Kessler says you Shoulda Been There

photo by Ellen Bernstein Jude Southerland Kessler's novel "Shoulda Been There." Kessler will be at Wolfgang Books on Saturday, Sept. 26 for a book signing.

Jude Southerland Kessler means serious business when she talks about The Beatles. Not because she knows all thewords to every song ever written or that she owns every iota of Beatles merchandise produced in the last half-century. Rather, Jude's passion for the British rock band has transformed into her own personal homage to celebrate one of the most acclaimed and well-known band members in world history. At almost 800 pages in length and the first of a five-part series, her debut historical novel Shoulda Been There chronicles the first 20 years of John Lennon's life by giving the reader a "fly-on-the wall" perspective that is not routinely offered in the thousands of currently published Beatles-related books on the market. Jude will be at Wolfgang Books in Phoenixville for a book signing from 2-4 pm on Sunday, September 27. Jude will be making a doing a weekend tour of the Philadel

phia area and has scheduled a visit to Wolfgang Books in Phoenixville for a book signing from 2-4 pm on Sunday, September 27.

Jude's first encounter with The Beatles occurred at a very young age, "When I was in the fourth grade, a friend of mine showed me a black and white 45 picture of The Beatles...and she said 'Look, these are The Beatles. And you have to pick one of these boys to fall in love with.'" Choosing George Harrison at first, Jude rethought her decision and ultimately picked John Lennon. Seeing the similarities in her and John, Jude was immediately drawn to his "studious nature" and qualities as a leader.

After several years of moving from place to place as an adult, Jude was looking for a way to stay busy after coming to yet another unfamiliar town. It was in 1986 that it occurred to her that her love of The Beatles might help keep her occupied. "There has never been a book written that was a scholarly, researched, factual novel in which you felt like you were really living the events that John Lennon lived and that you were there with him," Jude notes, "I wanted to give readers a book that would walk the line between a nonfiction book and what they call 'fan-fic,' which is a world of make-believe books where people imagine The Beatles in various scenarios. I wanted it to be the real thing."

What is the significance behind the title, Shoulda Been There? For readers, a first glance at the title of the book can be very misleading. "When John would tell a joke, if you didn't get it, he would just give you a little sardonic sneer and say, 'Oh yeah? Well ya shoulda been there.' And it was one of his trademark expressions. A lot of people think that it means you should have been there when The Beatles were around. This initial book is really about the important role that parents play....That little boy that never grew out of the need to have those people there who were never there."

Heavily researched and thoroughly documented, Shoulda Been There lets the reader spend the first twenty years of Lennon's life with him in Liverpool, well before The Beatles were formed and in the worldwide spotlight. It chronologically weaves through various points in his childhood, allowing the reader to get a glimpse into a life that was, at times, less than desirable.

Jude's main focus in the novel is not necessarily how The Beatles rose to stardom, but how events in John Lennon's life transformed him into such a successful artist. In what Jude calls a "landmark event," Lennon was taken from his father and abandoned by his mother as a child; these "traumatic" events would remain with him for the rest of his life.

Of the thousands of books written about The Beatles, Jude says, "All of the books tell you what John did. When you read my book, although it's extremely factual, it lets you enter John's world and live what John lived. You ride with him on the top of the Double Decker bus to get his first guitar; you go with John to live his life with him."

In order to get the most authentic story possible, Jude's project led her to Liverpool seven times over the course of 20 years. During these trips, Jude searched high and low for friends and relatives who knew him best, including Lennon's friend Bill Harry, creator of the popular 1960s magazine, Mersey Beat, who featured The Beatles at the start of their career. Harry, who spent much time talking to Jude, wrote the Foreword for Jude's book. Rod Murray, Lennon's roommate at Liverpool College of Art, also provided several intimate interviews, allowing Jude to get firsthand witness of John Lennon's life. Allan Williams, the first manager of The Beatles also provided interviews, and Jude has included one on a CD that comes with the book.

In March, 1995, Jude's writing on John Lennon was well received and provided her with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that she confidently recalls as "the best day of my life." As guests at a dinner in Liverpool at Lennon's bar across the street from the Cavern Club, Jude and her husband had the opportunity to spend time with some of the people who best knew Lennon and The Beatles, including manager Allan Williams. What resulted at the end of the meal was an unexpected scuffle between Williams and the owner of Lennon's bar over someone sitting in Jude's seat. Jude's husband then said to her, "If I told you when you were nine years old that the owner of Lennon's bar and The Beatles' first manager we're going to be fighting over you, who would have thought?"

As musicians who have transformed popular culture across the spectrum, Jude says it is easy to see why The Beatles are still relevant today. "All of the rules changed with them," she states, "They brought in the look of mod, they changed hair. Everything they did was different. You're not talking about a rock and roll band; you're talking about a group of artists in every single sense who changed the world by what they did."

For Jude, who spent five years living in the Philadelphia area, traveling to Liverpool was a similar and positive experience. Recalling fondly of both her years in Philadelphia and her numerous trips to Liverpool, the atmosphere from across the pond is very similar. "You're with funny, down to earth, witty, open, honest people."

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