Contributing editor Wally Podrazik provides the story behind a story about the acclaimed first volume of Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles biography …
“I haven’t seen a single bad review … Have you? It’s pretty impressive. My editors don’t actually believe me. …”
That was one of a number of questions sent my way by writer Stefanie Cohen in preparing her piece for the Wall Street Journal on Mark Lewisohn and “Tune-in.” She was performing her due diligence, checking a number of points. It was old school journalism and I respected her for it and was happy to help in any way. She wanted all her facts nailed down as clearly as possible.
For example, she did not want to stop with the rhetorical question: “Do we really need another Beatles book?” She wanted to add the number of Beatles-related books already out there. We discussed several methods to determine that and she settled on citing the Library of Congress listings of “roughly 800.”
She asked about Beatles fan forums, scholarly work on the group, fans attending various conventions, and, yes, had I yet seen a bad review. (My answer: There might be one out there, but none that I have seen.)
What truly impressed me, though, was that she was not coming at this as an established true believer. She was looking at the book in the larger context of an arts writer, caring less that Mark Lewisohn had unearthed X number of facts and more about how well he had used them to tell the story.
That meant grappling with the questions: Do we really need that amount of detail? Was this long, long work worth the trip? What, really, do we add to our understanding of the group by knowing everything recounted here?
Our discussion in that area took the better part of a lengthy phone call, as she played Devil’s Advocate and I found myself as the Advocatus Dei (Promoter of the Cause). It was a fascinating process, because she was looking for just the right tone to explain this book to someone who really did not care about most of the “trivia” but who simply wanted to better know and appreciate the group. Would this book serve that purpose?
In the end, I think she found her balance, providing context, illustrative anecdotes and critical analysis. In citing facts revealed and questions answered, she mostly withheld her own comments, letting readers decide if these were of any import. Her mention that the book cleared up whether or not Lennon actually urinated on a group of nuns struck me as her nod to the point: Do we really need THIS detail?
She also cited “critics and fans” who compared Mark Lewisohn with “James Boswell and Robert Caro.” I’m guessing I’m represented here, in the Boswell camp, since that’s one of the first points I made in a background link that I sent to her.
I know her questions in research were good journalism, which is often in precious short supply these days. Nonetheless, there was a part of me that wondered if Lewisohn’s deep commitment to thorough research had set a high bar that she was determined to reach in her own comments about his work. In any case, her Wall Street Journal article continued the run of positive profiles of both the author and the book.
And this short piece is in the spirit of capturing a small part of the chronicle of coverage, first person, while it is still fresh. Just for the record.
— Walter J. Podrazik