Music Features

Mark Lewisohn's Beatles (Interview)

So many words have been written about the Beatles, who would’ve thought there weren’t nearly enough?  Mark Lewisohn, for one.  And with his new biography, The Beatles Tune In, which in its abridged version runs over 800 pages without footnotes and is only the first of three planned volumes of what is likely to be similar scope and depth, he has convinced this reviewer as well.  Lewisohn has long been held as the pre-eminent researcher and archivist of Beatles material, his Recording Sessions book set a new standard as a reference work, and fans have been buzzing for years awaiting completion of this book, and what new details he would turn up.   There is plenty of new detail, obviously, but precious little fat.  This is not entirely surprising since the edited version was cut down from approximately 1,700 pages, and therefore moves along at a brisk pace.  It’s worth recalling that we are talking about the lives of four endlessly fascinating individuals here, not to mention the professional careers of Brian Epstein and George Martin, and that the Beatles have a mythical status in the pop pantheon only rivaled by Elvis, so why wouldn’t there be this much to tell? 

True to his reputation, Lewisohn has done his homework - 10 years worth!  He has trawled through documents, spoken to people who have never been spoken to before on the record, and has thoroughly researched the musical era the Beatles grew up in.  As I mention in our interview below, this book contains a fantastic iTunes playlist waiting to happen.  I’ll let the interested reader pour through it to discover for themselves the many revelations, large and small, found in these many pages.  What I want to make clear is how well written the book is.  It’s one thing to do the hard work, another to have the smarts to pull it together, and quite another to set it all down in an eminently concise and readable manner.  That’s the real achievement of this book - that I could speed along, devouring this massive tome in a week, and still be left wanting more at the end. 

There are many riches here, but the most heartwarming for me were the contemporary fan testimonials, where we finally get to hear the voices of those who loved them first and probably most, given the close relationship the band members had with the people who went to see them regularly.  The “boys”, as everyone called them, corresponded often with fans while away from home, hung out with them, and genuinely seemed to appreciate all the support they were getting.  The fans, in return, became devoted as few others would be to a totally local phenomenon prior to 1963, and in their fond memories we hear something genuine, something not likely to be repeated. As Lewisohn points out in our interview and documents so extensively, everything that happened to the Beatles when they went big time was already happening in microcosm in Liverpool.  

It's hard to believe I'm sitting here recommending you read yet another book on the Beatles, and even stranger that I'm calling it essential for anyone interested in the subject.  But the fact is, this is, and promises to be, the band biography to end all band biographies. And far from being dry and full of bland facts, it reads like a novel, with a trajectory that perhaps all of us know, but which we now fully get to appreciate. 

Click on the link below to hear our interview with author Mark Lewisohn.

And below is a link to the book.