Who could have seen the Beatles coming?

Part of boomer culture is nostalgia. We grew up in an era that changed the world. And we changed with it. Kathy Bailey writes from her home in southern New Hampshire about the ways in which four young men, more than 50 years ago now, influenced us all.

Nobody could have seen it coming.

February 1964. Every TV set in the nation tuned to Ed Sullivan, that purveyor of Chinese acrobats, talking mice and Catskill comics. Sullivan, looking even more prune-like surrounded by four vibrant young men whose music and personalities had charmed the world. I watched The Really Biggest Shew from the ritual Sunday-night visit to my French-Canadian grandparents, who were even more bemused than my thunderstruck parents when The Beatles came on screen. “What is it with the hair?” my father asked, and asked again. He never got an answer, probably because I didn’t know.

It was easy to write them off as just another rock group, and really, the early music is memorable mostly for its energy. But it didn’t stop there. With George leading the way to Eastern religion and John to standing up for peace, our horizons exploded. They influenced not just popular culture, but culture itself, with sitars and Sgt. Pepper and movies a cut above the rock-musician-movie genre.

They brought American teenagers, including me, out of our little white-bread worlds. If not all their experiments worked out— remember the Maharishi? — they at least expanded our choices, and we never fit into the white bread wrapper again.

As we grew out of fanhood, we made our own choices for our lives. But the Beatles were never far away. We grieved when Paul lost Linda and expressed righteous indignation over Heather (That B. Really.). We were horrified when John was shot, and mourned George’s cancer death in a different way. They were part of our lives, and the longer we all lived, the more human they became.

We forgave them a lot because, well, they were family. John’s “Jesus” remark doesn’t rankle as much these days, heck, if Jesus could forgive him, why can’t we? And when Paul said he wished he could have been a better husband to Linda, it wasn’t offensive, only human.

Kathy Bailey pauses at the main intersection in her home town of Concord, New Hampshire.

Every generation has a mega-star, one who dominates the airwaves and teen girls’ walls. But no other musician or group has affected lives in the same way. Sinatra didn’t change a culture, New Kids On the Block didn’t open new worlds to their fans. They just sang. Which is good enough, I guess, if you’ve got the talent. But the Fab Four were so much more.

It’s hard to explain to anyone who didn’t live through it, who never set their watches to Liverpool time or copied Jane Asher’s bangs, who grew up in a world widened by technology. Hard to explain what, to this day, binds Boomers together, but whatever it is, it is part of who we are.

It’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.

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4 Comments

  1. Wonderful, Kathy. The music and culture changed everything for me. I have been a musician for life and even host a Beatles hour on my once-a-week radio show. I can never forget the feeling of seeing them for the first time and hearing instruments being played that way and songs being sung like that. A half century on and all that they were and are remains topical.

  2. Thank you, Larry. Yes, they helped define our generation, as much as the Kennedy assassination and Disney on Sunday nights. The impact was, well, impactful.

  3. Kathy
    As I read you Beetle article my mind took me bac to those very days. You are 100% on the mark. The Beetles not only had an influence on music but on culture as well. I am headed to dig out my Abby Road album and put it on the record player. Yes, record player, I am old school.
    Thank you for the wonderful article.

  4. Thank you, Everett. I still have “Sgt. Pepper” and “Rubber Soul” in their original covers. It’s hard to explain to anyone who didn’t live through it. But then I guees most things are.

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