Sunday, February 9, 2014

It was 50 years ago tonight...

This is what I remember:

We had gathered around the old black-and-white television set. Probably a Motorola, or maybe a Philco. And it was getting pretty near my parent-mandated bedtime. I was 12 years old, just days away from turning 13 and crossing that milestone threshold into my teenage years. And there was school the next day.

But we all wanted to see what the fuss was about: my parents, my younger brother and I waited patiently for the Ed Sullivan Show to come on.

And then, there they were. The Beatles. On TV. It was February 9, 1964, and my world was about to change.

Just not on that night.

My taste in music wasn't anywhere near established yet. Dad was into Broadway shows, so our record albums featured stuff  like "The Sound of Music," "My Fair Lady," "Oklahoma," and "The Music Man." Dad liked "The Music Man" so much that he and mom went to see the show on Broadway, and he came back enthralled by the barbershop quartet from that musical, The Buffalo Bills. So we had several albums of theirs in the record collection.

And then there was big band music. The Swing Era. Glenn Miller. Tommy Dorsey. Benny Goodman. Dad loved that, too. And some jazz. Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz. Our house was an amalgamation of musical tastes, hardly any of it rock and roll.

Mom listened to the radio and what passed for pop music in those days. I guess Elvis is what I remember most, sprinkled with other nameless performers. Somehow, I totally missed Buddy Holly. Shame on me. I really wasn't paying attention. Yet.

So when the Beatles came on television with all this enormous hype, the curiosity meter was off the gauge. Mostly, it was the hair. I watched that show that night with a buzz cut — a flattop that was all the rage back then.

While that night was historic in our culture, the family kind of snickered when the boys shook their heads to the music and their hair flew this way and that. I'm not sure we paid that much attention to the music at all. How could I know then that they would be such a huge part of the soundtrack for my generation?

I usually come late to parties and this was no different. It was a year or so later before my hair grew a little longer (See? Another cultural impact). The Beatles were still around and I was getting interested in girls, who were listening to the Beatles. And the Beatles weren't going away anytime soon.

Three years later, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, and that finally caught my attention. I became a Beatles' fan in real time, better late than never, I suppose.

Now I have the entire Beatles collection in vinyl. And on cassette. And on CD. Album by album.

Dad, who was a high school English teacher in the late 1960s and early 1970s, actually taught a class that discussed Beatles lyrics. Mom thought "Something" was one of the best songs she ever heard. By the time I was in college, my hair was down to my shoulders and my taste in music ranged all over the place, from Yes to Cat Stevens to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, to John Fogerty to the Rolling Stones.

But, always, with the Beatles out in front.

It's 50 years later. I can rewatch the Ed Sullivan Show on YouTube and thus enjoy my own magical, mystery tour and wonder where 50 years went. I have the advantage of hindsight and the Internet now, and the uncomplicated Beatles songs that sounded so entertaining then somehow offer hints of what was to come later. I can see it. I can hear it.

You know, I still like to listen to Broadway musicals, especially "The Music Man." I love to hear Glenn Miller. I've included the Americana genre and some country in my musical library. And while I can't play an instrument and you never want to hear me sing, the Beatles left something with me that I never thought possible that night 50 years ago.

They left an impact. Pretty impressive for four kids with guitars and a drum kit.

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