OPINION – Are you ready for the next wave of Beatlemania to roll upon our shores?
Ready or not, it’s coming, and soon.
Sunday night the Grammys show will honor the band with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney will accept the award and perform on the show. Word on the street is that they “could” perform together.
The next night, an eclectic group of musicians including The Eurythmics, John Mayer, Keith Urban, John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Maroon 5 will tape “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles,” which will air on CBS-TV on Feb. 9, exactly 50 years to the date, day, and time of their first live appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The two surviving bandmates are also in negotiations to make an appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman,” which broadcasts from the very studio where half a century ago the band made one of the most-watched appearances in television history when Sullivan introduced them to the United States.
Although Starr and McCartney have performed together on two other occasions – at a 2002 memorial for George Harrison, then at a 2009 benefit concert for the David Lynch Foundation – this would be the first time they would reunite on such a large and public scale.
It seems impossible that 50 years have passed since that night when we saw them perform “All My Loving,” “’Til There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the Sullivan show.
By today’s standards, it was all so very tame, yet parents from Maine to Southern California, Florida to Washington state, and all points in between were horrified.
They looked right past the four young men sporting Savoy-cut suits and ties, spotless white shirts, and Italian-crafted pointy-toed boots with Cuban heels, and zeroed in on their long hair.
They were “freaks,” “animals,” “kooks.” But, yeah, yeah, yeah, we loved them.
Back then, 50 years seemed a long, long time to peer into the future, but I will guarantee that hardly a soul who watched that broadcast would have ventured the outlandish opinion that Starr and McCartney would not only be in the business today, but would be doing very well at packing the house wherever they perform.
It is also interesting to see that TV is embracing this anniversary with such gusto. Last year, when The Rolling Stones celebrated their 50th anniversary in show business, the band played a few high-priced gigs, put on some memorable shows with an interesting array of special guests, then went home to count the money.
There wasn’t much, other than some self-promoted and financed albums and videos, documenting the fête.
The Beatles, on the other hand, are having the proverbial red carpet rolled out for them, which translates, of course, into a carpet of green – as in cash generated by the stir this media event will create.
The thing is, all of this is acknowledgement of the most incredible hurricane to ever blow through show business.
It would be easy, of course, to simply cite certified record sales, which are far different than what legend and lore proclaim for any band or performer, but there was so much more than that.
The Beatles were a social force. As much as they tried to deny it – John Lennon once referred to himself as a journalist, chronicling the times, instead of influencing them – they set the tone of an entire generation that started turning to them for answers, sometimes more frequently than those kids sought advice from their parents.
They were honest, courageous, thoughtful. Because of this, we trusted them, listened to them for snippets of wisdom, tried to emulate them because of their standing as humans concerned about the human condition.
They didn’t like the mantle of leadership placed upon them, the responsibility of it, I believe, weighing so heavy that it led to turmoil within the band.
I witnessed Beatlemania from a fan perspective and from a privileged viewpoint and, quite frankly, don’t know how those four guys maintained their sanity.
I was there in 1966 when they performed at Dodger Stadium, then alongside George Harrison in the mid-1970s several years after the band broke up. I told him once, “I always thought being a Beatle would be the coolest thing in the world,” but, using some rather colorful language, explained that I wouldn’t, upon closer inspection, wish to trade places. He sadly shook his head and explained that the circus we were both a part of that particular day was never-ending.
All they wanted, he said, was to be a good, tight little rock ‘n’ roll band. Success? It was merely a dream and the dream was nowhere near the proportions of the eventual reality that still nets John, Paul, George, and Ringo millions of dollars a year in sales and merchandise, despite the fact that the band is not lending its songs or name to TV shows, commercials, or advertising campaigns like many other artists. They never sold out and, in spite of their squabbles, there was always as much integrity in the band’s business as in its recordings.
The thing about The Beatles is that they forced you to listen to their music, it’s not something you can do passively because there’s just so much there. What may, at first, seem like a bunch of simple pop songs is really a catalog of music that stretches the rock ‘n’ roll idiom. Nobody has come close to the simple complexity of a song like “Yesterday,” the cosmic essence of “Across The Universe,” the gentle hopefulness of “Here Comes The Sun,” or innocence of “Octopus Garden.”
We’ve seen and heard many poets, applauded many musicians, swooned at innumerable crooners, but nobody has touched us as The Beatles did, which is why the band is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago when it debuted on the Sullivan show and why the lifetime achievement award being presented by the Grammy people is, indeed, well-deserved.
No other band or entertainer did so much in such a short time to innovate and totally remake the medium. From “Love Me Do” to “The End” is a marvelous musical journey along a long and winding musical road that would have certainly been a lot bumpier had the Liverpool lads not cleared the way.
No bad days!
Update 10:30 a.m.: Ringo Starr has confirmed that he and Paul McCartney will perform together on ‘The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles,’ which will air on CBS-TV Feb. 9.
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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