Monday, February 22, 2021

Review: 'Joy and Fear: The Beatles, Chicago, and the 1960s'

The Beatles and Chicago, Illinois, were both very hot in the sixties. The Beatles were hot because they sold tons of records and concert tickets while radicalizing pop music, fashion, and attitudes about drugs, sex, and religion. Chicago was a volatile hotbed of violence and racism. In August, 1966, white supremacists pelted Martin Luther King, Jr., with rocks and racial epithets, prompting him to make the very pointed comment, “I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.” Sixties Chicago was where the Catholic Church wielded extreme conservative power, segregation still prevailed, murder ran rampant, and the 1968 Democratic National Convention served as the site for an infamously violent clash between young protestors and the police.

John F. Lyons’s new book Joy and Fear: The Beatles, Chicago, and the 1960s looks at the Beatles phenomenon through a Chicago-centric lens and vice versa. At its most focused, it covers The Beatles’ live appearances in the city in 1964, ’65, and ’66 in minute detail; how the Chicago press covered The Beatles for good and bad; and the impressions of the band from local fans, detractors, and fellow artists. However, I kept waiting for the book’s two central topics to intersect more profoundly. Lyons does a fine job of explaining why The Beatles and Chicago were important in the sixties, but he doesn’t really show why they were particularly important to each other. The reminiscences of Chicago-based fans could have been the reminiscences of fans from anywhere. When the author discusses John Lennon’s incendiary “bigger than Jesus” comment at length, I was expecting to learn of some little known consequence when The Beatles played in Catholic-controlled Chicago shortly afterward, but there was nothing particularly noteworthy about their visit.


Joy and Fear is still a compelling read because The Beatles and 1960s Chicago are such compelling topics. And though Lyons reveals nothing new about the latter, he includes enough obscure quotations from the people who knew, loved, or hated The Beatles that the biographical material still feels fairly fresh.      

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