Thank you Thank you Thank you, Dad!
During dinner, one night in late June of 1964, my father announced that he'd bought tickets for The Beatles show in New York at the end of the summer. For an 11-year-old, whose life had been totally turned inside out earlier that year when The Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan Show, this news was Christmas times 20! They were playing Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens and the WMCA Good Guys (my favorite radio station with my favorite jocks) were hosting! Which is kinda interesting with what I know now.
On New York City radio, Murray The K at WINS had successfully dubbed himself The 5th Beatle. WABC had been calling itself WABeatleC for months. WMCA, while playing the living crap outta them Liverpool Lads, had never been as brazenly Beatle-exploitive. How did they wind up with the Presents?
Anyway, even with my first ever sleep-away camp experience, that was just about the only summer of my childhood that crept by waaay too slowly.
For reasons I've never understood, my mother didn't want to go (and to this day, she's baffled by that decision, too!). So, Dad had bought three tickets, one for me, my 9-year -old sister, and him. When August 29th finally arrived, I was almost nauseous with excitement. But, all that day, the sky was slate gray and ominously threatening. Oh, please please please don't rain. Just in case, when we left for the show, my Dad brought along a huge black umbrella.
As we made our way to the subway for the hour-long trek from Brooklyn Heights to Forest Hills, a few older semi-hoodlum boys in my neighborhood who I was in awe/afraid of, were being rowdy at the end of our block, and just as we approached the corner, they tipped over an almost overflowing municipal garbage can and spilled the mess all over the street.
Without a moment's hesitation, my Dad lifted the large furled umbrella over his head like a saber and started yelling and chasing the bad boys down the street to the utter mortification of his children. I vividly recall being painfully embarrassed by my Dad's display of righteous adult anger all the way to the show.
But, once we arrived, the whole scene obliterated any other thought other than... Oh My God, THE BEATLES! I'd never been to any event remotely as large or as charged with electric anticipation. While, in retrospect, and by today's standards, Forest Hills Tennis Stadium was a cozy and intimate outdoor venue, it seemed huge to me. And our seats, about 2/3 back from the stage and about 2/3 up seemed impossibly far away.
Actually, everyone was far away from the stage. Due to the fragile surface of the tennis courts, the entire audience was sitting in the 3/4 surrounding bleachers with only police barricades on the playing field, set up in staggered intervals like an obstacle course. Much like the later Shea Stadium shows, The Beatles essentially played to an empty field.
I recall that the show began with a band playing some R&B-tinged instrumentals, followed by a brief set by "Little" Stevie Wonder. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I only remember that his band was very high-energy, the sound was muddy, and that I'm pretty sure young Mr. Wonder had on a fabulous silver silk suit.
Then, the WMCA Good Guys came out and went into that endless annoying warm-up crap that seemed de rigueur in those days... "They're almost here! Any minute now. You ready for the Beatles? Give me a B, give me an E..." It seemed to go on forever... but, was probably less than 20 minutes.
And then, finally, lo and behold, a helicopter came out of the murky sky and landed somewhere behind the stage (or was I dreaming that?). Who else could be in that helicopter? The crowd's anticipation was now at fever pitch! Oh my God, they're HERE! And very soon after, on walked four skinny guys wearing identical black suits, black boots, white shirts and black ties, their famous guitars strapped on, wildly waving and dancing around the stage in that silly way that you can see in "Hard Day's Night."
The sound of the screaming audience was beyond anything I'd ever experienced. It was a high-pitched white noise that shut out the entire world. The stadium became an alien place. My astounded father yelled to my sister and me that he thought we'd have to leave.
"We're going to lose our hearing!" he shouted.
The Beatles hadn't played a note yet and he was threatening us with missing them. Before we could even begin to throw a tantrum, The Beatles launched into their first song and the screaming got louder! It was physical!
I could somehow discern drums and cymbals and the thump of Paul's bass, but I have no recollection of hearing a note of guitar. Their frequency was just too close to that of teenage girls in full-throated scream. And yet, the vocals, for the most part, cut through, and when you heard them, they sounded just like their records. Looking back, it's amazing that they were on key, never "pitchy" as they say on "American Idol."
I also remember John introducing the song "Hard Day's Night" from "... our new movie" and goofing around in a private-joke way with Paul; George singing "Roll Over Beethoven;" Ringo being introduced and then singing "Boys" and the whole band cracking up at something that happened during that song. We were sitting just close enough to almost see their facial expressions--sorta. And yes, every time they went "Ooooo" and shook their famous hair, the screaming somehow got even more frenzied.
Paul, during another intro, told the audience that he wanted us to stomp our feet, and the entire rickety old wooden stadium shuddered as we all did. I can still see my father's look of grown-up panic as we attempted to cause the stadium's collapse and later, on the way home, Dad being angry with Paul for being "really irresponsible." The whole show seemed like it was over in five minutes. I suspect that they played no more than nine songs.
Most vividly, I remember, during the last song, (pretty sure it was "Long Tall Sally;" they did a bunch of covers although I know I heard "She Loves You" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand," too) out of the furthest-from-the-stage seats, a woman (actually, probably all of 16-years-old) in a shiny bright emerald green dress suddenly sprinted onto the tennis courts and started charging toward the stage, leaping over some of the police barricades like an Olympic hurdler and scooting around others while several cops chased after her.
She got close enough to the stage for The Beatles to notice her (I think it was George who pointed her out to John and Paul) and I can recall feeling like the whole audience, me included, was cheering her on and collectively groaned when she was finally grabbed having not quite made it all the way to the stage, even while most of the crowd continued to scream full blast. It was as if her making it all the way would've put us all onstage with our idols.
Maybe the most amazing thing about the screaming: except for just a few moments, when either Paul or John was introducing the next song, the screaming simply never ever abated or even ebbed and flowed. It was a constant roar. In fact, after awhile, you could almost ignore it. I know that my acclimated ears heard more of the last three songs than the first three, for sure. Maybe even some of George's lead guitar. I can tell you the PA was about the size that you'd see in a 400-seater nowadays. It's amazing we heard anything.
The post-exhilaration was so strong that I had trouble walking to the subway afterwards, my legs were so shaky. My sister was clearly dazed. But, I never bothered to try to see The Beatles again. It was one of those Once Was Enough events.
Thank you Thank you Thank you, Dad!
Coda: To give my Mom her Beatle props, it was she who took me to stand outside the Plaza Hotel in February of 1964 for almost two hours to catch a glimpse of Paul and John getting out of a Cadillac limo and running up the steps and into the revolving doors of the hotel. Both in identical black overcoats, no hats, the famous hair in full view. As I recall, I was the youngest kid there and just about the only boy. I had my little bangs brushed down over my forehead and a couple of classy and gracious 15-year-old girls told me I looked just like a Beatle. That was almost as good as the five-second sighting of two of my gods on a blisteringly cold February afternoon a long long time ago.
Coda II: About 30 years later, I attended a meet & greet with Ringo Starr after a sound check at Radio City Music Hall for one of his All-Stars shows. There were about 50 people waiting to meet a deity. I was the very last person of the bunch to shake his hand. As I did, I said, "Ringo, the last time I saw you in the flesh was at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium show in August 1964." He pulled his sunglasses down his nose, stared at me intently, and, with a cheerful apology, replied, "Sorry, I don't remember you."
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