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.