This is another of my ersatz blog experiments.
I've been playing around with a new project lately, a memoirs of sorts. Any account of the 60s you read features pretty much the same story -- clean-cut kids become drugged out hippies, college revolutionaries, or Scientologists. Well I did none of those things. And it turns out, neither did 90% of the kids who grew up in the 60s. So I thought -- maybe there's a book in their story, which works out well since it's also my story. I don't know what I'm going to do with this. I've only just begun. I may expand it, change it, move forward, or scrap it. Let me know what you think. This is the first installment.
The Beatles appeared on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW.
It was Sunday night, February 9, 1964.
I was almost 14, living in a ranch style tract home in an upper middle class suburb of Los Angeles called Woodland Hills. The farther west you got in the San Fernando Valley, the more pleasant the names of the towns. Woodland Hills, Canoga Park, Hidden Hills. Far better than the more easterly Pacoima and Sylmar. I lived with my relatively young parents (still in their 30s) and younger brother, Corey.
I don’t remember who else was on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW that night. Probably a plate spinner, the Obratsov Russian Puppet Theatre, British comedian Mr. Pastry, Baby Opal & Baby Kay (elephant act), Ginny Tiu & her siblings, and if time permitted, Robert Goulet.
Back in 1964 there were only three networks and we watched whatever crap was on. Human-robot Ed Sullivan hosted a weekly variety show tolerated by the entire family. I can’t tell you how many three-legged dog acts and Szony & Claire dance teams I suffered through just to catch three minutes of the Four Seasons or Abby Lane in leotards.
The Beatles’ timing couldn’t have been better. The country was still in a giant funk over the assassination of JFK and the largest generation the world has ever known was starting to get a weekly allowance.
The Beatles had first burst upon the scene a month before. It seemed like every hour a new Beatles song was premiering on Color Radio, KFWB. “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. “Love Me Do”. “She Loves You.” They even started playing German versions (“Sie Liebt Dich”). That’s when you knew you had a phenomenon on your hands (although German versions of anything would be better than the Bobby Vinton oozeburgers that were topping the charts back then).
Parkman Jr. High, where I was trapped in the 9th grade, was abuzz with the Beatles. That’s all anyone talked about at “Nutrition”. (Why they called this recess “Nutrition” I do not know. The only things they sold were flying saucer sugar cookies and chocolate milk.) The girls in particular were quite taken with these four lads. They’d cluster in excited little huddles, debating which one was cuter, squealing and laughing. I remember thinking at the time, “Jesus, they’re acting like idiots” but just chalked it up to yet one more thing I didn’t understand about girls. (And as I went through the decade and got to know them better, that list only grew.)
Guys were still a little skeptical. Beatles songs were fine but this was Southern California. We already had our group – the Beach Boys. They connected with our lives and our lifestyle. The beach, surfing, hot cars, that whole California dream. It was real. We were living it. Okay, well, I wasn’t living it. I don’t think I could lift a surfboard at that age. And girls seemed more impressed with Corvettes than a Schwinn ten-speed with raised handlebars.
But that was unimportant. The Beach Boys were singing our anthems.
Made my heart come all undone.”
Oh, to be that lucky guy in the “Woody”, taking her everywhere I go (except maybe to temple).
Who the hell could relate to Liverpool?
So we guys took more of a wait-and-see attitude. The Beatles were coming to America for a three-week tour and three appearances on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. Let’s see if in person they were as cool as five guys in striped shirts singing macho songs in falsetto.
73,000,000 people watched the Beatles that first Sunday night. They were dazzling, electric, unlike anything I’d ever seen. Words can’t explain why. You look at the tape today and it’s just four guys in matching dark suits with long hair bouncing around singing “Yeah yeah yeah” in harmony while crazed teenage girls in the audience scream their guts out and cry. But I could sense, right then, that something was happening. I could just feel it. Something not just big, but huge, seismic – a national coming out party for my generation.
The Beach Boys started a craze. The Beatles started a revolution.
February 9, 1964 officially became the start date of our time.
If only we knew what the hell to do with it.