Paul McCartney’s OUT THERE Tour has added a San Diego concert set for Sunday, Sep 28th at 8:00 p.m. at Petco Park. Our freelancer, Ariele Johannson, attended the McCartney concert in August at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles—and also shares memories of a Beatles concert in New York 50 years ago that she attended back in 1964. Written for the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles first U.S. tour, this article is a “must read” for all Beatles fans of today and yesterday.
Photo, left: Beatles in 1964, Library of Congress image
THE BEATLES! IN PERSON
By Ariele Johannson
September 23, 2014 (San Diego)--The year was 1964, and I was touched by a movement—the craze of “Beatlemania.” An eleven-year-old girl in Long Island, New York, my life still felt like a closed book. I didn’t fit in anywhere…yet. I was quiet, smart, freckle-faced, and wore glasses. Yes, they called me “four eyes.”
Then on Sunday, September 20th, with the first hint of autumn chill in the air, my parents treated my older sister and me to a day in New York City. Since they wouldn’t tell us what we’d be doing, we thought it would probably be boring---visiting their friends in high-rise apartments overstuffed with furniture and knick knacks. Having to be polite to adults we barely knew.
Setting our hair the night before, we slept in pink rollers and hairnets. In the morning, my mom told my sister, Christine, to help me get into stockings for the first time in my life. Not panty hose, which hadn’t been invented, but old-fashioned stockings. I realize now it was a rite of passage.
First stop: Times Square—to Horn and Hardart’s Automat on East 42nd Street and Broadway. We loved putting in our coins and opening the little doors to pull out macaroni and cheese, Salisbury steak, rice pudding, or apple pie. Chrissy and I figured it was going to be the best part of our outing. Hey, it was without little brothers—but stockings?
Then our folks, Bev and Vinnie, wanted to walk around—probably people-watch. They seemed in an unusually good mood. We soon found ourselves in front of the Paramount Theater at 43rd and Broadway, where something really big was going on.
Police officers were trying to supervise, with barricades and their bodies, a crowd of mostly teenage girls. We couldn’t believe it—the Beatles were playing at the old movie palace, the Paramount Theater, that night! The marquee above the theater spelled it out: IN PERSON /THE BEATLES. Doing a benefit concert and it was a sold out show, of course.
My sister and I couldn’t be more thrilled! We were in the middle of the pandemonium of Beatlemania on the sidewalks and streets near the theater. Plus, we could go back to school on Monday and tell our friends we were in front of the theatre where the Beatles were playing! The two of us looked at each other and communicated the same question: “Could it get any better than this?”
Posing for pictures under the marquee, we waited for our dad to correct the settings on his brand new Polaroid camera. That’s when we heard loud screeching of tires as a screaming crush of fans ran en masse toward the corner. The Beatles in their private car were arriving at the backstage door at that moment! We rushed to the corner after them but were prevented from getting too close by the police. It was over as quickly as it began. My God, it was exciting!
“Well,” I thought after that, “guess we’ll be moving on to go visit the friends.” But, Mommy and Daddy were not moving on. All the signs were there—including the purchase of the new camera—but some things just seem outside the realm of possibility. Our parents were on a roll! They chose that moment to pull out our tickets.
Tickets to see the Beatles! Tickets to see the Beatles at the Paramount Theater—that day, right now, right here, tonight! We started jumping up and down and squealing with delight. My heart was pounding. Dressed for church, the four of us then got in line to wait with the crazy crowd all around us. I was in a daze. Not the least of my shock, though, was the fact we were going to see the Beatles with of all people—our parents.
Once inside the historic Paramount Theater it didn’t take long to find our seats. They were in the very last row in the back. The theater soon became jam-packed, and flashbulbs were popping all over the place. Fans were screaming, but my sister and I felt inhibited in front of our parents. So, our backs against the wall we silently soaked up the energy.
Waiting for the Beatles to appear seemed like a small eternity, except for one remarkable incident. Show time was close, and our father decided to search for a men’s room. When he came back, we knew right away something had happened. He had an intense look on his face and was out of breath. “Give me the camera,” he called to us. “And stay here!” My mother had to hold back my sister, who was thirteen, from leaping over the seats to follow him.
My mom, my sister, and I waited for him to return, and what we hoped for was too good to be true. Finally, he came back looking all calm and satisfied and told us an impossible story. He spoke in as low a voice as he could with all the noise, not wanting to cause a commotion with the volatile crowd, or get his camera snatched.
He actually met one of the Beatles in the bathroom in a far part of the theater! The Beatle—he didn’t know which one it was—allowed him to take his picture. Suddenly, the theatre lights were dimming, so we couldn’t see the picture. With a new camera and different settings for indoors, he told us the Polaroid came out pretty dark. Now you, dear reader, must wait to hear the story behind the picture, as we had to. The lights are out, the screams are getting way louder, and the concert is getting underway.
The co-hosts of the show appeared on the small stage: Ed Sullivan, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé. Short performances followed by the Brothers Four, the Shangri-Las, and Bobby Goldsboro. We liked that, because “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las was one of our favorite songs.
Finally, those wonderful young men—the Beatles—came out onto the stage, and my God, I wanted to scream. I needed to scream with everything in me! But I was too embarrassed. My stifled screams turned to tears that streamed down my face from the very first song. In a trance, I heard myself murmur, “Paul, Paul.” I held my eyes on him across the theater. He was so dreamy. I saw Mom look over at me; first with surprise, then knowing. Later, she told me she felt that way with Elvis.
My memories are sensory, visceral. I watched those fabulous four on stage playing, singing, smiling, and moving from Paul singing with George to Paul singing with John on the other side of the stage. Even though I couldn’t scream, I was part of the crowd driven crazy by them. I can still see them up there playing in their suits and shaking their heads.
Maybe because we were in the back of the theater, we could not always pick out the lyrics as we could with the other performers’ songs. I remember we thought something was wrong with the sound system. No, it was the deafening noise of the fans drowning out the music. Even though we loved their songs, we didn’t care. The Beatles were in the same room with us and we could look at them and be a part of the phenomenon. More importantly, I finally fit in somewhere. My life seemed now like an open book.
As with all adolescents and their teenage idols, we were stricken. The mass frenzy the presence of these young men created, though, hardly gives way to simple explanations. The Beatles were music and theater. Even the mildest of their purposeful smiles and stares at the audience touched the fans, much as their interactions with each other and obvious antics. The comedy was usually started by John with his smile and the engaging twinkle in his eyes. And they sang mostly love songs to us.
Their lyrics back then were fresh, simple, and honest. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were charming, each in his own way. It was like they wanted to hold my hand. They were speaking to me when they sang, “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you.” Always, Ringo kept up that beautiful beat! After that, the times of our lives were accompanied by Beatles music. They struck a chord inside us that still reverberates.
With the 50 Year Anniversary of The Beatles’ First US Tour this year in 2014, I began celebrating starting with my own recollections at the Paramount. Then, this summer’s San Diego Fair theme was “The Fab Fair.” It included a stunning multisensory exhibit that was perfect for reminiscing. I’ve checked out many Beatles’ books, CDs, and DVDs from the library, and I found the Beatles all over the internet.
I stumbled across a Youtube video of “our” concert that was only posted last year by Abbey Road. The film is black and white and about one minute of screaming while they played “She Loves You”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtLdsLL-mtk.
Like many other fans, I grabbed onto some of their philosophies and inspiration as I grew up, such as “All you need is love” and “The long and winding road to you will never disappear.” I admire the far-reaching thoughts in John Lennon’s song “Imagine” and find comfort in the many spiritual songs written by George Harrison. In the 70s, through a good friend, I came to appreciate George’s songs with the Beatles and later his solo career. “Here Comes the Sun” was to be played at my wedding.
Once we had to wait for their songs to be played on our favorite radio stations, sometimes on a transistor radio. Later, we got to play 45 rpm singles or vinyl record albums, over and over again. Today, we have the luxury of CDs or downloaded music. We might even have an adult child, like my daughter, who gives gifts of re-mastered Beatles’ music.
Our dad’s story is engaging, despite the locale. Looking for a men’s room that wasn’t crowded, Vinnie wandered into an isolated section of the theater. I remember him telling us it was being renovated. Afterwards, he got into a conversation with a security guard, while smoking a cigarette, about what was going on in that part of the theater.
While they were chatting at the doorway, one of the Beatles walked into the bathroom with two bodyguards on either side. My dad knew it was one of them by the haircut and clothes, as well as the bodyguards. Also, he had a British accent. That was when our dad ran back to grab the camera. He arrived back at the bathroom just as the Beatle was washing his hands. He waited and then politely asked if he could take a picture for his girls. The particular Beatle said he could, motioned for his four bodyguards to stand aside, and posed for the picture. Then he reached out to shake hands with our dad.
After the concert, we examined our dad’s picture and questioned him relentlessly. The picture was so dark we couldn’t make a definitive call. I wanted it to be Paul, of course. We finally reached consensus that it was Ringo, although our Dad could not say for sure if the Beatle wore a lot of rings—as Ringo does—or if he was Ringo’s height. But there was definitely a bathroom sink in the picture and a dark figure. We all took turns, even our brothers, taking our treasure to school to share.
One of the refrains you hear in interviews with John, Paul, George, and Ringo is how everyone wanted something from them wherever they went. We know the fans wanted to see and get close to them. The photographers were after that perfect, close-up shot. Then, the same guards who protected them would want autographs or photographs at the end of a “Hard Days’ Night.”
On the evening of September 20, 1964, the Beatles were performing the last concert of a grueling tour. The next day they flew out of JFK International bound for England. This concert was also a benefit, at which they made no money but raised $75,000 for charity. Yet, one of them cared enough to congenially respond to a father’s request.
Unfortunately, over the years the picture was lost. Years later when Chrissy and I were away at college, one of my brothers found it when our mom moved out of the Massapequa house. Our precious picture was found behind her dresser, all crumpled. I only found this out after I started to write this piece. I always thought we’d find it someday. Just this past year when I moved and went through a box of Mom’s pictures, I uncovered the two Polaroids taken in front of the marquee that day.
Another surprise came on Mother’s Day, this past May. My son gave me a card with these words: I bet you didn’t expect 50 years later that you would be seeing Paul McCartney again! Enclosed in the card were tickets for us to see him and his band at Dodger Stadium in LA on August 10th.
Waiting for that concert from May to August seemed to take forever, though I am able to enjoy anticipation now. At Paul McCartney’s “Out There” sold out show, we saw lots of older Beatles’ fans, and many were with their grown-up children. There were young kids, too, with their parents or grandparents, imitative of my sister’s and my experience. And, interestingly, my son and I were seated in a loge area, last row in the section with our backs against the wall. Totally comfortable, close to the bar and the restroom, we were ready to rock!
I soon discovered the eleven-year-old is still inside me. This time I got to scream, and I jumped up and down and didn’t hold back! It was an energetic and nostalgic concert, and this time I could hear every note and every word. Paul looks better than ever with incredible energy and verve. Starting the concert with “Eight Days a Week,” McCartney and his band played lots of Beatles’ songs, along with his Wings and other hits. (Photo, right, Creative Commons image by Oil Gill)
For “Something,” Paul’s tribute to George Harrison (who wrote the song), he played the Gibson ukulele given to him by Harrison. Paul also paid tribute to John Lennon, performing “Here Today,” which includes the lyrics “And if I say I really loved you…” There were other surprises during the show, too. After almost three hours and two encores consisting of eight songs, we left the stadium satisfied. I am so grateful to my son for giving me such a meaningful gift, making a cycle of 50 years now complete. Neither Paul nor I are in our youth, but “we both enjoyed being there again,” the admirer and her teen idol. After all, he was my first love.
Though there are many other musicians I also love, there are none I would care to compare to the Beatles. The Beatles stand alone. Before the Dodger Stadium concert is over, recall with me a few lines from a spiritual song from Abbey Road with which Paul ends some of his concerts. Listen for the quick piano notes, and then…"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
Thanks for the love, guys.