By Terry Boers
(CBS) The week-long tribute to the Beatles’ first appearance in America officially ended at 9:30 Sunday night with a rousing version of the classic “Hey Jude” performed by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and friends, somehow sounding rather fresh for something written almost 50 years ago.
The run-up to The Night that Changed America included a week of musical tributes from various artists on David Letterman’s Late Show, highlighted by the out-there Flaming Lips and Sean Lennon doing the psychedelic blast-off “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Lennon, it should be noted, wore the same hat and beard as his dad did for the album sleeve for “Hey Jude.” That visual provided a somewhat sad moment, but only in the sense of what could have been.
I have no idea what Flaming Lips lead man Wayne Coyne was wearing. It can loosely be described as a frilly silver coat, and he was waving his arms as if calling everyone to a meeting at Timothy Leary’s house. No problem, though. Somehow it all worked. Just as it had all week in the Ed Sullivan theater.
And it worked for me on another very personal level — there was no screaming. And when I say screaming, I mean SCREAMING. As at the top of your lungs, an incessant caterwauling that would make the loudest banshee who ever wailed pale in comparison. We’re talking about teenage girls here, of course.
If you watched mother ship CBS for more than five minutes in the last few weeks, you more than likely saw the promos for Sunday’s show. They included a brief look at the Beatles singing ,and hundreds of girls worked into a lather. You might also remember that there were originally thousands of those strange beings outside the New York theater who didn’t gain entry for that historic night. But they were still screaming.
The aforementioned Leary wrote a book in 1976 called “What Does Woman Want?” I know what I wanted in the ’60s — for all of them to shut up and let everyone else hear the music. It’s not that I didn’t like teenage girls when I was 13, I just couldn’t take another second of it. I remember my mom tried to quell my anger, telling me that hordes of young girls had done the same thing when Elvis Presley had come along just a few years earlier in the ’50s. I guess Frank Sinatra had some of that, too.
But her thoughtful words proved to be of little solace. Allow me to explain.
From the time Beatles arrived in America, I loved the music. Still do. The songbook they put together in an all-too-short amount of time together is the best I’ve ever seen. The range, the depth, the chances they were willing to take musically, consistently crossing into uncharted territory. And they did it like no band had ever done.
I had made up mind just after I turned 14 that I was going to save every bit of money I could and to go see the Beatles in person. Of course, I didn’t have a driver’s license, probably all of $5 to my name and no hope of getting anywhere unless the Beatles came to Steger. Yes, they were in Chicago at the International Amphitheater in September of ’64, but there was no way I was going to get there at that point in my life.
But there’s nothing that says you can’t dream the impossible dream. And so I did. A few years later, I even incorporated a buddy of mine from high school into the plan. He had his driver’s license by the middle of ’66 and said he would be willing to drive anywhere it took to see the band. We even briefly discussed a trip to Candlestick Park in August of that year. Of course, no parents in their right minds were going to allow a 15- and 16-year-old to take a road trip to San Francisco, particularly given the very high numb-skull factor they knew existed.
Sadly, that Beatles concert on Aug. 29 turned out to be their final live concert in America. I can still recall the joyous picture of the Beatles leaving the field, having pocketed a cool $90,000 or so for their efforts. Now this is where my misplaced anger arose. Word had it that at least part of the reason they gave up live performances was due to the screaming girls, who were loud and out of control from Shea Stadium to Candlestick to Calcutta. Well, maybe not Calcutta.
The Beatles couldn’t hear themselves — think football game in Seattle — because of the screaming girls who overpopulated every concert. And many in the crowd couldn’t hear them, either. Amps and P.A. systems were rather primitive in those days. They were fine for a waterball fight at your local carnival, but there was no way to overcome the sheer volume generated by thousands and thousands and thousands of lovestruck girls, who would all go on to marry accountants, radio sales guys and undertakers.
There were a myriad of other reasons, of course, including some valid safety concerns that the Beatles had, but that’s not what I heard at the time. To this very day it still makes me so mad I want to, well, scream.