The Impending Monument

The first volume of Mark Lewisohn‘s Beatles biography has finally been announced, and you can even pre-order it.

You think I’m not going to ask for it for my birthday? Of course I am. My big worry is the nature of the question that Lewisohn, on the book’s official website, is claiming to ask:

It all boils down to this. They were four war babies from Liverpool who really did change the world, and whose music and impact still lives on in so many ways, after all these years. I say, let’s scrub what we know, or think we know, and start over: Who really were these people, and how did it all happen?

But is Mark Lewisohn the guy who can answer that question? His archival research has been, as far as I know (insofar as, lke most people, I don’t have access to the EMI archives and haven’t been able to check up on it), immaculate. His chronicling has been indefatigable. But knowing what exactly the Beatles did every day of their lives doesn’t enable you to understand how they came to do it. This is a pretty basic issue in musicology, as normally practised, and especially as articulated by Joseph Kerman and anyone who agrees with him that a critical musicology is as necessary as a purely scholarly one — it’s one thing to know what happened when, but knowing why it happened when it did, or what someone meant by it, calls for a different set of skills.

I am not yet convinced that Mr. Lewisohn, surely the most important Beatles scholar of our time, is qualified to write their biography. I hope I’m wrong. I look forward to reading it. If nothing else, it’ll be the culmination of his life’s work and every Beatle fan interested in what the band actually did already owes him a debt we can never pay back.

The Impending Monument

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