We Beatles fans have surely been relishing all the “Beatles 50″ hoopla that has built up these last few weeks. Yesterday, February 9th, was the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first appearance on American television on The Ed Sullivan Show. I happen to enjoy commemorating watershed moments, whether they mark points in serious history or popular culture, if only because they add structure and context to our perceptions of place and time, and replenish our memories. Also, I just love history of all sorts.
Over the past fifty years, the Beatles have been the beneficiaries of much mythologizing, fanaticism, and hagiography; deifying treatments that John Lennon himself often repudiated and felt were unwarranted. The elevated status of the Beatles irks some, and as a hard core Beatles fan I can appreciate their opinions. I think much of it has to do with the Beatles serving as a symbolic proxy for Baby Boomers, a generation that has become, fairly or not, a subject of derision in some circles. Nostalgia is great, but it does seem to have a breaking point when people just tire of it all.
It’s fairly futile to quarrel about the Beatles music or whether they are fully deserving of their exalted status, a point of contention which was being disputed on Twitter last night during the CBS Grammy tribute. The larger point, I think, is the Beatles’ fortuitous position in the 60s zeitgeist: four young men who morphed from fresh-faced playful innocence into disillusioned cynicism before the world’s eyes over the course of a mere six years – a mirroring of the world itself during the same transformative period of time. It might be worth examining the significance of the “50th” in terms of 1964 itself. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan was just one notable event in an overall notable year. So what else happened in 1964? A lot. Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion of the world. Shea Stadium was opened and the Polo Grounds were demolished. Three civil rights activists, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi,. The Warren Commission report was published. The New York Times Co. v Sullivan Supreme Court ruling upheld the First Amendment. Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. Dr. Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Ford Motor Compnay unveiled the first Mustang. Jack Ruby was found guilty of assassinating Lee Harvey Oswald. A computer program written in BASIC was run for the first time. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor got married. And my brother, Chris Hajian, was born on September 29th :-)
Since we’ve all seen the grainy footage of Ed Sullivan introducing the band, extending his arm and hollering “The Beatles!!”, the ensuing screams, and the opening guitar chords jangling away, let’s watch a different video for Music Monday. Here are the Beatles singing sweet harmonies in “This Boy”. The year, of course, is 1964: