Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Brush with "Les Beatles"! - Looking Back

It was my first experience with pandemonium.

When a girl started to sink down in the sea of hysterical humanity, someone caught her and helped her stay afloat. No one shared her picture on Instagram or Facebook. It was long before cell phones and social media, so it didn’t occur to us to worry about documenting our experience.

This was 1964, the day after my sixteenth birthday, and the event was one of the Beatles first performances ever, soon to be worldwide famous.

It was in Paris, France, and I had never even heard a Beatles song before.

Me and my hair in 1964

As an historian for NATO, my father and our family were stationed in Fontainebleau, France. Along with about sixty or so Americans, I attended boarding school in Paris, and every Wednesday evening we would be taken to a cultural or historical venue that would “broaden our European experience,” typically a museum or chateau. As it turns out, the Beatles concert overshadowed nearly all other culture I rubbed up against during my three years in France.

Supervision for the thirty of us American high schoolers who went to the concert was in the form of matronly dorm counselors. They were ill-prepared for the unique experience we were a part of that night, and security for the concert at the Olympia Theater was less than stringent.

The opening acts were French pop singer, Sylvie Vartan, and twenty-six-year-old, Texas-born Trini Lopez, who performed “If I Had a Hammer.” Our group loved Trini so much we would have been happy if he’d been the headliner. By the way, both Sylvie and Trini are still performing today.

Because we didn’t know a thing about the Beatles, we acted slightly less wild than the French teens. We listened and clapped and laughed at their jokes, but no one fainted or made themselves sick screaming. I believe we were more excited about seeing a band – any band – that spoke English.

The Beatles played eight songs that night: “From Me to You,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “She Loves You,” “This Boy,” “Boys,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Twist and Shout” and “Long Tall Sally.” At one point, Paul, who could hear us yelling (the venue was small), acknowledged our presence by asking if we spoke English and where we were from. We were beyond thrilled to be singled out.

It wasn’t until long after this experience that I began to understand the impact of an evening with “Les Beatles.” We were a bunch of American kids longing for anything outside the military lifestyle. We needed – and got! – the perfect thing for us to love and our parents to misunderstand. All of a sudden, we had a secret desire and un beau (in the form of George, John, Paul, and Ringo), a special song, a powerful shared experience, and a memory to carry throughout our entire lives.

[Surprisingly there exists a very short and not-so-great-quality You-Tube video of this performance on Jan. 16, 1964. Notice the suits and dresses worn by many concert-goers. My gang also was dressed up but not looking as sharp as these Frenchies. Check it out here.]

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