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In my life, Sgt. Pepper didn’t let me down

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By Joseph Yates

Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home everyday
And I’ll send all my lovin’ to you.

With those words, 50 years ago, four young men from England completely floored an 11-year-old boy sitting in front of a black and white television on Church Street in New Castle, Kentucky. I was hopelessly smitten. I am still.
Not everyone was sold on them immediately. This is what Newsweek magazine, in its February 24th issue of that year, had to say, “Visually they are a nightmare: tight, dandified, Edwardian-Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically they are a near-disaster: guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony, and melody. Their lyrics…are a catastrophe.”
This is what my father had to say, “I think they’re a bunch of poofs.” But history has proven both Newsweek and my father wrong.
Everyone is familiar with the folklore: 73 million people saw the Ed Sullivan Show that night. Not a single hubcap was stolen anywhere between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., so they say.
Why was the first live performance of The Beatles on American television such an iconic event? We mark the anniversaries of great speeches and the like, but this was a musical act. Why are people commemorating this—with television specials and newspaper articles—50 years later? Were they talented? Beyond measure—they were genius. Did they embody something new and different? Man, what a burst of color exploding from the gray dystopia of the weeks following the Kennedy assassination. John Lennon once said, “We were all on this ship in the sixties, our generation, a ship going to discover the New World. And the Beatles were in the crow’s nest of that ship.”
As groundbreaking as some of the artists of the 20th century have been, I argue that the impact of the Beatles was transcendent. There is no Picasso Center for the Study of Cultural Diversity, no Sinatra Foundation for World Peace. But there is an Imagine Peace Tower in Reykjavik, a John Lennon statue in Havana and a Lennon Wall in Prague.
For me, personally, it was permission. These guys, this cultural event, gave me permission to rebel, to think out of the box. Not as in, “What are you rebelling against?” or “Whaddaya got?,”but to go forth in whatever you do, and dare to be different. Create something.
For good or bad, these guys have followed me everywhere.
My father caught me smoking when I was about 15. This sad tale appeared in a recent column, but here’s the rest of the story.
As my punishment, I was marched to Floyd Hall’s Barber Shop to convert my nascent Beatle cut to a flattop. Ouch—from fledgling hipster to strait-arrow square in 90 seconds.
The first of my faculties to go will be hearing. At 16, I would lie on my bedroom floor, hi-fi speakers inches from my ears, “Helter Skelter” cranked to 11 on the volume knob.
At 18, I spent days in an almost empty movie theatre in Western Kentucky, clueless about my future, watching the boys break up over and over again in the film “Let It Be.”
My family has traditionally named our domestic critters after characters in Beatles songs. Thus their names: Maxwell, Sadie, Lucy, Rita and Henry.
When my mother passed away, my sister and I chose to play “Let It Be” at her funeral. Sandwiched between “Jesu,” “Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and “Amazing Grace,” it worked just fine.
Just months ago, I sat between my children, now adults, and watched, through memories, laughter and tears, as one of those excellent ‘Beatles-tribute’ bands captured the music and spirit of The Fab Four to perfection. For an hour or two, all was right with the world.
Recently, Paul McCartney said, “I’m really glad that most of [our] songs dealt with love, peace, and understanding…[none of us ever said] ‘go on kids…leave your parents’…it was “All You Need Is Love…”
And lest we forget, they left us with this: “And in the end, the love you take…is equal to the love you make.”