It's nothing short of fascinating that my memory of The Beatles' 1964 arrival in the United States marks the point where the world changed from black-and-white to color. Particularly since color television didn't arrive in my house until two years later. Even the color photos of the group on the set of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the ones with the blue set's arrows painted white and appearing brownish under the television lights, seem disarming to me.
But that was part of the deal with being a small-town 5-year-old in a cozy family setting, rabbit ears atop the television pulling in KGLO from Mason City, Iowa, 90 miles away. (By interesting coincidence, KGLO was originally owned by Lee Enterprises, the same entity that now owns the Herald & Review.)
The night of The Beatles' appearance, KGLO didn't even have any programming on before the Sullivan show. So my 2-year-old sister and I sat patiently waiting for Ed to introduce us to the band.
And he did, and they did, and my world was never the same.
Who knows when each person's moment of “that's what I want to do” comes in their life? Many of us may not even recognize it when it does. I've often said in my adulthood that music is my best friend. It comforts me, consoles me, amuses me, enrages me, makes me feel there's a reason to be alive, and it's always there when I need it. Who's to say it wasn't that moment 50 years ago where I realized what I wanted to do, what brought the most peace to my mind and life, was deceptively simple three-minute pop songs?
That wasn't what it was about in 1964, of course. What it was about then was the joy of something I'd never seen before, a willingness to commit to whatever the music moved your body and soul to do. That's what The Beatles were doing when they shook their shocking mops of hair. (How cool were those, by the way? To this day, as dated as they might appear, the lads all look spectacular.) That's what the audience members were doing with their screams.
It's no small wonder considering that kind of introduction that my disappointment was overwhelming when I eventually realized music alone couldn't bring about world peace and utopia.
But realizing that call to love of music and realizing that ultimate disappointment was a long way off in February 1964. What was important then was a launching into a wonderful world with art that spoke to me personally in a way no other art ever had, or would, or could.
At some subsequent point – my heart tells me the next day, my head tells me there's no way that was possible, my family has no memory of the moment at all – my mother brought home a copy of “Meet The Beatles,” the album that sold 5 million copies and spent 11 weeks at No. 1. The record belonged to the family, but there was no question it was mine. It was left to me to figure out what was going on within and without the record.
What were they singing with those odd accents? Why could you hear five instruments when there were only four people in the group? Why did the album notes make cryptic references to the performers singing “double-tracked”? (It took me a long time to grasp what could be done in a recording studio, most specifically that a person could easily sing accompanying themselves thanks to the miracle of magnetic recording tape. Apparently before I grasped that, I thought The Chipmunks were a real band.)
And those photos. Did these guys always dress alike, and groom alike? And what the heck was going on with the cover photo? Why were there disembodied heads with light only on one side? Were they so poor they couldn't afford more light? And why were there three on top, and Ringo Starr on the bottom right? Was that some kind of statement about his significance? Couldn't the photographer have lined up all four of them in a neat row?
(Imagine what I thought a couple of years later when I saw the cover for “Rubber Soul.”)
What made The Beatles stand out then is what makes them stand out now. They were not willing to be fully drawn into any expectations, that of their record company employers or that of their audience. They were determined to grow, and not repeat themselves.
They were that rarest of things, a wildly popular artistic conglomeration that was focused on art. They may not have realized it, they may not have been doing it entirely consciously, but they accomplished it.
Ultimately, that's the greatest gift we received 50 years ago.
And hey, if all that happens is you listen to the music and it takes you to a place where you smile, are happy and forget about your woes for a few minutes, that's a win, too.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.