It's easy to do today with computer software, but back then it was impossible. There were four guys walking around that seemed like colored images surrounded by black-and-white.
Fifty years ago, America emerged from a two-month long depression after the paradigm of its youth and vitality was violently destroyed. President Kennedy was young, photogenic, fashionable, forward thinking and gone in a flash. For many it was a loss beyond devastating, beyond explanation or rationalization. He had, after all, proclaimed that the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans. Now the torch had no carrier and it seemed like it would fall away and be extinguished forever. Suddenly, on its way down, there was an immaculate reception that brought cheers of ecstasy.
On a chilly New York Friday afternoon, four working class scouses stepped out of a plane and into America's living rooms like extra-terrestrials in tailored suits, younger, cockier, more photogenic, fashionable, forward and charismatic, and reshaped the future for all. The media obsessed over their appearance while missing the larger point: a sound, an attitude and a vibe that would amplify beyond their mortal reach, leaving an indelible imprint on the consciousness of man, powerful enough to topple oppressive regimes from within. America boasted about being the land of the free. But the Beatles showed the world what freedom looked like, sounded like and felt like on the inside. To many it was threatening, and a few showed up with protest signs. But they weren't fought or slighted, only invited to join in and sing along, and most of them did.
Though their style would change, and ours along with it, though their innocence wouldn't last, and neither would ours, their message remained consistent. Armed with little more than a sense of humor and a song catalog they had then, and still have now, one simple message to deliver: Love. In the beginning, they themselves were unaware of the message. They were just competing in the song market and playing rock and roll for the sheer enjoyment of it. But as it grew clearer, the message became more important to them. It would become bigger than them. It would contradict and outlast them. But "Love" remained the Beatles' ultimate statement, from the first line of the first single to the last line of the last album.
We are lucky to be alive in the time of the Beatles. Long after we're gone, the sounds and the images will continue to inspire and enchant future generations. But to be here now, whether you screamed at Shea Stadium, saw A Hard Day's Night in a theater, or saw Paul and Ringo on the Grammys, to experience these gifts in real time, first and firsthand, is a privilege that comes maybe once in a thousand years.
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