3. The Beatles
U.S. tour, 1965
The Beatles made their second major tour of the States in the summer of 1965, and I was lucky enough to win tickets to one of the shows. It’s the only thing I’ve ever won. I was 14, living in Portland, Oregon, and the concert was at the Memorial Coliseum—a 20,000-seat sports and convention center. There were two, three, maybe four other acts on the bill. Gerry and the Pacemakers? Roy Head? I can’t be sure. So much of that afternoon felt like a fever dream.
At a certain point, a small legion of Portland policemen lined up in front of the stage; I counted roughly 200. The house lights went down, but so many flashbulbs were suddenly going off that you could see the Beatles moving through the darkness onstage. As the spotlights came up, the band vaulted into its first number—but to this day, I couldn’t tell you what it was. The truth is, you couldn’t really hear George Harrison’s witty riffs or Ringo Starr’s bumpy tom rolls; you couldn’t distinguish Paul McCartney’s ecstatic croon from John Lennon’s creative howl. All you could hear was the amassed shriek of the audience. It was a full-throated, uncontained, celebratory, and needy cry, and it never relented for the duration of the half-hour show.
At first, I was annoyed: I wanted to hear the Beatles, wanted to hear current hits like “Help!” and “Ticket to Ride.” After all, if you look at some of the concert footage from that tour or play the now inexplicably out-of-print The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl album, you realize just how damn good—tight, clever, and dynamic—the band was live. After a few minutes, through, I understood that this wasn’t about hearing great music. It was the gestalt of an experience that genuinely felt like living revelation. At one point, I realized my own voice was screaming along with all the others. But I couldn’t stop it—I felt so full of exhilaration and faith. Nothing has ever matched how overwhelming those moments were, watching those musicians through the flickering luminescence of flashbulbs as they played in the fractional lights of history.
The Beatles’ first U.S. tour in 1964, was more earth-rattling, and their final trek, in 1966—after Lennon boasted that they were bigger than Jesus Christ and the band had grown disillusioned with live performances—was more world-weary. I saw the Beatles during a brief time when kids could still gather and scream and not meet with fear, resentment, and retribution, before everything around us—the music, the culture, the politics—turned into a setting for division and dread. You could scream those days in a shared awareness: that life might be good after all, and if nothing else, you were lucky enough to be living it in a time when the Beatles’ every gesture seemed to illuminate the world. —MIKAL GILMORE