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Book Review: Shoulda Been There



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Shoulda Been There
by Jude Southerland Kessler

Published 1994
by OnTheRock Books
Hardcover, 795 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9799448-0-2


Shoulda been there, the first researched historical novel on the life of John Lennon, is truly extraordinary. The book, the first in a promised trilogy of Lennon novels, written by Jude Southerland Kessler, covers John's life from 1940 to 1961, and traces the events that motivated his desire to become a famous rock star and the day-by-day activities of the early Beatles.

No less an authority than Bill Harry, founder of Mersey Beat, the '60s magazine that documented the Liverpool scene of the time, says in the book's foreward that Kessler got it right.

In what Mr. Harry referred to as a "factional" approach, Kessler blends twenty years of research on Lennon with her ability to create authentic Scouse or Liverpudlian dialogue and with an incredible familiarity with the ins and outs of northern England. Jude describes events in Lennon's adolescence as if she were there, as if, as Bill Harry notes, she had been a fly on the wall during these landmark events.

In the pages of this remarkable book, you will experience the Quarry Men's first performance at The Roseberry Street Festival and The Beatles days in Hamburg, you'll walk with John into Liverpool College of Art as a freshman in 1957, and you'll stand beside John at his mother's funeral in 1958. Each moment in John's youth and teen years becomes a moment in the reader's own experience. For 795 pages, the reader is John's shadow. Each reader is John's comrade.

As vivid as these are recounted, the accounts are not fiction. Jude documented these events in over twenty years of research including 7 trips to Liverpool and an incredible number of interviews of the people who were actually there and around at the time. The book is footnoted, and Jude's end notes debate the veracity of past non-fiction research, pointing out contradictions where they exist. Beatle myths are exposed, and new truths are suggested. The book, Shoulda Been There, works to present John Lennon as he really was, not as we've imagined him to be over the last 40 years.

The novel also supplies Beatle enthusiasts with a great deal of documentary material. Jude includes the "Encyclopedia of Real Characters" which provides 125 short biographies of those closest to The Fab Four, and her "Scouse Glossary" gives a necessary insight into the language of Merseyside. There is more at work here than just an extremely good read. The book carefully balances on that tightrope between fact and fiction, plainly telling us when the author leans to one side or the other.

Capturing the essence of long-lost, half-remembered conversations is what Jude sets out to do, all while separating fact from fiction with regard to myths and legends that have been handed down for years about Lennon's youth and The Beatles' unimaginable rise. What happens, through the magic of Jude's words, is that readers come to know the younger Lennon and relive his painful childhood.

The book is an exhaustive work for the early Lennon years. It captures the imagination, but tells the truth.

Shoulda Been There. You'll feel like you were.


Review posted by Dave Haber, May, 2005


To order a copy of Shoulda Been There, send a check for $24.95 to OntheRockBooks, P.O. Box 9572, Dothan, AL 36304. Mention you read this review on The Internet Beatles Album and shipping will be free.



Featured Book Excerpt
Shoulda Been There, pages 376-378
Reprinted with permission


Friday, 6 May 1960
The Jacaranda
23 Slater Street
Liverpool 1

It was Thursday before Al had secured Tommy Moore as their drummer and Friday before they'd decided on a band name. Stu still favoured the Holly hat-tip that "The Beatals" implied, but the odd designation was ridiculed by experienced showman, Brian Casser, and influenced by Cass, Allan put his foot down. "It's fuggin' lunacy - this Silver Beatals! Give it up! Beatals is out!"

Among John, Paul, George, and Stu, there was general grumbling and a string of half-hearted suggestions that inspired no one, and while they were divided, Allan resurrected the Long John Silver tag again. This time he insisted on it.

"Look, Lennon," he raged, "I haven't time to argue about this. I've scads to do before Tuesday mornin', so listen up. It's Gerry and the Pacemakers, as I've said before, Cohn Green and the Beat Boys, Cliff Roberts and the Rockers, Bob Evans and his Five Shillings, Deny and the Seniors..."

"Cass and the Caskets," John snarled.

Allan ignored him. "To select some anonymous band name without delineating group leadership is flagrantly swimmin' upstream, and you know it! In fact, from Manchester to Doncaster - in all the fuggin' musical North - not one fuggin' name like the fuggin' Beatals has ever been heard of!"

"Right." John's nostrils flared. "Now you're catching on, son."

Paul shouldered in, standing beside John without one hint of his usual cheery disposition. "John's not a solo virtuoso 'shoo-bopped' by some insignificant chorus, y'know," Paul said. "We're all in the group, Al. It's all of us, y'know."

"It's a hand-selected band of individual players," John agreed, tactfully re-establishing his leadership without saying so.

"No one sings all the songs," George tossed in.

"Sod that!" Allan stood his ground. "It's Long John Silver and the whatever else you want to call it...or it's nothin' at all."

John stood up. "We'll not be a name and a conjunction, Al... and I won't be Long John anythin' - not for you, Parnes, or the Queen Mother herself - gig or no gig, tour or no tour, audition or the obvious fuggin' alternative!"

"Look," Allan stepped up, equally irate and stubborn, "I don't give a fuggin' rat's ass what you say, Lennon. I've no time for your shenanigans at this point." He pushed a finger in John's chest. "You're not gettin' up there in front of Billy fuggin' Fury and Larry fuggin' Parnes with some harebrained insect name spelled in some jimmied up, ludicrous fashion! It's bad enough you've never even practiced with yer bleedin' drummer yet..."

"And who exactly do we have to thank for that?" John hissed.

"...but at least you'll look legit and act legit and have a name that sounds like an honest-to-goodness musical group!"

"Gerroff, Al," John sneered. "We've work to do."

"Understand me?" Allan tried Paul first for confirmation, but Paul only shrugged and looked away. "Got it, Harrison?" George whistled and twiddled his thumbs. Only John continued to make eye contact, and his rebellious glare promised only defiance. Allan raised his voice in one final threat, "I'm tellin' you lot right here and now...don't fuggin' cross me on this! Don't come into the fuggin' Blue Angel as the bloody Silver, Bronze, Gold, or Iron Beatals, or y'er out on yer bleedin' ears before you even darken the door. Dress professionally! Don't be late! And don't bring this crap up again! You'll not give my management a bad name just because you're all too fuggin' green to know what's what in the music world!"

"And you make sure," John returned, not the least bit intimidated, "that yer fuggin' drummer shows up. You do your job, Manager...and we'll do ours."

"You'd better hope so," Allan turned to leave, "because if any of you so much as begins to embarrass me in front of Larry Parnes..."

"Out!" John pointed towards the door, dismissing Allan from his own coffee bar, and turning to George in the same breath. "One, two...one, two, three, four..."

"Bollocks to you, Lennon!" Allan mouthed while John flashed a malicious Cheshire grin and began to play. Paul smiled and waved goodbye. George gave a slight nod, then turned away.

Quickly glancing at his watch, Allan pulled his "final-final checklist" from his pocket and hurried to the street, shaking his head in disgust.

They need a fuggin' warden, not a manager, Allan swore. And John Lennon needs a zookeeper with a muzzle and a cudgel.

Al unlocked the sleek, navy blue Jaguar parked in front of The Jacaranda and piled in, his heavy cloth coat rumpling about him. He flipped on the radio and pushed the cigarette lighter in with one quick, simultaneous motion. He inhaled deeply. Holding it for a second, Al let the air out slowly with puffed cheeks. He closed his eyes.

Radio Merseyside was playing Rosemary Clooney's '56 hit, "Come Rain or Come Shine." It was a musical martini for the nerves. It soothed. Allan inhaled deeply again, and turned up the volume a notch.

Not my favourite - Rosemary Clooney, he thought, but I'll take a bit of a lullaby after that lot inside! Sing, Rosemary, sing! Work yer magic, girl!

Allan turned on the ignition and revved it three times.

Beatals! he frowned. Idiotic! Silver Beatals! Who 's ever heard of shite like that?

Adjusting his mirrors, settling into the cushy leather, and popping into gear, Allan screamed away from the curb, foot to the floor. A group of pedestrians scattered out of his way as Allan flew down the street at twice the speed limit. And another crowd jumped as he cut the corner short at Slater and Seel. Allan had been warned several times about aggressive driving on the M-6, but no one, he reasoned, could fault him for this. Having to wrangle with the Silver Beatals was, in his opinion, adequate justification for a little vehicular recklessness.

"In fact," he snarled to his reflection in the rear view mirror, "it's far and away the perfect excuse for just about any crime."

All events are actual, including the make and colour of Allan's car (which, by the way, he lost the license to drive a year or so later...you can read the story in The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away. Priceless!) All conversation is conjecture.


Excerpt Copyright © 1994, Jude Southerland Kessler



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