Saturday, February 01, 2014

Feb. 1, 2014, column: The Beatles

Beatles' lasting legacy continues to influence society
By Mike Haynes           
            Eight days from now, Kathy and I wanted to be in New York City. It’ll be 50 years since Feb. 9, 1964 – the date when the Ed Sullivan Show introduced the Beatles to America.
            At age 13, I don’t think I saw that first show, when the Fab Four played five songs for 728 people live and 73 million on TV. I believe I caught up two weeks later, when John, Paul, George and Ringo continued electrifying teenagers with their third Ed Sullivan Sunday night appearance.
            The 2014 media certainly is aware that the lads from Liverpool turned out to be more than John
The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964. (AP Photo)
Lennon’s 1971 assessment: “We were just a band that made it very, very big, that’s all.” Not quite. This month, the Beatles are on the covers of major magazines, on entertainment telecasts and all over the Internet and social media. 
            There’s even a Beatles convention – the Fest for Beatles Fans – that’s been going on for 40 years, and next weekend it’ll take place in New York. On the chance that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two surviving mop tops, would show up at the Fest, I reserved a hotel room for my wife and me.
            Alas, the biggest names on the Fest schedule are Donovan and Peter and Gordon, and along with other obligations, that forced me to cancel the hotel reservation. We will be mighty mad if Paul or Ringo drop by unannounced.
            I suppose the main reason Kathy and I like this rock group is Beatlemania – the combination of fun, lively music, likable personalities, Liverpool accents, distinctive haircuts and the screaming, hyperventilating fans who chased these boys everywhere in the early ’60s. People magazine quoted Catherine Andrews, a 14-year-old in 1964: “They were almost like a religion – we were out of our minds over them.”
            Yes, there are some elements of religion tied to the Beatles. Kathy and I once toured Liverpool and London on a “Beatles Pilgrimage.” (See “Magical Mystery Tour,”, Aug. 25, 2002 - We were big fans, but others in our group were almost spiritual about it. In front of the Liverpool house where Paul grew up, one woman clipped grass and put it in a plastic bag. Several American fans touched an olive drab jacket John Lennon had worn like it was Christ’s robe.
            Steve Turner’s 2006 book, “The Gospel According to the Beatles” looks at the obvious spiritual aspects of this band that certainly did influence popular culture, if not people’s beliefs. John told a journalist in 1966 the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, and as blasphemous as that sounds, there was some truth to it. The four famously flirted with Eastern mysticism, and George Harrison stuck with it, sitar and all.
            None of the Beatles has been known to embrace Christianity, although Turner writes about a “born-again” period in John’s later life when he wrote evangelist Oral Roberts, asking, “Explain to me what Christianity can do for me. Is it phoney? Can He love me? I want out of hell.”
            Maybe more relevant to us today is the cultural change the Beatles helped propel, for good and for bad. Edna Gunderson of USA Today wrote, “The band hijacked the entertainment media and transcended music to become a chapter in world history. Its members had political clout, spiritual authority, cultural sway and the ears of the planet.”
            By the time they broke up officially in 1970, the Beatles were more than a band. They had created complicated music with mystery and messages. They had used drugs and bickered among themselves. But on Feb. 9, 1964, all that America cared about was those heads of hair shaking, the guitars and drums, the cute grins and the harmonized “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
             They aren’t a religion to me, but they sure are fun.
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            Mike Haynes teaches journalism at Amarillo College. He can be reached at AC, the Amarillo Globe-News or Go to for other recent columns.