Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Why Write Another Beatles Book?

The simple answer? Because nobody else had done it. I had the idea for You Never Give Me Your Money about ten years ago, maybe more, and I knew that it was a book that somebody had to write. But I resisted it.

Why? Well, between 1980 and 2000, I must have written several million words (no exaggeration) about the Beatles. For most of that time, I was the editor of Record Collector magazine, and very early on we discovered that when we put the Beatles on the cover, we sold more copies. So, in a shameless bid to keep afloat, we put the Beatles on the cover several times a year, and more often than not it was me who wrote the feature that justified placing their familiar faces on the news-stands one more time.

During the same period, I also worked every month on The Beatles Book - the magazine that been the group's official mouthpiece between 1963 and 1969, and which was relaunched by the same publisher in 1976. It ran until something like 2002, which says a lot about the insatiable demand amongst a certain section of the public for Beatlemania to exist forever.

I'll be honest: The Beatles Book was a fan magazine, first and foremost, and much of the material that I wrote, month after month, to fill its pages was penned with my critical antennae off (and often my name nowhere near the finished piece). Put it this way: if there turns out to be a heavenly gate, I hope that St. Peter won't be making his final judgement on the basis of what I wrote for The Beatles Book. But I tried to make sure that I never forgot that I was writing for the kind of fan that I had been as a teenager - passionate, desperate for information, and totally uncritical.

Along the way, I also wrote a book entitled The Art and Music of John Lennon, the last edition of which (Omnibus Press, 2005) exists only as an expensive UK hardback, which was beautifully produced, widely reviewed, but not so widely distributed - with the result that most people interested in its contents never saw it. It didn't help that every copy I ever saw in a bookstore was still shrinkwrapped, making it impossible for the casual browser to peak inside. It's still in print, and still the most detailed examination of John Lennon's entire artistic output, from childhood to the last day of his life, that's ever been written. Or so it says here. At least I got paid, though, unlike . . .

In the mid-to-late 1990s - I've erased the precise details from my memory - I was commissioned to write a book in a series called 'Classic Albums', published by Schirmer Books in New York. My choice was not one album but two overlapping projects: Abbey Road and Let It Be. The result was a slim but readable volume that was reviewed in several places, but - you may notice a pattern here - not widely distributed. In fact, the publishers used to send me sales figures that suggested the book was either invisible or impossible to sell. They didn't answer letters, either, and in the days before e-mail, when I was in London and the publishers were 3,000 miles away, it was easier to give up than chase them for an explanation.

Then Schirmer went out of business. It was only several years later, when another NYC publisher took over the Schirmer list, that I solved the mystery. Against my advice, the original publishers had filled the book with photographs that were owned by the Beatles' company, Apple Corps Ltd. And they hadn't asked Apple's permission. Apple's lawyers barely had to break sweat to get the book pulled from the shelves. Nobody at Schirmer had the courage or grace to tell me what had happened. Did I ever receive a cent for writing the book? Not as far as I can remember. Meanwhile, I lent my solitary copy of the book to a friend, and it was never returned. Mark it down to experience.

So I had two strong reasons for NOT wanting to write another book about the Beatles.
1) I was convinced I was burned out on the subject
2) I was convinced my Beatles book karma was bad

But the theme of what became You Never Gave Me Your Money still nagged at me. Next time I'll do what I promised to do this time, and tell you why.

1 comment:

  1. Hello sir -- I'm very much looking forward to your book. Another perspective on the final days and the aftermath of the Beatles is sure to be enlightening.

    Just so you know, my (original US) hardcover copy of "The Art & Music of John Lennon" is well-thumbed. I was very intrigued to find out a few years ago that you'd written it, since the original was credited to a pseudonym!

    I enjoy your writing and your interviews, particularly the lengthy career overview you did with Elvis Costello around 1995. If you've got time or need a cure for insomnia, you can read my angle on Elvis -- as well as those of the Beatles, together and solo -- at my blog. I would be honored to read your opinions of my writing.