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Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles: 2 of X

by Paul Levinson 5 years ago in bands / book reviews / celebrities / literature / product review

The Heroine with a Thousand Faces

Among Rob Sheffield's many talents as a Beatles journalist -- not historian, because, as Sheffield convincingly demonstrates, the Beatles are far more important today than when they were writing and recording as a band, which back then was extraordinarily important indeed -- but among the delightful ways Sheffield makes his case is by fashioning his arguments from the Beatles' lyrics, so deftly that you don't even want a quote. Talking about John Lennon's unquenchable need to make a girl care, to make her "feel something," Sheffield concludes "Because if he doesn't reach her, the song is worthless and so is he. It's a love that lasts forever, it's a love that has no past".

And what that does, of course, is bring in the music and Lennon's voice in "Don't Let Me Down" as irresistible and utterly convincing accompaniment to Sheffield's point.

And that's just one example of many. And I've only just finished the first chapter (or perhaps the second, if you count a Prelude as a proper chapter).

But what Sheffield's literally lyrical mode of discourse also does is support the very thesis he's making in this remarkable book as a whole: that the Beatles, like the love Lennon is singing about, will indeed last forever. Evidence of this ticket to eternity is that the words of the Beatles are now so fully in our psyches that they don't require quotes.

But they do have a past. As Sheffield explains, the Beatles invented all kinds of things -- the totally self-contained band, or one that not only plays its own instruments and sings, but writes its own songs, and the band that constantly re-invented itself, using its success as a platform to create new kinds of music which all but replaced rather than built upon their earlier successes.

We (I was born in 1947) knew this at the time -- we were well aware of what rock music was like before the Beatles, when groups stayed with the genre that propelled them to fame, and most singers did not write their own songs. (Roy Orbison did, but his music, though sublime, barely evolved. Buddy Holly sometimes did, but tragically didn't live long enough to evolve.)

The other theme in this first chapter is the preeminence of girls in the Beatles' story -- not just as the essence of whom the Beatles most wanted to impress (or, Paul and John, anyway), but in the sheer variety of girls/women who appear in Beatles' songs. "Does the 'Martha My Dear' girl fall in love with the boy? Or does she leave him like the 'For No One' girl does? Does the 'Ticket to Ride' boy ever get her back?" (Or maybe they're all the same girl, a heroine with a thousand faces -- it amounts to the same.) (To make matters even more interesting, Paul at some point famously said Martha was a canine, but when people first heard the song, no one knew that.)

Well, you get the picture -- and not only that. Sheffield also sees part of the very persona of The Beatles as feminine -- after all, look at their long hair.

Hey, I gotta end this now. We'll be off to the Cape tomorrow. But I'll be driving with The Beatles channel on. And the next part of this review will be written just a few feet from the shoreline. Which should work out well, seeing as I heard the Beachboy-inspired "Back in the USSR" for the first time in years today.

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Paul Levinson

Paul Levinson's novels include The Silk Code & The Plot To Save Socrates; his LPs Twice Upon A Rhyme & Welcome Up; his nonfiction including Fake News in Real Context, The Soft Edge & Digital McLuhan have been translated into 15 languages.


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