A Chat With Beatles Expert Mark Lewisohn

No matter how much you think you know about the Beatles, Mark Lewisohn probably knows more.

Photo: AP Photo/File
A 1966 photo showing the band about to depart London Airport for the U.S. and Canada.

Hundreds of books have been written about the band, but none with such care and authority as those by the 58-year-old British author. His resume includes comprehensive releases on their concert performances (“The Beatles Live!”) and studio work (“The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions”), for which he was given a Beatle obsessive’s dream job, getting paid by EMI Records to enter the inner sanctum of the Abbey Road studio and listen to the band’s recordings.

“I was a researcher and realized that the books (on the Beatles) were not quite as well-researched or written as I had expected them to have been,” he told The Associated Press during a recent interview, explaining how he evolved from fan to author. “One project led to the next and suddenly I found myself with a career as a writer, which I hadn’t actually intended.”

The Beatles themselves welcomed him to their special world. He assisted on the band’s multimedia retrospective Anthology that came out in the 1990s and served as the editor and writer of “Club Sandwich,” a magazine run by Paul and Linda McCartney. Lewisohn is in the midst of a three-volume biography of the Beatles and most recently contributed text for a coffee-table book about their landmark 1964 film, “A Hard Day’s Night.”

During a recent interview with The Associated Press, he talked about “A Hard Day’s Night,” the Beatles’ lasting appeal and the joys of Beatles scholarship.

Photo: AP Photo
Performing on the CBS "Ed Sullivan Show" in New York.

Why “A Hard Day’s Night” Was So Much Better Than Movies Starring Elvis Presley And Other Early Rock Stars:

As consumers, The Beatles knew those films were rubbish. They hated them. They recognized them for what they were, which was transparently flimsy and knew that should the occasion ever arise when they would be offered a film that they had to be very careful about saying yes.

It’s not exactly known how many there were but [there were] four or five offers to appear in films and they had said no to those. Now, very few artists ever said no because usually the management wouldn’t allow them to say no and they themselves think I want to be in a film. The Beatles had the bravery to accept that in saying no to the films they were being offered they might never get to make one but they agreed among themselves. They would rather not be in a film at all than be in one of those rubbish films.

On how “A Hard Day’s Night” established The Beatles as four distinct personalities beneath their matching haircuts (witty John, amiable Paul, droll George and down-to-earth Ringo):

“If you just see them on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ you’re not getting to meet the people. You’re just seeing them perform. So ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ served the function in separating the four of them out from one another. It did it pretty realistically. John Lennon later, after he’d been through therapy, expressed anger at the stereotyped way in which they had been portrayed but (screenplay writer) Alan Owen really did a very good job. There are only slight exaggerations of the four people that he hung around with for a few days. That’s how he wrote the film. He observed them as people.”

On researching The Beatles:

“The Beatles is an extraordinary subject to research because the trail of material is so deep and so rich and so strong all the way down. … No matter how deep you dig with this subject you continually find gold. There is something extraordinary. It’s all part of what made them so special is that everything around them was special, everything they touch was interesting, everybody who had an association with them is a fascinating character and it all weaves together in the most extraordinary way.”

On his planned three-volume biography (the first book, “Tune In,” came out in 2013):

“For as long as there are humans on this planet and we haven’t bombed or gassed ourselves out of existence or whatever it might be, we will be listening to The Beatles and appreciating them and wanting to know who they were and how they did it. If this trilogy isn’t done it’ll never be as well-understood or appreciated in its many levels as it actually occurred. I think it’s an important book to write. I think it’s important that it’s done now whilst the paperwork is still around and whilst the witnesses to the history are still alive to tell it.”