February 9, 1964 Reflections

February 9, 1964 Reflections

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February 9, 2014 – I don’t remember when I actually heard my first Beatles song but I distinctly remember the anticipation leading up to their February 9, 1964 debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

I was eight years old and hadn’t been this excited since the year before when I learned that cigar-smoking chimpanzees were going to be featured at the Canfield Fair.

This was at least ten times more exciting than even that!

It seemed everyone in my second grade class, and all my friends in the neighborhood, were asking the same question that first week of February, 1964. “Are you going to watch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan?”

It’s important to keep in mind that up until about a month or two before that first show, hardly anyone had even heard of The Beatles here in the States. Heck, it had only been a year since they recorded their first album. But their rise was swift and would gain momentum in front of our very eyes that evening. Yet incredible mystery surrounded their arrival to say the least.

My best friend Kenny knew a thing or two about music. His family owned a dance studio so the arts featured prominently in his young life and that of his brothers and sister who lived next door. My friends David and Jimmy knew music, too. They both played the organ. But so did Mr. Beil and the music they produced, while pleasant, never caused girls to scream or faint.

But what did I know about music? There were no instruments in our house and, up until then, the records that got the most play time on my portable record player were “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” and “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.” Those little, yellow 78 rpm babies if you can believe it.

But The Beatles were still as much a curiosity on that first visit as they were a cultural phenomenon. What would they look like? What would they sound like? Do they really wear wigs? Why do they spell beetles like that?

So the hour finally arrived and the family gathered in front of the Philco television console which had been left on during dinner to ensure it was sufficiently warmed up for the big event.

I knew they were going to go first. My dad and older brother scoffed at this idea assuring me that only a crazy person would open the show with the headline attraction. But they didn’t know Ed. When The Beatles were introduced a few minutes after 8 o’clock and launched straight into “All My Loving,” I felt a rare sense of vindication.

So here they were and we watched, mesmerized even if we all experienced the show differently.

My dad, who liked Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, tolerated the performance. “Well whaddaya know. So that’s The Beatles,” he uttered sarcastically unable or unwilling to conceal his sense of bemusement.

My mom, partial to Louis Armstrong and Connie Francis, smiled and giggled the same way she did when Ed Sullivan interacted with Topo Gigio. But she admitted she liked them! Thought they were cute.

My brother Mike was emotionless, studying their every move. Now Mike knew music. He had Bob Dylan 45s and was always at the forefront of every musical trend. He even knew all The Beatles’ names before they were displayed on the TV set. He grew weary of me asking, “Who’s that?” every time there was a close up of each Beatle. But he knew the answer.

As for me, I was spellbound. But it was a cross between fascination and disbelief. I loved the sound, the excitement, the energy. But I couldn’t figure out that hair. Were they wearing wigs or weren’t they? I spent the entire show trying to reconcile this. George’s seemed especially curious.

It would be months, if not longer, before the world accepted they were not wearing wigs.

Males just didn’t wear their hair like that. Long hair was for girls. The Beatles hairstyles made about as much sense as if the wall would have started eating a bowl of Grape Nuts. Boys wore crew cuts, flat tops or Princetons (which I usually favored), not long hair.

But it all changed after that evening. The next day, I said good-bye to the Butch Wax and the Alberto VO5 and combed my hair straight down as soon as I got on the school bus. A girl in class even told me she liked my hair because it looked like The Beatles.

Over the next several years, these four peculiar looking young men from another country would go on to influence music and all popular culture in ways even they likely couldn’t have imagined.

And those of us who were alive that day were probably watching Ed Sullivan and probably have a shared experience we can all relate to.

And you know that can’t be bad.

(Yeah, yeah, yeah)

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