11.21.2009

Love Me Do

February, 1964. The Beatles are coming to America. The Ed Sullivan Show. We (all the junior high kids I knew) already were falling in love with the music. Some, including me, were as intrigued and enamored of the style of these blokes as of the music. But don't get me wrong, the music itself was life changing. I could write a book about how the Beatles influenced my life.

Life changing. Why? Well, I am no music critic (I think I could be) but the combination of the music itself coupled with the eclectic, cold weather-based (England can be harsh environment, weather-wise, right?) and uninhibited style was diametrically different to the broad moderate clime, traditional, almost military-based American style of the '60s I was used to. And the music was more up- tempo than we were used to. Also, I don't read music, but I'm pretty sure the chord sequence of the Beatle's songs were more unique than the formula pop chord progression we were used to at the time. And then there was the sound of those Rickenbacker guitars...they were not British-made instruments, but from Los Angeles. Somehow the sound was fuller than the tinny sound of a Fender Stratocaster.

And the hair. Don't forget the hair. In this important case if no other in my life, I was an early adaptor. Perhaps I should say an early imitator. By the time The Beatles hit The Ed Sullivan Show I was already growing out my 'do. I had already ridden the bus downtown with a month's allowance to visit Gladstein's (Durham's "urban" fashion palace) to buy a pair of Chelsea boots. AKA Beatle Boots. I took those boots straight to the shoe repair shop for the installation of what I later came to realize were Cuban heels--a couple of inches higher than normal.

Although I am loathe to admit it, I even bought a Beatle wig at Thalheimer's Department Store. I was on the waiting list two weeks. I signed up for a "Paul Model". I wore that thing once, on the bus home from picking it up. Thankfully, it didn't take long for me to realize it was not cool.

I do not fault myself for the inglorious purchase of a Beatle wig. Many of my guy friends and I who frequented the YMCA during that time were stretched to the limit of our ability to remain relevant in the junior high scheme of things. You see, as if on cue, a Duke professor and his family (including twin boys slightly older than my crew) returned to Durham from a couple of years in Scotland. Of course those two boys had perfected "the look" during those two years. Awesome long Beatle-inspired hair, tight cords, real Chelsea boots, thick Scottish wool turtlenecks sweaters and they had even acquired a slight accent while overseas. How in the hell could we compete with that level of cool? They even knew the next part of the British invasion. They were so over Paul, Ringo, George and John.

" 'ave you heard o' the Rolling Stones?" they asked.

We had the Stones to look forward to, but for now, all we wanted was to see The Beatles on TV, compliments of Ed Sullivan. In color. That's where my Dad came in. In a very creative and cool way. The Beatles appeared three weeks in a row on Sullivan, beginning February 9, 1964. Either the second or third week (I don't remember which) was going to be in color! Now, my crowd was so entranced by the first appearance in black and white that the thought of seeing The Fab Four in living color was beyond our wildest dreams! And none of our families had a color TV. But my Dad had a whole showroom of them where he worked. And so the pilgrimage to Montgomery & Aldridge, Durham's preeminent appliance and tire emporium, was conceived by my Dad. So his son and his pals could see The Beatles in color.

It was a glorious occasion. Fifteen of my closest personal friends--both boys and girls--were transported to M&A on that Sunday night, and gathered together in front of the biggest RCA color television on the sales floor to watch the gods of current culture. Dad even scooted across the street with me and a couple of buddies to The Carolina Theatre and bought buttered popcorn, Coke and various candies for the whole gang. He was a hell of a host his whole life.

Finally, 8pm came and the show began. But not in color! You can imagine my Dad's chagrin, much less my own. We watched The Beatle's show-opening tunes in classic black and white, stunned that we had been robbed of living color. While I don't specifically remember the CBS excuse, it was something like "the color system was on the fritz".

Fathers have a way of making things right--at least as right as they can. My Dad was a chronic pleaser and by the time the boys from England hit the stage again, Dad had implemented the best fix he could. We were gathered around three color televisions; with one's color knob turned all the way to red, one to yellow and one to blue. We watched those last two songs in color, alright--CBS be damned. Dad was still mortified, scurried back to the concession stand of the theatre and everyone left with another large buttered popcorn. "It was the least I could do," he said on the way home.

I do not remember the songs the group did that night. I cannot recall all the names of those fifteen kids. I will, however, always fondly remember my Father trying his best to be a great Dad that night. And always. Most of the time he was a roaring success. To me, he was that night. And now, as the father of two almost-men, I can understand that when my Dad was not a roaring success, it usually was out of his control. For the times when it was in his control and he faltered, I have forgiven him. As I pray my sons will forgive me.

Dad's favorite Beatles tune was Love Me Do. Perfect for a chronic pleaser.
LD

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