1964, The Beatles Wanted to Hold America’s Hand
By Stephen Jay Morris
Here it’s comes: the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on CBS, Sunday night, February 9, 1964. Where were you when they appeared? Well, that’s a stupid question. You were not in a telephone booth, or maybe you were? If you were in a bar, drinking, then you are too senile to remember the event. My parents were just bemused by the so-called “mop tops,” who delightfully irked other parents. After all, some of them were bobby- soxers (female fans of Frank Sinatra). Oh, did they scream at Frankie! Then came the 1950’s and it was Elvis.
The Beatles came to the U.S.A. right on schedule: three months after JFK was blown away. During November 1963, Rock and Roll was shoved to the back of the room. In life, timing is everything. The Beatles were on time. One band that had bad timing was the Trashmen. Their cult, psycho-surf song, “Surfing Bird,” was released on November 28, 1963. It received hardly any radio airplay. The song was one of Rock’s strangest and weirdest ever recorded. It wouldn’t get real notice until Pee Wee Herman used the song in one of his 1980’s B-movies. The Trashmen disbanded in 1967, when Jimi Hendrix declared, “Never hear surf music again.” Again, bad timing. Nobody wanted to hear surf music anymore. But was “Surfing Bird” really a surf song? History had slapped the Trashmen in the face.
During the four days of the JFK tragedy, the top Beach Boys song was, ”In My Room.” It was a slow ballad with a melancholy edge. It was good timing for that song, as it didn’t have that Beach Boys’ upbeat sound about fast cars and girls on the beach. At the time, many realized that Brian Wilson was tapping into his inner Genius.
This is a piece I wrote in 2001 titled, “A Beatle Memory.”
Tuesday, December 04, 2001
A Beatle Memory
By STEPHEN JAY MORRIS
I remember the Kennedy assassination in 1963. I was 9 years old. It seems as though my memory started at that point in time. I do not recall the 50’s, or even the early 60’s. What I do remember is that America was a sanitized
place. Or, maybe I was just completely sheltered from the real world. At
the time, there was a pervasive melancholy in the atmosphere. Everything was
so sullen. This didn’t jibe with my childish outlook on life; I was
carefree. However, living in a Jewish neighborhood made things especially
depressing. Most Jews there were strong supporters of J.F.K. One day,
I was visiting my uncle’s house. There was a hi-fi system in his living
room. At the time, hi-fi’s were state-of-the-art record players. There
were some record albums on display, facing frontward on the mantle. One was
a comedy L.P. entitled, “The First Family”—it was a satire on the Kennedy’ s. I asked my uncle if I could play it and he replied in an authoritarian
voice, “Our president has just died and we must show respect for him!” In
my young, critical mind, I wondered why the dick had it on display in the first place, if he was so respectful!
That was the tone of the times. Adults were so God damn serious! The only things I cared about in 1963 were baseball and monster movies. I hated
school and my parents. However, I viewed school and parents as irrefutable
authority figures to whose dictates I had to submit. I used to play with my
childhood friend, Glen. He lived in a high-rise apartment building near my
house. Our favorite place to play was on the roof of his building. We
would pretend that space aliens hid in the giant air conditioning unit. We
lived in our own little world. I remember one day, we were playing on the
front lawn, when Glen’s mother yelled out of the 4th floor window, “Glen!
Time to come in! The President’s funeral is about to begin!” ”Ok, mom—I’m
coming!” he answered. Then he turned to me and said, “My mom is making me
watch Kennedy’s funeral on T.V. I don’t want to watch no dumb funeral on
T.V! I gotta go! See ya.” Yep! That’s what was happening then.
Three months later, word came of something happening across the Atlantic Ocean. I heard my sister talking about the Beatles; she was telling my mom how cute they were. I didn’t know what she was babbling on about; I thought she was talking about puppets. It was in early February, on a Sunday night. I’d always hated Sunday nights— the last free night before school the next
morning. The local TV station broadcasted my favorite cowboy
show. It was on ABC, I think it was called, “Travels of Jamie Machetes.” I was about to tune it in on my parents’ old Zenith black & white, when my sister came bursting into the living room, demanding, “I wanna watch the Ed Sullivan show! The Beatles are gonna be on!” I said, “Tough! I’m watching my show! She ran out of the room and whined to my dad, “Daddy!! Stevie wouldn’t let me watch Ed Sullivan!” Next thing I know, my father stomps into the living room like the American Military liberating Italy in 1945; he was taking the moral high road,
fighting against my evil selfishness! He said in that 1950’s fatherly
voice, “Hey, stupid! You don’t own the T.V. set! Let your sister watch her
show!” I relented. My sister stuck her tongue out at me. My dad was
bigger than me, and this depute was not negotiable. Also, he held the deed
to the house and was the final judge. My sister always won the arguments!
Because I was older than her and had a penis, she was the innocent victim.
No matter what she did—even if she was in the wrong, she was innocent. She
got away with a lot of shit! My dad was so overly protective of her. I
think he was the only man in the world that suffered from “vagina envy.”
My sister made sure the whole family watched the show. I hated the Sullivan
show! It was lame, wholesome, family entertainment. I did like the
comedians sometimes. Most of their material consisted of mother-in-law
jokes and self-effacing humor. Then the big moment came. I was expecting
human-sized puppets, but instead, on the stage were four guys with Moe
Stooge hairdos, singing these cute, upbeat, love songs. The mostly
teenage-girl audience was screaming at them! It was like one of those
Godzilla movies from Japan. Usually, females screamed at something
terrible. I remember thinking something bad was happening off camera. I
asked my mom why the girls were screaming. She replied, “They used to do
that to Elvis, and Frank Sinatra before him.” ”Who ARE those guys?” I asked
my mom. ”Will you shut up? I’m trying to watch the show!” my sister whined.
I went to bed in disgust.
A lot of Baby-Boomers will tell you that that was the defining moment in their lives. Not me. I thought the Beatles were a bunch of fags! My defining moment was when the Rolling Stones appeared on the Sullivan show, a year later. I started to like the Beatles when Capitol Records released “Rubber Soul” in 1965.
In 1964, everywhere you went, you heard Beatles music. People used to
install public address systems by their swimming pools. The neighbors to
our left had one, and the family behind us had one, too. That summer, while
the neighbors had friends over to swim in their pool, you could hear
slashing and laughter and Beatles songs. At the Sav-On Drug Store, there
was a whole section devoted to Beatles souvenirs. I remember Beatle lunch
boxes, Beatle sweatshirts, Beatle wigs, Beatle board games, and Beatle
plastic guitars. Little did I know that this junk would become collectors’
items! There were also Beatle trading cards. They cost five cents a pack.
Like baseball cards, they contained a stick of pink bubble gum. You could
smell the gum on the top card. The cards came in two editions: the black &
white set, and then the color set, which sold for 10 cents. At my school,
boys started to wear Beatle boots and combed their hair into bangs.
Before they got home, they’d comb their hair back into pompadours so mom and
dad wouldn’t get pissed off.
At that moment in time, the Beatles were a harmless fad. America was, and
still is, a nation of fads. The Beatles’ management and the record industry
calculated the Beatles fad. It started out that way. In the beginning, it
was a teenybopper affair. Today, most Beatles fans like this era of the
Beatles’ career the best. Yeah, I must admit it’s very nostalgic to listen
to a 1964 Beatles’ song. However, three years down the road was the
outbreak of the Counterculture movement. A big fallacy is that the Beatles
were responsible for this movement. Nope! They were merely a part of it.
In 1964, some ex-beatniks in San Francisco were experimenting with drugs and
music and created “psychedelic” music. The Beatles just brought it to a mass
audience. Goodwater conservatives didn’t think highly of the Beatles. 1964
was an election year. Buttons started to circulate reading, “Beatles For
President!” It was all in fun. The conservatives despised their daughters
for getting hysterical at these effeminate looking Brits. It’s the oldest
story in the world. When humans (males mostly) get older, they lose their
sexual attractiveness. Consequently, they become anti-sex monsters. They
hide behind the lofty veil of “Morality.” Actually, it’s just a simple of
case of JEALOUSY! Maybe Viagra will change that age-old problem.
There used to be a movie theater in my neighborhood. It was called the “Pan
Pacific Theater.” It had that weird, 1950’s, post-modern look, like the
coffee shops that were built in the 50’s. I don’t know when it was
constructed, but I remember it burnt down in 1980. During my childhood, it
was the place to go for Saturday matinees. It was cheap, too: 50 cents
cheap! For that, you’d get a couple of cartoons and a B movie—not bad! I
saw all the James Bond movies there. In 1964, when “A Hard Days Night” was
released, it came to the Pan Pacific. I went to see it with my 5-year-old
brother, Irwin, and my 8-year-old sister, Fay. When we arrived, there was a
line around the block! This was unusual for this theater, which was called
a “walk-in theater.” And it was. It had only a local clientele. But not
this time! The kids in the line were in a festive mood. They had their
Beatles shirts on, and sported buttons of their favorite Beatle. Paul was
the most popular. I listened to the girls in line talking breathlessly
about their heroes. The theater’s owner—a fat, Jewish, middle-aged
man—looked nervously at his youthful customers standing in line. He was
happy that he was happy making money for a change, however, he was uneasy
about the possibility of a teen riot. Around the block, there was another
Pan Pacific Theater. That theater staged an Elvis concert in the ’50s,
which had resulted in a teen riot. After that, they never hosted another
rock concert again. The owners of this theater didn’t want a repeat of that
event. After all, most of their patrons were old Jewish ladies who would
complain about the air conditioner.
When we finally got in, we sat in the back row; all the good seats had been
taken. After the trailers of upcoming beach movies, the movie started and
the place went nuts! The girls were screaming at the movie screen like the
Beatles were there in person. It was unbelievable! In the middle of the
movie, the projectionist freeze-framed a scene and the house lights went on.
There was a loud, collective groan from the audience. The owner stood on
the stage and said loudly, “I have gotten complaints about your conduct!
People come here to see a movie, not to hear you make noise! If you do not
act like ladies and gentlemen, then I will stop the movie and send you all
home!” Then, the movie resumed and the screaming continued anyway. I saw
some grown-ups get up and go to the ticket office for refunds. I did see
the movie again—a few months later in an almost empty theater.