Michael Gerber
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Forgive me if this post is a bit hasty—I sat down to write my parody Downturn Abbey, which I’m doing for St. Martin’s on a brain-busting turnaround, but…I was in the middle of replying to Craig’s nice comment on the previous post, and an issue occurred to me, one probably pretty central to this blog yet something I don’t recall us ever discussing. It’s this: What do you think about Beatles bootlegs? Do you collect them? Do you feel kinda bad about listening to “illegal” recordings?

Hahst Az Son Beatles bootleg
A major find.

I collected Beatles bootlegs pretty obsessively from 12-16. I would head to the same stores where I’d find old underground comix and copies of National Lampoon and, o frabjous day!, find Hahst Az Son or Strawberry Fields Forever squirrelling in the racks. Living in Chicago, I got to go to Beatlefest, and there I’d load up further—though one must remember how little there was to collect back in 1981-1985, mostly Let It Be-sessions stuff, which I loathe (but I love Dan’s site), and BBC stuff in execrable quality. Just when I’d had enough of $30 LPs that sounded horrible, something new would trickle out, part of the Barrett tapes, or (one of the happiest days of my young life) Sessions. Though I haven’t listened to them in decades, my vinyl Beatlegs are still some of my most evocative possessions. And I still believe my 3-LP set of The Beatles at the BEEB will be worth a fortune someday. 🙂

Artifacts 1: The Psychedelic Years (Beatles Bootleg)
My antidepressant of choice.

Then I went away to college and my Beatlefan tendencies waned; that’s why Ed never knew I liked The Beatles until 2004 or whenever Dullblog started. It was only after I’d moved back to Chicago in 2001 and returned to my old record shops that I discovered all the great stuff that had come out in the years since. Tracks that, capitalism be praised!, had pressured Apple into finally getting off the dime re: Anthology—the Great Dane set, Vigotone, Artifacts…That got me back in for a while, hoovering up all the tracks I’d dreamed of as a kid. One Christmas, Kate gave me a subscription to a site in Bolivia or someplace, where some enterprising person had uploaded his massive collection. That was fun.

Beatles Bootlegs = Mafia?

But I stopped collecting Beatlegs years ago, not only because there is only so much to collect—also because I never liked not knowing where the money was going (organized crime?) and knowing for sure that none of it was going to J, P, G, or R. And also because my own relationship with copyright is, shall we say, complex. Not only because I am best known as a parodist—a completely “white hat” practice by the way, even though people don’t realize it—but also because I’ve probably lost a million book sales to piracy over the years. Karmic payback? Perhaps, George, perhaps.

Bootleg by Clinton Heylin
Fascinating book—anybody know any better ones?

So how have I justified listening to Beatlegs? First, because none of The Beatles, their heirs or assigns, are in financial difficulty. They’ve all been extremely well-compensated for their work and genius, and will continue to be.  I’ve already purchased the licensed catalog, some of them several times in several formats, and so have you. Not only is the Lennon estate is not materially injured by my streaming “Dakota Beatle” songs on Youtube, the more Lennon inhabits my consciousness, the more likely it is that I will buy yet more licensed product. Second, the historian in me wants to get as close to the source as possible, and unofficial recordings are currently the only way to do that. This issue will become really quite important after Paul and Ringo die, and custody devolves to heirs.

Free As a Bird: The Dakota Beatle Demos (Lennon bootleg)
As important a source as any bio.

So even though I don’t collect any more, if some major, fascinating work is discovered and turns up online, I’d certainly try to hear it, and push for it to be released legitimately. I think Apple is finally getting this; now that I can get a remaster mono Pepper from Apple, I don’t need the digipak I bought in the Village in 2003. There is a thrill in hearing “secret” Beatles tracks, but particularly as I get older, I think it extremely important that as much Beatle material as possible be freely available to scholars. Because of its historical impact, not to mention its quality, Beatle music should be seen as part of the world’s heritage. It needs to be released, in toto, without any “jiggery-pokery,” and put under the care of trained professionals overseeing a foundation somewhat like the Folger Library.

What does everybody else think? While you’re pondering, you can listen to Take 1 of “Free As a Bird.”