Earlier this month the documentary movie The Beatles: Eight Days a Week-The Touring Years, directed by Ron Howard, aired on Hulu. I hope it enlightens viewers too young to remember Beatlemania, the 1960s phenomenon. Almost all Americans of a certain age have a seminal Beatles memory -- the first time they heard one of their catchy songs, or when they saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show or watched one of their movies.
My memory goes back to the assassination of JFK shortly after my fourth birthday. Three months later, in February 1964, the Beatles had their first hit in the United States. From that time on, until I was ten and they broke up, I heard them everywhere, playing over sound systems throughout New York City where I lived. Even at four, I loved their music. Then, in 1968, when I was eight years old, my father, my ten-year-old brother, and I were walking around the Upper East Side of New York City at the end of a weekend together. My parents were divorced, and my brother and I spent every other weekend with Dad. While strolling through our neighborhood, I spotted an intricately painted Rolls Royce parked on the street. The car was bright yellow with a psychedelic design covering its entire surface. Dad explained that the Beatles were in New York, and that the Rolls, which had been painted by Peter Max, an artist who embodied the ethos of the mid to late 1960s, belonged to them. There were no guards, not even a chauffeur in view. Today, a luxury automobile owned by the most famous band in the world would have security twenty-four-seven. Almost five decades later, I remain amazed that we saw the Beatles' Rolls Royce on the Manhattan streets.
After sighting the Rolls, Dad informed us that Paul McCartney and John Lennon were staying in the apartment building on the corner of 73rd St. and 3rd Avenue, around the block from the home we shared with our mother. Dad's first cousin, Robby, lived in that building. Now in my fifties, I've learned through Internet research that John and Paul were in New York that spring to introduce their recording label, Apple, on the Johnny Carson Show. They'd hoped that by staying in a private apartment they could avoid screaming, intrusive fans.
The day after my dad's revelation, several other girls from my building hung out with me after school. One of my friends reported she'd heard that Beatles' fans had snuck into Cousin Robby's building through the basement of the A&P, which was on 3rd Avenue between 73rd and 74th Streets. We were thrilled to have Beatles so close to us.
The Beatles visit to New York in 1968 coincided with the brief time my mother owned a miniature Schnauzer named Eddy. The night after encountering the Rolls, Mom asked me to walk him. She explained that my brother was immersed in homework, and unknown activities preoccupied her. The sun had already set, and this was the first time I ever ventured outdoors alone after dark.
No fool, I headed toward Cousin Robby's building with Eddy in tow. At the canopied entrance of the building, a group of roughly thirty people had gathered. I asked someone what was happening, and an excited fan gushed that the Beatles were expected to come out any minute. No other children were present, and the other fans didn't notice me. The research I read years later stated that Beatle fans had learned of the band's location, and all sorts of predictable mayhem ensued. But that night, the small assemblage of fans waited quietly on either side of the building's canopy, and I stood with them along with my small dog. After fifteen minutes or so, John and Paul hadn't emerged, and I thought Mom might worry if I stayed out any longer. Reluctantly, I walked home.
My mother didn't notice when I returned to our apartment. I like to believe that if I had waited just a little longer, I could have been a yard or two away from John and Paul, and my story would have a different ending. But a close-up view of their psychedelic Rolls Royce and a near sighting of the Beatles themselves is still a treasured memory for any child of the 1960s.
When I was ten, the Beatles broke up the same spring I left New York City, where I had lived until then. I began the next stage of my life with my mother and brother in California. Although I experienced some serious issues in the first part of my childhood, much of that decade had been positive. The second half of my childhood on the West Coast was radically different.
The Beatles represent everything that was good about the early years of my childhood, but also everything I lost when that part of it ended. Sometimes it's hard for me to hear Beatles' music in public, and I'm often overcome with sadness. Although a small memory, this one is mine alone, which makes it deeply meaningful and especially dear.