How's this for dedication? You spend two decades doing research for an extended biography of John Lennon, then plan to spend two more decades writing it—in nine volumes!
That's been Jude Southerland Kessler's project. And if that's not audacious enough, you decide to make the books historical novels (sort of), full of anecdotes by Lennon and the Beatles—most of which are so well documented that it can't really be called fiction. In fact it defies categorization.
Well, two of the volumes are available, so you can decide for yourself what they are: Shoulda Been There (2008) and Shivering Inside (2010), covering Lennon's life up through April, 1963. (The latter is simply the most compelling Beatles book I've ever read.)
Here's the first half of my interview with Jude, edited for blog brevity.
JOL: What's the term of art for your kind of book?
JK: An expanded or augmented biography.
JOL: It's meticulously researched. When do you expect to be complete [with the entire suite of Lennon volumes]?
JK: I've story-boarded it out. It should be twenty-one more years. It has taken twenty-six years up until now, so we're looking at forty-seven years for the whole project.
JOL: Maybe you could set the bar higher for your next project? Hey, one of the things that amazes me about the Beatles is their prodigious creativity. Where do you think that came from?
JK: I think that's something you're born with, that's a gift you're given… They had no musical training, they had no formal education, so they were free to break the rules.
JOL: Even before their manager Brian Epstein came along, they actually had a very distinct brand. It wasn't the moptops in suits yet, but they had something very distinct when they came back from Hamburg in December 1960. How did that happen?
JK: At first they were not distinct. When they go to the Empire Theatre to compete in an audition they're horrible… and John is humiliated because when they go up on stage they stand there like stick figures. And he watched Nicky Cuff and the Sunnyside Skiffle Group [go crazy on stage and win the talent contest]. John told the band: 'No more. We're going to put on a show. We're going to do strange things.' And he followed up in Hamburg [by having the Beatles put on wild performances]. So they learned to be different.
JOL: And there was the artistic sensibility via Stu Sutcliffe [the Beatles' first bassist] and John to have a different appearance as well.
JK: John's an artist. Stu's an artist. They're not just thinking about what they're doing as rock & roll. They're thinking about it as a creation, as art for the ear. John modeled himself after these people who were artsy, out of the box, like Julia [his mother]. And that's what the Beatles became.
Ah, one can only wish that more individuals, teams, and businesses would be thinking what they could be doing to stand out from the pack—as Jude Southerland Kessler herself is doing, with her nine volumes on John Lennon.
[Read my follow-up interview with Jude here.]