John McMillian has had an interest in the '60s for a very long time.
The Georgia State University history professor says when he was in high school, he "got interested in the Black Panthers, hippies and Beatles and decided to be a historian."
"My primary interest was race relations in the Antebellum era, then I got into grad school and I saw people just a little older than me who wrote about the '60s from a scholarly level, and it dawned on me that it could be a bonafide topic I could pursue," McMillian says.
His interest led him to write his first book, the critically acclaimed "Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America," and he was also a co-editor of "The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture."
McMillian will bring his newest book, "Beatles vs. Stones," to the Savannah Book Festival on Feb. 15.
"I often describe ('Beatles vs. Stones') as a joint biography of the friendship and rivalry of the two groups," McMillian says.
"On one hand, they knew each other and liked each other, and had mutual admirations, but at the same time, they were profoundly different in their personalities, performance styles ... and were genuinely rivals."
McMillian says the book grew out of an essay he wrote for The Believer in 2007 titled "Beatles, or Stones?"
Both the essay and the book begin with a story about Paul McCartney showing up at Mick Jagger's birthday party on July 26, 1968, at the Vesuvio Club in London. McMillian writes that Jagger brought along an advance copy of the Stone's "Beggars Banquet" to play, but Paul McCartney shows up with the forthcoming single "Hey Jude/Revolution," which had never been heard by anyone outside of Abbey Road Studios.
McCartney's album became the top request of the evening and Jagger "looked peeved. The Beatles had upstaged him."
While McMillian says he cannot remember where he first heard that story or the different versions floating around, he used that story to start off the book because "it really gets to the crux of the issue to show the friendship and rivalry of two bands."
He says the reactions he gets from readers varies depending on their level of knowledge of the topic.
"People come to the book with different levels of knowledge," he says. "The ones who have little knowledge say they are surprised about how their public lives were different from their private lives.
"For example, The Beatles seemed clean cut but they came from these tough, working-class backgrounds in Liverpool - they were poor kids. ... John Lennon was a juvenile delinquent.
"The Stones, by contrast, seemed rebellious but they were from middle-class backgrounds - Mick Jagger and Brian Jones were very educated. Jaggers went to the London School of Economics; they were sort of the elite kids."
McMillians says the book explores the rivalry between the groups and tries to assess how it was constructed. He says the rivalry was formulated by fans, the media and the musicians themselves.
While it would seem this historian would have to travel to the source in London for research, McMillian admits he stayed stateside.
"I didn't travel over there," he says. "It was too expensive. Instead, I spent over $3,000 on rare fan magazines from the '60s. I figured for the cost of a trip, I could buy the books and read them on my own time. I had to buy them on eBay. You can't find them around here." He laughs. "Now I'm trying to sell them."
And perhaps it would also seem this historian would have traveled to Savannah from his teaching post at Georgia State, but he admits he has never been here.
"I don't own a car," he says. "I've lived in Atlanta for three and a half years without a car and I need to buy one."
"My parents will be vacationing in Hilton Head and I have family in Hilton head, so they are coming out, which will be nice because they have never seen me in that type of environment before," he adds. "I'm looking forward to it."