by Louis R. Carlozo

Louis R. CarlozoWhen I wasn’t spilling cappuccino on my jeans while running to class or trying to impress girls by reciting passages by John Keats, my time at Rutgers in the 1980s allowed me to knit my passions for words and music into a self-styled whole. As an English major, I not only set my life’s course on becoming a writer, I also became a huge Beatles fan.

My Shakespeare professor, John Timpane, told me something I have never forgotten: that Shakespeare was akin to an Elizabethan age Beatle, an artist who could somehow please the public’s tastes and craft groundbreaking art at the same time.   

So it marked a throwback of yeah-yeah-yeah proportions when I accepted an invitation, this March, to examine some lyric manuscripts by The Beatles, housed at Northwestern University’s Music Library in Evanston, Illinois, which had been obtained in the early 1970s from composer and musician John Cage, as part of his collection of 400 music manuscripts.

I went officially as a Chicago Tribune features writer on assignment, but unofficially as a Beatles fan hoping to see history up close. Never did I suspect that I would get to make a little bit of history as well. I immediately noticed that the collection included a specimen that any Fab Four fan would consider a prize: Paul McCartney’s draft of “For No One” (from the 1966 Revolver album) scrawled on an envelope, containing two missing choruses and a few unpublished verses. The draft of “For No One” reveals that McCartney first called the song “Why Did It Die?” He also finished a pair of choruses that went unused. The first chorus reads: “Why did it die? / You’d like to know. / Cry—and blame her.” And the second reads: “Why let it die / I’d like to know / Try—to save it.” The document suggests that McCartney spent some time tinkering with these choruses before abandoning them. He wrote the middle lines to both choruses in black ink that appears nowhere else on the paper. He scribbled the verses, most of which made the final cut, in pencil.

Given the chance to hold McCartney’s manuscript in my hands for a photo op, I found myself shaking. I’ve been a musician and songwriter my entire adult life, and to me The Beatles represent the gold standard by which all other popular music is measured. Holding those lyrics may be as close as I’ll ever get to them.

As a writer—a person ever in quest of connections, metaphors, and parallels—I couldn’t help but think back to my days by the banks of the Raritan, to that other Beatles moment. Back then, studying The Beatles as closely as William Wordsworth and Nathaniel Hawthorne didn’t seem like such a stretch.

Yet there is more: my teachers in the English department—Timpane, Susan Wolfson, Elaine Showalter, Alan Nadel, Susan Dannenbaum, and William Keach—made literature and creative writing ring out like music of the spheres to me. In leading me to writers who found their own voices, those rock stars of the classroom helped me begin the quest to find my own voice. And I began to sing.