Music that will ‘go on and on’
“The Beatles Are Here! 50 Years After the Band Arrived in America, Writers, Musicians, and Other Fans Remember”
Edited by Penelope Rowlands (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $15.95, paperback)
Penelope Rowlands, then 13, is the young woman in the center of The New York Times photo featured on the cover of her new collection, “The Beatles Are Here!” Rowlands wrote about the photo in an article for Vogue magazine years later, and also reconnected with all but one of the women in the photo.
That reconnection, Rowlands writes in her introduction, became the germ of this collection of interviews, essays, testimonials and snippets from writers, musicians and fans who were influenced by The Beatles and their landing on American shores. Three other women in the photo – Vickie Brenna-Costa, Joann Marie Pugliese Flood, and Linda Belfi Bartel – also have reminiscences in this edition, which Rowlands, borrowing a phrase from John Lennon, calls a “scrapbook of madness.”
Fans who experienced 1964, and younger people influenced by The Beatles’ music, will find something to love in this collection. Like any book about this subject, you will also find points where you will want to argue. Rowlands, for example, expresses some dismay at the quartet’s later songs. “Later their music darkened, became jagged, gothic by comparison. And psychedelia, which the Beatles would soon take up – or was it the other way around? – seemed to lead straight to the apocalypse,” Rowlands writes. I will argue that their later work has helped ensure The Beatles’ continuing influence. (Think of how music history might have changed had this group disbanded, say, in 1966.) Joe Queenan, in his wonderfully hilarious essay “Tools of Satan, Liverpool Division,” writes that the band “swept away” or “marginalized” the likes of Pat Boone, Steve and Eydie, and Kingston Trio. His point about schlocky pop music is well-taken, but The Beatles themselves did not come out of a vacuum. They had wide musical influences, and their music was stylistically eclectic. (They recorded the standard “Till There Was You” on “Meet the Beatles.”)
I don’t mean to pick nits – there’s so much in this collection that will make you nod your head in agreement, or speak to you in some way. In “White Out,” playwright and novelist Judy Juanita writes that “the Beatles helped close the gap between colored and white America, the schism,” with their “convergence of R&B and pop.” Composer and songwriter Gabriel Kahane gives them the ultimate compliment, praising The Beatles’ craftsmanship as songwriters. “It’s satisfying because it’s simultaneously very sophisticated, yet incredibly simple and emotionally direct – and those are qualities that I look for in music,” he writes.
Designer and illustrator Laura Tarrish offers a touching reminiscence of her 8-year-old Beatles fan daughter going to the famous Abbey Road crosswalk to pay tribute to George Harrison after he died. Harrison, Tarrish writes, was her daughter’s favorite Beatle. Tarrish’s story reminds me of my own daughter, who several years ago, watching a video, looked at me and said, “The Beatles rock!,” without any prompting or propaganda from her jazz freak old man. As soprano Renee Fleming says in her essay, their music “is going to go on and on.”