Half a Century Ago the Beatles Were Part of Those Heady Days When Revolution Was in the Air

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show February 9, 1964

1964 was a leap year. It was half a century ago, yet so many of the political and cultural leaps that happened during that year are still crystal clear in my mind's eye, it seems like only yesterday. i turned 16 in January of '64 and, as Bob Dylan sang that year, the times were a changin. Dylan's music still inspires us ol'timers to remember those heady days when revolution was in the air and real change seemed imminent.

It all comes rushing back right now because 50 years ago Sunday [Feb. 9th], the Beatles made their U.S. live television debut on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' as 73 million people tuned in, the largest audience in history at that time. i was one of those 73 million.  In the little rural New England town where i'd grown up it was a huge turning point in our cultural history. Not because of their music which at that point didn't challenge mainstream culture a-tall. Not because the girls screamed and swooned, they'd screamed and swooned for Elvis a decade earlier and for Frank Sinatra [my mother reminded me] long before that. The leap that night, at least my little town, happened because our parents somehow seemed to fear the Beatles so much we were forced to hide in the basement to watch. They didn't hate the music, they hated their haircuts. Somehow the Beatles haircuts were a potent symbol of change and a the rejection of the mainstream crew-cut culture.

The Beatles were only a small part 1964's leaps. Musically Bob Dylan changed my worldview far more that the Beatles. Everywhere i looked another window was opening onto a new vista. Cassius Clay announced he'd converted to Islam in 1964. When he officially joined The Nation of Islam and took the name Muhammad Ali it demanded that i look more closely at Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and The Nation of Islam who were hated and hounded by the authorities back then  Ali was the champ and through all the derision still commanded a respectful audience, so i gave it to him and them. Though i never really agreed with Malcolm X's speeches because i figured we were and are all in this together, i listened and learned.

Martin Luther King was awarded the Noble Peace Prize that year and LBJ managed to get the Civil Rights Act passed into law. It was probably the last piece of truly progressive legislation the U.S. govt. adopted. Despite which [or perhaps in conjunction with it], the FBI-led death squads roamed the country 'neutralizing' the Black Panthers and Indian leaders in the Dakotas.

At about the same time in '64 LBJ's stooges carried out the false flag operation that led to The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which was the law that gave him almost unlimited power to bomb Vietnam 'back to the stone-age' and massively increase the numbers of mostly drafted troops sent there. In response, the North American student movement, headed in '64 by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), organized student activists at the University of Michigan and University of California, Berkeley in protests that eventually exploded into the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. The anti-war firestorm ignited everywhere. 1,000 students gathered in New York City to protest the Vietnam War. Twelve of them burned their selective service registration cards—draft cards—in a symbolic gesture of opposition to the war. A move that would multiply so fast the authorities were overwhelmed, they didn't start swimmin so 'they sank like a stone'.

Bob's original video has been yanked from youtube so this version is the best available...sorry.

Many folks say now that 1964 actually started on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. It's hard to disagree. In the aftermath of that horrible day i, and millions of others, watched in tears as JFK was buried. But instead of burying ourselves in patriotic escapism many people began to criticize and question the Warren Commission in another unanticipated revolutionary act..

Che Guevara addressed the U.N. General Assembly in 1964 giving a great speech titled 'Colonialism is Doomed' that still sends a chill down my spine. Dr Stranglove, one of the most highly acclaimed and intelligent anti-war, anti-nuclear arms, symbols in history, was released in '64. 1964 was a leap year, the Beatles appearance was definitely one of the important symbols of the huge changes happening back then.

Symbols are like windows, it doesn't matter how they're built, it's what you see through them that counts.