The policeman stuck bullets in his ears

By J. Freedom duLac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Feb. 11, 1964, Beatlemania blasted Washington - all shrieks and Arthur haircuts and songs that nobody could quite make out.

Two nights after a hysteria-inducing appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the Beatles played their first U.S. concert at the Washington Coliseum, just north of Union Station.

With "I Want to Hold Your Hand" sitting atop the American Billboard chart, 8,092 people witnessed a dozen songs performed by the band that changed everything.

Bruce Spizer, author of seven Beatles books, says the concert at the long-defunct Coliseum (now a covered parking garage) "was one of the most exciting live performances the Beatles ever gave." Apple's iTunes is streaming the concert free of charge.

With Paul McCartney returning to Washington this weekend to receive the Kennedy Center Honors, here's the tale of the 1964 visit, as told by some of the people who lived it - including Sir Paul, who spoke to us last week from London.

John B. Lynn, son of Harry Lynn, who owned the Coliseum: My father got the call asking if he'd be interested in having the Beatles. He, of course, had never heard of them. But he said yes. He brought home a box of Beatles albums and singles to give out, and my brother and I became the most popular people in school.

Paul McCartney: We'd seen a lot of British stars come back from America with their tails between their legs. We made a promise to ourselves to not go until we had a No. 1. We were so excited to be madly popular in America, which was to us the Holy Grail because every shred of music we ever loved came from there. It was euphoric, and now we were heading to Washington on the train, which was very glamorous. And to cap it off, there was that beautiful snow.

Bill Eppridge, former contract photographer for Life magazine: We were going to fly down from New York, but a big snowstorm hit Washington. The Beatles reserved a couple of cars on the train and got tickets for the press traveling with them. I couldn't have had a better time. We all liked them. They were always looking for something to do. They had a race up and down the car, and two of them went up and over the seats and two of them crawled in the baggage racks. And then they grabbed the waiters' uniforms and served drinks.

Lynn: My father wasn't in the habit of meeting his acts when they arrived in town. But he met the Beatles. He didn't expect the crowd - especially on a snowy day.

McCartney: It was unbelievable, a great sort of validation of the whole thing. It was like: "Yeah, look! Everywhere we're going in America, it's happening!"

Tommy Roe, "Sheila" singer: In 1963, I was booked in England with Chris Montez, and the Beatles were a featured act on our tour. It was like Elvis Presley all over again. Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager, had called my manager and put me on the Washington, D.C., show. I was really happy to do the show with them. We were all staying at the Shoreham Hotel, and I tried to hang out with the boys there, but it was pandemonium.

Al Gore, former vice president: The incredible phenomenon built on itself. The Ed Sullivan appearance just prior to their arrival in Washington was electrifying. We could scarcely believe the Beatles were coming to D.C.

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