So it came to pass that this weekend is the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles’ arrival in the United States. It is well established what their coming meant – for music and more importantly, for society – which would impact the following generations. Certainly, a momentous occasion for me, having loved the band my whole life (yes, we all know that I go for long stretches without listening to them, but no matter what, I always come back).
I decided since it is a once-in-a-lifetime event, I would go to the 50th Anniversary celebration at this year’s Beatlefest, held in Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt hotel. I had always mocked anyone who went to these things as no different than sci-fans who go to the various conventions. I went with the best intentions that I would hear interesting discussions – perhaps sociological discourses on The Beatles’ impact on society, not just music, etc. I had hoped it would not be a swarm of “rabid fan” nonsense.
I arrived early on Friday night; the first evening. I just wanted to check in, figure out where events were being held and to get a feel for the layout. I got my 3-day wristband and tried to follow the maps. Everywhere I went; every floor I stopped on – nothing seemed to be ready. In the corridor by the “ballroom” which would house the stage performances and higher profile talks/panels, were the meet-and-greet tables. No printed placards; just handwritten names on paper. I managed to very briefly meet and say hello to Gene Cornish, guitarist for The Rascals, and Larry Kane, the news anchor who had covered The Beatles on that first historic occasion – I knew him from his days on Philadelphia, and briefly, New York television. I got back downstairs to the main floor and went home. What more could be said? It didn’t bode well.
So it was on to Saturday, which as per the program, was filled with events and panels/discussions. I wanted to get there early, as my esteemed Popdose colleague, Allison Johnelle Boron, was going to be on one of the panels – the all-female led discussion with the inappropriate title “We’re Talking About Girls Now – Women As Beatles Historians” – seriously, what the fuck is that? Automatically, it does a great disservice to these learned individuals with a blatantly sexist kind of title; it was also ridiculously misleading. THIS was the ONLY place/time that the conversation was worth a damn (and so much more).
What that panel should have been called was “The Impact of The Beatles Through The Generations Beyond Their Music” because this was the one forum where you heard rational, intelligent discussion on the band and what they brought to those who evolved with them. Here, you heard theories – an interesting comparison from “The Mozart Effect” (“the Beatles effect”?) to why is it that the younger generations (of now) are drawn to and embracing The Beatles? Two of the women on the panel were “first generation fans” – really there and part of the 1964 arrival; their memories were clear and nostalgic yet never weepy or wistful; rather with perspective. The concept of anticipating each new Beatle release at the time – the rareness and the thrill since this was long before the internet and instant gratification. Most powerfully was the talk of The Beatles’ inspiration beyond the music – spiritual and social values. It was, without hesitation, exactly what I wanted and hoped to hear – that it was only 60 minutes was shocking (that it felt like 15 minutes when it was over threw me as it breezed right past). It was thought provoking, intelligent and I only wished it could have gone on longer.
Having popped in and out of other panels, I can say this – none of them held my interest beyond a few moments. Why? Simple – it was the same speculative bullshit (The Beatles in the ’70’s, etc. – what if?…); more of the stories that we’ve all heard, ad infinitum, regurgitated for the billionth time. And the attendees – the guys who were in these audiences and walking around the Fest: it was exactly what I feared overall. The general vibe is the “I have a bigger dick than you” syndrome – “I’m a bigger Beatles fan than you”. These sad bastards in their fucking tie-dye or Beatles t-shirts… My dread became a real, live nightmare. Add insult to irritation, the vendors not even selling anything reasonably cool – instead charging $35,000.00 for the Yesterday… And Today “butcher” cover album – guess what? It’s available now on CD, so who really gives a shit anymore? Beatle suits and the tailors? Beatle boots? HOW OLD ARE YOU FUCKING PEOPLE?
I wanted to see Donovan, who was supposed to be wandering around and performing – the gross disorganization of the overall event led to overcrowding and not knowing if he would perform at all; I wound up leaving. Donovan played, but almost an hour late. Again – the poor organization made this a physically uncomfortable atmosphere. Add to that the incredible amount of heat pumped in… And I have to say very few of the staff were polite or helpful.
I’m not even going today – this 3rd and final day. It isn’t worth my time or effort. I have the records; I have the films; I have some books. I know how to play quite a number of their songs on guitar. That’s enough. I love The Beatles – I always will. I’ll always remain a fan, in the proper context.
In the final analysis, this “Beatlefest” was not festive at all. But at least I got to experience it for The Beatles 50th Anniversary in the United States. And that’s something.