The Beatles and Me
The Beatles landed at JFK international airport on February 7, 1964. It was a Friday. Had I been living under different circumstances — ten years older, with my own penthouse apartment, and in possession of a sporty convertible — I’d have driven to that airport and offered my services as a personal chauffeur. You boys will be staying at my place, of course. I would have told them. We’ll order pizza and have it delivered. Oh, by the way, I have my own soda machine. No money needed. You just press a button. Anyone fancy a Coke? I heard the word ‘fancy’ in a British movie, and was saving it for just such a day.
As it was I was a ten year-old sitting in my fifth-grade class daydreaming such things. Sister Elizabeth will have whacked her desk with that thick twelve-inch ruler of hers to get our attention. You can look out the window all you want, you won’t find any flying Beatles out there. Now please grab your pens and copy what I’ve written on the blackboard.
That’s as far as the school memory goes. But Beatles were all we had on our minds that day. And the nuns at school knew it. Getting our attention was the order of the day.
We had that same goofy idol-worshiping gaze in our eyes that the nuns would have a year later when Pope Paul VI played Yankee Stadium. October 4, 1965. Okay, he didn’t play much of anything. It was a mass. But it was a mass in a ball park, so cut me some slack.
I do remember wanting to get home after school that day to watch the news. I wasn’t disappointed. There they were — in all their mop-topped glory — being interviewed at the JFK press conference. Their hair, clothes and humor sticking a finger to the status quo. You couldn’t get the smile off my face if you scrubbed it raw with ammonia.
This was the first time in my life that I felt I had music that belonged to me. I’d spent most of those ten years listening to the music of my seven older siblings: Elvis, Roy Orbison, Dion and the Belmonts, the Drifters, and many others. Then there was my parents music: Ella Fitzgerald, Sinatra, Louis Armstrong. Artists I’d come to love and embrace as I got older, but in February of 1964 it was my year to shine. It was downright exhilarating.
I remember standing at the music rack in Woolworth’s staring at an album I couldn’t afford. Meet the Beatles was the band’s first album in America. I Want to Hold Your Hand was the first single, but it was the B side that grabbed my attention: I Saw Her Standing There.
I bought the single and, on the way home, I picked up the sheet music at Margie’s candy store. The single cost me forty-nine cents. The sheet music was a quarter. I don’t know what possessed me to buy the sheet music, though. We had no instruments in our apartment; not so much as a kazoo. But I had to have it. I remember my brother Kenny and I sitting high up on the sofa, our bare feet on the seat cushions. Both hanging onto the sheet music and singing I Saw Her Standing There at the top of our lungs. It was the best seventy-four cents I’d ever spent. It started a lifetime love affair with music. It’s never left me.