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Yesterday: Beatle Memories & My Letter from Peter Best

From our collection of trading cards 1964

Awe-struck best describes my reaction on seeing the Beatles for the first time on “The Jack Parr Show” during a wintry evening in January 1964. Parr had intended the short video as a humorous anecdote about a British rock band and their astonishing popularity. The clip from that show exists here on YouTube. The music instantly set the standard for originality, fresh and energetic with a rhythmic pulse. Their expressive singing conveyed true sentiment. I suppose some critics might argue that the song in that clip, “She Loves You,” is cliché, but a close examination reveals otherwise. The lyrics, written in the third person, resemble a conversation about love. These young men from Liverpool defended love and sang about fairness, and that was very romantic. They offer wisdom and reconciliation, “Pride can hurt you too. Apologize to her.” Their performance package was perfect. Growing up in the era of crew cuts, the lads’ longer hair had instant appeal–a break from the uniform haircut that almost all males had at the time. Criticized and mocked by the Establishment, the Beatles‘ hair cut was considered as radical as was their “yeah, yeah, yeah.” To us, they just looked fabulous; and we admired this rebellious response to the status quo.

The Beatles transformed two teenagers from the suburbs in style as well as in mind.  Before the Beatles:

and after:

I immediately connected with British culture and their representation of working class youth: Liverpudlian accents, collarless fitted suits and urban lifestyle. The Cavran Club tucked in a cobbled ally of Liverpool, provided that gritty, smokey backdrop that served as their performance home and became my imagined refuge from the suburban pabulum that surrounded us. Their place in the world was so foreign from my life. They lived on the edge of the wharfs and warehouses and played music in ally way cellars, while I remained safely planted in the middle of a suburban protective cocoon. I studied the geography of their city, intrigued by the River Mercy, the docks and ferries. The Beatles, humorous and irreverent, seemed fearless. They would find themselves in trouble because of their candid and unaffected remarks; but for their fans, they became that much more endearing. We admired their forthright approach to life. Aware of their way in the world, more than anything I wanted to be part of that scene.

So we bought their albums, in addition to fan magazines, posters, trading cards, which offered a way of transporting ourselves into a time and place we could only experience vicariously.

When the Beatles announced they would be performing in Philadelphia, we left school early and raced down to the Convention Center to buy tickets to their concert. We waited in line for hours, pushed and shoved as fans surged toward the doors. The police regulated the flow, but the crowds outside pushed against us as we waited our turn to pass through to the ticket booth. I finally squeezed through an opening, and just as I fell out of the crowd, a newspaper photographer snapped a picture, which turned up on the front page of the Philadelphia Bulletin the next day!  I’m the one to the left looking somewhat dazed after being crunched by the surging crowds.  About 12,000 tickets were sold that afternoon in just 85 minutes.

We were thrilled to attend the concert, and although we had seats in the back of the Convention Center, it didn’t matter because once the Beatles appeared on the stage, fans surged forward streaming down the aisles and through the chairs. The wooden folding chairs provided standing platforms, some girls standing on the back rim of the seat. We never heard a note of the singing–the screaming was so loud. Cameras flashed steadily during the entire concert. None of that mattered; we were with the Beatles.

A Letter from Peter

Peter Best, the drummer who preceded Ringo and played with the Beatles for two years, appeared on “I’ve Got a Secret,” a popular game show of the 1960s hosted by Garry Moore, on March 30, 1964. (YouTube clip here.) I was very much impressed with Peter as he had his own band but felt sorry that he had missed the opportunity to stay with the Beatles. I decided to write him a letter and began researching ways in which I might make contact. I phoned the “I’ve Got a Secret” show, and they suggested sending the letter to The Peter Best Four in care of Decca Records.

Two months went by when one day I was surprised to find my mother standing outside of my algebra classroom. I couldn’t imagine what had brought her there until she handed me the letter from the United Kingdom. Pete Best had written me back!

Post-Beatlemania Analysis

Our culture never had much respect for teenage girls for many reasons. We were “little women,” and society didn’t even respect mature women. In the early sixties, careers and opportunities for women were still limited to a few fields. My mother assigned my sister and me our occupations: teacher and nurse. Of course, screaming at rock stars didn’t help the status of teenagers in the eyes of the Establishment, but I now have an understanding of that enthusiasm that bubbled over: teenager girls were heralding what turned out to be one of the most influential bands in this history of music. The Beatles‘ music remains a powerful contribution to the musical canon, having sold over one billion albums throughout the world.

The Beatles profoundly influenced the culture, everything from movies and fashion to the introduction of eastern philosophy to the West. Some have speculated that pop culture changed the way Russian youth perceived the West, dissipating the propaganda of English/Americans as being the enemy. Individually, the Beatles contributed to progressive causes: George’s Concert of Bangladesh, John and Yoko’s peace campaign, Paul and Linda’s advocacy for animal rights.

Prophetic young women, teenage fans from those early years recognized that the Beatles brought hope, change and happiness through music, which is understandable and reasonable. Our unified voices, unfettered from society’s control, expressed an outpouring of  jubilation and appreciation. Sophisticated behavior in the eyes of the patriarchal society, probably not, but heartfelt, truthful and joyful, most certainly.  With a love like that you know you should be glad.

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