'The Beatles Are Here!': Five writers reminisce

Five writers remember the arrival of The Beatles in the US and how it affected – or, in one case, failed to affect – their lives.

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    Journalist and author Verlyn Klinkenbourg found in the music of The Beatles "a feeling I can’t name or describe, the languor of regret, the urgency of despair."
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This month’s 50th anniversary of the first visit of The Beatles to the United States has prompted lots of reflection on how the Fab Four affected American pop music, but the world’s most famous British rock group  touched the world of literature, too.

Or so readers have been reminded by a new anthology, The Beatles Are Here! : 50 Years After the Band Arrived in America, Writers, Musicians and Other Fans Remember (Algonquin, $15.95, 255 pp.).

Edited by Penelope Rowlands, the essay collection includes remembrances from Beatles admirers and fellow musical artists, but “The Beatles Are Here!” also throws light on how the band shaped the thinking of a number of people who would eventually become distinguished journalists and people of letters. Even those who professed not to be Beatles fans, such as Fran Lebowitz, still felt compelled to respond to the British Invasion of pop music in some way.

The Beatles arrived in New York for their first visit to America on Feb. 7, 1964. Here, courtesy of “The Beatles Are Here!,” are five quick takes on the event from various writers. For the full version, be sure and check out Rowlands’ anthology:

1.  “My father would not let me and my three sisters watch The Beatles when they appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in February 1964. His official reason for imposing this interdiction was because the Catholic Church had identified The Beatles as tools of Satan. This was strange because even at that very early juncture, The Beatles, with the possible exception of John, seemed quite harmless and cuddly.”

– Joe Queenan, author and newspaper columnist

2. “After I got The Beatles assignment, I spent the whole day watching them as they moved into public recognition. I watched them from afar.... I didn’t talk to them, I just watched. That’s what I specialized in. I don’t really like to talk to people. I’m a watcher, a scene describer. When I’m writing I’m not a civilian, but a kind of performer – a participating, fantasizing performer. I’m like an actor who plays a role and the role I play has to do with the people I’m writing about.”

– Gay Talese, journalist and author

3. “All I wanted when I had finished hearing them was to hear them again. They contain, each in its own way, a feeling I can’t name or describe, the languor of regret, the urgency of despair. But above all they contain the love of music.”

– Verlyn Klinkenbourg, journalist and author

4. “The day The Beatles landed in New York City was the day the United Kingdom could finally see that it wasn’t just yesterday’s power, on the decline, but part of what would form tomorrow’s transatlantic axis. They were flying into the future, really, – our future – and the next thing we knew, Britain would be branding itself as the new America....”

– Pico Iyer, journalist and author

5. “The arrival of The Beatles didn’t affect me at all.... In the long run, they must have influenced my life in some way because they were such an enormous cultural influence. I mean, I know probably a million Beatles songs because you can’t not know a million Beatles songs. But at the time, they barely registered, although I do remember watching them on ‘Ed Sullivan.’”

– Fran Lebowitz, author

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