The first thing I see is our kids, 11 and 13, standing with their ears pressed to the living room wall of our London rowhouse in 1966, listening to "Revolver."
They had bought the British version of the new record, seven songs to a side, but we had no record player. The neighbors were the young actors, Peter and John McEnery, and they had "Revolver" on from midafternoon, when they got up, until about dawn. I first heard "Eleanor Rigby" strained through a brick wall. Even so, it made my hair stand on end.
We lived with those lovely songs all that year: "Here, There and Everywhere," "She Said She Said," "Good Day Sunshine," "And Your Bird Can Sing." We never knew when they would come on. They were pure gift. A rainbow.
July 1966. Driving east from California. Dawn over the Wyoming prairie. Someone turned on the radio, and we picked up a jaunty new song. The kids knew it instantly, by osmosis. "It's 'Yellow Submarine'!" they shouted. That was before the record even came out, I think. Our son had been wearing bangs for a year.
As a father of subteens, I had heard plenty of Beatle music before the Ed Sullivan show, of course, but had paid no attention to it, any more than to Chuck Berry, an early influence. It was the movie that greened me. After "A Hard Day's Night" I was a believer, not in the least surprised when a critic compared "Rigby" to Schumann lieder. I could even tell the four apart. We all went to a Berry concert in London and fully believed, like everyone else there, that the Beatles were hidden in the royal box. We kept watching it for signs of life.
The kids are grown up and gone away now, but we have all the Beatle records, the covers nubby and creased. We even have a 16mm print of that movie.
I remember the underrated later film, "Let It Be," a touching and somehow wrenching portrait of the group in their last days together, besieged by their fans like a gang of fugitives, the humor more ironic now and a little tired, the music a little tired too. We recognized the streetcorner in the piacture, and it made us homesick for London. We still thought they would go on forever.
I remember driving home from Hartford one sunny afternoon and hearing the majestic "Here Comes the Sun" from "Abbey Road," and the medley "You never give me your money, you only give me your funny paper," a plaint about financial difficulties, one had been told, with that haunting solo piano refrain, like someone playing in an emptry hall, far away, in the dark.
I remember a silly story I covered once, the wedding of two gerbils at Bancroft Elementary School here. The wedding song was "All You Need Is Love," and the whole auditorium full of children sang it along with the Beatles tape, louder and louder until you couldn't hear anything else, and some of them held their hands over their ears while they sang. "All you need is love," they shouted, "all you need is love . . . love . . . love is a-a-a-ll you need. . . ."