Fifty years ago, a 12-year-old's first concert: the Beatles

February 9, 2014 

In early 1964, like most 12-year-old kids in America, or at least most 12-year-old suburban white kids, I was spending a lot of time with my transistor radio listening to this brand-new band called the Beatles. We had never heard music like that before, but we all -- all of us, simultaneously, as if moved by some weird quantum force -- responded to it in the same way. It was raucous, almost raw. It was the music that we had been waiting for, even though we hadn't known we were waiting for it.

Then, 50 years ago today, they played on "The Ed Sullivan Show." It's hard to explain now, but we all knew that night the world had changed. None of the other music we had been listening had any appeal. (Some of it, of course, like Elvis and the Beach Boys and the Ventures, we would eventually come back to.)

We all called our friends on the phone as soon as the show was over. The next day, in school -- sixth grade -- we boys all had our very short hair combed forward, in pathetic imitations of what we were already calling "Beatle haircuts." We all talked about which one was our favorite and we argued over why our favorite was the best one. No one said Ringo.

A few months later, I saw my first rock concert. My friend's parents drove us into downtown Cleveland to see the Beatles.

You had to win a kind of lottery to get tickets. The big news was that an actual computer, one of those big huge things with flashing lights from the science fiction movies, was going to pick the winners. You had to type information in a very specific way on a postcard, and if the computer picked your postcard you could buy tickets. If you left out so much as a period in the address, the computer would reject your card and it was no Beatles for you.

One of my friends got tickets and invited me to go. I scraped up money from my paper route and my allowance and paid him for the

ticket. I probably mowed some lawns to get an extra couple bucks so I could afford it. The ticket was $6.

We had tickets for the Beatles concert. We were, at least for a few days, the coolest kids in the neighborhood.

We got to the concert, and found our seats. I don't remember seeing any adults at all in the audience, but they must have been there.

A bunch of people we didn't care about played first. It must have been a horrible experience for all of them. Nobody paid any attention to them at all.

When the Beatles began we all rushed the stage. Everybody started pushing forward, all of us, boys and girls, trying to get past the line of cops who were protecting the band. I have no idea what we intended to do if we reached the stage. I imagine, now, the cops were pretty terrified. They stopped the show. The Beatles left the stage for a while and someone told us that they wouldn't come back unless we all sat down and behaved. After a few minutes, they did.

I don't remember what songs they played. I couldn't even hear them, really. They were playing to thousands of screaming kids through amplifiers that were total ill-suited for the task. All you could hear was the bass.

It was only the girls who screamed, and not all of them. A lot of the girls just sat there and sobbed. I wanted the screamers to stop so I could hear the songs, and the criers to stop because I thought they were dumb. The boys sat there and stared awe-struck at the Beatles.

They played for about 60 minutes, including that 10 or 15 minutes that the cops made them leave the stage. It seemed like a long time to me, but when I told my Mom she was aghast, even angry.

"Oh, really," she said. "You played $6 to see them and they didn't even play for an hour?

"Yeah," I said, but it was great."

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow

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