It was just at this time of year when the Beatles first came to New York. I remember it well. This 2010 essays remembers an era through its songs. Of course, we were all much younger then....
February 4, 2010
From that first unmistakable chord, we knew right where we were: the dense dissonance hung waiting in the air for a moment until the first note of the song arose from somewhere else entirely --HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY! And where we were was not in the theater, not in 2010, not here but there, where we were in 1965 when we heard that chord for the very first time.
And then we were off, singing and clapping, laughing or sighing in recognition and, most of all, remembering. Oh, yes. If our youth was a movie, this was its soundtrack.
I am lying in bed in a summer night in 1965. My grandmother, the delightful roommate of my childhood in that house, died last year, and I have decided that I must not be a child anymore. So the radio is next to me now, and I lie in the heat and listen. I can't get no-o / sat-is-fac-tion -- Mick seems to have to force the lyrics out, as if he can barely contain himself to shape the words, as if something might explode, a tense spastic hiss of frustration that seems to beckon and warn at the same time.This could be dangerous, I thought as I lay on one side and stared at the dial, not sure I knew what satisfaction he meant, exactly. Well, okay.
Bus stop, bus go/ She stays, love grows/Under my umbrella. Might it really be this easy? Might there be someone somewhere who would want me? Might it be that my wrongness would give way someday to something else? For everything about me was wrong -- I was too tall, too smart, too much in every way. Might I someday shrink into a more desirable package, someone fragile and flirty, someone whom someone might want to umbrella? Someday my name and hers are going to be the same. Beneath the new mod clothes and the new long hair, behind the new magnetic drumbeat and the electronic twang of the lead guitar, beneath all the things that were so different and so new, the ancient wish almost every human has held: someone for me. Someone who loves me, someone I love. This was long before such a thing happened for me, long before any of us listening knew in what misery such sunny beginnings can have an end.
So many of the songs were about that: just love and loneliness, love and loss, new love, old love. Not rocket science -- well, Elton John did sing a song about rocket science, sort of, but that was later, and even that one was really about love and loneliness.
But there were other things, dark things, places to go from which there might not be a way back --Kicks just keep gettin' harder to find/and all your kicks ain't bringin' you peace of mind/Before you find out it's too late girl, you'd better get straight. There were people who ran away and never came back. People whose brains stopped working properly, whose eyes didn't quite focus ever again. There were people who dropped out and never found their way back in. And there were people who died.
A note of fear crept into the lyrics of some of the songs, of fear and the longing for escape. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, All good children go to heaven -- Why did we need to know that? Oh, there were still American groups singing about their cars and their surfboards, and there were loads of songs about hardly anything at all, like "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" or "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha Ha." But the young listeners to these songs were also coming to a place where we would be needing some elegies. Like every generation before us. I never give you my pillow/ I only send you my invitation /And in the middle of the celebrations /I break down. I guess we were not as charmed as we thought we were.
A two-hour concert made forty-plus years melt away to nothing. We stood in the lobby afterwards, a circle of friends older now than our parents were in those days. It was like being back there,someone said, and everyone smiled. But it wasn't really, not just like being back there. Such uncertainty, back then, masquerading as such bravado. Such uninformed impatience with the way things were! Life was dangerous then, and we didn't know it. It's dangerous now, and we do know it, and so we taste every morsel of it much more carefully than we did in those days. Every morsel, including the morsel of memory.
The concert wasn't just like being back there. It was better, because now we know what can and does happen to us all. Now we know about our own compromises with life. So it was sweet and deep, with just a little sadness underneath the smiles. And, in the end, the love you take/ Is equal to the love you make.