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Philip Norman's books
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15 July 2010
9.09am
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Joe
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OK, I wanted to clarify what I wrote about Philip Norman elsewhere. Here are some things I really dislike about his books. Bear with me, this is a long one.

1. The introduction to my 2003 edition of Shout! was written post-Diana, post-9/11, and is frankly an embarrassment. Norman seems to have been writing it through a veil of tears as he tried to draw meaning from the deaths of Lennon, Harrison, Diana and the victims of the Twin Towers attack, but it doesn't wash.

Here's an extract:

"From the great discovery of Sixties youth through the example of the Beatles – that, with a bit of cheek, you could get away with anything – evolved the whole ghastly panoply of modern contempt for convention and self-restraint that encompasses urban terrorism at one extreme and supermarket 'trolley-rage' at the other. Just as John Lennon realised he could get away with cheeking his blue-blooded audience at the 1963 Royal Command performance, so the IRA realised they could get away with blowing up innocent women and children; [...] so egotism, viciousness and disregard for others grew to the point where Bin Laden and his fanatics found they could get away with the vileness of September 11 2001. If you seek to pinpoint the exact place in the twentieth century where civilisation ceased moving steadily forward and began taking quantum leaps backward, there can be no other culprit than the Sixties."

Now, the above was edited slightly as I was losing the will to live while typing, but the meaning wasn't changed. In between he also talks about the decay in society, with murderers, child molesters and celebrity stalkers, and tries to find their origins in the carefree liberation and ideologies of the 60s. This is bullshit, plain and simple, no?

2. From the same introduction:

"Weary though I may be of discussing the subject [of The Beatles], heart-sick as I am of the prospect of writing anything further about it (including this prologue)…"

Really, one way of engaging your readers would be to sound enthusiastic rather than like a jobbing writer.

3. Page 298, on the effect of the release of Sgt Pepper.

"The wildest acid freak, listening in his mental garret to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, could not doubt that his mind had been blown to undreamed realms of psychedelic fancy. Nervous old ladies, listening to When I'm Sixty-Four in their front parlours, would never be frightened of pop music again. Sergeant Pepper's cabaret show, with its twanging mystery and workaday humour, its uppercut drive and insinuating charm, invited the elderly as well as the young, the innocent no less than the pretentiously wise. On drama critic Kenneth Tynan, the most rigorous cultural commentator of his age, and on Mark Lewisohn, an eight-year-old in Kenton, Middlesex, the effect was the same. Tynan called Sgt Pepper a decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation. Mark Lewisohn stood in the garden as it played, shaking his head wildly while trying not to dislodge the cardboard moustache clenched under his nose."

It's obviously over-written, but I can see what he's trying to do. However, whereas Kenneth Tynan managed to sum up the significance of Pepper in just nine words, Norman needs more than a hundred. And that Mark Lewisohn section is so clumsy it's shocking. Lewisohn – who I have the utmost respect for – was a researcher on the first edition of Shout!, but still most casual Beatles fans have probably never heard of him. I imagine most readers of Shout! would have got to that part of the book and wondered, "WTF is Norman on about?"

3. On Linda McCartney's death:

"It was barely seven months since Diana,  Princess of Wales had been killed in a Paris car crash, unleashing a wave of hysterical mourning throughout Britain. An appetite still remained for a blonde-haired female martyr, and Linda McCartney perfectly fitted that bill. Forgetting their old hostility, the media extolled her campaigns for vegetarianism and animal rights in much the same terms as Diana's for AIDS and land-mine victims. For a brief, surreal moment, she became a kind of mini-'People's Princess', lauded with the same crazy disproportion as she had formerly been denigrated."

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "crazy disproportion." Please, enough with the Diana stuff. Some of us weren't even slightly affected by her death. If people were touched by Linda's passing it was because they liked her, not any kind of ersatz proxy grief for a dead aristocrat killed by a drunk driver.

4. In his John Lennon biog, which I admit I've only dipped into, there's the same BS search for meaning. Consider this from the Plastic Ono Band era:

"[In Mother] a church bell tolled slowly and sonorously, a summons to mourning rather than festivity. Though John had copied it from an old Hammer horror film, no sound was more evocative of the years that Janov's therapy had forced him to relive. That slow, ominous chime might have been from St Peter's in Woolton, echoing through the silent winter Sunday evenings of his boyhood."

What are you talking about, you dismal writer? Oh, there's more:

"Its ending was a repeated scream of panic that might have come from John's six-year-old self that sunny day in Blackpool when Julia and the father then known as Alf had forced him to choose between them: 'Mama, don't go… Daddy come home!"

"It might have seemed impossible for him to twist the knife in himself anymore, but he did. The album's final, fragmentary track, My Mummy's Dead, transposed his 1958 heartbreak into a nursery rhyme, sung in the voice of a dazed child and strummed on a tinny guitar that might have been the very Gallotone Champion Julia had saved up to buy him. The broken words – "I can't explain… so much pain" – were like some psychic message; indeed, his handwriting in the original lyric has the jaggedly chaotic look of dictation from beyond the grave."

Might have been, might have been, might have been… but wasn't.

I think I'll leave it there. Now, clearly my edition of Shout! has been ruined by the updates and revisions he made after its original publication, but it's obvious to me that Philip Norman is no great writer. Please, can somebody tell my why he's sold so many books? Is it simply because there aren't that many full-scale biographies of The Beatles and Lennon out there, and he happened to fill a commercial space?

EDIT I think I should add that there is some good stuff in his books, despite the corny prose and phony conclusions. His work on the Quarry Men years is actually really good. It's just when he becomes a page-filler and engages in the search for meaning – which he does all too often – that I glaze over.

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15 July 2010
8.55pm
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skye
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Irish Republican Army

Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo! So little time! So much to know!
15 July 2010
9.07pm
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mithveaen
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Joe said:

OK, I wanted to clarify what I wrote about Philip Norman elsewhere. Here are some things I really dislike about his books. Bear with me, this is a long one.

1. The introduction to my 2003 edition of Shout! was written post-Diana, post-9/11, and is frankly an embarrassment.

Here's an extract:

"……. Just as John Lennon realised he could get away with cheeking his blue-blooded audience at the 1963 Royal Command performance, so the IRA realised they could get away with blowing up innocent women and children; [...] ."


 

Ok is this guy comparing John's comments with IRA's terrorist attacks? That's bullshit!

Here comes the sun….. Scoobie-doobie…… Something in the way she moves…..attracts me like a cauliflower… Bop. Bop, cat bop. Go, Johnny, Go. Beware of Darkness…  I believe in SH...
15 July 2010
9.17pm
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Joe
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I missed a chunk out of the first quotation before. Here's the full passage:

From the great discovery of Sixties youth through the example of the Beatles – that, with a bit of cheek, you could get away with anything – evolved the whole ghastly panoply of modern contempt for convention and self-restraint that encompasses urban terrorism at one extreme and supermarket 'trolley-rage' at the other. Just as John Lennon realised he could get away with cheeking his blue-blooded audience at the 1963 Royal Command performance, so the IRA realised they could get away with blowing up innocent women and children; so successive governments realised they could get away with allowing the national infrastructure to fall into decay; so the police found they could get away with abandoning whole communities; so hospitals found they could get away with ceasing to accord patients basic human dignity; so the legions of murderers, child-molestors and muggers and celebrity stalkers found they could become ever more arrogantly audacious in their predating; so egotism, viciousness and disregard for others grew to the point where Bin Laden and his fanatics found they could get away with the vileness of September 11 2001. If you seek to pinpoint the exact place in the twentieth century where civilisation ceased moving steadily forward and began taking quantum leaps backward, there can be no other culprit than the Sixties.

I have to say it's not all as terrible as these quotations (which aren't really all that selective, more of a random sample), and he did interview a lot of key people, but for me the bad stuff really detracted from the good stuff. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who does like his books though.

Please don't spoil my day; I'm miles away

Can buy me love! Please consider using these links to support the Beatles Bible: Amazon | iTunes

16 July 2010
8.43pm
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MeanMrsMustard
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"Happiness Is A Warm Gun"... as presented by the Utah Legislature!

If I seem to act unkind, it's only me, it's not my mind that is confusing things.

28 October 2010
1.18am
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Nicholaevna Romanov
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I'm reading the John Lennon bio now, Im finding it hard to get into and I much prefer Goldman's (yes I know its more a work of fiction). Philip Norman so far seems to be talking about almost everything else except John Lennon. Hopefully it will get better.

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