Fifty years ago tonight, as a nine-year-old girl living in a Boston suburb, I — along with 73 million Americans — watched the Beatles perform on the popular Ed Sullivan Show.
After watching I knew (as much as a nine year old was capable of knowing) that I had witnessed a MAJOR cultural and historic event.
How did I know this?
How could I NOT have known?
President John F. Kennedy famously said in his 1961 inaugural speech that “the torch has been passed to a new generation,” and on that night the Beatles became the musical torch.
Upon the show’s conclusion, I distinctly recall my father saying with complete confidence that “the Beatles are just a passing fad.”
His prediction was totally expected from someone born in 1922, but I knew otherwise. For the Beatles had a sound that was so unique, engaging, modern, young, hip and vibrant, I knew right then that my world was going to be radically different from that of my parents.
Sunday, February 9, 1964, was when a “cultural earth mover” began digging the divide that would later be called “the generation gap.”
Monday on the school bus my friends and I yelled Beatles’ songs out the window. When we arrived in our third-grade classroom there was talk of nothing else. How could there be when clearly something monumental had happened the night before?
All of us were emotionally affected but not capable of articulating exactly what happened. All I remember talking about with my friends was which of the four Beatles was the “cutest,” but instinctively we knew it went much deeper.
Now, viewing the Beatles’ performance through a 50-year historical, musical, cultural and celebratory lens, I ask myself, “Was I exaggerating the importance of the evening?”
That question demanded answers. Fortunately, “valid” scientific research was just an email away and about to be provided by a good friend.
My friend was also born in 1955, just a month before me. (He is well-known in media circles and asked that his name be withheld.)
Furthermore, he grew up clear across the country from where I was in Boston. So, for all those reasons, I was keenly interested in comparing our impressions, which I’ll do on the next page.
My friend wrote that “of course” he had watched The Ed Sullivan Show from Denver, and his impression was: “Thought it would change music forever.”
He also added, “I have much more profound memories of first hearing their music before I ever saw them. Meet the Beatles and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” changed my life forever.”
His answers were confirmation that I was not being “overly dramatic” in recalling this musical and cultural tsunami. After all, another nine year old living thousands of miles away mirrored my exact thoughts that a generational shift had, in fact, occurred.
Five decades later, trying to explain exactly what transpired on February 9, 1964, is nearly impossible unless you are of a certain age. It would be like a New Yorker trying to convey the emotion of September 11, 2001, to a bunch of twenty year olds in 2051 on the 50th anniversary of that life-altering day.
So now it’s your turn. If you watched the show, please comment on your impressions. I would bet they still linger in your memory.
Warning: no snarky comments from either those in diapers at the time or those yet to be born.
Additionally, there is to be no complaining about how all the hype swirling around the 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America and appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show is either undeserved or overblown.
YOU JUST HAD TO BE THERE TO UNDERSTAND.