Merry of Soul

::: By Jude Southerland Kessler :::

If you haven’t watched “Outlander,” you should.

 

This science fiction/romance TV series is addictive — perhaps because, unlike many programs, it is both uplifting and inspiring. This isn’t to say that there aren’t complications, hitches, and plot lines that make each episode’s ending nail-biting…but overall, the story is one of a life’s devotion.

 

The series theme song, “The Skye Boat Song,” is a lovely and haunting adaptation of an old Scottish ballad about “bonnie Prince Charlie,” but the words have been altered to tell the tale of the show’s female protagonist, Claire Randall. And as I was listening to it a few nights ago, I was touched by one line that described this beautiful and bold healer as “merry of soul.” What an incredible tribute to be thought of as “merry of soul”! I know a few people who fit that bill.

 

One (perhaps) fictional figure who certainly matches that description is the quite seasonal Santa Claus. With his hearty “ho, ho, ho’s” and his year-in-year-out dedication to giving gifts to one and all, he is described as having “dimples [so] merry.” And ah, that magnificent smile of his! It makes me grin, just imagining it.

 

The Beatles, too — well, The Beatles of 1958-1964 — were also “merry of soul.” With their mickey-taking and inside jokes, silly walks and dances, sly innuendos and double entendres, and their enjoyment in making music, they drew us, unashamedly, to them. They were utterly joyous.

 

I think of them insisting, over Brian’s reluctance, that they make a 1964 holiday record for their fans. I think of them singing that nonsensical “Good King Wenceslas” and then, stepping up to the microphone to read their personal Christmas greetings. Merry! So many scenes from those early years were exactly that! You can’t watch The Beatles on the Feb. 1964 Washington, D.C. stage-in-the-round without absorbing their sheer delight! You can’t hear them on Live at the BBC, Vol. 1 without feeling their pleasure in being exactly who they are.

 

Right now, I’m working away on Vol. 5 in The John Lennon Series, where 1965 begins to take its toll. The book will be entitled Shades of Life because by this point in their career, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had begun to feel the tug and pull of Beatlemania — the grind of making a yearly film, doing two annual LPs, going out on a second World Tour, enduring yet another North American Tour, and grinding out one more U.K. tour while also giving interviews, doing television specials, starring on radio shows, and living complicated private lives. The unrelenting schedule was stripping these young men of vibrance and colour. The boys were becoming grey automatons — working incessantly, without a bit of bright.

 

I can empathize. I bet you can as well. Life is taxing. Having moved 32 times in the last 42 years, and facing yet another move this year, I am tired. Spending most of my time doing things I have to do rather than things that I want to do (such as write) and dealing with an auto-immune disease that complicates what I eat, drink and do, I’m frustrated.

 

Struggling to “right myself” after several rather significant lifestyle gut-punches, I’m cynical. It’s been a long time since I’ve been “merry of soul.” “Weary of soul” is more apt. Maybe you feel that way, too.

 

But tonight, as I walked in the just-before-Thanksgiving night air and watched twinkling Christmas lights going up in our neighborhood, saw huge campers being readied for “to Grandmother’s house we go” road trips, and heard the laughter of visiting children romping through front yards, I reminded myself that “Outlander”’s Claire had every reason to be “weary of soul”…and yet, she wasn’t. Like a person unjustly incarcerated for years, she missed out on so much that she could never recapture and enjoy, but instead of focusing on what she’d lost, she focused on what she still had to enjoy.

 

The Beatles were like that. Certainly, in the post-1966 era, they experienced argumentative and unhappy moments. But Beatles Guru, Mark Lewisohn, reminded us last year at the Monmouth University White Album Conference that the White Album wasn’t entirely written under an umber cloud, that the boys were still friends in Rishikesh, at George’s home in Esher, and in the studio days ahead. Even the fractious moments we see on “Let It Be” were only part of a larger puzzle — with intricate pieces of camaraderie, dissention, happiness, and agitation snapping together congruously to form a whole. There were still plenty of times, Lewisohn reminded us, where merriment had its home in the hands of The Beatles.

 

After all, when one stands back and summarizes the Fab Four’s career, what does one find? Love. Love, love, love! Innocent love in “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” “Do You Want to Know A Secret,” and “Love Me Do.” Romantic love in “Something,” “Here There and Everywhere,” “Please Please Me,” “Eight Days A Week,” and “This Boy.” Love denied in “For No One,” “Girl,” “Not a Second Time,” “Yes, It Is,” and “I’ll Follow the Sun.” Sexual love in “When I Get Home,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “I Want You.” The love of friends in “In My Life,” “With A Little Help From My Friends,” and “Yellow Submarine.” The heartbreak of love in “If I Fell” and “Yesterday.” There’s even a tongue-in-cheek fondness for the Queen in “Her Majesty.” You can think of a hundred other examples. Because for The Beatles, it all boils down to love…in the end.

 

Perhaps “Outlander”’s popularity can be explained by the fact that in this angry and argumentative world of blame and shame, we yearn for a place where love truly is “all you need.” And perhaps The Beatles surpassed all other bands in history, in part, because no matter what, they lived out their greatest mantra: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

 

In moments of wonder and moments of despair, one thing remained: they were merry of soul.


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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Happy Thanksgiving from The Fest!

::: Message from Fest Founder Mark Lapidos on two Beatles anniversaries and Thanksgiving :::

Dear Fellow Beatles Fans,

I have very clear memories of both of these releases. I was a junior at Adelphi University and had a car. I went around to the guys in the dorm to see who wanted me to pick up a copy of Magical Mystery Tour on the day of its release and their choice of Mono or Stereo!!! There were a bunch! I was calling the nearby Record World store at Roosevelt Field every day. When it arrived (11/27/67), I immediately went to pick up both mono and stereo copies. The problem was their first shipment was stereo copies only. I was fuming. What was I going to do? In 1967, we were (falsely) led to believe that you couldn’t play stereo records on a mono record player! So I just HAD to purchase a stereo record player on the spot, so I could listen to it. It was definitely worth it.

Three years to the day, (11/27/1970), came George’s first proper solo album, and what an album it was! One of the greatest of all time, by anyone!! I was working at the Sam Goody Record Store in Paramus, NJ and the shipment was delivered the day before we were allowed to sell them. At the end of the evening of the 26th, I went to my manager and told him I wanted to buy it before I went home. He said no (He was in his 40s and just didn’t understand!). I repeated myself (another sales person, Ralph, was by my side with the same need). I said to the mgr, either you sell me the copy now or I am going to just take it home anyway. He finally realized how important this was to both of us. I stayed up half the night listening to it and trying to take in so much music in one sitting.

Only four years and one day later, November 28, 1974, John surprised the sold out Madison Square Garden by joining Elton John to perform John’s #1 hit, Whatever Gets You Through The Night, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds (that Elton took to #1) and “a song by an old estranged fiance of mine, called Paul”. They ripped into an amazing version of I Saw Her Standing There. Because of a ticket mixup, I was not at this performance. I was extremely upset when I found out John actually did show up!!

It is hard to imagine these three events were 45, 49 & 52 years ago! Where does the time go? I don’t know, but right now, it is time to wish every one of you a very safe and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Peace and Love,

Mark (+Carol, Michelle Joni, and Tilly)

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Number Nine … things for which John Lennon was thankful

By Jude Southerland Kessler

The Beatles, not being American (of course), didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, per se. But somehow, as we near the close of the year, all of us tend to reflect on things for which we are grateful. And although John is so often caricatured as “John Lemon,” a tart and sardonic figure, he was, in reality, very appreciative of special people, moments, and belongings. After all, isn’t that what his song, “In My Life” is all about? Here are just a few precious elements of John’s journey here on earth things that he loved. Perhaps this will inspire you to make a similar list of your own.

 

And I think we can all begin by listing The Fest for Beatles Fans which draws us together twice a year as family…and for Mark, Carol, Tilly, and Michelle Joni, who very lovingly gave us this “Home Away From Home” in our lives.

 

  1. His Uncle Ge’rge – John was, for all intents and purposes, reared by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. And although Mimi taught him valuable lessons about determination and duty and instilled in him a love of reading, it was Uncle Ge’rge (as John called him) who taught the little boy about love. Each night, when John was kindergarten age, Uncle George taught the boy to read from that evening’s Liverpool Echo. Despite Mimi’s fury, he took the child to the Disney picturedromes (films) that came to Liverpool. And George wired speakers up in the child’s bedroom so that John could listen to radio programs such as “Dick Barton, Special Agent” and later, “The Goon Show.” George Smith was an artist, like John, and he understood the child’s heart. John simply adored him.
  2. His sisters, Julia and Jacqui – John’s mother, Julia Stanley Lennon, (after relinquishing John to Mimi and George) went on to have her own family with John “Bobby” Dykins at 1 Blomfield Road, Allerton…about a mile from the place where John lived with his aunt and uncle. Julia and Bobby had two precious little girls named Julia and Jacqui. And when, as an older child, John found this out, he didn’t resent the fact that his sisters got to live with his mother while he did not. He loved his sisters, and they adored him. After Uncle George’s death in 1955, John started spending a good bit of time with his mother and his sisters, and they threw impromptu parties with ginger beer and cakes, and of course, rock’n’roll. The girls enjoyed the earliest band rehearsals of the Quarry Men in the Blomfield bathroom. John’s sisters were always there and always supportive of him. In fact, when The Beatles were fêted by Liverpool during the Northern Premiere of “A Hard Day’s Night,” John specifically asked for his sisters from the stage. They meant the world to him.
  3. His friends – John was never a loner. He always wanted to captain a group. And one of the earliest members of “his gang” was Pete Shotton. Pete lived near John in Woolton, and the two went to Quarrybank Grammar (high school) together. They were so close that people laughingly called them “Shennon and Lotton”…and they were a deadly duo full of mischief. Later, at Liverpool College of Art, John met his soul mate — a friend closer than any brother — Stuart Sutcliffe. Stu told John over and over that John would “never be just a rock’n’roller”…that John’s music would always be his form of art. So, Stu encouraged John to dress differently, write unique songs, and use his album covers as a form of artistic expression. The dramatic impact of Stuart Sutcliffe on The Beatles is absolutely immeasurable.

 

Of course, all of The Beatles were John’s mates. During John’s tenure at Liverpool College of Art, George was John’s “younger brother,” shadowing John everywhere he went! And once Ringo and Maureen had married and moved out to Weybridge, Surrey (where John and Cynthia lived in Kenwood), Ringo and John became close companions as well. Each of The Beatles mattered throughout John’s life, long after The Beatles had dissolved.

 

  1. Cynthia Powell Lennon – Cynthia was John’s girlfriend at Liverpool College of Art, his first wife, and the mother of his son, Julian Charles Lennon. In the early days — long before The Beatles were popular — Cynthia would hold John’s microphone, taped to a broomstick, as he practiced away in the dank Jacaranda Club basement. Cynthia was also one of the earliest Beatlettes in the Cavern Club. And even though John invited her to his gigs after they were married, Cyn (as John fondly called her) wanted her husband to shine alone in the limelight. She declined. Encouraging her love to chase his dreams of “the toppermost of the poppermost,” Cynthia waited at home, keeping John’s life on an even keel. Indeed, The Beatles’ friend, Tony Barrow, called Cynthia “John’s centre, his peace.”
  2. Books – Throughout his life, John was a voracious reader. He read two to three newspapers a day, as did his Aunt Mimi before him. In addition, John read at least one book a week. Beatles’ tours in 1964-1966 gave him plenty of “down time” to read — backstage, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms. And when he wasn’t writing song lyrics or doing interviews, John had his nose in “a bloomin’ booke.” As a child, he loved Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories and Lewis Carroll’s magical books, full of wordplay. As an adult, one of John’s favorite works was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. But when asked, in interviews, what his favorite literary work was, John would often flash a devilish grin and say either In His Own Write or A Spaniard in the Works…his own award-winning literary creations.
  3. His many cats – In Eddie Deezen’s article, “John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady,” Deezen lists and describes each of the 16 cats that John owned during his lifetime. His earliest (in Mendips with Mimi and George) were Tich and Sam. Later, Cynthia and John had a cat sarcastically dubbed Mimi. In the 1970s, the lovely May Pang and John had two cats called Major and Minor. And those were but a few of Mr. L’s furry friends! Although John clearly adored felines, however, he also cherished his childhood mutt, Sally, who always nuzzled “his boy” when John was sad or lonely.
  4. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Bird’s Custard – John had simple breakfast tastes. He loved toast and tea. He loved Corn Flakes. And for dessert, the unbelievably delicious Bird’s Custard was always a hit. On tour, John ate so many backstage servings of steak and chips (fries) that he actually started to hate them after a time. But no matter how much of it he had, John always craved more Earl Grey Tea.
  5. American rock’n’roll of the 1950s – John turned 13 in 1953, so the music of the Fifties was his music! He loved all of the songs that eventually ended up on his 1970’s “Rock’n’Roll” album, including “You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry, Larry Williams’s “Bony Maronie,” and Little Richard’s hit, “Ready Teddy.” John’s cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” is considered one of his most poignant songs, and John (like all of The Beatles) loved the hits of American girl groups, such as the Shirelles. John’s mother, Julia, taught him to love the classic, “Angel Baby” and Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock.” No doubt about it, John Lennon was, musically, a true child of the Fifties.
  6. Television – Television didn’t become a household item until John’s teen years, but once he found it, he was hooked! He had the television on “as background noise” almost all of the time while living in New York. But he watched many programs as well, especially newscasts. John was quite savvy about current events, trends, and rock groups; he kept up with the latest crazes on “the telly.” In the 1970s, John mentioned the television in several of his solo songs, (“I’m Steppin’ Out” and “Dear Yoko”), and he often wrote his lyrics in bed while the telly droned on, in the background…lyrics, perhaps, like these:

 

“There are places I’ll remember,

All my life, though some have changed,

Some forever…not for better…

Some have gone, and some remain.

All these places had their moments

With lovers and friends I still can recall.

Some are dead, and some are living…

In my life, I’ve loved them all.”

 

With love…

Happy Thanksgiving!


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.




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Turn, Turn, Turn

I can still hear The Byrds’ crystalline, jingle-jangle sound as they brought Old Testament wisdom to life:

“For everything,

Turn, turn, turn…

There is a season,

Turn, turn, turn…

And a time to every purpose under heaven.”

The year that they took “Turn, Turn, Turn” to Number 1 on the charts, my mother was a Home Economics teacher at Bolton High School, Alexandria, Louisiana, and I was in the 6th grade, where I spent my days madly in love with The Beatles. For me, the Byrds’ song had a gorgeous melody and a real hook, but honestly, the words were kind of…well, scary. “A time to break down” made me uncomfortable. “A time to weep,” when gruesome reports of Vietnam filled the nightly news, scared me. And “a time to be born, a time to die” was terrifying. The lyrics were so foreign to me then, so far removed from the childlike emotions I understood.

But now, “a time to die,” has become all too real. I lost my remarkable mother five years ago, and my dad, three years after that. Three of my dearest friends in The Beatles World are mourning the loss of their moms right now. And many others of us have losses fresh in our memories. Our sweet Carol Lapidos, for example, posted on John Lennon’s birthday a “Happy Birthday!” to John and Sean…and to her dearly departed father-in-law, Mark’s dad, as well. All of us are missing someone cherished. All of us are learning — first-hand — about the complicated emotions intertwined in loss, mourning, and remembrance. All of us are finding our way in this new season.

In 1965, when I first heard the Byrds’ lovely and haunting rendition of the words from the book of Ecclesiastes, I knew so little about death. I had only lost a grandfather whom I had never had the opportunity to really know. But a year later, I lost my quiet and faithful companion, my sweet cocker spaniel, Beau…and the reality of “a finite existence” began to sink in. Separation and acceptance became more tangible than they had ever been, and I started to value the importance of memories. In 1966, I learned to grieve.

And at a mere 13-years-old, the one healing unguent that got me through the pain of loss was The Beatles. Their music made sadness bearable. Their sound assuaged pain. Getting lost in the melody of “This Boy” or “In My Life” stopped the tears. The Beatles were a panacea.

And you know what? Very little has changed. Today, my friends and I (all ardent Beatles fans) are calling upon the same balm to tend our wounds. Fifty years later, we are still turning to the soundtrack of our lives as we — the ones left behind in this place called Earth — recall, remember, and re-target our lives. The Beatles still seem, somehow, to understand as John spools out his own heartbreak in “Yes, It Is.” As the boys seem to offer “a way forward” in “I’ll Follow the Sun.” Their lyrics, though written for them and about them, somehow fit our lives so well. We feel an inexplicable kinship with these four lads from Liverpool, lads we’ve never met and yet, have always known.

In that vein, I sat down a few years ago and wrote a poem for a friend who was walking through her own “Valley of the Shadow.” I so hoped that the words would strengthen her heart, and today I hope that wherever you are on your journey, she and I can share them to touch your spirit as well.

They were

My safe place,

My known against the unknown,

My run-to, go-to shelter after midnight,

My flickering light up in the window,

Home.

Far back as I can go,

Far forward as I can imagine,

Reverse and forward,

Stop and pause…

They were always there:

A net beneath me,

A hiding place,

A room sequestered from the world

A vault where I could hide.

I huddled close beside them

And deftly hid my head,

With

Nowhere Man and Silver Hammer,

Mr. Moonlight, Lovely Rita,

Celebrated Mr. K

Performing feats on Saturday…

And standing in the gaps

Of the Helter Skelter in my brain.

Pretty little policemen, guard me.

Octopus’s garden, hide me.

I’m on my way home,

I’m on my way home…to you.

In the play-out tracks,

I heard they had a message

(Backwards perhaps and not in tune)

And I am there as well,

Covered in music,

Wrapped in lyrics,

Invisible…

Camouflaged…

Protected.

Sheltered in their sound

You can find me.

I am there,

Buffered.

If you are there with me…

Turn up the music. Turn up the hope. Turn up the volume and shout aloud these words that I would love to say to you in person: “You are not alone. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”

Winston Churchill said to all of us, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Remember that seasons change. Nothing stays the same. If you are in a season of distress, it will dispel. If you are in a season of pain, it will fall away. If you are in a season of sadness, hang tight. We are a Beatles family, and together, we can do what we need to do.

Turn, turn, turn…you can go on.


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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And the Favorite Beatle is

By Jude Southerland Kessler

Over the last nine months, Recipe Records author Lanea Stagg and I have been asking our guests on the She Said She Said podcast one “bonus question” at the end of each interview: “Tell us who your favorite Beatle is and why?” And in posing this query, we’ve stumbled onto a trend.

Our female guests have all instantly piped up with a specific choice — generally Paul or Ringo, although once in a while, George, and even more infrequently, (the best Beatle!!) John. Our male guests, however, have tended to respond with a pause and then a response something like this: “Welllll, I don’t really have a favorite.” Or: “Hmmmm, it’s hard to separate the group. I mean, it takes all of them to make the music, right?” This “choosing a Beatle” question almost seemed foreign to them.

A month ago, I wrote an article for Culture-Sonar discussing the disappointing number of times that John Lennon’s songs are being aired on many Beatles streaming and radio stations…bemoaning the current “disappearing act of John Winston Lennon.” And the Facebook responses to this article’s observations were truly educational for me. Female readers answered with, “I’ve observed the same thing, and it’s aggravating!!” Or: “Well, Paul’s catalogue is much larger, so of course, he’s going to get more air time!” Or: “What if you were a George fan?! George was rarely heard from in the ‘fab days,’ much less now!!!!” You get the drift.

But my male readers (though not all!) saw my observations as rather “divisive.” One particularly well-written and insightful comment stated, “Interesting article, but I hate to hear the segregation of the songs through ’embryotic’ ownership. Beatles songs are Beatles songs. Start cutting them up and dishing them onto separate plates, and that is not how I want to remember them.” 

This comment really set me on my heels. It made me stop and think. Because “in my life,” as it were, The Beatles have always been very distinct individuals, openly competing with one another, and good-naturedly vying for the attention of their fans. (Think, for example, of John “hmphffing” disgustedly on Live at the BBC Vol. 1 when he reads aloud a piece of fan mail that says, “Love to the boys…especially Paul!”) From the very first day that I was introduced to The Beatles and was given, by my elementary school friends, only two hours (“until recess”) to “fall in love” with one of them, The Beatles have been quite separate and very individual. I have never thought of them as one indivisible unit.

In August, as I drove cross-country to the Chicago Fest, I mulled over my lifelong devotion to one particular Beatle (clearly, John) and about that similar “singular Beatle” response from my friends throughout junior high and high school. I smiled remembering that my friends and I, back “in the day,” readily identified ourselves as “John girls” or “George girls,” etc.  And even as adults, little has changed. In fact, not so long ago, Lanea Stagg and I aired a well-researched “John vs. George” debate on our She Said She Said podcast, discussing four of John’s songs from the White Album in contrast to four of George’s.  And we saw nothing amiss in the act of adamantly “standing by our man.”

Terry Crain, author of NEMS and the Business of Selling The Beatles in the U.S., 1964-1966, will tell you that merchandisers realized this “Favorite Beatle” phenomenon from Day One. Indeed, the entire purpose of selling “I LOVE PAUL” or “I LOVE RINGO” buttons was to make money off of female fans who quite definitely connected with one particular Fab.

Going back now to re-watch YouTube videos of The Beatles landing at various locations throughout the 1964 North American Tour, I see scads of female fans holding signs lauding one Beatle over another. I see girls passionately screaming not the word “Beatles!!!!!!!!!!!” but weeping and shouting, “George!” or “Ringooooo!” or “John!” or “Paul!” And I see those same girls wearing sweatshirts, T-shirts, buttons, and hair bands with their favorite Beatle boldly emblazoned on the garment. From these earliest days of Beatlemania, the great majority of female fans (though not all) were unashamedly choosing one Beatle and his songs over the others.

Once ensconced at the Chicago Fest last August, I began asking those who visited my booth in the Marketplace one question: “Do you have a favorite Beatle?” And just as I had begun to surmise, less than 10% of male fans identified with any Fab in particular. In fact, they looked at me with befuddled expressions and said things such as, “Well, I’m a drummer, so I guess I’d have to say, Ringo…but uh, really, I like them all.” Or: “Well, I like John’s straightforward approach to life, but I mean, I don’t have a favorite Beatle, per se.” The majority of them simply stated, “Nope, I like them all.”

Beatles historian, Sara Schmidt (author of Happiness is Seeing The Beatles: Beatlemania in St. Louis), who is currently writing a book on the Beatles Fan Clubs in America, recently told me, “At the Fests and other places, I usually give those attending my talks a free photo of one or all of The Beatles at the end of my presentations. And what I’ve discovered is: women almost always select a photo of one particular Beatle. They don’t bat an eye when I give them a choice. They say, “I’ll take George.” Or “Give me Ringo.” But men generally select a photo of the entire group.”

The Beatles knew this. In fact, in 1965 when 16 Magazine’s editor, Gloria Stavers, flew to the Bahamas to interview The Beatles on the set of “Help!”, she asked John Lennon, “To what do you attribute your incredible success with these scads and scads of female fans?” And John’s very direct response was, “Well, I’m a man, aren’t I?” Yes, indeed.

Undeniably, a sociological, sexual connection does exist between the four handsome, charismatic, and often flirtatious young men known as The Beatles and their female fans, while a great many male fans (though certainly not all) tend to be drawn to Beatles gear, Beatles discography, and that creative collective known as The Beatles who created Beatles music. That being said…The Beatles World is varied and colorful in its many textures, shades, and hues, and there are all sorts of variations in between the majorities. There are plenty of women who like the Fab Four for their music only and plenty of men who find The Beatles attractive.

And all of us, despite our unique vantage points, can agree on this: A song without Ringo’s “Match 10” force and power would be lacking. A song without Paul’s bass brilliance would miss something wonderful. A song without George’s magical lead would fall short. A song without John’s grit and extemporaneous genius would be ho-hum. The Beatles are undeniably different but equal.

And so are we. It takes the different but equal outlooks of males and females to create the extensive, over-awing fan base that has kept The Beatles “front and center” for nigh on 60 years now. We may view them in slightly different ways, but our devotion is the same. And when I raise objections about the small quota of John’s songs in the film Yesterday, it doesn’t negate my pride in the fact that a 2019 film is still lauding “The Boys” as unparalleled. Whether you view The Beatles as an inseparable group or as a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of unique, individual musicians, it matters not. In fact, what a “blah” world this would be if we all saw things identically. Like the horrid, same-same world that Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin encountered in Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle In Time, such an existence would be terrifying.

Let’s celebrate our differences and enjoy The Beatles as we will. There is no right way to sing “yeah, yeah, yeah.” There is no one direction to Strawberry Fields or Blue Jay Way. There is no single ticket for the Magical Mystery Tour. And thank goodness, there is room on the bus for everyone.

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45 years ago this weekend: The first Beatlefest

From Fest Founder Mark Lapidos…

SEPTEMBER 7, 1974 – 45 YEARS AGO THIS WEEKEND: We opened the doors to the first Beatlefest at the old Commodore Hotel on 42nd St, in NYC and Beatle fandom changed forever!!! I couldn’t possibly know at the time, because it was only a one convention idea! But, the public spoke and we listened! I can remember so clearly that Saturday morning. I was so nervous it made me sick. Not knowing what was going to happen, and how it will work out had caught up to me that morning. The program sheet was just printed the day before! The convention was set to start at 1PM.

At around 11AM, the doorbell to the suite rang. It was Tony King, VP of Apple and their official representative, who arrived with the films and the signed musical instruments from John, Paul and George. Ringo had sent signed drumsticks a few months beforehand. We chatted a bit before he took out 6 signed copies of The Penguin John Lennon book of his poetry. John wanted them to be auctioned off for the charity he designated – The Phoenix House Foundation (a drug rehab organization in upper Manhattan). He then took out a 7th book that John signed for me, with a wonderful inscription and some doodles, beginning with To Mark, September Beatlefest 1974! I was now coming out of my funk a bit.

It was Tony’s next utterance that lifted any anxieties or fears out of my being. He said, “John wants to come down tomorrow to pick the winner of his guitar.” I don’t remember my exact response, but this was a dream come true to the max! To say I was thrilled beyond belief is a major understatement!! I think I jumped up and told Tony I need to get ready to go downstairs. I arranged for John’s entrance through the kitchen and into the balcony overlooking the Grand Ballroom and had a microphone set up just for him. A NYC policeman who, by the rarest of coincidences, happened to be a childhood friend, who had come over to congratulate me, helped to make this happen. 1:00PM was upon me and I was on my way down to the ballroom. I stopped at the balcony floor, maybe 5 minutes after the doors opened and I looked out over the ledge. That moment in ingrained in my brain forever. I gazed at the completely and totally jammed packed ballroom full of Beatles fans and that it was I who had come up with this crazy idea. My energy level shot up to 100% and never stopped the entire weekend. Quick side story: The films were almost ready to start when someone asked me about the projectionist. A blank look come over me as that was a detail I hadn’t thought of. I can’t make this stuff up. At that moment in through the door a union projectionist comes in and said his boss read about the event and we were showing films. He said, “where do I go?”, and without a moment’s hesitation, I pointed to the projection area and off we went. John changed his mind and chose to go to his farm in upstate NY on the Sunday, but he was interviewed on that Saturday, and he mentioned me and the event (Lisa Robinson /Circus Magazine).

From this acorn of an idea, grew into an annual event here, and 3 years later in Chicago, plus ten other cities around the country over the years – 132 FESTS and counting! What we (my family and many who are like family to us) have created is like a Beatles Thanksgiving for many thousands of fans on any given weekend. This is the true joy of what we do!

Happy 45th Anniversary!!!

Peace and Love, 

Mark Lapidos



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It Was 55 Years Ago Today, February 7, 1964

Mark’s thoughts about this day and month, 55 years ago:

Most fans know the general history of The Beatles arrival in America, The famous airport Press Conference where they totally won the press over, the jam packed streets outside the NYC Plaza Hotel, George had a fever and his sister Louise helped get him ready for the Sunday Ed Sullivan Shows, The photo jaunt through Central Park on Saturday, etc, etc. However, The Beatles had the Top two songs (I Want To Hold Your Hand & She Loves You and the Top 2 albums (Meet The Beatles and Introducing The Beatles) pretty much by the time they took the stage on February 9th. I was examining the Billboard Top 100 Charts from early 1964 and found quite a few not so well known tidbits. By the end of February, there were the earliest signs of the British Invasion to come – The Searchers (incl former FEST Guest Mike Pender) with Needle and Pins, Dave Clark 5 with Glad All Over and The Swinging Blue Jeans (incl former FEST guest Terry Sylvester) with Hippy Hippy Shake. However, it took a Lennon/McCartney penned tune – World Without Love by Peter & Gordon (many time FEST guests) to make it all the way to #1 by a Brit group other than The Beatles. It was in June, 1964. By mid March, there were 7 Beatles songs in the charts including My Bonnie with Tony Sheridan, which peaked at #26. #86 was a song by the Swans called The Boy With The Beatle Haircut. #87 was a different song called My Boyfriend Got a Beatles Haircut by Donna Lynn. The next week, The Four Preps had A Letter to The Beatles hit the charts at #87 , while The Carefrees (featuring Cher!!) saw their song We Love You Beatles entered at #73. We all know The Beatles had the Top 5 songs the first week in April, but they also had the Top 4 songs the week before! I found an unknown oddity the week of March 14. The Supremes had the #100 song with Run, Run, Run and it peaked at #94. This was 4 months BEFORE Where Did Our Love Go starting its climb to #1 that summer!

On the album side, Meet The Beatles was #1 by the time they hit the stage on Feb 9th. By the time their third Sullivan show aired, they had the top 2 albums (Introducing The Beatles). That remained #2 for 9 weeks behind, you guessed it – Meet The Beatles. The Beatles spent 30 weeks in 1964 at the top of the Billboard Top 200 Charts (11 weeks for Meet, 5 weeks for 2nd Album and 14 weeks for A Hard Day’s Night). In February, Peter, Paul & Mary had 3 albums in the top 20, but folk music peaked and the British Invasion began its amazing run. Newcomer Barbara Streisand had her first two albums in the Top 10 and thus, began her historic career at the same moment in time The Beatles did, in the U.S.

So, as Top 40 radio was playing a Beatles song every other song, all over the country, another historic event happened. It also took place in Miami Beach the same time The Beatles were there. U.S. Olympic Boxing Gold Medalist in 1960, Cassius Clay stunned the boxing world by knocking out heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Of course, the world would come to know him as Muhammad Ali. The Beatles became the most famous people in the world for the rest of the decade and WAY beyond, even 55 years later. Muhammad Ali was right behind them in world celebrity. 1964 was the year! I remember it well.

Peace and Love,
Mark Lapidos

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It Was 55 Years Ago Today January 6, 1964!

Happy New Year, Fellow Beatles Fans,

I know I have told this story in the past, but it’s been 5 years, so I thought I should dust it off and add a little more to it.

It was 55 years ago today, January 6, 1964 that I first heard I Want To Hold Your Hand. It was a moment that forever changed my life and I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the first day back from the two week Christmas/New Year’s vacation where I had no access to radio. I was listening to WABC on the Scott Muni Show (shown above with John). I was doing my homework and the song came on the radio. I got so excited. I never heard ANYTHING that sounded like that before. I wanted to know who it was. I was hooked before the song was over. Scottso came on and said that it was by a group from England called The Beatles. My first thought was ‘What a strange name!’ The very next day, Tuesday, was new survey day and I came home from school and it was #1. It was still #1 when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show almost five weeks later.

Just this past week, a friend showed me a signed copy of Introducing The Beatles, after cleaning out a family member’s storage unit. Not being a hard core Beatles fan, he had no idea if the signatures were real or not. Of course, they weren’t. The strange thing is, I too, signed the cover of that album that my brother bought for my birthday two week later. I do not know why I signed it (BTW, I had the names wrong originally – it was difficult to tell them apart in those VERY early days!). I never signed another album by anybody, ever again – it was a one time thing which I cannot explain! Did any of you reading this have a similar experience?

Peace and Love,
Mark

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Happiness is a Warm Cell Phone: Drake vs. The Beatles

Hi everyone! We hope to see you all at Monmouth University this week for the White Album conference featuring Mark Lapidos, Mark Lewisohn, Walter Everett, Ken Womack, Bruce Spizer, Al Sussman, Tom Frangione, Lanea Stagg (our featured blogger this week), Kit O’Toole, Susan and James Ryan, and me (Jude Southerland Kessler)…and SO many more.

 

To give you an idea of the kind of interesting topics that will be covered, here is Lanea Stagg’s comparison of The Beatles chart-blasting record to Drake, who claims to have surpassed The Beatles’ 1964 accomplishment of 5 songs in the Top Ten at once. Is it a valid claim? Has Drake stolen the crown from our Fabs? Read on…

 

This summer, news media outlets began reporting that pop star rapper, Drake, had surpassed The Beatles’ accomplishments on the Billboard “Hot 100” chart. Even last week it was reported that he surpassed another chart record belonging to The Fabs. I have been inclined to blame it solely on “Fake News.”

 

But, in an effort to be fair, I have opened my mind to Drake. According to pop music lovers today, 31-year-old Drake creates music which is a softer alternative to rap, bypassing hardcore gangster rap and infusing catchy love lines to hook the girls. I spoke with one 20-something male who explained to me that he didn’t like Drake’s music at first, but “girls like Drake … so eventually, the boys have to like Drake, because then they’re going to win the affection of the girls.” Does that sound familiar?

 

Today’s Top 100 Billboard charts have become a completely new environment for music artists. Music streaming and downloading have become an important component in the statistics collected to determine pop song success. It is fair to surmise that today’s metrics for determining chart success is not what we grew up with. On April 4, 1964, The Beatles held the top 5 slots on Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart. The charts at that time were driven by record sales and radio play. Today’s charts, however, are driven by downloading and streaming with a little bit of radio and physical sales sprinkled in.

 

Donald S. Passman, wrote in his book All You Need to Know About the Music Business, “When the Beatles were around, there were horrible (accounting) records of who sold what. Nobody knew how many records were sold in retail, only how many were shipped to the store.” So even if the records went back to the company, the statistics were likely inflated. But at the same time, it was a lot more difficult for an artist to sell records and to get on the radio simply because there were physically fewer retail stores, radio stations and listening opportunities – there were no cell phones or social media. Today’s false inflation of sales data creates an inaccurate perception of chart success.

 

I found it quite interesting to look at how the charts are measured today and driven by consumer listening habits. I questioned how people are listening to music, interviewing and surveying 200+ college students in Columbia, Missouri. Here is what I found, and the data directly affects chart ratings:

 

99% of the group listen to music via cell phone.

46% of the 200 students use a free subscription like Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, YouTube, etc.

42% use other paid subscriptions such as Apple Music, XM Radio, Amazon Prime, or Pandora;

20% actually purchase music via CD’s, iTunes, vinyl, etc. (which is shocking and exciting);

40% use the most popular paid subscription: Spotify.

 

Nearly all of the 128 students who purchase Spotify receive a discounted student rate: only $5 per month for unlimited music. This means they are allowed to stream and download millions of songs – 35 million to be exact. One student told me that Spotify has replaced listening to the radio. The music subscription creates its own playlists, and they tailor playlists based upon your past listening history. Spotify also sends listeners e-mails, i.e.: “Drake has a new album out.” And you can follow your friends and see what they are listening to as well.

 

Meanwhile back in 1964, Beatles fans were listening to The Fabs in conventional locations – in front of the only family television or on the radio in the family wagon, and who remembers that joyful scene in “That Thing You Do!” when the band heard their record for the first time on a transistor? A nostalgic, exciting moment – however, this mode of listening has all but disappeared.

 

So, what does this have to do with our topic? Drake vs. The Beatles?

 

Well, we all know that The Beatles climbed the charts – one physical record sale at a time. But for Drake, the climb to the top happened rapidly, via the aforementioned instant downloads.

 

Let’s take a look at this past summer, for example. On July 14, 2018, Drake “dominated” the Billboard “Hot 100” chart – seven spots in the Top 10 belonged to Drake. Multiple media outlets, and Drake himself, reported that he had “surpassed The Beatles’ record of five hit songs in the Top 10 at once.

 

However, a careful look at the facts will show us a bit of a difference. While The Beatles held spots 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, Drake did not. Drake held spots 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9. One week later, Drake only held three tracks in the Top 10, at spots 1, 4, and 6.

 

It should be noted that on June 29, 2018, Drake released his 25-track disc titled “Scorpion,” and all 25 songs were on the Billboard “Top 100” chart immediately. So, when his entire disc of 25 songs was released, definitely the Spotify kids had it on their phones instantly – and so it gets tallied and accounted instantaneously.

 

Even the controversial media outlet BuzzFeed wrote on September 13, 2018, that “Spoofing Spotify by fans – (is) eroding the metrics of Billboard charts.” Remember that half of the students in my collegiate test group purchased Spotify for only $5/month. That allows them to download and stream all the music they can listen to (35 million songs!!) for only $5. Washington Post reporter, Travis Andrews, astutely observed, “The charts have struggled to come up with a streaming equivalent to an album purchase – or a song download. [But one must bear in mind that] it was harder to purchase The White Album than to put a stream of “Lemonade” on repeat, after all.”

 

The Senior Vice President of Charts and Data Development at Billboard magazine said this summer, “What we do is react to the marketplace around us. I think we are fairly nimble on downloading and even more so on streaming, to make sure we’re reflecting where the music consumer is going. Where that will end up, though…I don’t know.”

 

Why do charts matter, anyway? Charts matter mostly to record companies in terms of market share or clout. The music consumer isn’t as driven by the charts.

 

One example of record sale success overshadowing chart success happened in ’67 when “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were released as a double A-side 45-rpm. Early predictions were that this single would perpetuate The Beatles’ unprecedented achievement of 12 straight Number 1 singles in the UK. However, the 45 was not released as one single, but two. This divided the sales data between the two songs, and hence, Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me” took the Number 1 spot on the “Hot 100” over our Fabs, breaking their four-year “roll” as George Martin called it. However, Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane 45rpm sold 2.5 million copies, outselling Humperdinck two-to-one. Indeed, chart success in this case and many others does not guarantee either the superior sales success or music superiority of the record.

 

If you give Drake an honest, fair chance, it is apparent that he has achieved success. He is chart-topping. He is Grammy award-winning and platinum-selling, not to mention charming and charismatic. And oh yeahhis dad was the drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis. So, we can’t ignore that something is happening with this powerhouse. Many thought that The Beatles were a fad, so I try to consider that when I analyze today’s music trends. But in my opinion, Drake is primarily a brilliant marketer. Let’s give credit for Drake’s popularity where that credit is due: to downloading and streaming. Should we mark our calendars and plan for HIS “White Album” celebration in 50 years? Tomorrow never knows.

 

About our Guest Blogger:

Lanea Stagg is the author of the Recipe Records Cookbook Series: Recipe Records, Recipe Records-The 60s Edition, Recipe Records-A Culinary Tribute to The Beatles, and The Rolling Scones: Let’s Spend the Bite Together. The series combines music trivia, quips, quotes, and playlists with clever recipe titles that pay tribute to great music of many genres and decades.  In addition to the series, she has authored children’s books, a blog, and contributed to entertainment publications, along with co-hosting BlogTalkRadio program: “She Said She Said,” with Jude Southerland Kessler, the author of The John Lennon Series. Lanea will be giving a presentation on this topic at The White Album Conference next week at Monmouth University.

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October 9, 2018 – John’s Birthday

Today we celebrate the life of a true game changer. John Lennon would have turned 78 today. His massive contribution to this society cannot be underestimated. We can only imagine what the world would look like today had he not succumbed to an assassin’s bullets 38 years ago. His loss will NEVER stop hurting. We must go forward and try to live our lives with the spirit and enthusiasm John lived by. Here is a quick test: Off the top of your head, name 10 influential people from pre 20th century…

I can almost guarantee some of these people you will mention are artists – Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Van Gogh, Renoir, Brahms, Shelley, Keats, Tchaikovsky, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Emerson, Dickinson, Plato. Artists and their work are remembered and appreciated by society. Museums honor their achievements. We tend to remember them more than most of the world leaders from the past.

What John, with The Beatles and as a solo artist, has given this culture, will be remembered hundreds of years from now. It is a comfort to know we have lived in the same time on this planet as he did. All of our lives have been enriched beyond words by the music and art of John Lennon. Thank you for being the catalyst. Thank you for liking and approving my idea for a 10th Anniversary Beatles fans convention in 1974 I love you and will always miss you.

We also want to wish Sean a very happy birthday on this day he shares with his father. He is 43 today. On a personal note, this day was also shared with my father, Danny, who was certainly my biggest musical influence growing up, before 1964 came along.

All you need is love,
Mark Lapidos

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