It seems to me that history tends to celebrate itself in half-century increments. Last year was the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The airwaves assaulted us relentlessly with repeated images of the carnage that have never lost their shock value.
There is no harm in looking back – in occasionally going retro. In fact, it’s an adventure to see where we came from and where we’re going. It gives us perspective and reminds us who we are.
We tend to pace out our existence by the expiration dates on milk cartons. And that can lead to quiet desperation. It is crucial to review history from an unobstructed view. It’s strangely agreeable, because it is easy to forget what it’s like not to be like this.
I’ve heard it said that the richness of life lies in the memories we have forgotten. Perhaps it’s true. Memory has a miraculous ability to adjust its contents to suit our needs. Time ceases to have meaning. Nostalgia provides us land vertebrates the singular gift of altering critical pressure points into quaint, snug, homey occurrences of fond remembrance. It is healthy to summon deeply beckoning recollections. But it’s a long and winding road going back home again.
And so it is with 1964. Fifty years ago, the Beatles landed in America, and the cry went out all over the land with the fervor of Paul Revere: “The British are coming! The British are coming!” (Of course, these were the prehistoric ages before twitter-verse!)
America in 1964 was an extraordinary landscape. We dined on Swanson TV dinners as we tried to reconnoiter following the annihilation of “Camelot,” that pitilessly deceptive p.r. practical joke that exposed the show business of politics.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, the awesomely unlovely heir apparent, had assumed the throne. As a nation, we were ragged and disheveled and acutely angled. Life expectancy was 69.7 years.
And then came the iconic announcement by Ed Sullivan, the legendary variety show host whose Mount Rushmore features denied him the ability of facial expression, “Ladies and gentlemen…THE BEATLES!”
With that, all other rock celebrities, including Elvis, were rendered obsolete and unceremoniously turfed out.
The British Invasion was on the scale of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in historical notoriety. Perfect timing. Being young was not a critical disease, although parents were disgusted and dismayed at what was trending, and expended great energy in their efforts to render triage and find a cure.
All things are balanced by their opposites. Adults saw the new music as a great conspiracy to pillage and plunder the impressionable youth and give us a ticket to ride down a steep and precipitous descent into dereliction. Consequently, anything that’s confined has a natural instinct to escape. And the teenagers embraced the movement as liberation – most definitely a clash of opposites – an ancestral rite of passage since Adam.
Society shapes itself by what it rejects. Parents and offspring, through mutual rejection of values, cancelled each other out, and the conflicting generations, refusing to hold hands and let it be, hardly recognized the strangers they had become.
We never know when we are making a memory, until we look back and find we have quite a collection of yesterdays.
I have always loved the music of the Beatles. The tunes are just made for road trips and disharmonic sing-alongs in high-voltage decibels. I suppose if I had to narrow their songs down to a favorite few, it would have to be “Blackbird” and “There Are Places I Remember.” After emerging from storms and finding calm again, the lyrics take a sad song and make it better.
Mankind is compelled to compile lists - rankings and gauges to quantify everything from the best to the worst of, well, everything. I’m not sure just where the Beatles rank among the great artists and musicians of all time. Probably ahead of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, and just behind David and his lyre. No matter.
Such inventories are best left to algorithms and quantitative data analysts to decide. We don’t have to synchronize verb tenses. We can work it out. A good tune and lyrics of emotion transport all of us to a place where we are concealed and healed, and all our troubles seem so far away. What more can we ask?