Author Jonathan Gould has pulled off the near impossible.
With hundreds of books published about The Beatles, his new tome, “Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America” offers a compelling slant at the group’s by-now all-too-familiar story, applying rigorous parallels between the band’s rise explained via the filter of social, political and cultural movements.
There have been so many Beatle books published. What makes yours different?
Jonathan Gould: I would say two things. The first thing is, my general impression of the comprehensive biographies I’ve read about them is there’s a pretty strong tendency to take the music for granted.There’s a tendency to approach the music on the level of “We all know these songs.”
Therefore, most of the biographies tend to reference the records and the response to the records, but very, very few have really tried to put the music at the center of the story.
My own background is in music. I’m a drummer. I’ve spent a lot of time playing music in bands and in studios. I wanted to try and present The Beatles themselves as the way they saw themselves, which is as musicians. After all they didn’t set out to be world-famous celebrities. I wanted to focus on them in that way. Their presence in the book is very largely as musicians. But the other dimension that has not been dealt with to the degree that I’ve dealt with it is what I think of “the real outside story,” examining the influences on them in the world, in culture and society in Britain and then the world that they encountered when they became world famous. I wanted to be this whole social context deeply into the story.
That brings up the question: Did The Beatles enact social and cultural change on their own, or were they riding along with the changes in the world?
Jonathan Gould: The answer is both. We’re actors in the world. We’re people who, by living our lives, are having an effect on what happens in the world, even in a minuscule way that maybe you and I are, or the rather profound way they did.
But at the same time they’re also enormously influenced by what was happening in the world, too. The Beatles didn’t cause the ’60s. But they did have a great influence on shaping what that upsurge of feeling took. It’s almost sort of geological, like there was an eruption of youthful feeling. I describe it in the book as “charismatic” feeling. But then you have people who are riding on top of that wave who are in a position to shape it, and The Beatles were certainly among the prime figures in that regard.
What were the major insights you learned about The Beatles?
JG: There were many, many small insights. I was endlessly impressed by their confidence as songwriters, musicians and performers in allowing ideas that they had set in motion to play out in interesting ways.
One of the big mistakes that people make when they listen to The Beatles music and when they talk about the Beatles music is this belief that there’s all this intentionality in it. For instance, when John Lennon wrote “I Am The Walrus” and identified himself with this character the “Walrus,” which he’d made very clear that he was referring to the “Walrus” in Lewis Carroll’s book, “Through the Looking Glass.” That was his idea of the “Walrus,” and the “Eggman” is Humpty Dumpty, who is two chapters later.
So, he’s talking about these characters there. Len