Tonight marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first appearing on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. I wrote about that night in my book THE ME GENERATION BY ME... GROWING UP IN THE '60s. Here's my account of that memorable evening... along with a plug to buy the book.
It’s bad enough I grew a foot in my thirteenth year and weighed less than a plastic lawn flamingo. I was still reeling from a shattered love affair (well, I was in love, she had no idea) and only beginning puberty. Girls became my singular focus. On the night President Kennedy was shot I took time out from grieving to ogle photos of actress Diane Baker in a LOOK magazine layout. But getting girls – while clueless and looking like a Q-Tip with eyes – that was a near impossible task.
And then the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
It was Sunday night, February 9, 1964.
At the time I didn’t know they were a threat. Like everyone else I was curious to see them. They 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 Nazi anthems would be better than the Bobby Vinton schmaltzfests that were topping the charts back then).
I was almost 14, living in a ranch style tract home in an upper middle class suburb of the San Fernando Valley called Woodland Hills. I was part of the ideal American Dream family unit – two parents, two children (picture Ozzie & Harriet but with Jews).
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 dancer Abby Lane in leotards.
The Beatles’ timing couldn’t have been better. The country was still in a giant funk over JFK and we needed something to lift us out of the doldrums. But why couldn’t it have been a girl group?
I was already 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 beach bunnies seemed more impressed with Corvettes than Schwinn ten-speed bicycles with raised handlebars.
But that was unimportant. The Beach Boys were singing our anthems. “Surfin’ USA,” “Surfin’ Safari,” or the one I identified with, “In My Room” – where you locked out all your worries and fears by retreating to your cell.
In my room Ann loved me. If only she loved me anywhere else.
So I watched the Beatles that Sunday night. Me, and 72,999,999 other folks. They were dazzling, electric; unlike anything I’d ever seen. Words can’t explain why. You look at the footage today and it’s just four English guys with surprisingly decent teeth in matching dark suits and helmet hair bouncing around singing “Yeah yeah yeah” in harmony, but I could sense, right then, that something big was happening. I could just feel it. Not just big, but huge, seismic – a national coming out party for my generation.
The start of a revolution!
My euphoria lasted maybe thirty seconds because then I saw all the girls in the audience. They were being driven to complete madness. Shrieking and crying, and practically throwing their training bras onto the stage. What the hell? I had never seen this either.