It was 1964, and so far, my experiences with love were limited. I didn't truly know what the Beatles meant with the lyrics to their new song: "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." But I knew what it meant that this song was always playing on the radio. It meant the Beatles were big. The Beatles were seen. The Beatles were having an impact.
I was six years old, living in a very plain Victorian house in a small university town in Kansas. My room at the back of the house had windows overlooking the driveway and the plain, yellow house next door. From one window I could see a sliver of the sidewalk out front and the street with its leafy elms. Not very many people walked down this block.
Even at that age, my neighborhood felt like a boring place, like it couldn't quite catch up to the rest of the town, and the world. I had seen the Beatles on TV. I'd seen newsreels from Vietnam. I'd seen protest marches on the campus of the university nearby. I could feel movement in my town. Something was changing. I wanted to be part of it. Even then, I wanted to belong to the larger world. It was an inheritance.
My parents were strivers. They'd grown up in Kansas, but had lived in Colorado, where I was born, and had traveled to New York and San Francisco and elsewhere before settling back in the plains, where I became a fifth-generation Kansan. But they kept their "cosmopolitan" spirit. Aside from two Mexican restaurants in the "bad" part of town, the most exotic restaurant in Lawrence at that time was the Campus Hideaway, which featured pizza, spaghetti and garlic bread, served on red-checked tablecloths and lit by candles stuck into empty Chianti bottles.
But at home, my mother would serve canned pâté with cornichons, beef bourguignon, and crème brûlée. Once a month or so, my father would whip up linguine with canned clam sauce (even though I wouldn't see the ocean, or a real clam, until I was 14 years old), and insist that we twirl the pasta with our fork in our spoon — the authentic way, the way he'd done it in North Beach in San Francisco. He and my mom were cool, but old-fashioned. I remember that our stereo played Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Judy Collins. Not the Beatles.cool, but old-fashioned. I remember that our stereo played Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Judy Collins. Not the Beatles.clam, until I was 14 years old), and insist that we twirl the pasta with our fork in our spoon — the authentic way, the way he'd done it in North Beach in San Francisco. He and my mom were cool, but old-fashioned. I remember that our stereo played Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Judy Collins. Not the Beatles.
On the radio I heard them over and over, especially the song, "She Loves You":
You think you lost your love,
Well, I saw her yesterday.
It's you she's thinking of —
And she told me what to say.
She says she loves you ...
From the start, I knew this was my music. Not my parents'. Not my town's. But mine. This music was my ticket to something new, far from my boring block, my stultifying six-year-old life.
One afternoon I was in my room, looking out my window towards the empty sidewalk when the song came on the radio. Wow. It just lifted me up, and I started singing along, softly at first, through the open window. Then I started singing loud enough for people in the neighborhood to hear me, loud enough to capture the attention of anyone who passed. The Beatles, for instance.
"She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah …"
I sang it in my best voice, as loud as I could, because in my young mind there was a good chance John or Paul, or one of the other two whose names I couldn't remember, were going to walk down that sidewalk and hear my voice on the chorus and just stop in their tracks and cock their heads toward my window.
Amazed, they were going whisk me away to — wherever it was the Beatles did what they did. I didn't know where that was, just that it wasn't in Kansas. I sang and reached my eyes out the window looking for their black Beatle boots on the sidewalk.
And that's what the Beatles have done for me ever since. They've transported me to other worlds, and to the richness inside me. They are a band that opens the future, fills it with light and possibility. Fifty years later, they carry on.