My Favorite Beatles Concert

I went to see The Beatles play every time they came to New York, from Carnegie Hall in February 1964 (three days after their historic first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show) through the Shea Stadium concerts of 1965 and 1966.  They were all amazing events: a great, electric-sounding, funny, creative band barely heard amid screaming, fainting, infectiously hysterical crowds.  But my favorite of all The Beatles’ shows that I attended was on August 29, 1964 at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Their first movie, “A Hard Day’s Night,” had just opened in theaters a couple of weeks earlier, and this was the group’s first actual American tour.

I was thirteen, my brother almost fifteen.  Our father dropped us off and patiently waited for us in the car, parked on some Forest Hills side street.  We joined the excited throng heading into the stadium and I pointed out to my brother that the guy going through the turnstile next to us looked just like Paul McCartney. A promising start to the evening’s revels.

After we’d taken our seats, I noticed that the McCartney lookalike was sitting not too far from us, so we were able to scrutinize him.  The resemblance was remarkable.  So remarkable, in fact, we started to wonder if perhaps Paul had decided to see what it was like being among the crowd at one of his group’s insanity-fests.  Soon, other people were clearly noticing this character in their midst, because a few kids started asking “Paul” for autographs.  And he was obliging them.

Now at this early stage of the Beatlemania curve, where many people were still learning to differentiate the four fab personalities, among rabid fans the bass player being left-handed was top-of-mind knowledge.  That’s what gave the imposter away — we realized he was signing all these autographs with his right hand. Aha!

This pretender’s hubris soon brought about complications, just as hubris is so often reported to do.  More and more audience members in the vicinity caught wind of this celebrity sighting, and they wanted in, too.  Faux McCartney was soon besieged with pubescent girls desperate for autographs or, failing that, a piece of the person or his clothes or hair, just like with any other Beatle.  He was quickly overwhelmed — virtually buried — by his admirers and looked like he was in serious physical danger.

Actually, it looked like he was about to get ripped limb from limb.

Finally, some policemen made it over and saved him by carrying him out of the place, stretched out prone, over their heads, while jazzed-up 14-year-old girls continued to jump up on both sides, desperately trying to reach him.

So he wound up missing the concert, after all.  At least he was alive to tell about missing it.

Any doubt as to his lack of authenticity as a Beatle was dissolved when a helicopter landed directly behind the stage, the actual Beatles stepped out of it, plugged in, and began their set.

We’d all just seen The Beatles escaping a show in a chopper at the end of the newly-released “A Hard Day’s Night” (that exit was a basically improvised scene, filmed only because there happened to be a helicopter at that day’s location — it was not their usual mode of departure), which added an extra layer of hallucination-worthy reality to this can-you-believe-your-eyes arrival.  Considering that in future times a pretend helicopter pretending to land onstage in a theater would keep “Miss Saigon” running on Broadway for years gives some small idea what a seriously entertaining entrance this was, particularly for kids digging on their very own phenomenon which had very suddenly become a major cultural and economic influence — as well as a supreme source of bafflement — in the adult world at large.

Meanwhile, on the other side of perception, the level of novelty was also getting higher.  That is to say, it wasn’t only the audience enjoying an unusual new brand of activity and hilarity.

Mere hours earlier, beginning late the night before, an historic event in late-twentieth-century culture — the reverberations of which helped trigger and define much of what many people think of as “the sixties”  — had secretly taken place at the Beatles’ hotel suite in Manhattan: Bob Dylan had turned up and turned on the whole group to marijuana.  So the Beatles were arriving for their first post-stoned performance.

Perhaps this helped account for their amused response to the bedlam that ensued, apart from their usual jocularity and the fact that public chaos was a regular element in their day-to-day lives.

The long arm & groping hand of the law

The stage had a line of police standing just below it, and several rows of sawhorse barricades in front of them, to make it as difficult as possible to consummate any coming together with their idols that overwrought fans might attempt.  Nevertheless, in the middle of the Beatles’ set, a horde of young teenage girls suddenly managed to hurdle the barricades, get by the cops and start climbing onto the stage in full delirium, like the Dionysian women in “The Bacchae”. Burly stagehands ran out, joined by more policemen, and were basically tossing these girls off into the air as they ran toward the band. All hell was breaking loose.  Throughout this, The Beatles laughed, joked, cheered as if watching a football match (yes, we know that’s soccer for them)  — and they were clearly rooting for their amok “attackers” over their “protectors.”  They knew who was buttering their bread.  At one point, a girl even managed to jump up onto Geoge Harrison’s shoulders mid-song.  He continued playing, without missing a beat, as the girl was peeled off him and thrown back into the sea of madness.

The Beatles played wonderfully.  They sang “Twist & Shout,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “You Can’t Do That,” “She Loves You,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Boys,” “All My Loving,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Things We Said Today,” “If I Fell,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” and, finally, a wild version of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” that culminated in a frenzied final chorus featuring Ringo spectacularly flailing away at his entire drum kit as Paul screamed out the ending.

The Beatles bowed, unplugged their guitars, turned and ran back into the helicopter still sitting there, then took off into the night sky.

Now that’s entertainment.

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King Of the Paparazzi

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 Coming home from work one lovely still-bright Manhattan summer’s eve in August of 1983,  I exited the 72nd Street subway stop in front of John Lennon’s old mammoth gingerbread digs The Dakota and walked along Central Park West toward my block.  As I reached my corner, I saw a little knot – actually, something between a big knot and a little crowd, so a clot I guess – directly across the street, standing in front of another elegant old apartment building and looking at something or other, I couldn’t tell what or where.  People seemed fascinated.  For some reason, I thought they were looking at some cute little dog, not ordinarily a big interest of mine at the time, but there was something about the excited state of these onlookers that made it seem worth walking the extra 12 feet to cross the street.

 Turned out they weren’t looking at anything.  They were looking for something, or rather someone.  There was no doggie.  And everyone was lined up on both sides of the entranceway like at the red carpet leading into the Oscars; quite a few of them had cameras, in fact.  One of the gawkers excitedly revealed to me that at any moment…upstairs in that building…Paul Simon was about to get married…in his apartment…to Carrie Fisher.  I knew Paul Simon lived there, but I didn’t know he’d been seeing Princess Leia; apparently this relationship had been conducted with a great deal of discretion, if not secrecy, and now these pop icons were attempting to tie the knot below the radar of public scrutiny.

 So why were all these other people standing around the sidewalk?  My gawker-guide explained that everyone was waiting to see if, after ten years of limited contact with his old friend and former singing partner Garfunkel, Simon had invited him to his wedding and whether, if he had, Garfunkel would in fact attend.  Apparently they were in an “on” phase of their famous on-again-off-again estrangement.  The supposedly bitter feud between childhood friends who had become huge sixties music stars together, combined with romance and the leading lady of the still-hot original “Star Wars” movies constituted, it seemed, a tantalizingly heady mixture in celebrity gossip terms.  Most of the cameras, in fact, were being wielded by gossip-page/tattler-rag photographers.

My helpful guide elaborated.  “See that guy standing right across from us?  He’s king of the paparazzi.  He takes those pictures of celebrities looking totally weird that they put on the cover of the Enquirer, the Star, all those tabloids.”  I had, of course, marveled during my own time in supermarket checkout lines at the uncharacteristically distorted expressions and awkward positions the famous and glamorous were often shown sporting, as if reacting to the shocking headlines about themselves.  I’d even wondered whether they heavy-handedly retouched the photos to make them so ridiculously unflattering.

I looked across at the “king”.  He was a heavy, slovenly guy with a dull expression and some serious camera equipment draped around himself so that he looked kind of like a bandito who’d fallen off his horse, hit his head on a rock and wandered aimlessly out of the desert.   I doubted my guide knew what the hell he was talking about.  Little did I know I was soon to observe a master at work.

After a few minutes of uneventful loitering, I was about ready to head home when somebody yelped.  There, loping up Central Park West, arms swinging, head down, came the object of curiosity himself: Art Garfunkel, his tall, lanky figure and trademark (though perhaps thinning and receding) Einstein-with-his-finger-in-the-socket hairstyle instantly recognizable even from a distance.

He probably would’ve greatly preferred invisibility at that moment.  He’d undoubtedly spotted the unwelcome welcoming committee arrayed before the building’s entrance.   His pace picked up.  His head stayed down.  As he ran the little gauntlet toward the safety of the lobby within, many voices – particularly those coming from the het-up photographers (with the noted exception of the silent alleged paparazzi king) – called out, “Art!  Artie!  Look here!  Art!  Over here! Art! Smile! Art!!”

No reaction.  The prey was escaping by determinedly not acknowledging anything around him.  Eyes to the ground, gait elongated, he reached the doorway.  His feet touched the one raised step leading up to the door, which the uniformed doorman dutifully began opening.  At that nanosecond, with the casual precision attained only by those who have truly become one with their craft, the king of the paparazzi called out, “HEY BALDY!!!”

The gentle folk-rocker never stood a chance.  As reflexively as the leg kick that follows the doctor hitting your knee with that little triangular hammer, Arthur Garfunkel’s head spun fleetingly toward the sound, face contorted into a twisted, enraged, horrified glare.

Click!    

Just one shot, from just one camera, timed just perfectly.  Over in an instant.  The other photographers looked on in awe.

And that, boys and girls, is how it’s done.