Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Beatles and Me

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

Liverpool Hope University, located in Liverpool, England, the boyhood home of the Fab Four, will be offering a Master of Arts degree in The Beatles. The title of the project is The Beatles, Popular Music and Society. It will consist of four twelve-week sessions and a dissertation. Mike Brocken, the senior lecturer in popular music at Hope University noted that there have been over 8,000 books about the Beatles, but there has never been a serious academic course of study on this group that revolutionized music in the second half of the twentieth century.

The Beatles arrived in America on February 7, 1964, leading what has come to be called The British Invasion. John Kennedy had been killed less than three months before their arrival, and America, especially the youth of America, were ready to move on. When the Beatles set foot on the shores of America, they brought the fire that lit the fuse that forever changed this country and the world.

The Beatles were a very big deal.

When the Beatles first came to America I was six weeks short of turning sixteen and getting my driver's license. We were still living at Riverview Court, but would move into town (Noel) at the end of that summer. My dad had a television and appliance store in Noel, and consequently we had the first color television in town. I remember watching The Ed Sullivan Show the night of their debut. The television cameras were focused on the four skinny kids with mop tops singing on the stage, but they would also pan around to take in the screaming young people in the audience. I'll always remember my dad saying, "My God, are they that popular?" Yes, they were, from note one.

(Thirty-five years later I would be sitting in that same theatre watching a "live" taping of Late Night with David Letterman, amazed that I was that close to the actual stage where the Beatles made their U.S. debut.)

The Beatles first single (they were vinyl with two songs in those days, one on each side) was "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" with "She Loves You" on the reverse. They sang both on the Sullivan show.

(Those records were called 45's because they spun around at 45 revolutions per minute. Albums were also vinyl and played at 33-and-a-third revolutions per minute. Really old records, the ones from my parents' youth were also still around. They were called 78's - care to guess why? America was changing rapidly - within months we would begin hearing about something called 8-track tapes!)

This was a couple of years before the serious advent of FM radio, so we listened to AM. The two most popular stations for young people were WHB in Kansas City which covered much of the midwest, and WLS in Chicago which was one of the preeminent radio stations in America. The primary evening DJ at WLS was Dick Biondi, and I have heard that he still hosts an oldies program on the radio.

But I digress. I brought up WLS and WHB because that is generally where the small town kids got to hear pop music. I remember that late in the summer of 1964, there was one week when the Beatles had eight of the top ten singles in America. They were a mighty big deal.

I saw the two Beatles movies - "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" at the Ozark Theatre in Noel. That was in the days before music videos. Elvis had made dozens of movies to keep his music, face, and moves before the public. The Beatles literally blew him off of the charts, and, as if to add insult to injury, they were quickly up on the silver screen in what must now look like a cross between music videos and Marx Brothers' movies.

I enjoyed being a part of the generation that came of age with the Beatles and the other dynamite groups and bands of British Invasion. The music was great and has held up well. That was back in the day when you could still sing along to most tunes on the radio, but we recognized that was rapidly changing. The Beatles themselves began evolving quickly, musically and personally, and before many years had passed the group was history. Today only Paul and Ringo survive.

I lived through that special era, but as with most who are part of something that transformational, the enormity is not realized until the moment has passed. Ten years after the Beatles had broken up, I was teaching history at Liberty High School in Mountain View, MO. That spring I gave my sophomores a lot of latitude in coming up with special projects to present to the class. Two outstanding students, Leigh Ann Adams and Cindy Stanley, did a presentation on the Beatles, with lecture, photos, and music. It was absolutely spellbinding. Suddenly I was very conscious of the amazing cultural era that I had experienced.

The last I heard of Leigh Ann she was teaching English at Southwest Missouri State University at West Plains - but that has been several years ago. I haven't heard anything about Cindy since she graduated from high school. I hope that they find this mention and are able to realize how proud their old teacher still is of the work they did.

When Carla and I were in New York in January we saw the Dakota and the spot out front where John Lennon was gunned down. Yoko Ono still lives there, a little old lady in her seventies. We also walked across the street from the Dakota and into Central Park where Strawberry Fields is located and the Imagine Memorial is set up. The memorial had been decorated with flowers on that cold and snowy day.

The Beatles will eventually all be gone, perhaps during my watch. But their music will live forever...yes it will...yeah, yeah, yeah!

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