This Sunday will be the second time in my life that there has been a well-publicized fiftieth anniversary of a public event that I am old enough to remember. This time, of course, it concerns the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964.
The first famous event that I can remember from fifty years later was the assassination of President Kennedy. I recall my first grade teacher being called out of the room to hear something on the radio. This seemed very odd, and had certainly never happened before. Then she came back in and told us the news. I found it surreal (not that I knew the word), not just because I was so young, but also because those were such innocent times for people growing up in the U.S. In retrospect, so far as dark events are concerned, there had already been the Cuban missile crisis, not to mention that crazy things had been happening in Vietnam, such as monks burning themselves and the Diem assassination. Go back less than twenty years, and one had the Holocaust. But I am pretty sure that I knew little or even nothing about all that. I was living, so far as I could tell, in more of a Disney-style universe.
Then, over the weekend, Ruby shockingly shot Oswald. I recall our discussing it in class, presumably on Monday. By now the whole run of events felt truly unfathomable and incomprehensible. I remember making a comment in class about how all these shootings were like cowboys and Indians. But even as I said it, I felt that it was inadequate and had failed to convey what I meant (which I evidently couldn't put into words, but had more to do with perplexity than grief).
Anyway, next came the Beatles. I was too young to comprehend the weeks of national gloom that their arrival evidently broke. Nor did I know anything at the time about the famous airport press conference, the girls staking out the hotel, Murray the K playing them around the clock, and so forth. But I did know that my older brother had successfully petitioned my parents to watch the Ed Sullivan Show at 8 o'clock. My regular bedtime was 7:30. Whatever this "beetles" or "Beatles" thing was, I didn't want to miss out just because I was younger. At the same time, however, I had no clue about who or what they were. I was unaware, not just of the "a" in Beatles, but even of their being a musical group. I believe I was envisioning some sort of exciting mechanical, metallic buzzing "beetles" that would be fun to watch on our black-and-white TV.
My parents allowed me to stay up for the Sullivan show, so long as I was ready to go to bed immediately afterwards. But the moment I heard them, I said "I'm going to bed now." At that point, growing up in my household, I am fairly certain that I had never heard rock music before. (If my brother had gotten to hear them on the radio, I hadn't noticed.)
That's it for my contemporaneous memory of the Beatles' first appearance in America.