Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Beatlemaniacs Suck!

Yes, we really do. I'm one of them, and I'll admit it: I'm part of the problem.

As hardcore Beatlemaniacs, we read anything about the Fabs we can get our hands on, whether good (Bob Spitz's The Beatles: The Biography), bad (Hunter Davies' The Beatles, though it's not his fault), or ugly (Albert Goldman's Many Lives of John Lennon, so ugly it's one of my favorite books ever). We've read books by friends and sycophants, critics and musicians, pop culture analysts and psychiatrists. Some are elegantly written, some are clunky, some are gushy, and some are snarky. But after a while, they all eventually start marching out the same old stories, cribbing from the same sources, and relying on the same dumb cliches. And still we read them, because as Beatlemaniacs, that's what we do.

So many books are written about the Boys every year, in fact, that it seems like it should be getting all but impossible to say anything new. Yet, some of them -- like Jonathan Gould's Can't Buy Me Love -- still manage to beat the odds and manage to be really thoughtful, and look at even the most familiar Beatle stories in new and interesting ways.

But here's why Beatlemaniacs suck: we're a brutal, picky crowd -- and any writer who publishes anything about the Beatles earns my instant respect, because it's like jumping into a tankful of sharks waiting for the taste of blood in the water. That means that no matter how good a book might be, we're still going to pick and pick and pick, applying our own impossibly high standards as we determine whether the book does our favorite subject justice. It also means we're going to groan and obsess over even the slightest mistakes, whether it's a mis-labeled photograph, a garbled spelling, or a skewed date.

But what makes us the craziest is a misquoted song lyric. The music is what matters the most, so while an incorrect date or time might be somewhat forgivable (especially when you're in the weeds and trying to make sense of recording logs), a botched lyric is another story entirely. It's like writing a book about Wordsworth and then misquoting The Prelude.

So, Jonathan Gould . . . I'm watching you. I love your book, I'm enjoying it immensely, but I'm on page 405, and you've already driven me nuts with two botched lyrics.

Botch #1 is on page 214, discussing "I Want to Hold Your Hand." The opening lyric is "Oh yeah, I'll tell you something..." and not "Yeah, well, I'll tell you something...."

Botch #2 comes on page 326, during the discussion of "Paperback Writer." I'll quote you here:

"...[Paul] brings a starry-eyed reverence to this dubious occupational title that almost stands up to the punning counterpoint of "Pay-per-back-er" (sung to the tune of "Frere Jacques") that John and George provide."

Uh, no. The backing counterpoint lyric is "Frere Jacques." Isolate it in your headphones, then try again.

Proofreaders and copyeditors everywhere, take note: when proofing Beatles books, triple check those song lyrics -- because there are millions of anal-retentive, obsessive Beatlemaniacs who'll shriek when you get it wrong.

Yeah, we know: we suck. But it's our job.