Sunday, January 07, 2001

Beatles provide soundtrack for life

        You were 13 years old in 1964, the night the Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan Show. You were lying on the carpet in front of the black-and-white television set, elbows on the floor, propping up your head. You were enraptured.

        Your parents were shaking their heads, a combination of wonder and disgust. “Well, I never,” your mother said. Your father muttered something about long hair and the decline of Western civilization. The Beatles were playing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Life would never be the same.

        You know someone whose first record was the 45-rpm single “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Everyone knows someone like that. “I Saw Her Standing There” was on the flip side.

        You know someone else whose family in 1964 had just moved to the United States from Argentina, to escape that country's political troubles. They barely spoke English. Their new house was fresh paint and unopened boxes. All except for one. The TV was out of the box and tuned, on that Sunday night, to Ed Sullivan.

        The new Americans watched the Beatles and felt the pulse of their new home. The boys were British, yet seemed so American. Brash. Cocky. Optimistic. Full of their own possibilities.

        You wanted to go to the Beatles concert, but in 1964, you were too young, your parents decided, to be part of a throbbing, screaming mob of kids who were, in fact, going to hell in a hand basket. Your friend went, though, and when one of Ringo's drumsticks flew from his hand, she caught it.

        You went to the Beatles movies: A Hard Day's Night, Help!, even the dorky Yellow Submarine. When the kid in front of you told you to shut up, he couldn't hear the movie, you screamed even louder.

        You were too young for Elvis and too old for the Mouseketeers. The Beatles awakened something primal inside you. It didn't feel strange to be screaming at a movie screen. It felt perfect.

        The Beatles provided the soundtrack of your life. They reflected the changes in who you were, from the swooning teeny-bopper who screamed to “Love Me Do,” to the protester who sang with John Lennon's “Give Peace a Chance.”

        You still play the soundtrack from A Hard Day's Night. You still sing to “Penny Lane.” “I Am the Walrus” still sounds fresh. You've programmed your CD player/alarm clock to wake you each morning with “A Day in the Life.”

        Woke up, got outta bed . . .

        When “Here Comes the Sun” dances lightly from the car radio, it's still an invitation to feel good. It's been a long cold lonely winter. But not anymore.

        The Beatles played in an era when they had every right to be cynical, but they never were. There were many things to be angry about then, many more than now — Vietnam, assassinations, the Cold War — but the Beatles kept their music within the boundaries of hope.

        Imagine all the people, living life in peace.

        And now, for Christmas you have bought your 16-year-old daughter the collection of 27 Beatles No. 1 songs. Since its release in mid-November, the collection has sold about 20 millioncopies worldwide. This means more than wistful boomers are buying it.

        You have handed your 14-year-old son the White Album and watched him as he cued up “Revolution.” To you, the White Album is a totem, a crucial memory, an heirloom. “This,” you say to him, “was the times of my life.” For a while, he puts away his Limp Bizkit and his Rage Against the Machine.

        In this time of affluence, rage is an expression of boredom. The youth culture has no vital worries, so it creates them. The music is tense and angry. The Beatles were fun and celebratory. They never lost their optimism.

        There will be an answer. Let it be.

        They owned a vitality and glad-to-be-alive spirit that would be seen as hopelessly naive now. Their music made you feel good.

        You ate dinner every Sunday at your grandparents' house. They had a color TV in 1964. You watched the Wonderful World of Disney in color. But not this week. This week, you watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

        Thirty-six years later, your 16-year-old daughter is listening to her headphones. “Ticket to Ride,” I think.

        Time passes, and we must move on. But not always. Not always.

        Contact Paul Daugherty at (513) 768-8454; fax: 768-8330.


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