You Gonna Rock Tonight?
From the first time I saw the Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show” at age 3, I was hooked. I bounced along to the music, beating on an old needlepoint chair with two arrows as dust puffed up and danced through the sunlight streaming through the window.
A little later in life I picked up the guitar, and the first song I wanted to learn was "Nowhere Man." I’m now a professional musician — largely due to my love of the Beatles.
A few years back I played in the solo band of Francesca Gregori, the daughter of Ringo’s wife Barbara Bach, and Ringo came to a couple of our shows. In return, I got to go to a number of his All-Starr Band shows, and even met him on several occasions. It was at one of these shows backstage at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles I gave him a fist bump to the shoulder and said, "So! You gonna rock tonight?" Ringo pointed up to the stage and replied, "The only place I feel comfortable is up there."
Up Close and Personal with Paul
My Beatles story started around the age of three. My uncle was a big Beatles fan, and made a couple of CD compilations for my parents to listen to — but I quickly caught on. My passion for the band evolved throughout my childhood and throughout technologies, from CDs, to iPhones, to old-school records and so on. Throughout it all, my favorite Beatle was Paul.
In tenth grade, I learned that Paul McCartney was coming to Seattle for his One on One tour, one day before my 16th birthday. I begged my parents to try and book tickets for me and my two friends, Zoe and Olivia. We eventually settled on going to the Portland concert on the April 15. The night before, we went out and got supplies to make signs. My sign read, “Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah Hey Paul,” Olivia's read, “Paul, you can't buy me love but you can sign me for it,” and Zoe's read, “Paul, you're the reason I play bass.” The next day, we headed from Olympia, WA to Portland, OR for our long-awaited destination: the Moda Center.
Armed with brand new Paul McCartney shirts and bubbling excitement, we climbed a steep escalator to our $90-a-piece seats, far up in the nosebleed air. We hadn’t been sitting for more than five or ten minutes when a woman spotted us and asked to see our signs. She said that we seemed like really great fans and told us to follow her. We trailed behind her, ducking behind the seats, as she proceeded to tell us that she worked on Paul's tour crew, and said she had been looking for big fans who deserve better tickets. She fanned out front row tickets, saying, “Promise to be up and dancing the whole time, and don’t be on your phones during the concert.” We shouted, “THANK YOU!” and rushed down to our gift.
We followed the seat numbers through the front row and looked up — we were sitting front and center, right in front of Paul's microphone. Once the lights dimmed and Paul's bass came on screen, we knew we were in for the time of our lives. We went absolutely wild. It was an unbelievable set list, ranging from “A Hard Day's Night” to “In Spite of All the Danger to The End.” He even performed “Birthday,” my birthday being just 3 days away. He would look down at us at different times and look at our signs and make little comments, which made us go even more crazy! The next day, we were driving home from Portland and looking through Paul’s Instagram, and there we were — holding our signs.
Live From the Epicenter of Beatlemania
In February of 1964, three friends and I went out to JFK Airport (back then it was called Idlewild Airport) to welcome the Beatles to the United States for the first time. Unbelievably, we were in the right place at the right time, and were right in front on the observation deck when their plane landed! The news photographers were below and when John, Paul, George, and Ringo emerged, they turned and waved up at the crowd. The photographers turned as well to shoot photos of the crowd, and there we were — front and center! Those photos of my friends and I have been in the Daily News, the National Inquirer, and several Beatles Magazines of the time. Most video documentaries of the Beatles feature that shot, if only for a few seconds. That picture was also featured in a book titled, “The Beatles in America: The Story, The Scene, 50 Years On” by Spencer Leigh. That photo has persevered throughout the past 52 years, keeping us all inextricably connected with the spirit of Beatlemania.
The Beatles, My Grandfather, and 73 Million Americans
I must have been the shy age of 5 when my dad introduced me to The Beatles. He was raised through the 60’s, so he experienced the best of the best. As I eagerly waited on the couch, my dad popped in an old VCR tape of a recording of the Ed Sullivan show. It happened to be The Beatles’ 1964 American television debut. Not knowing what to expect, I’m surprised to see my grandfather on the screen with Marty Allen, and The Beatles starts to play "She Loves Me."
My grandfather was straight man Steve Rossi from the famous Allen and Rossi comedy team. They were invited to sing and do their skit on every popular television show in the 60’s including Ed Sullivan. They ended up performing on this most famous episode of all time, watched live by an estimated 73 million Americans.
I saw my grandpa singing along, and after their skit they introduced the Fab Four to the audience. They were absolutely drowned out by screaming girls with high-pitched voices, causing an uproar. I couldn't quit laughing, I was amazed. It is one of my most cherished memories — of both the Beatles and my grandfather. It also provided me with one of my favorite keepsakes: a beautiful original photo of the Fab Four, my grandfather and Marty Allen with the signature of each band member.
When I was your age I trekked through THE snow to see Lennon
I was laying in bed listening to Scott Muni on WNEW-FM in New York when an unmistakable voice came on. It was that of Dr. Winston O’Boogie — aka John Lennon — plugging his new Rock ‘n’ Roll album. I got dressed up warm to trek through the cold and light snow that was coming down outside. I took two buses and two trains and arrived at the radio studio around 4:30p.m. I went straight up to the studio and saw John with Scott in the booth, but was soon told to go wait in the lobby. After about a half hour, John came down with a young lady who I swear was May Pang. When John got off the elevator, he took his time signing autographs and talking with everyone. I managed to get a couple photos of him and hand a picture to him to sign. While he was signing the pen ran out, so he asked if I had another. I hurriedly borrowed a pen from the person standing next to me. I was thrilled to meet my idol John Lennon, even if my hands were shaking uncontrollably.
In 7th grade, at 12 years old, I was just the right age to fall madly in preteen love. I had just lived through some of the most horrific and frightening times in our nation's history: Russia's threat to bury us, air-raid drills in the halls of our schools, the Cuban Missile Crisis, all followed by the assassinations of our beautiful young President and his brother.
Thankfully, the Beatles came along and stole my heart, allowing my mind to dwell on more pleasant things. I was absorbed in them — every detail I could learn about them, every slang word from their beautiful British lexicon. John was my favorite, while Paul took first place in my best friend's heart. Life was perfect. Endless beautiful days of taking long walks and singing every Beatle song word-for-word. Always awaiting the release of their newest song — their newest 45 record or LP. We spent our days planning on how we would run away and meet them someday. How we would be the ones that they would know in their hearts were the ones who really "got" them and would fall madly in love with us. Then, suddenly, it was the summer of '69 and we were graduating from high school. A little older and a little wiser, but John, Paul, George and Ringo were forever a part of our lives and memories.
Still, to this day, I am taken back in time with just a few notes from “Hey Jude” or “And I Love Her” or any of the hundred songs that all have a sound, a smell, a place, a memory attached. Bittersweet. “And in the end, the love we take is equal to the love we make.”
More popular than Jesus
I was 8 years old when the Beatles made their trip to America. I remember watching them step off the plane in 16-inch black-and-white TV vision. It was all so exciting to me! But, within three days of the Beatles coming to America, I remember the pastors and ministers of churches around the United States condemning the Fab Four, calling them sadistic, evil beings. It broke my heart. My father was a Deacon in one of these same churches and made me go to a huge bonfire where Beatles posters and records were burnt and destroyed. It made me look at religion in a whole different light. It could have destroyed my passion for music, but instead, you see, it was a wonderful thing for me! Because of the Beatles, I became a free thinker, a free believer and a compassionate person.
The Chicagoland Beatle People
At fifteen, sitting crossed legged in front of the TV, watching The Ed Sullivan Show; I made a decision that somehow I would meet The Beatles. I thought that a fan club would be the perfect way to accomplish this. Our club was “The Chicagoland Beatle People” and we grew to over a thousand members.
Our dream finally came true on September 5, 1964, and I was ready to meet The Beatles at their Chicago Press Conference. In all the commotion, I remember asking my friend Jan, “Where the heck is Ringo?” The fellow standing right in front of me turned to me and said, “Here I am darling.” It was Ringo! I almost fainted!
Moments later, they announced that The Chicagoland Beatle People Fan Club would present The Beatles with an honorary plaque. We stepped up on the stage and there we were, face to face with The Beatles.
Petrified, I smiled and said, “My name is Marti and we want to present this plaque to you with love, from your Chicago fans.” John smiled and said, “It’s heavy hey? I better take it before it falls. Thanks very much.” Ringo and John then read our plaque — right in front of me.
Just Another Scruff at Paul McCartney’s House
The #1 item on my wish list for Santa in 1968, was Hunter Davies’ “The Beatles – The Authorized Biography.” The jolly old fellow did not let me down. I spent the next couple of days reading and rereading this up close and personal look at the Fab Four! I remember our family rushing home from a day of skiing at Bear Mountain so that we wouldn’t miss them on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. I think we were still wearing our ski suits when we gathered in front of the black and white TV. By the time they got through “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” we were forever changed.
So, it was exciting for me, indeed, when I learned that mom and I would be spending the entire summer of 1969 in London. If I would ever have a chance for a Beatles sighting, London is where I needed to be!
On August 28, just a few days before we were scheduled to fly back home to the States, my mom and I ventured out to St. John’s Wood — the home of Paul McCartney. Here is how Hunter Davies describes it in his book: “(he) lives in a large detached three-story house in St. John’s Wood…just round the corner from EMI’s recording studios (later called Abbey Road)….The front of the house has a paved courtyard. On the left, attached to the house is a double garage in which he keeps his Mini Cooper and Aston Martin. The house is guarded by a high brick wall and large double black gates controlled from the house. You speak into a microphone, someone inside answers, and if you say the right thing, the doors swing open and then clank shut again to keep out the fans.”
Now, what I am going to describe next may seem unbelievable. But it is true! We found the house and I lifted up the brass mail slot to see if I could get a glimpse inside the estate. It wasn’t a mail slot at all, but appeared to house some electric wiring. As I was standing there waiting for my mom to take a picture from across the street, I heard the big gate start to open. Then I heard the voice of a woman say something, I don’t know what, and then the gate closed shut again. My mother and I were both sort of in shock! Look at the expression on my face! Mom took that shot right after the gate had closed!
We left then and speedily walked back to the St. John’s Wood Tube Station giggling all the way and making up all sorts of “what if this” and “what if that” scenarios! When we surfaced from the Underground in the West End we were greeted at the corner newsstand with the breaking news that Paul and Linda McCartney’s baby girl, Mary, had been born that afternoon! Perhaps the lady at the gate had been the infamous Mrs. Kelly, Paul’s housekeeper, waiting for news about the new little Miss McCartney! I’m sure she was annoyed when she found that it was just another Scruff (and her mother)!
The Lover and the Scholar
I had just turned ten years old when it happened. Arriving at Horseshoe Drive Elementary School in Alexandria, Louisiana, I was confronted by my best friend, Pattie Singer. She showed me a 45-record and proudly proclaimed, “These are The Beatles! You have until recess to fall in love with one!” What???
Being the bookworm in my group of friends, I’d missed out on Jack Parr’s mention of the boys, and in December of 1963, the Fab Four hadn’t yet made it to The Ed Sullivan Show, so I was completely unaware of the long arm of Beatlemania. But my friends weren’t. They had the Swan 45 and were already heads over heels for the charismatic British foursome. And they demanded that I, too, get on board. So, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., I surreptitiously studied the four young men smiling at me from that black and white record jacket. I observed their faces and posture; I tried to read their attitudes.
At recess, I picked George Harrison as my favorite Beatle! My friends’ faces fell. One of them even said, “Awww” in obvious disappointment. I knew that I had failed in my mission. Clearly, they had all expected me to select someone else. I had bobbled. So, being a compliant rule-follower, I asked to be given a chance to try again – to take the record home with me and listen to it, to learn a bit more about the group. And I was given that opportunity. Thank goodness.
The next morning, after talking with older sisters of my friends and finding out more about John, Paul, George, and Ringo, I strode into elementary school “in love” with John Lennon. My friends squealed with utter delight. “We knew you’d love John! We said you would! He’s the smart Beatle! He’s the leader!” And they were right. John it was! From December of 1963 to today, it’s still John. I’ve spent 31 years researching, writing, and publishing his life’s story in The John Lennon Series. And I’ve never once regretted the moment I was given a mandate to “choose one.” John has been with me ever since – a perfect match.
Passing on the Torch
My story begins on Feb. 9th 1964. I, like millions of others, tuned in to The Ed Sullivan Show and it forever changed my life. At seven years old my ideas about the world were small, but after that Sunday and for the next 52 years, my world revolved around The Beatles. When I got married, "And I Love Her" was our wedding song, and when I had children running around the house we would march to "All Together Now” or “Yellow Submarine." It took me a year to figure out "Blackbird" on the guitar so I could play it at my daughter’s wedding. The two Beatles events though that influenced me the most in my life were both joyous and sad.
I was born on December 8th, and while celebrating my 26th birthday I had just opened presents and eaten cake, and I decided to turn on the radio. They were playing non-stop John Lennon tunes which made me feel so lucky. My birthday, John Lennon, cake, presents — it doesn't get any better. Then, the news. The celebration quickly ended and the phone calls started coming in. All my friends calling to ask if I was okay like I was John's best friend. In a way in my mind I was and I had lost a great life long friend and I am reminded of it every year on my birthday.
Many years later and having seen Paul six times, George once, and Ringo's original All-Starr Band in 1989, I was presented with an offer I had to accept. Ringo was promoting his book Photograph and upcoming tour in LA. There were VIP meet and greet opportunities and so with the persuasion of all my family, I purchased the tickets and flew off to Los Angeles to meet one of my lifelong heroes. When he finally came out to talk to us he was so personable and upbeat. He made us all feel welcome and during our conversation I mentioned that he hadn't been to Vancouver, where I’ve lived since 1989 and that it wasn't scheduled for this tour either. He looked at me puzzled and said, "Really? I'll look into that." Four months later the revised tour schedule came out and what do you know Ringo was coming to town. I like to think I had a hand in that decision. Our whole family went to the show and when he looked right at my daughter who was standing at the front of the stage she said she almost had a heart attack. The Beatles torch has officially been passed over to my kids.