Friday, January 31, 2014

Dear Children, Do You Know Where Your Parents Are? Beatlemania Then and Now

They were called the Fab Four. Fifty years ago they suddenly appeared on America's shores and set the stage for the British Invasion. How American youth responded is difficult to explain but the pictures say it all.

I remember it well. Our family moved to New Jersey from Cleveland on January 20 that year. Twenty days later, the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. In the days of early television a lot of what aired was a carryover from the days of vaudeville and travelling circuses. King of TV's variety shows was Ed Sullivan. In Cleveland we had the Gene Carroll Show, which was originally the Giant Tiger Variety Hour. Theme song of the Variety Hour was that New Orleans favorite, "Hold That Tiger." The song still reverberates inside me as my dad must have watched it every week when we were growing up.

Ed Sullivan didn't really take this kind of entertainment to a new level, he simply brought it to a bigger stage. If you're my age you remember the guy who would spin plates atop vertical dowels, trying to get ten going at a time. The show was a hodgepodge of homespun entertainment. There was usually a music act in the mix. And on February 9 it was The Beatles.

I turned 12 that year, along with a gazillion others who didn't know at the time that they were going to be called the Baby Boomer generation. Little did these innocents know that one day all of the world's excesses and all the world's problems today would be laid at their feet.

On January 2, Dylan's third album, The Times They Are A-Changin' was released, with its songs protesting racism and other injustices, a song about the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, a song about the senseless, brutal beating of Hattie Carroll. It was an album of songs in stark contrast with She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand.

For the next ten years we're likely to be seeing magazines and TV shows depicting the events of fifty years ago. And all throughout there will be contrasting themes, for in addition to celebrations there were also riots in the streets. For many this nostalgic reflection will be passionately consumed and the media-makers will profit from it as we drift into our memories.

In many respects it was a time of innocence. 73 million people tuned in to see that mania live. Those of us who saw it remember it well. It was electric. It was crazy. And the earth moved. 

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