Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Interview: A Beatles scholar and his dad on the road

Aaron Krerowicz is a professional Beatles scholar. He makes his living doing lecture tours about the band and writing books such as "The Beatles and the Avant-Garde" and "From the Shadow of JFK: The Rise of Beatlemania" - all of which are well worth a look.

Recently, he published a new book with his dad, John, a retired newspaper journalist, who accompanied Aaron on a cross-country road trip/lecture tour.

"Days in the Life," features sections written by both father and son, as they discuss their mutual love of the Beatles and other passions, such as baseball (which they both enjoy) and birding (John's newfound passion).

In this interview the discuss how love of the Beatles' music can cross generations and what they learned  being on the road.


It's fascinating to me how the Beatles' music gets handed down through generations. My kids (ages 13 and 19) love the Beatles - not so much anything else I play around the house. They grew up probably hearing just as much Duke Ellington or John Coltrane as the Fab Four, but they aren't jazz fans. Yet, they've gladly joined me to see Paul McCartney and Ringo in concert and enjoy listening to the Beatles on their own. Why do you think this is?

AARON: There's a cross-generational appeal to The Beatles that very few musicians ever achieve. And I suspect it's the result of the band's ability to balance accessibility with sophistication. The music is extremely easy to listen to, but that approachability belies how complex the music is.

For example, the four verses of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" are all in G major while the two bridges are in C major. In other words, there's a key change every time a verse is followed by a bridge, or a bridge is followed by a verse (a total of four times throughout the song). That's a rather sophisticated songwriting technique to pull off - it's not something found in your every day vanilla pop song. And I doubt John or Paul were even aware of what they were doing - and certainly they wouldn't have called it a "modulation to the subdominant", which is the technical term. But to a certain extent, it doesn't matter. What matters is that they did it. And on some level, I think listeners understand it, too. Most listeners can't articulate the technique, but they understand intuitively that The Beatles' songs are musically a head and shoulders above other bands' work.

Part of my job, as a professional Beatles music scholar, is to explain why The Beatles' music is so good in terms that listeners don't need a bachelor's degree in music theory to understand.

JOHN: Their songs have strong, likable melodies, some unusual chord twists, and a bit of clever word play. But most of all, I think they're fun, joyous and uplifting, and those traits can be appreciated by every generation.

John, did you play music Aaron DIDN'T end up liking?

JOHN: I played a lot of Monkees and some Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Eagles, Stevie Wonder and Bette Midler; a variety of classical and jazz, plus a tad of country (including Willie Nelson, Emmy Lou Harris and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). There were others, too, but these were some of my extra favorites.

AARON: He played a lot of Beach Boys and Monkees music, all of which I still appreciate but I don't find their work nearly as compelling as Beatles music.

Aaron, what was it about the Beatles? Why not the Who or the Kinks, etc.?

AARON: The short answer, which ties in with my answer above, is that The Beatles were better musicians.

The long answer, well, that's my entire career. Every presentation I deliver, every blog I write, every book I author, and every BEATLES MINUTE I post of YouTube is designed to answer that one fundamental question: Why were The Beatles so great?

And I'm not sure that can ever be answered definitively. But a big part of why The Beatles were so great has to be their producer, George Martin. He took the raw, intuitive songs of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison and helped polish them into spectacularly artistically and commercially successful products. Without Martin, the band would not have been as successful as they were.

John - What's it like having a Beatles scholar for a son? Do other parents raise their eyebrows when you describe his work? Does Aaron ever correct any assumptions you have about the band and its history?

JOHN: Who would have thought that the Beatles would continue to be so popular and that our family would have an expert on a band that I can still vividly recall watching on television more than 50 years ago? I think this is great, that he can have the same musical experiences now that I did a half century ago. I also like that Aaron every once in awhile mentions something about the band that I didn't know, and that probably has included correcting some information that I've had wrong. That's fine; I want to know the facts. Also, his interest has re-awakened my interest so that I want to continue to read and learn more about them. No one has ever been critical when I've told them his profession. Almost everyone wishes they could have a career so exciting, not to mention being their own boss.

Aaron - What have learned about the Beatles from your dad? What perspectives has he provided that aids your work?

AARON: Obviously, I didn't live through Sixties. I'm a second-generation fan. Thus, I have absolutely no personal experience with my subject, and so I have to rely on historical documentation for all of my research. In the book, I discuss how my youth enhances my abilities as a Beatles scholar because I have a certain historical objectivity that the vast majority of Beatles experts don't and can't have simply because they did live through it. So Dad has been particularly helpful in helping me understand the first-generation perspective, which is something that I don't and can't ever have.

John - Has Aaron's work affected how you perceive or listen to the Beatles? In what ways?

JOHN: Aaron's presentations definitely have changed how I listen to some Beatle songs. Here's a few specifics: I could always feel there was a shift between verses and the chorus in 'Penny Lane.' But not until I heard Aaron discuss the song did I realize they are in different keys. One key represents the past/verses, and another represents today/chorus. Now when I hear the song, I know why there's particular, alternating moods I'm sensing in each. Also, I knew that I was hearing a calliope in 'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!' but didn't hear Henry the horse 'singing' when the song moved into waltz time -- until Aaron pointed it out. I also wasn't aware that Henry was the middle name of George Martin, and that the choice of the horse's name was a tribute to the producer. And finally, in 'Here Comes the Sun,' I knew there was a rhythm change, but I didn't understand that it was a significant, sophisticated approach to writing music. All of these things -- and there are more -- help me appreciate the quality of songwriting and enjoy the music more than I had previously.

What has the response been to your book? Who are you hearing from? Younger fans, older fans? Both? What chords does it strike with readers?

JOHN: I've heard only from friends and family, and they say the book is good, so I'm going to believe them.

AARON: This ties into the cross-generational notion, as well. Most people who attend my presentations are first generation fans - people who grew up listening to The Beatles in real time. Consequently, most of the people who buy my books are first generation fans. That being said, it's not uncommon to find second and even third generation fans in attendance. On November 29, 2016, I spoke at the LaSalle library in Illinois and after had a rather lengthy and involved discussion with a 19-year-old who loves the band as much as anybody. The same can be said for Hawthorne Malonson (who prefers to go by "Ringo"), a third-generation elementary-school-aged boy I first met at The Fest for Beatles Fans in New York back in April, and who attended a presentation I gave in Massachusetts in October of this year.

How did your tour change your relationship to one another?

AARON: That's a really good question and I wish I had an equally good answer. But the honest response is that I'm not sure that our relationship did change. As I mention in the book's interview afterward, I was surprised at how literary his writing was. I had expected a more reporter-like writing style because that's what he did professionally for three-and-a-half decades.

JOHN: I don't think the tour changed our relationship much, if at all. But I did learn how committed Aaron is to his work. When I'd wake up, he would already have been on his laptop typing away for awhile. He'd work through much of the morning, get something to eat then get back to writing or analyzing or whatever he was pursuing that day. Then he'd clean up, drive maybe an hour to a presentation, set up, give the talk, answer questions and drive back. Only then did he relax. Touring together also gave me a chance to hear about Aaron's plans and goals, which I enjoyed because we don't often get chances to discuss some topics deeply. But the tour also showed us that we're comfortable with silence. If we had something to say, we'd say it. But chitchat and gossiping were and are of no interest to us. We passed the time mostly by listening to music.

Aaron - you mentioned in the book that you likely won't lecture full-time like this forever. What's the next stage of your career, do you think? Any future Beatles books planned?

AARON: I'm sure I'll keep doing speaking engagements, but I won't sustain it full-time forever. Part of the reason nobody else does what I do is because it's so grueling, not only physically but also emotionally. I'm away from home more often than I am home, which has

As far as future books, yes, I always have quite a few ideas in mind, and I'm constantly getting new ideas. At this point, I'm planning to publish my next book, BEATLESTUDY, volume I: Structural Analysis of Beatles Music, an academic encyclopedia of structure in the band's songs, in May 2017.

John - I really enjoyed your passages in the book. Do you have plans to do any more writing - articles or books - on your own?

JOHN: I have no plans to do any more writing. I am the publicist for the local Audubon society, so I send out monthly press releases. But as far as a book or magazine articles or a blog, I have little interest. After 40 years of professional writing -- I retired in 2014 -- putting words on paper seems too much like work. I didn't feel that way about this book because we started with short articles for Aaron's blog. From there, expanding into chapters seemed easy and natural. I also discovered that, once I began writing pieces for the blog, I was free to be creative, use literary devices and even throw in an opinion or two, all of which was invigorating -- not like the straightforward, objective newswriting that I had done for decades. I might change my mind about writing in the future, however. If Aaron wanted to work together on another book, I probably would do that.

Would you do all this (make a tour) again?

AARON: Of course! We're already planning a return to Arizona in April-May 2017. We're also planning a tour to Florida and back in November-December.

JOHN: I'm happy that we're planning a second tour out West for this spring. We've also talked about Florida in November 2017. As you noticed in the book, I'm a birder/photographer, and traveling around the country gives me many chances to seek out and photograph birds, many of which are new species for me. And, of course, a tour gives me more time to spend with my son, and not everybody gets that opportunity.


You can learn more about Aaron's work, and access his blog and Beatles Minute videos via his website:

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