Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Let Me Take You Down: Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever

Let Me Take You Down is part history, part memoir, and a cultural context of the Beatles by Jonathan Cott. Released 30th April 2024 by The University of Minnesota Press, it's 152 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. 

The author is one of the few living writers who are still placed to have actually *lived* during the time and who interviewed the principal players during the time period he writes about. He writes eloquently in the introduction about literally being stopped in his tracks (on the way to deliver a term paper on Chaucer to a professor) the first time he heard Penny Lane. It gives the book an authenticity which engages and informs. 

The book's peppered with photos and facsimiles in black and white which add a lot. For example, the author's own copy of the 45 RPM recording of Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields which he purchased 13th Feb 1967 features in the book, which he apparently still owns. The Beatles were, and are, iconic, titans of modern music and indelibly woven into the 20th century. 

It's split into two dichotomous parts. The first is a straight history/memoir of the time around the writing and recording of the two songs amidst which sea changes were happening inside the Beatles, from a touring band to becoming mostly a studio entity. (Having seen many hours of videos of the fans and the life they led, it must have been absolutely traumatic and often equally elating and terrifying). 

The second part of the book is 5 conversations/interviews with Bill Frisell, Jonathan Rose, Margaret Klenck, Richard Gere, and Laurie Anderson. It's striking how well the author draws out these utterly disparate creative people and shows the similarities of experience which we share as humans. There are a number of moments in the book which are quite profound and both hopeful and wistful (especially given the current climate in the world).

Four stars. A short but quite powerful read. It would be a good choice for public library acquisition, home use, and for music and culture fans.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.  

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