Beatlemania didn't sneak up on me. I was hit with a bolt of lightning the first time I laid eyes on them.
Of course, that was in December of 1963 so I'm sure that time in history ripened me for their full effect:
The recent Kennedy assassination left me feeling empty and without hope.
My home life was far from ideal, although it looked pretty good in the window.
Rock and Roll was flopping around like a fish out of water, and, it seemed that no matter where we looked, there was no safe place to land.
Being just fifteen in 1963 added to the darkness and despair, you know, that teenage angst and drama of wanting to be a rebel with or without a cause and yet still trying to fit in somewhere.
My heart, mind, body and soul were screaming out and praying for something different, something magical, something with teeth that would hang on ... and last.
And then, one night as I walked by our 18" black and white Motorola television, Walter Cronkite was ending his Evening News with a musical performance by a "phenomenon from Great Britain" who called themselves, The Beatles.
My father called it "Jungle Music."
I called it, something different, something magical, something with teeth that would hang on ... and last.
The song they sang that night was called, "It Won't be Long," an obscure tune from their first "Meet The Beatles" album. I stood there glued to the television.
In my world all the guys had crew cut hair-dos and wore safe button-down collared shirts all year long until they'd break out into a little color in the summer time by wearing madras shirts. The shoes were sneakers, loafers, or wing tips.
It did nothing for me.
We were lacking style and passion. We were bottled up in bad clothes and stifled feelings. Our emotions didn't run wild... THAT would have been a blessing! No... we were practically running on empty.
But that night? In front of that old Motorola? My life changed. And in the weeks and months to follow that broadcast, millions of lives changed ---- M-I-L-L-I-O-N-S!
Here were four young men, all very handsome fellows, long-hair, jumping around, having fun, smiling and laughing at each other, and enjoying the audience as much as the audience was enjoying them. It was a love affair from both sides of the footlights and we all knew it.
As time marched on, even prior to their first appearance on Ed Sullivan on February 9th, 1964, we were bombarded with their songs, but, in addition to that, we got to know the boys, thanks to Fan Magazines like: '16 Magazine, Tiger Beat, Seventeen, Photoplay... and hundreds of others. Even the most reluctant reader was no longer a reluctant reader if he or she was a Beatles fan. We devoured everything in those magazines, not only the great pictures, but those stories - stories that allowed us to get to know these four young musicians on a different level than we had ever known any star before.
There was an honesty to those Liverpudlian tales and we not only enjoyed reading them, we could relate to them.
Ringo grew up without a dad, and, he was an only child. His Mom was a hard-working barmaid named Elsie who absolutely adored her son. Elsie re-married and her son, known as Richard Starkey back then, never fared well in school because he was quite a sickly child. We also knew all about Ringo's love of music: Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Jackson... he loved them all. We even knew he had bad allergies and couldn't stand the thought of eating onions or looking at the likes of Donald Duck! His neighborhood was one of Liverpool's poorest and the home he lived in as a child didn't even have proper indoor plumbing. We knew he was 5'8 inches tall (barely) and weighed about 132 pounds - soaking wet.
As for John Lennon? He was a creative child, and an angry one. His Dad, Alfred, left his Mom, Julia (embraced in The White Album's tune of the same name) when John was quite young. He had step sisters: Jackie and Julia and another sibling named Victoria. His Aunt Mimi took it upon herself to give John a more stable upbringing and she did so with a heavy hand. His mother died in a tragic accident when John was just 15, leaving him feeling even more lost, alone, and bitter. John was near-sighted, rough around the edges, he had a soft spot for animals, chocolate cake, and tremendous appreciation for music and people who were "different." He stood 5'11 inches tall and weighed in at 159 pounds. When he had overindulged a bit too much he could easily pack on the pounds and an additional set of stage clothing was made for those "heavier times." He was also the only married Beatle. His wife was named Cynthia and they had a son, a darling little boy named, Julian.
Paul McCartney's first name was really James, (after his father), but he was always known as Paul. Paul's mum, like John's, died when he was a young boy - breast cancer took her life. Paul and sibling Mike were raised by their dad who was also - after a regular work day - a musician. Paul's father was a good-hearted soul with strong Irish roots and a great sense of humor. Paul was left-handed, creative, and felt the rock-and roll buzz as soon as that first 45 rpm was spinning on a turntable. The Searchers, Elvis... Buddy Holly... he could practically sing the words to their songs in his sleep. Paul was as tall as John and weighed about a pound less. He was always known as 'The Cute Beatle." ('cause he was) :)
George Harrison came from the most stable of Beatle families. His Mom, Louise, and Dad, Harry were easy-going, hard working souls. George's father drove the 81 bus so he knew all of the other lads (Paul, Ringo, and John) from their travels on his popular Liverpool bus route. George had two brothers, Harry and Peter, and an older sister named Louise. George was the youngest Beatle - and my personal favorite. He was the same height as John and Paul but weighed in at almost 20 pounds less. His sense of humor and softer ways made him a perfect fit just about anywhere. To know him was to love him, they'd say.
Look at all that!
We could relate. They weren't just musicians, they were regular people like us who became musicians!
Hollywood and the music industry always "created" their own personalities, always giving the press the information that 'they" wanted them to have about any given performer. So, all Hollywood "stars" shone brightly, but not in a true light.
The Beatles, on the other hand, because of that "straight from the hip, this is who we are" press of their own, came off as touchable, reachable, relatable and lovable - in spite of it all and because of it all.
We were also aware of their crazy days in Hamburg where forever-after those three words, "Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll" would become synonymous with the whole full-tilt music scene. The Beatles lived in squalor in Hamburg, but they played their music their way. And that's what counted. That's what mattered. They fine-tuned who they were, they toughened up because of it, and became better musicians in the process.
George, who was just seventeen at the time, was deported for being under-age. But, with tenacity that I have nothing but respect for, when he turned eighteen, he was back in Hamburg once again - back to the business of being a musician first, and a Beatle second.
So, when those four shaggy-haired men stepped off Pan Am Flight 101 on Friday, February 7th, 1964, they weren't just being greeted by 4,000 fans, they were being greeted by people who knew them. We were all like long-lost friends. We shared common ground. We were cheering as much for their "from the trenches" presence as we were for the music they were creating.
They gave us hope and promise in our own lives. They showed us that being different wasn't a bad thing, in fact, it should be encouraged. We understood that life's problems shouldn't be what leads us around by the nose... instead we should follow our dreams with all of our hearts, and "live" not merely exist. The Beatles weren't perfect, not by a long shot, and they'd be the first to admit it, but the positive side to them was worth emulating. It surely was.
They were a fabulous combination of so many things that has yet to be duplicated.
It was their humor, their looks, their obvious love for each other, their style, their honesty, their music, their creativity, joy, brotherhood, and the ability for each of them to shine as individuals as well as to dazzle as a group.
They were as I had dreamed about... as millions of us world-wide had dreamed about...
They were different...
They were magical...
And they were here to stay...
~ © by Judith Kristen
THE BEATLES MOCKING BEATLEMANIA
Judith Kristen is author of the book A Date with a Beatle (Click To Purchase)
"A Date with a Beatle" is a rollicking roller coaster of a ride as a feisty female set her sights on the Beatles - George in particular - during the Fab Four’s first American trip. Films such as: ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Secrets’ tried to capture the moment with fictional fans, but this is the real thing. I found it fascinating."