Friday, February 07, 2014

50 Years?

For those of us of a certain age, today is a significant anniversary of sorts. On this evening, 50 years ago, "The Beatles" appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Columnist Leonard Pitts writes; "The Beatles rode the forefront of a wave that would reshape everything-music, fashion, culture, politics-and neither America or the world would ever be the same."

As I look back on almost seven decades of life there are a few events that I can remember with detail. Most of those, of course, are significant family related events, i.e. meeting Mary. our wedding, the birth of our children, etc. The other events are the seminal moments of our generation; landing on the moon, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr, the Civil Rights movement, etc. Sitting prominently in that collection of remembrances is that evening when the "youngsters from Liverpool" made their appearance on the show that was a Sunday night habit for America.

I was an Airman Second Class in the United States Air Force at the time and was attending tech school at Chanute Air Force Base outside Chicago.  Somebody yelled, "Schwartz, you've got to see this." I made my way down the barracks hallway to the day room where almost all of the residents were gathered around the 19 inch black and white TV. I had missed Sullivan's introduction and the screen was now filled with the image of scores of teenage girls screaming at the top of their lungs. Then the camera panned back to the stage where I got my first glimpse of the "mop heads". All of us gathered in that room sported regulation haircuts that revealed our shining scalps and emphasized our protruding ears. We laughed. I remember exactly where I was standing, what I was seeing on the tv, and I remember the laughter.

It's important to realize that most of us in that room were facing the inevitability of a tour in Vietnam. We dealt with the anxiety of that future by daily consuming alcohol and when we laughed it was usually the scornful, self deprecating, and cynical laughter of boys playing at being young men. But not that evening. As the girls in the Ed Sullivan Theater screamed and Paul, John, George, and Ringo nodded their shaggy heads to the music; we in that day room erupted in a joyous laughter. It was the laughter of our childhood whenever we were delightfully surprised by something. I recall someone in the room saying; "This is crazy."

Crazy indeed! In the midst of the aftermath of Kennedy's assassination, the violence of the Civil rights movement, and the fear of going to what we had started to refer to as 'Nam had come these odd looking boys, their music that we could not get out of our heads, and the hysteria of Beatlemania. A week or so later, the Beatles found themselves in Miami, Florida preparing for yet another appearance on the Sullivan show. The local police sergeant in charge of their security invited them to dinner at his home. Barry Dresner, writing in the Feb. "Floridian" describes the scene.

Jeri (12 year old daughter of the police sergeant) "is serving the potatoes that accompany Mom's roast beef. Her stomach churns with anxiety. George looms ahead. Fumbling with the spoon, she drops a hot potato on George's lap. Oh, my God. But George doesn't act like it's the end of the world. He laughs!

Meanwhile, Ringo quietly leans over to cut 6-year-old Barry's roast beef. Ringo even removes his storied rings and lets the boy play with them. Eat and run? The Beatles stay and chat politely. They tell Jeri's Mom how much they appreciate the home-cooked meal, including the strawberry shortcake."

So much has happened in the 50 years since that February of 1964. Two of the Beatles lives were cut short as were the lives of half of the boys who gathered in the day room that evening. Many of them victims of the war in Vietnam.

But that night, February 7, 1964, we laughed.

You can read more about the day the Beatles came to dinner at Barry Dresner's blog.


Dewey said...

Nice, Chuck. A fine read. I'll send this on to my buddy too.
Say, I did not find the newpaper article in with the sweet potatoes.

Sarah said...

I enjoy reading about you as a younger man. It's easy to forget that you were ever anybody other than PC and Dad.