It's Real Life: An Alternate History Of The Beatles - A Short Story And Radio Play By Paul Levinson (2022)

In 2005, novelist, playwright and rock musician, Larry Kirwan - best known as the leader of New York City's renowned Celtic-rock band, Black 47 - used his vivid imagination to write Liverpool Fantasy, a novel about what could have happened to each of the four Beatles if they hadn't hit the big time. Turns out, it wasn't necessarily fab.

In 2010, I wrote a blog post about the night The Beatles played a reunion concert at Wembley Stadium to celebrate the 70th birthdays of John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Like Kirwan's excellent piece of fiction, my blog post flew in from another world because two very sad events of many years ago - the deaths of both Lennon and George Harrison - have prevented that wonderful evening from ever taking place.

There must be something in the atmosphere that makes people think about the four rock icons differently than how they actually lived their lives because alternate reality has visited another Beatles fanatic. Paul Levinson, a communication and media studies professor at Fordham University - who is also a musician, novelist, and songwriter - has published It's Real Life, a truly inspired short story involving the band; Fordham University's legendary New York radio station, WFUV; and the late DJ Pete Fornatale.

Levinson published his short story on the web, and it has also been adapted into an online radio play that is reminiscent of the dramas people listened to on their AM radios before the days of television.

The story takes place on July 4, 1996 as Fornatale is nearing the end of his radio show on WFUV. He's playing a Beatles' song - George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" - from their 1974 LP, Band On the Run. He has an ominous feeling that something isn't right about The Beatles other than the recent stories circulating that they're going to break up in the near future.

After the show, Fornatale takes a long walk through the maze of tunnels Fordham built under their campus many years ago to protect students from the weather. He hopes the walk will remove the dark thoughts gnawing at his brain.

The tunnel has a lot of doors. Eventually, Fornatale exits through a different door than he has used in the past and winds up on the opposite end of campus. There, he boards a train to keep an important business appointment in midtown Manhattan with the local PBS station who wants him to host a retrospective on The Beach Boys. After he arrives at Grand Central Station he finds himself in another world where he talks to a trio of girl buskers singing Beatles songs.

Fornatale gives the singers "who look like the Bangles but sing like The Beatles" a ten dollar bill that has the face of Ronald Reagan on it, and one of them gives the radio man a look because she knows Alexander Hamilton is on that denomination. They ask him when the picture on the bill changed and question its legitimacy. However, because he also gave them a five dollar bill a few minutes earlier that they know is real, the young women continue conversing with him.

The protagonist quickly discovers the girls' knowledge of Beatles history is far different than the one he knows. Instead of the impending breakup he is told the Liverpool quartet actually disbanded in 1970 and that tragedy struck the band in December 1980. Of course, Fornatale is astonished and quite disturbed at this revelation, so he visits the reference section at a nearby Barnes and Noble to verify the stunning and upsetting news he just learned. In the process he also discovered Paul McCartney's post-Beatles group, Wings, and George Harrison's supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys.

Fornatale is confused. Did the Big Apple radio icon discover the truth after he disembarked from the train? Which reality is the correct one? Does he even get an answer to that question? Does it even matter? To find out, you'll have to read the complete story here or listen to the radio adaption posted at Killerwatt.

Levinson's It's Real Life is totally original, fascinating and a lot of fun. It won the 2023 Mary Shelley Award for Outstanding Fictional Work for both short story and radio play.