Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Single Most Important Night in US Television History

The eternal paradox of the Beatles is that their constantly shifting images and ever-changing music made their identity as a group not more fragmented and diffuse but more powerful and defined. They weren’t the mop-topped early Beatles or the natty silk-uniformed showmen of Sgt. Pepper or the let-their-hair-down hippie ruffians of those four iconic photographs included in the White Album or the tough, wise, saddened family-man cynics of Let It Be. They were all of them at once.


What strikes me today, on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, is that if you go back and look at the Beatles on Feb. 9, 1964, when they performed live before an American television audience of 73 million, what you’ll see is trapped in a grainy video time capsule, but the sensation of transcendence that the Beatles incarnated is all right there in front of you.-Fifty years ago today, the Beatles gave birth to a new world

The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, February 9, 1964 - A Historical Retrospective

While there is much to celebrate about the Beatles coming to America, there is also much to regret, starting with the fact that while we may remember the music of the Beatles, we’ve lost sight of the hope for change and revolutionary spirit that were hallmarks of those days. Indeed, the Beatles opened the floodgates of music with their riveting Feb. 9 performance on the Ed Sullivan Show which was televised to 72 million Americans in what has been dubbed “the night that changed America.” Beatlemania, in turn, helped fuel a social, cultural and political revolution that took aim at everything from war, capitalism and racism to women’s rights, militarization and equality.

Fifty years later, while we may be inundated with a glut of music that passes for art and artists that pass for activists, with no shortage of national problems plaguing us (police abuse, endless wars, government corruption, government surveillance, inequality, etc.), we are sorely lacking individuals with the kind of radicalism and willingness to challenge the status quo. This is the difference between Then and Now, between an America that was ripe for the Beatles’ music and their message of change and an America that is celebrating the Beatles’ music while oblivious to their radicalism.

“The Beatles were like aliens dropped into the United States of 1964,” reports Todd Leopold for CNN. Leopold continues:

Kennedy’s assassination 10 weeks earlier had left a gloom on the land. Together, the two events created a dividing line between Then and Now. “A lot of people don't understand why (Sullivan) was a seminal moment in the history of America and, for that matter, the history of the world,” former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recalled in a recent speech. “The country had just gone through a very painful time of mourning. ... There was an extraordinary amount of despair, heartbreak, disappointment,” he continued. “I think people forget that we were still grieving as a nation. The Beatles brought something to America more than music. They brought hope.”-50 Years After the Beatles: Isn’t It Time for Another Political & Cultural Revolution?

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