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Interview: Author Richard Buskin on what you need to know about the Beatles

The cover of Richard Buskin's book.
Parading Press

(Introduction: Richard Buskin is the author of “Beatles 101: The Need-To-Know Guide,” a handy guide book of basic facts about the Fab Four that also contains artwork by Eric Cash and several exclusive interviews conducted by the author. We questioned Mr. Buskin about the book via email.)

Q: What's the basic premise behind "Beatles 101: The Need-To-Know Guide"?
Richard Buskin: “This is a book aimed at a wide audience; one-stop shopping for all of the vital facts about The Beatles, written not only for people who know little or nothing about the world’s greatest supergroup, but also for those who are highly knowledgable, want this information to hand in one easy-to-read volume, and will still learn things they never previously knew. Instead of the usual, chronological retelling of the Fab Four story, ‘Beatles 101' breaks it down into different categories: their voices, their musicianship, their personalities, their humor, their TV appearances, and so on, meaning the reader can access any one of these, in any order, for reference purposes, or read it from cover to cover to have a comprehensive understanding of the whats, whys, and hows. The book’s most unique aspects: Eric Cash’s stunning, full-color artwork; the photos that I myself took of Beatles-related sites; and my interviews with their collaborators inside the recording studio, including Sir George Martin, Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick, Glyn Johns, and Alan Parsons.”

Q: If you had to pick one of the Beatles' influences as most significant, who would it be?
Richard Buskin: “It would have to be Elvis Presley. While the influences were numerous – ranging from the blues and music-hall artists they heard on the radio as kids to rockers such as Chuck Berry (for his songwriting abilities), Buddy Holly (for his everyman appeal), Little Richard (for his flamboyant persona on-stage and on-record), and Jerry Lee Lewis (for his unbridled musical aggression) - Elvis represented the complete package: the looks, the personality, the sexuality, the voice, the attitude, you name it. As John Lennon himself stated, the whole Bill Haley fad passed him by and it was Elvis who inspired him – and tens of thousands of others – to pick up a guitar in the hope of emulating him.”

Q: The list of aborted Beatles projects listed in the book, such as "The Yellow Teddybears" and "Lord of the Rings," is very interesting. Is there one you wish they'd made?
Richard Buskin: “Well, while Joe Orton’s 1967 screenplay for ‘Up Against It’ sounds intriguing – being that its convoluted plot dealt with political assassination, guerrilla warfare, and transvestitism – it may also have been a mess if it ever made it to the big screen. So, the one I would have liked to see The Beatles star in, from that same year, was ‘Shades of a Personality, to be shot in Malaga, Spain, and directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, who’d recently helmed the Swinging London murder-mystery ‘Blow-Up.’ Owen Holder’s script centered on John having a three-way split personality, and Paul, George, and Ringo portraying each of his personality aspects in separate sub-plots. Could have been interesting, and as the producer was Walter Shenson, who had overseen ‘A Hard Day’s Night' and ‘Help!,’ there’s a solid chance that, even with hallucinogenic drugs influencing virtually everything The Beatles were doing at around that time, the on-screen results would have had the polish and cohesiveness that ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ ultimately lacked.”

Q: Did the press ever get it?
Richard Buskin: “No, never, especially not in America where far too many column inches were wasted on trivialities about the moptop hairdos and screaming girls. Just listen to the inane questions fired at the group members during press conferences. It’s little wonder they looked bored and tired hearing the same old nonsense by the time their third U.S. tour rolled around in 1966. At least in Britain, as far back as 1963, they had their music being taken seriously by classical music critic William Mann in ‘The Times,’ but then look at how mercilessly John and Yoko were treated by the British press five years later. Sure, they set themselves up to be mocked – John admitted as much – but most journalists also didn’t get the seriousness of the peace message they were trying to convey or the artistic ingenuity and Lennonish humor that were underpinning it.”

Q: What broke up the Beatles and do you think had John been around they would have gotten back together?
Richard Buskin: “Just as no one event was solely responsible for sinking the Titanic, a combination of things contributed to The Beatles’ break-up: the end to live performances, which had originally been the band’s life blood and without which they no longer had something bonding them together year-round; Brian Epstein’s death which, even though they required him far less once they quit the road, left them without that all-important overseer and organizer; George’s increasing fascination with Eastern music and philosophy which, after years of being marginalized by John and Paul, provided him with a source of interest outside of the group and away from Paul’s condescending attitude; the arrival of Yoko in John’s life, which, once it was clear he couldn’t incorporate her into The Beatles, meant he began looking for a way out of the group while she did nothing to persuade him otherwise; and the disagreement between Paul on the one hand and his three bandmates on the other with regard to who should manage the group’s affairs.

“Had they each been able to see beyond the original Beatles format and been more receptive to totally new ideas – ranging from Yoko-inspired avant-garde experimentation to embracing George as an equal partner to John and Paul – they may have been able to continue as a unit while also pursuing solo projects. But that wasn’t who they were or what they were prepared to do.

“As for them getting back together if John hadn’t been killed – probably for the ‘Anthology' project which had brewing while he was still alive, perhaps even in the form of an album of new material, but I doubt it would have been an ongoing thing.”

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