My best friend, Wane Dean, was the first kid I knew who had a copy of “Meet the Beatles.” He called me right away after his mother brought it home for him. I ran as fast as I could along the icy road to his house because that was a big deal. “I Want to Hold your Hand” hit the American airwaves two weeks before and was already #1, traveling across the ocean like a huge tsunami that that would engulf us all. It would wash away all the bullshit on the radio we were sick of like the “Da-doo-ron-ron” tunes and the absolutely wimpy stuff that dominated the charts. The Singing Nun’s “Dominique” had been #1. … Even I hated it, and I was Catholic! And there was Edie Gorme’s, “Blame it on the Bossanova,” … blame it on bad taste! But from then on it was only Beatles.
Wane was a very good friend because he waited for me before cutting the cellophane seal that surrounded the precious treasure. He had his own record player perched on a short dresser that looked like a small suitcase that snapped closed with a large brass latch in front. This was his first album; at that time, kids played only 45’s. As I held the vinyl record between my palms like a large black Eucharist, Wayne removed the little plastic 45 disc at the base of the tall silver center post and exposed it bare. He switched the knob to the “33” setting and I gently settled the record on the post and swung the catch arm over and locked it into place. He clicked on “play” and we watched as the album dropped and spun as the tone arm swung to the edge of the record and the tiny diamond stylus found the groove. The speaker openings were small and covered in a burlap kind of material. The sound was mono and tinny but we didn’t know better, it was the biggest sound we had ever heard.
I believed in the Holy Trinity already but when we played that record we were baptized into the new religion that idolized “The Quadrinity.” We bounced at the end of the bed as the music played and stared reverently at the Fab Four on the front cover. It was a black and white photo with John, George, and Paul above, and Ringo, crammed in the lower corner. They were side-lit, wearing black turtlenecks … and that long hair. The Beatles hair hung in thick bangs to their eyebrows and God forbid, touched the top of their ears on the sides. In the land of the buzz-cut, that was radical. Boy’s hair across the nation, including mine, started growing that very second.
No sooner had we been introduced and seduced by this new phenomena, The Beatles were scheduled to make their national TV debut in America on The Ed Sullivan Show two weeks later. It was one of those milestone memories I recall as well as JFK’s assassination, the first moonwalk or being there for the births of my three sons, Jude, Ian and Nick.
The anticipation that February 9, 1964 was unbelievable. My sister Karen turned ten the day before and I would be nine in a week and a half. We were young but well aware that something special was happening and we would be a part of it that Sunday night. The Ed Sullivan show was about to begin. We huddled hungrily in front of the TV along with 73 million other viewers and watched as Ed appeared in his slick suit and Brylcreem hair in front of a fake curtain. I’d seen Ed’s show plenty of times and he was usually quite stiff and moved around like he had a board up his ass. Even his little buddy, Topo Gigio, was more animated than he was … and Topo was a puppet! But Mr. Sullivan was lively that night and wasted no time getting to: “Ladies and Gentleman, The Beatles!” He swung his arm in their direction, as the crowd, made up of mostly teenage girls, squealed with delight. “The youngsters from Liverpool” as he called them, were dressed in crisp dark suits and encircled appropriately by a prop of huge dimensional arrows that pointed to them as the center of attention. They performed three songs in a row, including my favorite, “She Loves You” …Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! The Beatles were well-rehearsed professionals as they performed, provoking the audience into an absolute frenzy with an “Oooooo!” or a shake of their hairy mops. The girls screamed with orgasmic delight as the camera cut to them squirming and hopping in their seats, flushed and ready to faint at any moment.
That reminds me of a fun Beatlemania movie I saw a while back, called, “I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND.” Some teenage kids from Jersey would stop at nothing to get into The Ed Sullivan Show to see the Beatles that night. In one scene a crush of fans are packed tight along a partitioned sidewalk in front of a hotel where the Beatles were whispered to be staying. A maid, ten floors up was cleaning a room and pulled open a window and shook her black dust mop out the window. A teenage girl in the crowd below screamed and pointed up at the glorious sight. It set off the whole mob into pandemonium. … Brilliant!
That’s how it was.
We sat mesmerized in front of the TV and were left hyperventilating when the third song ended. It was a variety show after all, so we were forced to endure a magician, two scenes from the Broadway show “Oliver!” with non-other than Davy Jones, (before his Monkees days), the Impressionist, Frank Gorsham, whom I recall more vividly as Batman’s nemesis, The Riddler. Although he did a wicked angst-ridden Burt Lancaster that always cracked me up … Some hyped-up fat British broad sang, danced and jiggled her way through show tune songs, the finale with a ukulele. After her there was a series of lame office comedy skits. (Jesus … that show must have been eight hours long!) Finally … The Beatles returned and sang two more songs. It was great!
We were like innocents on a far away beach watching as a harmless looking swell in the distance rolled toward the shore. It was too late to get out of the way as it grew into an immense wall and swallowed us up in its powerful surge. We came up gasping, glad to be alive. The Beatles changed the landscape around us; the way we dressed, even the way we thought and instilled a youthful rebellion that would soon find its voice.