Today, February 7, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of the The Beatles touching down at New York’s JFK Airport, arriving in America for the first time and signaling the entire beginning of what was to be coined “The British Invasion” and also unbeknownst at the time, the beginning of what was to become one of the most creative, vivid, influential, and turbulent decades – the 1960s. To commemorate the anniversary, a historical marker will be dedicated at JFK Airport this morning*.
Already upping the ante for themselves by having hit records before they left their native England to come to the States, The Beatles exploded in The United States upon their arrival, but not just because of the music. The four men — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr — nary a 25-year-old in the bunch, also handled themselves with the press, which was on a volume level on par with a King or Queen or President coming off that JFK airport tarmac. Decked in similar suits and the famous bowl haircut — which was shaggy enough to move around in the cold February air that day — The Fab Four dazzled the press and the country as Beatlemania was in full force.
Smoking, and generally misbehaved, but in the most charming manner, the young musicians — who had arrived in New York City from a Pan Am flight from London — rattled off one-liners and zingers to each canned question the deer-in-the-headlights reporters aimed at them at the U.S press conference, to much laughter and respect. For a canon of reporters and journalists probably previously weaned on pedestrian kind of stories and subjects to cover, the arrival of The Beatles in America was undoubtedly a confusing, assumed stereotypical and then finally, a unique surprise. Right away, the band had already carved a brand new niche for the kind of music they were doing, even though it was still at its earliest embryonic states, no more than 1950s love songs redone with a few more chords and smooth harmonies. While it would be a few more years until the band really crystallized themselves and the times they were in and changed to modify that crystallization, even at this earliest point of the band’s stateside career, there was a confidence and an edge, which set them apart from the musical pack.
America was just remembering the tragedy that week of The Day the Music Died, which had occurred five years prior, on Feb 3, 1959. Also, the reverberating sound of the fatal gunshot that ripped America apart only a few months prior, on November 22, 1963, when U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, still rang loud and clear as a bell. In a million years, in a million lifetimes, who could have ever surmised that this young quartet from Liverpool, a place in England that most Americans didn’t even know existed until The Beatles story was being carved out, would be the national and universal sonic tonic and balm that would be liberally applied to the masses? It wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan, novelty act these four men — there was a superstar status which cut to the youth market, instilling in them a personal awakening of many sorts within themselves for the first time, something that was separate from the day-to-day tyranny that was their parent’s interventions in their lives, and there was even a more-than-curious aspect for the adults who saw this English menagerie play out. When all was said and done, by 1970 when The Beatles had broken up, and all they had managed to accomplish in the short amount of time they had and made the best of, they were revered as possibly and only slightly arguably, the greatest musical unit of all-time.
And for a lot of Americans who remember February 7, 1964, it all started there. Two days later, Beatles made their historic appearance on TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show, but their records had already been spinning to a wild-eyed success and the magazines, newspapers, radio, and television outlets had already sanctioned a huge portion of their daily activities to this rock and roll ensemble. But for many, when they saw the confirmation that The Beatles had finally touched down on American soil, in New York City nonetheless, the media hub of the universe, when they saw the flesh and blood of the foursome as a living, breathing entity, whether it was in AP photos or news stories that evening on TV (the times were too technologically embryonic to have anything like live streaming yet), the four monarchs of the rock and roll world, and the music world actually, had arrived. And in a way, they have never left America’s or anyone else’s consciousness for that matter.
Firmly etched in stone forever and ever, their music will always sing its praises. No matter where the world moves to next, no matter where the universe and circumstances take the world, it’s a safe bet to know that The Beatles, their memory, and what they do to influence the future and our culture and continue to do so, will always be right there, whether it’s 50 or 50,000 years ago that they first came to the United States.
February 7, 1964, is A.D. 1 indeed, a genesis, a birth, a national awakening. Celebrate The Beatles all day today. Most of us usually do anyhow regardless of what historic benchmark it may be in their illustrious history and story. But today, however, this reaching of the half-century mark, what it did, and what it spawned in its wonderful wake, just makes it a little extra special.
*A plaque was dedicated this morning – see the coverage of the event from the NY Daily News.