Gather ‘round the rocking chair, kids, and let Pop try to explain why all the older folks break into smiles whenever someone mentions the Beatles.
It was a long, long time ago. Fifty years, as a matter of fact. I was in middle school, though we called it junior high back then. And there was never a better time to be entering adolescence.
President Kennedy had been shot in November, and grownup America was in a pretty dark mood that winter. But something was growing in America’s youth, and it burst out in February, when a new band from England showed up on our shores and everyone went a little crazy.
You have to understand that we kids got our music from transistor radios back then, not from computers and phones, and the choice of stations and music were limited. So when a new band hit big, everyone under 20 knew the tune.
I still remember concluding that there could never be a more perfect song than “She Loves You.”
Most families had just one TV set, and there were only a few channels. So when the Beatles made their first TV appearance that Sunday 50 years ago, just about everyone in the country was watching.
We saw four clean-cut young men playing simple rock ‘n’ roll. As soon as they were introduced, the girls in the audience started screaming, and they didn’t stop until the commercial came on.
Some people, mostly older, watched in horror; some couldn’t figure it out at all. But the kids were hooked for life. My brother got so excited he threw up on the living room carpet in the middle of the first set.
Parents didn’t go for the Beatles’ long hair — military-style crewcuts were more the style back then. But for the young people, it was what you might today call a game-changer. You could see it in our class pictures. One year all the boys’ hair was slicked back; the next it swept down over our foreheads. We didn’t look like the Beatles — we looked like dorks with bangs.
But we felt different. We felt like we were part of something. We were the biggest, richest, wildest generation of teenagers America had ever seen. We were spoiled by our Depression-raised parents, catered-to by advertisers, flattered by the media. We weren’t just kids who loved the Beatles. We were a movement.
Long hair became a badge of membership in that movement, and somehow it turned into a big political deal. Long hair — and when the Beatles grew mustaches and beards, facial hair — was denounced by parents, politicians and police. My high school principal told me not to set foot in his office until I shaved that fuzz off my upper lip.
Page 2 of 2 - Billboards sprang up across the country with a longhair-type and the message “Beautify America — Get a Haircut.” The revolution had met the counter-revolution.
As we matured, so did the Beatles, whose music kept getting better. Almost by accident, the world’s most famous band turned out to be its best. It’s as if people looked up a few years from now and discovered Justin Bieber — who, like the Beatles, rose to fame with hair in his eyes amid screaming preteen girls — was a musical genius.
The little bit of insanity we called Beatlemania was fun, but kids and their parents went on to disagree about topics more serious than music and hair length, especially drugs and the Vietnam War.
Before the ‘60s were over, the disagreements between young people and their parents had grown into a thing we called the Generation Gap. Egged on by sensationalist media and by politicians who saw more political advantage in dividing people than bringing them together — sound familiar? — the Generation Gap grew ever wider.
Somehow we got the idea that tensions between kids and parents were the natural way of things, that generations were supposed to be divided by music, styles and politics. That was a big mistake, maybe the biggest my generation made.
We kids eventually grew up and had kids of our own. I like to think we’re a little more understanding than our parents were when it comes to hair. And I’m pleased to report that Americans don’t talk about the generation gap like they used to. Parents and children don’t always agree, but we aren’t on opposing sides in America’s culture wars.
We learned something new when we played our old Beatles records for our children. We learned that, while Beatlemania was a product of a unique place and time, Beatles songs are timeless.
And every time I see my 5-year-old granddaughter dancing to the Beatles with a big smile on her face, I’m reminded again that great music doesn’t divide the generations, it ties them together.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.