An Outstanding Sociological Study of Beatlemania from the Fans’ Perspective
by Candy Leonard
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
The Beatles arrived in the United States on February 7, 1964, and immediately became a constant, compelling presence in fans’ lives. For the next six years, the band presented a nonstop deluge of sounds, words, images, and ideas, transforming the childhood and adolescence of millions of baby boomers.
Beatleness explains how the band became a source of emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual nurturance in fans’ lives, creating a relationship that was historically unique. Looking at that relationship against the backdrop of the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War, political assassinations, and other events of those tumultuous years, the book examines critically the often-heard assertion that the Beatles “changed everything” and shows how—through the interplay between the group, the fans, and the culture—that change came about.
A generational memoir and cultural history based on hundreds of hours of in-depth interviews with first-generation fans, Beatleness allows readers to experience—or re-experience—what it was like to be a young person during those eventful and transformative years. Its fresh approach offers many new insights into the entire Beatle phenomenon and explains why the group still means so much to so many.
Candy Leonard prefaces Beatleness by defining what she means by that word. Of the three definitions she gives, it is the second that most applies to her book: “An emotional or spiritual state, condition, or feeling resulting from exposure to or thinking about the Beatles and their works”. What the reader gets for the next 300 absorbing pages is an understanding of those feelings and states as experienced by the first generation of young Beatles fans — those who witnessed the initial stages of the phenomenon, willingly and lovingly accepted it into their daily lives, and who were never the same afterwards.
A member of that first generation, and a sociologist by trade, Leonard does a terrific job of sorting through the vast amount of data she collected and presenting it in a way that makes for an entertaining and enlightening read. You will not find tales about John, Paul, George, and/or Ringo in Beatleness; it is not “laden with minutiae about the lives of the Beatles or their inner circle”; it does not offer commentary by Beatle ‘experts’. There is an endless supply of other books that ably accomplish those tasks. Instead, Leonard gives us “the perspective of people who possess authentic expertise about the Beatles’ impact — the fans”. She gathered her data through “hundreds of hours of phone and face-to-face interviews”, as well as through social media and an online questionnaire. Quotes from fans abound, many of them offering fascinating insight into the power of personality and music to sway the adolescent mind.
The author does an excellent job of setting the stage, which in this case means describing the state of the country and the world in the early Sixties. She touches upon most of the major issues of the day — the programs of Kennedy’s New Frontier, the burgeoning fight for equality for women and blacks, the Cold War, and so on — as well as what was transpiring in the literary and entertainment fields, and, of course, in the musical scene. It was a chaotic and, for many, a frightening period, with change being the watchword, and into it, and out of it, came the Beatles.
And here I must mention my only complaint about the book: Leonard’s furthering of the myth that JFK was universally adored. To some extent this was true in 1960, and for a year or two beyond, but by the end of 1963 that bloom had long since faded, thanks in large part to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam. Two months before his death, a full 44% of the country did not approve of the job Kennedy was doing. America mourned his loss, as it would have the sudden and violent death of any president, but what truly sundered the nation’s collective heart that November was the image of daughter Caroline’s shocked face, and that of an uncomprehending, 3-year-old John John saluting his father’s coffin as it passed. Contrary to one theory — and to Leonard’s credit, she does not entirely embrace it — the arrival of the Beatles in February 1964 was not the balm that healed a sorrowing nation; the U.S. is ever resilient and Christmas and the new year had already seen its people beginning to move on. Still, as Leonard rightly notes, “[the Beatles] were a national diversion and the national mood was lifted”.
Of course, history continued its march after the Beatles burst onto the stage, and Beatleness follows their career throughout the Sixties, examining how fans were affected by the evolution of their music and their assumption of the role of leaders of the youth culture. And how, in turn, America and the world at large was altered. Leonard treads especially carefully here, certainly giving the foursome their just due, but cautious not to over credit their influence. In honesty, though, finding a corner of American society entirely untouched by their giant shadow would be extremely difficult to do. Beatleness demonstrates that.
Leonard’s writing is always clear, concise, and a pleasure to read. She never wanders away from her subject, nor does she fill her pages with needless trivia or insignificant sidebars. Beatleness is a time capsule in which may be found a trove of engaging, thought-provoking material. Leonard’s analysis of that information is sure-handed, scholarly, and well-supported by notes and an extensive bibliography. But it is the many quotes from fans which are a joy to read that are the true treasure of this book.
For someone born after the 1970 breakup of the Beatles it must be hard to comprehend how a rock band could change the world so dramatically. What Beatleness does uniquely and effectively is explain through the voices and experiences of those first generation fans how that happened, and why Beatlemania still thrives today, fifty years later.
— Jennifer Michelle
4.5 of 5 Hearts. An Outstanding Sociological Study of Beatlemania from the Fans’ Perspective.
A rarity among the thousands of books written about the Beatles, Beatleness is required reading for anyone, fan or otherwise, who wants to learn exactly what the Fab Four meant to their fans, and how, in a mere half-dozen years, they were able to rock the establishment and help thrust the world in a new direction.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Arcade Publishing and NetGalley for allowing me access to the title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”