Since I blog about digital life, I thought it would be fun to look at a cultural moment which happened in the absence of color television, video, cell phones, Instagram, Snapchat, texting, Facebook, and 24/7 celebrity news. It was a different world for sure, and this post is a time capsule of sorts for those who remember and those who weren’t yet born.
I only recently discovered that I still have the ticket stub, stuffed in a wallet I owned when I was almost fifteen in 1964. Someone’s father—I can’t remember whose—had been able to wrangle tickets. The school I went to was tiny—24 girls a class—and, amazingly, one of my friends, Robin Lynn, had actually won tickets to The Ed Sullivan Show in a lottery and had taken another classmate with her. It was Robin’s face—eyes wide, mouth open—that had been on the little black-and-white television screen that Sunday night in close-up which, in and of itself, was pretty amazing. Not just the Beatles but a friend on television. No one knew anyone else who’d been on television. We got the blow-by-blow on Monday morning.
Still, as Wednesday night, February 12th, approached, I was determined not to be swept up in the silliness, as befitted someone who had discovered Rimbaud’s poetry, A.S.Neill’s Summerhill School, B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two, and Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. I was also in love for the very first time—which seemed to be very adult—though that did not stop me from cutting out a photo of Paul, my favorite Beatle, and taping it up in my bedroom. We were driven to Carnegie Hall by my girlfriend’s father, all of us wearing dresses, stockings, heels, and carrying clutch purses. My green wool dress was trimmed in blue, with shoes and bag to match, and I wore the strand of pearls I had gotten as a confirmation gift. Our lipstick was pink, our hair teased. There were police and cordons surrounding the concert hall—there were hordes of girls hoping to catch a glimpse of a Beatle—and I remember that the seats were covered in green velvet and corded with satin. It was an odd venue to hear the Beatles since it was dark and hung with paintings, a place I associated with classical music and things adult, where a matron handed you a towel in the bathroom, and you left a tip.
My friends and I exchanged glances, surveying the audience of hyperventilating girls, craning their necks, anticipating the arrival of the boys on stage. I felt vastly superior to all of them, a feeling which only lasted a few seconds into the first song—was it “She Loves You” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand?”—when I found myself standing on my seat, my coat thrown to the floor, still in my heels, screaming and crying. The concert only lasted 35 minutes but even so, the Beatles claimed my reluctant heart, as they did everyone else’s. That was just the beginning, of course, and the years that followed—all of my memories of growing out of adolescence, going to college, and moving into adulthood—are inextricably tied to their music, as is true for most of my Baby Boomer generation. The words to their songs are still fresh and bright in my mind which has, alas, forgotten much of the poetry I once knew, along with many other things. The group broke up the year I graduated from college, thus solidifying their connection to my coming of age. There are songs which, if I listen to them now, bring back in a flash that lightness of being you feel when you are young, while other —like “Hey Jude”—are like Proust’s madeleine, recalling the angst of being vulnerable and uncertain so vividly that the sight of my hands, no longer young, surprises me anew.
So while neither Paul nor John locked eyes with me from the stage—as certainly I secretly hoped—they shaped my life nonetheless. Over twenty years later, when I worked for her sorting through John’s papers and manuscripts, I made Yoko Ono laugh when I told her the story of my Carnegie Hall adventure, the clothes I wore (“You really wore pearls?”) and my reluctant conversion to secret groupie. But perhaps the proof of the pudding was the day I actually was introduced to Paul at a party for his wife Linda’s cookbook in London. There he finally was— older to be sure but those puppy-dog brown eyes unchanged, as familiar as ever, a mere foot away. The fifteen -year-old buried deep inside my designer-clad mid-thirties self re-emerged; I managed to open my mouth wide enough to squeak “hello” and simply stared. The moment passed, he smiled and turned, and greeted someone else.
But he’d had shaken my hand and that, believe it or not, was enough to put me back in that audience, and to become the almost-fifteen-year-old whose life stretched out in front of her. The songs can still do that for me, the reluctant groupie, all these years later except perhaps for “When I’m Sixty-Four.” That one song, alas, hits too close to home.
If it happened today, I’d have the photos to prove I was there. And I’d probably post them to Facebook.
Copyright © Peg Streep 2014
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