Holy jam butties, people, there ain't no gettin' around it -- that on this date in New York City fifty years ago the Beatles first arrived in America, is a very long time ago. I remember ten. The band had called it quits four years earlier but McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, and Starr were all still making music in 1974 and still were rather young, so that took some of the strangeness out of it. At twenty years past, Lennon was four years gone, and the anniversary came with a very sad sting for me. At thirty years, I played a rough bootleg video of the Beatles' Ed Sullivan Show appearances to my two-year-old son, which he watched in its entirety, entranced. At forty years, Harrison was gone, too, a victim of cancer, and two more of my children watched that same video, entranced.

Now, my oldest son is grown, the second one is closing in on getting his driver's license, and my preteen daughter has a poster of the Beatles photographed in 1964 on her bedroom wall, the very same poster I had on my wall as a child. I, too, have reached and passed 50, which comes with the gifts of an overflowing wealth of great memories and (hopefully) hard-earned wisdom, along with the little ache of knowing that youth -- the Beatles', all their marvelous screaming fans', and my own -- is really, truly, undeniably well in the past. Every year this particular milestone seems a little more old, a little more distant, the black-and-white films of the event closer to the age of silent movies than today. And it's not that I mean "old" in a bad way, it's just...well, fifty years is just a huge chunk of time in anyone's life. Things change, and even if you are good with that concept, it's always a little clunky and challenging to navigate.

So how on earth did it happen that FIFTY WHOLE DAMN YEARS LATER, the world is still paying attention to the date that four young beat musicians from Liverpool, England came to play in the United States?? If you think about it, that is flat-out NUTS, and so beyond unthinkable at the time. Pop music was for teens, disposable as the new Pampers diaper, and the Beatles should have peaked and faded and dropped out of sight within six months, right? But here we are. Here we are!

Great scholarly works and countless books have been devoted to examining and explaining the cultural depth and impact of the Beatles over the last fifty years -- millions of words looking to explain something that was infused with so many intangibles. Baby boomers, disposable teen income, rise and fall of early rock heroes, death of JFK, haircuts, the Mod phenomenon, Pop Art, irreverence as a political statement, clever management, money to be made, even mass hysteria theories -- all of these and more made for a perfect Beatles storm, certainly. But that and generational nostalgia could never account for the continuing popularity of the Beatles.

Here's the answer:

Great songs + great performances + great recordings + great personalities + great look + great charm AND...

...there's no other way to say it...


Not wizard-magic or rabbit-in-the-hat magic, not anything that can be designed or conjured or manufactured or captured. If you are very, very lucky, you will be able to be a part of something that is infused with the very spark of life, an electricity that you can feel from head to toe and from within and radiating out, something that brings tremendous joy and excitement and depth of feeling that takes you out of the mundane and sends you soaring into the bluest skies, happy to be alive.

Nothing else but this -- magic -- could ever have sustained such passion over fifty years. I can't explain it, and am SO utterly not one for anything remotely floofy, spiritual, or non-scientific, but it is there. Life changed for the better for millions of people on February 7, 1964, and as wild as it might seem that a rock band from a depressed grimy town in the UK could have had that kind of power, it happened. It happens still. How completely wonderful is that?

When I look at the films of the Beatles getting off their plane in New York, I look at their faces. Surprise, delight, amazement...and if you keep looking, a tiny, tiny hint of the responsibility and somber weight of knowing you are IT, and everyone will be wanting something from you. But mostly, I see -- you got it -- magic.

The Beatles Pathé Newsreels 1964: Off To America/Conquer America