The Beatles on Ed Sullivan

To quote John Lennon, “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup”. That sounds much more literate than, “I’m rambling around a topic, but I’m not sure I have a conclusion.”

Tonight was the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I know this, because I watched the special. I was pre-warned by any number of commercials in the past few weeks. It will be interesting to see how many more people watched the special than watched the original show.

Fifty years is a very long time, indeed.

It was actually before my time, logically if not actually chronologically. The Beatles played in February, and I would turn four that April. So, I didn’t see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, because I was too young. I was not one of the 70 million or whatever insane number saw the Beatles live that night. Live. Think of that – no DVRs, no OnDemand, no YouTube. You saw it or you didn’t, until it got released on video or DVD forty-something years later. You had to see it live, because the technology to see it later at home wasn’t there yet.

So, I watched the special tonight as an interested observer and Beatles fan, but not as someone reliving the past, however glorious that past may have been.

I did finally see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1970, but they weren’t playing live – they had sent promo clips from “Let It Be”. The Internet tells me they played “Two of Us” and “Let It Be”. The videos they sent Ed were better than much of what you would see on MTV today (if you can even find videos on MTV today).

Nobody else in my house cared much about the Beatles in 1970 – my brother was too young and my parents were too square. So, I’m pretty sure I tuned into Ed Sullivan alone that night in February, 1970, ready to be enlightened.

I remember being confused.

In the years since I missed the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I had been fed a fairly steady diet of “Meet the Beatles”, “Yesterday … and Today”, “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour” from my friend, Jim Suhler (today, the guitarist for George Thorogood and leader of Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat, in those days the co-founder of Stagecoach VII), so I knew the Beatles. I could sing most of the songs on those albums by heart. (I can probably still recite some of them.)

It turned out that I knew the 1963-1967 Beatles.

The Beatles that night were the 1970 Beatles, who were about to become ex-Beatles. They were tired. They were grumpy. They wanted to go back to basics. They were brilliant.

So, I finally saw the Beatles but I was three years out of phase. They didn’t play anything I knew, and they didn’t look anything like their album covers.

I think Ed Sullivan mentioned the Beatles were hard at work in London, so they couldn’t be there in person. He didn’t mention they were hard at work, preparing to sue each other. I’ve seen the clips since then, so even though the memories have faded, they have been reinforced over the years.

It was a magical moment for me. If you can find a bootleg copy of the movie “Let It Be” or your grandmother has it on VHS in the attic, you can see what I saw – the clips are near the end of the movie, before the rooftop concert. The camera pulls back, and there is Paul McCartney at the piano, in all his bearded glory, singing about “Mother Mary”. His Mom was Mary. My Mom is Mary. Our Lord’s Mom is Mary. Take your pick. It’s a masterpiece, whoever the actual Mary may be.

That night was one of the moments that put me on a quest to find all the Beatles albums Jim didn’t have yet, and learn everything I could about the band. That way, I could be Paul McCartney when I grew up.

When I got my first real job, I saved until I could buy a stereo, and then I bought all the Beatles import albums at Peaches. (I was realizing even then I was not going to be Paul when I grew up.)

When I was in my only air-band contest, in college, I played bass, left-handed. My band won the contest, by playing “Can’t Buy Me Love”. My roommate played guitar, which was interesting, since he didn’t know the song or how to play guitar. I went home that night, and tried to figure out the bassline. It’s difficult. I thank Jameson’s Irish Whiskey for the ability to play an instrument that wasn’t there with the hand I don’t use. (I’m sure the fact the bar was using all my import albums in order to do Beatles Night had nothing to do with my victory.)

When I went to London without my parents, I walked across Abbey Road. (I could never have explained the importance to them, so I didn’t even try to add it to their schedule.) By some miracle, Paul McCartney was playing in London that night, so I put a ticket on my corporate card and went (I didn’t expense it.) It was a great show.

I’m still collecting Beatles stuff to this day, and have amassed a lot of fairly useless knowledge over the years.

In fact, I told my wife tonight that it looked like Maroon 5 had used the same font to write their band name on their drum head as the 1964 Beatles. She just shook her head and wondered.

Now, consider this – All my Beatles obsession and possible insanity since 1970 was from hearing their albums and then seeing the Beatles on TV, on tape.

So, I can only imagine what seeing them live in 1964 did to the children of the half-generation before me, beyond spurring any number of them to pick up guitars and start bands.

I still can’t play guitar. I make enough to be able to afford tickets to Sir Paul and Ringo a couple of times each, but I’d really rather play guitar.

Jim Suhler can play guitar. In fact, one of my favorite Beatle memories isn’t of the Beatles at all – it’s of Monkey Beat. Jim used to play his song, “Shake” to finish a set. In the live version, he would play any number of other songs or snippets instead of a simple guitar solo. For a time, he would play “Rain”, or most of it, anyway. It always made me very happy that one of us actually got paid to play a Beatles song, since that was my career plan from when I was seven until I was twelve or so.

I still can’t play any instrument. My poetry is not exactly publishing-quality, in spite of what has told me, in order to sell me books. My prose is not much better, as you’ve discovered by now. However, the Beatles still had a profound effect on me, even if I didn’t see them that first night. Part of that effect is from how much time I spent listening to them while growing up. Most of the effect may be due to their producing songs which are still fresh today, and will be played forever.

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