Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beatlemania Began Today

Fifty years ago today, in the Indra Club in Hamburg, Germany, a band of kids (young adults, really, though George Harrison was still only seventeen) from Liverpool, England, took to the stage to perform under the name "The Beatles" for the very first time. John Lennon and Paul McCartney had been playing together since 1957, George having joined them the year after that, but always in the midst of other jobs, opportunities, and responsibilities, always with other musicians and friends rotating in and out of the line-up (sometimes a duet, sometimes a trio, sometimes a quintet), and always under different names (The Blackjacks, The Quarrymen, Johnny and the Moondogs, The Silver Beetles). This, the first night of their first full-time commitment to playing in the Hamburg clubs, the first night of what they all came to recognize in retrospect as the experience which really forged them as a band*, was the first time they'd performed together under the name which came, in time and in popular memory, to define just about everything about an era, a mood, a style of living and consuming and loving and entertaining and thinking. Beatlemania had begun.

True, their first experience in Hamburg didn't end on a good note, to say the least. But they would return to Hamburg a few times after this first, rough experience of playing for hours at a time before drunk, raucous crowds--and of course, it wasn't too long before their own ambitions and commercial opportunities and personal choices and the changing zeitgeist of the 1960s led them to arguably abandon both the stage-hungry ethic and the classic rock-and-roll aesthetic which brought them to Hamburg in the first place. They became, in their own time, iconic, transformative, multimedia and globalized. And then, just about exactly nine years and one month later, it was over. But it was too late, of course; by then the Baby Boomers had bought the albums, and businesses and governments and advertisers and artists and story-tellers--to say nothing of musicians of every possible type--had absorbed their lyrics, their rhythms, their mode of being. A half-century of pop (or should I say "post"?) modernizing was underway. Some might say that it's all ancient history now, but I don't think so--not quite yet, anyway.

So let's take a moment in tribute to a motley group of risk-taking, passionate, naive--and, as it turned out, enormously talented--young men from Liverpool who arrived at the club early that morning cold and nervous and thrilled and bone-tired and broke, and slept on the floor of a storeroom next to the women's restroom. Hamburg made them into The Beatles. They made us into their image later.

*You're thinking: hey, what about Ringo Starr? Doesn't he count? He does, but he wasn't part of the band when "The Beatles" made their debut. Interestingly though, he was in Hamburg at the same time John, Paul, and George were there, drumming with another Liverpool band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. They would catch each others' gigs, and all four of them played together for the very first time in a recording session that October. So there is that, anyway.


Matt said...

Don't forget Stuart Sutcliffe, the original bass player and co-originator of the name! I'm not 100% sure how accurate it is, but you can get a good glimps of him in the movie "Backbeat". It's a pretty fun movie on its own.

Chris said...

Sutcliffe is credited with being the first member of the band to wear a "Beatle haircut". According to the myth, this was at the suggestion of his fiance, the photographer Astrid Kirchherr. But Kirchherr has subsequently said that this was bullshit: the style was widely worn among German hipsters at the time, and Sutcliffe just went native sooner than the others.