David Hoppe

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:: It was 50 years ago today…

Making history, making memories

by David Hoppe

“They say the world doesn’t change in a day. But one day, it did,” proclaims a headline, quoted on the Beatles’ homepage.

The quote, of course, refers to the band’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, a mind-bending 50 years ago.

Coming as this anniversary has, on the heels of last November’s 50th marking since the Kennedy assassination — another date that “changed everything,” — one might well ask if we’re on the cusp of some strange Baby Boom ritual being served up to ward off the first stages of cultural dementia. It’s a long trek from here ‘til January 1, 2020. How many of these birthdays are we going to have to endure?

Interestingly enough, CNN, in league with Tom Hanks, America’s newly anointed Everyman of a Certain Age, has apparently decided to get a jump on this syndrome. They will launch a documentary series on the Sixties this spring. Instead of a drip, drip, drip of world changing dates, we’ll be treated to a one-stop shop of memories.

That said, it’s hard to resist pausing for a moment to reflect on just what a gas the Beatles’ arrival on these tail-finned shores turned out to be. As has been pointed out to a queasy degree, the juxtaposition of the Kennedy killing with the Beatles’ leap onto the national stage amounted to a jolt of catharsis, a necessary boost to get the country moving forward again.

This is a handy bit of hindsight. At the time, the vast majority of what today would be called the Beatles’ target demographic had already turned the page on the nation’s tragedy. We (for I was one of ‘em) were in the twisted middle distance of adolescence, ducking through junior high, or just beginning to get a grip on the 9th or 10th grades.

It was our parents who needed a shot of something bright and, for them, the Beatles appeared to be just another fad, albeit one featuring charming accents. Take a look at YouTube videos of the Beatles’ early press conferences. The room is full of people we can definitively call adults. Bad haircuts, cheap suits and unbecoming glasses fill row after row. In the end, it was people like these that had the most to gain (and lose) from the larger social changes the Beatles would help trigger. At the time, though, they hadn’t a clue.

On the morning after the Beatles played the Sullivan show, there was a palpable buzz on the playground of my middle school. A few of the boys (not me) had combed their hair down on their foreheads. When the bell rang, all of us trooped into the building, only to be greeted by our principal, Mr. Spotswood, standing like a temple guard at the center of the hallway. Every boy with his hair combed down was sent to the washroom with orders to comb it back. The rest of us eddied around Mr. Spotswood like a river, like history itself. He didn’t stand a chance.