was invited by friends to view four old episodes of the Ed Sullivan
Show, the ones with the Beatles. With the DVD in the machine I sat
back, curious to relive that night 39 years ago, February 9, 1964.
My high school friend Jean Hartman was in England during the summer
of 1963. Returning, she called saying I had to come over and listen
to these new “Beatle” records she’d brought back.
I went. I listened
patiently to this new group, their sound foreign to my ear. I liked
the music, but was not smitten by it with the same passion and exuberance
as Jean was. Months later, her eyes filled with excited expectation,
Jean leaned across the study hall table and whispered, “They’re
gonna be on Ed Sullivan this Sunday night, you’ve gotta watch.”
I promised I would.
I thought about Jean as my friend hit the remote’s play button
and that magical night began to unfold anew. Perception is a funny
thing. When we experience something it’s real for that time
and that moment, but as we age and life leaves its imprint upon
us, that same exact moment often takes on an altered appearance.
It is similar to the play of shadow and light on an object; move
the light and the object changes. I found my remembered perception
differed greatly from reality.
First of all, after years of seeing impressionists present their
impression of impressionist Will Jordan’s impression of Ed
Sullivan, I discovered Sullivan was not the caricature I perceived.
He was a character, indeed, but far more intriguing a man than the
boy in me remembered. He was not a buffoon, but a man I would have
liked to have known. He was genuinely excited, after all he had
pulled off the show business coup of the century, and the reality
was he clearly adored these four “boys” as he called
Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles. My eyes filled with the same
amazement, consumed by the same magic that captured me those many
years ago. As an adult I saw their nervousness and their struggle
to work through it. This was their dream, they stood on the edge
of success, the door to opportunity had been thrown open, the stakes
were lofty, although they had no idea then just how vast. In their
eyes I recognized the desire to succeed, to be what the screaming
crowd wanted, to please. I watched teenage girls in the audience
bursting with innocent joy, their flesh and blood dream before them.
Then a realization struck me; just 2½ months earlier, the
President of the United States had been shot down in the streets
of Dallas. We desperately needed a dose of innocence and fun. It
is has been said that not so much as a hubcap was stolen in all
of New York City during the time the Beatles were on the air. Beatlemania
The following week Sullivan broadcast from Miami, The Beatles headlining.
Prizefighters Joe Louis and Sonny Liston were in the audience. Mitzi
Gaynor performed. I always perceived her as a performer of relatively
modest talent with a funny voice. The reality was Mitzi Gaynor knocked
me out. She was a highly seductive temptress, a seasoned professional.
How could my perception have been so far off reality, I wondered.
The following week the Sullivan show returned to New York with the
Beatles final performance on their first visit. This time any trace
of hesitation or nervousness was gone. The Beatles were confident,
assured, the clown princes of rock and roll who played and sang
with harmonies that changed music forever. They had conquered America;
realized their dream.
I met John Lennon once, a few blocks from the Ed Sullivan theatre.
My own perception was that, should I ever meet him, I would say
something clever and he’d laugh. Instead in reality, I was
so taken by the largeness of his voice and the light in his eyes,
I was rendered speechless, anything I had to say was irrelevant,
so I smiled and simply said, “Hello.”
He returned the smile, “Hello yourself,” the distinctive
Liverpool voice replied. We shook hands and went on about our day.
Three days later he was murdered in front of his home.
I later got a job on a TV show that taped in the Ed Sullivan theatre.
At the first rehearsal I walked to the center of the stage and looked
out into the theatre; my perception was I had finally achieved success.
I looked down at the floor. “John Lennon stood right here,”
I said to myself. I smiled at the reality that; that and a buck
and a half would get me a ride on the subway.
Following a recent snowstorm I heard a large flock of starlings
chattering. My perception imagined disgruntled bird conversations.
In reality I had no idea what they thought of the snow and it didn’t
matter, they were the sound of spring.
We’ll talk next time From The Road.