Best Bits: Eleven Quotes from The Beatles Are Here! 50 Years After the Band Arrived in America, Writers, Musicians and Other Fans RememberBy TNB Nonfiction
March 05, 2014
“The Beatles liberated young people from Victor Borge, Robert Goulet, Steve and Eydie, and the demented sing-along-with-the-bouncing-dots schlock immortalized by Mitch Miller. The Beatles liberated young people from bland show tunes, ethnic hooey like ‘Volare’ and ‘Danke Schoen,’ and stultifying novelty tunes like ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh’ and ‘Mr. Custer.’
The Beatles held out hope that life might actually be worth living, that popular culture need not be gray, predictable, sappy, lethal. To this day, what I feel toward the Beatles is not so much affection or reverence. It is gratitude.”
—Joe Queenan, humor writer
“…I go back to my dorm room and all you’re hearing is the Beatles, either on record or coming out of the radio. I sit down with this guy who’s older than me—he’s a senior, I’m a sophomore—and he was this very pompous kind of guy, but I’ll never forget his words. It was late at night and he said, ‘Could be that just as our generation was brought together by Elvis Presley, it may be that we will be brought together again by the Beatles?’
What a bizarre thing to say! But of course he was right.”
—Greil Marcus, music critic
“The Beatles went on to perform ‘Till There Was You’…then rocked into ‘She Loves You.’ And that was the point when we all (me included) were truly transformed, singing along, shaking our hair, just like our sisters on the screen, as if we were caught up in something bigger than ourselves, a kind of movement, and this music was our anthem.
Sullivan’s show ended at nine o’clock, which happened to be when the bell sounded signaling it was time for us to return to our dormitories. This was not done by some rude electronic klaxon: instead a uniformed personage known as the Bell Maid, who normally sat behind the school’s 1930s switchboard, came out from her post, crossed the corridor, and tugged on a rope connected to a bell in the cupola high above. She was ringing her peal as we emerged from the Wing Library. We certainly didn’t think of it then, but in some ways, she was ringing a funeral knell for one era, our parents’, and ushering in a new one, which for better or worse belonged to us.”
—Amanda Vaill, biographer
“Then all of a sudden there’s this band with hair like girls’. It really wasn’t, but to us the hair looked hugely long. You know, 1964. They played their own instruments and they wrote their own songs and they didn’t look like Fabian. They looked like these working-class kids, like kids like we all knew. And John Lennon had this look when he was on Ed Sullivan like: Fuck all of you. This is such total bullshit to me.
And we knew. You could tell.
And I said at that moment, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to do that. I want to be like those guys.’”
—Billy Joel, musician and composer
“When new Beatles records came out it was huge, huge. They would arrive in my office with an armed guard and a promotion man. It was kind of weird—the guard would have an attaché case, with the new record in it, handcuffed to his wrist. I had to promise not to play it until the next day.
AM radio, which preceded satellite radio, had an interesting physical characteristic: It bounced off of the ionosphere. If you remember your physical science, you’ll recall that the ionosphere rises at night. As it got later, the AM radio signal would bounce. The higher the ionosphere layer, the farther I would reach; by nine o’clock, I was reaching forty states. That’s how I got a national image.
When other radio stations and Beatlemaniacs found out that I had a new record, and that I was going to be playing it, they would record it. I’d play it on the air and suddenly Pittsburgh, say, would have it or Wisconsin or Chicago. They’d have it that same night, they’d tape it off the air. It got so crazy with people taping that every ten seconds I would announce ‘Exclusive! Cousin Brucie Exclusive! Exclusive!’ and it would completely obliterate the record. It was a terrible thing to do but the audience understood. We had to do it so nobody else would copy the record, especially our local competitors. Whoever got a Beatle record exclusive first won the game. We got the highest ratings. We would always get them.”
—“Cousin Brucie” Morrow, disc jockey
“A photograph shows a row of young women [screaming] behind a banner reading “Beatles Please Stay Here 4-Ever.” The girls have an operatic look: They might be a row of divas, mouths open wide in song, arms flung dramatically wide.
I’m standing dead center, pushing forward, with a frenzied expression on my face. I’m flat-chested, freckle-faced, and curly haired—a very young thirteen. For months I’ve been screaming and squealing every chance I get. I’ve snuck into hotels with groups of similarly obsessed girls. I’ve chased after autographs, any possible souvenir, including a square of fabric from John Lennon’s boxer shorts that I bought for a dollar from an ad in a fan magazine. The thought that this might be a hoax crossed my mind, but only briefly. I knew for a fact that this cloth had once touched a Beatle’s flesh. Somehow, I could tell.”
—Penelope Rowlands, author
“The Beatles were intriguing in a different way because I had a crush on them. And because the media introduced them to us individually, and we were encouraged to pick our favorite Beatle, I picked Paul. My sister and I would dress up like the Beatles for our family and perform with mops.
My sister, Elen, always wanted to be Paul, so I was John. Whatever my sister was doing, I wanted to be with her. My mom told me that I was born to be her friend, and I took that literally. Besides, I didn’t mind being John, because he was married to someone named Cynthia. And that was really my name, not just Cindy. And I had a dream once that I was brushing my teeth with John Lennon and spitting in the same sink. (Later, I told that to Sean Lennon, but I think it scared him.)
By singing with my sister like that, and listening to John’s voice, I learned harmony and the structure of songs. By the time I was eleven, I began writing with my sister. When Elen graduated from junior high school she got an electric Fender guitar and amp and I got her acoustic guitar when I was graduating from sixth grade.”
—Cyndi Lauper, singer and songwriter
“What I didn’t know about the Beatles when I was eleven was endless. I knew nothing. And so I was perfectly prepared for them. That first night, Ed Sullivan might as well have said, ‘And now, coming to you from the thusness of Existence…THE BEATLES!’
I can’t account for all the ways those songs found the heart of me.
What the Beatles gave me was something that bore me away from everything I had thought about myself or the world I had lived in. I was suddenly in possession of something that no one but I could ever understand. That there were millions of other Beatles fans meant nothing. Coming into the Beatles was like coming into an unknown and unexpected birthright.”
—Verlyn Klinkenborg, author
“Some look at the Beatles and say they appropriated black R & B, that they exploited it. But they acknowledged it as elemental and, by doing so, opened the door for Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, and a host of performers— once colored, now black—to share some of the rewards.
It’s not too much to say the Beatles helped close the gap between colored and white America, the schism. Like a slap in the smug mug of white America, the Brits acknowledged black roots. They showed how white America had unapologetically ripped off black people for centuries, never giving a whole race credit for inventing the new American art forms of jazz, gospel, blues and R&B.”
—Judy Juanita, novelist and playwright
But, as any true fan could tell you, part of the miracle that was the Beatles was that they were all great, and that each, in his own way, was adorable and easy to love. It seemed the more the Beatles played together the more brilliant and magical the music became. They got older, they changed, and we changed with them.”
—Sigrid Nunez, novelist
“I just kept it to myself that I really dug them. Everybody else thought they were for the teenyboppers, that they were gonna pass right away. But it was obvious to me that they had staying power. I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go.”
—Bob Dylan, musician
PENELOPE ROWLANDS has written about culture and the arts for Architectural Digest, the Daily Beast, Vogue, WSJ and other publications. Her books include the anthology Paris Was Ours and A Dash of Daring: Camel Snow and Her Life in Fashion, Art, and Letters.