We weren’t raised on the rich heritage of the MTV generation. Ours was simple, clean, entertaining and fun. Every Sunday night, at 7 p.m. my brother and I would gather in the living room. Me sitting cross legged on the floor next to the heater. I use to pretend it was a fire place it was warm and cozy. Meanwhile my brother was somewhere in the room floating, laying down on the couch, doing a head stand, sitting on my dads lap, getting off my dads lap, running around shooting people with his play gun, pretty much just being fidgety, that was his nature. I was the calmer of the two. Often called an old soul from my father, my brother’s personality was the one that turned me onto music. All sorts of music.
We would watch our old black and white TV which was the focal point of the living room and somewhat special back then to own. On Sunday nights, we watched the troves of entertainers, magicians, plate spinners; high walking acts, flying Walenza’s, comedians, and some Broadway singer. It wasn’t a show specifically geared to teenagers like Band Stand, let alone for children like the Wonderful World of Disney was, but it provided for us a glimpse of all sorts of acts, and it was good. We were dedicated and loyal viewers to the Ed Sullivan Show.On a quiet night in February of 1964 there was electricity in the air and it wasn’t because we just finished celebrating my 5th birthday. It was because the Ed Sullivan Show was going to have a new act on from England. Looking like a nerd and seeming somewhat spastic, Ed introduced his next act. The crowd of mostly teenage girls began screaming and crying so loudly it was impossible to hear Ed speaking, but we did and what we heard was Ed Sullivan saying “these lads are straight from Liverpool England, I’d like to introduce to America the BEATLES.” I looked at my dad who stood in the corner of the living room. At 6 foot 2 inches he was epitome of the classic looking Marine and we both smiled. I was only 5 years old, but I knew we were watching history in the making. My fidgety brother began dancing around the room, and the Beatles began to sing the song that introduced us all to the Fab Four. “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah, she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah, with a love like that you know you should be glad.” Our little black and white television was rocking that famous Sunday night and I knew the musical world was about to change forever. My dad was somewhat taken by the Beatles. It was immediately obvious to anyone watching the show how revolutionary these guys were, and how remarkably they stood out that evening from all the other performers. Dad preferred Perry Como, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams, Tony Bennett, that was no mystery, but he had heard the music during the weeks preceding that appearance and already knew what was in store for us…or at least he had a dim clue. The Beatles performed three times on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, something unheard of in today’s rock world culture, it was a time of innocents in so many ways and the British Invasion had just begun.
Each week throughout the ‘60s Sullivan introduced my brother and I to singers and songwriters. I learned what Motown was and watched the Temptations sing about having sunshine on a cloudy day, and Diana Ross told us to “Stop in the name of love”, and another girl group sang about her solider boy, while an all white surfer band named the Beach Boys got around and went on a surfing safari.
Towards the end of the 60s our culture began to incorporate the mood of music to the mood of the world. The times they were a changing, said Bob Dylan and so was our family. My father had retired from the Marines and now sported longer sideburns and a groovy mustache. My brother was 15, almost old enough to be drafted, and I was 11. Not old enough to be a teenager, but having an older brother gave me that right of passage easier than most. My brother told me what bands were cool and what bands were “goofy.” I, having loved the Beatles, would settle for an evening of the Monkees “not so cool said my brother.” You need to listen to this guy, and he produced an album cover of a psychedelic black guy named Jim Hendrix. The name of the album was “Are You Experienced.” I wondered what I was supposed to be experience at, and asked my brother, which he said in return; “you’re such a weirdo; you’ll never be cool like me.” It was true, he was cool, I was the geek, and it didn’t matter. By then we no longer sat in the living room like two little nuts, but we retired to the basement where my father created a cool hang out pad for us. One side was dedicated to my brother equipped with a black light and my side was a bit more girly with bean bags. We had our pad now and my parents were ever so grateful that they didn’t have to listen to Jimi Hendrix singing about some Foxy Lady, or the Beatles screaming about a Revolution, but that is what was going on in the world.
My dad was at the University of Penn now and saw sit-ins and love-ins and at heart was still a Marine trying to defend his country and take care of his family. He was older than most students, but he still had a love for music, and would stop at the various protests going on, then come home and report to us what he saw and the music that was playing. “Talkin about my generation, sang the Who, and it was radical, rebellious stuff. Teenagers and young adults were speaking their minds against the man and demanding to be heard,” said my dad. I still can envision him watching the protest, while he listened to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sing about four dead in Ohio.
By 1971 the Beatles went down the long and winding road that so many bands go down. One of truth seeking, drugs induced depressions due from to much success. They retired. It seems like this is the plight of many musical groups. But all in all their work still lives and has meaning, no matter what state they were in when they wrote it.In 1971 I too went down a different road and traveled to Europe for the first time. Being home sick and not really understanding the language all that well, I found a little record shop that played a new guy that I had never heard of. His name was James Taylor and he had a Beatles connection. Apple Records which was owned by the Beatles produced James Taylor’s first album which was presented in Europe originally. Taylor was singing about long ago and far away, and in the background I heard the most incredible female vocalist. It was Joni Mitchell. Mitchell and I became quick friends. She sang about paving paradise and putting up parking lots and mornings in Morgantown. And I related. I listened to her songs and love her alliteration. She sang about mysterious men who didn’t have a clue that she was in love with them, and she told me they just came for conversation but she comforted them. She was cool, understood things, saw the world from a different mountain. When I arrived back in the states at the end of the summer of 1971 my musical inclinations started to shift. I liked a new gentler kind of music, performed by people like Carole King and Laura Nyro and a new appreciation grew for me of a folkier female singer. Throughout high school I gravitated to the sounds of Jackson Browne, and James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, The Band, Van Morrison, and Billy Joel and that’s just the tip of what I was listening to. You’d never find Pink Floyd or the Moody Blues in my album collection.
My first after school job was in 1975 , I fell in love for the first time and heard some guy singing “come Monday, it will be alright, come Monday, I’ll be holding you tight, I’ve spent four lonely days in a brown heavy haze and I can’t wait to have you by my side” his name was Jimmy Buffet and he had a great beach/Caribbean/Key West sound. Again I can feel that moment like it was yesterday, see my old boyfriend on the beach, his blond hair and blue eyes matching the ocean, and in the breeze I hear that song. I wake up, it is a dream from long ago, but there is a connection.It’s no mystery, that through music we can experience different emotional connections. My first musical moment is burned into my brain when the Fab Four swept America off its metaphorical feet once they appeared before us in all their visual glory. Our musical blindness, one might say; was cured in the very instant they stepped before the cameras. We have Mr. Sullivan to thank for that particular epiphany…. I have my dad to thank for his appreciation of music and my brother for keeping the connection alive. As John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote in their song titled “The End,” on their Abbey Road Album “and in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” I carry those lyrics with me throughout life, not understanding the meaning at first but realizing as I got older it made sense – what you give is what you get. Let’s try to carry the lyrics out as we merge into a new year and make it positive. I found Abbey Road finally and it wasn’t in London.