crushing killbot that I am, I had to point out to the aww-struck that it was a fake, and in my own comment post the progenitor shot:


Clearly, a great many people enjoy seeing photos of John Lennon and Paul McCartney leaning on or into each other, or in some other pose of recumbent intimacy. It physicalizes what we understand to have been their true emotional bond, reaching back through all the bitchy interviews, snide lyrics, and defensive dismissals of the intervening years to the time when love, we imagine, was pure and true—not least, the love of each Beatle for each other Beatle. Which is why Paul singing “I love you” in “Here Today” is one of his crowning moments; we’re not used to him cutting through the crap so directly. (Given John’s legendary bluntness, we feel the absence of any concomitant statement of lyrical affection from him vis-à-vis Paul; “How Do You Sleep?” is direct in the other direction.)

That physicalization of a bond that was always manifest and palpable, but usually deflected publicly in gags, goofs, long looks, the blowing of cigarette smoke, and other symbolic forms of male lovemaking has got to be why the David Bailey shot of John leaning on Paul has become everyone’s favorite. For one brief, pre-Yoko moment, John surrenders his pose, maintained fairly rigidly for most of his Beatle career, as the strong, or at least dominant, one. (Or does his pose here suggest a more subtle mastery, a more beneficent dominance: Is he protecting Paul? Enshrouding him? Hogging him? Inkblot-like, it depends who is looking.)


That I felt moved to debunk the Facebook photo morphing Jane into John didn’t mean I couldn’t understand the impulse to paste Paul’s head onto John’s shoulder. It simply expressed my view that interpretations, wishes, and daydreams should always come clearly marked. They should not be offered as fact, lest they be taken that way. We should know, to the degree we can, where things come from, what existed before our intervention and what did not, and faking photos so as to fake those realities—even for such benign, unexploitative purposes as these—is another way of rewriting, or at least retouching, history.

Admittedly, the falsifying of photographs, film, and other evidences for more dastardly conspiratorial purposes—by private groups, governments, whomever—may be some distance away. But you can see the same principles from where we’re standing. And if it seems I lack of a sense of humor, or of romance, or of realism with regard to the shifting perceptual parameters of post-millennial media culture blah blah blah, I’d say that I value not only a deeply personal, interpretive, even fantastical relationship to art, but an objective sense of historical truth—that in fact my valuation of each insists on a heightened sensitivity and transparency whenever and wherever one shades into the other.

Meanwhile, I’ve got serious doubts about this one:


[MG here: Commenters, do any of you know of any other faked Beatles photos? Not obvious fakes, but stuff that was claimed to be real, then unmasked as a fake? Put ’em in the comments.]

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  1. Devin, this is a wonderful post. One of my favorites on Dullblog, ever.

    I don’t think you’re being a killjoy; my alarm is, if anything, ever-greater about this particular issue. Think about how many times on HD someone has made a point, or refuted one, by presenting a photograph. Even ONE photograph — of say, John and Paul hanging out in Santa Monica — speaks volumes about that moment in Beatle history.

    I am sure that photo-faking is used constantly to massage the course of history; I think our fair Beatledom has, until recently, simply escaped this scourge.

    More thoughts TK — gotta run. Interested to hear what everybody else says.

  2. Avatar linda a. wrote:

    Hi Devin that bottom photo definitely looks photo shopped. To me the image of Paul looks like it may be from a still taken while they were rehearsing for the special, The Music of Lennon and McCartney. Ironically John is standing next to him in those photos but he seems to have been cut out and replaced by a different photo taken at a different time, possibly even a different year. So this photo shopped one looks really stupid. What is even more ridiculous or perhaps ironic is, there are plenty of photos of John and Paul looking intimate that are not photo shopped and are real. For instance the photos I just mentioned from the TV special: Whether or not they were touching, John and Paul seemed to mirror each other in the way they stood, walked and gestured. They are doing this in the rehearsal photos. This mirroring of each other is just as interesting and revealing as the Baily photos, or any photos that show them actually touching. And if fans want touching, or gazing admirably at each other, they can find plenty real photos of them doing that.

  3. Avatar Rob Geurtsen wrote:

    Devin, I am afraid your wonderfully written and cleareyed post won’t change much.

    People tend to believe sound and visual testimony… of the history of the artist, and the creation of art, in the end they will not be able to change history or fill in details, even if they are forged, the authority of powerbrokers is required for a historical lie to become historical truth. In our pop-world that is people like Jann Wenner, who as a major powerbroker declared Lennon’s lies and agony to be the Beatles’ truth, today that may be Mark Lewisohn, in the past the Catholic Church had that position from which they created the myth of Jesus, thru inclusion and exclusion of writings into our version of the Bible. After the powerbrokers have done their work, easy to fool people are need to follow up along similar lines.

    But historical truth is not relevant to art, if those who say they like Beatles’ music need history of the individuals or the band to love, understand or enjoy the art (music) well they might.
    The further we get away from the moment of creation the stronger the tendency in art is the separation of the historical truth from the appreciation of art, just like you wrote:

    “I’d say that I value not only a deeply personal, interpretive, even fantastical relationship to art, but (also) an objective sense of historical truth.”

  4. Avatar Devin McKinney wrote:

    Linda, I think you’re right, the bottom photo is very much from the 1965 Music of Lennon and McCartney, a slew of shots from whose set shows the two of them in these jackets, with that hair. But everything about this mashup, from the different lights hitting their faces to the too-clean lines between face and fabric, screams fake. And you’re right, if people want an unfaked shot of John’s chin on Paul’s shoulder, here’s one:


    Rob, thank you for the “(also).”

  5. Avatar Nicole wrote:

    I’ve always been struck by (and corrected) photoshopped pictures of J/P, but for the main reason that usually the REAL pictures are just as good, if not better. That 1965 Music of Lennon and McCartney thing, for example, provides plenty of mirroring shots or shots where they apparently don’t recognise the concept of personal space. That’s always a favourite, that and airport shots (where Paul often has a hand on John, or arm around him) and posed shots at press conferences and interviews where either J or P is standing and will have one or both hands on the other’s shoulders. I do have folders on my computer just of J/P photos and there are PLENTY of ‘intimate’ ones without the need for photoshopping. I once felt the need to post some pictures a few years ago and posted many (with quotes) here, stretching for several pages: abbeyrd.proboards.com/thread/2573/john-paul-people-say-quotes

    While that Bailey shot is wonderful in and of itself, my absolute favourite thing about it is that John had it in his music room. It speaks volumes.

    As for lyrical statements John made about Paul, I’ll throw Jealous Guy into the ring. Paul said in an interview that it was about him. Also, I think a case can be for I Know (I Know) as a response to Some People Never Know. It has John’s favourite thing – making past references to lyrics – in it as well with the incorportation of yesterday and getting better.

    • “While that Bailey shot is wonderful in and of itself, my absolute favourite thing about it is that John had it in his music room. It speaks volumes.”

      YEAH. Volumes about what John thought of Paul, and the central role Paul played in John’s creativity during the flowering of the Beatles. John created under Paul’s gaze; I don’t think it’s a stretch to call each man the other’s muse.

      Perhaps what I love most about J&P’s obvious intimacy is how genuinely rebellious it was. The Stones’ macho pose is so goddamn safe, next to the full unfettered friendship that it seems existed between John and Paul. This is why Lennon’s stance in “Lennon Remembers” always strikes me as a step backward, not forward, a child dressing up as a pirate.

      • Avatar Rob Geurtsen wrote:

        I agree that John and Paul appear to have been each other’s muse. The moment Paul lost that role for John, and Yoko started to play that role, the band-members were incapable of coping with that new configuration of creativity. Some people make the case for Stuart being John’s muse before Paul.
        It may be a linguistic thing but when you label the John and Paul relation as ‘obvious intimacy’, ‘full unfettered’ and ‘genuinely rebellious’ I am lost, surprised or suspicious. I will try to explain this, I sincerely do not want to be rude… but a little warning from across the pond might be a useful for the discussion about the John and Paul ‘intimate’ relation.
        Empathy thru touching and closeness on display in fake and real photos does not show anything out of the ordinary, it is really not very special and does not indicate ‘sexual or intimate relations’ between John and Paul, like those between Monika and Bill. Touching and emotional bonding or signs of special empathy do not refer to any special relationship between John and Paul, as these non-verbal moves were quite normal at the times for the Fab. Touching was and is a normal social behavior for comrades. Denying the existence of close camaraderie, including touching, closeness etc. among young men conquering the world of pop-music across the globe, in a tough uphill battle during approximately five to six years, comes across as a bias deriving from late20th/early21st century Victorian-like (conservative) Christian American prudishness, that really did not exist in the times of The Beatles – the sixties and early seventies. Neither does it today in Western-Europe. It seems to exist among people living justifiably proudly in a country where in 2015 the words ‘gay’, ‘transgender’ etc. appeared in the State of the Union by POTUS for the first time in the history of the United States – a little late indeed. Context really matters.
        What may appear out of the ordinary, rebellious, unfettered etc. today in America is not and was not in other parts of the world, and surely not among the lads from Liverpool who went thru all this. It may be strange today, it really wasn’t at the time. The band had a special closeness, they were a tight unit, for real not the kind of tight unit Obama just tried to sell us as the family-image of America in the SotU.
        Some people might sing and think ‘ We are the World’, but they never were, they were Americans who lacked the capacity for empathy to understand and feel the need of people across borders, in exploited, abused and often ignored countries. There is a similarity to the faking lies of ‘We Are Charlie’. The aberration of closeness and empathy is not on display in pictures of The Beatles, but in the thinking of many people projecting fear-compensation on entities they actually dislike.
        What I am trying to say is that the discussion about the (sexual/erotic/emotional) relationship between John and Paul is overrated and it seems it derives from a world-view that lacks the understanding of young men camaraderie, and as Devin already argues is irrelevant to the experience of the art of The Beatles.

        • John Lennon did not share your rosy view of masculinity as practiced in the Liverpool of his time. He said many times that he needed primal scream to express the emotions he learned to repress via his upbringing. And I just found this, from the last interview he ever gave:

          JOHN: “I think that’s what happened to all of us. I think that idea of ‘no breast feeding; don’t touch them, you’ll spoil them’ – I think that’s all lunacy from some lunatic… you see, I know it’s almost the same in America, but male children in England were brought up to defend the country. I mean, that was about it, you know? You had to have discipline and not kow… not touch the kid. He had to be hard… a boy was really programmed to go into the army, that was about it, you know. And, you had to be tough and you’re not supposed to cry and you’re not supposed to show emotion. And, I know Americans show more emotion, they’re more open than English people, but it’s pretty similar over here. There’s that Calvinist Protestant Anglo-Saxon ethic which is, ‘don’t touch, don’t react, don’t feel’ And I think that’s what screwed us all up. And I think it’s time for a change.”

          I really must ask you to dial back your cultural stereotyping of Americans. It’s incorrect — the US is quite diverse in its attitudes — but more to the point, it doesn’t add much to the discussion.

          A good rule of thumb: say what YOU think. When you think you might be overstepping into some assumptions about another commenter, just go back to your own opinions and beliefs, based on your own experience.

    • Avatar Rob Geurtsen wrote:

      btw I am not sure whether the picture you refer to is actually not a pose… the look of Paul could be more genuine than the guided pose… at the time he was in charge of The Beatles as if he were at least partially taken over the role of Brian Epstein, with permission of the others, especially the more lazy John, he knew that an image like this picture was positive for the band and the whole sunny setting cannot but make you feel happy unless there is a lot of mutual agony going on.

    • Avatar Rob Geurtsen wrote:

      Nicole makes a good point referring to REAL pictures. And I agree with how you value the fact the picture was in John’s own private (music-)space at home. Your reference to I Know I Know makes me curious. I am too busy writing an extensive review of Dylan: The Lyrics Since 1962, but it ill be on my wish-list and action-list. Any advice on books to buy? Books that offer the best and comprehensive analysis John’s solo output, with at least emphasis on lyrics?
      Now to the Photoshopped vs REAL controversy
      It is quite normal that new technologies drive new outings and ideas within an already existing context. New technologies hardly ever do change history, unless of course we get more data about the past. Data that we are able to explore better, looking for new interpretations and design new hypotheses.
      Whether these technology-related playful or silly outings and ideas are relevant to history is doubtful. E.g. the internet hasn’t changed significantly history and the experience of any past.
      It would be interesting to re-do the blown out proportions discussion on the emotional (physical sexual even? Come on, get over it) relation between Lennon and McCartney based on collections of real photos. More is required than photoshopped photos to give new content to the ‘objective sense of historical truth’ of The Beatles.

      • Avatar Nicole wrote:

        I do have a harddrive which has folders just for this kind of thing. I started to go through and find some that I wanted to show but quickly got to 100 photos and neither had I finished sorting, nor was I able to narrow it down. There are ‘categories’ though: ‘J and P ignore everything going on, including cameras, to stare at each other’, ‘J stares intensely at P’, ‘P stares intensely at J’, ‘lacking personal space though there’s plenty of room around them’, ‘unnecessary touching of the shoulders or lower back’, ‘J making P smile, or vice versa’, ‘J teasing or touching P in an interview to get his attention/annoy him’, ‘mirroring each others’ body language’, and so on….

  6. Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

    “interpretations, wishes, and daydreams should always come clearly marked”–

    Amen, amen, amen, Devin. This is what creeps me out about Jude Sutherland Kessler’s books about Lennon: not that they exist, but that she claims the status of fact for them. Let us at least be clear when we’re adding to what can be objectively known.

    Rob, I think you’re doing Mark Lewisohn a disservice by lumping him in with “powerbrokers” who can make “a historical lie historical truth.” No human being can be perfect, but Lewisohn’s work appears to me to be an honest, painstaking effort to separate what can be known from what must be interpreted.

    It also strikes me as defeatist to declare that writing like Devin’s here “won’t change much.” For some people yes, for others no. But in either case, it’s worth making the effort, IMO.

    • Avatar Rob Geurtsen wrote:

      @ Nancy… Mark Lewisohn is a man who is attributed with a lot of authority in the world of fans of The Beatles, people tend to talk about his biography being the definitive version, his archival work is still dominant in the charts reflecting the book market and is valued as the most important reference books. If he claims something as truth not a lot of people will dare to challenge unless they are very sure. Today his influence is dominant, as was the Rolling Stone view view a couple of decades ago.
      You will not find I have much negative critical words from me about Lewisohn’s bio-book. I think it offers a very good read, I own the extended version.
      I honestly believe that visual and audio prove has more influence today on the common view on the history of The Beatles than well written posts, like Devin did. It is not defeatist, it’s a difference between hope and media reality.

      • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

        Rob, I think the question is whether Lewisohn’s work deserves to be considered “authoritative.” Given the amount of research involved, how rigorously the book is footnoted, and my own sense of Lewisohn’s attempt to be objective, I say “yes, at least so far.” No book is ever going to be infallible, but there’s an important distinction to be made between a work like Lewisohn’s, written with the benefit of a longer perspective and wider sources, and “the Rolling Stone view,” which was very much immersed in the personalities of the time and wasn’t, to be fair, aspiring to give a “definitive” view.
        I agree with you that visual and audio “proofs” influence people heavily today, often more than the written word: Devin’s post highlights how dangerous that can be. The myriad efforts to prove “Paul is dead” through extensive comparison of earlobe photos is another indicator.
        In the face of people taking photoshopped or otherwise dubious “proofs” as facts, I appreciate efforts to remind people not to take such visual or audio “evidence” at face value.

        • Avatar Ruth wrote:

          Not to be nitpicky Nancy, but I believe you’re being too generous to Wenner and Co. in saying that “Lennon Remembers” is not packaged as the ‘definitive’ view of the group the way Lewisohn is. John may not have intended LR to be taken the way it has (there’s a considerable amount of evidence indicating that he didn’t) but Wenner (with, it must be said, Yoko’s support) has certainly promoted “Lennon Remembers” as the definitive account not only of the breakup, but also of the group member’s roles prior to the breakup. In the thirtieth anniversary edition of “Lennon Remembers” published in 2000 Wenner describes the interview as the ‘definitive’ account of the group’s breakup, a statement of such absurdity and partisanship its almost breathtaking.

          And I agree that Lewisohn has earned his place as a Beatles authority through painstaking researching, verification of facts, documentation and objectivity. His place as preeminent Beatles authority has been earned. Does this rank grant his work more weight and shape the whole of the Beatles narrative with his own personal interpretation? Absolutely. There’s no doubt that Lewisohn wields an immense amount of power in Beatles historiography — as Wenner and Norman did at one point and, to a certain extent, still do. But Lewisohn — and this is what separates him from Wenner, Norman, Spitz, etc — employs the methodological tools that create enduring history. So while Lewisohn’s interpretation is incredibly influential in shaping Beatles history, he offers his interpretations using the legitimate methods that historians have been using for centuries. History always involves *some* level of interpretation — otherwise its just a dry recitation of facts and dates. The key is when the author clearly distinguishes between their interpretation of the thoughts/motivations for events (the inside of the event) and the facts that we know occurred (the outside of the event.) Lewisohn does this, many other Beatles authors do not. Norman, Spitz, etc all essentially say “This is why John/Paul said this/this is what they were thinking,” without providing proof that that was so. Lewisohn says “This is my interpretation of why John/Paul said this/this is what they were thinking and here: (citation) is why I believe that.” While I agree with Rob that few people would contest something Lewisohn said, the difference is that Lewisohn documents and shows us where he gets his facts so that, if we did want to contest it, we would know where to start. That’s key. Wenner/Norman/Spitz wrote myth; Lewisohn is writing history.

          • @Ruth, this is fascinating — if you ever want to do formal posts on these issues (like, for example, how “Lennon Remembers” should be viewed), I would love to run it. I’ll even interview you if a Q and A would be better. I’m anxious to hear how a historian approaches this topic.

            I think it’s pretty clear that Lennon regretted a lot of what he said in the Rolling Stone interview — witness his apology to George Martin — and certainly did not want it to stand as definitive. He didn’t even want the interview to be published in book form, something Wenner agreed to, then reneged on. Lennon never forgave him for that, but (my opinion) couldn’t raise too much of a stink because Wenner’s magazine was certainly able to tarnish his solo reputation, as it did Paul’s. “Lennon Remembers” is the moment where Wenner takes the upper hand in that relationship and (as usual) John gave him the power to accomplish that. The only people who ever screwed John Lennon over were the ones he’d given that power to. (Klein, to use the obvious example.)

            I’d quibble with your use of the word “myth” for Wenner/Norman/Spitz — there is significant information in those works; they have valuable truths to tell, they are not solely stories made of whole-cloth for political purposes, or only allegories trying to illuminate symbolic/psychological truths. To toss everything but academic history into the “questionable” bucket is no wiser a course for the general reader than utter belief. Much of what happens leaves no traces. As with the scientific method, the tools used by historians are an imperfect fit with reality — what you find and how much you find of it is determined by the tools you’re using, and the tools being used to some degree reflect the biases of their era.

            This is my decades of reading on the assassinations talking, but I firmly believe there’s no escape from bias; there’s no definitive anything. Even if Lewisohn were just data-crunching, examining the fossilized contents of the lavatories at the Cavern, he’d still have to interpret the data, and in that act there is a divergence from what actually happened. The best any of us can hope for is the truest possible version in our heads. Lewisohn’s by far the most reliable Vergil to follow through the Beatles’ story, and it was a happy accident he came along. Few such topics have an historian who combines his attention to detail and fluidity of expression; and he, unlike someone like Todd Gitlin, didn’t come to his position by actually being involved, with all the sticky problems that can create. Lewisohn and his project demonstrates the group and its times shifting from popular memory into history, and every Beatles fan who wants their story to be preserved owes Lewisohn a huge debt.

          • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

            Ruth, I second Michael on being very interested in your writing a post on historiography and the Beatles’ story / doing an interview with you about that. Please consider it!
            Maybe I am being too charitable about Wenner and RS; calling “Lennon Remembers” the “definitive” account of the group’s breakup, in 2000, is indeed breathtaking. At least they published Mikal Gilmore’s account of the breakup later.
            You expressed the difference between Lewisohn and Norman et. al. better than I did: Lewisohn consistently “employs the methodological tools that create enduring history,” importantly including being as clear as it’s humanly possible to be about where what can be factually known ends and where interpretation begins.
            And Mike, while I agree with you that there’s no escape from bias, I think that books like “Shout!” and “The Lives of John Lennon” (to pick two of the most egregious examples) are dangerous precisely because they blur the lines (deliberately, IMO) between what can be known and what must be inferred/interpreted. In that way they’re like the photoshopped pics Devin’s writing about here: they include enough reality that believing in the whole picture is tempting — but if you believe in that whole picture, you’re being misled.
            Taking the long view, I think that Norman, Goldman et. al. will be useful to future historians primarily as evidence of how the Beatles’ story was told by those relatively close to it in time.
            To take an example from literature, Dickens’ friend John Forster wrote a life of Dickens in the 1870s that all current Dickens biographers refer to, but that none would consider complete or wholly reliable. Forster leaves out a lot of information (like Dickens’ relationship with Ellen Ternan) and whitewashes other incidents (like the circumstances of Dickens’ divorce). The lasting value of Forster’s book is that it’s a view of Dickens from his own time, by someone who knew him well. In the same way, I think future readers will see Norman’s and Goldman’s books as interesting insofar as they reveal a 1980s take on the Beatles or Lennon.

          • @Nancy, I gotta respond to this, because I think there’s something really interesting in your response. It’s precisely the flaws you mention in Forster’s biography (taking your word for ’em, don’t know anything about Dickens) that make Goldman’s book valuable.

            Goldman’s book is unsympathetic, nasty, lurid, and sloppy — and yet in the years since it was published, our picture of John Lennon has gotten consistently darker. The idea that John Lennon was a violent alcoholic (and wife-beater) was utterly incomprehensible in 1988; today, these elements are an accepted part of the picture we have of him. “The Lives of John Lennon” was the first book to really investigate the darker aspects of John’s self and career, life and family, and while it took unseemly glee in doing so, it staked out new territory that has proved to be authentic and valuable to anybody who really wants to understand certain aspects of Lennon’s life or the Beatles’ story.

            Goldman’s book was the first to really examine Julia Stanley’s strange and messy life, untangle John’s traumatizing upbringing, Brian’s botching of Seltaeb; and it’s still the only source I know that digs into Yoko’s story before she met John. And it was doing all this in the mid-80s, when most of the principals were still alive. Clearly the topic needed Goldman’s adversarial approach.

            While Norman’s central thesis — that Lennon was the genius of the Beatles and the others were to some greater or lesser extent hangers-on — grows weaker by the year, the non-insane part of Goldman’s thesis — that Lennon was an incredibly damaged, unpredictable and eccentric person under immense psychic pressure — has more or less held up. Fans actively avoid Goldman’s book because they don’t like the John they see; and while Goldman’s portrait is massively distorted — ie, bogus — in spite of itself it touches on a central truth: that immense psychic pressure, which made Lennon both monstrous and angelic, is what reality requires to make something like the Beatles happen. We don’t like this as fans, but appealing to fans isn’t what history is for. (It’s what publishing is for, and Goldman’s sales predictably underwhelmed.)

            This is to some degree what I was getting at with @Ruth: history is made down here among us peons, doing what peons do. The larger questions that we all ask — and that we’d all agree are not only appropriate, but the marrow of history — can only be resolved by data unflinchingly gathered at the human-scale level. And the lower and smaller and more individual and more personal one gets, the more often the baser emotions and motivations we all share, rear their beautiful little heads.

            Every Beatles historian asks, “Why did the Beatles break up?” and there are plenty of reasons, most of them not embarrassing — ego, money, boredom, etc. But there are some embarrassing, weird ones, too, and their being embarrassing or weird doesn’t make them not valid data. Even the most surface reading suggests that if you want to know why the Beatles broke up, it’s essential that you try to figure out when Lennon started using heroin, and whether he ever stopped. The Beatles weren’t some mythical creature infused with magic, they were four guys who worked together at a very public, very high-pressure job. So if Mr. Chief Beatle, the boss, starts speaking only through his new lover, being paranoid, and is more interested in scoring than (for example) working on George’s track, it directly impacts every aspect of The Beatles. It’s historical data. And every time a weak excuse gets trotted out — “we were just growing up, man” — the more a sensitive historian should get suspicious.

            It’s also absolutely essential to figure out whether or not Yoko Ono introduced him to heroin, because that either fits or doesn’t fit with the oft-suggested idea that she was trying to break him off from the other three. So then you have to ask, “Would she do that? How had she acted before 1968?” And so you get into her backstory, which isn’t muckraking; it’s trying to answer the central question you started with. “Why did the Beatles break up?” Who are these people, and why did they do what they did? You gotta psychoanalyze to some degree. There is no memo or lab result that will give you the answer. It’s invasive and presumptuous, but history is worth it.

            Now, obviously, the closer you get to home truths, the more pushback you’re going to face. Sources will refuse to talk; lawsuits will be threatened; publishers will be intimidated; fans will be alerted and begin hating your book before it’s even published. But none of that changes what you have to do when you attempt to answer these questions. Goldman’s big flaw was that he was, by all accounts, an asshole who fell out of love with John Lennon; but that’s also his strength. You just gotta read him super-critically, which you should be doing anyway.

            The profession of historian militates against this kind of bug’s-eye-view stuff. It says Yoko’s possible attraction to Paul doesn’t matter (or doesn’t leave a paper trail, which is the same thing). It selects for people who are fascinated by topics two hundred, five hundred, two thousand years in the past; and people who are usually more comfortable in an archive than in a strip club. But that doesn’t change what history is: the story of people, unruly lovable people, who trumpet their triumphs and do their damnedest to hide their flaws. The basic drives of sex and addiction and greed, and yes love and charity and so forth, must be the engines of history, so we have to grapple with them. And by waiting until a person is safely dead for a century destroys our chance at really understanding the person as a person, for the sake of — what? Nothing that should be important to an historian. A historian of the Beatles shouldn’t give a good goddamn whether Paul or Yoko likes how they’re portrayed; he/she should only be concerned with whether it’s the best, fairest conclusion based on all the information at hand.

            My point? In 1863, Ellen Ternan was gossip. In 2015, it’s a cold fact that nobody really cares about — and all the questions that could’ve been answered by interviewing her in 1873 can no longer be answered. And so we soldier on, perceiving Dickens (or Lennon) as Great Unknowables, men fundamentally different from those of us who live down here in the muck, loving, lusting, crying, laughing, paying bills (or not), being kind (or not). History as it’s done simply isn’t good enough, isn’t brave enough, isn’t real enough. I think there’s a great hunger for truth that contemporary history sidesteps, for lots of practical and institutional reasons; but the hunger for truth remains. Goldman’s book uncovered some truth, not through wisdom or temperateness but the opposite. Still, truths are truths, no matter how they are brought to light, and while I hope Goldman’s book will be superceded by a much, much better one (Lewisohn’s final volume?), on some topics that day has not yet come, nor may never come. The truth lies, I suspect, somewhere between Goldman’s hit-job and Rolling Stone’s bottom-line hagiography; the question is, will we get it while anyone still gives a damn?

          • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

            Michael, I actually agree that Goldman’s and Norman’s books (especially Goldman’s) are useful if “read super-critically.” I just think that’s a very big if, and that neither author helps the reader do that critical reading, since the sourcing and documenting of information is spotty. It’s not merely that Goldman and Norman are biased, it’s that a reader can only uncover and think critically through that bias by going beyond the book itself and doing a fair amount of sifting. Which readers *should* be doing, as you say — but frequently don’t. People ought to be thinking critically about the kind of photos Devin posted about, but often don’t. So counsel is darkened by folks who think they “know” something based on a source that exhibits “truthiness” at best.
            I also have to say (because I’m one of the tiny handful of people who care strongly about Charles Dickens in 2015) that I realized I wasn’t completely fair to poor John Forster in my earlier response. His book should mostly be considered the way May Pang’s and Pete Shotton’s books are — as I-was-there accounts written by people close to the subject. As such they have their own strengths and weaknesses, and fall more into the category of primary sources.
            In my experience the best “academic” historians do take into account the “bug’s eye view” to the degree there’s any evidence for it and are certainly willing to analyze and opine about the subjects’ motives. They just make it clear when they’re doing that and when they’re giving just the facts, ma’m. No one does it perfectly, but I think a writer has the obligation to at least TRY to be fair to the people he or she is writing about, and to his or her readers.

          • @Nancy, I completely agree with you. Thanks for engaging me on the topic. You, too, @Ruth!

  7. Avatar linda a. wrote:

    Devin thanks for posting the link to those great photos. Yes the one you are referring to with John’s chin on Paul’s shoulder I first saw in the Hunter Davies book when I was a new fan, aged 10 at the time. Even at that age that photo really grabbed my attention for the intimacy it showed. I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow these guys really love and admire each other and it’s no act.” Not only is John’s chin on Paul’s shoulder, but the look in Paul’s eyes speaks volumes and that can’t ever be photo shopped. There are so many revealing photos of them, it would probably fill an entire hard drive, but here is one from the Mad Day Out photo session.

  8. Avatar Nicole wrote:

    By the way, the final 1966 L&M picture above in the original post (which, as has been said, is clearly photoshopped) suffered what other commonly seen J/P manips have suffered – removal of space. it IS an actual photograph, but they’ve tried to move John even closer to Paul. Funnily enough, there are plenty more examples from that show where they don’t have personal space anyway. I’ve included the original (and just a couple of colour photos, B&W photos and screenshots from the same programme) in this folder: http://imgur.com/a/v9MHZ

  9. Avatar Devin McKinney wrote:

    Rob, I think you’ve got some of this backward. I don’t believe the people who are ‘Shopping the pics under discussion are manifesting “a world-view that lacks the understanding of young men[‘s] camaraderie.” On the contrary, they are trying–albeit in a dodgy, perhaps directly dishonest way, to which my post was a hand-wringing response–to express that camaraderie, at least as it applies to John and Paul, to make it visual and obvious, where the Beatles themselves, truly men of their time and place, encoded or obscured it in fairly typical male-gang behavior.

    I too feel it’s “overrated” to work up a romantic mythos of sexual love between John and Paul (the true desire/wish fulfillment lying behind these manipulated pics), but that’s mostly because it’s not my fantasy, I don’t find it that interesting, and because those whose fantasy it is often presume to be working up a reality-based theory from evidence that isn’t there–at least not until someone PhotoShops it.

    Your remarks about America are correct at least to the degree that open physical affection between men has never been strictly “okay” here, unless expressed in the ways I described as “symbolic lovemaking,” which can cover anything from hugging passionately to laying gentle hands on shoulders, from snapping towels in a locker room to hazing rituals involving anal penetration. But your generalizations are gross, your historicizing doctrinaire, and they come out of a manifesto, not out of observed life. For some of that, you might look at these pages, focusing on an eye-opening photo exhibit I viewed in New York more than a decade ago.


    And by the way, I don’t in any place or way argue that such fantasies as these photos represent is “irrelevant to the experience of the art of The Beatles.” I said in the last sentence of the post that I am passionately in favor of a “fantastical” relationship to art, including the Beatles’, and indeed, my book Magic Circles is in the most fundamental way about the fantastical aspect of the Beatles’ proximity to their world and their history. It is simply that, again, daydreams and fantasies must not be presented as other than they are. Let them be taken or rejected as such.

  10. Avatar Nicole wrote:

    To the “Your remarks about America are correct at least to the degree that open physical affection between men has never been strictly “okay” here”, I always found this quote from Paul quite interesting. It doesn’t speak to the physical (though their circle jerk stories always amuse me) but to the verbal:

    Michael Parkinson: What was sad too was the way it drove a wedge between your relationship, you and John – was it always a spiky relationship? I mean, you said you loved him-
    Paul: Yes.
    Michael Parkinson: -and that love comes through in the book. Did he love you?
    Paul: Yeah. I don’t think it was… Yeah, I think he did actually. *laughs* We’ll check. Just excuse me for a moment. ‘John, come on, baby, did, yes.’ Yeah, I think he did, yeah. It wasn’t actually a spiky relationship at all. It was, uh, very warm, very close and very loving, I think. All The Beatles. We used to say, I think we were amongst the first sort of men to come out openly – and you remember, it was quite sort of strange in those days, we’re talking about a long time ago now when homosexuality was still sort of largely illegal – we used to say ‘I love him’ on interviews and the interviewers would get slightly taken aback, a man saying he loved someone. But I think, quite genuinely, we really did and I still do.

  11. Avatar Ruth wrote:

    Michael, why don’t you send me an e-mail and we can talk about a historical methods post or Q&A?

    While I think myth might be a somewhat excessive term in regard to Norman/Spitz etc, I’m going to quibble over Wenner: “Lennon Remembers” is a myth, but Wenner continues to promote it as the truth. That’s the classic definition of myth according to historians:“an account of any kind which purports to be historical but is really fictitious, wholly or in part.”

    However, I do disagree with this:”To toss everything but academic history into the “questionable” bucket is no wiser a course for the general reader than utter belief.” While both are flawed, I find skeptical and at times harsh source analysis preferable to blind acceptance, although I freely admit that personal preference impacts my view. Honestly, I find the standards of most Beatles writers when it comes to researching/documenting/source analysis/verification appalling to non-existent. While historical methodology has its own flaws, they are the standards that have been developed over centuries, and when people are analyzing the history of the Beatles in 100 years, these are the standards they will use. Personally, I do view the vast majority of Beatles historiography as “questionable.” That doesn’t mean I summarily dismiss all that it contains — Spitz, Norman, etc, do contain valuable research and interpretation — but its *not* history.

    You are absolutely right that there is no way to achieve complete impartiality, and historians acknowledge that. The task is to do everything possible not to allow that implicit or explicit bias to determine your conclusions; affect which sources you include/omit, ignore contradictory sources, or force your own motivations/thoughts onto those of historical actors. I regard Shout! and The Lives of John Lennon as providing the balance for each other that each work lacked in itself. Balance is another key aspect of history, and both of them are so tilted towards their own particular view that by themselves they upend the scale; pit them on opposite ends and it almost evens out. There’s a considerable amount of good research in Shout and in TLOJL, there’s a considerable amount of rubbish, and they’re both ludicrously biased. Shout is more popular because its a more preferable version, but that doesn’t make it the more accurate one.

    • @Ruth, I’ll think about this, and shoot you an email. I think the issues you’ve raised in your comments are hugely valuable. Furthermore, I think they’re the next great step in the intellectual side of Beatle fandom — to begin to look at this story and our heroes as historical figures, part of history.

      Just so you know where I’m coming from and why, I spent many, many years reading about the JFK, RFK, MLK, and Malcolm X assassinations, and the one thing a person can take away from that vast data-dump is a deep sense of skepticism towards the various professions whose societal watchdog function expresses via information-gathering. In these particular instances, journalists and historians — the latter protected by tenure for this exact circumstance — created “an account of any kind which purports to be historical but is really fictitious, wholly or in part.”

      In all these cases, for fifty years, “skeptical and at times harsh source analysis” has really only been applied in one direction, to achieve a desired outcome. This is neither the time nor place to get into specifics, but it is, for anyone who cares about my definition of history — “finding out what the hell actually happened, regardless of what people SAY happened” — an appalling example of intellectual cowardice. That’s a strong word, but I believe it’s accurate.

      The historical community in the US has proven itself splendid at finding out the truth about certain things; but its record is very very spotty when it comes to anything with a political dimension. And these assassinations are not minor events, but ones that profoundly shaped American politics, history and culture; to ignore or gloss over or maintain a simplistic view of them is to insure that all the history that comes after that is built on sand. And yet, American historians left the “researching/documenting/source analysis/verification” of the political murders of the 60s to private citizens, and then usually dismissed what they found because they weren’t historians. The JFK Act came about as the result of a movie; in a sane and free society, historians and journalists would’ve demanded it from the beginning. Why didn’t they? And even NOW all the records aren’t released, and historians are still silent. Who could it possibly harm to release Lee Harvey Oswald’s tax returns? Academic historians have been hugely complicit in the national security state, and I think that should make every historian angry and embarrassed, and everybody who reads history a little less willing to believe what they read. The conventional view of all these assassinations could perhaps be true, but if so it’s a blind pig finding a nut, not the rigorous application of standard historiographical tools — and the fact that even now we can’t be sure, and will never be sure, is a huge indictment of the American historical profession.

      Getting back to the Beatles: I think these issues are less prone to come up in an issue that does not have any direct political ramifications. Still, there are substantial financial pressures to tell a particular version of the Beatles story in a particular way, with particular heroes and particular villains. That pressure is lessening over time, but any reader must be aware of that.

  12. Avatar Ruth wrote:

    I think the ability to view the Beatles and the individuals in it as history is something that is only going to come with time. The academic term is “historical distance,” and we’re finally approaching the point now, forty years after the breakup and thirty years after John’s death, where its possible. It’s still impacted by, harsh as it sounds, the fact that Paul, Yoko and Ringo are still alive (and all the emotional, logistical, archival and politicking consequences that are impacted by that) and still shaping the narrative.

    My own knowledge of the assassinations of the 60’s is fairly basic: I haven’t gone in-depth into any of them, with the exception of reading parts of the Warren Report and the book version of JFK. If the academic historians failed as drastically as you maintain they did, and applied critical source analysis in only one direction, then that’s not history either; it’s propaganda or myth. However, the fact that they failed to apply the methodology properly doesn’t invalidate the methodology itself, although I don’t think that’s what you’re implying. I absolutely agree with you that every source, primary or secondary, whether the topic is the assassination of RFK or the Burning of Atlanta or the Beatles has to be ruthlessly assessed, regardless of whether it has the official stamp of approval of legitimate history on it. The most recognizable, esteemed Authorities on subjects can and do get it wrong: (in Beatles historiography, Shout! would be exhibit A) in my mind, dismissing research because it wasn’t done by an official, accredited historian is absurd; if they applied the methodology, than that’s what matters. I agree wholeheartedly that there are agendas that obscure the truth of Beatles history: they have existed from the very beginning and continue to impact the story to this day. One of the biggest flaws in Beatles history up to this point is the refusal of writers to acknowledge those agendas, or to only acknowledge the agenda of the side they disagree with, resulting in an inherently unbalanced and biased view.

    If you are interested in the concept of historiography, one of the most important books about it is called the Historian’s Craft, by Marc Bloch, one of the most brilliant and tragic figures of 20th century historical studies. Bloch was a Medieval historian, member of the French Resistance, and had Jewish blood, hiding in Nazi Occupied France when he wrote about the patterns of historiography, how to analyze sources, and history as a discipline. He never finished his book; he was discovered and killed before the liberation of Paris. Bloch’s writing is clear and insightful and serves as the foundation for most 20th century historical studies.

    • @Ruth, Marc Bloch sounds familiar — I’m sure he was on a syllabus lo! all those years ago. I will check him out. I can’t think of medievalists without thinking of John Boswell, with whom I had a nodding acquaintance with in my student days; he was simply magisterial in lecture and so, so young. A great loss.

      I name-drop to emphasize how specific and personal an axe I’m grinding here: when I studied history at Yale (1987-91), it was the acknowledged locus of the history of the American intelligence services. Robin Winks, whom I knew (he was friends with my girlfriend’s father) had just published Cloak and Gown; and of course H. Bradford Westerfield was teaching his long-running class “Spies and Lies” (which Dick Cheney said shaped his views on statecraft). The culture of the Cold War as seen in “The Good Shepherd” (main character based on Yale men Richard Bissell and James Angleton) was very alive at Yale.

      So this was the place where I was studying history, having a fascination with the assassinations since age six, when the House Select Committee was all over the news. If there was a group of historians with the precise access, intellectual prestige, and protected status to thoroughly investigate the role of American intelligence in the assassinations, it was these guys. And here’s the other part: most of the sources were still alive. All of them would lie to you, but by comparing the data — all the spin, all the “limited hangouts” — you could probably figure out what was what.

      But they did not do this; in fact, they scrupulously avoided the topic. Did Jonathan Spence do that as regards China’s Cultural Revolution? No he did not. Did Boswell soft-pedal his beliefs about gay marriage among the medieval clergy? No. It was only on this particular controversial topic that Yale’s high holies were silent. Just when we needed them to find out the truth — however outlandish, or mundane, it might be — the cream of America’s historians were unwilling to practice their craft, for reasons only they could tell you. But their reasons don’t really matter; this was no profession I could see myself believing in, or to be honest, thriving in. The history I was and am passionate about — America in the 1960s — could not be investigated without fear or favor. So I do a Beatles blog instead!

      If you want to discuss this further, I’ll take it off-thread. There are a few books that you might find interesting, but in general the whole topic is a depressing waste of time, a vast morass of paranoia. Better by far to stick with the Beatles!

  13. Avatar linda a. wrote:

    Honestly, I find the standards of most Beatles writers when it comes to researching/documenting/source analysis/verification appalling to non-existent.

    Amen to that.

  14. Avatar bobdobolia wrote:

    @Michael, re. Goldman – it’s simply not true to say that “the idea that John Lennon was a violent alcoholic (and wife-beater) was utterly incomprehensible in 1988”. In fact, you can go as far back as 1968 to find that information in Hunter Davies’ authorised biography (authorised, mind). It’s there in the chapter “John at Art College” where Cyn discusses John hitting her.
    You could also look at Pete Shotton’s book, published in 1984, which has several passages that describe John as, at certain points, a raging and violent alcoholic.
    Or how about May Pang’s Loving John (published 1983)? Large parts of that book, once again, portray John in similar fashion.
    Not to say that there is no merit in Goldman’s book (if read with a critical eye), but he was really only emphasising in a very one-dimensional way an aspect of the story that others had explored before.

  15. Avatar linda a. wrote:

    Your comment may have been a slight over statement Michael, but I think there is a thread of truth to it. Although John’s alcoholism and abuse was talked about in those books, in the wake of John’s death, and throughout the 1980’s I think that anything negative about John was basically wiped from most people’s memories. So when Goldman’s book came out a lot of the general public probably did find the idea incomprehensible. By the time his book came out we had already endured eight years of Saint John who only wanted peace and to bake bread with his son.

    • @Linda, my comment is an example of how everybody should read critically… especially when I’m writing! 🙂

      I remember being at Beatlefest Chicago in 1984 and ’85, and it truly was like John Lennon had been turned into Jesus Christ — only with a better sense of humor! It’s not wrong or foolish to admire John Lennon — I do — but fans should be encouraged to learn about all aspects of their heroes’ lives, especially as the fans age. (I don’t think Goldman should be the first or only thing somebody reads; more like the twentieth. It’s a corrective, not the main narrative.)

      First, learning a hero’s flaws can give really valuable perspective: nobody is perfect, and nobody’s life is perfect. This is really important for developing self-acceptance. Ideally one should be able to do that simply, but humans being what they are, it’s almost impossible to avoid comparing yourself to the people you admire. “By the time he was 40, John Lennon had… And I’m just…” But even the mighty and marvelous John Lennon had flaws and struggles and despair. This can be so encouraging, and it doesn’t hurt John a bit!

      Second, getting to know a celebrity’s flaws can make you a bit less prone to falling for PR, or making the same mistakes they did. Given the prevalence of drug use in showbiz, it’s actually really important for Lennon fans of future generations to realize the price he paid, so they can make an informed decision about what they’d like to do. Maybe they too will choose overindulgence, but it shouldn’t be a decision based on the Boomer fantasy that it was all “safe as milk.” That’s no more helpful or realistic than blanket demonization is.

      Both of these things — not following idealized heroes, and living in reality, not showbiz — are central to John Lennon’s mature beliefs. And Goldman’s book is nothing to fear or despise; as I’ve said many times, even if every accusation is true (and they aren’t), John Lennon still did what he did and said what he said. Thanks again to @Bobdobolia, and to you @Linda.

      • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

        Mike, you make a very good point about the Goldman book being a corrective. While it’s true that other books had included information about Lennon’s flaws, I believe Goldman’s was the first to shape a thesis around them. And it was the timing of Goldman’s book (1988), after eight years of Lennon’s virtual deification, that helped make it such a bombshell. I hope some later writer will be able to take the useful research Goldman did and tell the whole story (at least so far as it can be reasonably known) with some balance and compassion. That’s what’s wrong with Goldman’s book, IMO: it’s written in the red light of anger.
        If you ever want to write a post about Beatlefest then and now (1980s vs. your recent experience), I’d love to read it. (Just sayin’, as we put it in Chicago!)

        • @Nancy, I’d write that post today, if I wasn’t socked with a cold. I’ve been trying to parse my feelings about Beatlefest since October and that may be the best way to do so. I found the experience great fun but also somewhat concerning.

          Don’t forget the movie Imagine, which came out nearly simultaneously with the book — which is the filmic “Ballad of John and Yoko.” This was a knock-down fight in the middle of pop culture, a fight for legacy and meaning on the scale of what happens to Presidents or controversial political figures. And in part that’s why I feel OK sticking up for the book (in concept, and not in execution); there was and is a conscious attempt to create a myth around John Lennon, and so any information to the contrary is valuable in the “bracketing” of the truth. Especially since there’s really not much money to be made in the tearing-down of a myth, compared to the building and maintenance of one. Which is not to say that the book isn’t trash, it is. But I’m damn glad it exists.

          Spitz’ book already used Goldman’s interview-trove (or so he said); that’s the real thing to preserve, just as you say. Goldman’s still radioactive, unfortunately — perhaps he’ll be less so when Lewisohn gets around to the end of his story, and the raw material there can be winnowed and weighed by a real historian.

    • Avatar Karen wrote:

      John was not a “wife beater.” He had one occasion, according to Cynthia Lennon, when he hit her. He was a teenager.

      Not excusing it, but this act doesn’t even come close to any definition of wife-beatin.

  16. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    What I found valuable about the Goldman book was not so much his portrayal of Lennon, but the investigative work he did on the early Yoko. I got the impression that Yoko & Tony Cox were the Partlet and Chanticleer of their day.
    Goldman paid a big price for that book. Does anyone else remember the death of his assistant, who “fell” off a balcony? From what I understand, some deranged person was after Goldman. He was convinced his assistant’s death was murder, but the case went nowhere.

  17. Avatar Drew wrote:

    I’m not trying to pick a fight here but this idea that Mark Lewisohn’s work is somehow unbiased and a historical account is, I think, just as exaggerated at those who entirely dismissed Goldman’s book as fantasy. Mark Lewisohn has his biases and interpretations just like any other writer. And sometimes his interpretations don’t bear up on closer analysis.

    An example: In Tune In, Lewisohn describes a photo of Paul’s primary school class and tells the reader how it shows Paul as THE ONLY ONE goofing around and seeking attention for himself. Somehow, I guess, we’re supposed to see that, according to Lewisohn, as some sort of personality trait of Paul’s. (Mark’s favorite theory seems to be that John got attention naturally through his charisma while Paul was always desperate for attention — even though I’d say John’s wearing a toilet seat around his neck and traipsing on stage is a pretty desperate bid for attention but anyway …)

    When you read this passage about Paul’s grade school photo and then you go and actually LOOK at the photo, which is in the book, you can see that Paul is NOT the only kid goofing off in the photo. There are about 10 other kids who are goofing around too.They’re turned around, laughing, looking in the wrong direction, talking, and generally misbehaving. It looks like the photographer snapped the photo before the class was under control. Lewisohn interprets that photo the way HE wants to see it but I look at the photo and see a bunch of kids messing around. …

    The other thing I question about Lewisohn is some of the sources he uses. He seems to decide that certain Web sites (like a dodgy web site about the Beatles girlfriends) is somehow “accurate” even though it contains a lot of unsourced and contradictory information. I don’t get why someone known for his accuracy and interest in facts seems to use that site without question or skepticism. It’s odd. And he seems to report without questioning or skepticism the comments of people HE himself interviewed, but he’s skeptical about other journalists’ interviews. For example, Lewisohn seems to accept uncritically every single thing that Bob Wooler said — as if Wooler himself didn’t have his own biases and didn’t do what all humans do and skew things to make himself look better.

    Don’t get me wrong. I like Tune In. I just sometimes wonder why he chose to trust some sources unquestioningly. And Lewisohn’s interpretations aren’t always factual. He’s just another writer taking the facts and presenting them in the way he wants to view them.

    • @Drew, I’ve discovered (through a source I consider reliable!) that Lewisohn reads Dullblog, so I hope he reads your comment. If other commenters have similar substantive concerns, I’d love to hear them.

      I don’t mean to put Mark Lewisohn up on a pedestal — he isn’t perfect, and isn’t always right (see his ongoing search to source the quote “Ringo isn’t the best drummer in the world. He isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.”) but I do get a different sense from his work; I think Lewisohn’s intent is to provide a reasonable reading of the facts as he can discover them, and use historiographical methods that allow motivated readers (and fellow scholars) to check his work.

      As @Ruth has mentioned in this thread, that “visibility” is very different than any other Beatles biographer I know. But while I give him that credit, I continue to read him as critically as any other source, as you clearly do. Lewisohn should want this; he seems to possess the historian’s provisional coolness about his theories, which you don’t see in Davies or Goldman or Norman or Spitz.

    • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

      That’s a good reminder, Drew. Lewisohn is not The Oracle, and his interpretations should not be taken as gospel.
      There’s a real Catch-22 in biography/history, as one of Michael’s earlier replies about “academic” history suggested (at least to me). To get a book that’s illuminating and worth reading–that’s vivid and engaging, that captures why you care about the people or events enough to be reading about them–the writer has to care too. But that very caring inevitably shapes the facts that are selected and the way the story is told.
      I think all we can ask from a biographer or historian is that he or she strive to follow best historiographical practices (of the kind Ruth enumerated), examine his or her biases, and try hard to be fair to the subjects/events. And given the way Beatles biography/history has often been written, I’m relieved that Lewisohn seems to be trying to do these things. I’m sure he’s making some mistakes, missing things, and shaping things in ways that are subjective, but he seems like a much more reliable narrator, overall, than we’ve had so far.

    • Avatar linda a. wrote:

      Drew thanks for pointing out Lewisohn’s interpretation of that elementary school picture of Paul’s. I agree completely. The photographer definitely snapped the picture before the kids were ready. Practically no one is looking at the camera, and just about everyone is fooling around, not only Paul. Compare this photo with the ones of John, George and Ringo’s classes. In those pictures everyone is posed with their ankles crossed, hands folded, and smiling for the camera. There were a few parts in the early pages of the book where he seemed to be pushing this idea that Paul liked attention. I wonder though if Mark may have received this information from Paul himself. Which brings me to another thought; did Paul really like attention more than any other child or was he called an attention hog so many times (by a jealous younger brother perhaps), that he came to perceive himself that way? In any case I agree it gets tiresome that John is painted in a more positive light than Paul, for doing the exact same things.

    • Avatar Dan wrote:

      I disagree about the Paul photo. If you look at it, you’ll see lots of kids messing around, talking and laughing with each other. But you’ll only see one kid who’s aware of the camera and deliberately striking a pose for the viewer. Lewisohn’s point was that it shows Paul’s self-awareness and desire for attention, and I think the photo illustrates that pretty well.

  18. Avatar Drew wrote:

    Well the other big flaw in Lewisohn’s approach is he’s interviewing some of the principles 40 and 50 years after the fact and their memories would not only be faded but would also have changed. When Paul was the popular Beatle in the 60s and 70s, if Lewisohn had interviewed them back then, they might have had a more positive spin on Paul and a more negative spin on John (who they were down on in the 70s for marrying Yoko and pulling some of his crazy stunts). But now, in Britain especially, Paul is the unpopular Beatle (they complain about his dyed hair, his wealth, his vegetarian activism, his divorce scandal, etc., etc.) and John is revered as the dead hero who can no longer do any wrong (literally! it’s easier to be loved when you’re dead!). Thus, those same sources, in recalling the Beatles era to Lewisohn in interviews, are likely to skew their memories in favor of John and against Paul. Suddenly they have only lovely memories of John and they never liked Paul. Just as it’s dangerous to rely on any of the Beatles’ memories, it’s dangerous to rely on the memories of people who came into contact with them in Liverpool and London, etc, 40 years ago.

    For me, the most reliable sources are interviews of the principles taken from the newspapers and magazines of the time. I don’t envy any biographer trying to cope with all of this baggage in telling a story. … Generally, though, yes, I’l agree that Lewisohn is the most reliable historian we’ve had of the band. I just don’t find him to be unbiased in his interpretations. He’s definitely a Lennon oriented writer, judging from how much attention he gives Lennon. And Ringo. It’s Paul and George who got short shrift in his book. Sorry for going off topic here but I figured it didn’t matter so much at the tail end of a long thread. Apologies if it annoyed people.

  19. Avatar linda a. wrote:

    One other thing about the Lewisohn book, (also because this thread is really fun) Drew you mentioned that Mark interviewed people who seemed to put a better spin on John than they did on Paul. Honestly, I think I got a very different vibe from the book. I’m going from memory of course but to me it seemed that almost everyone Mark interviewed seemed to have the same opinion of Paul that they had of John. In fact everyone seemed to remember them as ‘they’ and their memories described them as inseparable, almost like identical twins. It was never, “John was this, but Paul was that.” It was always JohnandPaul . I definitely got the impression that they were like inseparable, identical twins, thought about in the same way. One comment that stands out for me is from Wooler, who says they reminded him of two sociopaths who killed a young boy in the 1920s. I don’t know where he was going with that assessment, but it’s obvious that he didn’t particularly like either of them. Like the others Mark interviewed, he didn’t differentiate between John and Paul. Whether they were liked and admired, or disliked, they were seen as one entity.

    • Avatar Nicole wrote:

      And that’s nothing new. I compiled pages of J/P related quotes a few years ago and that came through strongly from others.
      It was always Lennon and McCartney, even then. Lennon and McCartney. They wouldn’t even look at George or Stu to determine where things were going. Everything was designed around the two of them – and the others had to catch up on their own.
      (Johnny Gentle)
      Say the wrong thing, contradict them, and you were frozen out. A look would pass between them, and afterwards it was as if you didn’t exist.
      (Colin Hanton)
      After a while, they’d finish each other’s sentences. That’s when we knew how strong their friendship had become. They’d grown that dependent on one another.
      (Eric Griffiths)
      Something special was growing between them, something that went past friendship as we knew it. It was as if they drew power from each other.
      (Colin Hanton)

      • Avatar Drew wrote:

        Nicole: Those are all fascinating quotes. I don’t recall seeing any of them in Mark Lewisohn’s book. For much of the book Mark emphasizes that Paul-John-George were a tight threesome. And then another chunk of the book emphasizes the John-Stuart relationship. It’s only toward the end of the first book that Mark emphasizes how close John and Paul were yet Lewisohn doesn’t offer much detail about that, or quotes or anecdotes to bring their relationship to life. I don’t get the sense from reading Tune In that John and Paul had any more of a bond than Paul and George, or John and George.

  20. Avatar Ruth wrote:

    One of my favorite things about “Tune In” was the focus he gave to Ringo. I didn’t see it as being biased in Ringo’s favor, persay, as much as correcting a longstanding tendency in Beatles biographies to always devote less attention, analysis and research to Ringo’s story. John and Paul almost always get the lion’s share of an author’s page time, leaving George and Ringo to tussle for the rest. In so many Beatles biographies, you get page after page of description of John’s traumatic early childhood … and maybe a paragraph or half a page about Ringo’s childhood illnesses and hospital stays. I think the equal amount of attention Lewisohn gave to Ringo is long overdue.

  21. Avatar linda a. wrote:

    Nicole thank you for finding these quotes. If I’m not mistaken weren’t all of these in Lewisohn’s book? I don’t remember reading these in other Beatles bios. That’s one of the many things that makes Lewisohn’s book so special at least for me. He interviewed some of the same people but he seemed to use quotes that other authors ignored.

    • Avatar Nicole wrote:

      I would hope they are. I don’t have a copy of Lewisohn’s bio yet, unfortunately – waiting for a slightly lower price. 😀 I posted those quotes back in a forum thread back in 2010, and they were originally from Bob Spitz’s 2005 bio, which although it has its errors and detractors, does better on getting the bond down on paper than many others.

      • Avatar linda a. wrote:

        It’s funny how Drew and I are saying the complete opposite about the same book. It’s almost striking. I wonder if this is due to the different ways people remember certain things, which proves what some have been saying in this thread, that you just cannot rely on human memory and the farther away you get from the original event the more unreliable the memory. Also correct me if I’m wrong Drew but I remember him saying that he only read the mass market version. I read it in October of 2013 then I bought the extended version and read that in January of 2014. I don’t remember much about the mass market version. I take all of my thoughts on Tune In from the extended version because it made a much bigger impression on me. So I wonder if the discrepancy in our memories comes from the fact that we read two different books. I’m a John and Paul person and I remember the extended version as much more satisfying in that regard. However both versions include that wonderful preface that focuses on John and Paul and seems to set the tone of the book. In that, Mark basically spells it out that John and Paul drove the boat so to speak.

  22. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    In so many Beatles biographies, you get page after page of description of John’s traumatic early childhood … and maybe a paragraph or half a page about Ringo’s childhood illnesses and hospital stays. I think the equal amount of attention Lewisohn gave to Ringo is long overdue.
    So true. Wasn’t Ringo near death? About as traumatic as it gets, but in the older bios it was always mentioned in passing.
    Also, not too far off topic I hope, but since we’re talking about fab foto fakes… I just learned that the folks who created the Tupac hologram are planning a Buddy Holly hologram. He/it will tour Texas next year, and then the world. So seriously, how long before a holographic JohnPaulGeorgeRingo appear at a live venue near you?

  23. Avatar Devin McKinney wrote:

    And another. Page is in Spanish but even if you don’t speak it, you get the gist:

  24. Avatar BigSister93 wrote:

    Hi! I’ve met this blog few days ago and I just simply loved it! I wanna join in the discussions ^^
    I’ve found in this post an opportunity to discuss this picture >> http://40.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l3hggrQe9O1qblg9uo1_1280.jpg

    I clearly know that this photo is “photoshopped”, it’s almost impossible. The David Bailey’s photograph doesn’t fit well… but I just can’t find the original one!
    If someone knows about the original one…Or at least one real proof that this picture is original…Please help me! rsrsrs

    • Avatar amoralto wrote:

      This is not a photoshopped image, actually – John did a feature and photo shoot with Leslie Bryce for the Beatles Monthly magazine on June 29th, 1967 at his home in Weybridge, and this was one of the photos that was taken. (Take note of the accompanying caption, printed as is in the magazine.) The David Bailey photograph was the only decoration/adornment in John had in his personal studio. You may read more about and view more photos from the photo shoot here and here.

  25. I wonder if this photo is faked: I don’t doubt that George occasionally used a Gibson SG during the 1966 tours, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen John, Paul, and George singing at their own individual mics. I can imagine a cunning fan wishing there were more photos of George using an SG in concert…

  26. […] of you, there are fan-written stories showing violence to John Lennon or Paul McCartney. There are fake photos designed to heighten some Beatle-related obsession. Does this surprise me? No. Anything as powerful […]

  27. Avatar Michelle wrote:

    Also, is this really from the ‘Music of Lennon and McCartney’ special or is it fake?


  28. Avatar Michelle wrote:

    @Linda – “One comment that stands out for me is from Wooler, who says they reminded him of two sociopaths who killed a young boy in the 1920s. I don’t know where he was going with that assessment, but it’s obvious that he didn’t particularly like either of them.”

    Yes, I remember reading that. Interestingly, the pair that Wooler was referring to were gay lovers who were portrayed in the Hitchcock file ‘Rope’ (insofar as that could be portrayed under Hollywood’s notorious Hays Code).

  29. Avatar Michelle wrote:

    More on the *film* by Hitchcock (I swear there is at least one typo in every post I have here). This is to whom Wooler was comparing Lennon and McCartney. Yeah, I don’t think he liked them much.


  30. Avatar Michelle wrote:

    “John was not a ‘wife beater.’ He had one occasion, according to Cynthia Lennon, when he hit her. He was a teenager. Not excusing it, but this act doesn’t even come close to any definition of wife-beatin.”

    If you’re still around @Karen, I just want to say thank you. It is nothing short of slander to call him that for a youthful incident in which he apologized profusely to Cynthia.

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