About two weeks ago, on September 1, Nicholas Callaway, founder and CEO of Callaway Arts and Entertainment, was to finally get to publish the book of his dreams: The Beatles: Get Back, which was to be published in conjunction with Walt Disney Studio’s release of Peter Jackson’s documentary of the same name. But it became a dream deferred yet again because of pandemic pandemonium. Callaway has to wait another year. On August 31, 2021, the book will at last be published on the same day that Disney will release the film that chronicles the making of the group’s last album, Let It Be, in theaters in North America. Streaming and a global release will follow, but that timetable is yet to be determined.
The seed for a Beatles project was planted on August 14, 1965 when a pre-teen Callaway found himself in the Ed Sullivan theater to witness live the Beatles third of four appearances on the variety show. The young Nick became one of the luckiest kids in America because his father was president of the textile company Burlington Industries, which was the sponsor for the show. Since that magical experience, Callaway has been “a life-long crazy Beatles fan.” The band, he says, “is the great touchstone for me of the role of art and communicating positive messages in this world, forming the essence of what creativity can be.”
Fast-forward to 20 years ago when The Beatles Anthology—the last authorized book by the Beatles was published. That cross platform project, which included a video series and six CDs, was produced under the auspices of Apple Corps Ltd., the organization that controls all aspects of the Beatles’ intellectual property and legacy going back to 1968. Callaway wanted that book badly but lost out to Chronicle. The $60 book sold two million copies worldwide with approximately 800,000 of those sold by Chronicle.
“Ever since then,” Callaway says, “I’ve been knocking on their [Apple Corps] door, and we are very honored to be their publisher.” Callaway acquired the rights for the U.S., Canada and the U.K., and negotiated with Apple Corps to have his long-time international representative, Andrew Wylie, broker translation rights.
At the center of the multi-dimensional project is Peter Jackson, the Oscar-winning filmmaker of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, which he created using 100-year-old footage. The upcoming Beatles film was compiled from over 55 hours of unseen footage of the making of Let it Be, filmed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg in 1969, and 140 hours of mostly unheard audio recordings from the album sessions.
According to Callaway, the deep dive into the archives was an epiphany for Jackson because the story the world knows about the making of the final album and the subsequent rancorous break-up of the Beatles isn’t accurate. “It’s a joyous story,” Callaway says. “It’s a very happy story about four geniuses gathering together in complete creative collaboration and making one last hurrah after changing the world through their music.”
Let It Be was recorded in 1969-1970 at three major sessions and released in May, 1970 against a backdrop of a tumultuous world rife with political upheaval, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam war. In contrast, the album offered songs of love, peace and hope such as Across the Universe and the titular Let it Be. Fifty years later, the re-released album, the film and the book will also land against a global landscape of great uncertainty. “We think it’s uncanny that 50 years later,” Callaway says, “we have this opportunity through the books, the film and the re-release of the album to re-introduce this great creative achievement at a time when the world is maybe turned even more upside down.”
The book, described by Callaway as “fly on the wall view” of the making of their last album, features an introduction by Jackson and a foreword by Hanif Kureishi, a British novelist (The Buddha of Suburbia) and screenwriter (My Beautiful Laundrette). Kureishi’s essay places the book, the album and the film in the cultural context of Britain in the 1960’s from his perspective as an immigrant of Pakistani descent.
The 240-page book’s principal text is from the raw, running transcripts that have been edited by journalist, writer and critic John Harris who is a columnist for the Guardian. Included are 200 photos by Linda Eastman, who married Paul McCartney shortly thereafter, and a young photographer, Ethan Russell, who “lucked out,” as Callaway says by being in the right place at the right time. Also between these pages—printed on what Callaway calls “the most beautiful uncoated paper ever made,” Mohawk Superfine, are stills of the restored film footage that, he says, exemplifies the press’s commitment to combining advanced technology and book craftsmanship.
While the complete promotional campaign is still in the works, Callaway can confirm that the book, priced at $60, will be made available to all publishing channels. Exclusively for independent bookstores, Callaway will host a window display contest over next Labor Day weekend.
“We are going to give it our all,” Callaway says. “It’s a great project and we hope to make the world a little happier.”