In February 1964 if you’d just turned 13 years old you might have thought of 50 years as the age of someone’s grandfather or maybe the amount of time since the first World War was fought, if you thought of such things at all. So it’s hard to travel back to the thought processes of a brand new ‘teenager’ at that now distant time. This Sunday will be the much anticipated 50th anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
I had turned 13 the previous month and the month before that my sister and I had both asked for a guitar as a Christmas present (one would suffice for us both), inspired mostly by the recent folk music revival, some aspects of which were the hit song ‘Blowing in the Wind’ by Peter, Paul and Mary and written by some guy named Bob Dylan ( DIE-LAN?) and the popularity of the ABC-TV prime time series Hootenanny.
On that Christmas morning I was up well before the sun (and my sister) and went directly to the tree in our suburban living room and tore open the wrapped cardboard box beneath it that held the no-name inexpensive 6-string acoustic instrument.
I sat with that guitar for roughly 45 minutes trying to coax something even vaguely musical out of it, even though I had never had a lesson or touched a guitar before. What was I counting on? Magic? Divine intervention? That Santa would step out of the shadows and show me some chords?
When my sister (who is 22 months older) awoke and came downstairs I handed her the baffling source of my frustration and said, “Here… it’s all yours.”
Fast forward several weeks to Sunday night February 9th. As were millions of other Americans, my family was gathered around the black and white TV to check out this new group who already had caused a huge buzz and had a hit record on the charts. I already owned a copy of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ and thought it was a cool catchy tune, but had no real understanding of what this thing called Beatlemania was all about.
As Ed made his intro the audience, front-loaded with adolescent girls, exploded with screams at the sight and the sound of the four of them and some of us ( quite a number) had our young lives forever altered. Not only did they look and sound like the ultimate representation of the NOW, but also the future, and not only thee future, but MY future.
They weren’t merely ‘the shock of the new,’ for me they were also weirdly familiar, like okay, this is exactly what I’ve been hoping for to point me in a direction that would dominate my young hopes and dreams. I didn’t just want to be like The Beatles, I wanted to be The Beatles.
The main thing of course was the music. The Songs. The Voices. But also the look, the humor, the coolness, and the fact that they had legions of adoring teenage girl fans.
But as the reality sank in that they were The Beatles and I was not, I adjusted my goals to aspiring to be like The Beatles, which of course meant playing and singing in a band. But wait- – what about that traumatic experience with the guitar on Christmas morning? Beatles or no Beatles, playing that unknowable instrument just wasn’t going to happen.
Thus began my musical journey as… a drummer.
50 years later I look back on 5 decades of playing, singing, writing, and performing music that was a direct result of that Sunday night’s epiphany. And it was not just the songs and the hairstyle that had a profound effect on my life, as I know it had on millions of others of my generation and generations that have followed. Those four people inspired a whole way of looking at life that was not as simple or idealized or perfect as ‘All You Need is Love,’ but positive and defining in a complex and hard to explain way.
At some point in late 1965, I found my musical preferences to have evolved in the direction of more blues and folk oriented bands. This was the time of groups like The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds and the Bob Dylan (DILL-IN, that is ) interpreting Byrds, and I almost started to think I had out-grown The Beatles. This folly lasted a few months until I came to my senses and realized that they were as vital and relevant as ever.
I never was able to make a full-time living from music (even though I did manage at some point to become something of a quirky, yet functional guitar player when necessary), but the appreciation of music and wit that I got from The Beatles has never diminished. I’m sure many of us baby boomers have similar stories.
And for what it’s worth I’ll be watching this Sunday night when Sir Paul and Ringo and a host of others celebrate The Night That Changed America: A GRAMMY Salute to The Beatles on CBS at 8:00.