It was 50 years ago today
First heard in the USA
A band that played a whole new style
Guaranteed to raise a smile
So may I introduce to you
From the boys who sang “Love Me Do”
That something: “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Yes, ’twas the day after Christmas, 1963, when all across the airwaves America first heard The Beatles.
Could not have been better timed.
This 12-year-old still breathed the lingering grief of an assassination just five weeks past, a young president erased from a stage returned to old men. Vigor trumped by reserve.
Promise delayed, youth denied.
Which may be why so many of us are taking our youth right into old age.
We hear that younger generations resent baby boomers, but really, they envy us. Given the increasing anxieties of growing old, who wouldn’t want to prolong their adolescence?
Could turn one into a street-musician, but it’s hardly my excuse, as I first hit the streets during a time more in tune with “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
“From Me to You” was the first non-Christmas carol I learned. Carols taught me scales, The Beatles taught me key changes.
Combined it with “Blackbird” to reward passers-by patient enough to pause for unfamiliar melodies.
A solo flautist needs songs with strong melodic lines, foregoing favorites steeped more in rhythm or vocals, such as “I Want You,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Get Back.”
And “We Can Work It Out” with an opening so riveting that NPR uses it as a bumper following reports on congressional stalemates.
On that note, has music ever been so spirited yet precise as “And Your Bird Can Sing”?
With a repertoire mostly Celtic and Baroque, my challenge is keeping several familiar tunes fresh.
The Beatles offer a generous source. “In My Life” has that Baroque piano-made-to-sound-like-a-harpsichord solo, but I need to read it, as I do “Michelle” and “Yesterday.”
Faster favorites such as “Since I Saw Her Standing There” and “I’m Looking Through You” I can bring to life for a week at a time with a few piping gimmicks.
Fellow King Richard’s Faire minstrel Andrew Prete has a far wider selection of Beatles songs, as you’d expect from a singer/guitarist until you consider his age.
Contradicting the generational stereotype, he took such a liking to his parents’ albums that they tried to hide that love away. So he started playing the songs himself.
His account had me laughing while wondering if I might have ever smoked dope with his mom or dad to the tune of “Your Mother Should Know.”
His favorite is “Let It Be,” and the emotion when he merely talks about the song hints at how fully he delivers it.
But he’s cautious while busking Boston because there’s always someone who will take “Mother Mary comes to me” as an invitation to convert him.
I suggested he change the next lyric: “Let me be! Let me be!”
Well within my own wheelhouse is “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” no doubt due a Celtic feel, a Morris Dance on steroids.
Title may be Nigerian for “life goes on,” but I wonder if lyrics all about a marketplace appeal in a vague subliminal way to a street piper who cannot sing them.
No matter. This is a tune that, as the renfaire drummers like to say, I can “drive,” meaning that I can embellish it, scramble it, syncopate it, improvise with it.
I save it for when I see anyone wearing a Beatles’ shirt or hat. Those close to my age might turn and smile but younger folk rarely notice — even those without cells or earpods.
“I-I-I-I-I look at all-ll the aimless T-shirts … “
Odd to reflect that the youthful Prete and my aging self strike a common chord over the tour de force that defined “the generation gap” of the ’60s.
Prete strikes it literally: That single iconic strum, as arresting as the opening four notes that roll over Beethoven’s 5th, an announcement turning night into day.
As tomorrow never knows, it’s been a hard half-century, but let’s thank The Beatles for these songs that we sing that make us feel alright.
Jack Garvey of Plum Island can be reached at email@example.com.