Friday, January 31, 2014

It was 50 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play ....Plus

The slowly balding wrinkling tired pilgrim gathered his now adult children, the dogs and anyone who was gracious, had enough wine or saintly patience to listen to his story one more time.

“Well it was 50 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. Back when I was in England in ’61 something was happening…”

“Please, you were going to tell us about the time the Beatles saved your life,” answered an anxious voice from the back of the gathering and it added “ you can tell us about those related episodes at another time, ok?”

“What? Oh yeah. Well anyway back in ’62-‘63 or so my cousin I met in London was sending me letters from there about a new rock band that was shaking up more than the music scene in England. Girls were screaming and fainting while tossing panties onto the stage at the band’s performances. I needed to hear this music for myself since this band had not yet received radio play in the states. In response to my pleas   my cousin started sending me forty-fives from England.”

“Forty-fives? “ that same questioning voice in back interrupted.

“Oh yeah…these were small black vinyl discs with one or two songs on each side that were played at 45 revolutions per minute on a turntable”

“A turn ---- what?”

“Never mind. My cousin sent me these discs almost weekly. It seemed as though this band was recording more songs than the typical performers recorded in a lifetime. By this time word was starting to spread in the U.S. about this band called The Beatles. Did I tell you how they actually created their name as a homage to Buddy Holly and the Crickets?”

“Yeh, ya did dad, and you have told us how Buddy Holly was your first rock n roll hero and how you were depressed when Holly died tragically. Just tell us how The Beatles save you.”

“ Ok, Ok. You see the word got around that I had these 45’s from England and no one in the area or even in the state had these records or had heard these songs on the radio. So, I started to bring these records as I got them to the local music store. These discs were as if they were gifts from an unseen god.  That store was sort of the church of anyone who was interested in contemporary music. My friends would be my bodyguards and co-disciples of sorts as we bicycled our way through once quiet suburban streets to the small center of town that was lost in a previous time. Everything was about to change and only a select few under the age of fifteen were aware that something was in the air. There at this center of this sacred store a crowd of girls and boys waited outside and cheered and screamed as if I were one of the Beatles they come to baptize the believers. As I entered this sanctuary my friends cleared a path to the main counter where the manager stood with his turntable ready to play the new record. Reverential silence took over those gathered to hear the words as girls reached through the crowd to touch the holy grails, I mean records. I felt like a combination of John the Baptist with Buddy Holly’s spirit carrying me each step. The voice in wilderness had come home. It was the first time in my life where others seemed to have some interest in me. I knew it was interest in and admiration for the Beatles and their music, but I didn’t care. I think that is where for the first time girl asked me out on a date and she didn’t even mention the Beatles or bringing any of the records. I brought a couple of 45’s along on that date just in case. “

A voice for the group chimed as if to bring this story to closure” So, this is how the Beatles saved your life?”

The pilgrim slowly smiled saying,“ Hold on there this was just the beginning.”

He continued and he knew he had to talk fast.

“One Friday night around that same period a small group of these disciples and I gathered at a friend’s house that January as it was rumored that the Jack Paar TV program was going to have the Beatles on his show.”

“Who, What?” that same voice queried. The old pilgrim looked around and no one was checking or sending texts on their smart phones yet so he quickly jumped back to the story before he would lose them.

“ Well, though the broadcast was just a filmed performance of The Beatles somewhere in England there was some satisfaction. I had thought ‘ I was right! There is something special about these guys’ and suddenly I and the small collection of disciples desired more. It was then announced that on February 9, just weeks away, that the Beatles would perform live on the Ed Sullivan Show. I know. I know. You were going to ask ‘who is Ed Sullivan?’ let’s just say if a performer made it to his live show you had made it to the high mass of recognition in the entertainment industry.

More of the Beatles’ records were now being played on the radio ten, twenty, thirty times a day. No one seemed to get enough of them. Some of their recordings played I didn’t have. My importance and popularity as the keeper of the Beatles’ flame in out little town faded fast. I regained some of that attention when my cousin sent me a signed poster of the Fab Four for their Command Performance at the Palladium in London. No one cared if the signatures on the poster were real, replications or plain ole forgeries! No one had seen such a full four-foot colored iconic poster of the Beatles. My co-Beatle fanatic friend, David, encouraged me to find a bank vault for the records and poster. My folk music friend, Matt, gave that smirky smile singing ‘The times they are a changing.’

Before we knew it that Sunday of infamy arrived. It was the day of truth, true revelation, the day of the Ed Sullivan show featuring the Beatles. It was like Christmas Eve all day as the time wouldn’t go fast enough. I hoped that someone would decide to broadcast the show earlier than planned to avoid riots in the streets and masses of teens dying of heart attacks or suicide! But I had to hold my breath a little longer as the show would go on as planned. Readying myself for the anticipated sacramental experience I retreated into the bathroom earlier in the day and combed my hair down to lie across my forehead in Beatlesque mop top style welcoming the troubadours into my home through that magical mystery of technology called a television. My dad just laughed. My younger brother followed my lead and my sister said wasn’t sure about what was about to happen but the found the excitement contagious. And then, then it happened….

The Beatles played five songs at different spots in the program and from the first note of the first song my heart pounded harder and faster than it has ever done before. My inner self was screaming in silence with the girls in the live studio audience. A new chord had been struck. A flame that I thought was out was not just rekindled but it exploded into a bonfire. When the TV screen showed personal facts about each Beatle as they appeared on the magical screen the camera panned on to the lead guitarist, George Harrison. The words I saw are burned in my memory forever that he and I had the same birth date, February 25.  I felt as if it was karma, speaking directly to me… and it was, it was …it is difficult to explain. When I saw my friend David at school the next morning we could see the same fire in each other’s eyes. It was just the beginning.”

One of his children who had been politely listening to this half fable said, “Is that it? When are the Beatles going to save you? Didn’t you and your friend David see them in concert at Shea Stadium? “

He smiled and said “ Yeh, we saw them at Shea but that was later “

“But what was all the excitement about and when did they save you?”

A little exasperated but smiling the pilgrim said “Ok, but it would be a much longer story to discuss the significance of the cultural and societal shift these young men had…. on music, the new types of lyrics… by the way they would end up using the word ‘love’ 613 times in their songs over their career together …social attitudes and values shifted and.”

One daughter abruptly interrupted, “Please no! Can you just explain in a few words to us what it was all about and how they saved you?”

He smiled again and added, “ I guess it is ineffable. I guess you had to be there. Maybe they just woke up dormant spirit in me…and were channels to bringing light and joy to life."

( Sometimes the videos don't appear on smart phones...try clicking on the link)

Other live performance

This is for David who said he didn’t hear a note when we saw them at Shea in ’65.


One More thing....

What will your verse be? What is your true voice?

A recent powerfully imaged television ad for the new Apple iPad Air uses a voice over from one of my favorite scenes in a favorite movie of mine, The Dead Poets Society. It also helped me recall a favorite poem of mine by Mary Oliver. Each of these fuels the flame of my love for poetry and helps me remember why I love poetry - while revisiting the question “ Have I been or am I authentic enough and have I contributed a verse to this powerful play?”

The original scene

The new iPad Air

“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Autumn Poem

In the last jovial, clear-sky days of autumn
the mockingbird
in his monk-gray coat
and his arrowy wings
from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing — but it's neither loose, nor lilting, nor lovely —
it's more like whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges.
All birds are birds of heaven
but this one, especially, adores the earth so well
he would imitate, for half the day and on into the
its ticks and wheezings,
and so I have to wait a long time
for the soft, true voice
of his own glossy life
to come through,
and of course I do.
I don't know what it is that makes him, finally, look
to the sweet spring of himself, that mirror of heaven,
but when it happens —
when he lifts his head
and the feathers of his throat tremble,
and he begins, like Saint Francis,
little flutterings and leapings from the pine's forelock,
resettling his strong feet each time among the branches,
I am recalled,
from so many wrong paths I can't count them,
simply to stand, and listen.
All my life I have lived in a kind of haste and darkness
of desire, ambition, accomplishment.
Now the bird is singing, but not anymore of this world.
And something inside myself is fluttering and leaping, is
to type it down, in lumped-up language,
in outcry, in patience, in music, in a snow-white book.

             - Mary Oliver


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