The Beatles – 50 years on for us all
It is 50 years ago this month when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was a young 11 years old, but I was not too young to have Beatlemania.
It was cold in Edmonton in February and we spent evenings as a family huddled around the television. The same television that brought the assassination of John F Kennedy into our living rooms only a few months earlier would bring us the Beatles. Our family religiously watched Hockey Night in Canada – you know that living room set up at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto – it could have been ours. We watched The Wonderful World of Disney and Don Messer’s Jubilee – we were Maritimers after all. And, of course, The Ed Sullivan Show. I was just getting old enough not to want to be with my parents, preferring my own bedroom, but we had only the one television – a great big white oak Phillips console so I had to sit in the same room with my parents and siblings if I wanted to watch TV. Maybe a lesson in this for the modern family.
My parents – my father really – must have been one of the first kids on the block to have a television as it is in our earliest family photographs along with a matching console record player and radio combination. My mother has it still, record player and radio long gone it is now filled with tarnished silver serving dishes that she no longer uses. One day I ‘ll be happy to give it a new home and I’ll be looking for the bits and pieces to restore it. I have very distant memories of dancing around the room when I was about six years old to the likes of “The Purple People Eater” a character my father became that Halloween – in a pair of combinations he’d dyed purple and a very horrible mask his children played with for years after scaring ourselves every time.
But, in 1964 this lovely matching set of modern technology sat in the centre of an otherwise sparsely furnished room in a PMQ (Permanent Married Quarters) on a military base in Alberta, where on 9 February 1964 my family watched the Ed Sullivan Show and the first television appearance of the Beatles. I was keeping a Beatles scrapbook – I know, I know. I used my Brownie camera to take pictures of the television and convinced my father to use his movie camera to record the performance. My father hated the Beatles – so he must have loved me.
For Christmas 1963 I’d received my very own small portable record player – you know the kind with a lid that opened and a handle so you could take it to a friend’s house, or out on the lawn. I had a 45 of She Loves You and I played it over and over and over – my father yelling up the stairs that he’d had enough!
So, it’s 50 years later and we caught a bit of a CBS Television special on the anniversary of the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. Poor old Ringo and poor old Paul. Paul still sort of cute for an old man – and he is old – even older than I am. He has lost his ability to sing as he could when he was young. All the songs he performed were loud and backed up by a lot of musicians and other singers. It was sad really. Sometimes the past is better remembered than re-created. Better to re-visit the music of our youth by listening to our old records. Along with memories of smooth skin and naturally coloured hair – or hair at all for some – bodies that looked good in bikinis, and the Beatles as they were.
So, it is funny how things happen. As I was writing this, more for my own amusement than anything else, I came across a novel by Alice Elliott Dark whose collection of short stories In the Gloaming is a favourite of mine. Her novel Think of England opens on 9 February 1964 with Jane and her family sitting down together to watch the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Jane is 9 years old, the eldest of four children. Her father is a heart specialist who, his wife believes, spends far too much time and thought on his patients. This date will forever haunt Jane, as it will also be the date of a great personal tragedy for this family.
Jane is a serious child and becomes a serious young woman when we meet her again in London, England some years later. She is on a year long visit, attempting to work at being a poet – and putting some distance between herself and her mother. She meets a young couple so completely different from anyone she has ever known, and falls in love for the first time. It is a year of growing up, and realizing that she can never really “completely forget that whatever good time she was having was apt to be snatched away in an instant.” She simply cannot leave the past behind.
The novel concludes when Jane is a middle aged woman – living with the choices she made in London more than twenty years earlier. She reflects on the family of her childhood and knows “I want to have a family, a happy family”.
It’s all any of us want, isn’t it? It is what we all may have looked like 50 years ago as we all sat, as a family – happy or not – to watch the Ed Sullivan Show.