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Elizabeth Cook: Long live Beatlemania

‘Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, tomorrow I’ll miss you. Remember I’ll always be true.”
The lyrics almost didn’t matter to my sisters and me as we sat rapt in front of the TV.
It was Feb. 9, 1964, and we were watching the Beatles’ much-anticipated first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and we took in every detail. In an age of across-the-board crewcuts, the Beatles’ hair was scandalously long.
As Dad harumphed in his easy chair, we watched the teenage girls in the audience scream hysterically. We’d all been listening to Beatles songs on the radio for months; “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had sold a million U.S. copies. But those girls were actually in the same room with the Beatles.
Hearing them sing.
Watching Paul raise his eyebrows and shake his mop-topped head.
“And then while I’m away, I’ll write home everyday, and I’ll send all my loving to you.”
Some have likened that night’s Sullivan show to the Big Bang, a moment of spontaneous combustion that produced a new pop culture.
My family and friends and millions of others were witnessing a revolution. We didn’t know it then, but 50 years ago today, the playlist of our lives was taking shape.

Just three months earlier, we’d had another searing TV moment — the wake for our assassinated president. In my mind, I can still see John F. Kennedy’s funeral procession in grainy black and white. A riderless horse passed by wearing a saddle with boots turned backwards in the stirrups.
That was a powerful image to a second-grader who liked horses so much I drew one on the basement wall and marked the parts. Withers, mane, hock, fetlock.
What a roller coaster our young lives would be — from the pall of JFK’s assassination to the frenzy of Beatlemania, from the violence and bigotry of the battle for civil rights to the placid pacifism of the hippie movement.
We learned to spell assassination by seeing it so often in the headlines — Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy within months of each other in 1968.
Vietnam. Watergate. Disco.
We Baby Boomers are spoiled in many ways. We never knew collective sacrifice the way the Greatest Generation did. But we have our scars.

And our stars.
My two sisters and I would line up in front of the den fireplace and sing Beatles songs for Mom and Dad — and sometimes just for ourselves.
We were under a spell, buying every Beatles record, memorizing the lyrics of every Beatles song.
To a point.
We watched with a degree of puzzlement as the Beatles evolved from those neatly suited crooners on “Ed Sullivan” to scruffy young men with a message we didn’t always understand. “Yellow Submarine,” yes. “I Am the Walrus,” no.
The Beatles grew up and, in 1970, they split up.
We moved on — until a gunshot pierced a cold winter night in 1980. John Lennon was dead, shot outside his New York apartment by a delusional fan. “Assassination” came to mind again, a word we never expected to associate with the four young men who sang of love.
Instead, we’ll forever think of them performing before screaming fans — and fuming fathers — singing the songs that won our young hearts.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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