I wasn’t yet born when the Beatles invaded the United States. I didn’t see them along with 1 in 3 other Americans on the Ed Sullivan show. They never really lived in my mind as flesh and blood boys, and so they never broke up. For me, the Beatles just are. They never were.
My older brother played the Beatles’ albums throughout my formative years. He and three neighborhood friends would imitate the Fab Four. I became determined to distinguish between the songs sung by Paul as opposed to those by John. This was a feat for a prepubescent, unmusical girl. I absorbed the songs in my blood, I mimicked the French in “Michelle,” copied John’s love-sick inhale after singing “girl” in the song with the same name. Without knowing it, one day the Beatles were as imprinted on my DNA as my freckles and tenacity.
When I became a teen, I was shocked to realize there were other bands. My mother had played Elvis Presley, Barry Manilow, and Barbara Streisand, but by the time I entered junior high I became aware of actual bands: Foreigner, Fleetwood Mac, and Duran Duran. My response to the latter is something close to what I imagine Beatle-manic girls felt about their favorite band member.
I was so in love with Simon Le Bon, when his boat capsized the summer of my 13th year I worried about him like a family member and wrote him a letter of relief when he was rescued unscathed. My older sister (who I thought never properly reverent enough of the Beatles) had a friend, an eighteen-year-old model – a blackbird waiting for her moment to arrive – who had a car accident, which paralyzed her from the neck down. She was a Duran Duran fan. My sister asked me to give the poor soul one of my two coveted albums I’d put together of news clippings and pictures of Duran Duran. I could not part with them.
I can’t imagine if I had been a teenager during Beatlemania. I don’t think I would have survived it.
In 1980, I am nine-years-old, living with my alcoholic father who my mother finally left and felt so guilty about that she let his little girl live with him. The apartment was small and dark and perhaps my Beatle-mentor brother was in the room, but I don’t remember anyone else but the voice of the radio announcer telling me that John Lennon had been shot and killed. I was alone in the world, it felt, my family dispersed, and now John was gone.
All my little plans and schemes
Lost like some forgotten dream
Seems like all I really was doing
Was waiting for you
- from "Real Love"
John’s death was different from the Beatles’ break-up. This was real. This was Real Love. I don’t know how long it took me to emerge from the shock of hearing that Lennon had been taken away from me. I mourned with the world, but I felt as alone as I have ever felt in my life.
When loneliness hits me now, or happiness, or just a Hard Day’s Night, I can hit play and John’s golden slumbers, George’s weeping guitar, Ringo’s little help from my friends, and Paul’s long and winding road leads me to their door. The world would be a shade less brilliant without them.
Now that I’m a mom, I get to share the light with my five-year-old son. He already knows a handful of Beatles’ songs. He watched a YouTube video filmed when the Beatles broke up interviewing fans, who, to my surprise, blamed Linda, not Yoko. Soon he’ll be able to tell the difference between John’s voice and Paul’s. Right now, it’s enough to just sing “Love, Love, Love. Love is all you need” at the top of our lungs on the way to school.
What's your Beatles' story?