The British Invasion of . . . Hickory, North Carolina

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Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you,

Tomorrow I’ll miss you;

Remember I’ll always be true.

Being seven days shy of my third birthday, I have no memory of the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964.  Nonetheless, one of my earliest memories is of the Beatles, from an “appearance” they made in my hometown of Hickory, North Carolina.  At Christ Lutheran Church no less!  The Beatles performed that night in the persons of my mother, one of my aunts, and two other women from the church wearing those moppy Beatles wigs—for all I know they actually used mop heads—and gyrating in front of an audience of other church members in the church’s parish hall.

I don’t remember the year, but I was old enough to remember the incident and young enough to be held in the arms of another parishioner—the performance was a Father’s Day spoof, so my father must have been up close to the stage.  Most likely, it was in 1965.  It may have taken that long for the British Invasion to reach Hickory, or at least Christ Lutheran Church.

Like so many others of my age, it’s hard to say what I remember of the actual appearances of the Beatles and what has been grafted into my memory from repeated airings of them, especially those record-breaking Ed Sullivan shows.  Watching CBS’s The Beatles: The Night That Changed America special on Sunday, the 50th anniversary of their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, brought back a flood of memories, real and grafted, foremost among them my mother as one of the Beatles performing in the parish hall.

It’s a bittersweet memory—one of those before and after memories.  Just 77 days before the Beatles’ British Invasion, America had lost President Kennedy to an assassin’s bullet, losing its innocence in the process.  In the decade after their appearance, anti-war protests, the Civil Rights movement, and the sexual revolution forever changed the nation.  And, of course, the British Invasion forever changed our music.  It’s hard to believe that the Beatles would be such a catalyst of these changes, looking at those four moppy-headed, clean-cut boys smiling and singing songs of teenage love and angst.

My mother’s spoof of the Beatles was some sort of catalyst of change for me, too—a before and after moment in my own personal history.  If I remember correctly, something about the church’s parish hall event frightened me—the heat, the boisterous crowd, the smoke that filled the room, the site of my mother in strange costume—and I went off on a screaming and crying fit and had to be carried out of the parish hall.  I was an easily upset child, extremely attached to my mother—a “mama’s boy.”  So, it may have just been the fact that I was being held by someone else that set me off.  Or, it may have been some dawning realization that my mother was not part of me nor me part of her.  She was a separate person, with her own personality, hopes, and fears.  My journey to autonomy was painfully begun.

The 60s seemed to be about everyone’s journey to autonomy:  young versus old; children versus parents; blacks versus whites; gays versus straights.  A new America was painfully beginning.  Indeed the 60s ended with the Stonewall Riots in New York City on June 28, 1969, an important milestone in gay history—an important milestone in my own history.

Despite all the events that happened after, the memory of the Beatles and my mother means more to me as a memory of a happy time, oblivious of the changes to come.  Four moppy-headed women imitating four moppy-headed boys to their own screaming audiences of adoring fans.

And then while I’m away,

I’ll write home ev’ry day,

And I’ll send all my loving to you.

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5 thoughts on “The British Invasion of . . . Hickory, North Carolina

  1. I was born in 1961, and share many of the same memories of the sixties. I remember watching WWII movies, and then going to bed at night scared and wondering when we would be bombed. I knew we were at war in Vietnam, but I didn’t understand they could never have bombed our home in the US. Your mention of the Stonewall Riots reminded me of another time when rioting was wide-spread. I was going to School half a day, and I remember Daddy would come home in the evening, watch Walter Cronkite, and we’d eat supper. One day he got home just after me. He pulled his recliner in front of the TV and brought out his double-barreled shotgun and a Winchester 30-30. He loaded them both and set them next to the doors and sat and watched the news. It was just a few years ago I finally got to putting the dates and times together and I called my mother. She confirmed what I had deciphered–that was the day MLK had been assassinated and riots were wide-spread across Flint, Detroit and America. Our children today do not know what it is to see riots on our streets. I hope our society never comes to that again!
    Nice post!

  2. I was also born in 1961 and I remember the cartoon version of the Beatles where they were always running from a crowd of screaming fans. I think that’s my earliest memory of them and that apparently started airing in 1965. The sixties were quite a decade to grow up in!

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