I remember quite clearly, on a particular day in December 1963, hearing the muffled, unmistakable giggling coming from behind the postulants’ closed door. Something was going on, something new and exciting, perhaps forbidden, definitely appealing to these old girls who at 18 or 19 had already dedicated their lives to Christ.
But this day, the Beatles had won their hearts.
Behind that door, seemingly in secret, the postulants were listening to the Beatles’ new sensation, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” just as giddy and excited as millions of other girls across the nation. But this was Caroline Academy, and thoughts of boys and holding hands were off limits in lyrics as well as in daily life. Here, exposure to the latest contemporary music consisted of instrumentals like “Baby Elephant Walk” played while we roller-skated in the gym.
Closed doors couldn’t contain the new sound. The Beatles burst into our lives that day and their songs marked our journey for decades to come.
When I left the convent school to attend North High in Sheboygan, I used “Nowhere Man” as the hook for an editorial I wrote on school spirit. (Yes, I was a believer. Go Raiders!) I imagined myself a “Paperback Writer” in 1966. In 1968, Marquette University wasn’t immune to anti-war and open housing protests. Anthems like “Revolution” and 1969’s “Give Peace of Chance” had meaning. I remember walking down Wisconsin Avenue on Dec.1, 1969, hearing a recording of “You Say It’s Your Birthday” blaring from a window in McCormick Hall, mocking the first draft lottery held that day to determine which fellow students would be going off to fight in Vietnam.
The next year, when I was working in Indiana and my boyfriend John was in Milwaukee, “The Long and Winding Road” would be part of the soundtrack of our long-distance dating. “Instant Karma” was going to get us.
“I knew something had changed when I first heard the Beatles,” John says. On Sept, 4, 1964, he paid a reasonable $4.75 to hear them at the Milwaukee Arena. A year later, on Aug. 21, he saw them again at Comisky Park in Chicago. He bought a sleek Stratocaster® guitar, his hair grew past the required collar-length code of his high school, and he started a band whose members sang with British accents. He’s still writing and playing songs in that distinctive style.
Whether or not we knew something had changed when the Beatles came on the scene, our lives were changing in the ‘60s and ‘70s and we couldn’t “Help” it. You could hear the lyrics of their songs, you could immerse yourself in the beat, the fresh melody and harmony, and anticipate the bridge. The songs were new, some would become classic. And some would hold our hands and our hearts through our lives. I think you’ll understand.
More on this topic: Will we still need them in 2064?