When approving the last ever comments on the gargantuan “Were John and Paul Lovers?” thread, I found myself asking a simple question, which some of you might have an interest in as well.
There are certain niche interests where, if not for fan-generated content, there wouldn’t be anything new to talk about. I suspect that if you’re interested in the Titanic, for example, or Jack the Ripper, or Sherlock Holmes, fan-generated content is necessary to sustain your passion.
But the Beatles is different; it’s bigger even than the Marvel Comics Universe. Beatle fans don’t need fanfic. We don’t need blogs like this one, even. Not only do we have a vast trove of music, released and unreleased, group and solo, to discuss, we’ve also got an even bigger mountain of interviews, books, movies, TV appearances, reviews and criticism to sort through. Add in all the people the Beatles touched, the cultural changes they wrought, and the history that happened all around them, and you have a topic that the study and enjoyment of which could fill many lifetimes.
Apparently, according to some 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 as The Beatles is going to call forth something in most people; and what it calls forth is necessarily a reflect of that person. If a person is “off-balance” somehow, that will inevitably be reflected in how they interact with what they love. I am sure that there were fans at the Cavern Club who danced, then went home and scribbled furiously into notebooks about the group. Most wrote normal things; some wrote erotic things; a few wrote about how John, Paul, George and Ringo were aliens living in a postbox on Renshaw Street, trying to poison us all with gamma rays.
[That would’ve been me. :-)]
The problem is, on the internet, the loonies are the loudest. Plus, they congregate. The rest of us must have the good sense not to listen.
I understand the desire to write a your own custom narrative; I wrote a whole novel based on The Beatles. But I did that within an old media sense of responsibility to my readers, and the source material. Would Life After Death For Beginners been a more interesting book if it had depicted J/P sex? Perhaps. More salable, for sure. Or if I’d woven “Paul is Dead” into its plot? Or if I’d commissioned photoshops of every plot-point, and put it in a middle photo section, thus “proving” my counter-narrative to be the truth, and sending fans hunting for a bullet-scarred John Lennon eating Charly Tremmel ice cream on the Venice boardwalk?
Better, maybe. More popular, surely. But, to my mind, hugely irresponsible. The Beatles and their story isn’t a fantasy world created by an author; it is history, things which happened to real people, and those people’s realness, to me, confers upon them certain rights. I wrote my book under pretty tight restrictions; I felt there were lots of things my characters wouldn’t do—and I didn’t go there. Regardless of the benefit to my narrative, to say nothing of my enjoyment or pocketbook, I had a responsibility to the real people. Because—it’s this simple—I like them. I’m grateful to them.
Why, with all the vast amount of excellent Beatle content available to us, would anyone spend a moment’s time consuming garbage? And how, as they consumed it, could they not feel the subtle psychic damage that material would do? When you look into an abyss—any abyss—it looks back into you. The Beatles are, apparently, no exception.
But hasn’t there always been Beatle-garbage?” you ask. “Didn’t Fleet Street and the publishing houses produce pounds of piffle? Didn’t the media whitewash the whole story in exchange for a buck? Weren’t lots of voices and perspectives not heard?” All true. But even something as craven and brutal as Fleet Street had certain ground rules. They could be sued; there was an owner at risk; and there were names on the articles. And gatekeeping, for all its flaws, has a singular benefit: not every voice or perspective deserves our attention. Now, each of us must be our own editors, and sad to say, most of us simply aren’t up to the task.
For example, of late I’ve mentioned a book that was published in 1968 by the Olympia Press. It was called A Handbook for Homosexuals, and it was written by someone using the penname of “Angelo D’Arcangelo” (no, not “L’Angelo Misterioso”). This book named Paul McCartney as “a practical homosexual,” whatever that might be, along with J. Edgar Hoover and William F. Buckley. This book and its anonymous assertions have not gotten very far in Beatle culture, and it shouldn’t—not because there’s anything wrong with with Paul might have done/does/will do with his clothes off, but
- It’s not really any of our business,
- You can interpret, enjoy, and benefit from Paul’s work without it, and
- If Paul wanted us to know about that, he’d tell us. George said, “Take the music. It’s the best of us, and what we offer most willingly.” That’s good advice.
For lots of reasons, much of internet culture is undeniably “toxic.” By which I mean violent, bullying, monomaniacal, or just unutterably stupid. I’m finding to my dismay that this is having an impact on Beatle fan discourse, even on this site. Nancy and I have to read every comment to approve it, and while the intellectual content of some of the comments is good and reflects some reading, the intent behind most of them is, well, bickering. This actively retards any kind of fact-finding or analysis.
Those of you who have substantive things to say — a thesis to examine, with evidence — I would encourage instead to pitch me. I’ll run it as a post. This formality will make you engage with the topic more deeply, and determine whether there’s anything really there.
Those of you who are using our comments sections as a kind of therapy—well, I’m a big believer in therapy, so I’m loathe to turn off comments. But I would ask you to police yourselves.
- Have I said this before?
- Am I saying it succinctly, and in good English?
- Is my attitude one of sharing an interesting thought, or firing back at someone I think is wrong?
- If I think they’re wrong, is there data behind it? Or is it just a matter of opinion?
This site is meant as a clearinghouse for all types of Beatle discussion, but in a world where “Paul is Dead” is earnestly debated by a bunch of idiots, and people (apparently) have an deep personal connection to the question of whether two famous strangers might have, y’know, “done it” 50 years ago, I think it’s time we start being a little more discriminating. That ends with Nancy and I, but it starts with you guys. Thanks.