Beatlemania redux

Paul, George, Ringo, John

Those of us who were alive and aware in February 1964 are being treated to a nostalgia fest this month. It’s the 50th anniversary of the invasion of America by the Beatles, and it’s great fun to relive those times.

I was a freshman in high school, and like 73 million other Americans, I saw the Beatles live on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9. We had been well primed. Beatles records had played all throughout January on St. Louis’s KXOK and WIL, the two big AM radio stations for rock ‘n’ roll in those days.

The next day, one of my classmates, Bill Winterfeld, showed up at Lutheran High School South with a Beatle cut. Shortly after he walked into homeroom, he was sent home. The barriers came down quickly, though. By sophomore year, the cuts were common.

On CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend, one commentator said the second half of the 20th century didn’t really arrive until the Beatles came to America. I disagree. As David Halberstam pointed out in his book, The Fifties, radical things already were happening in that decade. On the race front, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus. Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock’s Central High School to protect the rights of nine “Negro” pupils, as The New York Times reported. Elvis, James Dean, Jack Kerouac, Marlon Brando and Hugh Hefner all did their part to shake up cultural mores years before the Beatles showed up.

It’s fair to say, however, that the arithmetic progression that happened in the Fifties took off exponentially in the Sixties, and the Beatles were at the forefront of making that happen. They certainly weren’t content to coast. Year by year, their music progressed, and their experimentation with all things new never ceased.

John Lennon was once asked how long Beatlemania will last. His answer: “As long as you all keep showing up.” The mania isn’t as frenzied as those years of the mid-1960s, but people are still showing up. I expect the Beatles will be a part of at least a few more generations to come.


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