I’d love for you guys to have Mark Lewisohn on your show just to grill him. As someone who’s experienced workplace bullying and sexual assault, that he would go so far as to paint Klein as “heroic” when he said things like “reluctant virgin” is just so devastating to me. It makes me feel ill. I do NOT want this man to have a say in Beatles history. I love the Beatles. I don’t want that tainted by people who will paint over abuse just to feed their own self importance.Our Tumblr Asks
We vehemently agree, Listener! Thank you for writing in.
Our list of grievances with Mark Lewisohn is long, but in a nutshell we believe his intent is to publicly “redeem” John Lennon and we have seen copious evidence that he will go to whatever lengths he has to in order to do this.
That includes, but is not limited to:
- Claiming that readers of his Tune In Series may consider Klein the “hero” of the Beatles break-up
- Deliberately spreading the demonstrably false lie that John (and Yoko) did not have a significant heroin problem in the late 60s and early 70s (Lewisohn suggests Cold Turkey is just John playing make believe)
- Displaying unapologetic favoritism by using glowing terms to portray John and Yoko as the world’s most perfect romance, as opposed to Paul and Linda, whose 29-year marriage he dismisses as “conventional” and motivated by appearances (namely Linda’s pregnancy, even though it was planned) and Green Card needs
- Stating that he could tell from watching the infamous “it’s a drag” clip that Paul was kind of sad, but primarily annoyed at how much positive attention John was getting on the day of his murder
- Apparently suggesting to an audience of his Power Point Show that Paul maybe stole a leg off Yoko’s bed (the bed she had delivered and built in the Beatles’ recording studio, mind you), a personal “theory” which is based on the fact that Paul later wrote a song called “Three Legs” (you know that song: “My dog, he got three legs, like the bed you inappropriately brought into Abbey Road 2 years ago which I secretly vandalized behind your back because I have nothing better to do, am certainly not busy writing the Beatles Swan Song and don’t have a fucking 7 year old at home or anything”)
This isn’t even to mention Tune In, which could be a whole separate post and episode. Suffice it to say, this book often reads less like a Beatles biography and more like John Lennon Fanfiction to us.
Lewisohn managed to distinguish himself by doing (some) research and unearthing some original documents. That he had some skill in research is not surprising given that he started his career in Beatledom as a researcher for Norman, on his book Shout — which Lewisohn still contends is a good book. Norman, on the other hand has evolved his opinion of his own work and thinks Shout was flawed, so has written a whole biography on Paul to make up for what he sees as the failure of Shout, which is his underestimation of Paul. Unfortunately, Lewisohn does not seem to have made this same journey. He pays lip service to John and Paul being equal, and then spends all of his time and energy trying to prove otherwise. Norman says that he has created a monster in Lewisohn. We take his point.
One of our biggest issues with Lewisohn is that he vigorously promotes himself as an unbiased truth teller, and his calm manner seems to telegraph this. But it is not true. The research that Lewisohn does and the spin that he applies to his findings are all heavily biased. As we mentioned in one of our episodes, he travelled to Gibraltar simply to experience where John and Yoko got married. Yet when Paul calls the May 9th meeting over management the metaphorical cracking of the Liberty Bell, Lewisohn doesn’t even bother to Google it so he can understand the metaphor.
What he chooses to research is also a form of bias. For example, we at AKOM are very interested in Paul’s relationship with Robert Fraser during the Beatle years — since Paul has commented that Fraser was one of the most important, influential people in his life. Paul McCartney was the concept artist behind Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Magical Mystery Tour film, the iconic Apple logo, and he co-designed the covers of the White Album and Abbey Road. All of these are pretty defining moments in the Beatles’ career. As Beatles fans, we’d like to know more about Paul’s art education and influences. But we would be shocked if Lewisohn dug into Fraser at all beyond his relationship as John and Yoko’s gallerist/curator (and heroin dealer, but since that isn’t a thing in Lewisohn’s world then maybe he will be ignored).
We think Lewisohn benefits massively from the fact that Beatles authorship was like the Wild West since its inception, when everyone with a connection to the Beatles (plus or minus a personal axe to grind) wrote a book about their experience. It was absolute chaos, with no rules, no checks and balances, uncredited sources, etc. Just an absolute shit show. What Lewisohn did was bring some order to the chaos with some proper documentation. But again, what he chooses to dig into often reflects bias. And this certainly does not mean that he is intellectually or emotionally equipped to interpret his findings. Doing this takes social intelligence and insight, which is a very different skill. As a creator of myths, he is no better (and no more insightful or original) than many of the others who came before him; he worships John Lennon and freely admits it. He is not even close to being unbiased. But in this dumpster fire of a fandom he has at least checked some boxes and done some digging. The fact is, the bar has been so low for so long that Beatles fans don’t even know how to expect or want better. But WE certainly expect better. We expect some breakthrough, fresh thinking. Not just Shout with Receipts.
We think it’s significant that Lewisohn was deeply disliked by George Harrison, who lobbied to get him kicked him off the Anthology project. He was fired from Paul’s fan club magazine, and yet no one seems to think he might hold a grudge about that, too? Lewisohn so distorted John and Paul’s relationship in Tune In that he believes he is the target of the lyrics in Paul’s song “Early Days.“ And he either thinks that’s flattering or funny, because Lewisohn seems to truly believe he knows John Lennon better than Paul McCartney does. We find it almost tragic that Paul is so bothered by the way his experience and relationship is being portrayed by authors (perhaps Lewisohn) that he wrote a song about it. In it, he conveys his frustration and heartache about how everything is misconstrued and we find it absolutely outrageous that Lewisohn would not take this to heart. Perhaps Lewisohn thinks Paul should listen to him for a change? And if he doesn’t like it, then tough, because Lewisohn knows better? We think Lewisohn should do some serious soul-searching about “Early Days” because if one of his main subjects is saying, “you are getting it wrong and it is breaking my heart”….maybe, just maybe, he should listen and rethink things. Maybe apply a little creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and empathy. This is what his heroes did.
Meanwhile, Jean Jackets are SO BUSY complaining that Paul McCartney doesn’t like Lewisohn because he “tells the truth!” that they fail to notice that Lewisohn has become a mouthpiece for Yoko Ono. He has already started white-washing John Lennon’s history, promoting John and Yoko as the true and only geniuses versus Paul as the craven, small-minded Lennon disciple who (through no virtue of his own) was born with the ability to write some nice tunes. Lewisohn’s version of John, on the other hand, is ALWAYS a sexy, visionary genius on the right side of every issue. He even went out of his way to recently trash Paul’s early 70’s albums, which -in addition to being obnoxious and we believe wrong (since we love them)- is totally outside his purview.
Lastly, to address your original point, Lewisohn’s claim that Klein may be viewed as the “hero” of his Beatles History reveals that he hasn’t shown sufficient empathy or interest in Paul’s experience. This claim at best ignores and at worst condones the fact that Klein was an abusive monster to one of the two founding members of the Beatles. As we discussed in Episode 4, Klein was a criminal who bullied Paul in his creative workspace, disrespected Paul in his own office in front of his own employees and actively pitted Lennon against McCartney for years. It’s hard to imagine ANYONE who inflicted more damage on the Beatles and Lennon/McCartney than Allen Klein. In addition to the wildly inappropriate “reluctant virgin” nickname, he verbally threatened to “own Paul’s ass” (to which Paul responded “he never got anywhere near my ass”). Klein was so disrespectful to Paul and Linda’s marriage he pitched the idea of procuring “a blonde with big tits” to parade in front of Paul to lure him away from Linda and destroy their relationship. Let’s also never forget that Klein contributed lyrics to the song “How Do You Sleep.” Allen Klein literally gave Paul nightmares. Anyone who so much as pretends to care about Paul’s break-up era depression (including his alcohol abuse, his inability to get out of bed and his terrifying sleep paralysis) would not champion Allen Klein.
Yes, Klein is a human being and therefore has his own POV, same as anyone else. But a Beatles biographer is beholden to four points of view only: John, Paul, George and Ringo. And when an outsider is openly hostile to one of the Beatles and damaging long-term to all of the Beatles, it is beyond inappropriate to portray him as a hero. This type of comment, made publicly to an audience of Beatles fans, invalidates and seeks to erase the real trauma inflicted on Paul McCartney by Allen Klein, and we think Lewisohn should apologize for his comments.
Instead, Lewisohn’s current buddy is Peter Brown, whose book, The Love You Make so offended and angered Paul and Linda that they literally burned their copy (and photographed it burning for good measure). This information doesn’t appear to bother Lewisohn in the least. Why not?
George referred to Norman’s Shout as “Shit.” But Lewisohn thinks it’s a great book. Why?
How any Beatles or Paul or even George fans tolerate Lewisohn is baffling to us; we don’t recognize a real human being in his version of Paul, and his version of John is a superhero rather than a man. We suspect that fans have come to accept the traditional story and at least appreciate some properly-documented facts.
But as we are constantly trying to demonstrate on our show, just because the story has always been told one way, doesn’t mean it’s right. Because in the end, Mark Lewisohn has no special insight. He wasn’t there. He is a guy who bought into a narrative during the Shout era, and is cherry picking his findings to support it.
You can find a discussion of Lewisohn here