I finally got around to finishing watching the CBS special on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. What with the my Olympics Watching, it was difficult to find time for it, but segment by segment I made it through over several days. Actually I hadn't even expected to record it (I always liked the Beatles, but I wasn't a Devoted Loyalist), but decided to at the last minute, and boy, am very glad I did. I was impressed by how wonderfully it was done, and found the whole thing very entertaining, vibrant, and often even informative.
But one other thing stood out far beyond the entertainment, which I think has gotten totally missed by all this.
We take it for granted, I think, that this 50th anniversary with Paul and Ringo performing to the cheering crowd was a natural thing. After all, these were The Beatles. Even those who didn't live through it know of Beatlemania. And so, of course, there is the auditorium of the event, little children were singing along, teenagers, young adults, today's rockers, aging baby boomers, even seniors. The room was full of song as today's top performers sang Beatles hit after Beatles hit, and the room was exploding with joyful faces and song. And there were Paul and Ringo, rocking out, still performing themselves, exuberantly, still heroes on the stage.
Of course. We don't expect anything different. It's The Beatles.
But what's remarkable is that we don't expect anything different. That it seems natural to us. But the thing is, it is anything but natural.
Consider: this event was celebrating what the Beatles did 50 years ago. Half a century earlier.
Half a century.
Let's put some perspective on this.
This Ed Sullivan Show broadcast took place in 1964. Let's imagine life as it was then. Okay, got it? And now, let's think about the music of the most popular musical stars of 50 years earlier. In 1914.
The big musical stars of 1914 were people like John McCormack, Enrico Caruso, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Norah Bayes, George M. Cohan, Eddie Cantor, Nora Bayes, Enrico Caruso, Billy Murray, and Charles King.
To be clear, there are some legendary people there, included among those too who are lost to time and unknown today. But that's not the issue. Of course there were legendary stars, who still remembered, still lot of as The Greats. The issue though is --
Can you imagine a television network in 1962 doing a 2-1/2 hour special saluting any of these performer? Can you imagine a crowd of children, their grandparents, the days' biggest music and movie stars all singing along the entire night to their greatest hits? Can you imagine most people in that room remembering 50 years later more than half a dozen of their big songs, rather than 2-1/2 hours of them -- all the while knowing that another 10 hours of songs were left out? Can you imagine any of those 1914 music stars still vibrant, valid performers on the 1964 music scene, touring, filling up theaters, recording? Never mind that only the great Sophie Tucker among them was still alive. occasionally showing up for a brief turn on a TV variety show, her vaudeville style of music long gone. All their styles of popularity were long gone. It's unlikely that a network (TV or in earlier years, radio) would have had such an all-encompassing, multi-generational, explosive 2-1/2 hour tribute for any one of them -- legendary though some are -- even a decade earlier. Even probably 20 years earlier.
But there Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were. A half-century after their American debut. Rocking out on stage. Celebrating for 2-1/2 hours their music being performed with a currency that was still core to peoples' lives. Children and teenagers singing along with their parents and grandparents.
And watching it, you got the sense that it wouldn't be surprising if they held the same event in 10 more years. Still with Paul and Ringo. The only difference being that those teenagers in the audience would be there with their little children. All singing along.
To be clear, society has changed drastically since 1914. Pop culture is different. The media is different -- from CDs to TV and MPs and the Internet. But that doesn't really explain it. After all, it's not like there are other musical performers from 50 years ago who the public would be standing in line to get to an event like this and join in, wherever around the world they were.
No, what took place last week was not something to be taken for granted. It was gobsmack, unbelievably remarkable. With an emphasis on the "unbelievable."
Half a century had passed. And it's just like it was Yesterday.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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