Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr formerly of the Beatles, turned 70 years old last week. He was the oldest of the four lads from Liverpool who led “the British Invasion,” but not by much. George Harrison, the youngest would have been 67 this year, had cancer not gotten him.
When I heard that Starr had become a septuagenarian I was in my car listening to a “Golden Oldies” radio station – you know, pretty much what I’ve always listened to for nearly 50 years. It came as a jolt when the disk jockey announced it, right after a Beatle song featuring one of his few vocals while he was drummer for the Beatles.
The announcement took me back to February 1964, when I sat on the floor in front of a 26 inch Motorola television with my brother and sister and three of my cousins waiting for Ed Sullivan to introduce the Beatles, a British band we had only heard and read about prior to that night.
When they opened with “All My Loving,” I knew something magic was taking place and by the time they broke into “She Loves You,” I was swaying in time with the music. Their simple melodies and lyrics would evolve drastically through the years, but in February of 1964, they were electrifying.
Years later, in his song, “Willie, Waylon and Me,” David Allan Coe wrote the words, “They say The Beatles were just the beginning of everything music could be…” I knew they were something special the first time I heard them. Prior to that night, the phenomenon called rock and roll had eluded me.
When I first heard the Beatles, though, it was as if a frequency opened in my brain and the music flowed in. It came as a shock when I discovered that not all my peers viewed the mop-topped quartet favorably. In fact, many who didn’t like them then now despise them, especially John Lennon, the intellectual of the group.
When John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban was captured in Afghanistan, a columnist referred to the rumor that the young man had been named after John Lennon as evidence that his parents were unfit and had doomed their son by their admiration for a depraved drug user and anarchist.
While I viewed the Beatles in general and Lennon in particular, as a positive force, thinkers looking for answers and challenging button-down, prepackaged answers that others so easily accepted, many of my generation viewed them as a Satanic force, corrupting youth.
To a large segment of my generation, Elvis Presley was all-American and wholesome and the Beatles were drug-using foreigners with funny accents. Even when it became common knowledge that Pressley was not the clean-cut paragon of virtue his publicists had presented, his fans shrugged it off as youthful indiscretions, not a chosen lifestyle.
Through the years I’ve come to view the Beatles as a dividing line of my generation, between those who – to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw – “see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ and those who dream things that never were and ask Why not?’"