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Source reliability - Can we trust memories and what about 'memory'?
6 April 2019
7.10pm
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RobGeurtsen
St Peters Church
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Don’t talk to strangers who were there…

 

don’t trust your parents either.

 

In this year 2019 – we celebrate the 50thanniversary of another Beatles album. Who will be (not) surprised by outtakes and new mixes (what a bore, OHNOTHIMAGEN Giles Martin), some essays (not the best either), and still want to spend a lot of money on a super deluxe box set for ‘Abbey Road ’?

For me it was Peter Doggett who connected ‘The Beatles’ (1968) double album, the Let It Be /Get Back project (1969-70) and ‘Abbey Road ’ (1969) in his book ‘Abbey Road /Let It Be /The Beatles’ (1998).

I am going to re-read the book in the coming weeks. 

 

Pop-music became my spouse in August 1968, while listening to ‘Hey Jude ’ and ‘Congratulations’ etc. on Dutch pirate Radio Veronica. It opened my young mind, made me curious about the mutual influences of society, politics and culture, and specifically pop or rock music. The oldest book on this topic in my library was ‘Revolt Into Style’ by George Melly. Today I have two other thumbed and dog-eared books, with lots of scribbles in the margins that I check whenever I want to freshen up on this subject. Jon Savage’s ‘1966’ and Peter Doggett’s ‘There’s a riot going on’, there are more, but that list is for another day in the desert to explore. 

 

Beatles’ fans and texperts are familiar with Peter Doggett for his monumental and money-making book ‘You Never Give Me Your Money ’.[0] 

According to Peter’s biography, on his new website, this book 

chronicles how four tempestuous, willful and uniquely talented musicians came together in a spirit of hedonistic optimism, achieved intense fame and commercial success, and then saw their dream and their personal bond decay”.[1]

 

Stephen Thomas Erlewine on Pitchfork suggests ‘You Never Give Me Your Money ’ is a must-read for anyone who has the ambition to understand the Beatles phenomenon. For those who want to study and become Beatles experts, whether it is musical or historical, Peter Doggett’s book is a starter that cannot be shelved. Erlewine offers good arguments for such a task:

 

Peter Doggett begins ‘You Never Give Me Your Money ’ where most Beatles books end: when the group began to splinter in the wake of Brian Epstein’s death in 1967. It’s an inspired move. The Beatles may have ceased to function as a band in 1970, but John, Paul, George, and Ringo began to drift apart much earlier than that. And ever since, despite a lack of new Beatle music and a surplus of lawsuits—not to mention the deaths of Lennon and Harrison—that perpetual dysfunction has remained a constant undercurrent driving the group’s afterlife.

You Never Give Me Your Money ’ traces the tangled personal and professional relationships of the Beatles all the way through to the 21st century. Doggett focuses on the business, never losing sight of how the Beatles turned into a corporation long before they stopped playing as a band. There may be some gossip lurking in these pages, but the real excitement comes from the revelations of how lawsuits and record contracts affected both the Beatles legacy and the solo careers of all four musicians: witness how each member received royalties from the solo albums of their former bandmates until the mid-’70s, at which point Paul becomes the biggest individual star of the group, tipping the financial balance decidedly in his favor. As these grimy economic particulars constitute largely unexplored territory in Beatles books, ‘You Never Give Me Your Money ’ is riveting in a unique way, as Doggett’s clean and lucid style turns courtroom battles and petty grievances into high drama.[2]

 

Peter Doggett combines quality research, that borders on ‘forensic analysis’, with ‘great narrative skill’.[3] 
He is no fan of hagiographic depiction, nor is he an author who shows no mercy as Albert Goldman did with John, and Philip Norman did towards George, Ringo, and Paul in ‘Shout!’. Historian Erin Torkelson Weber writes on her blog ‘The Beatles Bio Review’:

 

“Every fundamental, methodological, and interpretive flaw present in Goldman’s work can also be found in every edition of Shout!, even including the author’s failure to “love your monster”: For forty years, Norman only loved one Beatle. Despite its admitted flaws, I agree with The Beatles Bibliography’s (Brocken) assessment that ‘The Lives of John Lennon ’ “cannot be dismissed out of hand.”[4]

 

Doggett is probably one of a few post-1970 authors who succeed in writing without bias towards any of the former Beatles. His treatment of individual protagonists is 'admirably even-handed' as 'everyone comes in for a pasting', Sinclair McKay writes in a gleaming review for The Daily Telegraph.[5] Dogget acknowledges he was not aware his impartiality was deserving of almost unanimous praise. 

Doggett's books are great reads, and a joy to return to, even if you already know the story well. Isn’t that what we expect from literature and good non-fiction writers? Doggett probably has only a few bad reviews in his career scrapbook. 

So, why are we talking about Peter Doggett? What’s new from the Peter Doggett front? Peter Doggett has a biography out about Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. What follows is the integral presentation of my latest blog-contribution: Peter Doggett about memories of star-struck pasts and our own lives.

 

In the coda of the book, he writes about memories, specifically how our memory works, or closer to the truth, how our memory doesn't work and how our stories about the past are unreliable. 

 

Peter Doggett:
One of the advantages of having been a music journalist since 1980 is that I had accumulated a vast archive of interview material related to the CSNY story.

Primary source material is key for good research and great biographies, it is highly appreciated and values by biographers and other historians. Documents potentially offer the most reliable and verifiable objectivity. Interviews with ‘those who were there’ hardly ever offer objectivity or reliable witness-accounts. Witness-accounts really don’t matter much, unless recorded close to the moment the events happened. From the perspective of methodology, contemporaneous sources always outrank retrospective ones.
To be historically relevant retrospective accounts not only need to be fresh, and they also need to be free of agenda, bias, and gossip, at least to a verifiable degree. 

Peter Doggett:

… there’s something (…) I’ve gathered from several decades of journalism (…) that human memory is fragile and often unreliable. That doesn’t apply just to rock stars, although some of their more excessive personal habits don’t help! It goes for all of us, however much we don’t like to admit it. Every one of us starts to misremember the events of our lives almost as soon as they’ve happened – not on purpose, but because that’s how our brains work. And that process speeds up as we get older and further away from what we’re talking about”.

Indeed, the human mind cannot recall facts and events from the past clearly. Humans believe their lives happened the way they can tell their life-story or think life happened while they were busy doing other things. The problem with the human mind is that every time humans think or otherwise relate to an event, the memories of that event change. Those who work in the criminal justice system know this is the norm, regarding witness testimony. 
Dope-smoking, booze, and wine drinking rock-artists are just as much affected by imprecise memory recall as you and I, dear readers, independent of the cultural background, education, etc. 

In the Dutch judicial system, we don’t like members of a jury judging scientifically proven unreliably testimonies from witnesses, victims, and suspects. In the Netherlands, public prosecutors need to come up with verifiable and testable material evidence. 

Peter Doggett:

I didn’t want to write a book that was entirely filled with people trying to remember what happened half a century ago, and getting the story wrong. All the way through, I balanced my interview material against what I discovered in the archives. I unearthed thousands of contemporary press reports and interviews relating to the CSNY story, most of which had lain forgotten since they were first published, and hundreds of hours of unreleased music. That featured not only the band members, of course, but also their wives and girlfriends - and even in some cases their parents. All the best of that material is in the book, and I hope that even diehard fans will find themselves saying, ‘I didn’t know that’, on almost every page.

This is one of the reasons I am not very appreciative of stories told decades after the event, regardless of who and whatever their positions are or were. Time gone by, renders memories and testimonies potentially unreliable and unverifiable.

Witness-accounts from the ‘man in the white coat’ during the roof-concert January 1969 or from sound-engineers or producers looking back, decades later, may provide missing links or valuable contextual information, but really mostly they are often only adding foggy distorted memories and personal convictions to an already flawed myth. It may come across as unkind, if not nasty, to reject books by childhood friends, family members, or actually by anyone who has let decades pass without making a serious effort to get a proper reliable, verifiable and meaningful story written down.

Whatever the argument George Harrison once used: 'they were not there' or as Paul sang in 'Early Days ':

May sweet memories of friends from the past
always comes to you, when you look for them
and your inspiration love may it last
may it come to you, time and time again

now everybody seems to have their own opinion
of who did this and who did that
but as for me I don't see how they can remember
when they weren't where it was at

Even those who 'were where it was at' have no reliability after decades of deterioration of the neurology and the brain.

Historical methods offer solutions to overcome some of these problems with memories. Mark Lewisohn once mentioned an alternative in an interview in which he explained he has no ambition to interview Ringo nor Paul for his Beatles biography project. What would work though is for interviewer Mark Lewisohn to sit down with interviewee e.g. Paul a couple of times and together review documents, audio or video snippets from the past, which are presented by interviewer, with expertise and an empathic approach, to activate access to memories the subjects would not be able to recall without proper feeding and questioning.

It is about time the archives of the main players are offered to parties who are able and willing to be conservator and keeper of the legacy. Without proper archives, as was done for Bob Dylan, housed at the University of Tulsa's Helmerich Center for American research at Gilcrease Museum, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 
About a month ago I wrote about the idea of giving the relevant Beatles' archives a safe public space with proper curation in broader strokes.[6]

 

[0] Doggett, Peter (2009). You Never Give Me Your Money : The Battle for the Soul of the Beatles. The Bodley Head. ISBN978-1-84790744. Print.

[1] Assessed April 2019: https://www.peterdoggett.org/about. Online.

[2] Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2018). These Are the Best Beatles Books. A page-by-page guide to becoming an expert on the Fab Four. Pitchfork, May 23rd2018. Assessed March 2019: https://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/these-are-the-best-beatles-books/. Online.

[3] Assessed April 2019: https://www.peterdoggett.org/about. Online.

[4] Torkelson-Weber, Erin (2016). THOUGHTS ON PHILIP NORMAN’S TOP TEN.  On ‘THE HISTORIAN AND THE BEATLES- REVIEWS OF BEATLE BIOGRAPHY’, June 26th 2016. Assessed March 2019: https://beatlebioreview.wordpress.com/2016/06/26/thoughts-on-philip-normans-top-ten/. Online.

[5] McKay, Sinclair (2009). You Never Give Me Money – the Battle for the Soul of the Beatles by Peter Doggett: review. The Daily Telegraph, September 12th2009. Assessed April 2019: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/fictionreviews/6168861/You-Never-Give-Me-Money-the-Battle-for-the-Soul-of-the-Beatles-by-Peter-Doggett-review.html. Online.

[6] Geurtsen, Rob (2019). Beatleness, fans steal - Beatles archives in need of a 'home'. On 'The Beatles review of History', February 28th 2019. Assessed April 2019: https://thebeatleshistoryreview.blogspot.com/2019/02/beatleness-fans-steal-beatles-archives.html?view=magazine. Online.

Rob Geurtsen

 

I’m a hunter of footnotes. If I’m interested in a particular topic, I can disappear down a rathole of sources.
The Beatles Review of History

6 April 2019
8.11pm
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Dark Overlord
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TL;DR

We should trust eyewitness accounts unless if we have evidence to suggest otherwise, even if the eyewitness is someone like Geoff Emmerick.

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RobGeurtsen

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7 April 2019
3.45am
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RobGeurtsen
St Peters Church
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The arguments point in another direction. Don't believe witnesses, only as indication for anything that is prone to interpreation. Eye witness account gains reliability if it is supported by verifiable evidence, documents, photo's etc. Doggett's argument is the same as Lewisohn makes, and is confirmed by science: old minds have distorted memories. Although most photographers are unwilling to present their work as truth... read: The Truth - Avedon, Lennon, and Dylan.

Lewisohn doesn't need to interview McCartney or Ringo, except for when they would be willing to discuss evidence, documents, photographs, etc. and the interviewer is able and allowed to use carefull methodological and empathic approach to get slowly excess to memories, otherwise distorted and scrambled.

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Rob Geurtsen

 

I’m a hunter of footnotes. If I’m interested in a particular topic, I can disappear down a rathole of sources.
The Beatles Review of History

7 April 2019
9.20am
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Dark Overlord
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Mark Lewisohn isn't an eyewitness but rather someone who was fortunate enough to hear the original multitracks so memory doesn't matter in this regard since it's likely he was writing notes as he listened to each individual track which formed the basis for his 1988 book The Beatles Recording Sessions.

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7 April 2019
1.07pm
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sir walter raleigh
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Lewisohn is reliable because he established himself as a relentlessly thorough researcher who prides himself on completeness and accuracy. Many many people have heard the original multitracks. 

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9 May 2019
4.57pm
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RobGeurtsen
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Dark Overlord said
Mark Lewisohn isn't an eyewitness but rather someone who was fortunate enough to hear the original multitracks so memory doesn't matter in this regard since it's likely he was writing notes as he listened to each individual track which formed the basis for his 1988 book The Beatles Recording Sessions.

Well, Lewisohn himself is more modest, he recently said he never claimed he listened to all individual tracks... but that is a distraction. The good thing is he relies on verifiable sources. I can only hope he verifies the documentation with historical methods. The problem I have with him is that in the book Lewisohn uses conversations that people have told others. Lewisohn considers this methodologically proficient. It is flawed to use conversations from memory in quotes in biographies unless recordings and notes exist. Should we really keep referring to The Beatles Recording Sessions? It is not up to date anymore, we have better reporting today, including Hammack, Sulpy, Winn, Unterberger, etc.

 

Therefore it is not historically sound.

Rob Geurtsen

 

I’m a hunter of footnotes. If I’m interested in a particular topic, I can disappear down a rathole of sources.
The Beatles Review of History

11 May 2019
4.19am
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meanmistermustard
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I cannot remember two days ago never mind 30+ years. Memories get hazy, details change due to our recollections being altered by events, time, our viewpoint and attachments applied (emotions, thoughts, lack of insight). 

I would swear blind and argue I saw 'Spectre' in an Aberdeen cinema whilst working where I currently am, every single ounce of my being has it worked it that it is true right down to saying how rubbish it was to work colleagues when back.

'Spectre' was released in October 2015, I started in my current work location in May 2016.

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