To witness history is an extraordinary thing. To live it is even more special. On February 9, 1964 I, and millions of kids like me, got to do both.
Sunday morning started off like many Sunday mornings before it had. I got up for the 10 o’clock High Mass that my classmates and I had to sing in Latin. We sang the Asperges Me, the Kyrie, The Gloria, and the Credo. We listened to the Epistle that was read by one of my classmates and then came the Gospel that was read by Father Gorman. We put our weekly offering that was safely ensconsed in our envelopes into the basket that was manned by one of the ushers. Then we received Communion.
The Mass ended and we were set free to our respective homes and a nice Sunday breakfast. By now the Kennedy Assassination, while still remembered, was no longer something that kept us occupied, The only thing thirteen year olds across the country were thinking about was the Beatles. Tonight we would finally get to see and hear them live on TV.
Nearly twenty years later when John Lennon had been gunned down in front of his apartment building in New York I was taking a graduate education course and I had to explain to my professor why everyone had reacted the way they did to Lennon’s slaying. To put it in a context that I hoped he would understand I said, “It’s as if Shakespeare had been murdered.” He was surprised to learn that John Lennon could have been compared to Shakespeare. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him that Shakespeare couldn’t touch Lennon in the impact that he had on our culture. But back to 1964.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the day except as we got closer to 8 PM. The afternoon was prelude to the greatest moment of American History, well at least my subset of American History. I probably played some football. Maybe I had a hot chocolate at Hoch’s candy store? I may have talked to my friends about the upcoming Ed Sullivan Show anticipating the songs that the Beatles would sing. Whatever I did it was all very agonizing just trying to pass the time until the magic hour of 8 PM.
My brother Michael had a portable record player that operated on batteries, a birthday gift from his girlfriend Margaret. Rather than annoy my mother and father with the repetitive playing of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me” I sought the quiet and privacy that our front bedroom offered. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for had arrived.
I was on the couch; my parents in their respective chairs. The introduction to the Ed Sullivan Show in the form of electrons beamed onto the big TV tube that was our TV screen hit my retinas and the theme song reached into my ears. Then Mr Sullivan came into view. For the first few moments I was back in the Loews American watching Bye Bye Birdie and Ed Sullivan was introducing Conrad Birdie. How prophetic had that movie been. Here was Ed Sullivan getting ready to introduce the Beatles who would soon make Conrad Birdie look like the opening act in a second rate music hall.
To be honest Ed Sullivan could be a little old fashioned and just a tad slow in getting on with the show. Tonight, however, he out did himself. First, he told us that the Beatles would entertain us two times, now and later in the show. In addition, the Beatles would be on next week and the week after. He then talked some more about how everyone had never witnessed the level of excitement that had occurred this week. Then, he introduced the Beatles and I was proven wrong.
Instead of opening with “I Want To Hold Your Hand” as I had predicted, they began their first set with “All My Loving” but no one was disappointed and nothing was ever quite the same again.
It’s hard not to get emotional when I think back to that night. So much changed afterwards that I can’t begin to describe. The music was exciting. The girls screaming were exciting and how I ever got to sleep that night I will never know.
I do remember school the next morning and thinking that at our weekly music class with Father Toplitsky he would surely have the Beatles to demonstrate one of his lessons. Sadly, I was once again proven to be wrong.