Yesterday and Today
The Ed Sullivan Show 17.19 photo © 1964 SOFA Entertainment.
I’m a little surprised at how emotional I got watching the Beatles tribute earlier tonight.
And I shouldn’t be. Surprised, I mean, because I am a very easy mark when it comes to that sort of thing. Nostalgia is practically my religion.
CBS aired The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles at 8 p.m. — 50 years to the hour from the band’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was taped a couple weeks ago, on the day after this year’s Grammy Awards telecast, which is why there were so many stars on hand who might otherwise have been working elsewhere and why Pharrell was wearing that hat.
Of course, I flashed back to my own first major exposure to the Fab Four, by way of
the incarnations of Billy Shears, the Henderson Brothers, and Strawberry Fields who headlined producer Robert Stigwood’s infamous 1978 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie. Since my sister and I couldn’t get enough of that film or its soundtrack, as I wrote in 2010, our mother quickly bought LPs of the original Beatles Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, the albums from which most of the songs in the movie were taken. (Mom did own copies already, but we were in the middle of a move at the time, living with my grandparents.) Not long after that she busted out Magical Mystery Tour, too, it being a concept album in the Sgt. Pepper’s vein, and somewhere in there we caught the animated Yellow Submarine on Channel 29 or 48.
Mom remembers watching that Ed Sullivan appearance on TV. I was born within a
year of the band’s dissolution. Despite that fact, and having come to The Beatles sideways a bit through occasional songs that I didn’t yet associate with them and the Sgt. Pepper movie and general culture, I was not in any way less of a Beatles fan. I clearly recall a day in fourth grade, after we’d uprooted from South Jersey to the Philadelphia suburbs, on which my music teacher, Ms. Botsis, had asked us to bring
in our favorite record: 9-year-old me was torn between The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and Billy Joel’s new Glass Houses. I think I went with Glass Houses but I’m not sure — because the girl I sat next to had brought in whichever one I didn’t, she told me that she’d been torn between the same two choices, and I was smitten. The story is the same either way, even given how some might judge me harshly had I chosen the Billy Joel, because Glass Houses is still one of my favorite albums no matter what you say.
So as I watched various artists perform Beatles songs tonight with Paul and Ringo in the crowd, most of them quite worthy, I thought not only of the extraordinary breadth and depth of the group’s own creativity but how it had inspired so much other great music; I thought of my exposure to that crazy big-screen tribute to the Beatles oeuvre in the summer of 1978 and my mother’s oft-mentioned memory of watching their 1964 debut on American television and the innumerable connections I have made with people through The Beatles over a lifetime; I thought of how tragically John and George were taken from this world too soon, because how could I not; I thought of my dear cousin Steven, who could and would break out into music at any moment in any place, who likewise should have had more time among us; I thought of how cool and weird and even at times scary The Beatles’ music was to my young ears, of how I’m glad now for that impenetrable sonic darkness in certain latter songs of theirs which once freaked me out, of how there is this great beautiful Gordian knot called The Beatles at the center of popular music that incorporated the past and present and future.
And I got a little choked up, like I said, because The Beatles is just that big and universal and intimate of a thing, because even though the words weren’t sung on TV earlier tonight it really is true that the love you take is equal to the love you make.
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