It was a Sunday night in 1964. To be more precise, it was 8 o'clock on Feb. 9. I was sitting in the living room with my mother, about to get my world rocked by Ed Sullivan.
Actually, Ed Sullivan didn't rock my world; one of his acts did.
"The Ed Sullivan Show" was essentially an old-time variety show whose acts were mostly classic Vaudevillians.
There was the usual fare: singers, dancers, comedians, magicians, jugglers and the like. Then there were the "specialty" acts - plate spinners, acrobats, trained dogs, whistlers, scarf wavers and others of that ilk who helped drive at least an extra nail or two in Vaudeville's coffin.
Perhaps the act I considered the pinnacle of weirdness was Richard Burton reading a passage from Shakespeare. He was in a tight spotlight, reading from some huge, leather-bound tome on a bookstand, half-glasses perched on his nose, looking about as serious as it gets.
He was supposed to be lending an air of scholarship to the show but to me he looked like Pretentiousness on Parade. And how could he not? The only Shakespeare any of his viewers had had read was what was assigned - and forgotten - in high school. It was pearls before swine, at its best.
But not all Sullivan's acts were ancient and shlocky. He hosted status quo wreckers Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Carlin and Richard Pryor, among many others.
But back to my living room on Feb. 9, 1964
It'd been 54 days since Christmas, 10 since New Year's Eve, and I had about 130 days till I was a high school graduate, but none of that was on my mind. What was on my mind - and the only thing on my mind - was the act Sullivan was about to introduce.
From sour grapes
To understand what I was going through, you'd have to understand the world back then. Or more exactly, you have to understand the differences between the world then and the world now.
Today, everyone everywhere is wired to everyone else, everywhere else. If an earthquake levels Uzbekistan, a tanker sinks in the South China Sea or Jimmy Hoffa is discovered alive and well selling chestnuts on the streets of Glasgow, not only will the rest of the world know it within minutes, but they'll be able to watch it, up close and personal, in real time.
But not in 1964. It was a grainy black and white world, with huge time gaps and delays. If something far away happened, we'd hear about it, but how quickly and completely was up for grabs. So it was doubly amazing any of us bumpkins had ever heard of the featured act, let alone that we were all perched in front of our TVs. But we were - to the tune of 76 million of us, almost 40 percent of the entire U.S. population.
The act, was of course, the Beatles.
Before that night, I'd had only heard of them twice. Once was when my classmate Jim McClay said something about a new English rock band that might be coming to the States. The other was a short article buried in a back page of Time magazine, accompanied by a tiny black and white photo. Neither the article nor the picture showed much. Certainly they didn't even hint at what was going to happen once the Beatles hit our shore. Then again, no one could have.
Sullivan introduced them, they started playing, and suddenly all the girls in the audience launched into full-blown hysterics - shrieking, sobbing, drooling, pulling their hair, gnawing their lips, shredding their hankies.
I sat there dumbfounded.
There was the Flower of American Girlhood - those girls I'd been taught to open doors for, hold coats for, pull out chairs for - acting like shameless, lust-besotted hussies. And worst of all, they were acting that way over a bunch of mop-haired Limeys wearing peg pants and pointy shoes, no less.
"Sweet baby Jesus!" I shouted. "Look at those girls! What's wrong with them?"
"Nothing's wrong with them," said my mother. "They screamed for Elvis, they screamed for Sinatra, they screamed for Rudy Vallee."
"Rudy Vallee? That little fop with his letter sweater and megaphone? Don't get me started," I snarled.
Of course, it was just sour grapes on my behalf. There I was, a month after my 17th birthday, a high school senior, a reader of Kerouac and Ginsberg, a man of the world, really but I'd never heard a girl squeal over me. In fact, never having had a date, I'd never heard a girl say she'd had a good time - at least not with me.
to full-fledged fan
It didn't take long before the Beatles music kept growing on me, as the Beatles music itself kept growing. They shifted from the simple boy-girl, wanna-hold-your-hand, yeah-yeah-yeah, Buddy Holly-esque stuff to serious messages, powerful ballads, and more complex musicianship. Soon I - like the rest of my generation - became a full-fledged fan.
The albums flew by: "Hard Day's Night," "Rubber Soul," "Revolver" ... and then "Sergeant Pepper," blowing everyone's mind with its sitar and psychedelia.
"Magical Mystery Tour," "Yellow Submarine," "Abbey Road," "Let It Be" and before I knew it they broke up.
There were hints about the break-up in the press, of course. But when I saw their movie "Let It Be," it was obvious how much trouble the lads had had working (or even just getting along) with each other.
I'd known the Beatles for only seven years, but it'd seemed like a lifetime. And why not? To me at 24, seven years was a lifetime. Every major event in my life, every success and failure, every victory and loss, had happened during that time, and the Beatles had been with me all the while.
When they broke up, I understood in my own little way why it happened: That almost always artists in a group eventually outgrow the group.
I also understood that no matter how anyone cut it, the Beatles had made the world a better place.
And I understood one final thing: With the Beatles no longer among us, the world might not become a worse place but it would surely become a lonelier one.