What would Jimi Hendrix be doing now if he hadn’t died in 1970? Would he have moved in a jazz direction and turned his back on mainstream rock? How about Jim Morrison? Abandoned music to become an expatriate poet in Paris? What about Janis Joplin? Nick Drake? Kurt Cobain?
Speculative music journalism is a small, but interesting, genre that posits fictional stories and theories that attempt to answer similar questions to the above. Writer Charlie Bermant has self-published a slim, humorously speculative volume called Imagine There’s No Beatles. Presented as a collection of imagined news articles, the book puts forth the scenario that the Fab Four died in a boat explosion while on tour in The Philippines in 1966. In a series of faux clippings from The Associated Press, Variety, 16 Magazine, Rolling Stone, Time and others, the short-term legacy of the band is played out with the posthumous release of the recordings which would have comprised Revolver.
Bermant does a good job outfitting each piece in the style of the publication it’s purportedly from, as well as using key historical figures in an authentic way to contextualize and flesh-out the “reportage”.
In this alternate history, the resulting events from the Beatles’ premature deaths include Beatles manager Brian Epstein taking on a managerial role with the Bee Gees. Roger McGuinn is ousted from the Byrds partly because he wants to record an album of all Beatles songs in tribute, which leaves David Crosby in control. In the fictional Rolling Stone article Crosby says “People were looking to us for answers, to pick up where the Beatles left off. We started playing a few Beatles songs onstage just out of respect, but pretty soon that’s all some people wanted to hear.” McGuinn hooks up with Brian Wilson, who has left the Beach Boys to pursue new music. In a clever barb aimed at the current Beach Boys, the fictional journalist writes: “Brian’s agreement with the Beach Boys doesn’t allow them to record new music but he doesn’t think that’ll be a problem. ‘I know those guys,’ he said. ‘They’ll be happy if they can play those same songs, over and over, forever.’”
I don’t want to give away all the hypothetical history, but suffice to say the Bee Gees become the world’s surrogate Beatles before breaking up in 1969. Fictional Peter Frampton in a 1969 Melody Maker article: “After being together all their lives they were turning into different people and it was starting to make the music more interesting. But Barry brought Yoko to the studio and she started making suggestions and Robin freaked.”
Hmmm…a world without “Stayin’ Alive”…maybe a good thing?