A connection I hadn’t made

I was taking part in one of my favorite Sunday afternoon rituals this past weekend - curling up on the couch in front of the fire and pretending like I’m going to read all of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette except for the sports and classified sections, but in reality falling asleep before I even get done with Style/Travel - when I ran across a story that really resonated with me. Titled “Beatlemania at 50,” it detailed how William B. Jones of Little Rock had fallen in love with the Beatles in January of 1964.

I’ll get to the “falling in love” part later, but the first couple of paragraphs spelled out something that I had never realized or thought about before. The Beatles’ second album, With the Beatles, was released on November 22, 1963, in England. This was a huge deal, as the group was really hitting its stride and becoming immensely popular there. People all over the country mobbed record stores to get their copy.

Several hours behind them, and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Americans had something a lot more pressing to deal with - the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That tragedy pretty much consumed the country for the next several weeks, and many have written in the ensuing years about America’s innocence being murdered along with the young president. Not having been around, I can’t say for sure about that, and it’s a pretty subjective claim anyway, but I do agree that the assassination changed the country in some substantial way, and without a doubt, left its citizens reeling and depressed.

Jones talks about getting his hands on a copy of the single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on January 11, 1964, at the S.S. Kresge store located at the intersection of Asher and University avenues, and how his hearing of the joyful, raucous song changed his relationship to music. He’s talking about how the Beatles were something totally different from much of the rest of pop music in 1963, and how excited he was to discover them, but then he says:

“More significantly, the muted burden of disillusionment that I, like so many other young Americans, had carried with me since the assassination of President Kennedy gave way to a profound emotional release, a restoration of a kind of childlike joyfulness. So much promise had died in Dallas. In its own way Beatlemania - for all its surface silliness - made possible forms of societal healing, generational solidarity and refocused idealism that would have profound implications as the decade advanced.”

I never would have put those two things - the assassination of JFK and the dawn of Beatlemania in the U.S. - together. It would have never occurred to me that the love for and enjoyment of this new kind of rock band could be viewed as one of the things that brought solace and comfort to a grieving nation. Jones’ linking of the two events came as a surprise to me, but I found that I really liked this bridge between them. It took what had, to me, been wholly separate bits of history and made a real connection, with feeling. History is always easier to grasp if you can make it personal somehow, and this article did that for me.

The other thing I really liked about the article was Jones’ description of how he felt once he got home and played “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” He says that, for the rest of his adolescence, he dated everything in his universe as Before or After the Beatles. And poring over the cover art of the single sleeve, he puzzled over which was Lennon and which was McCartney, having picked up their names from the songwriting credits.

Surely most of us have similar memories of hearing the bands we grew to love for the very first time, of studying the liner notes and lyrics, of trying to find out everything we could about the members of the group. That seems so quaint now, in a time when the Internet has made it easy to find out everything - usually more than you wanted to know.

While there was never a record in my life that made me change my filing system to Before Favorite Band and After Favorite Band, I do remember the first record I bought that sounded totally new and different to me - “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. I had never heard anything like it before, and I didn’t understand everything they were talking about, but I knew it wasn’t the same as my Shaun Cassidy album. In retrospect, I realize it was one of the first times I had my horizons broadened, and I’m grateful for that. Looking at things in new ways is valuable, both in the study of history and in your musical education.

<em>Beverly Burks is the former editor of the Advance-Monticellonian. She may be reached at beverly.burks@gmail.com.</em>

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