Somewhere in the tangle of ersatz gold rush facades, back alley shops and parking lots of Whitehorse, a portrait of the Fab Four used to sweep across the wall of one of the city’s shopping malls. Or did I imagine it? It’s gone now, but I remember being startled by the incongruity and then quite pleased – and that’s the universal experience of the Beatles in a nutshell.
The enduring fascination with a rock and roll group that began its reign more than 50 years ago helps explain why there’s a role for English writer Mark Lewisohn as “the world’s only professional Beatles historian.”
The first volume of Lewisohn’s trilogy The Beatles: All These Years, published in 2013, is available at the Whitehorse Public Library and the main drawback is that at only about 800 pages, it’s over too soon.
Tune In is an account of the origins of the Beatles, passing through some of the milestones that have been referred to as the “stations of the cross” of Beatles lore. Those legendary moments include the day Paul met John, George’s audition, the Hamburg shows, Cavern days, and the deus ex machina of manager Brian Epstein’s appearance in their lives in the nick of time. Lesser, but entertaining, moments are expanded on, such as Paul McCartney’s one and only attempt to hold down a real job, in the face of John Lennon’s wrath.
Lewisohn deconstructs the growth of the boys’ musicianship, such as the lengths to which Paul and George would go to learn a new chord, the constant upgrading of gear, their increasing mastery of vocal harmony and their eclectic repertoire.
The band’s collective drive is anchored in a seemingly groundless faith in their destiny. “Something will happen” was their mantra, and the feeling of destiny hums throughout Tune In, as Lewisohn carefully tracks the events, people and culture that create the conditions for the Beatles’ breakthrough.
Lewisohn’s authoritative account is enhanced with YouTube, where a rich store of early recordings and videos has been generously uploaded (and a debate still rages in the comments about the way they treated original drummer Pete Best).
YouTube also has the 1979 feature film Birth of the Beatles, produced by Dick Clark. In this version, the boys banter their way around Liverpool streets, fast-talking their way in and out of auditions and persuading artist Stuart Sutcliffe to play bass for the Hamburg booking.
In this film, John Lennon is notably funny and wise, rather than the tormented artist of future dramas, and the simulated live performances are uninhibited.
Birth of the Beatles was the only feature that came out when John Lennon was still alive, and that might be why it portrays more of the fun the teenage Beatles had than subsequent films, where portents of loss are inescapable.
But that came later. There are losses and setbacks to endure in Tune In, but Volume 1 finishes as the Beatles board a plane to London from Hamburg, “flying into a bright white tomorrow.”
Says Lewisohn in closing, “Sometimes in life, things go right; only very rarely do they all go right, and so it was now.”