Candy Leonard holds a master’s degree in psychology and a doctorate in sociology. Driven by a lifelong passion for the Beatles, she recently published Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World on how young Americans experienced Beatlemania in the Sixties.
You said on your website, I quote: « The relationship between the fans and the Beatles was historically unique.” How so?
When the Beatles came along, they grabbed the attention of young Americans in a way that nobody ever had before, and with each record they became more and more important in the personal and social lives of teenagers. They became an essential part of our lives as they helped us navigate the challenges of growing up. So it was devastating when they broke up!
To what extent do you think the Beatles had an impact on the daily life of American teenagers and influenced their position on their country’s involvement in the Vietnam War for example?
On a day to day basis, the Beatles got young people thinking about things in a new way. For example, “Nowhere Man” was almost like a challenge to the baby boomers to be engaged in the world and develop their own opinion. The generation gap widened during the Sixties and by 1966, young people started using recreational drugs and protesting the war, in part because the Beatles were protesting the war. Even if you did not really understand what it was all about, you knew the Beatles were against it so you were against it.
Do you think the Beatles influenced young teenagers to take drugs?
People do not like to talk about that, but I do think it is true. It became obvious the Beatles were using drugs after Sergeant Pepper came out in 1967. Later the interview they gave to Life magazine was basically explaining the virtues of LSD and got parents very upset. I would not quite say fans started using drugs because of the Beatles, but they were at the cutting edge of the counterculture and as role models, so they had more influence.
Do you think the Beatles contributed to change the relationship young people had with their parents and adults in general?
Oh absolutely! The Beatles represented youth empowerment, and the World War Two generation did not really like that. They did not really like their hair for example, because they saw it as a violation of gender norms in a society that was very much about conformity. The worse thing for a parent at the time was to have a kid who was a non-conformist because it made you look like a bad parent.
Would you say the Beatles phenomenon contributed to the boom of the teenage movement in the United States?
Yes, absolutely! There was already a criticism of the post-war society with the Beat culture in the Fifties, but it did not involve many people. The Beatles unleashed a huge youth movement in the Sixties mostly because they had the attention of an extremely large demographic, and by 1967, many young people began to identify with this way of being in the world which was all about self-expression and freedom from authority. Teenagers started to criticize the World War Two generation for priding itself on saving democracy while their power was incredibly restricted and African Americans and women were mistreated.
Do you think the Beatles would have had the impact they had if let’s say John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated?
I think the Beatles would still have been a very large important cultural phenomenon even if Kennedy had not been assassinated, but I think it added a little extra enthusiasm. There was a sense the Beatles replaced Kennedy with their youthfulness and charismatic demeanour. They brought a new “New Frontier” and increased the focus on youth Kennedy had started with the Peace Corp etc.
Would you say boys and girls enjoyed the Beatles in a different way?
I think that girls loved the Beatles’ music, but they could not identify with them the way boys could. While they were able to emulate the Beatles and play guitar, girls were reading teen magazines that focused on the Beatles’ wives and girlfriends. It was not until the Seventies that you started to see girls playing rock and roll.
In a more general way, how would you explain the craziness that went along with rock and roll?
Teenagers have always been interested in pop music and were listening to people like Frank Sinatra in the Forties. It is true Elvis was an innovator who certainly paved the way for the Beatles, but when he was on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, he was seen by, I think, only 54 million people as not everybody had a television set at that time. But when the Beatles appeared on the show in 1964, pretty much every house had a television so they were seen by more people and immediately became a bigger deal.
How would you describe what you call “Beatleness?”
There is no word to describe the Beatles’ impact, so I kind of coined this term to describe this feeling. You know, the Beatles are everywhere today. There are costumes, colouring books, all these little artefacts in the world that speak of the impact of the Beatles. This is an aspect of “Beatleness.”
Would you have any personal stories related to the Beatles that you’d like to share, like how you came across them, for example?
I saw them on television in 1964 and I was blown away. I have a master’s degree in psychology and a PhD in sociology, but I was always interested in the Beatles phenomenon. Even as a little girl, I had a sense that I was living something very extraordinary, and I thought someday I would study and write about the Beatles, and that is what I did.