Perhaps you’re shrugging your shoulders and saying, “I just don’t get this Beatles thing.”
Well, perhaps Candy Leonard of Cambridge, Mass., can explain it to you. Leonard, a first-generation Beatles fan, is a sociologist with a strong background in qualitative research, child development, popular culture, media studies … and yes, The Beatles. She has lectured on, and written about, The Beatles for many years.
Her book, “Beatleness: How The Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World” will be published in August by Skyhorse Publishing.
Leonard has been a Beatles fan all her life and has read many books about the phenomenon.
“While the books all retell the story, none of these books — that number in the thousands by now — tell the story from the fan perspective and show what it was like to grow up with them, watching them evolve and being continually dazzled and delighted by them,” she said. “Fans believe that The Beatles entering their lives and the six years that followed was a truly extraordinary, life-changing experience — many refer to it as a ‘journey,’ and I thought it was important that the story be told and that their experiences be validated."
People often say that “The Beatles changed everything,” but no one really explains what this means or how they did it, she said.
“Looking at in-depth fan testimony against a backdrop of the pop culture and political landscape of the '60s, we can see how they actually did change everything. It’s not just hyperbole,” Leonard said.
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In addition to the fan voice being missing from 50 years of Beatles scholarship, Leonard said, the female voice is absent. Most of the books about The Beatles are written by men.
“As a lifelong female fan and sociologist, I knew I had a fresh perspective that would be an important contribution to the conversation.”
The intense six-year Beatles immersion created a fan-performer relationship that had never existed before, she said: “Demographics, technology, marketing, the political moment and of course quality of the music, all converged to make it a historically unique event.”
From the very beginning, fans had a sense that The Beatles were talking to them directly.
“We got to know each one of them as four distinct personalities, and we talked about them incessantly. They were a constant, joyful presence. Even as the music became more sophisticated — sometimes even beyond the grasp of some fans — we trusted them and we listened to what they had to say,” Leonard said. "They provided this generation with what was, in effect, an alternative curriculum, that challenged us emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically and even spiritually.”
Young people, she said, had the sense all along that The Beatles “were on their side, encouraging and empowering them. Looking at it in this way, fans’ strong emotional attachment, 50 years later, makes perfect sense.”
No other performers could have provided their fans with this kind of experience, “and it can’t ever happen again,” Leonard said. But the demography, technology and all the other factors Leonard mentions “created the perfect storm that made Beatlemania unique and the band’s ongoing influence possible.”