Tuesday, April 18, 2023

A First Date


A First Date

By Pattie Pourade

The Harrison Alliance

November 1972


To paraphrase Tony Barrow, it began by his simple instructions that when The Beatles sat down the photographers would be given five minutes after which they would all remain seated during the press conference.  Their procedure for asking questions was orderly and simple.  After being called on, please stand up and speak loudly.

I was a shy 14-year-old and in those last minutes before the Balboa Stadium dressing lockers gave the Beatles to the San Diego press, I didn’t clutch my friend's hand but I needed to.  He was as excited as I was.  Driving into the city we’d ranted and raved over them, although he admitted he’d much rather look at their wives and girlfriends.

So August 28, 1965, was about to come to a climax that had begun to build several weeks earlier when the city was added to the series of concert dates The Beatles would play.  My girlfriend and I bought tickets and sat the summer away on the beach waiting for “B-day.”  “August 28 is Beatle Day” said the buttons KCBQ announced daily that the KG-Beatles were San Diego bound.

On August 25th, my dad, a printer at one of the smaller papers in town, asked me how would I like to go to a Beatles press conference as a reporter.  OH MY GOD, YES!  That was Wednesday, and by Saturday night at 7:00, I was not ready to face The Beatles.  My friends were in the stadium now.  I was alone, 4 years younger than the minimum age The Beatles had agreed could come in.  They had also requested 4 televisions, several cots, and a bathtub of fried chicken, but this had no bearing on the press conference.

Neil dressed almost identical to George, had been wandering around the basketball court where we sat in folding chairs along with several members of the entourage and many traveling D.J.s.  An oblong table sat in front of us, one side laden with A Spaniard In The Works, a cake, and a gift wrapped in white tissue with red ribbons.  John would sit here next to the protecting figure of Mr. Barrow.  Ringo would sit between John and Paul, looking much smaller than his companions, and on the opposite end, a grim, cigarette-sucking Harrison.

He was my first in-person glimpse of a Beatle I had as a photographer lifted his arm and I caught sight of his narrow face shrouded by dark very bushy coarse looking hair.  I said to Pat, “I just saw George.”  And he told me he’d seen John sitting directly in front of us. When the photographers backed away, I saw The Beatles sitting behind the table certainly not an iota as interested in us as we were in them. 

Two trench-coated Teen Screeners walked up next to John and he mutter “Ah Teen Screen” in a mocking way.  Anyone who had seen the California Beatle press conferences will know Paul had a knack for getting the bum microphone – that night was no exception.  He leaned forward over the table to see the wires at his feet, obliging to a “hello hello…” until the microphone sputtered to life.

“Hey, Paul, do ya have a cigarette?” a fellow sitting directly behind me yelled.  Remember Paul used to be the pushover for fans?  Even though Paul wasn't smoking at the time and George was, giving his press barely a bored bunk of his eyes, he asked Paul, who I admit looked like Santa Claus next to grim George.  Paul took a rumpled soft pack from his back pocket.  “Throw it here,” from behind me he yelled unaware Pat and I were already making hasty plans to grab the sailing pack as it flew past us.  Paul tipped his head and said like a boy being caught at the cookie jar, “But it’s me last one.”

“Ah, come on Paul!” several people shouted but he put the cigarette up.  Maybe he thought George might run out. I don’t know what George would have done without them that night.  His was a monumental habit.  John was trading comments with Ringo (“Ah, little Richie”) and one man about being away from Maureen.

I was in a state of catatonic shock.  They were real, just a matter of 5 feet from where I sat.  John’s hair glowed golden red in the late-day sunlight.  He looked hefty in a white suit and black shirt.  I was overwhelmed by Ringo’s small statue and, of course, Paul’s eyes.  His hair glistened almost black and along with his mates, he showed no hint of having been in the sun even though Paul said later he did have a tan.  George flanked his left side leaning against one elbow with his chin resting on his fist for the most part.  His jacket was black, his eyes as bitter and brooding as the sarcastic way he responded to the questions.  A reporter said of him, “to the unpracticed eye, George seems the most egotistical Beatle. He seems to improve on that description of his attitude that night.”

John and Paul, at that time more the talking Beatles, answered most of the questions.  I wrote down answers fast and furious – and only later did I realize I hadn’t bothered to write a question to accompany any answers.  How did the Beatles answer questions 7 years ago?

Q:  Do you have any advice for teenagers?

John: Don’t get pimples. 

Is he putting us on? Everyone laughed dutifully, although a pimple-faced teenager thinks it’s no laughing matter.  Most of the questions were asinine, from mindless reporters who still doubted The Beatles were anything more than a spinning record.  They answered questions about their hair, Ringo’s’ rings, county and west songs (Act Naturally).  George pointed out with a you-dumb-ass attitude that several Beatle records were country if he’d taken the time to listen.  Paul really taxed his memory to tell us, “yea yea yea” He did like “Man From Uncle” and shot at us with his machine gun arm.

Q:  Do you have any ambitions?

John:  No.

George:  I’d like to race the Indianapolis 500.   Paul turned his head sideways and said, “Yes – on a horse.” And George even smiled.  We laughed at that witty McCartney.

I waited at least 10 minutes before I musted the guts to raise my hand, and as luck goes Tony Barrow pointed straight at me.  I pointed at myself and squeaked, “me?” and my life began to pass in front of me.  He nodded.  I stood on legs Jell-O products would have gladly packaged and whispered my question.  John looked at Tony and said, “I can’t hear her.”  Had I been prone to swearing, then my thought would have been, “Oh shit.”  I repeated it, “What was your reaction to Sukarno’s burning of anything by or about The Beatles?”  I thought it was a great question from a 14-year-old who would much rather have known how George’s mother was.  John said, “It was stupid.”  George raised his head and sneered, “We took it bitterly,” and my self-esteem took a hurling crash to my feet.  At the time, it hurt me that George would take that angry attitude with me.  Paul bashed on in with a lengthy reply telling me they should have sent it back so they could resell it.  I think, knowing I was dumbstruck with them all, he gave me a nod and a wink and a smile.  My legs melted, and I sat down, blushing purple I suspect in trembling.

Someone asked them what they did when they got to their hotel rooms.  Paul offered, “We shower, have a cup of tea, and brush our teeth after every meal,” in his best Crest toothpaste voice.  Questions about the MBE - John later returned – as to whether they thought they deserved them.   John replied, “A lot more than some who’ve got it.”  Everyone applauded him, and rightly so.  Making money by music will always be more positive than murdering in the name of any government.

A beach-minded California asked them did they like surfing.  It looks like great fun but very difficult and they didn’t have the time to learn, Paul answered.  He added with a twinkle they did have boards though, the ones with the little wheels that they ride in their hotel rooms.

One determined, hardened reporter asked George what he’d seen of San Diego.  Not too astonished at all at being questioned directly, he answered honestly with a slight grin, “I saw the freeways.”  John popped in, “I saw the sea.”  Someone ought to tell the boy that the large expanse of blue saltwater is the Pacific Ocean.  Seven years ago, he might have denied it, though.

John thought it was important since they were powerless to stop them, that we fans know that rubbish in magazines was all “trash and just printed to sell.”  (I can remember George tersely telling a D.J. that Pattie did not write that column in 16 Magazine and they didn’t even know the Ad Lib was not THE place anymore).

To the question of the Beatles being part of a communist plot to demoralize American youth, Paul laughed and said, “That’s a bunch of rubbish.  We’re not communists!  We’re filthy capitalists!”  Right on.

My date inquired after John’s reported sore throat which he said was fine now and then asked were they saving their money.  John told him that was easy because they didn’t have time to spend it.  Then George said ever so seriously in his clear but Liverpool mumble, “ I spent all mine on cigarettes.”

It had lasted no more than a half hour when Tony said that was all, and three Beatles beat a hasty retreat to their fried chicken, cots, and telly.  Paul stood and signed several autographs.  He looked to be enjoying the attention, and as always, in those days, we were enjoying him.  I stood next to him, amazed that he seemed so tall when my father, at the same height, had never struck me that way.  Even after this close in-person glimpse at the professional part of George, John, Paul, and Ringo, they were still bigger than life.  It took me months to come off this cloud.  I was struck most profoundly by George’s ill temper and Paul’s oppositely amicable replies, and John’s beautiful hair.

Pat and I both floated out.  We passed a sobbing girl near one of the gates who wept, “I saw Paul.”  I wish I could have wept and screamed and hugged my closest friend.  I was just 14 – I’d been near them – close enough to hear a cough and a striking match.  Over an hour later, the Beatles crossed the grassy field to the stage amid screams from thousands.  “I just saw them…” was all I could think and basically is the clearest memory I carry from the concert itself. 

It was a day like any other, except I was there.  What more could I ask for my first date?