Monday, February 10, 2014

Meet the Beatles! (Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…)

Yesterday…well, I suppose I could say “all my troubles seemed so far away”, but that wouldn’t be exactly true.

But yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan.

Back in the day, I was, of course, watching.

Folkie snob that I was, I had not been particularly swept up in Beatlemania. I was too busy listening to Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Tom Rush, and Judy Collins. (Not to mention the more commercial folk singers: the Chad Mitchell Trio, the Limelighters, the New Christie Minstrels, the Kingston Trio…) Forget Ed Sullivan, I lived for Hootenanny.

So I was initially a resister, looking down my nose as, one after another, my classmates succumbed to the lure of the Beatles.

Yet even I experienced a little frisson of excitement when, a few weeks before the Ed Sullivan appearance, a sophomore brought a Meet the Beatlesjust-released copy of Meet the Beatles to school. On the bus that transported us from “down city” to Notre Dame Academy, the album was passed girl to girl as reverently as if we were handling a consecrated host.

I wouldn’t have missed The Ed Sullivan Show that Sunday for anything. Not that we wouldn’t have been watching it, anyway. It was regular Sunday night fare Chez Rogers – every Topo Gigio, Bolshoi Ballet, Jackie Mason, Leslie Uggams, Perry Como moment of it.

There were only three networks then, and I have no idea what ran opposite Ed Sullivan, but we weren’t buying any of it.

The Monday after we met the Beatles, in all their black and white glory, the nuns were fully armed with talking points about lack of talent, immoral dancing, tight suits and girlie hair dos. Sister Mary St. Rose, better known as Grundy, told her homeroom that Ringo Starr was retarded.

This was all very reminiscent of the nuns’ reaction to Elvis Presley’s appearance on Ed Sullivan nearly a decade earlier.

In school the day after Elvis’ debut, Sister Aloysius St. James asked for a show of hands to gauge how many of her second grade students had seen the show. Nearly fifty hands shot up. Who didn’t watch Ed Sullivan? It was such a convenient way to soak in high and low culture. Plus Ed Sullivan – an Irish Catholic – was one of us!

Having caught us in her trap, Stah’ posed question number two.

How many families had turned the TV off when Elvis came on?

Only two or three hands were raised. (One was that of Francis George; I can’t remember who the others were.)

We were then told that the only good Catholic families were the Georges and those precious few others who had the decency to shut the immorality down.

The rest of us, bah, we were all going to be swivel hipping our way into hell.

Fast forward to the sixties, and, well, what better evidence of the decline of the west than the Fab Four?

Of course, the nuns’ anti-Beatles tirades did nothing so much as promote even more interest in them.

If Grundy hated them, what was there not to like?

And so I became a Beatles fan.

(Similarly, Sister Josephine of the Sacred Heart set off a wave of interest in The Catcher in the Rye when she announced that it was far too provocative, too jaded, and let’s face it, just too evil, for the tender sensibilities of high school freshmen. Catcher was a book that dared not even say it’s name. T-C-O-T-R – Josephine couldn’t even get the acronym right – was R-O-T-T-E-N. I went right home and borrowed my sister’s copy, and became a Salinger fan.)

I was never a screaming Beatles fan, and I spent a lot more time during high school thinking deep thoughts to Simon and Garfunkel, but, yeah, once I’d met them, I liked the Beatles.

I eagerly awaited the release of their movies: A Hard Day’s Night (later in that British Invasion year) and, in 1965, Help!

I bought John Lennon’s books In His Own Write and Spanner in the Works – it almost goes without saying that I was drawn to the “smart Beatle.” (I was also the only 13 year old in the world who preferred brainy Adam Cartwright to cutie-pie Little Joe.)

And I pretty much knew ever word to every song.

And every once in a while, I still put on one of my many Beatles CD’s and sing along.

Back to my high school days, the Beatles popped up in a number of ways.

For our annual Spirit Day variety show, four girls in my class – Mary G. (Paul), Suzanne L. (John), Susan F. (George), and Donna f. (Ringo) – dressed up like “the boys” and lip-synched to She Loves You. (Weirdly, these girls each had a real resemblance to the Beatle they were imitating.)

Senior year, we had a class assignment to write a poem, and Suzanne L. – channeling her inner John - submitted And Your Bird Can Sing. Sister Kathleen William liked it, and gave Suzanne an A.

I was of two minds.

On the one hand, pulling something over on a nun was always a good thing (even if if did involve cheating, which, goody two shoes that I was, I completely disapproved of).

On the other, Sister Kathleen William was an incredibly wonderful teacher, and it seemed kind of mean to pull a fast one on her.

My poem – which also earned an A – was a free verse number about an anti-war demonstration I’d seen on my first trip to New York City. (One line I remember: “chanting their shibboleths anti-war”, which is perhaps the only time the word “shibboleths” has been used in a poem. There was also some stuff about the daffodils that the protesters carried.)

If I had been going to plagiarize a Beatle’s song, it probably would have been In My Life

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

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