Candy Leonard is a sociologist, Beatles scholar and author of Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World. She has spent years studying the effects of popular culture on human development, gender relations and family life, and is a qualitative research consultant to the healthcare and entertainment industries, with a focus on boomer issues.

The year Candy was born, Elvis Presley released his first hit record, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was published, and Soviet troops crushed rebellions in Poland and Hungary. Candy Leonard grew up in a progressive and politically engaged household in Queens, NY, and, as a precocious and inquisitive young person, witnessed the transformative events of the 1960s, including the Beatles.

After getting a BA in Communication, a master’s degree in Human Development and a doctorate in Sociology, Candy began a career in academic research, exploring the effects of media and popular culture on child development, gender relations, and family life.

On her long journey from Queens to her current home, Cambridge, MA, she has been a professor, a talk show host, a child and family advocate, and qualitative research consultant to the healthcare industry. She’s also a mother and a grandmother.

Through it all, she maintained her life-long passion for the Beatles. She is intimately familiar with their entire body of work, biography, commentary, fan culture, and has written and lectured on them from her unique social science vantage point. You were seven and a half years old when you first saw the Beatles on TV. What were your thoughts then? Do you remember? Did they seem new and odd to you? 

Candy Leonard: I remember it very vividly, even though it was 54 years ago. We had never seen people that looked like this before – everything about them was intriguing – the hair, the music, their attitude, the way they interacted with each other on stage, the way the whole culture was buzzing about them. It was all very exciting. In the days, weeks, and months that followed, the Beatles were all everyone talked about.  Really, it’s like everything changed overnight.

OMB: Did your parents enjoy the Beatles?

My parents were progressive and pretty open minded, so yes, I’d say they enjoyed them. Many fans I interviewed for Beatleness told me that their parents absolutely hated the Beatles and didn’t like that their kids has become so focused on them. In fact, parents were able to use the Beatles as a way of disciplining their kids – rewarding good behavior with Beatle things, or punishing bad behavior by taking away records or not allowing them to watch the Beatles next tv appearance.

OMB: Did your children enjoy the Beatles today or, on the contrary, find them outdated?

My kids are now 29 and 35. They both grew up listening to the Beatles and have followed the tradition with my two grandsons. There are few things that light up the heart of a first-generation Beatles fan more than knowing your grandchildren love the Beatles. My four year old grandson just had a Yellow Submarine themed birthday party!

OMB: Do teenagers today like the Beatles? Is this an interesting sociological topic to pursue?

I only looked at first-generation fans, but I have met many teens and people in their 20s and 30s who are obsessed with the Beatles. It’s pretty hard not to encounter the Beatles in some form or another, and when they start listening to the music, it’s often the beginning of a journey of learning more about them, their biographies, and about the phenomenon overall. I think one of the important contributions of Beatleness is that it allows the reader to experience the Beatles’ evolution in real time, and to get a feel for what it was like growing up in the 60s with the Beatles as a constant presence in our lives, which they were. The Beatles will endure, just as Bach and Beethoven and Shakespeare have endured. If you think about their appeal – across all age groups, nationality, culture, for close to 60 years, it’s quite amazing. There are ways in which they can be compared to other artists of the past or artists of today, but taking the phenomenon as a whole, a confluence of forces made it possible, and there will never be anything like it again. Those of us who grew up with them witnessed something extraordinary.

OMB: What Beatles album is your favorite?

My favorite album to listen to really depends on my mood. Also, the albums that US fans had were put together by Capital for the US market, and many people today do not consider them “real” albums – although they’re still the ones many US fans prefer. American Rubber Soul, for example. One of my favorites is Yesterday and Today, which came out in the summer of 1966, right before Revolver. The British Revolver is probably their best album, although Yellow Submarine, while a great song in other contexts, is, in my opinion, a flaw on that record.

OMB: Why did you pursue sociology?

I think I had what the great sociologist C. Wright Mills called a “sociological imagination,” and I think some of that had to do with being into the Beatles at a young age and seeing how mass media affects people, and how really, we’re all connected. Sociology is a way of seeing the world, and it’s a way of seeing that was almost intuitive for me.

OMB: Before releasing “Beatleness”, did you write other works/articles on the Beatles?

Beatleness was my first piece of writing about the Beatles. I knew in my twenties that I would write about them someday, though I didn’t know exactly what or when. I always had the sense that those of us who grew up with them not only witnessed a singular historical event – of six years duration – but it had a huge impact on the people we eventually became. It took a while, but the book came out in time for the 50th anniversary.

OMB: How long did it take to gather information and write “Beatleness”?

The actual interviews, research, and writing took about a year; but in some sense, I’d been thinking about it for decades.

OMB: Can you share with us the most impressive fan statements you received or impressive stories of Beatles fandom?

It would be difficult to identify the most “impressive” statements, because they touch on so many aspects of the experience.  Stories about boys getting dragged into barber shops to have their hair cut against their will, girls who were bullied out of playing an instrument because it wasn’t something girls were allowed to do in the 60s, people developing their political consciousness with the help of the Beatles, young people feeling suicidal or living in dysfunctional families finding solace in the Beatles….so many fascinating anecdotes. Their impact on the lives of first-generation fans cannot be overstated.

OMB: Do you plan to write a sequel or a new book, Beatles-related or not?

I will write another book and it will have a Beatles connection, but I haven’t narrowed it down yet. I may write a Beatles book for children. I’m also interested in the various gender-related issues that surround their story, music, and impact.

Categories: Interviews, The Beatles

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