Kenneth Womack, PhD, is a world renowned Beatles speaker, writer, and scholar who also serves as Dean and Professor of English at Monmouth University. In 2014, he published The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the group’s legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The revised, abridged version of the book is being published November 30th and will be available on Kindle for the first time. Womack took some time to speak with us about the updated book as well as forthcoming projects.
When you did you become a fan of The Beatles, and what turned you on to them?
It’s a sad, but fairly comedic story! I was in my pre-teen years in the late 1970s, and the Beatles Cartoons came on one morning, preempting my favorite breakfast show, The New Zoo Revue, of all things. I was knocked out by the band mates’ fake cartoon personalities, to be sure, but I was really blown away by their songs. It was a fairly instant connection. I never heard anything like them, and I was mesmerized!
How did the idea for The Beatles Encyclopedia come about?
I had originally planned to compose a Beatles compendium that would have been organized into two volumes: Lives and Works. I wanted it to be a go-to reference for the Beatles and solo years. My publisher countered with the idea of publishing an encyclopedia, given that it had been many years since Bill Harry published his excellent work. With that notion in mind, I knew that we were embarking upon a book that would come to encompass nearly a million words.
How did you compile all of your knowledge into the book and how long did it take to write?
In many ways, it required a lifetime of studying and thinking about the band and their achievements. As far as composition goes, though, it took around three years to compile the original two volumes.
The Beatles Encyclopedia was originally released as a large two-volume set a couple of years ago. You decided to revise it and since, Sir George Martin has passed. What else has been added or changed? Why not reissue it as a complete set again?
I have to give credit to my publisher, and to George Butler, a terrific editor and mentor, in particular. George felt that we could condense the massive original publication into a more affordable single volume, and here we are! As it happens, Sir George’s passing, along with a number of other milestones, presented the opportunity to update the encyclopedia to preserve its timeliness.
I hear you’re also working on a biography of Martin that is set to be released next year. Can you tell us about it?
My composition journey towards compiling a George Martin biography began nearly three years ago. The first volume, to be entitled Maximum Volume, will be published in August 2017 and will encompass the first 40 years of his life. Its storyline will conclude in January 1966, with George’s 40th birthday and shortly after the completion of Rubber Soul. Volume Two will follow in August 2018.
Have you met any of the members of the Beatles? Do you think they would approve your books?
I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting any of the Beatles or their immediate circle. I don’t know if they would approve of my books or find value in them. As an English professor, I have done a lot of thinking and observation regarding the odd relationship between authors/artists and their biographers/expositors. In many cases, the subject is often uncomfortable with the act of being written about; this is not surprising, given that they must always contend with the understandable tensions that exist between living their public and private selves.
You regularly speak about the band, and also write a bi-monthly column. What gives you the most joy in sharing your knowledge about the Beatles in these ways?
The Beatles’ incredible endurance owes itself to many factors, but one of them is undoubtedly the joy that they bring to the listener. I find that when speaking with audiences across the country and the world, they, too, are moved by the powerful feelings that Beatles music elicits. It is a privilege, through my work, to be a part of that joy and the pleasure that folks continue to find in their words and music.
Womack’s other Beatles-related books include Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles (2007) and The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles (2009), which was named as The Independent’s “Music Book of the Year.” His next book, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Early Years: 1926-1966), is forthcoming in 2017.