(With apologies to Billy Shears.)
As the sounds of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band waft through the house…
It was Sunday dinner at my grandparent’s house with my parents and little brother. The small black and white TV across the way in the living room section of the house was on. On during dinner for the first time ever. It was time for a special edition of The Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles were coming to America.
My grandfather was an ex-amateur jazz musician. Used to blow horns – sax, clarinet and such – with local bands. That was before tobacco inspired emphysema pushed him over to the drum kit.
Grandma played piano until she was 90 or so.
Everyone at that dinner table had opinions on the performance of four young musicians with long hair. (Long hair? Have you seen the photos? What long hair. Have you seen my senior high photo? That was long hair.)
All those opinions were negative. Except mine.
I sat there straining to see the TV over the bowl of mashed potatoes, listening to the adults in my life bad mouth The Beatles.
I was nine and somewhat still heavily influenced by the authority figures in my world. That was about to change.
I listened to those complaints flow around the table, confused. Someone was missing something that night and I was afraid it was me.
A few days after that fateful appearance I visited my cousin. We ran upstairs to her room where she pulled out a new album. “Did you see ‘em?” she asked. “Did you see The Beatles on Ed Sullivan?” She was ecstatic and I stood there bathed in a beam of vindication. I had been right watching the song set last Sunday. I was right and everyone else was wrong. Since that time authority figures have held diminished sway over my life. Thank you for that John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
Over the years I have purchased Beatles music on vinyl, reel-to-reel tape, cassette, 8-Track, and CD. I’ve hunted down bootlegged versions and editions only available overseas. The Beatles pushed and prodded me in ways that changed me over the years. I was introduced to new music and different musicians whom I would never have experienced if not for The Beatles. I’ve owned several guitars and struggled to recreate the sounds I heard weeping from George Harrison’s fingers. I beat on Ludwig drum kits in my parent’s basement covering the heads with bath towels to try and capture Ringo’s sound. And I held the sticks wrong. Grandpa Les had dismissed Richard Starkey because he didn’t hold his drum sticks like proper jazz drummers had taught for years. Well, Ringo held his sticks like hammers because he intended to beat the shit out of those drums. Me, too.
I’ve written songs trying to emulate the Lennon / McCartney catalog. (Yeah, those songs are filed away in the metal file cabinet with all those other stories I’ll probably never publish.)
I still own a ton of musical instrument but music has faded into my background. I don’t play anymore except for doodling around with an old acoustic guitar. The piano sits idle in the family room. The Epiphone Les Paul Custom electric seldom leaves it case. The Fender tubed amp doesn’t go to eleven. It doesn’t even go to ‘on’, anymore. The ukulele is dusty. (Ukulele? Yeah, thanks George. I never would have known.) Electric keyboard, banjo, flute, sax, cello. All silent, rotting away. I suppose I should sell all the instruments. Or maybe donate them. Get them into the hands of people who might actually put them to good use and make music.
But I can’t. That would be like turning my back on the soundtrack of my life.
The only bad thing about all this is that it was 50 years ago. Damn, I’m old.
But hey, Sir James Paul McCartney just won another Grammy. In 2014. (His first was in 1965.) Ringo can still beat the shit out of that drum kit.
John and George are gone but I’ve got a stack of vinyl and tape that can take me back to visit whenever I choose.
In the overall scheme of things this remains: The best damn music that ever came out, came out of Liverpool.
And I was there…in front of that b/w TV, and in front of the stereo, in front of the stage, watching and listening to four lads from England change the world.
Lots of cool things have happened during my life. Put the Beatles near the top.