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The Beatles' legacy, past, present and future: taking stock at 50 and beyond

Thousands of fans are headed to New York this weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles arrival on U.S. soil exactly fifty years ago, February 7-9, 1964. The city will be inundated with excited fans, young and old, who want to commemorate the anniversary, as if to recreate the magic. And there are plenty of celebrations to accommodate them: The Fest for Beatles Fans is staging their annual convention in the heart of New York this year. Organizers have even arranged for a bus to take fans out to JFK Airport to be there at the exact moment, 1:20 p.m. fifty years ago, when the Beatles got off their Pan Am flight to greet thousands of screaming fans. Another group, the NYCFab50, is hosting several concerts, including a star-studded show called “America Celebrates the Beatles.”

Paul and Ringo performed at the GRAMMY Salute to the Beatles: The Night That Changed America recently, which will air on the 50th anniversary of the Ed Sullivan show, February 9, 8 p.m. on CBS.
Paul and Ringo performed at the GRAMMY Salute to the Beatles: The Night That Changed America recently, which will air on the 50th anniversary of the Ed Sullivan show, February 9, 8 p.m. on CBS.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunited for the GRAMMY salute to the Beatles, airing Feb 9, 2014 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Ed Sullivan Show
Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS

We asked Mark Lapidos, owner and operator of the Fest, what he thought about this special anniversary: He wrote, “I was honored to be able to hold the first FEST in 1974 and I still am today. It has been quite a journey and one I am very proud of. What better way can we celebrate our common love for The Beatles than to throw a weekend party every year! Holding it in NYC, where it all began and where The Beatles first conquered America, we knew fans would come in from everywhere for it. Fans from 42 states and 4 continents are joining in the festivities.”

The Beatles were also just honored with a Lifetime Achievement award from the Recording Academy, Paul McCartney received a GRAMMY for the “Best Rock Song”, written with surviving members of Seattle’s grunge rock group, (many years his junior,) Nirvana. And Paul and Ringo, the last two surviving of the Fab Four, reunited for “The Night That Changed America: A GRAMMY Salute to the Beatles,” which airs on the CBS Television Network Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, from 8–10 p.m. ET/PT — exactly 50 years to the day, date and time of the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. (see slideshow of photos and video of trailer!)

The birth of "Beatlemania" in America

The 50th anniversary of these two breathtaking moments in pop culture history--The Beatles waving at the crowd on the 7th of February as they got off their plane at JFK Airport, and their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show two nights later—are joyfully burned into our minds collectively as a generation of baby-boomers, just as distinctively as the shocking images from the JFK assassination or the tragedy of 9/11. American Beatlemania was born at that moment, like a gigantic bottle of champagne shattering against an ocean liner with the force of a canon. If it wasn’t an actual explosion, it sure felt like one at the time, and it rippled through our senses, branding us with Beatle adoration that would be imprinted on our souls for life.

The impact of television cannot be overstated enough. Obviously most of us weren’t there in person for these events, but we remember them as if we were. We saw them on our black and white TVs, which in and of itself was a new phenomenon. Even more, because we have seen the footage over and over, countless hundreds of times since then, the images have become indelible mental markings that have literally shaped not only our memories, but our lives.

Sociologist Candy Leonard (author of forthcoming book “Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World.”) wrote, “Fifty years ago the press saw throngs of excited fans and called it Beatlemania, but from the fan perspective, it was the beginning of a life-long relationship that began with a transformative six-year journey. The Beatles gave fans a unique combination of emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, and even spiritual enrichment, which not only fueled the tumult of the sixties, but enriched and empowered fans throughout their lives. These fans have kept the culture sparkling with “beatleness” and have passed it along to their children and everyone they come into contact with. Because of these first-gen fans, and of course the brilliance of the music, the culture will still be celebrating fifty years from now.”

Indeed, every time there is a significant event to commemorate the Beatles—the newspapers say “It’s Beatlemania all over again” as they note crowds of people entering a stadium to see a Paul McCartney show, or even for a special anniversary rooftop tribute concert by a local band. Our generation still has that excitement for the Beatles, a stunning heart-felt love that is unparalleled by any other thing in our lifetimes.

At the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America, the internationally acclaimed Beatles tribute band, Rain, walked off a plane at the Museum of Flight in Seattle at precisely 1:20 p.m. on February 7, 2004. They looked exactly like the Beatles, wore the same suits, and had the same mannerisms. Over five thousand fans in Seattle were waiting for them, screaming; and the rush I felt at that moment was so intense, I was moved to tears and breathlessly trembling. I said, with deafening cheers and screams all around me, “Oh my God. When I’m old and have lost my mind, I will tell my grandchildren that I saw the Beatles land.”

What exactly is this energy about?

Efforts to define it come up short, but the Beatles simply turned our lights on. Turned US on. They had the whole package—not just as great musicians and performers, but their personalities, demeanor and humor. John’s wicked grin, intelligent wit and sharp comebacks; Paul’s polite cuteness and big bedroom eyes; George’s sexy crooked smile and shyness, and Ringo’s huggable pout, made us all crazy for them.

The boys began emulating them by buying guitars and learning to play their music, creating their own bands. They obsessed over chord progressions and amps. They grew their hair longer, while constantly fighting parental controls and disgust. Mostly they hoped to get the girls. Girls generally joined or started fan clubs, and wrote or read all about their favorite Beatle, swooning over teen magazines. Mostly they hoped to marry a Beatle. (I was the weird kid who cut out cardboard guitars and pretended I was a Beatle while singing to their records.)

Today's Beatlemania is more grown up

This was the Beatlemania of the 1964. We all grew up, went to college, got married. Now, in 2014, “fifty years adrift”, even though the Beatles are long broken up as a band, we still love their music, still clamor after tickets to Paul’s or Ringo’s shows, still buy every release that comes out, every book. The Beatlemania of today looks different. We now channel our obsession into Beatle blogs and websites, connecting with fans “across the universe” to discuss detailed subjects and spread news. After all, amazingly for a band over fifty, news is still being made, Paul and Ringo are still making music, books are still being written, and tributes are still being performed, probably more than ever.

The Beatles are still releasing “remasters” of their original work. They sound bigger and better than ever. Yet, some are really cheesed off that the U.S. Albums were not reproduced with the original sound we grew up with, even though it was inferior to the UK versions. This is because some want that nostalgic sound from our childhood, like an old blanket, preserved for history.

(Read about the new release of the “U.S. Albums” and discover the controversy that has brewed.)

The next generation

Children of those original “1st generation fans” are now in their twenties, or older, and having grown up with Beatles music, it has become a part of them almost through osmosis. When my youngest daughter Brianna was just ten, her teacher played a Beatles song in the classroom and said, “Does anyone know what song this is?” Brianna’s hand shot up, and to her teacher's amazement, she shouted out, “Yellow Submarine!” Did I specifically teach her that? No. But she knew it, and sang it word for word.

Sara Schmidt, who runs a blog called "Meet the Beatles....for real!" wrote us about third generation fans who are fans in a new era: "New Beatle fans are being made every day.There is a whole group of 3rd generation fans that contact me on a regular basis through my blog, "Meet the Beatles...for Real." These teens tell me that they cannot relate to Miley, Justin or One Direction, but they can relate to the Beatles. They are gathering on Facebook, Tumbler, Instagram and other places online and talking about a wide variety of topics on the Beatles. These young fans are active in the fandom by doing things such as writing fan fiction and making artwork. They seem to be hungry for knowledge about the Beatles and I am happy that there are so many of us out there to pass on our love for the guys to them, for that is what it truly means to pass on the legacy of the Beatles."

Last summer we as an entire family went to see Paul McCartney perform at Safeco Field in Seattle. Yes it was expensive, but it was PAUL. Our girls, age 27 and 22, were just as awe-struck as us old kids. And that was a moment I will never forget. The generations have “come together” to “form a party”. And that too, is something the Beatles have given us. Like I told them, "You will never forget this. When you have kids, you will say, 'I saw Paul McCartney in person.' And they will be awestruck."

But this is our family. In my family, the Beatles will be regarded as the Mozarts and Beethovens of a hundred years from now. But what about society in general?

What will the Beatles’ legacy look like in another twenty years, or thirty or forty? Will we still need them, will we still feed them, when the music is 64? And what can we do now to be sure their music remains alive in future generations?

Susan Ryan wrote, “I firmly believe that future generations will not only remember, but will appreciate and love the Beatles in the same way that past and present ones do. So long as there are parents who are passing along their legacy to their children, who will, in turn, pass it along to theirs, the music, and the four men who made it will never fade into obscurity. The Beatles continue to influence up-and-coming musicians, and their message of happiness and peace and love is such a positive one that it will not be lost on future generations.”

Allison Johnelle Brown is certain that Beatles music will be here long after we’re gone. As she wrote in her PopDose article today, “There are people who won’t be born for a hundred years who will carry on after me, who will make their own thrilling discoveries while listening to Rubber Soul on repeat, and who will replace those die-hard fans who, for whatever reason, fall off the wagon.While that may be a bit depressing to some, it’s actually a really beautiful thing. It ensures that the fanbase will always repopulate and always continue.”

Please join us

I will be on a discussion panel with a few women scholars, historians and writers Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 12:30 p.m. at the Fest for Beatles Fans, 3rd floor Broadway/Carnegie Hall rooms. Please join us for this lively conversation. Our panel will include: Susan Ratisher Ryan, (Proprietor Fab 4 NYC Walking Tours), Sara Schmidt, of the popular Beatles blog called “Meet the Beatles…for Real”; Allison Johnelle Boron (freelance rock writer, Goldmine Magazine contributor, and columnist for, Judith Kristen, author of “A Date With a Beatle”,and “Once Upon a Time in Liverpool”, Candy Leonard, author of “Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World.” Karen Duchaj (linguistics teacher).

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Copyright notice-©Shelley Germeaux 2013: This article and photos are subject to copyright restrictions and may not be reproduced without the author’s permission. Excerpts with link to original article are welcomed.

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