Sentimentality be damned. This has been in my head for years and now at 68, and fifty-plus years, if memory serves, this is my recollection.
Catholic high school girls didn’t cut classes in the ‘60’s, so I never made it to JFK or The Plaza, but the day you landed, I knew who you were. For a week before you arrived in New York, on that cold Friday in February 1964, Murray the K, a local DJ, had been playing your music and pre-recorded interviews incessantly. It drove my mom crazy but I loved you and your music. We instantly became fascinated with the geography of England because you were Liverpuddlians ~ wherever the hell that was. By the end of that week, America knew about you, your music, your families, your lives.
John was the “Sorry girls, he’s married.” one. He and Cynthia even had a son, Julian, and wow, suddenly I thought Julian was a fab name. Paul, the “cute,” one, wasn’t married and lived with his widowed father. My father had died six years earlier. George was the “quiet” one, and Louise, his married sister, was living here in the States. About Ringo, he of the “four rings,” we knew his real name was Richard, he was the newest member of the group, and everyone agreed he just wasn’t as cute as the others.
The rest of your story is what legends are made of: although you’d each been in different bands, you hadn’t been playing together very long, and through some quirk of fate, you coalesced into a winning combination, and now you were about to hit the big time – the Big Apple.
For the next two days, New York City and the rest of the world saw and heard your every word, your every move, and very often you were “cheeky.” When asked what you called your long haircuts, (when boys were greasing-up their ducktails and girls were teasing and spraying their beehives), Ringo answered flippantly, “Arthur.” Cheeky, along with gear, fab, fav, jelly babies, Mersey, mods, and rockers were words we quickly incorporated into our vocabulary. We thought we were so gear.
Everything you did that weekend, from sightseeing in Central Park to television dress rehearsals, was considered a major news event, and reported on every channel of the evening news and in the newspapers – even the pretentious New York Times acknowledged you were news fit to print.
Americans were unconsciously ready for you – you were an interruption to take our minds of the assassination of President Kennedy just months earlier. You gave us something new and different to focus on, to enjoy or to criticize; you were the perfect distraction during a bleak and mournful winter.
That Sunday night, February 9, 1964, (OMG over 50 years ago), over 73 million Americans, including me and my three best friends, watched you on the Ed Sullivan Show in my living room. We bounced, squealed, kissed the screen at you and your mop-top haircuts, not on cute little boys like our John-John, but on clean cut young men in suits, whose jackets happen not to have collars. My mom watched too and although she pooh-poohed you, she didn’t think you were too bad, “not like that gyrating Elvis.” Besides, she’d been a screaming bobbysoxer, for “Frankie” at the Paramount Theatre twenty-five years earlier.
Talk about surprises of a lifetime, right before everyone left to go home, while we were still bouncing off the walls, my Mom surprised us with tickets to the Carnegie Hall concert for later that week. She’d arranged it earlier with the other parents and there were rules; Mary’s dad had to take us and Janie’s dad had to pick us up. Since Susan and I were joined at the hip and cohorts in crime, all we had to do was stay out of trouble and not get detention for the next few days. We were dumbstruck but mom said that every teenager needed a “Frankie” and she believed you would be ours. We didn’t get detention and we all soon found out how right mom was.
Carnegie Hall holds about 6,000 and the horseshoe interior didn’t look very big until we sat down. Our seats were right in front of you, in the back, on the floor, under the first tier, not stage right or left, but dead center at the apogee of the curve, a direct line to you; appearing a block away. Which may actually be. It was a simultaneously thrilling, exciting, and frightening experience.
This was a monumental moment for me, not only attending your concert, or even being at Carnegie Hall. I’d been there almost every Saturday morning the year before, forced to attend the Leonard Bernstein Young People’s Concerts with Leopold Stokowski, (I can’t believe I’m saying “forced” – but at the time, Saturday morning’s were not for compulsory school-bussed music programs), but to be in Manhattan at night, in the February shadows, was a dream come true for me and clique. The Manhattan nightlife was for the older, more sophisticated, more cosmopolitan, more legal-drinking-aged New Yorker ~ which we were unequivocally not.
We were from the Bronx, an hour, a bus, a subway away; an unsophisticated world away in every way. Yet that night we were delivered right to your doorstep, abandoned, alone, and unsupervised for hours. Do you realize where we could have gone, what we could have done? I didn’t – my friends and I didn’t have a clue, which is why our parents knew they could trust us ~ we were the epitome of clueless. No one blew it, we were peter-pan-collar, picture perfect teen-agers. We gained the respect of our parents and more notably, the next day, the awe of our peers. This was my Independence Day, my first baby step into adult life and please know that you were the catalyst.
Your Carnegie Hall appearance was my first rock n’ roll concert and probably your most sedate. You were only on stage for about a half-hour that night and although we tried to scream in-between songs, I don’t think we succeeded. I wanted desperately to be one of those people sitting behind you on the stage and and I always wondered how much they paid for those seats. You sang the same songs you did on the Sullivan Show; “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” was your biggest hit but John’s, “Twist and Shout,” has always been my fav.
I screamed at Forest Hills in 1964. That night it was filled with about 16,000 fans, arriving by helicopter, you landed right in the middle of that stadium in the heart of a neighborhood ~ I think, surrounded by attached brick townhouses. I can’t imagine what it was like to listen to you and us for an hour right outside your backdoor. It was an amazing performance, but I know that our screaming, as always, drowned out your voices.
I was one of 56,000 fans at the first Shea Stadium concert in 1965. The overriding memory I have of this concert is not of you or your music, which is a given, but of the physical vibration of the bleachers under my feet. A shuddering like the slow and steady ascent to the top of that first hill of a roller coaster, then suddenly we were over the top and into an unexpected, rapid free fall to the bottom, that just didn’t end ~ an experience I remember to this day.
Halfway into that performance a wave went through the audience: not what you see at a football game today, but a tangible swell of fear. The pulse of the crowd screaming your names and song lyrics, along with the not-so-subtle “give” of the structure, made it seem as though the stadium was quivering under us.
My memory is crystal clear on this ~ I remember people turning, seeking out, and finding each other, eyes searching quizzically, knowing as we screamed, sang along, stomped, and clapped in rhythm to your music, that we were all feeling a throbbing deep in our chests. The second by second terror of what we believed would be the imminent collapse of the stadium held us enthralled, yet totally ecstatic.
The stadium did somehow hold together and that night we gave life to the phrase “rocked the place.” I’ve never forgotten it; I don’t want to; I’ll always be grateful and I thank you for that ~ it’s one of the best memories of my life. About the screaming ~ aside from acknowledging the excitement of the moment, it seemed to unite us; maybe it was just one, year-long primal scream.
We’d been your fans for a year, so to see your second live appearance at the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965, was just another mountain we had to climb. Tickets for the show were always free but you had to send for them in advance and I had already received a “regrets” letter. But, what the hell, the four of us decided to chance it. We had to take a bus and a subway, walk for blocks, and wait for hours outside the TV studio for unused tickets to be doled out to your ever-faithful fans. We finally did get in just a few minutes before show time and were ushered upstairs to the “peanut gallery,” along with all the rest of the chickadees, as Mr. Sullivan called us.
Mr. Sullivan gave the peanut gallery a little lecture about “the screaming,” he said we couldn’t do it. Period. No screaming. If we screamed during your performance one of those cute ushers who escorted us in, would be throwing us out! Ushers stood in the aisles, stationed like soldiers on guard duty. This was live television, (or a live taping, I can’t remember), and with any screaming, no one would be able to hear you at home. We didn’t object to this at all, why would we, why would anyone, we were in the same building and not a block away, for God’s sake – we were thrilled. Most of the songs you sang that night were from your second movie, “HELP.” It was on this show that Paul’s “Yesterday” solo debuted and with that, the world began to realize you were making history.
I did buy every book and poster about you. Most of them twice, so I’d have extra to cut up and tape to the walls and ceiling of my bedroom, or to your glue itsy-bitsy faces onto my nails. I bought every album, and saw every movie you made a million times – a ba-zillion times. To look like Cynthia, Jane, Pattie, and Maureen, I even straightened my very curly hair.
I didn’t burn anything when John made the remark about you being more popular than God. I knew what he meant. In parochial school they always had to threaten us to get us to go to church – no one ever forced me to go see you. And whoever heard of going to India on vacation, but when you returned with scraggy beards, new religions, and a sitar on your back, I just bought that music too.
I stopped buying back 1980, after I got a late night call from a friend. I didn’t let the phone ring twice because like any late night call, I thought this was bringing bad news and I rushed to pick it up. Leah hurriedly started talking about John being dead, shot outside The Dakota. I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t, I could hardly breathe, and it was indeed very bad news. Leah said it was horrible, four or five bullet wounds, but thank God, probably no pain. She knew I’d want to know and not hear it on TV first, so she was calling from the hospital. She was on duty and said everyone in the emergency room was dazed, in shock. She said she was sorry, she knew how much I loved you all and how I always hoped for a reunion tour. It was a frantic call for both of us.
I sat stunned and sobbing. Gees, no pain? Funny, I felt pain – a deep searing, wrenching pain. A pain that made me fear I might not catch my next breath, made me conscious that a significant event had occurred in my life. The pull of gravity increased, I felt leaden, exhausted, and I instantly realized I was much older than I had been hours before when I made dinner for my family and put my five-year old son to bed. A familiar pain ~ of another murder.
Like JFK’s assignation, just months before you arrived in NYC years ago, Americans were ready for you – you were an unconscious suspension, the perfect distraction during a bleak and mournful winter to take our minds off the assassination of President Kennedy just months earlier.
I was 16 when I watched Walter Cronkite take off his glasses and announce to the world that JFK had died. Two days later eating dinner in the living room while watching our only TV, the accused killer of President Kennedy was shot right before my eyes on live TV.
What followed was weeks and months of somber TV, newspaper, and magazine coverage reliving some of the darkest days of my generation with unfathomable shock and sadness.
Then there was you, arriving a few months later giving us something new, different, and almost joyous to watch. You took up so much time on TV and so space in the papers seemingly have fun, and along with the criticism ~ what the English called cheeky, suddenly all the news wasn’t gray. Saying it was wonderful ~ is a gross understatement of your impact on us.
Which is why we screamed: I truly think it was a primal scream trying to extinguish those previous months of mourning. We could yell at the top of our lungs, while weeks before we watched reverently as a young child saluted father passing by in a coffin. How could we not scream ?
I’ve always wanted to say thank you ~ thanks for the memories. Thank you.
Copyright 2000-2017 Kate’s Window
As far as I know, the (1)image is in the public domain and I mean no misconduct. Copyright holder, please contact me, and I will remove it or credit it.