The sternly worded notice on the squadron bulletin board said that Beatles haircuts absolutely, positively would not be tolerated at Kadena Air Base, on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.
That notice left most airmen scratching their heads. There’s a haircut that has something to do with a bug? The people who wrote it do not know how to spell beetle? The Air Force suddenly is getting as fussy as the Marine Corps when it comes to haircuts? Egad.
Then an airman who had just come from the ZI (military talk for America) said there was some sort of fuss about an English pop group called the Beatles. At that time, as far as I remember, Armed Forces Radio had not aired anything by them and there was nothing about them in the Stars and Stripes newspaper for GIs.
The most popular song on local radio stations was "Jounetsu no Hana" (Passion Flower) by The Peanuts, adorable twin sisters who sang in close harmony and were then the hottest musical item in Japan. (You may have seen them in the high-class 1964 movie "Mothra vs. Godzilla.")
All that changed suddenly when the Beatles flew to America and appeared for the first time on American television, thanks to CBS and "The Ed Sullivan Show."
That moment was brought back to us on Sunday, the 50th anniversary of the Feb. 9, 1964, show, when the telecast was presented, along with other entertainment, at Northampton Community College. That compelled me to write the second of two columns in a row about musical luminaries. (On Sunday, I wrote about Pete Seeger.)
Before I get to the details, I think I may have bruised ribs because my wife was all but dancing in her seat at NCC’s Lipkin Theatre. I do wish she’d learn to control her elbows when Beatles music is in the air.
Anyway, Jim Von Schilling, an NCC English professor and the organizer of Sunday’s show, introduced The Large Flowerheads, a Lehigh Valley retro-pop group, as a prelude to the showing of the 1964 telecast on a huge screen.
The prelude, it turned out, was almost as rousing as the Beatles in the telecast.
The Flowerheads began with "She Loves You" and its "yeah, yeah, yeah" and soprano "wooooooo" that the Beatles belted out to seduce all of America’s young people. Then came "A Hard Day’s Night" and "Can’t Buy Me Love," along with "Yellow Submarine" and other Beatles hits, plus a few numbers by groups other than the Beatles that also were wildly popular in those days.
I don’t know much about music, but I was impressed, especially by the keyboard player, John Harkins of Allentown, who played with one hand because his left arm was in a sling (rotator cuff surgery).
Nobody in the band looked old enough to even have been alive at the time of that 1964 TV show, and I later asked drummer and singer Moe Jerant of Bethlehem about that. She insisted she was.
The Flowerheads and their guest bass guitar player, Scott Siska of Bethlehem, certainly captured the sounds and the mood of the Beatles in their glorious early days, and I have the sore ribs to prove it.
When Von Schilling was doing his master of ceremonies duties, he recalled the frenzy that gripped America when the Beatles first arrived. He said their hairstyle "eventually triggered our infamous generation gap" in which fuddy-duddies anguished over the new look, which replaced a time of short "military-type haircuts, or long and greased-back hair" combed into a DA, which stood for a duck’s rear end. (As it happens, I can identify with both, representing my look immediately before going into the military, and immediately after.)
Von Schilling told the audience he left the telecast intact, including commercials (not nearly as dumb as today’s TV commercials), except for a 10-minute impressionist segment he deleted from the original, and instead inserted about 10 minutes of what Ed Sullivan billed as a return engagement of the Beatles on Feb. 23, 1964.
Actually, the second Beatles segment had been taped earlier in the day before the Feb. 9 show aired, and was superior because the live broadcast had sound system problems that prevented the audience from hearing John Lennon’s harmony very well.
As my wife and I watched Sunday’s NCC show, we realized we remembered the 1964 shows differently. She had seen both the Feb. 9 and Feb. 23 broadcasts, via Armed Forces Television on Okinawa; I saw only the Feb. 23 one. Sunday was the first time since then that either of us had seen the first show, or the Feb. 23 segment, in its entirety.
Nevertheless, we both were captivated by the Beatles in 1964 and remained so for the ensuing half-century. On Sunday, we were captivated all over again.
Von Schilling, 65, has even richer memories of the Beatles when he was growing up in Hackensack, N.J. "I saw them at Shea Stadium," he told me, referring to the stadium in Queens, site of perhaps the most famous concert in history, at the high point of "Beatlemania" in America, in 1965.
I feel culturally deprived because I never did get to sport a Beatles haircut, although after seeing Sunday’s program, I’m tempted to try one now.
Do you think that would be possible with a receding hairline that now is threatening to make contact with a bald spot?
Paul Carpenter‘s commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays