Backstory: The Beatles play Boston, 40 years ago Friday
It was 40 years ago today that Sergeant Pepper came to Boston to play. Aug. 18, 1966, to be exact – a warm summer evening that crackled with excitement as my best friend's dad, a prominent Boston lawyer wanting to experience his son's Beatle mania firsthand, drove the three of us to Suffolk Downs racetrack.Skip to next paragraph
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The crowd of 25,000 sat facing a small wood-frame stage set up on the dirt raceway. We had paid $4.75 per ticket. Warm-up acts – the Remains, Bobby Hebb, the Cyrkle, and the Ronettes – drew appreciative applause, but the evening began when the crowd caught sight of a line of black limousines making its way down the track toward the stage. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were in the house.
If you've never heard 15,000 teenage girls (give or take a few thousand) shriek, you've missed one of life's phenomena. Jon, his dad, and I stood surrounded in the center section, perhaps 225 feet from the stage, like the silent nucleus of an atomic mob. John Lennon belted out the first lyrics – "Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music..." – sending the place into controlled pandemonium. Those proved to be the operative words of the evening – if only we could hear.
The girl next to me held out a camera and asked, screaming, if I would stand on my chair and take a picture of the stage. She never took her eyes off the Beatles as she dictated instructions. My first thought: I am going to master the guitar. By the fourth song, the girls had exhausted themselves and the squeals subsided. We had been given a window to hear.
The vocal harmony of Lennon's baritone and McCartney's tenor has never ceased to amaze me. But to hear it live is another matter. Harrison's guitar work on his sunburst Epiphone Casino offered beautiful embroidery to "Day Tripper" and "Nowhere Man." Ringo nailed each song with his rock-steady beat.
Alas, our show lasted a mere 35 minutes. After finishing the last of 11 songs – "Long Tall Sally" – the Fab Four waved, jumped in their limos, and drove into the night. It turns out we caught the caboose of Beatle mania. Eleven days later, they played their last public concert, in San Francisco, and retired from touring to focus on recording.
The Beatles have never quite left me since that night. Even though we were only in our mid-teens, Jon and I had decided to form a band that year at the private school we attended in the Midwest. We wanted to be the Beatles. He told me that he had been in a group back home and how at one of their shows a girl had jumped up and touched his guitar. He had me at "girl."
Jon played lead on his new Fender Jazzmaster. I played rhythm on my Hagstrom. Borrowing amplifiers from classmates, we played for a few class functions and once for the entire school in the gymnasium. Our repertoire included some pop tunes and, of course, several Beatles songs. We had the requisite Beatle hair cut, with bangs.
Since then, I've often wondered why the Beatles were so much a part of the DNA of our generation – the next several generations, in fact. For me, the Beatles' career bookended my teen years. I was 13 when they first appeared on Ed Sullivan Feb. 9, 1964, and I was 19 when they broke up in 1970. Potent symmetry. Music is the soundtrack to a teen's life, and I associate Beatles songs with all those formulative events – the first parties, dances, cars, and dates. To this day, a Beatle song on the radio acts as a time machine.