I jumped to my feet at some point the other night during Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles, and for me and everyone else there, the ornate decor of Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theater melted away, and there we all were in Shea Stadium, August 1965, drowning out the airliners on their final approach into LaGuardia, screaming, singing, crying even. And as I chanted along to “Hey Jude,” waved my hands over my head to “Come Together” or clapped (with a terribly authentic-sounding double-clap) to “I Want to Hold Your Hand”—it occurred to me: Has there ever been a time when the Beatles weren’t cool? And I don’t mean in a reactionary sense, like in third grade when my friends and I had to hate the Beatles because all the girls in our class were so mindlessly crazy about them. I mean, was there ever a time when the culture at large looked at the Beatles and said, “Well, thank you, boys, but that’s quite enough of that?” Maybe for a moment there, after we knew they’d broken up for good, and I actually saw copies of Let It Be sitting in a record store cutout bin. But in retrospect, that seems to have been a slight aberration—less than a year later, I and my defiantly blasé friends on the staff of the Rutgers Daily Targum were beside ourselves when someone came running into the newsroom announcing that Madison Square Garden had been booked for two concerts in August—and it just had to be for a Beatles reunion (turned out it was for George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, which in the long run was probably a better thing).
No, against all odds, it seems that for nearly a half-century now John, Paul, George, and Ringo have provided the soundtrack for our lives. Theirs has always been, to paraphrase “Lady Madonna,” the music playing in our ears, (and how Apple ever failed to use that snippet for its omnipresent Beatles-now-on-ITunes campaign I’ll never know).
And not just our ears. While that audience at Rain was appropriately skewed toward Boomer-dom, there was a healthy mix of kids, some of them tweeners, and more than a few of them more facile with the lyrics than I was.
What’s more, these weren’t just kids who were dragged to the show by nostalgic parents, and who got carried away by the moment. A few months ago, on assignment for AARP the Magazine, I spent the afternoon with the members of Rain as they prepared for their big live appearance in Times Square to promote the show. As you can see from the video we made that day, the 40,000-strong audience of all ages was most definitely well-versed in the ways of Beatlemania.
I’m sure Al Jolson thought he’d go on forever. And while the genius of Glenn Miller is undeniable, his music will always be an artifact of the 1940s. The Rolling Stones stay with us out of sheer, stubborn persistence—when Mick Jagger finally hangs up his lips for good, I suspect we’ll remember the Stones mostly as the anti-Beatles.
Meanwhile, we’ll download Beatles songs and sell out Broadway theaters to see gifted musicians recreate their magic, and we’ll lionize the two real-life Beatles we’re still lucky enough to have walking among us. And in our hearts, we’ll be back there in the nosebleed seats at Shea, reaching out desperately, our fingertips tingling with the electricity of greatness.