Entertainment Weekly (October 18, 2013 issue) included Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles All These Years: Tune In as part of a “long, longer, longest” photo feature displaying this season’s thick biography book spines side-by-side-by-side. Tackling these is the print equivalent to binge video viewing, demanding extended time and attention.
At 944 pages, Tune In came in at #3, behind bios of Barbara Stanwyck (1056 pages) and Norman Mailer (960 pages). Just wait for Lewisohn’s upcoming “expanded author’s cut” version, which will double lap those first two.
Even at “only” about 1000 pages (give or take a few, in “Paperback Writer” parlance), the standard version of Tune In might appear a bit daunting for some, a strikingly long journey through what might seem a comparatively familiar story.
A further puzzlement would be the realization that this work ends in 1962, long before The Beatles even set foot in the U.S. in February 1964. But that is also the hint that there is more afoot in this “familiar” story.
In advance of publication, there were excerpts from the book published in Great Britain by the Telegraph. These are highly recommended because they effectively provide a preview of what discoveries await, and offer answers to “Why revisit the story one more time?” and “Could there possibly be that much more to read about?”
One of the Telegraph excerpts focused on the relationship between John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the formative days of the band. The latest, chronologically, caught the emergence of the defining voices of the 1960s, on both sides of the Atlantic, in October 1962. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. The Beach Boys. Bob Dylan.
The strongest one, though, focused on the death of John Lennon’s mother, Julia. It is a sad story in its stark simplicity: Late one evening in 1958, Julia was struck and killed while crossing the road walking to a bus stop on her way home.
Mark Lewisohn’s extensive research has let him construct a step-by-step narrative. He fills in the context of that day, pinpointing the details: Julia’s personal life at the time, her financial straits, her conversations with Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, her reconnection with John, and the fatal moment.
Such scrupulous chronicling is a given with Mark Lewisohn, based on his many data-packed publications. But this story serves to illustrate a much more important aspect of the writing in All These Years: Tune In. Lewisohn’s previous books were superb histories. This is a true biography. He has “connected the dots” and used the facts as the foundation for a layered, insightful, and moving narrative.
For the Julia story, Lewisohn takes his time, pauses at key moments (noting that Julia could have chosen any one of three ways to return home…), and allows readers to feel the impact of the events by understanding the events. He artfully weaves in allusions that do not get in the way of the flow, such as an oblique reference to Lennon’s aching solo song, “Mother.”
For Tune In, Mark Lewisohn has gone beyond his recognized skill at assembling the facts. These excerpts show how he has used them to find the true heart in the story of The Beatles.
They also demonstrate that there is indeed much more to discover. It is a story worth revisiting one more time. At length.
Copyright 2013 by Walter J. Podrazik
Photo clip from Mark Lewisohn’s own bookshelf, as seen on the author’s website