FEBRUARY 9, an ordinary Friday, is also the 15th anniversary of an extraordinary Sunday, on which fateful night Ed Sullivan showed America four ebullient young men from Liverpool (Liverpool!) whose rosy faces were covered with hair, from the top down. It took a while to realize we had never before heard anything like the Beatles, because we first had to adjust to the fact that we had never before seen anything like them. For those of us too old to twist and shout, the best was silence.
We had no way of knowing, after all, that the sudden appearance of those four bobbing mop-heads signaled the beginning of a whole political and cultural era. As we soon learned, it was to be an era of hair -- though mere Beatle-length would soon look like a crew cut. And it was to be an era of "pigs" and walls, up against which middle-class capitalism was to get -- although again the Beatles would advise: "Carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't going to make it with anyone, anyhow." In fact, the Beatles soon proved themselves to be essentially peace- and funloving, playing their movies like the Marx Brothers, even if songs such as "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "With a Little Help From My Friends" said out loud to quavering parents that drugs were here to stay. Compared to the blaring malevolence of the Rolling Stones, et al., however, the Beatles were pure sunshine.
How they affected the kids was all too clear. How they affected us ancients was something else again. We approved, generally, even though we had some difficulty appreciating the logic of such thoughts as "Baby you can drive my car/Yes I'm gonna be a star/Baby you can drive my car and maybe I'll love you." How anyone could favor such nonsense over "Sha Boom" and "Who Wrote the Book of Love?" was beyond us.
As are the Beatles now, gone their separate ways, reconvened only by proxy in the show, "Beatlemania," an imitation of the Beatles, whose stunning success reminds us how stunning was the success of the originals. Here's to them. They were proof of many things, not the least of which is that anything can happen. Who knows but at this moment some new group of darlings is knocking them dead in Liverpool or Manchester or Clacton-on-Sea? Courage, friends.