When I was 4 years old -- in 1964 -- my folks bought me a little Zenith portable record player. Apparently I was a handful as a toddler, setting the kitchen table on fire while everyone was off watching our tiny black-and-white TV in another room. Around that same time, I also sneaked into a running car, rammed it in reverse and plowed it into our neighbor's yard across the street.
Much like the sixties version of today's "video Valium," my record player was meant to keep me occupied. The first album my parents -- more likely my mother -- gave to me in order to accomplish that task was Meet the Beatles.
- Courtesy of TheFancyLamb
A "state-of-the-art" Zenith record player like this helped transform Mike Knight from a wild and wily toddler into a level-headed Beatles fan.
My mother, whose maiden name is Banbury, is British. She grew up in London's notoriously poor East End, born into a blue-collar family with thick, Cockney accents. She came to Indiana as a 14-year-old after sleeping in the subways with her family while Germany bombed their city into smoldering rubble during World War II.
According to her, I would put the LP on the Zenith and twist (but not shout ... inside voice!) the day away in my little boy shorts and leather Buster Brown shoes. I grooved to Love Me Do, I Want to Hold Your Hand and all their other hits. I don't remember watching their American television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show at the time, but I'm guessing we all did.
At some point I connected the Beatles' accents with my mom's and then, in the fantastical imagination 4-year-olds are born with, believed they must be part of the British side of my family. I had only met those relatives once, when we sailed the Queen Mary from New York to London the year before. I suppose their accents were fresh in my mind and anything -- especially the celebrity that could come with being related to the Beatles -- seemed possible.
I don't recall now how I learned the awful truth. Perhaps I've intentionally blocked that dark day in my life, when I learned that not only was I not related to all four of them, but I was related to exactly none of them.
To top that off, the next time I remember seeing them on TV in the fall of '68, they sang a wild, electric Revolution 1 and had long hair and beards and even hung out with icky women, I assumed. I was nearly 9 by then and realized these were not my Beatles anymore.
- Courtesy of thebeatlesrarity.com
By 1968, the transformation of the clean-cut British Invasion Beatles into that of the rebellious, bearded Beatles was complete.
And yet they were and are. In time I learned to understand what they were singing about and why, and I grew to see how well they understood and played their moment in time.
It was a moment when seemingly the whole world wanted to latch onto the simplest of ideas about peace and love and turn tradition and convention upside down and inside out. And the Beatles embodied that.
Beyond all of that, they possessed a cheeky British sense of humor that knew how to deflate outdated ideas, and instead fill things up with a sense of fun and style and wit and hope.
Today is Global Beatles Day; I'm betting big that almost everyone has a Beatles story to share -- the first record, first concert, first time you longed for yesterday or talked about a revolution ... go ahead, you fill in the blank.
Rock and roll is the soundtrack of our lives, for better or worse. It's fair to debate who started it all and why; more or less everyone is right. But it's a far different thing debating whose music changed the entire world, and whether or not all we need is love.
So go turn on your Zenith. Twist and shout. Screw the inside voice. It's Global Beatles Day.
And if you have a particular Beatles story you'd like to share, indulge me. I'd like to hear all about it<.