Liverpool Fantasy: Larry Kirwan's Alternate History Of The Beatles, Part 2, The Interview

Larry Kirwan in 1998
The two part Liverpool Fantasy series ends today, the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. This second installment is an e-mail question and answer session conducted with Larry Kirwan on June 15, 2003. Due to the passage of time a small part of the interview is dated but please don't let that stop you from taking in the many interesting things the author has to say about his novel. If you haven't already done so please read part one here so the interview will be more meaningful to you.


CR: What year was the play written?

LK: I can't remember the exact date I began the play, but it was first produced down on the Lower East Side of NYC in Summer 1986.

CR: What was the inspiration behind the original play?

LK: Reading that "John Lennon would have been a success in whatever field he entered." At first, I thought that this was true but began to doubt it when I considered the number of Lennon-types that I knew back home. Great musicians, songwriters, etc. but with some of Lennon's flaws too - brutal honesty, not great people skills, self-righteous and always sure they are right, etc. I figured that somewhere along the line - without the "smoothing" influence of McCartney - that John would have self-destructed.

CR: What made you decide to turn the play into a novel? Did you enjoy writing the book? Do you find it as rewarding as being a playwright?

LK: Well, I decided to write the book because so many people have enjoyed the play over the years in its various productions. But plays are ephemeral - they're done, and then gone. I wanted to preserve the experience in book form so that people, who might not be able to see a play production, could still share the experience.

The book was hard to write but got easier as I gained more experience. I also had the benefit of two great editors, Paul Witcover and Dan O'Connor, who worked very hard with me and gave a lot of themselves. I enjoyed it and am finding that it's follow-up, Rockin' The Bronx - a novel - is easier because of the experience of writing Liverpool Fantasy.

Well, there is a special experience that playwriting gives one - the collaboration with so many other people. That can be wonderful or exasperating, depending on the production. Novel writing has none of that magic. I always hope to be able to go back into the theatre. It's a very special place for me. Right now, I don't just have the time but...

CR: Other than the obvious differences between a stage play and a novel how do the two differ in personality, plot line, and characters?

LK: Well, I think they're closer than people think. But the essence of playwriting - to me - is cutting as many superfluous lines as possible and letting the actor take over from you. If you can delete a paragraph and get the actor to deliver it with a particular nod of the head or look in the eye, then you've succeeded. Sparseness is a virtue in playwriting.

In the novel, you are the God on the page. Everything comes from the writer and you must judge exactly what is needed. But you are acting as the eyes, ears and conscience of the reader and must provide that background. And yet, I don't find the forms as different as many people do, but I may have a facility for going between disciplines as I can summarize a play into a song too. I've done that with the song Liverpool Fantasy and with another play of mine Poetry of Stone (the song from that will eventually appear on a Black 47 CD.) Perhaps, I'm kidding myself but I seem to be able to move relatively effortlessly between different formats.

CR: I think that The Beatles fictitious alternate lives parallel very closely to how most of us think things would have really turned out for them if they did not become "The Beatles." Did some of the ideas for writing the play come from thoughts you may have had about yourself and how your life would be different if Black 47 hadn't become successful?

LK: No, but what would have happened to me if there had been no Beatles - that was a big issue. Without the Beatles, there wouldn't have been the 60s, as we know it and my life would have been irrevocably changed. I don't just know how. I always wanted to leave my small home town, Wexford, and live an adventurous life, so I would eventually have gone somewhere but the influence of the 60s/70s definitely sent me to NYC and into the life I'm leading now. I might have stayed a folk singer, but more than likely would have become a writer of some sorts. My other big influence was politics - so maybe I would have had some career in that field - but then I've always been interested in revolutionary politics so I might have had a bad ending. I was very much - and still am - into change. It would be interesting for people to write or just think about how their lives would have been different without the Beatles. It makes for great speculation.

CR: The book seems to be doing well with the critics. How is it doing commercially?

LK: It's doing really well commercially and went into its second printing this week. As regards critics, I very rarely read what they say. Of course, I would love them all to love the book to death - I'm very human - but I find that if I get nine good write-ups and one bad one - it's the bad one that stays in my head, so I very rarely look at what critics say, amazingly. You'd think by now, I'd be able to put things into perspective, but I don't seem to be able to. Still, the book seems to be selling. I think it will have strong word-of-mouth. I feel it's a people's book. It would be one that I'd find interesting, because it raises a lot of issues but doesn't preach them at you, just leaves thoughts out there for people to chew on in their own good time. I know that for a fact, because of the experiences that surfaced around the play. I wouldn't be surprised if the book brought some more productions of the play to the fore. I'm about ready for it again.

CR: What do you think of the idea of turning Liverpool Fantasy into a musical with you composing the music and Black 47 playing some or all of the music?

LK: I would think that would be disastrous and wouldn't touch it with a 40-foot pole. I commit the great conceit of writing a song for John Lennon in the play/novel. It works but I'm quitting while ahead.

CR: I believe the subject matter and the popularity of the Beatles may cause Hollywood to become very interested in the book. Would you be interested in turning it into a movie?

LK: Yes, I would be interested in that. I think it's made to be a movie. Back in 1994 I received a firm offer from Fox TV to turn the play into a "movie of the week." I was very much interested, but my manager at the time talked me out of it - said that eventually Liverpool Fantasy would become a feature movie. I was a bit bitter about the lost opportunity for some years, but perhaps he was right. You always were, weren't you, Elliot???

CR: Have any of the Beatles or anyone associated with them ever reacted to either the play or the book, or contacted you personally regarding Liverpool Fantasy?

LK: Back when the play was performed at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1987/88??? (can't remember which year) we received a telegram of congratulations from Paul. We promptly went to the pub to celebrate and show off the telegram. In our stupors, we left without the telegram. That's the only communication that we've received ever.

CR: Finally, what are your future plans? I understand that Black 47 has a new CD coming out in the fall called New York Town. Can you tell me about it?

LK: It will be delayed until January 1st. I'm still in the process of working on it - and in fact should be listening to rough mixes right now. It's pretty much done and is being mixed as we go along. All the songs deal with New York City - in all its forms and boroughs and troubles - some of the songs are post 9/11 influenced. It's really a big love letter to the City in Black 47's inimitable way - it's not in any sense sloppy and yet some of it may be very poignant. The most interesting thing - apart from the songs and the band's outstanding performance on it (I think the rhythm section work of Hammy and Andrew is the best we've ever had - the interplay between pipes and brass is also outstanding) is that we'll have a number of women vocalist guest stars on the CD. I'll keep you posted. I had the idea for this CD last Sept. 11th while sitting in the Friends Meeting House in Gramercy Park. It seemed like our city was going through great trauma at the time and I wanted to do something to say thank you for giving me a home and teaching me so much about life. Hopefully, New York Town will go a small way to repay my particular debt of gratitude.