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One Big Beatles Database - a grand proposal

Introductory remarks, added January 2007: I first made this proposal to the Usenet Beatles group,, back in 1996 or so, and then worked it up into a web page not long after, when the web was still a babe in arms. The almost complete lack of response to the page has always had me wondering whether anyone ever found it; or taken the trouble to try and understand what I'm proposing; or whether people blow it off as worthless, or impossible, or pie in the sky. Perhaps I've made a simple proposal look complicated with all the defense and discussion.

All this page is saying is,

Let's gather ALL Beatle source material into one big database!

I harped on the subject again in the introduction to my Beatles in Teen Magazines web page, where I wrote (if you call my almighty struggle with words writing):

Beatlefan 148 (May 2004) reported on Mark Lewisohn's massive Beatles biography, projected to be three volumes of 900 pages each. "As part of his research, Lewisohn plans to have every available interview and press conference converted to searchable computer text." That's good, but I believe I'm on the record for having called for an even larger project among Beatle fans many years earlier. It's pretty obvious to me that this is the way to do history now, with the essentially unlimited storage capacities of our computers and our interconnectedness. I read a short story once about aliens among us foiling human attempts to band together to bring large projects to fruition so that we don't get too advanced. I sure don't have any better theory.

In defending my proposal in the old version of this page, I pointed out how it must not be too crazy; that Muslim clerics were doing a similar thing for their thing, entering 5000 Islamic texts electronically. If only a handful of them can do all that work, think of what millions of Beatle fan/scholars could accomplish.

If I were to rewrite this proposal now, I would make parallels with Wikipedia. Wikipedia proves that thousands of volunteers can get it together and produce something not only monumental, but monumentally useful and popular. The Beatles database I'm proposing would be a mole hill in comparison. Well, I don't know how an exact comparison of byte counts would work out, but the Beatles database would require a teensy fraction of the effort, mainly because all I'm interested in is archiving source material - no modern verbiage generated or added.

If anyone finds his way here who couldn't give a hoot about the Beatles and their part in bringing the forward march of civilization to a grinding halt (just joking?), just do a global paste of your area of interest for "beatle". I myself am dying for an opera database that gives complete libretti, midis, theme and motif identification, translations, useful summaries and conversions into prose for every opera that was ever performed, and then some. Compared to Wikipedia, that would be a homework assignment. I've also tried to get classical guitarists to pitch in and get all our public domain music up on the web and available from one classical guitar database starting point. This provoked a yawn heard 'round the world.

Anyhow, here's the old-fashioned page, more or less unchanged . . .

Table of Contents for this Web page. (All links are internal - just start reading instead of clicking!)

Part 1. Beatles.lib

The Beatles were a very big deal. This shouldn't require any explanation, amplification, or defense - especially to anybody who found this page. As such, they deserve the most scrupulously detailed, accurate and complete documentation we are capable of delivering.

PROPOSAL: that Beatle fan/scholars all over the world combine forces. They will harness their Beatle energy, focus it, and put it to use gathering together everything written, published and broadcast about the Beatles and store it all in one huge Beatles electronic library, hereinafter referred to as Beatles.lib.

Did I say everything? Yup. Why not? There's lots of time, lots of Beatle fan/scholars... and lots of electrons. It would have been an insane idea in the recent past, even, but now we have optical scanners and the computer power and connection to make it feasible.

It would be fun to do and the final product would be fascinating and useful. It would be a new way of recording history, showing the way for historians in all other fields.

With such a database, writers would be unable to revise, mangle or muddy Beatle history. We've come to accept this - and even expect it - as a fundamental byproduct of trying to record any history. We can put an end to that starting now.

What is "everything"? Obviously the effort would start with the primary references - everything the Beatles had to say about themselves, plus books and magazine and newspaper articles written by people who had interaction with the Beatles, particularly during the group years.

Radio and television programs with segments about the Beatles would be transcribed.

Relevant portions of books and articles and programs not specifically about the Beatles, but which have first-hand accounts of them, would be gathered.

All available unpublished material such as contracts, press releases, and letters would be included.

After the first-hand and factual material has been collected, then we might proceed with commentary and analysis type material.

If you're still reeling at the thought of "everything", ok, maybe we could live without each and every mention of the Beatles in the Great Falls (Montana) Tribune. Still, it wouldn't hurt - and some fan/scholars there might have fun digging them up. Everything said about the Beatles in their time is part of the overall picture. Regarding newspapers, as a base requirement we need the articles from the cities the Beatles visited on their concert tours.

Answering objections:

Some have argued against this proposal contending that history is inherently flawed. There are fallacies and contradictions even from primary sources, so the effort is futile.

That, of course, makes the project even more necessary. It is important that the contradictions be exposed. And it may be that a preponderance of evidence in Beatles.lib clearly supports one version over another.

Then there is the eternal philosophic question, "What is truth?" That shouldn't slow us down. We need never label anything as "false", if we're that spineless. We could label such statements as "seemingly contradictory."

For instance, in the Beatles Anthology tv documentary, Paul McCartney said, "On some of those dates [the 1964 summer world tour] we had to use a stand-in drummer because Ringo had to stay behind to have his tonsils out." Even though Paul was a Beatle himself, and presumably knew Ringo personally, his account would "seemingly contradict" a newspaper article from December 1964 reporting Ringo's tonsilectomy. This should keep everybody happy - people who are common-sense driven, as well as people who revel in the counter-intuitive ("Well, maybe Ringo had two sets of tonsils!"), and conspiracy theorists ("Ha! those December newspaper accounts were just covering up Ringo's hair transplant/nose job/detox/lobotomy/you-name-it.")

The question of copyright regarding Beatles.lib inevitably comes up. Without worrying about the letter of copyright law (which is as fuzzy as any law, actually, and has much to do with what the judge had for breakfast and how many drinks the attorneys had the night before - and whatever they decide will be overturned on appeal, anyway) there is nothing wrong or immoral or injurious here. The effort would be completely noncommercial. The database would not be sold. Notices not to make hard copies of copyrighted material could be inserted. (In a more sensible world, copying without explicit permission would be allowed with payment of an appropriate fee to the owner.)

Looking at it from the point of view of morality and common sense, the text in the database would only be material that already exists somewhere. The only difference is that it would all be in one place; you wouldn't have to root around in attics and basements the world over to find what you're looking for. (I have enough trouble finding the specific thing I am looking for even when I know it's right there on my bookshelf.)

Part 2 - Beatles.central

Ok, so we've gathered together everything written and said about the Beatles - what do we do with it? Surely nobody would want to slog through the whole thing.

Beatles.lib would form the basis for all further Beatles research and discussion. As mentioned above, it would aid in the resolution of contradictions and would help point up the remaining gaps in our knowledge.

I envision a large, coordinated effort devoted just to "ironing out" and "completing" the Beatles story. There would be a forum devoted to this, which I'll call Beatles.central. It would differ from current Beatles online discussion groups in many fundamental ways. It would contain no opinion. No idea would be expressed twice. Every entry would be refereed by a panel of knowledgable Beatle scholars. Every item would be edited to its essence. Every claim to fact would require a reference (an easy thing to do with Beatles.lib.) Beatles.central itself would become part of Beatles.lib. Once again, Beatle fan/scholars would be leading the way - Beatles.central would be the model for Fill-In-The-Blank.central that every interest group should have.

Beatles.lib and Beatles.central would seem to require only a few people to oversee them - someone who shares this vision, a few editors, a panel of referees and someone experienced in managing a huge data-base. If this is sorely underestimated, hey, there's millions of Beatle fan/scholars out there.

I envision that most of the entries in Beatles.central would be simply questions which do not have answers readily available in Beatles.lib. The idea is that, if something is of concern to anyone, in all likelihood it is of interest to others. ("Hey, how come in some pictures Ringo's left eyebrow is full and bushy, and in others it's partly missing?") The direction that Beatles research takes would be guided by what Beatle fans/scholars are interested in.

If no answer to a question is ever forthcoming, that's fine. Just the fact that the question was posed and no one could dig up an answer would be of interest to a researcher with the same question a hundred years down the line.

Maybe, just maybe, surviving Beatles might take an interest and answer selected questions themselves. It would have to beat the oh-so-deep and analytical (read: "worthless") questions they are forever asked by thoughtful interviewers. The possibility of getting surviving Beatles involved is a good reason for getting started as soon as possible.

Part 3 - Related Projects


Beatles.lib would make it possible to fact-check everything newly published or broadcast about the Beatles. Every sentence would be examined by an empowered army of Beatle fan/scholars to see what material is new, what material is derivative and where it came from, and what material is in error.

As an example (among thousands), John Dunbar appeared in a news item in 1996 claiming he and John Lennon spotted the sales ad for Dorinish island. This contradicts (seemingly!) Alistair Taylor's claim that he himself spotted it (Yesterday, My Life With the Beatles, page 60.)

Whenever inaccurate Beatles information is detected, the perpetrator would be informed. Ideally, he'd be remorseful enough to print or broadcast a correction.

Along these same lines, errata lists for all the primary Beatle books would be generated. Eventually, every detected fallacy in Beatles.lib would be flagged.

Beatle photograph database:

A data base should be created documenting all known Beatles photographs - date taken, place, people in the photo, description of the photo and where published. Every time a Beatles photo is published, a search of the database will tell us if it's a new one, where to find the best or most complete version, where to find other photos from the same session, etc. I'll let others work out how far we go actually storing the photos digitally. It would be a shame to do all that work, and then a technological breakthrough come along yielding much higher quality images in less storage space.

"Introduction to the Beatles" bibliography:

A worthy project would be the development of an ordered, programmed Beatles bibliography so that a newcomer to the Beatles universe could rapidly catch up, avoiding all the bum information.

Every Beatle recording:

Another project could be the detailed documention of all the songs ever recorded by the Beatles for any purpose. More than just a list, differences between the various recordings of each song could be documented - lyrics changes, vocal and instrumental flubs, song length, tempo, instrumentation, etc. It's mind-boggling that it took almost 20 years for Beatle fans to notice that the album and single versions of Get Back are the same performance.

Beatles in fiction:

No doubt there are many other worthwhile projects Beatle fan/scholars could be having a grand time "working" on. If all of the above still sounds too dry, clinical and boring, how about a search for fictional Beatles reference? Wouldn't it be fun documenting every mention of them in novels, stories, tv shows, movies, plays, and pop songs? Far from being frivolous, this might actually be one of the best indicators of the impact the group had on society.

Afterword - Ringo Starr's eyebrow

Actually, over the years, this page did inspire a few people to respond. They all wanted to know one thing: what's the story on Ringo's eyebrow? Of course, the point was to stir up some interest in my proposal by leaving a dangling question like that which could have been answered instantly by Beatles.lib. You can see how well my scheme worked.

Here it is January 2007, and nine years is much too long to keep everybody in suspenders. (I crack the same Lennonism in my page on the Beatles VI album cover. If we had a Beatles.lib, you could tell me where John said it.)

For example, Katharine Lawrence wrote (July 2005):

Hello. So what IS the story of Ringo's one (occasionally) thin eyebrow? There's a big group of my family spending our annual week at the Oregon coast and the question came up, but we couldn't find an answer on the Internet (your site was the one that came the closest, but we could only find the question posed, not answered). Thanks!

I was in an expansive mood and replied: I had fun once digging out lots of pictures of Ringo throughout the years with variant eyebrows, to show my Beatle friends. I always wanted to ask him: "Ringo, tell us about your left eyebrow. I mean, what gives, old bean? In most later pictures (1969 or so) it appears thin and pointy on the nose side, almost as if shaved away. In most, but not all, early pictures (1964 or so) it's full and bushy."

Then I found the answer myself in an article called "A Day To Remember" by Irene Snidall in Beatles Book Monthly 14, September 1964:

I was invited by a local reporter, Sue, to accompany her ... to the first house show at Sheffield City Hall (May 25 1963) and then during the interval between houses we were to meet the Beatles...

I stayed and chatted with each in turn: sat on the sofa with Ringo while he tried hard to convince me that the small patch of hair above his ear really was going grey ("My eyebrow is too, but it's not noticed 'cos it's blacked-out with pencil for on-stage.")

(Notice Irene's skepticism; she's reporting truth, but doesn't know she is!)

Since then, I've seen the subject mentioned at least one other place, in an old paperback called The Beatle Book which seems to be almost completely made up. ("After the death of his mother, John went to live with his Aunt Mimi." "The drummer who joined them was ... Stuart Sutcliffe.") But in the chapter devoted to Ringo they say:

He is the only Beatle with gray streaks in his mop. In case you're wondering, this is natural gray; he doesn't touch it up to make it look that way. He even has gray streaks in one of his eyebrows, the right.

Not bad, even though they do get the wrong eyebrow.


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