When I use the term "Beatles scholar", I'm referring to the fact that I conduct academic analysis of the band's music.
I’ve recently noticed that more often than not, it isn’t immediately obvious in my title that I study Beatles music. If I claimed to be a Beethoven scholar, people would know that I focused on music. With The Beatles, however, that is not assumed.
Perhaps the reason people don't assume I study music is because most Beatles authors and experts focus on the band's history and biography - who did what, where, when, why, and how. And while history and biography are both immensely fascinating and important (I'd go as far to say that Mark Lewisohn's biography Tune In is the best Beatles book ever written), they're not music. The thing that makes these books “musical” is the fact that their subjects happen to be musicians - there's typically little if any actual musical analysis or consideration.
For my musically analytic purposes, history and biography are important to the extent that they enlighten listening. If anecdotes and stories help understand the music, then they're valuable. But if said stories have no appreciable relation to the music, then they're not applicable to my studies.
While I certainly consider myself a Beatles fan (I wouldn't dedicate my entire life and career to their music if I didn't like the music), my analysis and research is scholarly. I use the term merely to distinguish my work from books that are fan-oriented rather than academic.
There is, of course, no precise qualification for what defines a scholar as opposed to a fan author. Perhaps the biggest differences are the intent and target audience.
Scholars offer serious critiques and analysis of their subject, usually supplemented by extensive research. And while sales are important, the primary intent of scholarly books is analytic, requiring a certain amount of effort from readers to digest and understand the analysis. Fan authors, on the other hand, target fans. And while fan books can be extensively researched, this style of writing leans more towards entertainment than analysis. This distinction is quite similar to the distinction made between classical and popular musical styles.
It would be easy to take such contrasts too far by assigning subjective qualitative connotations (indeed, that was one of my biggest problems with my experiences in graduate school), but neither style (of both book and music) is inherently better or worse than the other - both can be done exceptionally well and exceptionally poorly. It is also hugely oversimplified - the real-life encounters (again, of both books and music) are not so clear-cut. Nevertheless, there is something to be gained in illustrating these differences.
I am occasionally asked if I have ever interviewed any of the surviving Beatles. No, I haven't (though if the opportunity presented itself it wouldn't turn it down). And since I'm a music scholar more so than an historian, I don't need to. All I really need to conduct my analyses are the musical recordings and a piano to plunk out the melody and chords.
For a long time I thought I wanted to be a professor of music. Agonizing experiences in grad school put me off that career path. John Adams (the composer, not the second or sixth presidents of the United States) once described himself as "a minimalist who is bored with minimalism.” (Source: http://www.npr.org/programs/pt/features/adams_pulitzer.html) If I may paraphrase his words, I'm an academic who is bored with academia. More bluntly, you could say I have a love/hate relationship with academia: I love its intellectual rigor and depth of research; I hate its politics, ego, and restrictive formal structure.
So, abandoning the notion of a career in collegiate academia (at least for the time being), I started seeking new professional paths. Eventually I realized that there was a market for academic musical analysis but ONLY when presented with minimal academic jargon and without a trace of the pretentiousness that characterizes so much of the academic world. Over the past several years I've developed and honed presentation skills that allow me to explain The Beatles' extremely sophisticated music in ways that an audience doesn't need a bachelor's degree in music theory to understand.
It's the combination of those two abilities (the detailed musical analysis coupled with simple and accessible explanation) that are the fundamental pillars of my career. My BEATLES MINUTE videos are one example of those skills. If I lacked either, my current career would never have gotten off the ground.
And that's ultimately what I mean when I call myself a "Beatles scholar” or, perhaps more fittingly, “Beatles music scholar.”
I do my Beatles scholar thing today at the Mesquite branch of the Phoenix Public Library, and again tomorrow afternoon at the Saguaro branch:
Sunday, 20 March 2016, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Saguaro Library, 2808 N 46th St, Phoenix, AZ
The Beatles: Band of the Sixties
Explore the music of The Beatles in this 60-minute multimedia presentation (part history and part musical analysis) spanning the full 1960's: beginning with the band's seminal visits to Hamburg, continuing through Beatlemania, and concluding with Abbey Road. The program will be supplemented with audio clips of music and excerpts from interviews with the band members.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.