My mother always had the radio on when we got up to get ready for school in the morning. Most of the time, I ignored it, because I found it irritating. I never liked getting up early and she was always so damn cheerful that it just got under my skin. I know I got her irritated, too, because she had to call me at least 10 times before I finally stumbled downstairs. When we lived in the projects, all three of us kids shared a bedroom and bunkbeds. I went through kindergarten through fifth grade before we moved into my grandmother's house, so out of the three of us, I have the bulk of the school memories from that period of time, and to tell you the truth, I don't even remember whether Candy and Brian got up with me in the morning (though Candy must have). Now that I think back, I realize Ma had a real love for music, though I never quite appreciated it. She had a collection of albums that ranged from classical music to Frank Sinatra to country; in fact, when I moved out of the house, I took her Rhapsody in Blue/Gershwin album with me, and though she must have known I had stolen it, she never said anything.
When the Beatles first came out, we were still living in the projects. I had never liked Elvis, so when this new group was compared to him, it wasn't interesting to me at first, but then I heard them one morning on Ma's radio. She teased me a little, told me I should learn how to dance like they did (she always liked it when we kids put on shows and sang and danced for her in the living room -- I'm sure we were horrendous). In spite of myself, I did want to dance to their music. I wanted to do more than dance to it -- I wanted to sing with them, wanted to scream with the girls who went to their concerts, wanted to date Paul. Hell, I wanted to marry him!
Through the next ten years, I -- like most other teenage girls around the world -- watched the Beatles change the landscape of music itself. I remember my 7th grade music teacher, a little guy who was a concert musician and pretty talented in his own right, telling us that the Beatles were a "flash in the pan," that they wouldn't even "be remembered much past 1968." I had never been so sure of myself when I argued against him. I found my voice during 7th grade and argued against any authoritarian who would let me (and got into trouble for it).
"She Loves You" was the theme of my middle school years. We would pretend to hold microphones while we screamed and shook our hair, then fell against each other, laughing. When I went to my first school dance in junior high, one of the songs they played on a regular basis was "Yesterday." It was the slow dance, the one that made everyone look around nervously, wondering whether they would be one of the lucky ones to be paired off with someone else. When I heard that song played tonight, it actually brought tears to my eyes because now it really IS yesterday.
When the Beatles were playing with us during their Sgt. Pepper days, I was wearing an Eisenhower jacket (a tan wool jacket with a high collar and brass military buttons), white go-go boots and a Mia Farrow haircut. I had my first boyfriend, and I thought it was cool to say that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was my favorite song on the album (though I have to admit that, looking back, it wasn't my favorite album of all the Beatles produced). Little did I know that the song (and many others) referred to more than a brilliant nighttime sky sprinkled with stars :-)
I was one of the lucky ones that got to see the Beatles in all their combinations: as a group, Paul with Wings and Linda, Paul with Wings without Linda (loved that concert because I could fantasize about him), Ringo alone (what a horrible concert that was!), George with Ravi Shankhar (George was so hoarse and out of tune that I ended up angry to have spent nearly a hundred bucks on the ticket, but I left the concert with a new love for Indian sitar), and John with Yoko (I would have much preferred him alone; she screamed through the whole concert). What has always amazed me is that they were not only brilliant lyricists but incredible musicians. One of the few groups that could hold it together on their own, as well as together. And not too many people could play their chords on the guitar!
By the time they sang together for the last time on "Abbey Road," I had dated several guys who had gone to VietNam. Two of them didn't come home, and I'm not sure about a third. I hated the war, hated what it was doing to people, hated that guys my age were killing others then coming home changed in ways that made them unrecognizable. It was at that point that I found myself at odds with the church because the minister kept blessing troops that were breaking one of the Bible's most basic rules: killing. But, again, that's another story.
When the last Beatles album came out, I lived on the 3rd floor of my grandmother's house in my own room overlooking the street. The room had pitched attic walls that I lined with posters of Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, and yes, the Beatles. If you turned the lights off and adjusted your eyes to the darkness, the posters would glow for a little while. I used to pretend I was stoned and watch the shapes shift and settle into the darkness. Often I sat at a makeshift desk in the corner, looking out the two windows that led onto a small roof (my mother caught me out there one night and was convinced I was going to jump. I had no intention of doing that -- sheesh, she knew I was afraid of heights! -- I just wanted to see the stars). At that rickety desk, I wrote poetry that mimicked what the Beatles were producing. And I thought about the strange world we had been brought into.
My mother still played the radio in the morning when I dragged myself out of bed for those last two years of high school, but she was playing country music now, and I found it repulsive. Songs about sad lovers and dogs that followed trucks didn't move me like "Because the world is round it turns me on . . ." and "Blackbird singing in the dead of night . . . " And when the boyz went their separate ways, I followed along like so many others. Lennon's revolutionary music spurred me to push back against those who wanted me packaged up nice and neat. McCartney's love songs made me believe all would be right in the end. And Harrison's shapeshifting from traditional to oriental sounds helped me appreciate the different ways people can believe in something other than themselves. Ringo just made me laugh.
My mother might have taught me to appreciate music, but I think she was a bit dismayed to find that I had carved my own path, with the first bricks laid by four guys from Liverpool.