I was just 17; you know what I mean

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Fortunately, my folks’ livelihood didn’t depend on their musical tastes. They allowed me to go to Shea Stadium with my friends, where I experienced the Beatles live, in concert. They swooshed in by helicopter, and it was 90 minutes of wall-to-wall, top-to-bottom, ear-shattering screaming from the crowd. I did not hear one song they sang. But again, it was a moment.

Looking back at the sheer phenomenon of the Beatles from the vantage point of 2014, various theories come to mind. As 16-year-olds, we had witnessed and survived the assassination of our president just months earlier. President Kennedy’s violent death dug one of those before-and-after rifts in our lives. We were callow teens, innocent, on the threshold of adulthood. There had been a long period of national grief; traumatic memories were fresh.

Then along came the Beatles, with their goofy look and their upbeat music. My parents may have been put off, but compared with the raunchy lyrics and discordant sounds that pass for music today, I would say the Beatles were quite tame. Especially when they first arrived in America: They were very young, they wrote about love, and the most suggestive thing they belted out was, “I want to hold your hand.”

That day on the tarmac at Idlewild, one of the reporters shouted out to Ringo, “How do you find America?” and he yelled back, “Turn left at Greenland!” That insouciance was part of their appeal. They could crack wise without one single obnoxious Bieber moment. Well, maybe when John said they were bigger than Jesus two years later, he was overstepping, but he did apologize.

We grew up with the Beatles, we went to work and to college with them, we got married to their songs and we went to war with them — some serving, and some marching in protest, singing, “Give Peace a Chance.”

By the end of their 1966 U.S. tour, the Beatles were tired of touring and decided to retire from live performances. When they got back to England, they took a break from one another. George went to India for six weeks. Paul worked on a soundtrack for a movie; John acted in “How I Won the War.” Ringo spent time with his wife and child.
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