For how much longer can we get mileage out of The Beatles? For quite awhile is my guess, based on the number of books that continue to be released about the remarkable, iconic group. And as long as the books are well-written, strongly-themed and have something unique to say, then those books will continue to be welcomed. This is such a book.
The Beatles Are Here! is not so much a book about the Beatles themselves, but a reflection on the effect the Beatles had on our society, by way of the effect on individuals. This book contains a number of short essays from a mix of people, recollecting their introduction to the Beatles’ music or appearance. The vast majority of these essays are very well written and insightful. Just a very few essays lacked merit and typically those were by people with ‘name’ recognition. I did wonder what the point of their inclusion might be. Is it possible that editor Rowlands or the publisher had committed to the works before they were written? Is it possible that they were included in order to help sell the book based on the essayists name? Anything is possible, of course. But really, this book doesn’t need ‘name’ authors to sell it. The quality of most of the work here, and editor Penelope Rowlands’ insightful placement of the essays holds its own and reads very well.
Although the bulk of the essays are unrelated (other than the obvious connection to the Beatles), there is a really nice, quite fascinating connection/correlation between a few of the essays.
If you take a moment to look at the photo on the cover of the book, you’ll see a rather iconic photograph of a group of teenaged girls behind a homemade banner proclaiming “Beatles Please Stay Here 4-Ever.” The girls are enthralled, screaming, reaching out. This is often how we picture the early days of the Beatles, especially in America … with teenage girls screaming and crying.
That same photo inspired a piece by Gay Talese in the New York Times, September 21, 1964 (included in this book). The girl dead center, screaming, is Penelope Rowlands, editor of this collection. Through the magic of the internet, most of the girls centered in the photograph have reunited and contributed an essay to the book. Fascinatingly, none of them seemed to know each other before (or since) the photo was taken, but were brought together once by their love of the Beatles, and again by the circulation of the photograph.
The essays of these girls (now women) are among the most interesting. Rowlands sprinkles these essays throughout the book, rather than lumping them all together, which works quite well as, unless the essay is written by someone with a recognizable name, we are not sure if an essay is by someone connected to the photo or not. It was a small, brilliant method of giving the reader just a touch of mystery. Among those essays connected with the photo is a compelling essay by the photographer who took the picture, Henry Grossman, who travelled with the Beatles.
Even in a book of essays by people who typically didn’t have a physical connection to the Beatles, we can glean some important tidbits. Nothing particularly new, perhaps, but for me at least, some things hit home here for the first time. Musician Janis Ian points out that
“The Beatles were fully formed by the time they started recording. From then on they just amplified what they were doing. If you listen to that first album, Meet the Beatles, it’s incredible. it really shows how much time they spent on stage, working out arrangements…. There’s a very different dynamic that happens to a song when you’ve played it live a lot in front of audiences.”
This makes perfect sense, and I wonder why I haven’t read this, this succinct, before.
I’m not sure that there’s much new to be learned about the Beatles themselves, or even their music, but this book clearly shows that we can still learn about the effect that the Beatles (and their music) had on our society which was ripe for that which the Beatles provided.
Looking for a good book? Whether you’re a fan of the Beatles, pop music, pop culture, or even social studies of the 1960’s, The Beatles Are Here! is a remarkable, compelling book and highly recommended.
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The Beatles Are Here!:50 Years after the Band Arrived in America, Writers, Musicians & Other Fans Remember
editor: Penelope Rowlands
publisher: Algonquin Books
paperback, 288 pages