FRANCES EDSTROM

The Beatles in my life


(2/11/2004)

by Frances Edstrom

You know you're old when people are always asking you where you were when an historical event occurred. So now they want to know where I was when the Beatles first came to the U.S. and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

First, a little about the Sullivan show. The television was in our dining room on 9 Arthur Street, in Framingham, Massachusetts. Kids sat on the floor to watch, because the chairs were for the adults.

The television was like a pet parakeet in our house. Most of the time my father hated it, and it was often silenced. On at least one extended occasion, it was banished to the attic because our grades fell. There were strict rules about what times during the day the television could be on, and what programs we could watch.

Lucky for me, The Ed Sullivan Show was on the approved list. Much of my childhood was spent watching Chinese acrobats, Topo Gigio, "S'alright? S'alright," and the June Taylor dancers. My nightmare life is still inhabited by the image of plates rotating at the top of tall sticks, almost but not quite toppling to the ground as the man in charge races around the stage like a madman trying to keep the plates in the air.

And for a kid who wasn't in the habit of attending shows in New York, the Sullivan show was a real eyeopener: Margot Fonteyn and Nureyev, Maria Callas, Richard Burton, and other stars of the art and entertainment world.

I was, and really still am, abysmally ignorant of pop music trends. (I thought Justin Timberlake was a pro basketball player until all this flap over the halftime show at the Super Bowl.) I also don't think I know the complete words to any songs except "Happy Birthday," and "The Bird is the Word," another big 60s hit. (In that last song, I know all the words, but maybe not in the right order.) I watched American Bandstand every day. I knew who Justine was (the blonde), but I still wasn't really comfortable with the whole pop music scene.

So, I was still trying to figure out Elvis Presley when the Beatles burst upon the scene. All my music-loving friends, who had their own portable "record players," and toted their collections of 45 records in special little cases to sleepovers, were abuzz about the Beatles, and were crazy to actually see them perform.

Ed Sullivan brought the Beatles to his show, and I immediately fell in love with them. First of all, they were so darn cute, and so"different?"from the guys we were used to. They had adorable accents, and best of all, as far as I was concerned, was that they didn't have too many words in their songs!

Finally, I could identify with something that kids my age were in to. I could sing the songs, I could remember the names of all four Beatles. Up until then, I had to concentrate on solo performers whose names I could commit to memory: Dion, Johnny Mathis, Bob Dylan, you know.

At the College of Saint Teresa, the girls made fun of my New England accent, hadn't heard of Bob Dylan, and wrote short stories for English class about boyfriends falling for "fast" East Coast girls. But all that fell by the wayside when it came to the Beatles and any of their new songs.

Actually, the first time I got into trouble for something in college, it was for being part of an impromptu show in the Fourth Floor smoker in which we turned up a Beatles record full blast and lip-synched. I played Ringo, until we were caught by an outraged nun who claimed we were disturbing her sleep on the First Floor!

The Beatles had an almost universal appeal. Almost. John's father, Harold, loved them because they were great for his business. He couldn't get over the fact that they wrote such nice melodies.

My dad? "They can't sing like Elvis Presley."

"Dad, I thought you hated Elvis."

"Not if I don't have to look at him."

 

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