Historic events leave a mark on our collective memories. Memories that never fade. Whether tragic, such as the JFK assassination, 9/11, or Oct. 7; or joyous — marriage, birth, a new job — the mental imprints they leave remain our entire lifetime.
We remember where we were, what we were doing, what we were thinking and the impact on our lives.
Those of us who lived through Beatlemania remember Feb. 9, 1964 as one of those historic occasions. It was Sunday night, eight o’clock and most of America had their television sets tuned to CBS and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” We were about to see and hear what all the fuss was about. The Beatles would make their American debut, and when they finished their five songs (the first of three consecutive weeks of appearances), the world would never be the same.
Especially my world.
Truth be told, pre-Beatles I was barely a teenager and had no interest in music. I never listened to the radio and never heard of The Beatles. Knowing that my older sister was all hyped up to watch Ed Sullivan, I did what typically annoying younger brothers do. I protested and said I wanted to watch “Bonanza” instead just to spite her. But it was my sister’s birthday, and my father, ever the peace maker, sided with her for shalom bayit.
I remember my parents sitting on the couch as my sister and I lay on the linoleum floor of the family room. All eyes were on our black-and-white Zenith television set. I purposely acted disconnected and bored. But that would all change when Sullivan, in his characteristically awkward style, introduced the Fab Four. Like the Northridge earthquake, they shook my world. I was mesmerized. The Beatles were strangers to us, but not for long. CBS helped by identifying each with a close-up, famously putting in parenthesis that John was married. Paul went straight into the song “All My Loving,” as the audience of teenagers screamed and worked themselves up into a frenzy.
The genius of Ed Sullivan to introduce The Beatles to America was more than a show biz booking. Feb. 9, 1964 was about two-and-a-half months after the JFK assassination. America was still in a state of shock and all of us wondered when we would be allowed to sing and be happy again.
The Beatles gave us that permission, along with the conviction to believe that whatever happens, life must go on.
There is nothing particularly Jewish about The Beatles, but I always heard a very Jewish message in their music.
There is nothing particularly Jewish about The Beatles, but I always heard a very Jewish message in their music. Judaism is about facing adversity and mourning tragedy one day, while knowing that regardless, life is always worth living. An entire generation built new lives after the Holocaust, including my parents, while the brave people of Israel do it every day in the face of constant danger.
Ever since that fateful evening, my life has never been the same. The Beatles’ music has dominated my life in a way that is impossible to explain to someone of a different generation. Whenever I get down, I play the upbeat “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” I maintain it is impossible to be depressed when hearing that song.
My father passed away about two years after The Beatles debut appearance. For those two years, I wanted him to understand them the way I did. But it was a struggle. Making it more difficult, he knew music. He was the Cantor of our shul and sang the Yiddish classics. But miracles do happen. One Shabbat, while we were walking to shul, he unconsciously started humming the melody to “Yesterday.” I was shocked. “That’s a Beatles song!” I said excitedly.
I doubt he knew it was The Beatles, but he must have heard it on the radio and liked it. He just smiled and gave me his signature look. It was a look of validation, letting me know he understood.
As I think back to that fateful evening, and all that The Beatles have meant to me, I can still hear my father humming “Yesterday” and find comfort in knowing he approved of my obsession, an obsession that continues until today.
Harvey Farr is a local community reporter for the Jewish Journal.