"In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs," edited by Andrew Blauner, with a note by Paul McCartney; Blue Rider Press, 304 pp., $23. With the 50th anniversary of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” upon us, the Beatles, are. again, on the ascendant in the sine wave of pop consciousness. No less than Paul McCartney himself has been coaxed out of his castle to jot a few lines of benediction inside this book: “It is astounding to me to realize the extent to which the (Beatles’) songs have reached people of all shapes and sizes in so many places around the world. People have told me how our songs have helped them through dark times, but I rarely hear detailed explanations of how they feel about them.”
Voila. This book, whose title is, to be entirely candid, a tiny bit of a misnomer. I wouldn’t call most writers included in this anthology “great,” I’d settle for an extremely enthusiastic “very good”--even sometimes essential--which makes a congregation of them, a terrific assemblage of people to be indulging in the kneejerk joy of so much nostalgia which is relating of one’s life to the music that filled your ear and brain and soul at the time.
Do not expect, then, a “greatest hits.” Eccentricity is the rule here, not the exception –-so much so that the great music historian David Hajdu writes about “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” (the B-Side to “Let it Be” as a single) about which McCartney told one writer “it’s so insane. It’s not a great melody or aything, it’s just unique.” Thank heaven, I say.The great conceptual cartoonist Roz Chast was eight, almost nine, when “She Loves You” came out and introduced her to the existence of “another world out there, one that did not include my parents, my relatives, my neighbors, my teachers or my classmates.” Jane Smiley triangulates “I Want to Hold Your Hand” with the Kennedy Assassination. David Duchovny realized at 10 that “Dear Prudence” was a “song, not a single.” Chuck Klosterman tells us about “Helter Skelter” (“a rare example of a song with no antecedent.”) Others included are Bill Flanagan, Rick Moody, Adam Gopnik,Rosanne Cash, Francine Prose, John Hockenbrry,Amy Bloom and Mona Simpson.--Jeff Simon