Fab Four + 40

February 9, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT

ED SULLIVAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles. (Cheers and applause)

BEATLES: (singing) Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you tomorrow I’ll miss you…

CLARENCE PAGE: It is hard to believe that 40 years, two generations, have passed since my own generation was gripped by Beatlemania. In February of 1964, the Liverpool quartet touched off a screaming, raving fury on the “Ed Sullivan Show” opening their first American tour. ( Cheers and applause )

Not since the early days of Elvis, before he got drafted, had such a mass hysteria rolled like a prairie fire through America’s teenaged girls, with a passion far too intense to be ignored by us teenaged boys. My generation studied and imitated Beatle hair, Beatle suits, Beatle attitude.

SPOKESMAN: What would you call that hairstyle you’re wearing?


SINGING: It’s been a hard day’s night…

CLARENCE PAGE: It is not easy to convey to today’s young people the revolutionary irony of the Beatle bangs at those times. Like other mods of that era, the Beatles took a medieval, prince valiant style and put it back in the face of our era’s stodgy conservatives, who were horrified.

Principals at high schools, like mine, would send boys home who wore their hair this long, which only made the boys want to wear their hair even longer. Give us a head with hair, long, beautiful Beatle bangs or defiant ducktails or leaping afros.

SINGING: What’s goin’ on…

CLARENCE PAGE: As a black teenager in those times, my appreciation for the Beatles was muted, but not by much. American racial and social segregation was only beginning to melt. I held my allegiance to Marvin Gaye, along with James Brown and the Supremes. And some of my white friends clung rigorously hard and fast to the Beach Boys, and other un- Beatle artists like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

SPOKESMAN: We’d like to thank everybody here in America, Washington.

SINGING: She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah ( cheers and applause )

CLARENCE PAGE: But there was something infectious, uplifting and downright therapeutic about the Beatles, especially at that time. They arrived less than 12 weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy. Weeks earlier, a Ku Klux Klan bomb killed four little black girls in a Birmingham, Alabama, church. A month before that, Martin Luther King stirred our souls at the Washington march with all of the majesty of a second Gettysburg Address. “I have a dream,” he said, and America seemed to be sharing that dreaming.

The times they were a-changin’ in ways that were exhilarating and frightening. The ’60s would grow more complicated, and so would the Beatles. They would outgrow the cartoon image that their handlers created for them, and then they would be gone. As the ’60s ended, so did the Beatles. With the death of Lennon to a deranged fan, and later George Harrison to cancer, the Beatle generation was saddened, but also liberated from a delusion.

SINGING: Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away…

CLARENCE PAGE: The Beatles were not coming back. Neither were the ’60s. Neither was our youth. Nothing is forever, not even strawberry fields. Obla-dee, obla-da, life goes on, brother. The Beatle boomers are moving on into the Medicare generation, wondering if anyone will need us or feed us when we’re 64, and also realizing that maybe 64 isn’t nearly as old as we used to think it was.

SINGING: You say you wanna revolution…

CLARENCE PAGE: Looking back 40 years, I marvel at those early Beatles. Their light hearted optimism was infectious. None of them, or us, could know what was going to happen next, except that things would never be the same again. More important, hope was alive, and John Lennon sang it over and over again at the end of his tune “Revolution”– “don’t you know it’s gonna be all right.”

SINGING: All right all right all right…

CLARENCE PAGE: I’m Clarence Page.