Broadcaster and aspiring author, Gregory Alexander talks about his nearly 20 years teaching WXRT listeners about The Beatles as "Professor Moptop," the Kickstarter effort to self-publish his new Textbook Beatle Project, and what exactly it is that allows The Beatles to remain a relevant influence on contemporary music almost 50 years after their breakup. Professor Moptop hosts a screening and analysis of the 1965 Beatles film Help! Saturday at noon at the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage...
By today's standards, twenty years in radio broadcasting is the equivalent of a lifetime spent in most other industries. To be even more specific, eighteen years spent at the same radio station is just about unheard of. But, as morning man Lin Brehmer gears up for a 25th anniversary celebration, WXRT is a virtual anomaly where eighteen years raises nary an eyebrow.
Beginning, as so many careers at XRT do, with an internship at the station in 1997, "Captain" Greg Alexander began a stay at "Chicago's Finest Rock," that found it's way on-air in 1999 as a vocal contributor to Terri Hemmert's annual Fab Four showcase, "Rampant Beatlemania." Hemmert, in her 44th year at the station, has hosted the weekly "Breakfast With The Beatles" program, to which Alexander also contributes, Sunday mornings since 2002.
In an era where the internet reigns supreme, XRT has managed to maintain its audience relationship via an engaging give and take between informed disc jockeys and a hungry audience - both in constant search of new music and an ever increasing depth of knowledge about the artists they love.
That relationship is rare today on the radio dial. But it's one that suits a persona like Professor Moptop well. As the teacher in residence, Alexander, alongside National Radio Hall of Famer Hemmert, calls class to session every Sunday morning at 93.1FM, guiding listeners through a "Fab" based curriculum.
Adapting his on-air lessons for the printed page would seem to be a no-brainer... Though moving forward with such a lesson plan carries with it a number of expenses. There's incorporating - which means hiring lawyers - as well as expenses ensuring proper design, photography, editing, layout and more (all of which is paid for before a single book is ever printed - let alone sold).
As the music and broadcast industries he's a part of on the radio continue to change, so too do the writing and publishing worlds he's about to enter. All of which makes self-publishing a more viable option than ever before.
In the midst of a Kickstarter campaign that runs through February 13th, Gregory Alexander is hoping to fund all of the above and self-publish the Textbook Beatle Project via Amazon in both physical and online editions.
Teaming with friends, broadcasters, graphic designers and more, Alexander has developed a number of incentive based contribution platforms to fund his foray into self-publishing at a level accessible for any donor. Any contribution of $1 or more garners a diploma from "Beatle University". Signed books, Moptop curated mix CDs, personal appearances, artwork, "vinyl" and more are also available.
Touring in support of his Kickstarter, Professor Moptop will host a screening and critical analysis of the 1965 Beatles film Help! Saturday afternoon at the College of DuPage. I spoke with Gregory Alexander about his eighteen years educating Beatle fans on the radio as Professor Moptop, the level of difficulty involved in translating that material to a book that targets Beatle fans K through 8, utilizing Kickstarter and the lasting relevance of both the Help! album and film as he gears up for Saturday's screening.
An edited transcript of our conversation follows below. Check back for part two which will run here next week.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I worked with Greg Alexander between 2001 and 2008 as a producer at WXRT on the aforementioned "Rampant Beatlemania" broadcasts)
Q. How did you wind up getting started at WXRT and how long have you taught about The Beatles under the guise of “Professor Moptop?”
Gregory Alexander (Professor Moptop): I was going to Columbia College from 1996 through 1998. So it would’ve been in ’97 when I was first interning [at WXRT]. January of 1997 would’ve been the first time that I interned with Terri Hemmert for "Rampant Beatlemania Sunday." Then the following year I did a little bit more. Then I graduated and moved but would still come back every year to do the annual ["Rampant Beatlemania"] event.
Through that, [Terri and I] started discussing [a bigger role]. We thought about [the concept of] teaching college level Beatle facts. Then my longhair became “Moptop.” College and professor quite quickly all fell together and… Professor Moptop! We didn’t really put much thought into it.
The first Professor Moptop bit was in 1999. January of ’99 (I actually still have the carts. I need to get them transferred to digital. So that’s one of my projects I’ll be doing shortly).
The first couple [Professor Moptop segments] were about a minute or so long. Once we started doing it on a weekly basis – when “Breakfast With the Beatles” became a weekly show [moving from WCKG to WXRT in 2002] – I would do one [segment per] week. And I have [ever] since then – with the exception of one week (it was icy).
Q. The Professor Moptop character is one that lends itself well to the idea of the Beatles textbook that you’ve written. What was your goal upon starting those segments in 1999, what does it entail now and how has it kind of changed or grown along the way over the course of the last eighteen years?
PM: There’s always the little interesting facts about any subject. The Beatles have tons of them. Nobody knows all of them. I don’t know all of them. The other day, someone said, “He knows everything about the Beatles!” and I had to correct him. I never want to know everything! I always want to find something new or discover a new wrinkle.
[The goal was] to present some of the cooler facts. One of the first [Professor Moptop segments] was “Strawberry Fields Forever.” There’s a really cool edit [in that song]. They sped up the tape at one point and slowed it down at another. When you point that edit out and people hear it – and then immediately hear the song and listen for it – it’s like, “Oh, interesting! This is a totally new thing I never knew about this song!”
So, as I had more time to do more stuff and get into more depth with The Beatles, I kept looking for more and more deeper and deeper facts that I could piece together in lessons [and teach listeners in the guise of Professor Moptop].
There was a series I did on some of the great days in Beatle history. Another one is all of the Ringo Starr songs. I did a lesson on the songs they covered by other artists. And so on with many different subjects.
Q. Obviously, there is a lot of Beatles material out there. And what sets your Textbook Beatle Project apart, in addition to the way you’re presenting that material in “textbook” form, is the fact that you’re focusing very specifically on one period of Beatle history…
PM: From the day that John Lennon and Paul McCartney met, which was in July of 1957, until the end of 1964 (which is the release of Beatles For Sale, which was their fourth full length album).
A Hard Day’s Night was out in 1964. 1963 was their first single. 1962 they were starting to become stars with “Beatlemania.” And before that it was how they formed and became The Beatles.
Q. Why is that such a critical time not only for the band but for music in general?
PM: For music in general, during that period of time, American rock and roll really started to decline – and quickly. Music in Britain became much more important – and youth oriented – about ten years behind the baby boom of the United States.
From the time John and Paul met, which I call the dawn of time, until the end of 1964, they never really stopped working. There were some periods of inactivity, and they got a little bit bored, but they were really focused on becoming better musicians and being Beatles. Then they got George Harrison in the band and Brian Epstein joined the fold – they constantly worked harder and harder to become a bigger band.
When you see these facts all lined up, it really illustrates just how dedicated they were to becoming as good as they were. It wasn’t by any means luck. It took a long time and hard work (which obviously paid off).
Q. Covering such a specific period of time obviously leaves a lot more material. Is the goal here to turn the Textbook Beatle Project into a series?
PM: Ideally, I think there’s going to be five which will cover the dawn of time to the breakup.
The next volume would be 1965 and 1966 which would cover Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver. Musically, there’s a lot more to write about.
The Beatles wrote a lot of songs during this first volume, before 1964 ended, but [moving forward] the recording techniques are much more involved. So the next books won’t be as based on history as much as they will be technically and musically.
But obviously you can’t have a second book until you get the first book.
Q. Your Kickstarter campaign is all or nothing. You've set a monetary goal that you need to reach or you lose what you've raised. What does the Kickstarter money help you accomplish?
PM: Basically, for the first book it’s considerably more expensive [for me as an author] than it would be for the rest of them.
What I’m trying to raise is right around $4,500 – which will hire me a lawyer and set up a company (an official, bonded company). I have to pay an indexer, an editor, a layout artist, a couple of photography people and a couple of designers.
Once the book is all ready, we send it to Amazon who, basically, prints them at wholesale for us. Once we have [the books], people can either buy the physical copy from Amazon or get them through us.
There will also be an electronic version of some sort. So people won’t even have to buy a paper book.
Q. For this Kickstarter project, you’ve worked with graphic artists, amongst others, to put together some cool contribution incentives. What was that collaborative process like?
PM: It’s really a lot of fun. Steve Gibson is one of the graphic artists. He designed the 45 label that we made as well as the stickers and Moptop poster. We threw a lot of ideas back and forth. He put stuff on the blackboard and I said, “How about this?” There’s the “Professor Moptop teaching a class” print that he made.
Terri Hemmert has also been really, really helpful along the way – mentioning it each week [on the air] and bragging that I used to be one of her students (and that one of her students has written a Beatle book). She’s very proud of that.
But everybody [who contributes to the Kickstarter] gets a diploma. Even if you donate a buck. It’s a Beatle University diploma. It’ll look great in a frame. It’s fun! I’ll autograph it, slap some stickers on it.
[Another Kickstarter incentive is that] you can get a mix CD made by me. That’s the best thing that I do on this planet is make great mix CDs.
I could also host a party. I think I said 247 miles. I’ll pack up my books, come to your house and teach a lesson. You can have as many people over as you can fit in the house. You can make it a party (it’s not really school)! You can serve drinks, have a barbecue… We’ll figure out a day and make it happen. If you’re outside the range, we can Skype it too.
It’ll be very cool to see this project come to a head.
Q. This coming Saturday, February 4th, you'll be hosting an event at the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage. What can Beatles fans expect at that event?
PM: At the College of DuPage, I’m going to discuss the movie Help! and the recording sessions for it (some of the more interesting things about it). And then, after that, we’re going to watch the movie.
That’s a really fun event. Getting together and talking Beatles with a lot of people, and then just relaxing and enjoying the product of The Beatles, is just a really good combination.
I’ll also have the Steve Gibson print and a couple of the [decorative Professor Moptop] 45s [on display that are available via the Kickstarter so people can see those].
Q. In terms of the film Help!, do you have a favorite moment or is there a particular takeaway, from either the album or the film, that you want to give people?
PM: Just how rapidly the Beatles progressed. Because 1964 to 1966 really isn’t that [long of a period] of time.
But they did songs like “Can’t Buy Me Love” right in the middle of 1964 and within a couple of years they were doing “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Revolver type music.
Right in the middle of that, the Help! album shows them really progressing really quickly – using new instruments, writing in different styles, taking more influence from other contemporaries. George Harrison started getting in on the writing act. And it still has that Beatle quality.
So it’s a really fun period.
There’s also some cool outtakes from the sessions that people may or may not know about. They’re always under-covered or under-explained. Those are always fun to discuss with people.
Q. I interview a lot of artists and, without fail, the single biggest influence that I repeatedly hear name checked is The Beatles. What is it about that band that remains so relevant and so influential on so much different music after all these years?
PM: That’s an impossible question to answer. A very, very simple answer to an extremely complex question: it was just the perfect storm.
All the right elements came together at the right time. From Buddy Holly dying to Elvis Presley going into the army to Little Richard quitting rock and roll and becoming a preacher to Chuck Berry going to jail to Eddie Cochran dying – all these horrible things that turned rock and roll kind of corny and lame in the early part of the 60s.
[All of that coincided] with the Kennedy assassination, which happened simultaneously with The Beatles and the kids in Britain becoming the larger population of the younger music that was going on.
It was just the perfect storm and everything fell together and they had wonderful timing.
And there’s a tremendous amount of joy and positivity about The Beatles. The Rolling Stones have a similar quality… but it’s not the same thing. And there’s a lot of bands that bring a lot of people a lot of joy.
But for whatever reason, The Beatles seem to reign supreme above all of them.
- Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)
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Beatle University Live (Help! A Critical Analysis)
Hosted by Professor Moptop
Saturday, February 4, 2017
McAninch Arts Center (Room 153)
College of DuPage
425 Fawell Blvd.
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
(Click HERE for more on the Professor Moptop Kickstarter campaign to self-publish the Textbook Beatle Project)
Tags: 93XRT, Breakfast With The Beatles, Brian Epstein, British Invasion, Chicago's Finest Rock, College of DuPage, Ed Sullivan, George Harrison, Gregory Alexander, John Lennon, Kickstarter, Liverpool, McAninch Arts Center, Paul McCartney, Professor Moptop, Revolver, Ringo Starr, Rubber Soul, Terri Hemmert, Textbook Beatle Project, The Beatles, The Fab Four, WXRT, XRT