Catching Beatlemania

There are not many moments in life where you find yourself witnessing and participating in a significant historical event. You know it even then because there has never been anything like it before. You are gobsmacked with what you see, hear and feel. And, to top it off, all this happens accidentally by a fortunate set of circumstances.

It was on August 15, 1965 that the Beatles were scheduled to play Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, New York. My sisters Chris and Barbara and their friend Gail were rabid Beatle fans and they made sure they had their tickets as well as their white go-go boots ready. These were the days when large concerts were rare. This one would be their second tour of the U.S. but the first-ever “stadium concert” and the largest concert crowd (55,600) at any concert at that time.

Strangers in a Strange Land

Shea was completed only a year before and as the latest project promoted by Robert Moses, the famed New York City planner, to develop the Queens area. It was located in Flushing Meadows next to the grounds of the World’s Fair of 1964-65 in Corona Park.

Most of us had visited the World’s Fair the year before and marveled at exhibitions. It was a fascinating look at the future and and offered a taste of other countries. I still remember the Lowenbräu beer pavilion where we could drink beer freely, just like being in Bavaria, even though we were underaged and about as naive as we could be about the rest of the world. It seemed like we were moving into the future and becoming part of a bigger world.

1964-65 New York City World’s Fair

Accepting the Mission

In the original plan, my dad was supposed to drive my sisters to and from Shea since they were young teens not old enough to drive. Well, it turned out my buddy Mike Hayser and I were hanging around my house that hazy 80-degree Sunday with nothing particular to do so we volunteered to take them instead. Why my father allowed us to drive I’ll never know but probably the long ride and the need to wait for them were factors. And, it was, after all, the 1960’s and there was a certain freedom and permission that’s hard to reconcile with today’s helicopter parenting.

We didn’t even think about how crazy this could be with thousands of screaming fans. But we sensed that there would be lots of girls and a great adventure awaiting. Little did we know we would be driving directly into history.

At 17 years old I considered my six months of experience enough to tackle the big-game driving in New York City’s traffic and its strange mysterious boroughs. Shea was then a big new and bold stadium. It was built to last for the New York Mets franchise, which started only a few years before. Both the stadium and the team represented new hope for us bitter and abandoned ex-Brooklyn Dodger fans.

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air

The Way to Shea

This was my longest and most challenging drive with my hand-painted blue 56’ Chevy. Living in Roselle, the best way to get to Shea was to take the Goethals Bridge from Elizabeth to Staten Island and drive across the new and mammoth Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (which was another Robert Moses project.). The bridge had just opened in January 1964 and was an instant success allowing traffic to Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island via the Belt and Grand Central Parkways. To us on the Jersey side, these were legendary roads where we were warned daily of horrendous traffic conditions on the radio and assumed only brave and crazy drivers dare go. So, why not try?

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge led to a new world

The only way to get somewhere far away in those days was to rely on old-fashioned, artfully folded paper maps. Every car had dozens of maps in the glove compartment which were free to grab at any gas station. We relied on maps, intuition and signs (if they were still there) to find where we were going. So, we grabbed a map of New York and headed out like modern explorers to find Shea Stadium and experience the wild urban frontier.

Going with the Flow

As we approached Shea the traffic became heavy and led to a stop. A tremendous crowd was moving toward the stadium so we decided to find a parking spot along the road and walk to the stadium, even though our mission was to deliver my sisters and kill some time exploring the area – later to pick them up somehow. My sisters found the gates where ticket holders entered moving rapidly. Mike and I realized at this point that the action was inside the stadium and our best move would be to try and get in.

A $5.65 Box Seat Ticket to Ride

We studied the situation and realized that this was a sellout and there no tickets (Box seats cost $5.65 apiece!) to be bought and the security staff seemed only half-interested in checking tickets. So, we approached a guard to tell the story of our good deed of taking my sisters to the concert; only to be left outside waiting. Let’s just say on that day everyone was in a good mood. They turned away as we freely walked into the most important concert of our lives, without a ticket.

The Beatles had only broken into the U.S. market a couple years ago but by now they were known worldwide having created over a half-dozen albums and two films. This was the beginning of their North America tour having just released their album and film “Help!” less than two weeks ago and had appeared on the Ed Sullivan show the night before.

Experiencing Pandemonium

From dugout to stage

Pop concerts were not that common and were not believed to be big revenue generators. All that changed at Shea. The concert at Shea Stadium set a world record for attendance and gross revenue. The Beatles got $160,000 of the $304,000 box office sales and proved that there was money and other benefits in staging large concerts.

Lead off acts included Brenda Holloway, King Curtis, Sounds Incorporated, Killer Joe Piro and The Discothèque Dancers, The Young Rascals and Cannibal & the Headhunters. Hosts included Murray the K and Cousin Brucie Morrow. Television host Ed Sullivan introduced the band when they took the stage: “Now, ladies and gentlemen, honored by their country, decorated by their Queen, and loved here in America, here are The Beatles!”

The concert was ahead of the audio technology at the time and could not properly project the music in the massive stadium. Powerful stage amplifiers couldn’t play louder than the screaming crowd. Even the stadium’s P.A. system, normally used by baseball announcers, was also employed to help project the band’s sound. But, the roar of the crowd could be heard throughout their appearance.

Thousands of fans like these

Once the Beatles started playing, it didn’t matter where your tickets were or if you had one. Everyone spilled into the lower levels and stood for the entire concert in awe of the band and the crowd of frenzied fans. They continued to play 12 songs lasting about an hour. We had traveled two hours, witnessed the largest crowd we had ever seen, managed to crash the gate and listen to some great music. But, nothing compared to the electric reaction of this huge crowd. Girls were out of control and screaming everywhere. I remember getting goosebumps by just witnessing the joy and excitement that was beyond our imagination. It was obvious that Beatles were having as great a time as their audience.

Playing to the ecstatic noisy crowd

After the concert fans stormed the field and we made our way out. I’m still not sure how we found my sisters in that crowd of over 55,000. I don’t remember a thing about the ride home but I’m sure we basked in the good vibes of the event knowing that we were there for a very special event with memories that will last a lifetime.

The Concert at Shea in the Beatles’ Words…

“I think we just went a bit hysterical that night; we couldn’t believe where we were and what was going on, we couldn’t hear a bloody thing and we thought ‘This isn’t very good, but it’s going down great.’ The hysteria started to kick in. That was a great one.”

Paul McCartney, Back To The World tour book

“Once you know you’ve filled a place that size, it’s magic; just walls of people. Half the fun was being involved in this gigantic event ourselves.”

Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible

“What I remember most about the concert was that we were so far away from the audience. . . And screaming had become the thing to do. . . Everybody screamed. If you look at the footage, you can see how we reacted to the place. It was very big and very strange.”

Ringo Starr, The Beatles Anthology

“At Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain.”

John Lennon, recalling the show in 1970 in a TV interview

Epilogue

It’s interesting to note that at the time of the concert the Watts Los Angeles riots were taking place with the black community angry about the police brutality and civil rights. Meanwhile, President Johnson signed the Voting Act of 1965 that very afternoon establishing new laws that were meant to provide free and fair elections forever.

The mighty Shea was demolished forty seven years later replaced by Citi Field, but the same roads and bridges remain. The Beatles were only in their 20s and at the height of their careers in 1965 but played their last concert together in 1970, just five years later. That last concert and the Beatles legend is still being explored with the release of the new Peter Jackson/Disney+ retrospective on the Beatles last project together, the making of “Let It Be.”

History, it seems, is never written in stone and just takes time to understand and appreciate.

The Beatles at Shea Stadium Video

The following video was purchased years ago online and represents a rough cut of the original special recording which appeared on British and American TV as a special. It is approximately 52 minutes long.

Video of the August 15,1965 Concert at Shea

Discovering Alice in Wonderland

How I fell into a rabbit hole and ended up in the mid-1960’s

On the 10th day of my New England Reunion Bike Tour, I was waiting out the rain in Lee, Massachusetts. I set out for my last meal in town before I was to leave the next morning. This area is known for its history and its embrace of mystery and new-age trends. Here’s what happens when my course collides with local forces.

The Salmon Run Fish House. It sounded out of place here in Western Massachusetts. Sometimes all you want, and really need, is something good to eat and the Yelp reviews were good. But, there was more than food to be found here. It was a rabbit hole of sorts taking me on a journey back to a different time.

Being a Bar Fly

I was kind of stuck in Lee, MA on that rainy evening so I did not mind settling into a comfortable place for a couple hours. The Salmon Run Fish House restaurant was an old, narrow, dated place with paneled walls, maybe a dozen booths and a small bar. The waitress strongly suggested I might want to take a seat at the bar since booths were reserved and they would be occupied soon (Got it! I’m sure they did not want one person in a booth). Or, maybe it was just fate to sit at the bar that night.

A couple sat at the bar near me and we began a conversation about local craft beers. I recommended the beer I was drinking called Two Roads: Road 2 Ruin. It’s a mighty good double IPA brewed in Stratford CT. Their marketing tag “The Road Less Traveled” seemed like the perfect motto for my adventure.

My new bar new friend, Bill Russell, was a pleasant, seasoned guy, 73 years old with an attractive wife. Although they now live in Lenox, he likes to come to this place for the food and atmosphere. He’s retired now but has a couple of unique interests and a memorable past.

My new found legendary friend, Bill Russell was part of the mid-1960’s scene in Stockbridge.

Where it All Began

Bill used to live in nearby Stockbridge, a fairly famous artsy destination in the Berkshires. At least one reason for its recognition is that it was the scene for Arlo Guthrie‘s famous song and story telling adventure called Alice’s Restaurant (actually titled Alice’s Restaurant Massacree).

It turns out there once was a restaurant called The Back Room owned by Alice Brock and her husband Ray Brock in Stockbridge. The 18-minute song and 111-minute movie made from it are largely based on actual events outside of the restaurant and Bill Russell was part of that whole scene.

Bill grew up in Delaware but was sent by his parents as a teenager to the Stockbridge School in 1964 because of behavioral issues. It was a coincidence of time and place that Alice and Ray re-located to the the area from New York City. She became the school librarian and Ray taught shop at the school. Ray was an eclectic charismatic character who was an architect and talented woodworker. He quickly became an outspoken leader of an anti-establishment community which drew students from the school, including Bill and Arlo Guthrie. This was a turbulent time of radical social change, drugs and the Vietnam War.

Cooking Up Alice’s Restaurant

The story of “Alice’s Restaurant” is about a memorable Thanksgiving dinner in 1965 when Alice and Ray invited everyone they knew to a big feast in their newly bought deconsecrated church in Great Barrington which they converted to a commune-like place for young students and bohemian friends to meet, to discuss ideas and to party.

Arlo and friend Richard Robbins decided to help clean up after the Thanksgiving meal and headed to the town dump after dinner to cart off garbage. But the dump was closed. They unloaded the garbage where they should not have and are eventually caught and fined in an overly dramatic police arrest. Later the next year, Arlo was called up for his Vietnam-era draft physical in New York City. Much to his surprise he was re-classified. He had dodged the draft – not because of behavioral or physical issues – but because he had been arrested for littering!

Ironically, Arlo’s dad, famed folksinger Woody Guthrie, was on his deathbed at the time suffering from Huntington’s Disease, a rare genetic disease that Arlo inherited but was fortunate not to suffer from.

A Legend is Born

Bill was one among the dozens that attended that fateful 1965 Thanksgiving Dinner. Alice opened a real restaurant in Stockbridge afterwards which was a brief success before she became fed up with the business and with Ray. They split up a couple years later. Arlo Guthrie wrote Alice’s Restaurant as more a storytelling than a song. But it was to become a perfect humorous symbol of the times.

Album cover of 1969 recording of Alice’s Restaurant.

A movie deal followed the song’s success. It was not one of famed director Arthur Penn‘s greatest films. The movie was shot in the Stockbridge area and expanded the story with added fiction but it could not save it from a poor script and mediocre acting. Many of the original friends of Alice and Ray got walk-on parts, including Bill Russell.

Bill Russell ended up living in a room near the restaurant in Stockbridge and got to know Alice well. He learned the craft of woodworking and ended up moving to New York City where he bought a shop at a time and place when it was affordable. He lived there for 25 years but eventually came back to Stockbridge. He continues to live off the income from properties including his NYC building which once was his workshop.

When Bill and I parted company that night he told me he would be heading to Provincetown on Thanksgiving Day, as he has for many years. Alice Brock is still carrying on their tradition by hosting a dinner for her close friends, including Bill.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Bill was like the Mad Hatter in Alice In Wonderland. He showed me the rabbit hole and I could not help but go in.

I learned Alice opened and closed several restaurants, wrote a few cookbooks and a biography called “My Life As a Restaurant“. Still, she’s always had a love/hate relationship with running a restaurant. She preferred a creative free-form style of cooking. Here’s an audio recipe for Salt and Pepper Soup recorded at NPR.

NPR This I Believe – Alice Brock on her philosophy of life and cooking.

Today, Alice Brock (alicebrock.com) lives in Provincetown, MA and sells beach stones (painted stones meant to be hidden in strategic places) and other personal artwork through her website. Her former husband, Ray Brock, passed away in 1979. The deconsecrated church in Great Barrington was bought by Arlo Guthrie and is now the Guthrie Center at Old Trinity Church. where people people of all religions are welcome, musical events still occur and a large, open Thanksgiving dinner is served each year.

After googling the incident, characters and times, I viewed the movie Alice’s Restaurant on a library DVD. It brought back old memories including the strange times we lived through in the 60’s, including my own draft physical in Newark, New Jersey about that same year.

Arlo Guthrie has continued his tradition of touring and singing Alice’s Restaurant for 52 years (see current schedule). This year 2019 is said to be his last year culminating with his last show at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, November 30th.

Its fair to say that listening to this song has become an American tradition for many of us – linked with Thanksgiving, story-telling humor, questioning authority and an ability to laugh at the absurdities of life. To me it’s become as timeless and strange as Alice in Wonderland.

Original recording of Alice’s Restaurant

Heart of Gold Revisited

A great concert for the ages. Neil Young at the Ryman Auditorium.

We’re taking a slight “detour” here from my Reunion Tour bike trip blogging to comment on and recommend a movie that brought home some of my personal feelings as of late. It’s one of the best concert movies I have ever seen.

Striking Gold

undefinedOccasionally, out of the blue, something appears as a selection on one of my 60+ streaming TV channels that really, really is worth watching. That happened last night when I selected from Kanopy the 2006 Neil Young: Heart of Gold documentary directed by Jonathan Demme. Its themes, music and point in Neil’s life tie right into my 13-day, 500+mile bike tour I completed last week. The message sent to me was clear – others pass this way too.

This is the thoughtful and everyman Neil Young performing songs for the first time from his Prairie Wind album which was critically acclaimed and nominated for 2 Grammys. It was a different turn toward an Americana sound somewhat like country, bluegrass and folk ballads. It reminded me of the music I heard in Vermont that just tell simple stories well. I loved the album at the time but had totally forgotten about it. This is the same Neil Young who once sang, “It’s better to burn out than fade away.”

You’re Never too Young

Young wrote most of the songs after his father’s death a few months before. At the time, he was diagnosed with a treatable brain aneurysm. Yet, he opened a tour of the album at the famed 2,600-seat Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the shrine and home of the original Grand Ole Opry. At the time he was all too aware of the fragility of life.

The songs are about growing up in Alberta, his father, his daughter, his god, and even his guitar. It’s a beautiful positive ode to the basic important things in life. While I’m not a country music fan, the emotional connection that a good country song brings is in this music, in spades.

Young is reverent to all the places, old times and everyone he has known. The heartfelt lyrics and sound are true and played to perfection with great musicians, including Emmy Lou Harris and with artistic and minimalist filming. Neil never looked more like the musical genius he is than in this work.

If you’ve read other posts on my blog myplanc.blog, you know its about getting older and in appreciating and discovering joy in everyday things. This documentary did just that for me and helped me bask a bit longer in the good vibes I got from visiting some old friends – and having the unforgettable opportunity to reminisce about good old times.

One of These Days – one of my favorite songs on Prairie Wind in harmony with my Reunion Tour.

Memory Motel

Some memories of people are etched in our minds. Some of places. And, some memories have both.

It was a rainy day, exactly as forecast. I enjoyed sleeping late that morning at my airbnb in Lee, Massachusetts. I had decided that after 10 days on the road and only 3 more to go to complete my Reunion Tour, it would be wise to avoid riding my bike through the light, steady rain.

25 Housatonic Street is conveniently located near the town center and is large enough for to host at least a few guests in some old period rooms as well as accommodate the owner’s family and grandkids on an occasional visit. Definitely not a motel. It was, as they claimed in the airbnb listing, “Comfortable Living in 1870’s House”.

Trivets from the three states that meant the most to me appeared on the table. A good sign, indeed.

I was sitting alone in a shared guest area that offered coffee, food, and information. There were obviously lots of memories made and shared in this home. The creaky floors and the numerous tsotchkes here seemed to prove that beyond a doubt. But people make memories and I was fortunate to meet a few.

This house keeps lots of memories frozen in time.

New-Age Kathy

I had met Kathy yesterday when I arrived. She was also a guest for the upcoming week, here for the Women’s Week program at Kripalu in nearby Stockbridge. It is the largest yoga retreat in North America. Her upbeat conversation reflected my understanding that this area of the Berkshires is known for its new-age thinking. She had come to gain a new enlightenment, become an instructor and to meet up with other yoga friends. Later, she said the program was everything she expected and more.

Biker Debbie

Later that day I met Dave and Debbie, who were my thoughtful and friendly hosts. Debbie was probably near my age and had been a competitive cyclist who also organized mountain biking races in the Kingdom Trails Burke Mountain area for several years – where I had visited a few days ago. It was obvious she had lots of old memories of those past glory days. Now, she and her husband still ride on tamer local trails and enjoyed walking. Funny, how easily it can be to relate to memories from people we might not have otherwise met.

Nurse Elizabeth

Sharing coffee and stories with Elizabeth, an inspiration of hard work and persistence.

But, that rainy morning I also met Elizabeth who was a regular boarder here and not your usual airbnb guest. After a friendly greeting I noticed she had a slight European accent. She began to explain she actually lived here 3 days a week to accommodate her job as an emergency room registered nurse in a Pittsfield hospital. Obviously, being an EMT nurse requires a certain type of individual.

You probably know that nurses are in high demand these days but their salaries do not necessarily reflect that. Apparently, Massachusetts hospitals pay much better than upstate New York. Elizabeth’s home is about 25 miles west of Albany so rather than travel 80 miles each way for 3 days, she stays here. This way she can have 4 days off to take care of her home and farm animals.

It turns out Elizabeth was born in Poland in an area known as Galacia that is the same area where my ancestors are from. Yet, her family began their American odyssey first in Bayonne, New Jersey, as many Poles did over the last century. Her family was able to begin immigration in the 1940’s after the war when sympathetic Polish troops allowed Poles to cross the border into Austria despite a Russian blockade. Later, the border closed and the family was denied entry until Glasnost occurred in Russia.

As was the custom of the time and place in Poland, Elizabeth married a neighbor in what might be called a pre-arranged marriage which she fought. Eventually, Elizabeth immigrated and worked through marital difficulties, earned here RN degree and raised three daughters (all now in their 20’s) that are doing very well, including one who is a pre-med student. Her’s is a story of a successful persistent immigrant and of one woman’s strength. I could not help but feel her story is not over yet and wondered what memories were ahead for her.

Lasting Memories

Nearly a week after my stay in Lee, I found myself on a weekend away in the Hamptons with my wife, kids, their spouses and the grandkids. It was to celebrate my wife Mary Ann’s 70th birthday. Yes, we were making our own memories too. Accidentally, a moment came a few days ago that brought a flood of memories back from that day in Lee, MA.

The Memory Motel still creates memories-Montauk Bar/Motel made famous by the Rolling Stones

In 1975 Mick Jagger was escaping a busy schedule of North American shows and a productive period of new music. Mick and Kieth Richards escaped to Andy Warhol‘s Montauk vacation home for a break. During that stay, Mick had a fling with a strong-willed woman. They would later name her as Hannah in a song he and Kieth wrote called the Memory Motel. (lyrics here) Some consider it one of their longest anb best ballads.

It’s speculation that the basis of the song then was Carly Simon, who Mick had a relationship with (Of course, it’s no secret that Carly got back at Mick with her hit single “You’re So Vane“). But the famous photographer Annie Leibovitz was also know as Hannah. So, let’s just say Memory Motel it was about remarkable women.

As we traveled through Montauk, we passed the actual Memory Motel. I did a double-take remembering the name but not realizing its history at the time. Apparently, there’s still a dive bar and beat up motel that lives on as a monument to memories past and those that can still be created.

Just like my stay at 25 Housatonic, some memories are just burned-in and will never leave. Rightly so. Chief among them are hard-headed women that make a difference and special places that we never forget.

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