Thursday, February 6, 2014

Choosing a Beatle

In Honor of Beatlemania 50 years ago - This is an excerpt from my book, Confessions of a Not-So-Good Catholic Girl, on the magical night that changed pop culture forever . . . February 9, 1964: I don’t know what television event finally brought our parents out of their funk [over Kennedy’s assassination] - maybe the soothing regularity of offbeat sitcoms like the Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle, and Bewitched, or perhaps the reliable comfort of I Love Lucy - but for us baby boomers, the sky opened up that night in front of our 10-inch black-and-whites, and a beam of light shone down right there in front of us in our living rooms like some cosmic entity. Miraculously, for one brief shining moment, old Ed Sullivan was suddenly very cool. He’d brought us a savior. Or rather, four of them. Prior to this, kids didn’t have much in the way of enjoying our kind of music on TV. Mostly, we were forced to watch Lawrence Welk and his sea of bubbles, or Mr. Sing-Along himself, Mitch Miller (and that bouncing ball dancing merrily atop musical notes). Or our local music programs, the Gene Carroll Show (an amateur hour featuring hometown musical acts that often resulted in embarrassing yet wholly entertaining live screw-ups) and Polka Varieties (targeted for viewers of ethnic persuasion, but usually minus the amusing screw-ups). In 1964, most middle-class families had but one television set and the choice of three local stations, ours being channels 3, 5, and 8. The programming was targeted for adults, or small children (like Romper Room, which I grew to hate because Miss Barbara never, ever called my name). The preteen and adolescent audience was not even a consideration. Sunday night, especially, was out of the question. We couldn’t get away from Sullivan, who, until that fateful night, offered little for us by way of amusement, unless you count Topo Gigio, the quirky little Mexican mouse puppet. Or, I suppose, those periodically intriguing circus acts. The Beatles changed my generation forever. God knows what would have become of us had they not appeared in our lives. Sure, we had Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly. But by now, Elvis was considered old and making ridiculously corny B movies. And most radio stations no longer played Jerry’s records since he’d up and married his thirteen-year-old cousin. And Buddy Holly, the coolest of them all, was dead. After the Beatles appeared in our lives through that living room box, I, along with every kid in America, clamored for anything “Beatles.” We all fought to be first to buy new packets of bubble gum that boasted “Collectable” Beatles cards (with photos and revealing data of their lives, including their “secret” likes and dislikes). Our days were measured in songs—from “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” to “A Hard Day’s Night”—and we lived solely for those AM deejays to bring us “Beatles’ World Exclusives” and to buy their next record. And as would happen more than once in my life, I was forced to choose between guys. Maybe it was because I had an older brother, but I always preferred the company of males. They were entertaining and appealing to me, either by good looks, or the fact they made me laugh. And when push came to shove, I’d choose the latter. Now, due to some odd competition, I had to pick just one of my beloved Beatles as my unending favorite in order to answer the perennial query form girls, “Which one do you like?” As if we could actually have our pick. Like we were curvy, bubble-head bachelorettes forced to choose who’d be the next lucky bachelor on the Dating Game. Fat chance. Yet, after that Sullivan appearance, this monumental decision became a required part of the process of being a Beatle lover, and it took me weeks to decide. Every girl in school swooned over the obvious. Paul McCartney was instantly labeled the “cute one,” which for me, eliminated him right there. While I certainly appreciated cute every bit as the next girl, I wasn’t about to be like everyone else. It wasn’t my nature. On the other hand, Paul was left-handed like me, which certainly added points in his favor. Then again, my personal view of myself as an independent thinker would have none of that. So that brought it down to three. John Lennon attracted me because he was the songwriter (his writing partner now removed from the list). I, already a hopeful writer, bumped him straight into first place. Plus, I liked his attitude. He had that certain something that separated him from the rest of the band—even demonstrated his distinctiveness on stage, as he always stood a bit further apart from his musical colleagues. He would’ve been my ultimate choice had he not been married, which made him ineligible with all the girls who felt a moral obligation to honor his vows. Particularly if you were Catholic. It definitely had to be some kind of a sin to be a John girl. Two to go. I loved Ringo Starr’s sense of humor. Everything that came out of his mouth was funny and I found him charming in a Barney Rubble sort of way. He also shook his “mop-top” better than any of the others. Plus, I was drawn to drummers. Whereas most females tend to swoon over lead singers and guitar players, for me, there’s always been something about drummers (maybe it’s those muscular arms needed to pound those skins, or how their head bops to the music) that quicken my beating heart. So Ringo soon jumped into first place. That is, until shallowness got in the way. My measure of worthiness was still superficial when it came to beauty, and the fact that I found him not at all good looking (how could I’d have known how attractive he’d become in his later years? That somehow time and maturity—be it his or mine—would transform that nose into an asset rather than a liability). I had to, sadly, give him a pass. However, the shame at letting such as petty trait as looks get in my way of choice continued to nag me. So a few guilt-ridden months later, I honored the world-famous drummer by naming my new cat after him. This left George Harrison. George was perfect as my definitive choice. First of all, he was cute. Really cute. He, too, had that great British humor we American girls found so thrilling. And the fact that he was quiet (which normally would’ve wiped him out in my book since I liked the talkers) made him seem sophisticated, intelligent, and absolutely mysterious - three big bonus points with any hormonal male-loving girl. It was clear I’d made the right choice when he began contributing his own songs to the band, and I fell even harder after he took up with the Maharishi, started playing the sitar, and wore those cool-looking clothes. That new phase ultimately made me—having chosen him long before—appear wise and amazingly perceptive beyond my years to all those Pauly girls. Having experienced two of the most prominent moments in 20th century history in a span of a few months, I grew up with the notion that even the most horrendous of events can be followed by the most profound and enlightening ones. Which came in handy during a few of my own life traumas. When the Beatles brought us boomers out of our black-and-white existence, television—now airing music/dance shows like Hullabaloo, Shindig, and The Midnight Special— joined the radio jocks in providing us with a musical buffet, thus enabling my generation to inexplicitly separate ourselves from our Frank Sinatra/Lawrence Welk/Polka-loving parents. The Fab Four gifted us with the blessing of cherished childhood and adolescent memories, even for those who had few to go on. It wasn’t merely their shaggy heads, but their music—those love songs with the boy/girl hooks, and rock star fantasies. Their “long-hair” and Beatle boots’ appearance gave us license to rebel, with a new, albeit kooky, sense of fashion. They made us feel good, no matter what our pubescent angst. Giving us a new attitude. A new excitement. A new lifestyle that was our very own. Moreover, The Beatles gave parents something to complain about, siblings something in common, and made even the underdogs feel triumphant. In turn, thanks to our adoration, these “exciting lads from Liverpool” became the most prominent, influential, and beloved entertainers in music history. And more than forty years later, I can now admit, that to be perfectly honest, I secretly loved John, Paul, George, and Ringo the best.