There was rock 'n roll and there was the Beatles. Their last concert anywhere, ever, was in San Francisco on August 29, 1966, and later it was hard not to see some connection with the counter culture that would be bursting onto the world from the same location in only six months.
The concert was at Candlestick Park and the traffic on the freeway and on the frontage road into the parking lot was chaotic and tedious.
My roommate Mike and I were in my car, stopped dead on the approach to the parking lot, eagerness welling, frustration too, when suddenly Mike exclaimed, "Shit!"
I looked over at him and then looked where he was looking and exclaimed, "Shit!"
There was a car caravan with a Loomis armored car at the center and behind that a huge bus and behind that some cars, and at the head of the caravan was a cop station wagon, and they were tearing along the peripheral road on the far side of the parking lot. Behind the caravan's rooster tail of dust, which was bent toward the Bay by ocean wind, two Volkswagen bugs were coming up fast.
A mob of a couple hundred kids also saw the caravan and ran screaming toward the right field entrance which was a sliding pink door that the caravan was also headed toward. But the rent-a-cops couldn't get the padlock open so one of them waved the caravan to veer into the empty parking lot where it drove around in circles chased by screaming kids a few of whom were able to leap onto the back of the armored car.
"It's just like... 'Hard Day's Night,'" I said.
More rent-a-cops arrived at the pink door and were able finally to open it. The caravan drove toward it but slowly, with kids jumping off and on and rent-a-cops grabbing those they could. Then the caravan had to slow to a near stop because the doorway allowed only one car at a time. That gave rent-a-cops an opportunity to pry the last kids off the armored car.
Finally the caravan was in. The two Volkswagen bugs tried to follow but were blocked by rent-a-cops. Back on the frontage road approaching the parking lot, traffic started moving, and as Mike and I pulled away from the scene I saw a girl sobbing and shrieking, "I saw him! I saw him!" Her bellbottoms flapped in the wind.
Conservative Christians picketed the gates into the parking lot for some statement about Jesus by John Lennon that they willfully distorted.
As we passed through the gates, I asked, "Hear about them burning Beatle records?"
"Yeah... This week records, last week crosses."
The Klan had led protests outside the Washington, D.C. concert and there were assassination threats in Memphis where a firecracker exploded on stage and the Beatles thought they were being shot at. In Cleveland, twenty-five hundred fans broke through the rent-a-cops and forced the band to flee the stage. So security at Candlestick was really tight, cops private and public everywhere....
.... And then there they were, only an eighth of a mile away, strolling out of a dugout, waving to the cheering ecstatic crowd and to the blinding volleys of flash bulbs. Mike and I, who were aloof and above it all, after all we were surrounded by the public, the boobs all that crass commercialism was aimed at, we leapt to our feet with everyone else, hearts in our throats. My God, IT'S THEM!!!
As John, Paul, George and Ringo ran across the grass to the back of the stage, a roar went up and girls around us jumped onto their seats and waved and screamed and screamed and waved. Rolls of toilet paper arced through the air onto the field. The Beatles emerged onto the stage and did a quick tune-up, each chord answered by a surge of crowd roar, as was Paul when he tested a mike with "Hello." Then suddenly the probing chords were cut off by rapid strumming and they tore into Chuck Berry's "Rock And Roll Music" which was then enveloped in crowd roar ...
.... At one point I noticed that John and Paul each had a camera and between songs were taking pictures of the crowd, the rest of the group, and themselves at arm's length. After "Nowhere Man," the Beatles hurriedly set up a camera on a speaker and Ringo came down from the drum platform onto the main stage and they stood with their backs to the audience and posed for a moment and then Ringo rushed back to his drums and they did "Paperback Writer"....
.... Finally, Paul said, "Thank you very much everybody. Everybody ... wonderful ... We'd like to say that, erm, it's been wonderful being here, in this wonderful sea air. Sorry about the weather ... Anyway, the song is ... 'Long Tall Sally' ... Good night ... One more time for just us there lads?!!"
.... At no time that night did it enter our heads what the cameras and the posing and that last comment could mean. Maybe because we were so dazzled by their presence ... Only much later would we find out that, after more than 1400 live appearances, that was their last. They were fed up with the ordeal of what John called "the puppet show."
All the rock stations played the Beatles during the drive home which served as background music to the images Mike and I savored.
We had forgotten to bring binoculars, and when a boy of fourteen or so, in the next row up, wasn't using his, I asked if I could borrow them. I adjusted the focus and the holes-through-space fell one behind the other. On what I now realized had been just four green specks, blurred but recognizable faces and wind-slanted hair appeared. And there they were. It really was them. For a few stolen rushed moments, the music was made flesh.
"The Beatles' Last Concert" is an excerpt from More San Fran60s, a collection of autobiographical short stories about Sixties San Francisco. Escallonia Press will be bringing out a paperback edition this spring. It is a sequel to San Fran '60s, already available on Amazon, as will be More San Fran60s. You can read rave reviews and more excerpts at http://escalloniapress.wordpress.com/