51 years after the Beatles played the Indianapolis State Fair
on September 3rd, 1964 and 46 years after the Beatles were photographed crossing Abbey Road in Northwest London, America's self-proclaimed first and only full-time Beatles scholar, Aaron Krerowicz, has returned to live right here in Indiana, our very own Crossroads of America.
Winter Solstice in Indianapolis: I trample rainy streets and brave unseasonably warm temperatures in Broad Ripple to talk with Krerowicz at Yats – and to dine while dishing on the Fab Four. Krerowicz stands 6'4", so I easily spot him in the crowd. He order, we found a table and promptly agree Yats ranks high on the favorite cuisine list. He devoured chili cheese etouffee with extra bread. (Smart man.)
Born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Krerowicz deftly exited at 18 for the wilds of Indianapolis to attend Butler University for a degree in Music Theory and Composition, then headed east to Massachusetts and Connecticut for graduate degrees in Music Composition.
He decided to use that education and leave all part-time jobs behind to hit the lecture circuit full-time for his passion. He has three self-published books: The Beatles & The Avant-Garde, From the Shadow of JFK: The Rise of Beatlemania in America
and The Beatles: Band of the Sixties;
moreover, he has a Zionsville lecture scheduled for February 1 entitled "The Beatles: Band of the Sixties" from 6:30 -7:30 p.m. at the Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Library.
"The lecture circuit is rigorous, but I'm not complaining. My series of part-time jobs were fine, like piano lessons for kids, continuing education programs and seminars, but in June I decided to commit to the Beatles full-time, because that's where I'm doing original research and that's why I'm completely dedicated to it," he said and continued, "While sitting on the Blue Line train, Boston's subway, I was listening to 'I Am the Walrus' and that's when it kind of hit me: the Beatles are more than a spectacularly successful pop group. The stuff they were able to produce, no one else could have come up with that. John Lennon is the only one who could conceive 'I Am the Walrus'. So that's what made me want to study them – the why of it, as in, why is their music so good? What is it that makes the music so profound? Those were the questions I had in that moment on the Blue Line – the moment it dawned on me just how phenomenally talented these guys were."
There's confidence in Krerowicz's words and his eyes have a laser-focus that only comes with intense passion and conviction. Which makes sense – in addition to previous accomplishments, Krerowicz also recently launched a series titled "The Beatles Minute" on Youtube and his Beatles blog. But I wanted to know why Lennon, specifically – why was he the only man who could have come up with those words?
"It's pure Lennon fantasy. His word play is amazing. He often chooses words not just for their semantic meaning but also for their musical meaning. They're often called nonsense lyrics, and while true to a certain extent, the words make sense musically. In 'I Am the Walrus' he sings,
'Semolina pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower' – it doesn't mean a thing, but it sounds great and it has musical meaning which trumps any semantic meaning. Lennon had done this before, but this song was the pinnacle of this style of lyric writing. This song has Lennon's signature, his fingerprints all over it."
Krerowicz's father played a key role exposing his son to the band, recording songs from the radio directly onto cassette tapes, making his own mixes, and he'd "play them for me while in the car or on our way to the library or the grocery store," said Krerowicz. Once Krerowicz arrived at grad school, he was able to connect with the music on his own terms. Advanced education and the 2009 re-mastering and release of the Beatles catalog provided a new outlook for the future Beatles scholar, as did a research grant.
'When I won the research grant in 2011, that started me on the path I'm on now. The University of Hartford gave the university's music library funds to make purchases at my request. In the end, the order wound up being 56 books, 10 CDs, 10 DVDs, and one VHS. Prior to the requests, the library's Beatles collection stood at 10 books and 14 CDs." Krerowicz's program repertoire contains over 20 different Beatles programs and at least another 10 programs dedicated to other disciplines outside music, and included sports, science, origami and history. So why not another formative band like The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin?
"The short answer," Krerowicz said, "is the Beatles are better," and we laugh, loud enough to turn the heads of other patrons. "But really much of my career has been spent answering that very question – at my lectures I go in-depth as to why, but more to the point, they are the foremost musical innovators of their time. I have no problem putting the Fab Four on par with Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart, in that all of those musicians were the foremost musical innovators of their time. Certainly there are other innovative musicians, Bob Dylan certainly comes to mind for that title. Certainly The Rolling Stones were influential. The Who, The Monkees - both also influential. But the Beatles take it to that next level, partly due to their musical sophistication. So many people talk of their history and biography, but few mention the specifically musical level of sophistication. I was very familiar with the Beatles, but their own stylized, musical sophistication caught me by surprise, too. Only upon analyzing the music, did I start to understand why they were more than just a pop group; in fact, they're a landmark in music history."
Krerowicz continued, "One of my talks is about the influence of American rock and roll on the Beatles, and the ultimate conclusion is that the music of rock and roll itself is not terribly sophisticated – rock and roll is not a fine art. It never will be. What the Beatles did in the '60s was take the music of the '50s and elevate it to an art form. On a song like 'Yesterday', which introduced a string quartet, that's a way to take some of the respect that classical music had and graft it into a popular music context, and that ultimately brought many skeptics around. The Beatles maturation of rock and roll continued all throughout their years and that's when you get something like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, arguably one of the best albums ever released."
For Krerowicz, that maturity and sophistication could not hide the fun fact that Lennon "loved to play jokes on his audience. For example, the lyrics for 'Glass Onion' sound like they mean something but really – they don't. The words, "Here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul," this is Lennon saying read into it what you want, but it doesn't mean anything. Peel away the layers of an onion, and what do you have? There's nothing's left. Dig through all these hidden meanings all you want, but there's nothing there." (This type of overactive fan imagination culminated in the Paul is Dead hoax in 1969.)
Death hoxes are nothing new, but certainly this Beatles hoax, dated before the internet and myriad social networking sites, remains one of the most wide-spread and well-known. But this hoax (of course) is not the only reason the band remains relevant today and holds sway with new generations. Attending one of Krerowicz's lectures will shed more than a little light on those reasons. "Most people seem happy to learn something new that they didn't expect. And I love trading and sharing knowledge after the programs with people who stay and talk."
If you go:
The Beatles: Band of the Sixties
Monday, 1 February 2016, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Library, 250 N 5th St, Zionsville, IN