Remembering the Beatles
by Susan Hunter
Fifty years ago this week, the Beatles arrived in America to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show.
But they and their wonderful music had actually arrived a month earlier, in January 1964.
My family and I had just returned from six months in Rome, Italy, where my father had taken a sabbatical from his teaching job. As a 14-year-old, I was glad to be home. I had missed my friends, and the radio that sat on the white-painted bookshelf beside my bed.
The radio was my link to the music that we now call “classic rock,” but back then it stood for separation from my parents’ generation, another chink in the armor of the solid rock values and constraints of the 1950s, another boost to the crack in the wall that would be the generation gap.
I turned my radio on in my room that morning. The sun, reflecting off the snow, gave my pink room an even rosier glow.
And then the record came on the radio. I listened and, yes, it was one of those “Aha” moments. The music was so good, the singers were great and the message was simple but cool.
“I wanna hold your hand,” these people were singing.
And I wanted to know more about them. And I did. Within hours and days, news of the Beatles had swept over me and my friends and the entire country.
It was one of those things that found the right time and the right place.
“It was like one of those magic moments,” Ringo Starr told a CBS news commentator in an interview airing this week. “We landed, and it was all perfect. We were No. 1 and the kids loved us. And we loved the idea of being in America. I’d never been to America.”
They found America, and America had found them.
We needed new music and performers. We needed the Beatles’ good-humored irreverence, their long hair and their British accents.
For me, as a young and naïve teenager going to an all-girls school, it was easy to fall in love with them from afar. They were the adorable guys my parents would have hated.
As it was, our parents and aunts and uncles were somewhat dumbfounded by our behavior.
It was something that we couldn’t explain. I made scrapbooks, bought all their albums, memorized their songs, and my friend Jane and I managed to have a registered letter sent back to us with Paul’s signature intact.
Any connection was worth more than diamonds.
Jane’s mother knew someone who knew Victor Spinetti’s mother (he played the director in A Hard Days Night).
There were superlatives. I saw that movie 17 times in various movie theaters.
It was personal, and it was universal, and it ended. We went off to college, and Paul got a girlfriend and got married.
When John was shot, his face did shine down on a million of us, mourning in Central Park.
The day after the shooting that took place just about a mile from where I lived in Manhattan, I went to work, shocked, with red-rimmed eyes, and realized for the first time that my younger co-workers really didn’t understand.
I had lived through a moment in history that was over, but not forgotten. A new generation gap was forming.
I’m glad Ed Sullivan “booked” the Beatles for his show that far-off Sunday night in February. And I’m glad their music has survived along with the memories shared by those of us lucky enough to be 14 years old, 50 years ago.