Thursday, October 28, 2010

'Beatles Book' Describes Madness of Mid-Sixties

October 17, 1968

"The Beatles Book," edited by Edward E. Davis, 205 pages, Cowles Education Corp., New York, N.Y.


The Beatlemania of the mid-sixties has somehow survived or been revived by the recent spate of books concerning the mop-topped foursome.

Whatever their inspiration, nostalgic or commercial, the three latest books by Hunter Davies, Julius Fast and Edward E. Davis contain a wealth of information on John, Paul, Ringo and George.

Unlike the Davies and Fast books, however, the Davis book is not a biography of the Liverpudlian lads. Instead it is a critical evaluation of the Beatles as musicians, folk poets, social documentarians and innovators of cinematic techniques.

"The Beatles Book," edited by Davis, is a collection of controversial articles by 15 of the country's foremost musicians, artists, writers, psychoanalysts and yes . . . even political scientists.

Contrived Criticism

Much of the book consists of praise and even the criticism seems somewhat hollow and contrived.

Author Nat Hentoff criticizes the Beatles for not appealing to ghetto blacks, but still considers them liberators for "turning millions of American adolescents onto what had been here hurting all the time."

Composer Ned Rorem claims that he and his colleagues have been happily torn from a long nap by the energy of rock, principally as embodied in the Beatles.

At the same time, high priest of LSD Timothy Leary calls them "the four evangelists in the psychedelic movement."

Free-lance writer and photographer Edward Davis, who compiled the articles, considers the Beatles' widely acclaimed album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" a new art form and the group's most stunningly original album.

Technical Excellence

Poet Al Lee said that "when their technical excellence serves a serious theme, the Beatles merit the pinnacle of the sixties they have seized, regardless of merit, by stunning the popular sensibility with new forms."

Some criticism, of course, is naturally forthcoming.

According to reviewer Richard Goldstein, "the Beatles jester approach to serious music and deep thought clamors for interpretation and their intentional embrace of ambiguity sets a tempting critical trap, hard to resist when ideas are the bait."

The only real blast, however, is leveled by William F. Buckley Jr., whose remarks will seem no less than sacrilegious to Beatle fans.

Buckley, editor of National Review, gives the conservative viewpoint when he describes the group as "not merely awful but godawful.

Crowned Heads

"They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art," said Buckley, "that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as anti-popes."

Other contributors include Allen Keesee, who examines the influences of Indian philosophy and music on the Beatles, Herbert Freudenberger, who tells how the quartet mirrors the loneliness of contemporary youth and Ralph J. Gleason, who looks at the current pop scene.

Joshua Rifkin criticizes the musical structure of the Beatles and Leonore Fleisher discusses their movies, "Help!" and "A Hard Day's Night."

"The Beatles Book" is packed with facts brilliantly borne out in some passages and totally bogged down in others.

Hopefully the reader can stumble through these wordy and woefully long essays, for much insight on the Beatles can be obtained from experts who dare to discuss something besides grass and gurus.

At any rate it's nice to know the Beatles are alive and well and living in Liverpool, or is it London now that they are successful businessmen?

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