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Interview: 'She Loves You' author devoted to telling John Lennon's story

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For Jude Southerland Kessler, it never stops. The third volume in her John Lennon biography series, “She Loves You,” debuted in early February and she's already at work on the next volume, “Shoulda Known Better,” due out in March of 2017. “She Loves You,” which covers the Beatles from April, 1963 to February, 1964, and the explosion of Beatlemania, was debuted at two events in early February, including the Fest for Beatles Fans, which Kessler called “Beatlemania times 100.”

“It was amazing. I've never seen that many people in one place at one time and just lining up waiting to buy books from the different vendors. It was crazy,” she said in a phone interview. “We sold out everything that we took. I was only there one day, Sunday."

Just before hitting the Fest for Beatles Fans, she was on a panel at Beatles academic conference at Penn State Altoona with Mark Lewisohn, Beatles instrument expert Andy Babiuk and music theorist Walter Everett.

“It turned out to be a wonderful, wonderful experience, something I'd never done before,” she said. She calls herself “the Amy Farrah Fowler of the Beatles world” and says, “I'm a total Beatles nerd.”

As years go on and few of the original Beatles sources are still alive, is it getting more difficult to tell the Beatles' story? “Are we getting closer to the truth or farther from the truth?,” she asks hypothetically. “We're losing our primary sources, but the primary sources often don't get it right. You know that famous quote from John where he said, 'The one thing I know for sure is when I met Paul.' And of course the date he gives is completely wrong.

“Over time, who can remember what you did on vacation 15 or 20 years ago? No one can. We don't fault anyone. It's just that time passes and you don't remember. I think it's up to us doing research to never take one source, even if it's a primary source, to uncover as many sources as we can and to graph it, to try and get to the bottom of the source and figure what's been exaggerated, what's been twisted for someone's benefit, what actually is true and, you know what, even when you do that, you can never be sure you're getting the real truth.”

On his recent “NEW” album, Paul McCartney took a direct hit at Beatles authors with the song “Early Days.” “They can't take it from me if they try, I lived through those early days,” McCartney wrote.

“You know, I understand. Who wants to live under a microscope and when experienced it but them. It's their private memories and yet everybody is saying, 'This is what happened,' and you've got it wrong and we've got it right. It must be very frustrating,” she said. “Everybody's giving his or her own version of the story. So, of course they can't take it from him. It's his. But just because he remembers it that way doesn't mean that's the way it was.

“And, of course, nobody's trying to take it from him. The sad thing is no one's trying to take that from him. They're trying to preserve it for him.”

As a first-generation Beatles fan, Kessler remembers well the explosion of Beatlemania. Part of her experience is included in her new book.

“There is a chapter in 'She Loves You.' (Editor's note: It starts on page 340.) It's the day of the Royal Command Performance, which happened to be my 10th birthday. And so I'm in the book and it's my birthday and it's talking about who I was listening to at that time. And how much I hated it because I had been a big Elvis Presley fan in the '50s. And I thought music had gone to the dogs because I didn't like Bobby Vinton or Paul Anka or Bobby Vee. I thought that was all just sickly sweet. And when are we going to get some good rock 'n' roll again.

“Within a month, I go to school, and a girl comes up and says, 'These are the Beatles and you have to pick one to fall in love with by December.' Within 30 days, my world changed. Once I heard that Beatles on that 45 in December of 1963, it was all over. I really didn't listen to anyone else but the Beatles.”

Her next book in the John Lennon Series, “Shoulda Known Better,” will be out in March of 2017. She also says she'll be putting in 10-hour work days to get the fourth book finished. And she thinks the next volume will be probably the most explosive in the series.

“I actually think the next one is going to be the most exciting one. Because it's going to be the making of 'A Hard Day's Night,' and the world tour and the August tour of America. This one you just put your toe in the string of Beatlemania. And you're there for New York and the three Ed Sullivan shows in Miami and Washington, D.C., and all that. Then, zip they're back on the place. The next one, 'Shoulda Known Better,' is going to be right in the eye of the hurricane.

Between her series on John Lennon and Mark Lewisohn's on the Beatles, there's a lot for Beatles fans to look forward to. In fact, she says Lewisohn paid her the highest tribute when he told her he respected her work.

“You're the only one who's doing the kind of research and scholarship I'm doing,” she says he told her. “You won't let a thing go. You just keep digging until you get to the bottom of it. And that's impressive.' And you just live on that. So now I'm really inspired not to take one person's opinion for fact. I dig, dig, dig, dig, dig.”

(Note: The first volume, “Shoulda Been There,” is available in print and Kindle versions. “Shivering Inside,” the second book in the series, is only currently available on Kindle, but the print version will be reissued later this year.)

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