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Confessions of a Memphis Beatlemaniac

February 10, 2014

February 9, 1964.  A day that birthed a generation. A day that rocked my snug little twelve-year old white Memphis girl world and changed it forever.

john and paul singing

Even today, I cannot listen to a song from their early albums, cannot view a black and white photo from those three historic performances on the Ed Sullivan Show, cannot watch a clip from A Hard Day’s Night, that my heart doesn’t swell in my chest so that I can scarcely breathe, that it doesn’t threaten to burst with the wrenching, pulsating ache of still-vivid memories of those magic years, those precious few years.

“Hello, my name is Eve, and I’m a Beatlemaniac.”

rock-beatles-screaming2

I was born at the perfect time to adore the Beatles. In 1964, I was in the seventh grade at Richland Jr. High. (It’s now the site of White Station Middle School, the Spartans having won the ultimate battle over the Raiders, green-and-gray trumping blue-and-gold.)

Memory flashback:

Our small, seventh-through-ninth grade suburban school was  filled with good teachers and decent kids, presided over by the fearsome (to our eyes) principal Mr. Barnes. As I recall, the most serious discipline problem Mr. Barnes faced  from our class that year came from  the girls. Fashion-conscious boys that year were wearing button-down collared, oxford cloth shirts with pleats in the back. Your shirt had to have a pleat in the back to be  authentically cool. And not just a pleat, mind you, but a pleat crowned by a loop of cloth. Wear that number as a cute seventh grade boy at Richland Jr. High in early 1964, and you were chick bait, Mister. All the girls would gaggle up (def. gaggle: gather up with giggles) after the first class period to share intelligence about which boys were wearing loops today.  Then, the few, the  brave, the truly bold (as few of us pre-teen girls were at that age and in that age)  would claim our prey for the day in a defiant whisper:

“Today, I will take Bobby Schindler’s loop!”

Sometime, during the day, when the opportunity presented itself, the female warrior, with stealth and cunning, would sneak up behind her prey, with one swift movement snatch the loop and jerk it from the shirt, then disappear with shrieks of laughter into the waiting gaggle. If this covert operation was executed properly, the startled youth would never be quite sure which girl had grabbed his loop.  Most of the guys went along with this deviant social behavior for awhile.  A patched shirt was props that girls had singled you out for attention. But, alas, our hijinks were short-lived.  Regrettably, the more expensive the shirt, the less willing its fine stitching was to yield the desired prize. Too many shirts were ripped, mothers were riled, and then the jig was up. (Ah, but ’tis fine memories they are to us gray-haired grannies.)

(Shout out to Ray Gill: I still have your loop.)

As seventh graders, we were all eager to taste the sophisticated, grown-up world that beckoned to us from just beyond our next birthdays, when we would be Teenagers. (Cue trumpet fanfare. No, make that Memphis horns.) Oh, the fun we would have!  For the very axis of our big green marble turned around the exciting life of the American Teenager, we were most certain.  It was barely two months since our first gymnasium sock hop had been abruptly cancelled on Friday, November 23, 1963. We were still shaken a little, confused, alarmed, wondering what it all meant that a president of the United States could be gunned down in a welcoming parade.  But we could forget all that tonight, when the Beatles would be on Ed Sullivan!

Although the youngest of the three Yeargain girls, I was the only one of us who had already become a fan.  One day in late January, I was invited to a neighbor’s house after school, where she unveiled her latest aspirational teen treasure, the just-released Meet the Beatles. The unfamiliar music took time to find my comfort level.   The half-shadowed, mop-topped faces on the cover were more curious that fetching.

usa_meet-the-beatles

But over the next few weeks, as we listened and learned about the British phenomenon that was soon coming to our shores, my excitement and affection for the music grew. Something wondrous was about to happen, something that was captivating to Teenagers, and I knew that I was entering the much-anticipated chapter of Eve’s personal New World Order.

And the night of February 9, 1964 did not disappoint.

What was it about the Beatles that upended normal teenage life in countries around the world? Many books and dissertations  have been written on the subject.  But on behalf of those of us who were there, who lived it from the beginning and are still infected with a few drops of Beatlemania in our blood, I’d say it was timing, timing, timing, and yes, it was also the music. Their music will outlive Paul and Ringo, and everyone who ever heard the Beatles live or on vinyl or film during the 1960’s.

But what made the Beatles different to me was their joy. To see these young men on their first  trip to America in 1964, in the earliest days of their worldwide fame; to see them in A Hard Day’s Night; to hear them on those first, few drug-free albums; was to see pure, unbridled joy, a dream come alive for four ordinary young men. You could  see the wonder in their eyes, the Is-this-Really-Happening? puzzlement. You could almost see Ringo thinking, “Well, this is a bit of a giggle  for now, but if it goes away I can still go to hairdresser’s school.”

But my Beatlemania was also about being just the right age for a first mad crush, and being able – no, expected! – to share details of the object of my innocent passion with at least one-quarter of all teenaged girls everywhere I went. To be female and a Beatles fan, it was requisite to be hopelessly enamored with one of the band members. You had to choose one to be the sole object of your devotion, one name to scream, one to pin the hopes of your romantic future upon. Your choice said something about your personality, so whenever you met another Paul lover, or George lover, or Ringo lover, you knew instantly that you shared certain traits. John, unfortunately for him, was considered hands-off, being then married to Cynthia and unattainable.

By the summer of 1964, I was hooked. My life revolved around music and Paul McCartney. It was the summer of the British Invasion, and never before nor since has so much extraordinary music been released over such a  short span of time. My friends and I listened to WMPS and WHBQ all waking hours when we weren’t listening to Meet the Beatles, The Beatles Second Album, A Hard Day’s Night, or Something New. Or writing our own “Beatles Stories,” infinite variations on the theme:

He saw me sitting in the front row. His eyes met mine, and he knew I was different from all the other girls. . . 

I went to Camp Miramichee that summer. All I could think of was that when we returned home to Memphis, A Hard Day’s Night would be out. It was showing at the Park Theater. I think the first showing was around noon. I convinced my mother to drop my friend Kathy and me off at 7:30 a.m., where we were first in line, but not for long. I don’t recall what provisions we brought for the long wait, but I do remember the sheets. I had the brilliant idea of bringing old sheets and pillowcases to the show.

park theater

I really should stop here and give a prize to the first one who is successful at telling me what the sheets were for.  Anybody?

I don’t remember if I was the only one in the theatre with this particular prop. No one existed in that movie theater for me but the four young men on the screen. It was all too overwhelming, too much to bear. There they were, in front of us – bigger than life! in close-up! singing! Being joyful and entirely too adorable for words.  So, we did what we had to do. We SCREAMED! Hundreds of us, screaming, shrieking, crying, bawling, mewling, while our heroes frolicked and sang on black and white film,  winning our hearts with sheer winsomeness.

Okay, so here’s where the sheets came in.  To give an outlet to my unrequited passion, I tore the sheets up while I screamed. It was sheet therapy.

The following summer, the Summer of ’65, I was just as in love with music, and just as obsessed with the Beatles.  I wrote a fervent letter to Ed Sullivan, thanking him for making my life worth living. I also entered – and won! –  WMPS’ Meet the Beatles contest. To enter,  I explained in 25 words:

 Why I’m Going to Spend the Summer with WMPS

Hearing my name called out as the winner on the radio was a moment that cannot be equaled for sheer shock and elation. The prize was two tickets to see the Beatles in New Orleans on their second U.S. tour. That August, my mother escorted Kathy and me on a trip that was surely memorable, but more for the rarity of the event than the experience itself.  Watching four stick figures on a stage halfway across a stadium (in an era preceding today’s high quality amplification and massive projection screens)  left a bit to be desired. Since we couldn’t hear anything above the screams, they could have been anyone up there.

It was much better the summer before in the dark Park Theater with the big screen and my sheets.

As the summer of 1965 waned,  little did I suspect, so was my Beatlemania. I was furious when I heard Dr. Joyce Brothers’ explanation of my lovesickness,

“There is nothing so passionate as a 13 year old girl.”

She further ascribed the ardor young girls had for the Beatles as a safe experiment: romance without sex. The long hair – girlish, unmasculine, safe. I hated her.

But Dr. Brothers was right –  about me, anyway.  As the Beatles journeyed into the darkness of  drugs and “enlightenment,” and I learned with horror that they weren’t quite the clean-cut, wholesome lads that Brian Epstein had Colonel Parker-ed them into to heighten their  mass appeal, my inner flame began to flutter.  I was what I was – straight, provincial, an innocent  little Memphis girl, not quite ready for the rest of the sixties.

After Beatles ’65, their songs didn’t automatically thrill me. While I maintained my loyalty to the genius of the music for many more years, the Beatles – John, Paul, George, and Ringo – moved on, and so did I. By August 19, 1966, it was over. When the Beatles made their first Memphis appearance at the Coliseum, Kathy’s mom and dad graciously bought tickets and invited me to join the three of them. It was a bit awkward. Kathy and I were no longer good friends, and neither of us needed a sheet to tear.  I felt sad that night. Another flutter of the flame.

But the heart knows what the heart loves. Through the years, as I more or less confronted adulthood and accepted that life and people have flaws, I began to love the Beatles again. The more I aged, the more acutely I remembered the joy and the passion and the sheer unadulterated rush of being twelve and thirteen and on the very threshold of life, and the miracle of having something wonderful and glorious that all teenagers shared.

ringo mr conductorBeatles tribute bands don’t bring it back for me, nor did taking Nelson to see Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band play in San Antonio years ago. (We both so wanted the nerve to shout out, “Mr. Conductor!” at a quiet moment in the concert, but we were too chicken. I still regret that.) But some things still bring it back, that old feeling of my heart about to burst from my chest, of ripping sheets and experiencing elation:

  • Hearing Beatles music, suddenly fresh again, as interpreted by the bluesy Memphis sound of Fried Glass Onions, or
  • Listening to Phil Collins rock “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” on  George Martin’s In My Life album, or
  • Watching That Thing You Do, Tom Hanks’ Valentine to boomers, which captures that tng you dothe time and the feeling like no other movie for me (especially the scene where the band hears their song on the radio for the first time and flies into the appliance store to share the moment with the Bass Player and his too-dorky parents – pure joy!) and
  • Anytime I see a Mike Mitchell black and white photograph from this date, 50 years ago:

ringo

Table 24, your pizza is ready.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. peter2244 permalink
    February 10, 2014 4:35 pm

    A great trip down memory lane. My parents watched The Beatles on Ed Sullivan but would not let any of us kids watch it. I was very bitter about it at the time but when you get older you understand they were not sure whether this was good or bad and like some parents, the best way to be sure a bad experience does not happen is to eliminate the experience altogether. In the long run the experience does happen but perhaps under less ideal circumstances.

    Parenting is hard. Damned if you do damned if you don’t.

    Still love the Beatles, flaws and all….

    • February 10, 2014 5:03 pm

      How true, Peter – it’s always been tough to determine the right balance point in the protection-from-the-wicked-world part of parenting. Thanks for your insightful comment.

      I kept my son Nelson from watching The Simpsons on TV for as long as I could. He was in first grade when O.J. Simpson was on trial. Hearing only the name, he asked one of his classmates if O.J. was the grandfather on The Simpsons. Hilarity ensued, at Nelson’s social expense. He still tells the tale as an example of my overprotective mothering. (I still disagree.)

      I have to ask – how soon did your parents relent about the Beatles?

      • peter2244 permalink
        February 10, 2014 7:05 pm

        It took some time, they started easing up but the “Butcher Cover” (Yesterday and Today) came out in 1966 which slammed the door on that (but not before my mother had bought at least one Beatle LP). Ironically, I was at least as offended by that as they were but my opinion wasn’t solicited. By 1968 there were much scarier acts than the Beatles on the scene so my parents kind of threw in the towel on micro managing this. A valuable lesson for those who care to learn.

        Always question your own motives for setting rules; if it is more about exerting power, you are probably on the wrong track. If the rule is well thought out, balanced and APPLICABLE TO ALL, then at the very least there is fairness. If my parents had told us that we were all going to watch the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show BUT if the performers engaged in actions not permitted in our house during times of entertaining, the TV would be turned off or the channel changed, we would have been good with that. Easy to say now…

        Again, parenting is a hard marathon to run and there really are no days off until the kids are ready to go solo.

        Bottom Line: before I left home, I had (and still do) a nearly complete collection of Black Sabbath LPs and those guys I am sure rank far below the Beatles for the Nobel Peace Prize…

        Pick your battles wisely. The principles behind them must stand the test of time or else what’s the point?

      • February 10, 2014 8:28 pm

        Wise words, Peter! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

  2. February 11, 2014 7:43 am

    we called ’em “ivy loops” … i remember some lil wiseacre callin’ the pleat loop “fruit loops” 😉 GANT oxford cloth shirts always ripped … & don’t 4git the smaller ‘3rd’ rear collar button above the ivy loop. unbuttoned denoted goin’ steady, buttoned=loozer 😉 … WHHM was the really cool alternative to the more commercial HBQ&MPS radio stations. (lmao – shindler) as odd as it seems, “rubber soul” still resonates the halcyon 9th grade days 4 me @Gtown … eve: great article and response to an important cultural milestone — the beatles “british invasion” *.

    • February 11, 2014 6:39 pm

      Oh, wow – you have jogged loose so much in my dysfunctional memory bank. I now recall indeed that the requisite dress code was “Ivy” and that Gant was The brand for the shirts. Also remember the back button. Sounds like you were looped! Had forgotten also about WHHM. So, you must know Bobby Shindler. Is he still around? I confess having difficulty remembering a lot of the boys’ names from seventh grade. Thanks so much for commenting!

      • February 11, 2014 6:53 pm

        u r so welcome, eve. thx so much for your keen observations. i love your mempho blog. clifford F. hipped me to this entry. oui, I’ve been accused more than once for a “bear trap memory” . yes, i knew bobby well. (he was the 149 in our class of 148 heehee remember? ’69ers) dunno know what he is “up” to. i was loopy 4 ‘sho. 😉 i think seibold was at richland elem B4 moving to miami (his father was transferred w/plough — became prez of coppertone, responsible for the famed advert during his tenure)

      • February 11, 2014 9:05 pm

        Bobby was at Germantown, too? I truly do not remember that, but maybe that’s why his name came to mind. I’m truly losing it . . .

  3. February 12, 2014 9:15 am

    eve: absolutely, oh yes, schindler was in our class at Gtown. just ask jack sonnemann heehee. well, bobby was with us on every ‘skip’ to mississippi in ’68-’69 usually occurring on fridays. 😉 he lived near seibold in leafy balmoral. his parents were always outta town — & the parties, whoa! you probably don’t remember him because he actually never went to class very often or i think graduated. i can envision his ‘ivy loop’ at your 7th grade richland school for he was a cool ‘dresser’ at GHS, the guy was suave. the last time i recall seeing him was at overton square driving an exotic de tomaso pantera, quite a rare sight for memphis in 1971.

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