Jude Southerland Kessler was kind enough to expound to Beatles Magazine regarding her ongoing series on John Lennon. From the shocking, fast-paced whirlwind the Beatles were living in, Kessler provides the most definitive and entertaining work to date.
Jude, we are up to volume 4, Should Have Known Better, in your chronological John Lennon Series. Can you describe this one for the readers?
Sure! Volume 4, Should Have Known Better, takes readers on the mad journey that was 1964.Without a doubt, ’64 was THE year of Beatlemania, and the boys worked tirelessly to make it so. In the spring of 1964, Beatles made the award-winning film, “A Hard Day’s Night” and created/recorded the accompanying, best-selling soundtrack. They completed a World Tour, a Scottish sojourn, a lengthy North American Tour hitting cities all across the U.S. and Canada. And then, they returned to England to record their second LP of the year, Beatles for Sale. But that wasn’t enough!
No, the Fab Four set out on a five-week tour of the United Kingdom whilst recording their second Christmas Fan Club record and preparing for “Another Beatles Christmas Show” at the Hammersmith Odeon! On top of all that, John Lennon penned the acclaimed best-selling book, In His Own Write, and captured the prestigious Foyles Literary Award for his work. He and his wife, Cynthia, bought a new home in Weybridge, Surrey, and completely remodeled it whilst raising a toddler and trekking together to Ireland and Tahiti. All this without even mentioning
the scads of interviews, news conferences, radio shows, television specials, and photographs that John and The Beatles endured. What a year! Truly, John did everything…except rest, that is. As he confessed in the title song of
his first film, he was “workin’ like a dog.” And in the over 900 researched, highly-documented pages of Should Have Known Better, you’ll accompany John on a trek that was larger than life.
How much of a fishbowl were The Beatles living in during the period of Should Have Known Better?
The ultimate fishbowl!!! They were, as so many other biographers have aptly observed,“captives of their own success.” At first, in 1962 and 1963, the growing media attention was flattering, and the rise of Beatlemania was exhilarating. The boys were finally making it to the “toppermost of the poppermost” as they had always dreamed of doing, and they were elated! But by 1964, The Beatles were beleaguered by an international press corps that knew no bounds. George Harrison said, “At first, it was fun. We enjoyed the early days, but then it just became tiresome…we couldn’t move.” (The Beatles Anthology, p. 123) John felt exactly the same. He said, “It just really built up; the bigger we got, the more unreality we had to face, the more we were expected to do.” (The Beatles Anthology, p. 123)
In Should Have Known Better, you feel the world crashing in on these young men. I think we often forget that John was only 23 years old during the height of fan fervor. (He turned 24 on 9 October 1964.) Paul was 21; George, 19, and Ringo, 23. As you travel with the lads through the pages of Vol. 4 in The John Lennon Series — accompanying them to Sweden, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, back home to Liverpool (for the premiere of “A Hard Day’s Night”) and on to Canada and America — you feel the madness of the crowds, the danger of getting from location to location, and the risks involved in performing live. You feel the never-diminishing demand from the public for “More, more, more!!!”
As John astutely observed, “When you’re on tour, you exist in this kind of vacuum all the time. It’s work, sleep, eat, and work again.” (The Beatles Anthology, p. 123) 1964 was a pressure cooker of non-stop production for The Beatles. Making two records and a film and performing live…interviewing, touring, acting, writing, composing…these four exceptional young men from Liverpool faced pressures most of us will never ever understand. And they did it while the world looked on, always judging every move they made.
As John’s journalist friend, Ray Coleman (later the author of Lennon) stated, “The ‘car and a
room and a room and a car’ syndrome had gone beyond anyone’s comprehension and was no
longer a joke.” (Coleman, Lennon, p. 262) George Harrison said that in 1964, the only place he
could have a moment of quiet was in the loo. And even then… It was a fishbowl, indeed.
Who were some of the people that John always remained close to, no matter what fame brought?
For John and Ringo, the loss of Liverpool was more intense than it was for the other Beatles.George was always able to adapt to any surrounding. And Paul loved cosmopolitan London with its live theatre, art, and opera. But John always felt a bit “out of his element” in “The Smoke”(as the boys dubbed London). John always felt as if people were laughing at his accent, his Scouse vocabulary, and his Northern ways. And although, as a teenager, he’d always dreamed of leaving Liverpool far behind, he rapidly discovered, once away, that he missed his hometown very much. In fact, when The Beatles returned to Liverpool in July 1964, for the Northern Premiere of A Hard Day’s Night, it was John who was most thrilled to see his family. That evening at the film premiere, when The Beatles were called up on stage (prior to the film), John shaded his eyes from the bright lights, and shouted, “Where’s m’ family??!” Only when he found where they were all seated did he relax and enjoy the momentous occasion. Family mattered to him. Tremendously. Years later, at the Dakota, John hung a small, framed photo of Quarrybank Grammar, his Woolton high school, above his bed. It was the first thing he saw every morning and the last image he glimpsed each night. Although early on, John had claimed disdain for his hometown, he always felt a tremendous affinity for Liverpool…always felt the tug of Merseyside on his heart.
Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Mermaid Chair, once wrote, “You can go other places all right.You can live on the other side of the world. But you can’t ever leave home.” For John Lennon,this was so true! He was always a Liverpool boy.
And so, he made it a point to stay close to his best friend from childhood years, Pete Shotton, and his college mates, Bill and Virginia Harry. There is a great true story in Should Have Known Better in which Bill Harry (in Dec. 1964) convinces John to go visit Stu Sutcliffe’s mother. John didn’t want to face this intense emotional trauma and tried to avoid it, but Bill insisted that John “do the right thing.” As it turned out, that evening with Bill Harry and Millie Sutcliffe was something extraordinary in John’s life. And as I tried to recreate the scene on paper, Bill Harry challenged me to tell it exactly as it occurred. In fact, he had me write the chapter over and over until I got it right. Bill set very high standards for the telling of that important moment, and he wouldn’t let me give him (and my readers) anything but the best. Although John lost Stu to death, he never severed his spiritual connection to Stu, and every single book in The John Lennon Series has a significant scene involving Stu’s constant presence
in John’s life in the next-to-last chapter.
Which song from the period of the new book is your favorite, and why?
Oooh, that’s a difficult question because “A Hard Day’s Night” was as close to a “solo album”for John Lennon as The Beatles ever created! He completely dominates the record with his original creations. Look at this list of Lennon hits from that superb LP:
“A Hard Day’s Night”(Some sources list McCartney’s help with the middle eight)
“Should Have Known Better”
“If I Fell”
“Tell Me Why”
“Any Time At All”
“I’ll Cry Instead”
“When I Get Home”
“You Can’t Do That”
“I’ll Be Back”
“I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” (John wrote this but gave it to George Harrison to perform.)
So, for me, there is a veritable wealth of incredible songs from which to choose. The soundtrack is replete with musical gold.It’s very difficult to match the “shivering inside,” heartfelt cry for love found in “If I Fell.” It is not only the theme song of the insecure, adult John Lennon. It is also the lifelong cry of that wounded little boy whom Julia Lennon left behind. This is a song that John has obviously rehearsed in his heart and head for years. It’s the song of a boy, now a man, who has been abandoned and has learned not to trust.Similarly, “I’ll Be Back” is the wail of that same child who has been (for very complicated reasons) handed over to an aunt and uncle…a child who has grown into a self-doubting adult, a man who will never really forgive or forget the pain and loss. It’s a haunting song, and although it’s beautiful, it hurts to hear it. But the most autobiographical Lennon selection on the LP, and thus my favorite, is “I’ll Cry Instead.” It’s John at his most honest and most vulnerable. It tells his life’s story. Read the lyrics
as a poem, and you’ll see it.
John, in The Playboy Interviews with David Sheff talks about “the John” we meet in this song:“the cocky, chip-on-the-shoulder, macho, aggressive rock’n’roll hero who knew all the answers…the sharp-talking king of the world who was actually a terrified guy who didn’t know how to cry.” (Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 104) As John tells us in “I’ll Cry Instead,” when the 1964 crowds shouted and stared at their golden boy, their hero, John — embittered, shy, and alienated — had learned to hide himself away. He had learned that instead of lashing out violently in his constant resentment, rage, and anger, all he could really do was “cry instead.”To me, this is the song that best documents John’s struggle to survive in the aftermath of his difficult childhood and teen years, coupled with the inordinate and mounting stresses of Beatlemania.
As this book comes to a close, where will the next volume in The John Lennon Series pick up?
Volume 5, Shades of Life, will open at the very beginning of 1965, and will take John and The Beatles all the way through that drab and dusky replica of 1964 known as “1965.” During ’65,the lads will repeat, almost verbatim, every single thing they did the previous year…with far less zest and joy.They will make another film for United Artists in the spring (“Help!”). John will write his second book of poetry and prose, A Spaniard in the Works. The Beatles will go on a second World Tour,a second North American tour, and their final U.K. tour. They’ll compose the soundtrack to “Help!” and then compose and record a fall LP, Rubber Soul.But this time, because all of these events are mere replications of the electrifying moments that comprised 1964, the boys are bored. They are jaded and unhappy. Even at this early stage, the relationship between Paul and John has begun to fracture a bit. John and Cynthia are experiencing tensions in their marriage (and the advent of LSD in John’s life, March 1965,wedges them even farther apart). George and John have tired of touring…while Paul and Ringo still enjoy it. Quite subtly, the fabric of The Beatles is starting to rend, and instead of relying upon colorful, fast-paced, vibrant experiences to keep them energized and happy, 1965 offers The Beatles only “shades of life.” It is, sadly, the first hint that things might not always be as hopeful for the four lads from Liverpool as they have been in years past. And yet, The Beatles
are still determined to succeed, and the group trudges ever onward.
Are you a regular reader of Beatles Magazine?
Yes, indeed! For a researcher such as myself, it is imperative to be constantly learning and accumulating the latest information…staying current with revelations in The Beatles world. Through Beatles Magazine, I’m apprised of the newest Beatles biographies and books, films,CDs, streaming releases, and anniversaries of important Beatles events. I’m given the unique opportunity to hear cutting edge Beatles radio shows (such as Bob Wilson’s great show and my
dear friend, ChaChi Loprete’s, program) every single day! It is a portal to a vast library of knowledge about John and about his mates, and I’d be really remiss if I didn’t use this absolutely fab-tastic way of keeping abreast of Beatles events through Beatles Magazine. Thank you so very much for all you do, week in and week out, to make sure that the light of our boys perpetually shines on!
Thanks to our collaborator Bob Wilson for the interview. You can listen more in his show “Tomorrow Never Knows” Here.