Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Steve Lasko

I barely noticed when The Beatles vaulted onto the world stage, fifty years ago. Our family was a self-contained unit and didn't get real intimate with the popular culture. We did get the Huntley-Brinkley report every night, accompanied by a grumbly voice-over from my father. I knew what our political preferences were, but not why. I knew that when Steve Lasko, a boy in my fifth-grade class, hung a bumper sticker for a local Democrat on his desk ("BREAK THE BYRD-BROYHILL GRIP"), that meant he was on the side of Good, as well as being cute. I was aware of Marilyn Monroe and Playboy Magazine and Mickey Mantle and the importance of all of them to certain of my classmates. But The Beatles was just something I heard people talk about.

The only conceivable entry point for The Beatles into our house was the little radio on top of the refrigerator, but Arthur Godfrey lived in there and prevented unauthorized incursions. Sometimes he let out The Syncopated Clock and the Typewriter Song but that was about the extent of it for music.

In 1964, according to the grapevine in Miss Pope's classroom, The Beatles were going to be on the Ed Sullivan Show. That was on the wee list of programs that were allowed in our living room, but for some reason I watched that episode next door, at Susie's house. Susie was younger but she had a much better grip on popular culture than I did, and I was already beginning to pay attention to her pronouncements to avoid embarrassing myself in front of my peers. We sat on her parents' bed and tuned in. I still couldn't hear any of the music. The audience was going crackers. And there, right next to me, to my utter astonishment, my neighbor was beginning to bounce up and down and emit noises. Little proto-shrieks. It wasn't easy to acquire mass hysteria through the TV, because the reception wasn't that good at the time, so it just came out in high-pitched squeaks.

I was dumbfounded. None of this made any sense. I recognized this as a watershed moment. On the one hand, everything about the behavior rang false. On the other hand, I recognized for the first time that very soon, false behavior was going to be expected of me.

I went back home, but something had shifted. Home was the sort of sheltered environment that is sure
to drive a child to the streets to seek her own culture. And sure enough, the next year, at Karlissa's slumber party, which I was miraculously invited to, I finally heard The Beatles. They were fabulous. I'd been making fun of my classmates for two years, but I was wrong. They really got a hold on me. All I gotta do is get one of those records and play it till the groove ran smooth. It won't be long now. Don't bother me, Mom and Dad.

But how to introduce an unapproved influence into the sparse but weird family collection of classical music and Odetta and Burl Ives and Victor Borge albums? With no money? It couldn't be done. A couple years later, once I'd started babysitting, I bought my first album, Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme, and slid it surreptitiously into the rotation.

That seemed to go over fine. Eventually I was emboldened enough to haul in the Best Of The Mamas And The Papas. Using the same kind of logic that Portlanders employ to encourage their dogs to jump all over people, I reasoned that because "California Dreamin'" was clearly the best song ever written, nobody would mind if I cranked it up as high as the big standing mono player could push it out.

And nobody much did. The first three hundred times.

60 comments:

  1. Well, you certainly took me a journey of nostalgia. I was a child of the generation and loved it all. Rock and Roll, Folk, Country Western

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    1. Oh. I remember Susie and I making fun of Blake across the street for liking "Ring Of Fire." We didn't DO country/western in our set.

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  2. I still hear California Dreamin' in my exercise class these days. Oh, how far the mighty have fallen: the Beatles as elevator music and the Mamas and the Papas helping old ladies get fit.

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    1. The first one I heard was the Beatles' "Revolution" advertising a car, maybe. Blew my mind. But that was 20 years ago.

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  3. My father forbid both Elvis and The Beatles in our house; one of the only times I remember him being so forcefully against anything. Or forbidding me to do anything that wasn't physically detrimental to my well-being. I think he may have thought those "influences" WERE physically threatening.
    And DJan...don't get me started on the abominable uses of great songs in commercials.

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    1. My dad didn't allow The Wonderful World Of Disney or Mission: Impossible on our TV set. Word.

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  4. I want to tell you that in my life they were a real influence. I don't want to spoil the party, but I didn't become a serious fan until Rubber Soul. I still have most of it (and the Mamas and Papas) on vinyl.

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    1. I still have every vinyl record I ever bought. It stretches about eight feet.

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    2. My sister has every single Beatles record ever made, singles, LPs and albums, also millions of pictures cut from magazines, and a couple of books about them too.

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  5. P.S. I walked across Abbey Road back in July.

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  6. This is where older siblings come in handy. My brother was four years my senior, and I just fell into his slipstream as he discovered all the good music! Good memories.

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    1. Oh, two of my siblings were way older and out of the sphere, and the other was more clueless about popular culture than I was.

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  7. I grew to love the Beatles through my big bro's records, tho curiously YES and LED ZEP passed me by with similar exposure. And (already mentioned by Jono), I've driven down Abbey Road many times since =)

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    1. ACK! Mind you don't run over Jono!!

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    2. Me, too. I lived/worked not far away.Also, for the record, George Harrison was very nice, polite chap.

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    3. He was my favorite Beatle. Back when we had favorite Beatles. I liked his soulful eyes. Now I kind of relate to his teeth.

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  8. I am one of the ones who was introduced to the Beatles by older brothers. And The Who, and Led Zeppelin and rather a lot of things I still love. My brothers left home well before me, and my link to popular culture left with them.

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    1. I sort of quit listening in the eighties and now I have no idea what music sounds like. I'm not proud of that or anything.

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    2. You are better off not knowing, believe me.

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  9. My mom turned off Ed Sullivan when Elvis was on. We did watch the Beatles with a background of my mom saying "Oh my, that is awful" about one thousand times!

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    1. Our parents really believed in repeating things, as I recall. Such that you could mouth their exact words while they were saying them. Out of sight, of course. I should have been slapped.

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  10. Murr references Marilyn Monroe in her fabulous observation (taken as read) and whenever I see her name, as a Brit, I remind myself that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second is just a whole six weeks older than Her Marylin-ness, and always will remain, because of the circumstances of her early departure from our mortal coil, as we recall he iconic images.
    How would she have carried her older years, had she been spared, I wonder?

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    1. I think her hair probably would have snapped off, for one thing. There must be an age-progression thingy on the internet somewhere.

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  11. The funny thing about 1963-64 was that Jean Downs actually *liked* the Beatles. We saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show, and she commented that it was so refreshing to see them smile when they sang, and that it looked like they were really having fun. Go figure.

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    1. You did spare Jean when they started getting into drugs, didn't you?

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    2. At that point, she would talk about all of those popular artists with a very stern look on her face, which meant "I think they have lost their way, and I don't approve of those activities."
      The real surprise came about 20 years later, when she put on a peasant blouse and many strings of long necklaces, and let brother Dan *take her to a Grateful Dead concert*. I think that at that point, she figured that she was finished raising her kids and her curiosity overcame her hesitancy to see what all the brouhaha was about.

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    3. Whoa. I can totally see Jean in a peasant blouse. Sugar magnolia!

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  12. My folks watched Ed Sullivan and it was on early enough that I was able to watch it. I remember the show being on but my very young parents didn't make any kind of issue about it or them. I was so sheltered and clueless when I was younger. Still am but now it's by choice.

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    1. Oh I had OLD parents. Real old. I think probably anything that could have gotten by Ed Sullivan was not going to ruffle them too much. Gosh. I hope Topo Gigio is dead and gone now. And the Plate Spinners.

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    2. Ack. Nothing but anxiety and who-cares.

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    3. But the music! Duh-ta-ta-ta! Duh-ta-ta-ta! Duh-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta!

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  13. In my 8th grade English class, we studied the lyrics of the songs on the "Sgt. Pepper" album. In 1968. In a small town in Ohio. How cool was that?

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    1. I'm kinda running through the album in my head and I'm not a hunnert percent certain the lyrics will stand up to TOO much study. But cool.

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  14. This is like the twilight zone. This was my experience exactly, except I watched it at Donna's house.

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  15. We had a big old radiogram on the floor in the corner. Dad listened to the news and the races, I don't remember hearing music after mum left us. Then the siblings came home and the radio was on more often, so we heard Elvis and Connie Francis, Brenda Lee. Then my sister discovered the Beatles and went completely crazy over Paul McCartney and got her own transistor radio for Christmas! I got humphy and read even more books than usual.

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    1. I don't know what you'd call what we had in the corner. It was big, it had a turntable with a brown plastic tone arm with a red dot in the middle. I tried to scan a picture of it but it was in the background of all the photos. Also it looks MUCH smaller than I remembered.

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  16. Dad exacted his revenge on my brother and me for having giggled helplessly through years of opera singers on the Ed Sullivan show by talking through the entire Beatles broadcast. I had to wait until the internet and YouTube came along to actually hear it. But, my cousin in Scotland had sent over a couple of Beatles LPs before they even hit the big time on our side of the ocean, so I had played them to death in the sanctity of my room. Also had gobs of what the kids now call "street cred" with my friends for having them and knowing all the lyrics when they finally hit the airwaves here.

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    1. Did you have one of those phono players with the speakers that flipped out on little hinges? White and red?

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    2. OMG, Murr, do your remember ours, on Williamsburg Blvd.? It folded up like a valise, and it was black with brushed aluminium trim. The turntable part opened up and swung down 90 degrees. The speakers swung out on the little hinges, and could actually be detached and spread apart for up to 6 or 7 feet. The speaker grills had cloth on them that was composed of black fabric with shiny silver specks. We thought it was very glamorous, at least until a year or two later, when people started getting 'serious stereos' with separate components.....

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    3. I just flashed on all the old cloth grills, especially the ridgy ones. And my first component system, which I bought with my own money (two weeks' salary at least) and took to college, and it got burgled away. My roommate sobbed and thought the burglars would come back and rape her, and the next week her parents brought her a whole new system.

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    4. I had one of those! You could take off the speakers, lay on the floor, and put a speaker on each side of your head and listen at full volume! Still can't hear worth a shit anymore.

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    5. No, it was grey and a kind of olive green but yes, the speakers detached. I could put them on either side of my pillow and listen vewwy, vewwy quietly, with the turntable part on a tv tray beside the bed.

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  17. I was able to see them when they came to Portland in 1965, but for reasons of audience insanity, didn't really get to hear them..

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  19. I was already in college when the Beatles and Stones came along. Didn't become a fan until about 1980 when it seemed there was no current music worth listening to. Still listen to them quite a lot, along with the Who, The Band, etc.

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    1. The Band was terrific. The Who, well...I did see them in concert in London, doing Tommy, with Merry Clayton as the Acid Queen.

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  20. Loved the Beatles too! I still listen to them on my laptop after ripping all the CDs onto the hard drive. Also, my ringtone on my mobile (cell) phone is their song, "You say yes, I say no". Oh, the nostalgia, the nostalgia!

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    1. My ring tone is bobolinks singing. For the longest time when it went off I'd stare up into a tree looking for the birds. I'm not proud of this.

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  21. Daddy absolutely hated Elvis. One day just after "Love Me Tender" came out in 1956, I was eleven and getting sassy. I waited for the song to come on the radio and told him to listen. He complimented the singer's voice and the song. I let the song finish and triumphantly told him that he like Elvis. He grumbled. He refused to get a tv until I was 14 in 1959, the year I entered high school. By the time the Beatles came to America, I think my parents sort of gave up. There were two teens right behind me when I left for college who loved anything music or counterculture. I was the easy teen. The next two played guitars.

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  22. Well, that's the thing about Elvis. The pelvis doesn't come through the radio. There's nothing more delicious than setting that kind of trap for your parents! Doesn't always work. I remember getting hold of some chocolate-covered ants and giving Dad a handful, and he chewed them, and said, Mmm, chocolate-covered ants.

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  23. I predate you about ten years. As a young teen being raised by my grandmother in Mississippi, at night time I would tune my tabletop radio to stations in Memphis that were playing blues music (looked down on by white adults.) - or tune into the mega-powered radio station in Del Rio Texas for country and western. Sometimes on Sundays I would walk down the creek to the Black church and sit outside and listen to the singing. I may have even heard Muddy Waters on Saturday night from outside the black juke-joint called the Black Cat...this was Rolling Fork , Mississippi in the 1950's.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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  24. With two brothers a decade older than I, my musical experience was broad. Now, I'll listen to just about anything but Latvian folk tunes played on the didgeridoo. (That stuff puts me right to sleep.)

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