At 40 years and ten months, I’m older than you were when you were killed. How is that possible? I’m only a little older than that ten-year-old kid boarding the school bus 30 years ago this morning, whose friend Andy told him, in a sing-songy voice, “One of the Beatles is dead.” (An older brother—a Rolling Stones fan—told him.)
I knew a little about the Beatles. I knew they were important because they were the only rock band to earn an entry in our family’s set of the World Book Encyclopedia. I also knew that there was something dangerous about them. My sister Susan, seven years my senior and a huge Billy Joel and Elton John fan, mentioned the Beatles periodically to my mother—usually in the car while listening to the Top 40 station—but always in a disapproving tone.
Mom shared her sentiment. It was the drugs. The Beatles were were a cautionary tale: See what drugs can do? Turn nice, normal-looking boys into long-haired weirdoes.
The day you died, I wanted to know everything about you. That evening’s Atlanta Journal helped: stories, timelines, photos—a picture of you and the other Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan in 1964; a later picture of you in a dramatically transformed Beatles.
I was intrigued. I hid the front section of that day’s paper in a dresser drawer, pulling it out occasionally to pore over it. I followed the news about you. I watched TV documentaries and heard stories about you for weeks thereafter.
Before you died, I was already starting to fall in love with your new hit, “(Just Like) Starting Over.” Afterwards, I became embarrassingly attached to it. I recorded it off the radio, and I played it on jukeboxes at restaurants. It was a beautifully sentimental song, and as a 10 year-old I shouldn’t have liked it as much as I did; it shouldn’t have touched me the way it did.
In January 1981 I had saved $8 or $9 and bought my first album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, on prerecorded cassette. My only means of playing it was through a mono, second-hand Panasonic tape recorder. Its frequency range was only slightly better than a telephone conversation. I simply couldn’t hear half of the sound of that album. Not that it mattered. I was hooked.
When I was purchasing Sgt. Pepper (at the Record Bar at Northlake Mall), my mother asked, “Wouldn’t you be happier buying a model?”—she was referring to the plastic and cement car and airplane kits that were popular among boys my age. Her concern was justified in ways she couldn’t imagine: you and the Beatles captured my imagination like nothing else. For the next couple of years, I mostly lived in this world that your music created. It was a retreat for me.
Here I was: shy, self-conscious, and gawky around girls; threatened by the impending transition from elementary to high school—and the sinking feeling that I would not find my place. All the while, I enjoyed this active inner life of music, of which your music played a vital part. It continues to do so.
Thank you, John.