In at least one previous post, I shared how, as a child, I had a tendency to interpret the meaning of things with a strong sense of the literal. I corrected my mother when she suggested that she might “tuck me in.” I assumed teachers were constantly bestowed with gifts by virtue of how many kids answered the roll call with “present.” I thought the phone’s busy signal indicated an inordinate amount of activity in the home being called…
Well, here’s another anecdote. It’s about the Beatles.
Back in the early- to mid-Sixties, our family had a few routines, and one of them occurred on Sunday nights. Martha and I would watch The Wonderful World of Disney as Mom and Dad would hang out in another part of the large basement room, preparing the main course of our Sunday night supper: square hamburgers (pre-made frozen patties) prepped in the electric frying pan and ultimately placed between two slices of white bread. Generally, dinner would be ready in time for The Ed Sullivan Show, which we would watch together, en famille.
The basement in question went through a nice metamorphosis during the summer of 1967, but before that, it was a little skanky. And on either side of the change were the insects and household creatures that are simply indigenous to where you live.
In our basement, the indigenous crop of insects included beetles, and although they showed up regularly, they never felt intrusive. A little less than an inch long and black in color, they always seemed innocent enough. (They certainly never seemed as gross as the cockroaches I would confront years later, when I lived in New York.) Beetles were simply part of rural life, and there was no denying our rural life: on the other side of the backyard’s barbed wire fence was a cow pasture (and the requisite cows).
So I guess it was late January, early February of 1964 when Mom started getting excited. She just couldn’t wait for the upcoming Ed Sullivan Show. “The Beatles!” she would say, enthusiastically. “The Beatles are going to be on Ed Sullivan!”
Just over six years old, I wasn’t up on current events, and because I never asked my mother to SPELL OUT her enthusiasm, I could only draw my own conclusions. So, for that week before the infamous debut of the Beatles in the states, I had a vision. I imagined these incredibly large bugs jumping through hula-hoops. I kid you not. And, by the way, if you were a kid my age watching Sullivan, you will have to admit that an act like that would not be out of the question. Sure, it might have made Topo Gigio and the venerable plate-spinners feel totally upstaged, but, come on, it could have happened!
Of course, and as we all know, it didn’t happen as I had imagined it. No insects jumping through hula-hoops that night, but rather a fabulous foursome of mop-headed boys, and among them, one who was (“sorry girls”) married.
Martha and I quickly identified our bachelors. For me, Paul. For my sister, George. And during the entire telecast, I don’t remember once looking back at the couch where Mom and Dad were sitting. I never once looked to see the joy that must undoubtedly have been spread across my Mom’s face. After all, she was the one who had been so excited about this event.
I do, though, remember so many instances, in the years thereafter, of jumping in the car when Mom would come to pick me up from school. Her smile broad, she’d share, “I just bought the latest Beatles album!”
I also remember working on a school report once. I was probably in 4th grade at the time. At that point, our family’s Beatles collection probably included no fewer than seven albums. As for my report? It was about friction, and a line therein contained the following phrase, “rubber souls help…”
My mother saw the line and was compelled to comment. “Look at that,” she said. “You’ve got two Beatle album titles in a row there!”
Of course, I could have corrected her in that moment. I could have pointed out to my mother that the album Rubber Soul is in the singular, not the plural. I think the thought even crossed my mind at the time. But I decided to dispense with any parsing. I clearly was growing into a different phase of my life.
Thanks to my mother and the band she introduced me to, I was beginning to view things a little less literally. And I would need that new mindset for the grey areas that lay ahead.
… In the liner notes of Flaming Pie, which – in my opinion – is the most Beatles-sounding of any album Paul McCartney has recorded since he became independent, there are comments from the artist regarding each song. I loved reading this note that Paul wrote about the song, The World Tonight: “The lyrics were just gathering thoughts. Like ‘I go back so far, I’m in front of me’ – I don’t know where that came from, but if I’d been writing with John he would have gone ‘OK, leave that one in; we don’t know what it means but we do know what it means.’”
I love that. We don’t but we do. It’s like spelling the name with a Bee or a Bea. Whatever is meant to take the stage will take the stage.
And history will unfold from there.