music friday: 35 years ago today
what i watched last week

the beatles, ed sullivan, and me

As a white American Baby Boomer, I am required today to offer my memories about the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

It’s a perfect Boomer moment, because 1) everyone remembers it, and 2) it offers plenty of opportunity for boomers to assume their personal experiences are in fact everyone’s personal experiences. Thus, one after another, we trot out our memories as if they explained an entire era.

My memories don’t explain anything. I was 10 years old. I wanted to act grown up, so I feigned a lack of interest in the Beatles. I stood in the background watching as they performed. It was just about the most thrilling thing I’d ever seen. And when it was over, I went back to pretending I was unimpressed.

The Beatles really were as big a cultural phenomenon as people say. They really were a crucial part of rock and roll history. And yes, their appearances on Ed Sullivan were big deals.

But most of what I’ve read over the past week has been bullshit nostalgia that tries to make personal experience seem more universal than it actually is.

You know what was a really big Beatles moment, one that doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often as Ed Sullivan? When they premiered “All You Need Is Love” on a world-wide satellite telecast titled “Our World”. It was the biggest TV audience of all time when it aired. What made it special wasn’t that we experienced it as individuals … no, it was that we were watching along with 400 million other people. That was special.