“There’s gonna be a Beatle show on Saturday morning. Everybody come!”
“Where? Where’s it gonna be?”
“In the Horton’s garage.”
I don’t know how long it was after the Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan appearance that the Beatle shows started happening in my neighborhood, but they lasted for the duration of 1964. The location was always revolving, like an after-hours rave. It might be in the Horton’s garage one Saturday, in the Willis’s backyard the following week.
A Beatle show consisted of four kids, eight to ten years old, lip-syncing to Beatles’ records while they air-strummed guitars cut out of corrugated cardboard. “Ringo” played a drum made out of a Quaker Oat box. In the beginning, kids with really short hair wore wigs they had made out of yarn. Within a few months, everyone’s hair had grown out enough that they didn’t need wigs. The first show was very short, since out of the entire neighborhood, only two of us owned records and the show consisted of “She Loves You” and “All My Loving” played over and over again. As the year wore on, the repertoire expanded as the neighborhood collectively acquired more records. If you didn’t get to be a Beatle, then you got to sit on the floor or the lawn and be the audience.
I always went to the Beatle shows. I never got to be a Beatle (a position that required much fighting and politicking to attain), but no matter. I went just to listen to the records because it would be a while before I had any of my own.
During that summer of 1964, I spent many hot afternoons on Debbie Elliot’s front porch talking to George Harrison. Debbie had a white plastic phone, one with a real rotary dial, and she swore to all of us that she had all of the Beatles’ private phone numbers and she could call them anytime she wanted to. If we were nice to her, she would call our favorite Beatle for us and let us talk to him. She always did the dialing. She would dial the number, pause dramatically while she waited for the Beatle to pick up, and then say, “Hello Paul? Yeah, it’s me, Deb.” She would talk for a bit and then say, “Listen, I have a friend here who would like to say hello. Would that be alright?”
Only when Debbie wanted to be mean would she say, “Sorry, Paul said he had to go. Maybe tomorrow.” Most of the kids wanted to speak to Paul. I felt sorry for George, as it seemed to me that he got the least attention in the group, so when it was my turn, I always asked to speak with George. My first call with George went something like this:
“Hello? Hello George? Is George Harrison there?”
“HELL-O! George? Are you there?”
Me: “Debbie, he isn’t there. I think he hung up.”
Debbie: “No, he’s there. You just aren’t listening hard enough. Put the phone really close to your ear and listen hard. This is long-distance to England, so the line isn’t good, that’s all. Can you hear him now?”
Me, after pressing the phone so close to my ear I could hear my own circulation, as though the receiver were a sea shell: “YES! I think I heard him!”
Debbie: “Really? What did he say?”
Me: “He said hello! George said hello to me!”
And in my desire to speak to one of the Beatles, George’s voice became real in my mind, reaching across the Atlantic through tinny long-distance wires to give me a static-muffled hello. As the summer wore on, the reception on the plastic phone improved and George’s voice became more clear. I was having auditory hallucinations at the age of eight.
It was the following year or so that I began dreaming a fantasy that's been hard to let go of. The fame and popularity of the Beatles kept expanding every month, like an unpopable balloon that kept inflating. It won’t last forever, I thought, and then all the fun will be over. But I wouldn’t let it end. I would learn how to play guitar and sing myself. Then someday when the Beatles’ career started to wane and they weren’t so hot anymore, I would write them a letter. I already had it written in my head:
You guys are starting to be not so famous anymore. I think you can get back on top again with a new sound. You know what you guys need? A girl singer to spice things up. I’m here to help you. Write back when you’re ready. I will be your girl singer.
Of course, I never sent that letter. It is almost fifty years later. They haven’t made a record together in forty years, and two of them are dead. I’m still waiting for their popularity to wane.
(Thank you, Kevin, for giving us the link to the Beatles' concert.)