In Print : Paperback writer
"It Was 40 Years Ago Today," Thomas Dresser. PublishAmerica, Baltimore, MD., 198 pages.$24.95
In 1964, The Beatles took America by storm with their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The band, which broke up in 1970, made history in music and pop culture, becoming rock legend, and Thomas Dresser was a dedicated observer of their brief breakneck ride from simple love songs written during the early 60s to chronicling the troubled Vietnam War era.
In his book, "It Was 40 Years Ago Today" he chronicles not only the meteoric rise of the Beatles and their sudden split up, but also his own odyssey from awkward teen to responsible adult amid the tumult of the 60s. The book delves a great deal into the psyche of the Beatles as expressed in song, and the generation's ability to relate to their heroes' struggles as they grew up during the discord of the 60s. The author writes, "It is remarkable that in the summer of 1967, 'All You Need is Love' was the key song, and merely a year later 'Revolution' was on everybody's lips."
Mr. Dresser, an Oak Bluffs resident, began the book in 1968, but shelved it for a decade and a half as adult responsibilities took over. Shortly after the death of John Lennon in 1980, Mr. Dresser picked up where he left off, and produced a mimeographed version of the book, then titled "It Was Twenty Years Ago Today" which he distributed as Christmas presents. He went on to complete six other non-fiction books on a variety of subjects, while pursuing a number of careers. He finally returned to the Beatles book when he realized the timing of the title (lifted from a line in the song "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band") would be a reality.
It could be that the book's long and interrupted path to fruition dilutes some of its organization and impact. "It Was 40 Years Ago Today," includes an outline of the Beatles saga - facts, music and analysis - all of which is integrated into the atmosphere and events of the times. In the course of his research Mr. Dresser discovered that "Blackbird" had a civil rights theme, and that "Hey Jude" was written by McCartney for John Lennon's son Julian, although Julian himself wasn't aware of this at the time.
He begins each chapter with a short introduction relating what was going on in his own life at the time of the release of many of the band's major works. The partly autobiographical book is a fan's view of how Beatles music affected him and his generation - a "coming of age with the Beatles." Mr. Dresser, obviously a devoted follower, shares his insights: "In one way I was reliving the 60s, but there were also things I found each time I re-listened to the songs. It's living music."
Each chapter ends with brief interviews with the author's friends and relatives about their impressions of the Beatles. Many relate stories of what was going on in their lives during particular periods of the band's odyssey. While Mr. Dresser notes, "It's so universal that everyone has some Beatles story," it does not necessarily make for compelling reading.
Mr. Dresser offers, "When 'Help' came out in 1965 I could relate. I needed help and I was just one of millions. [John Lennon] was able to capture an element of my life while writing about his own."
He goes on to explain his take on the Beatles' hold on the public: "Paul was one kind of writer and John was another and that's what made them so dynamic. It was a real dichotomy between them and they would push each other in different directions."
Mr. Dresser refers to the Beatles' success as the classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
"It Was 40 Years Ago Today," by Thomas Dresser can be purchased at Edgartown Books, Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, and Secret Garden in Oak Bluffs.
CK Wolfson contributed to this story.
Gwyn McAllister is a freelance writer living in Oak Bluffs.