One November Sunday morning back in 1963, a few days before John Kennedy was murdered, I was sitting in the back pew of church, with my friend Jary. We had the job of being ushers, and so had a good excuse for sitting in the very back. Jary was a grade ahead of me. He was the “intellectual” of my group of friends. His range of knowledge was vasty superior to any of the rest of us. As we sat there, I was playing with a little pencil, and doodling on the margins of the church bulletin, when he bent over close to my ear, and asked me in a low voice, “Are you trying to look like a Beatle?”
At the time, November, 1963, I didn’t understand the question. It didn’t make any sense at all to me. How could I look like a beetle?
When I asked what he was talking about, he explained that there was this singing group from England with long hair combed down on their foreheads, who called themselves “The Beatles”. In an example of parallel evolution, I too had begun to let my hair grow, I liked longer hair, and it was creeping down onto my forehead.
You had to live in those times and in an ultra conservative place like rural Indiana to realize what a departure from the norm, long hair on a male was. It was crew cut country.
As I was soon to discover, the length of my hair was no where close to that of this British singing group, but it was a whole lot closer, than anyone else in the community. I liked the fact that my hair was getting longer, and although different from others, it was not a problem.
This whole “Beatle” thing was news to me, and of course, the fact that Jary thought I looked like members of this rock and roll singing group, peaked my interest and I told him I had never heard of them and asked for more information. He told me there was a little article in Newsweek magazine about them and offered to cut out the picture so I could see it.
Since I had never cracked a cover of Newsweek magazine, I had totally missed the event, but true to his word, the next morning, while riding on the school bus, Jary reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet, from which he took a small piece of paper. He handed it to me and I unfolded it and viewed for the first time the faces of the four mop-topped lads from England. I liked what I saw. It is the picture you see above.
That photo of the Beatles stimulated my curiosity and I was keen to learn more, so during my lunch hour at school, I went to the school library, where they kept the stacks of Newsweek magazines, and leafed through the most recent copies, until I found the November 18, 1963 article entitled “Beatlemania”.
I read about the “sheep-dog bangs, collarless jackets, and drainpipe trousers,” and how Beatle music was “high-pitched, loud beyond reason, stupefyingly repetitive.”--not exactly a glowing review, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm to learn more.
Despite the Newsweek article, the Beatles remained an unknown quantity in the US, and most certainly, in Indiana. I was, of course, still extremely interested in them, and my hair continued to grow longer. Then in January of 1964, I learned that a clip of the Beatles was going to be shown on The Jack Paar Show, one of the early "late night" television shows. Armed with this little known information, I spread the word to my high school friends, and I made sure I was in front of the television, late at night when the Beatle clip was shown.
It was a dark, brief, far away clip showing the Beatles singing in “The Cavern”, while the crowd screamed. I liked the Beatle look, and wow, I really liked the Beatle song, and so had those of my friends who had bothered to tune in to see them. But for most of North America, The Beatles were still an unknown.
Then came Sunday, February 9, 1964--my world and life changed forever. I knew the event was going to happen, but little did I realize just how big an impact it was going to have on me. That evening, I joined 74 million other people, who sat in front of their television sets and watched The Beatles perform 5 of their songs on the Ed Sullivan Show in front of the screaming audience.
For a few days, the media had been doing stories about the Beatles coming to America to be on the Sullivan Show. The stories were pretty much all the same. They all took a humorous theme: The four funny, girlish-looking, but good natured lads, who were really hot performers in England, had arrived in America. Jokes and sarcastic comments were made about their hair, it was all a humorous story to lighten up the news. But after 40% of the US public tuned in to watch them, America was suddenly divided. Many of the viewers mostly young, really liked the Beatles, while most of the older observers recoiled in horror.
While Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964 was the day the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, it was the following day--Monday, Feb. 10th, that changed the direction of my life. I will write about that tomorrow.
See my paintings at: www.davidmarchant.ca