Thursday, 27 February 2014

An archipelago for The Beatles

I wonder where the limit is between the fiction of the Beatles enthusiasts and the non fiction of their enthusiasm

Full title: The Beatles in 100 Objects
Author: Brian Southall
Publisher: Sterling (New York: 2013)
Genre: Non fiction, monograph, memorabilia
Attributes: 256 pages, hard cover, printed and bound in Dubai on glossy paper

On the scale of zero to oneZERO (i.e. borrowed from local library)

Here’s an archipelago, a non fiction boulevard where fireworks can crack and spark and the enthusiast be praised for it. A royal collection of Beatles goodies summed up in three words: variety, surprise, enthusiasm.
The reason I like archipelago better than other words to describe this book is its unique ability to grow unpredictably in a multitude of directions, following paths never fully settled, objects that inhabit discreet regions of the Beatles subculture. And another reason has to be the author's ability to turn small, seemingly insignificant objects, into pages of history.
The collection of objects forming the scaffold of this book creates the sense of a unified body where there are only limbs scattered about. That's where the feeling of an archipelago comes from: from the realisation that none of these objects is an island. An ashtray meets a club menu and together join a host of disparate traces between separate episodes in the history of the Beatles. That’s, in one sentence, how things work in The Beatles in 100 Objects.

1964: The Beatles by their wax copies.
via DM's Beatles Forums
Reading through the book one doesn't get the impression that one needs to put on the robe of a specialist, of a museographer or something of the same resonance. A t-shirt will do just fine. Because this is not a pedantic visit to a national gallery. It is more like a stroll on a boulevard: a very crowded one, as a good florilegium should be, and a play with Beatles beads (or should I say memorabilia).
The effort is great, but let’s not forget, this is the feat of none other than Brian Southall, sometime PR at EMI music, who worked with the Beatles in the 1970s when they were no longer one band and who, ever since he's taken up writing, has composed, among other things, a history of the Abbey Road studio, and also a book containing Julian Lennon's Beatles memorabilia. The book is, thus, not only an act of collection but also one of recollection: an indirect memoir of sorts. As Southall himself admits in the introduction,
"the whole enjoyable exercise ultimately turned out to be an almanac of my own youth."
It's no wonder, then, that one finds in The Beatles in 100 Objects so many unexpected, yet perfectly sound objects which have crossed the paths of the band members at some point in time. We get to hear of the Beatles' tailor, of the hairdos they tailored themselves, of things they ate and things they drank, of how they flew over to New York, of how they read on the plane and used their various gadgets, how they wrote and signed and were turned onto wax statues at Madame Tussauds, how they drove expensive cars, how they won Grammy seven times, and how, eventually, they broke up in1970 and officially disbanded in 1971.
This is a story in fits and starts, like all stories: with no real end but with a continuous unfolding of its key moments. An archipelago, to be sure.