OPINION – Thanks to The Beatles, the world learned how to smile again.
The 60s got off on the wrong foot.
There was the Cold War, with fingers pressed firmly on nuclear triggers in the old U.S.S.R. and United States. As kids, we were all too aware of this. I can remember, in grade school, our teachers leading us in duck-and-cover drills where we would dive beneath our desks in the event the school alarm went off. It was supposed to protect us, they said, in the event of a nuclear attack. Finally, about the sixth grade, I remember asking my teacher how a desk could protect us from a nuclear explosion. My teacher looked at me and his eyes shut as his chin slumped to his chest.
There were folks across the country who built fallout shelters they believed would provide them with safety in the event that a nuclear exchange took place. Stores sold dried food in bulk, they sold barrels you could fill with fresh water, and everybody stocked up on batteries for their flashlights and transistor radios for the little vaults they had built to hide in until the post-nuke dust had cleared, not realizing that, well, even if they emerged unscathed, it would be into a world hardly worth inhabitation.
I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, I was acutely aware of the Cuban Missile Crisis because our neighbors’ eldest son, Jimmy, was serving in the U.S. Navy at the time and was part of the blockade set up to prevent Russian missiles from being delivered to Cuba.
There was the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam was escalating, the Civil Rights marches were filled with mayhem and murder. And, we saw our President gunned down in the streets of Dallas.
The winter of 1963 was long and cold, a sullen grayness that simply would not disappear hanging over a bereaved nation.
That is until the fateful night of Feb. 9, 1964 when 73 million viewers tuned in to watch The Beatles perform on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Maybe by today’s standards for Super Bowl games that number seems small, but then? It was phenomenal.
What we didn’t realize was that we were also witnesses to the turning of the cultural tide.
The lads performed “All My Loving,” “’Til There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” before a studio filled with hysterical, screaming young girls.
And, it all changed.
I lived in St. Louis at the time and when the band made its first North American tour, the closest they came to my home was a Sept. 17 gig in Kansas City, which happened to coincide with my 13th birthday. When the folks asked what I would like for my birthday, I asked for them to take me to the show. I didn’t get my birthday wish. Guess the four-hour drive was a bit much.
The next year, the closest they would come was Chicago, which is a little farther than Kansas City. I didn’t even ask.
But, things changed dramatically in 1966. We were living in southern California, a little more than an hour away from Dodger Stadium. I was listening to radio station KRLA one summer day when the announcement came across that The Beatles would perform at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 28. Within minutes, I had mailed off my ticket request and a money order in the amount of $6. Within a week, I had my ticket.
I remember the drive up. My dad didn’t quite understand my fascination with The Beatles or their music. He was more of a Perry Como, Dean Martin kind of guy. But, since we couldn’t make Chicago or Kansas City the previous two years, he agreed to drive me up to the stadium, wait for me in the parking lot, then drive me home.
It was pure bliss. On the way up, I remember KRLA playing loads and loads of Beatles’ music, especially the new cuts from their incredible “Revolver” album, which was a studio masterpiece that is consistently ranked as one of the Top Five rock ‘n’ roll albums of all time.
I got to my seat quickly — on the loge level right behind the third-base dugout, which offered a marvelous, up-close view of the stage set up at second base, and just two rows, oddly enough, behind actor Don Knotts, the fellow who played Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
It was a pretty cool show with Bobby Hebb, The Ronettes, The Remains, and The Cyrkle. Even Barney rocked to the music.
The Beatles came out, did a tidy 11-song set of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” “She’s A Woman,” “If I Needed Someone,” “Day Tripper,” “Baby’s In Black,” “I Feel Fine,” “Yesterday,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Nowhere Man,” “Paperback Writer,” and “Long Tall Sally” and it was over…sort of.
You see, there was a brand-spanking-new Lincoln Continental parked in a huge tent behind the stage. The Beatles dashed off the back of the stage, into the tent, and into the backseat of the limo.
As it sped toward the gates in centerfield for a dramatic escape, thousands of kids, who had not purchased tickets, but milled around the parking lot to hear the music, converged on the car, tearing it to shreds.
The driver had no recourse but to retreat to the third-base dugout, where the band could find refuge up the tunnel and inside the Dodgers’ locker room in the bowels of the stadium while more than 50,000 rock ‘n’ roll fans milled around outside, hoping for a glimpse of their heroes.
I remember looking down on the poor car. The hood ornament had been ripped off, the mirrors had been ripped off, the antenna had been ripped off; the hood, roof and trunk were collapsed from the weight of fans who hurtled themselves on top of it.
And, The Beatles remained trapped in the locker room for several hours until they could sneak out in an ambulance and be transferred to an armored car.
Nobody realized at the time that their next concert, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, would be their last, although in retrospect, it’s easy to understand why.
And, even though they no longer toured, we had their music to see us through, which is a good thing because there was a lot of the 60s still ahead and a lot of upheaval remained as we saw more leaders gunned down, unmerciful escalation of the Vietnam War, generational conflict, and the emergence of what was termed a “counter-culture” that thumbed its nose at the established societal paradigms before, sadly, caving in — for the most part — to the man and his insatiable lust for money, power, and conformity. Thankfully, there are at least a few holdouts, although our numbers have dwindled over time.
In later years, I came to know George Harrison on a personal level.
I came to understand that he was, indeed, not “The Quiet Beatle,” as he was so often described, he just wanted a little privacy. He, like the others, never realized just how big they would become, how their every move, word, or thought would be scrutinized, interpreted — usually incorrectly — and devoured by a waiting world they had influenced so much.
I beg your indulgence for being so nostalgic lately, but after having worked so long and hard on my latest book, a memoir about my days as a rock critic and music industry publicist in Los Angeles, I’m sort of stuck there for awhile, reminiscing about those days when anything seemed possible.
I’ve seen a lot of stories lately about how so-and-so or such-and-such are the “new Beatles,” usually written by somebody who touched Earth decades after The Beatles made their mark.
I only wish they had a better perspective of the cultural and musical influences that guided my generation because, well, those guys rocked.
No bad days!
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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