History that never was . . .

Recently the spouse and I watched an uncut version of A Hard Day’s Night. Midway in, when one of the songs started, he asked me, “Were those two guys their managers?”

My spouse was never a Beatles fan–he was into the surf sound, not surprising as two of the military bases he grew up on were in San Diego and Pearl Harbor. Surfing was a big part of the teenage experience for him and his peers. That question threw me back to my junior high days. I was 12 in 1964. I remember buying a copy of the novelization of the movie, thinking it was true facts about the Beatles; at twelve, the dividing line between fact and fiction can be invisible, as in, “It’s in a book, it must be true!”

Thin as it was, the book cost a whole dollar, which was a big investment in days when I made a quarter or at most fifty cents an hour babysitting. But it was an even bigger investment because I bought the book on the sneak, as my dad didn’t like the Beatles. I can so vividly recall reading it crouched beside my bed in case anyone came into the room I shared with my sister, so I could shove it under the bed and pick up a library book. I read it avidly, poring over the British slang as I tried to parse out meaning, catching some of the satire but utterly at sea with other references, like the Irish Republican utterances of Paul’s grandfather. And what does that mean, “He’s clean!”? Did the old man smell bad?

I knew the book by heart by the time I was able to get someone to take me to the movie just to sit there with teenage girls five and more years older screaming uncontrollably so I couldn’t hear the lines. But I knew them well enough to follow, and a couple years after that, when I saw it again, without the screaming, I discovered I couldn’t understand the boys except now and again. “Oh that’s how it’s pronounced!”

By that time all my peers had seen that pseudo-documentary, with its jiggling camera and black and white film like newsreels. The line between the reality and the faux reality remained invisible: everyone believed the old man was Paul’s grandfather, we believed in the cheerful anarchy of the boys while being chased by crowds, because we knew they were chased by crowds, it really was them up there, singing their songs, and the girls in the audience at the end, screaming and sobbing and crying were just like the girls around us doing the same whenever anyone played their records in a big group. Heck, I caused that crazy screaming that summer when I got a group of girls together and wrote Beatles filk, clever words which were never heard because of the shrill body of sound that stunned the camp counselors.

I kept that book hidden for a couple of years, and then–alas–tossed it out in later years, when the Beatles had reinvented themselves so much that those early days in the mod clothes and bowl haircuts looked silly and dated. I think, too, when we reached the age that the Beatles had been, their beginnings lost a little of their dazzle; their reality was to be a little older and a whole lot cooler than we would ever be.

So there was my spouse, all these years later, asking if those guys were their real managers–like the film was 36 hours captured from reality and edited down. I thought about the tragic Brian Epstein, the grim reality of drugs that the boys were succumbing to in an effort to keep the white fire going 24/7 as a sense of reality and meaning receded behind the piles of riches, the way they interacted with women (restrained hints of it in the film, with all the females being pretty much objects rather than characters), and above all, how young they look. Their music is inextricably intertwined with my memories; for me it will always be the new sound. Not classic, quaint old rock, the way my kids regard it. In my mind, the line between fiction and reality dissolves again, and the film windows on a separate reality, one in which the boys, and their music, stay forever young.



History that never was . . . — 7 Comments

  1. One of the things that’s remarkable about the Beatles’ music (my husband is one of the eminences gris of rec.arts.music.beatles–the sort of guy who silences disputes by his very presence, and owns every bootleg ever cut, in stereo and mono, so my kids were raised on the Beatles) is how fresh it still sounds. Optimistic, energetic, exuberant.

    I had that book, Sherwood. I think it went out in one of my forced-march cleanups of my room. And I still remember the shiver of delight that hit with that first, unmistakeable chord. Even today, knowing everything I know about their real lives and their subsequent lives, the film delights me. As the text crawl in the Danny Kaye film Hans Christian Andersen says, it’s not a biography, it’s a fairy tale. And in that fairy tale we know that they live happily, musically ever after.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. My brother in law is one of those folks who studied music, got a degree, made it part of his career . . . knew not only all the bootleg stuff but the history of the various posters. He says much the same as your spouse.

    That Danny Kaye quote is very true.

  3. I had that book, too! I don’t know what happened to it. I thought Paul McCartney was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen–and so beautiful he must be good, too! Yeah, I was twelve and more than usually sappy.

  4. Oddly enough, what always destroyed the illusion of “A Hard Day’s Night” for me – and it is a very well-crafted illusion of pseudo-reality, ditto for “Help” in spite of obvious issues – is that the German voice of John Lennon is dubbed by the same actor (one of the most famous German voice actors of the 1960s) who also voiced Tony Curtis. Which means that John Lennon sounds exactly like Tony Curtis, which is just wrong.

    Though the reality illusion of the Richard Lester Beatles films does work surprisingly well, even decades later. I vividly remember my then best friend and me discussing “Help”, which was one of the few non-educational films in my school’s video library in the 1980s, so we were treated to the pleasure of watching it at least once per school year. But “Help” is too long for the lesson, so we never saw the end. So when my friend and I wondered how it did end, it went something like this: “Well, we do know Ringo has to escape in the end, cause he’s still alive. John Lennon is the one who’s dead.” – “But the big ruby ring is real. My sister has a Beatles album and Ringo wears it on the cover, so he doesn’t get it off his finger after all.”

  5. Cora, that’s fascinating–especially watching it after John Lennon was murdered. Creepily poignant, but fascinating.

    I remember watching Help when it came out. It seemed more fantasy and fiction; probably because it was in color, and the story was more like a movie story. In those days, black and white newsreel was still common, so Hard Day’s Night being in black and white had emphasized the faux documentary feel.

    John Lennon speaking like Tony Curtis is a crackup, but then I know Tony Curtis’s voice. (His flat accent during his Roman pix was a howler.)

  6. That blending of fantasy and reality until it blurs is *fascinating*. Then again, I think I’ve only seen Yellow Submarine, and it’s clear that’s all fiction. 🙂