Sunday, February 9, 2014


It was 50 years ago today that the British conquered America. On February 9, 1964, the Beatles made the first of three consecutive appearances on the Ed Sullivan TV show. 

American kids still shell-shocked over the assassination of President Kennedy ten weeks earlier had something to cheer about.

We were delighted by the Beatles' infectious music and cheeky, irreverent sense of fun. Absolutely nothing fazed them: they had a wisecrack for every occasion, which made quite an impression on us gawky kids who were fazed by absolutely everything.
And let's not overlook the sheer adrenalin rush of being swept along on a groundswell of adolescent hysteria. Like everyone else in America, my family always watched Ed Sullivan, Topo Gigio notwithstanding, so it wasn't weird that I was propped up in front of the TV on that fateful night, secretly stuffing demented giggles back into my mouth as Paul bounced and laughed, John ("Sorry girls, he's married") flashed his Cheshire-cat grin, George did a silly impromptu dance step, and Ringo surveyed it all with Buster Keaton aplomb. It was all over for me.
Beatles booty, ca. 1964

 Or rather, it was all beginning.

Puberty hit like a tsunami when the Beatles took the stage that night. The yearning of those "Yeah! Yeah! Yeahs!" and the urgency of that high note in "I Want To Hold Your Hand" touched something primal and scary and irresistible in my 11-year-old bosom. People who don't understand why little girls scream for pop stars must be hormone-free robotic mutants.

My bedroom walls were soon papered in Beatle Centerfold Modern. I spent hours on the phone with my girlfriends Jeannine and Nora over every new Beatle song on the radio, let alone the supreme ecstasy of a Beatle appearance on TV. (In those prehistoric days before You Tube, we were completely at the mercy of network broadcasting.)

We memorized the Beatles' jokes, copied their clothes, and imitated their Liverpudlian slang. I joined the fan club, bought the bubble gum cards, and, not content with buying my own plastic Paul doll, I also sewed one of my own.

Beatle movies only stoked the flames. (I saw Help! 13 1/2 times during the summer of 1965.) But true Nirvana was achieved in August, 1966, two days after my 14th birthday, when we saw the Beatles live at Dodger Stadium.

Every other car on the freeway that Sunday afternoon, like ours, was full of blithering teenage girls, with a harried mom gritting her teeth at the wheel.

It wasn't like a modern supergroup concert with a lot of pyrotechnic effects, mountains of amps and giant screens. We paid top price—$6—for seats way up in the third tier overlooking home plate. The stage was out at second base; it was like watching the show from the moon. The four opening acts—the Remains, Bobby Hebb, the Cyrkle, and the Ronettes—paraded across the stage like ants.

Official Beatles concert program, 1966

But when the Beatles came onstage, it didn't matter. We already knew their songs and mannerisms well enough to piece together in out fevered imaginations what we couldn't actually see or hear (for all the screaming). It also didn't matter that even though Revolver had just hit the stores, their primitive touring equipment wouldn't allow them to play anything much more complicated than "Ticket To Ride."

We were in the same place, breathing the same air, sharing the same historical moment as John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and the ecstasy was indescribable.

As it turned out, that was the next-to-last concert the Beatles ever gave. (How I wish now I hadn't cut those wallet-size photos of Paul out of the official program!) The next day they flew to San Francisco to finish up the 1966 concert tour at the Cow Palace; the day after that, they gave up the road forever to concentrate on writing and recording.

I still can't watch those old Ed Sullivan appearances without feeling that same rush of exuberance. How often do you get a chance to re-experience your adolescent self? (And frankly, who would want to? I'd look pretty silly now in those go-go boots and painted-on Twiggy eyelashes.) But watching the Beatles transports me back to that moment in time when delirious possibilities beyond reckoning were opening up before me. It was more than the merry mop-tops calling to me. It was life.

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