As the NBC Orchestra did their thing with a reedy rendition of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Hard Day’s Night”, and scattered around the living room, we waited for the Beatles. I wondered one last time exactly what we were waiting for.
From the time I had heard, early that morning, that John and Paul would be on the “Tonight” show, I’d also heard all sorts of speculations about the type of appearance they’d make.
“It’ll be a film clip of “Lady Madonna,” one doubting Thomas assured me. Other projections included a filmed interview in their hotel room; another look at the frayed “Strawberry Fields” clip; and the two of them mouthing and maybe even singing one of their old hit duets.
“Maybe they’ll just talk,” offered this fan, and I didn’t stop thinking I could be right even though my suggestion was immediately shouted down. In part, they were right. The Beatles were “too big” for the show, or any show now. But they were also something else that surely not only I had noticed – more humanized less Godheads and more just beautiful people.
“You’re nuts,” I was informed, and this certainly being the case in most cases, I didn’t pursue the subject. But inwardly, I continued to feel that tonight, tonight, wouldn’t be like any night. I also hoped and prayed so because if it did turn out to be just a film or a song, it would mean (to me, anyway, and perhaps to them too) they still couldn’t, for reasons of their own venture out of the towers (of real ivory) to which we’d lovingly but limiting condemned them.
Then the music stopped and so did my thoughts as the host of the show said, “Ladies and gentlemen, from the Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.”
A roomful, and more likely a nationful of Beatle fans held its collective breath as, sure enough, just like real people, John and Paul loped from behind the curtain, failed to pause in center stage to mouth or sing that song, and proceeded to take their places beside Johnny Carson’s substitute, former athletic star, Joe Garagiola (Johnny was off making an appearance somewhere or another, not to mention wishing he were dead for missing the show’s all-time scoop).
The applause was heavy, it contained quite a lot of cheering, and lasted for exactly twenty-five seconds, which is a very long time when you’re on television or trying to hold your breath underwater.
I was so busy wanting to weep from sheer joy at finally being able to hear someone applaud the Beatles instead of the usual clutching and shrieking. I hardly noticed what was happening on camera, other than to note that Paul was wearing a dark, wide-labelled suit with a generous, noisy tie. I never did get it straight in my head how John was garbed, nor, it seems, did anyone else. In the excitement, he appears to have been wearing white pants, white boots, a white turtleneck and alight jacket; dark pants, dark boots, a print shirt and a white jacket; and white pants, white boots and a tan rajah coat. Personally, I remember only his dear face, his hair surprisingly long and middle-parted, and every word he said. I know that he was wearing something only because I surely have been among the first to notice if he had not been.
When the applause finally quieted, I returned eagerly to this world and what was happening on the “tonight’ stage. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that nothing was happening. The Beatles had done the handshaking bit and were sitting there looking totally unnerved in their clam sort of way with John pulling at his hair and Paul attempting to look unconcerned and failing with a series of facial expressions which are usually the result of sitting down upon quite a large tack. And nobody was saying a word. The host was alternating throaty larfs and sips of something out of a tall glass.
At any speed, it was breath-holding time in K.O. Corral, as that roomful and/or nationful wrang its hands and wondered – what are they going to do? Millions of people are watching. It’s a bummer and they know it, but can they still save it?
They did. It was a bummer, but they stooped down, picked the show up and took it with them as paul ended that long moment of silence with a sudden smile and a “well, anyway…” and John relaxed visibly and peered into the camera.
Things were rolling now and Tallulah Bankhead ceased sipping long enough to ask about meditation. John pleasantly suggested she’d have to find that out for herself, and she replied she wasn’t going that far (to India) to find out anything. Still pleasantly, John replied, “Well, you can’t learn to swim if you keep inland, can you?”
To which Tallulah quipped, “Can’t learn to swim? Honey, I can float sitting up.”
It got a laugh but it created another pause and Paul broke it by launching into a story about an interview they’d done that afternoon for an educational station. “They started asking us questions and they were quite serious questions, you know. It was a choice between just laughing it up or answering seriously. So, we were a bit serious.
“You?” asked Joe incredulously. “Serious? I find that hard to believe,” he added, putting another foot in it, and they next few seconds were devoted to a Beatle throat-clearing session as John and Paul gave out with some resounding ahems and the audience twittered.
“Tell me a joke,” Joe offered, attempting to change the subject and his luck. The Beatles didn’t know any or couldn’t remember any and said no, they would not like to be comedians and laughed patiently when Talluulah said, “What do you think you are?”
She then launched into a long discussion of some phone call she’d received from London, how much she adored the Beatles, and the surprising fact that Paul was the only unmarried Beatle.
Then came another old line, this time from Joe. Were the Beatles really a close group, socially? (Zzzzzzz)
“Yes, we’re good friends,” John replied nicely, for the ten thousandth time.
And another, ‘If it hadn’t happened for you in music, what do you think you’d have liked to have done ?”
“Films,” offered John.
“How about you Paul?” Paul looks almost startled. “Not breaking a mood am I?” Joe continues.
“No, you’re doing just great.” Paul laughs, as does the audience. “What would I liked to have been?
I don’t’ know – I was nearly going to be a teacher, but that fell through luckily.” Then the music comes up for a commercial break. Paul hums and the younger members of the audience roar approval. John, not be outdone (and is he ever?) says, “And now a word from your local station.”
When we came back from Madison Avenue’s latest hype, we found that Paul had just admitted that the two of them had horsed around in Central Park on Sunday without being recognized but he was not able to develop the theme as it was almost immediately time for another word from our local stallion.
Getting back to Central Park, Joe wanted to know if they were really out there without any police or anything. “We often do this,” John put in. “If people don’t expect us, what are they going to do? They see a bit of long hair walking out like all the other long hair.”
A wonderful bit then developed. Joe wanted to know how much of a city they really see during a tour. “Isn’t it just ball park to hotel to airport to ball park and so forth?”
“You just pick up the vibrations,” said John.
“I was in England eight years,” said Tallulah, “and never saw one cricket game. I didn’t understand one word of it so how do you expect them to understand baseball?”
Joe explained, or tried to, that the Beatles had appeared at many ball parks, and Tallulah understood, or tried to.
Finally they were offered a bite of the Apple. Joe asked about the new organization they were in the states to promote, and john answered,
“Well you see, our accountant came up and said, ‘you have this amount of money – do you want to do something with it or give it to the government.”
“Which government?” interrupted Joe.
“Any old government,” John replied and got another larf. “Anyway, we decided to play businessmen for a bit so we formed Apple which is going to be records, films and electronics, which all tie up. We want to form some kind of umbrella so that people who want to make films don’t have to go on the knees in an office, begging for a break. That’s the idea and we’ll find out what happens.”
“If you want to do something, you normally have to go to big business, them, the big apple.” Agreed Paul.
That brought this comment from John, “you don’t even get to them. You can’t’ get past the front door because of the color of your shoes.”
Paul continues, “Big companies are so big, if you’re little and good it takes you sixty years to make it, and people miss out on these little, good people and we’re trying to find a few.”
A bombshell from Joe, master of ceremonies but not tact, “Paul, is this because of your background? You came from a poor background.”
Paul, at first silent and making gesture that says no.
Then John. “It’s just common sense.”
Joe’s turn, “But if you didn’t feel as a youngster you wouldn’t feel it now.”
Paul becomes his gracious self despite the slight. “It’s just that we know what we had to fight.”
Joe again, “Did you have a pretty tough time getting started?”
Now John. “No tougher than anyone else. But it’s like George said, I’m sick of being told to keep out of the park.’ That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make a park for people to come in and do what they want.
“Symbolically speaking,” Paul laughs.
“Is he the spokesman, would you say, john?” asks Joe (and a few million others).
“If his spokes are working, he is and if mine are…”
Laughter again, and applause.
Then the subject turned to that of privacy. Do they really have any?
John replies, “Well, we have enough to keep us sane, if we are sane. Our life isn’t like ‘a Hard Day’s Night’ or any of those things. That’s only when we’re doing that – we create that or that is created. When we’re just livin’, it’s calm.”
Tallulah asks, after a bit of idle chatter amongst the group about the hectic pace of New York, if they are nervous about doing this show. John replies, “sure.”
“Why would you be nervous?” asks Joe, incredulous again.
“Because it’s not natural,” John explained. “I mean this situation (gestures at lights, cameras) isn’t natural to a human being.”
“If we’d meet you and talk, like in your house, that’d be all right because you could actually talk,” says Paul. “It’s a bit different when you’re going out into a million homes.”
“Just this is enough,” John laughs, gesturing at the audience.
“You pretty well guard what you say, then,” assumes Joe.
Both Beatles assure him they do not and ask if he isn’t nervous at all?
“I’m nervous because of the…” Joe begins.
“Because, because, because,” interrupts John. “It’s the same thing.” (Applause again).
Commercial time again and meanwhile back at the set, Joe brings up the Maharishi.
John speaks, “We found out that we made a mistake there.”
Then Paul, “We tried to persuade him against the Beach Boy tour. Terrible idea. And then it folds, too.”
John speaks, “We believe in meditation, but not the Maharishi and his scene. That’s a personal mistake we made in public. Meditation is good and it does what they say, like exercise and cleaning your teeth – it works.”
Now Joe, “ Did the Maharishi change, or what?”
Paul answers, “We got all carried away with things like that. We thought he was magic, floating around and flying.”
John again, “I wouldn’t say don’t meditate. A lot people would get a great deal good out of it.”
“The system is more important than the Maharishi himself,” Paul adds. “He’s good and all that, but we just think the system is more important than the personality bit.”
Tallulah wants to know if he giggles all the time, and John reassures her that he does. “He’s a natural laughter,” he explains.
They were then asked to explain the circumstances of their meeting with the Yogi, and John told the now-old story of the lecture in London. “We all went and we thought what a nice man. And we were looking for that. Everybody’s looking for it, but we were all looking for it that day, so we met him and saw a good thing in him and went along with it. Nice trip. Thank you very much.” And the subject was firmly but nicely closed.
Then came the subject of the Beatles ever-changing audience.
John raps, “Everything changes. We can’t put our finger on what age group and why because everything changes, including us.”
“When we first started, we had leather jackets on, “continued Paul. “And caps and big cowboy boots. But then we changed to suits and we lost a whole lot of fans who thought we’d gone posh and didn’t like it because we were all clean. So we lost that crowd, but we gained all the ones that liked suits. That’s what keeps happening. We lost a lot of people with ‘Sergeant Pepper’ but I think we gained more.” (Noisy applause agrees with this point).
Can they ever top Sergeant Pepper?
John says, “I can’t say yes or no, but I think so. Why not? It’s only another LP really.”
Joe talks then about them being the most imitated group in the world. (The Beatles stammer embarrassed), Miss Bankhead wanders on about hearing Beatles music and thinking it was Bach, and Joe gets down to the Nitty G. with questions about how they write – together, separately, etc. Then, unable to find his list of Beatle songs, Joe brings up his favorite (“Yesterday”) and asks the circumstances of it’s composition.
Paul replies in verse:
“Woke up one morning
With a piano by my bed
Went to the piano
And this is what I said…”
As John industriously writes these words down on the palm of his hand (with his finger) Paul patiently tells the “Scrambled Eggs” bit, to Joe’s (you guessed it) incredulous disbelief. “You wrote a song called ‘Scrambled Egg’ and it turned out to be ‘Yesterday?”
Tallulah takes it, “That’s the story of my life.”
Laughter and then Joe wants to know what question, of all questions, bugs them the most. It probably isn’t an easy one to answers gracefully, since he’s just asked most of them himself.
John replies, “We’re past being bugged by questions unless they’re very personal, and then you just get normal human reactions. But there used to be one about what are you going to do when the booble bursts. We’d have hysterics because somebody always asked it.”
Don’t look now, but someone’s about to ask it again. “What are you going to do?” asks Joe, laughing.
“I haven’t a clue,” replies John. “I’m still looking for the booble.” (Still more applause).
“How long are you going to be here?” asks Joe.
“It could be any minute now,” replies John. And unfortunately, it was. After reading a commercial just for fun (which wasn’t shown on the West Coast and a few other parts of the country because that particular sponsor hadn’t bought air time in the places – blast!) he and Paul paid their respects, said their goodbyes and split.
I am not surprised that several New York newspapermen wrote of being disappointed by the “press conference” held by John and Paul during their stay in New York. To almost-quote one, he liked them and had looked forward to talking with them minus the teenybopper atmosphere of their tour press conferences. He had been disappointed by this long-awaited meeting, however, because he had found there was nothing beneath the surface of their flip remarks.
I do hope this gentleman and his associates turn on (it would help) the “Tonight” show. Perhaps, if they did, they will know who else was disappointed by that press conference. Namely, two young men who will respond kindly and wisely to even the most inadequate of questions, if they’re given half a chance to communicate. And there are two more at home must like them.