I was an infant when the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show. My parents were young newlyweds, holding down their first jobs out of college, so I don’t know if they watched it. Despite that, the Beatles provided the unacknowledged soundtrack for my childhood, always on the radio.
I first tuned into their music in junior high when our choir director chose a medley of Eleanor Rigby and Here, There, and Everywhere for us — and was shocked that none of us seventh-graders recognized the songs. Soon after that, I discovered Yellow Submarine on TV for the first time. The first record album I bought was the the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.
In eighth grade I fell in with some girls who wrote stories about bands they liked. We didn’t call it fanfic back then — because we hadn’t heard the term yet — but that was basically what it was: self-insert stories about our adventures with our favorite bands. They wrote about the Bay City Rollers (who, to be honest, were closer to us in age). I wrote about the Beatles. Not the Beatles as they were at the time, in their late 30s, leading their own careers and raising their own children. I wrote about the Beatles as if the characters they played in the movie Help! were real people.
I pretty much forgot about those early stories until I saw a call for submissions for an anthology about the Beatles. Since I’d already written a story about Jimmy Page selling his soul (“Never Bargained for You,” which is in my short story collection, Unsafe Words), I thought I’d write one about why the Beatles stopped touring in 1966.
Off to Green Apple I went to research the real history of the band. I came across the book Beatles ’66: the Revolutionary Year, which was exactly what I needed, answering all my questions and providing the perfect context for the story. “Devil in her Heart” came together really easily after that.
Of course, the story didn’t make it into the anthology. Instead, it found a home at The Fabulist magazine. You can read “Devil in her Heart” for free here: https://fabulistmagazine.com/devil-in-her-heart/.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to read that story live, since I feel like most of its power is in capturing the way the Beatles spoke: the Liverpool accents, the slang, the puns and putdowns and affection for each other. I’m really pleased with how it sounds in my head as I read it, but I’m not sure I can ever do justice to it aloud.
All of this is on my mind because I watched the first episode of Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary last night. It’s longer than it needs to be, frustrating to watch just as it must have been for the Beatles as they slogged through those sessions. It’s also incredibly brave for them to have allowed themselves to be filmed as they struggled to write songs when they didn’t have anything they were burning to say. Even at the best of times, the creative process is messy and painful and spiraling — and this was not the best of times. Still, amongst the chaos flashes brilliance: Harrison playing I Me Mine for them for the first time, McCartney fumbling to assemble Get Back, Lennon singing Give Me Some Truth, which would appear to devastating effect on his Imagine album.
The Beatles had broken up before I discovered them. John Lennon was assassinated while I was still in high school. Over the years, I’ve read their biographies, watched movies dissecting their impact on popular music and the world. I sang their songs to my colicky baby when she was fussy. She grew up on their movies. I’m immensely grateful that nearly sixty years after their first album, they still provide me with inspiration and food for thought.