President John F. Kennedy did not live to see the Beatles, of Britain, become the biggest band in America.
He was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, about two-and-a-half months before John, Paul, George and Ringo made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Yet President Kennedy had a profound influence on the success of the Beatles in the United States, a professional scholar of the band, Aaron Krerowicz, says. The relationship between JFK and the subsequent Beatlemania that barreled through American life faster than a ’63 Chevy Corvette in the months following the president’s death is the subject of a multimedia presentation that Krerowicz is giving at the Brentwood Library on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 6:30 p.m.
Krerowicz had always been a little bit skeptical about claims of a causal link between JFK’s assassination and the Beatles’ popularity in the states. The argument, which had been made by other scholars, went something like this: after JFK died, the nation entered a state of mourning that made people experience the Beatles arrival in America like a cathartic blast of soul-healing joy. In February 1964, the Beatles were not just a band—they were a national anti-depressant.
As he began to delve more into Kennedy’s life, however, Krerowicz began to sense some validity to the contours of the argument, if not its specifics. JFK, he believed, did play a role in the Beatles’ runaway fame in America, just not in the way that others had posited.
“Kennedy appealed to young people in a way no prior U.S. president had,” Krerowicz says. When the Beatles came along, they “tapped into the same market that Kennedy had connected with.”
In that context, both Kennedy and the Beatles presented attractive, refreshing alternatives to the establishment status quo. Kennedy, you could say, was to Richard Nixon in 1960, as the Beatles in 1964 were to Lawrence Welk.
“What they represented was, indeed, very similar: that rejuvenation of American life and culture,” Krerowicz says.
Krerowicz comes to the Beatles from a different place than many of the band’s scholars and chroniclers. At 31, he is a generation removed from the fans who gathered around their black and white consoles to watch the Beatles shake their mops on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Due largely to his father, though, Krerowicz has been a huge fan of the group his entire life.
“I can’t remember a time where I didn’t know and love this music,” he says.
That love only deepened as Krerowicz became more immersed in the study of music theory at the college and post-graduate level. As of now he has eight years of collegiate-level music training under his belt, including time Krerowicz spent studying the Beatles as part of a special research grant he received in 2011.
His advanced training in classical music, and his own penchant for musical composition, led him to a greater appreciation of the richness and complexity of the Beatles’ oeuvre.
“They’ll often break the rules that Mozart used simply because it sounds good to them,” he says admiringly.
In fact, most of Krerowicz’s work has revolved around a musical analysis of the Beatles … looking in detail at chord progressions, rhythm, that sort of thing. The presentation he is going to give at the Brentwood Library is a little different for him in the sense that it is a historical and political analysis rather than a technical deconstruction of the band. He’ll still have plenty of video and audio clips to share with the audience, though.
This presentation is one of 28 separate Beatles-related programs that Krerowicz has prepared since he began speaking to the public about the band in 2012. As of the summer of 2015, these presentations have been his full time job. Last year, he said he presented 151 programs in over 20 states, racking up 24,000 miles on his car in the process.
Those travels inspired one of the four books he has written about the Beatles: “Days in the Life,” a travelogue of his public speaking journeys co-authored by his dad.
The cross-generational appeal that led Krerowicz from being a kid listening to his dad’s Beatles albums, to a professional, roving Beatles scholar is one of the most profound things about the band. There are, after all, tons of bands from the ‘60s that were good, or even great, but who don’t occupy nearly the same space in the cultural imagination as the Beatles do.
Krerowicz thinks he knows why that is, and the answer is simple.
“I think the single biggest reason is their music,” he says. “Their music is head and shoulders above their contemporaries. Their music is more musically sophisticated then their contemporaries.” To Krerowicz, that means there is always more to discover about the music, always new depths for new generation to plumb in their exploration of it.
If you’re still unsure of what guy who’d have to have a memory transplant to recall the peace and love era could teach you about the Beatles, Krerowicz has some words of reassurance.
“I’m 31 years old and everyone is skeptical of a 30-something Beatles expert … at the start of my presentation. But usually by the end of them they’re convinced I know what I’m talking about,” he says.
You can register for Krerowicz’s presentation, “From the Shadow of JFK: The Rise of Beatlemania in America,” on the Brentwood Library’s site. Limited space is still available. The program is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. in Meeting Room A and last approximately an hour.
To learn more about Krerowicz and his work, visit his website. There, you can sign up for Krerowicz’s monthly newsletter, find a series of analytical videos Krerowicz has made called “The Beatles Minute,” see a list of his upcoming speaking dates, and more.