Rob Sheffield, a music columnist with twenty years experience who currently writes for Rolling Stone magazine has recently released a new book: Dreaming the Beatles. Roughly ten years ago, I read Sheffield’s first book, Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, a heart wrenching autobiographical memoir concerning his late wife and their shared passion for music via the art of the mix tape.
And in 2016, Sheffield produced another emotional collection, On Bowie, a homage to David Bowie’s legacy as told through fan’s memories, as well as his own. It was a read that left me as gutted as Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, due to the artist’s passing months prior. Now, if there is one thing that Rob Sheffield excels at, it’s portraying the visceral connection between music fans and the musicians they admire, so when I picked up Dreaming the Beatles I knew it was my ticket to ride.
The audio book, narrated by the author himself, begins with a rapid fire introduction that reads like a teen magazine dossier of essential Beatles facts replete with nicknames for the Fab Four, such as: “The Smart One” (John), “The Cute One” (Paul), “The Quiet One” (George), and “The Drummer” (Ringo). Ok, ALMOST everyone. During this prelude, Sheffield poses a question: why are the Beatles still popular, possibly more now, despite having broken up nearly fifty years ago? It’s a question I have never considered, as a daughter of a Beatlemaniac, because it has always been a known fact: The Beatles are fab!
He suggests the cause for their endurance is “the Beatles matter because of what they mean to our moment… over the years, your [favorite] Beatle keeps changing because you keep changing.” Which feels true when he speaks of being a Paul fan, yet it is unabashedly clear he favors George as his favorite Beatle, at times almost confessing that he enjoyed Harrison’s “bitchy wizard mode” during the Sgt. Pepper days. Even Sheffield’s wife is a “George girl,” who literally only has eyes for Harrison, and endears him with the moniker of “Goth Beatle”!
Throughout Dreaming the Beatles, the author maintains an excellent balance of personal recollection, amusement, and creativity. For example, he generates a list of 26 songs about the Beatles, ranging from different musicians, such as: Lil Wayne’s “Help” to the Beastie Boys’ “I’m Down” to Aretha Franklin’s “Long and Winding Road”– which Sheffield claims is “the most a Beatle cover has ever improved on the original.” He also goes as far to take an extensive look into “It Won’t Be Long” from 1963’s With the Beatles, breaking down the number of “yeah”s sung, 55 in total, thus, reaching ultimate “yeah” density, to the Beatles’ use of the pronoun, “you,” and how this quality is what made their songs feel like they were reaching out to YOU and YOU alone.
Audio book is a great format choice for Dreaming the Beatles, as Sheffield’s voice has an informal cadence that makes me recall lengthy and oft late night conversations about music with friends. I frequently found myself discussing, or laughing, aloud as I listened, sometimes pausing so I could find a song referenced and search for the nuance I may have missed! Many of my favorite moments stemmed from Sheffield’s personal memories connected to the band’s music because that’s what makes being a Beatles fan amazing; everyone has a story!
Dreaming the Beatles is perfect for fans ranging from amateur to Beatlemaniac. It’s entertaining with informative tidbits throughout, while seamlessly interweaving Beatles lyrics and various other music references into the narrative. I appreciated that Sheffield stayed away from making this feel like another unauthorized exposé or salacious journalism– the mark of a true fan. The Beatles’ music and the musicians themselves inspire such discourse that I feel this book would also make an excellent choice for reading along with other Beatle fans or in a book club. I mean, who doesn’t want to talk about the Beatles?
So, this summer (or anytime of year) I encourage you to go on a sonic journey through the Beatles’ catalog, their films Hard Day’s Night and Help, and especially their premier documentary, The Beatles Anthology. They’re all wonderful accompaniments to elevate the experience found in this book, so take that long and winding road to Lawrence Public Library’s door and find yourself Dreaming the Beatles.
–Ilka Iwanczuk is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.