This past Sunday marked the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles at Shea Stadium, for some capping the wave they first established in the USA with their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964.
I remember in my house, on Sundays we watched The Wonderful World of Disney, on NBC, with a peacock to start the show that was wasted on us at the time because we had one television in the living room and it was black and white.
Years later in Germany I explained to our then very young son, of perhaps six years old at the time, that while he and his sister now had a TV (fernsehen) in their room (zimmer) of our apartment (unser wohnung) I didn’t have the money (geld) to afford to buy them a color set (farbfernsehen) and so they’d have to make do with black and white (Schwarz-weiss). It was, I told him, all the TV I had ever had when I was his age..
He looked at me with a mixture of disbelief and pity and asked ‘were you bad?’ (warst du bose?) because he just assumed we were being punished. I don’t think he believed me when I assured him that all there was when I was a child was black and white television. I’m not sure I believe it myself, but there it was.
And it took a large amount of lobbying to persuade my father that it was okay for all three of us, Evan, my sister, Kelly, my brother, and I to stay up to watch Ed Sullivan on CBS. It was a variety show and a showcase that was really a snapshot of what was important at that moment in the daily lives of tens of millions of Americans who watched Ed Sullivan every Sunday.
No one watched the show for Ed. All Ed did was introductions and bridges to the next performance. No jokes, no politics, no nothing. A herd of water buffalo riding motorcycles while juggling chainsaws: here they are and, two minutes and thirty seconds later, and Ed was on to the next thing in his really big shoe.
That he was the first to have The Beatles changed everything for him, for those in his audience on live national television and for all of us, everywhere beyond the beats and bounds of a studio or a TV tucked into a corner of the living room. Of course, Ed introduced them when they played Shea Stadium; we at home thought they were joined at the hip.
I was in the vanguard of the Baby Boom Generation, now dwarfed by those of the Millennials, but at its time referred to as ‘the pig in the python’ because of our size and how we reshaped every institution and perception of Life in These United States that had ever been. It was inevitable that the four mop-tops would turn a baseball stadium into a concert arena, never done before, and we’d just take it from there.
I’ve had a CD of The Beatles #1 songs in the car player all week, where it remains, listening as I drive at pretty close to max vol. Yeah, if it’s too loud you’re too old and a lot of what you listen to these days is way too loud for me (and maybe a bit beyond me in other ways as well). But The Beatles were all there was for me and every one of my generation whom I knew. They were, and still are, why music matters.