Introduction: Jere Hester is the author of “Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped Us Come Together as a Family,” the author’s story of how the Beatles affects people of all ages — and he has the proof from personal experience. He’ll be one of the guests at the Fest for Beatle Fans in New York Feb. 7 to 9. Beatles Examiner interviewed him by email.
Q: When did you discover the Beatles?
Jere Hester: “I was born the summer ‘Revolver’ was released, so the Beatles have always been here, there and everywhere for me. My parents, both children of the Depression, weren’t rock and rollers. But older cousins, a young aunt and even a singing nun at my elementary school (St. Agatha’s in Brooklyn, N.Y.) gave me an early Beatles education. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know or love their music. I remember reading ‘The Beatles illustrated Lyrics’ book over and over from about the time I could read, and devouring the words of the songs, including some I had yet to hear. But my level of obsession and appreciation grew after the tragic events of Dec. 8, 1980, when I was 14 and only had just started learning to play the guitar.”
Q: What has kept the love of the Beatles alive for 50 years?
Jere Hester: “More than anything, the enduring appeal of the Beatles rests in the music, which sounds as fresh and alive today as it did all those years ago. The revolution-speed evolution of their music – basically going from ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to ‘Sgt. Pepper’ in a little over three years – also explains part of the hold: They let us grow up with them – and fast.
“But it’s more than just the music: The Beatles’ message of peace and love is timeless. So are their wit and the power and possibility of youth that they will always represent. For those who delve further into the Beatles saga, their story, filled with triumph and tragedy, is ultimately inspiring. As young as they were when they arrived in the U.S. in 1964, John, Paul, George and Ringo were far from overnight successes. The worked and played hard, and never lost the belief that they had something new and special to offer, even if took others a while to catch on.”
Q: What is the inspiration for your book?
Jere Hester: “Perhaps the greatest and most lasting gift the Beatles gave us is music we can share across generational lines. It’s something I’ve observed everywhere from Paul and Ringo concerts to The Fest for Beatles Fans to sing-alongs at Strawberry Fields in Central Park. On a personal level, it’s something I’ve seen and benefited from in my own family, where the Beatles helped us come together. My wife, Theresa Wozunk, and I bonded over the Beatles and honeymooned in Liverpool. We’ve raised our daughter, Ella, a Beatle Baby, since her birth in 1997.
“So like the Beatles gave us music to share, I wanted to share my family’s modest cross-generational Beatle-inspired adventures. When Ella was 4, we took her in the pre-dawn August swelter to see Ringo perform on ‘Today.’ We’ve gone on pilgrimages to London, Hamburg and Liverpool, where Ella became pals with the sweet elderly woman who lives in Ringo’s boyhood home. We helped her get an answer from Yoko on why the Beatles broke up. And, in the greatest moment of our collective lives, Ella at age 8 unexpectedly met Paul, in a story that traveled around the world.
“Yeah, we’re a little crazy. But to paraphrase John, we’re not the only ones. I think, in the end, the book is less about the Beatles than about family bonding through pop culture. It’s about finding a common love that will help keep families close though good times and bad, as we all grow up without hopefully growing old. For some families, the connection might be the Beatles. Others might connect over sports, movies, art, etc. Whatever the case, it’s great for families to have something to share. As I like to say, every family is a magical mystery tour.”
Q: How did your daughter meet Paul McCartney?
Jere Hester: “In October 2005, shortly after we took Charles (Rosenay’s) ‘Magical History Tour,’ he tipped our group that Paul would be signing copies of his (then) new children’s book, ‘High in the Clouds’ at the Barnes & Noble at Rockefeller Center. The night before the signing, after finishing a long shift at the New York Daily News where I was the city editor at the time, I decided to go sleep on the sidewalk and save a place for my wife, Theresa, and our daughter, Ella, then 8 and a Beatle Baby from birth.
“Well, I should have known better. The sidewalk was jammed with fans, some of whom had been camping out for a couple of days. Defeated, I went home to Theresa who suggested we pull Ella out of school the next afternoon and just stand outside the store – who knew, maybe she’d get a glimpse of him. We got into the store before lockdown, and bought Ella a copy of the book, which she promptly began reading. She caught the eye of Paul’s publicists who apparently noticed that for the huge crowd outside and inside the store for the signing of a children’s book, there weren’t any kids around – save for one.
“They approached and asked if Ella want to meet Paul. She immediately began shaking and sobbing like a teen girl out of ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’ She shook her head no – she was awed and terrified at the thought of meeting her idol. They told us to give a shout if she changed her mind. Theresa and I told Ella, basically, that you only regret the things you don’t do in life, and, over the course a few agonizing minutes calmed her down, until her ‘no’ became, well, a ‘yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Ella was escorted to the front of the line and put in front of the New York press corps — 50 strong. Paul came in, and joked with her — when he shook her hand, he wouldn’t let go and kept saying in mock exasperation, ‘Let go! Let go!’ They talked briefly about the book and our trip to Liverpool. Theresa and I both got to shake his hand and thank him for being a part of our lives.
“When it was all over, we were, of course, ecstatic. Then I had a moment of panic — my daughter was the photo-op for the event and her image would be everywhere, including, potentially, the competition. I called my boss and explained the delicate situation. He said, ‘We’ll they’ve all got the picture – we’ve got the story.’ So we rushed to the newsroom and helped Ella craft a first-person piece. Photos of Ella and Paul, and her story got picked up all over the world.
“The kicker is a couple days later a photographer pal shooting the next stop on Paul’s tour told Paul’s publicist, Stuart Bell, that he knew Ella. ‘Tell Ella Paul loved her story,’ Stuart told my friend. I tell it better in the book, of course, but it still gives me chills to even think about it.”
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