February 9, 1964
And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make
from Abbey Road, 1969
"They look like Moe from the Three Stooges!"
Tommy Degan, age five
9 February 1964
Looking back on the unison harrumphs of the establishment's music and cultural critics, it's astonishing in hindsight to realize how wrong every one of them got it. The Beatles couldn't sing, we were warned; they were lousy musicians; third-rate songwriters - and they just looked ridiculous in those silly, "pudding basin" haircuts. In a year no one would even remember their names, we were pompously assured. These rock 'n' roll ruffians from England were a bad joke. To his dying day, Walter Cronkite, then CBS's most visible broadcast journalist, would laugh at the memory of how he was able to get his two infatuated daughters backstage passes to meet the lads from Liverpool after their performance that night on the Sullivan program. While all this was going on, he was across the street at Lindy's having a drink. "The biggest entertainment story of the century right under my nose and I missed it!", he later said.
These guys were no mere "flash in the pan". The Beatles - two of whose members are long dead - were the best-selling recording artists of the first decade of the twentieth-century. Think about that. Quality is still marketable - five decades be damned.
It was the children who understood. It's always the children who are the first to catch on to anything as magical as the Beatles. Ours was a troubled generation - and the Fab Four - landing on these shores less than three months after the assassination of a beloved president, seemed a gift from Heaven. They not only had the whole world singing a joyous, electronic madrigal, these four, frustrated comedians made us laugh tears of joy. To those of us who suffered traumatic and unhappy childhoods, there was (and still is) a psychic bond with this band that cannot be easily explained. We learned early on that they, too, had had troubled upbringings. This was only one of the ways that made it so easy to identify with them on a gut level. They were indeed a bit like you and me.
I long ago gave up trying to figure out their sociological significance; I only know that they that they were the best little pop group that ever rocked this world. That's all that matters.
Fifty years later we wait in vain for the music to show signs cultural senility. I'm happy to tell you that the Beatles still matter. I know personally too many young people to count, some born a quarter century after the band ceased to be, for whom the music is a continual presence in the soundtracks of their lives; another happy reminder that talent and substance will defy the passage of many years. The Beatles are the silly and joyful ghosts who refuse to fade into that unknowable, mysterious void.
All you need is love. I've always believed it. I'll pass into eternity believing it.
Four years ago, my brother, Pete, and our old pal, Kevin Swanwick, took a tour of the Abbey Road studios in London, England. Read all about it:
I meant to write this piece on February 9th, the actual anniversary of the Beatles' Ed Sullivan appearance. Unfortunately on that day I was stricken with a near-fatal illness while I was attending - of all things - the Annual Festival for the Beatles at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Ironies: Life is just littered with them. Have you ever noticed that?
There's nothing you can know that isn't known
Nothing you can see that isn't show
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be
All you need is love....