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

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.

A Day in the Magical Kingdom

Experiencing life in the Northeast Kingdom .

I spent two totally enjoyable days with my friend Mike Kennedy and his wife Kristen in Barnet VT, which is in the Harvey Lake area – in the northeast section of Vermont also known as The Northeast Kingdom. Here’s some of the highlights of my first day visiting this special place.

The beauty of having a friend in a far-away place is that you have a built-in desire (maybe a need) to get there someday. I often thought that a visit to see my old high school friend Mike Kennedy might not happen. Afterall, Vermont is an out-of-the-way place. Its on the way to nowhere. Whereas New Jersey always seems to be in the middle of everywhere. Mike had visited my area several times in the past few years.

With the dual personal opportunities of retirement and long distance bike riding, the idea of me visiting Mike seemed to make a lot of sense. And, if not now while I still am healthy and have the time, then when?

Welcome to Vermont

Mike and Kristen are very kind and open people who easily welcomed me to their home. It was an open-ended plan to just crash there for two days. I arrived the evening of October 1 in pretty bad shape from my long 96-mile ride from Burlington across the state and was looking forward to some recovery and company. My objective was to get to know the area and how life was in the part of the country.

Me with Kristen, MIke and Quokka (aka beloved dog)

Building Takes Craft and Sweat

First, a little background on his place. I believe it was about 15 years ago while living in the area, they bought the property with the idea of building a house. To most people, that would mean getting contractors to do the whole thing. But up here it’s often considering first what can be done on your own.

They decided to clear the land, set up temporary shelter and built a house that would surpass most contractors. This house is tightly insulated, has double-thick walls and has a floor heating system, all of which Mike either designed, contracted or installed himself. More work, pain and inconvenience than anyone could imagine. But it’s their effort and sacrifice that made it happen.

Off to the Lake

Mike amd I started my first day there kayaking on Harvey Lake, which is only a few hundred feet from his house. It’s a beautiful vacation area for many who have large lakefront homes. But the area is remote enough that you still cannot get a cell signal.

Today it seemed nearly deserted. We rowed around the lake and looked for loons who spend a great deal of their time under water catching fish and occasionally popping up, honking or flying away. One of Harvey Lake’s claim to fame is it is where Jaques Cousteau made his first dive in deep water that inspired his career.

Harvey Lake – deep and almost famous

Land of The Rich & Famous

After lunch, Mike and I took a ride to the Mount Washington Hotel in nearby New Hampshire to visit this grand hotel and admire the views.

The Mt. Washington Hotel is consider one of “grand hotels” of the area harkening back to the guilded age where the monied class would spend summers with nature and the priveledged. It is also famed for the Bretton Woods meeting that started the InternationaI Monetary Fund (IMF). It is a unique historical site that seems beautiful but out of place in such a raw environent.

Mike has had a fairly regular gig a few times a year playing his Americana music and storytelling there. It would seem a bit offbeat for this kind of place, but this too is a strange blend of basic Vermont living combined with an upper class lifestyle. This day the top of Mt. Washington (supposedly once marked as having the highest speed wind on the planet) was covered with clouds. Still the White Mountains were beyond impressive.

Tonight’s Show

Going back to Mike’s place in Barnet we bought some prepared food and planned to spend the night catching up and listening to music.

Mike is a born performer with a love of all sorts of music but particularly a folkish blend of old folk ballads, bluegrass, countryish songs with lyrics that tell a story. I’d say somewhere between Woodie Gutherie and Wilco.

Mike dubbed the music he favors as “Americana”. Sometimes it’s music with a message and sometimes music with strange old instruments. He talks of legendary local musicians, special venues and times of simply great music. And, I’ve found that same love and respect of music wherever I have gone in Vermont. Maybe its a holdover from those old hippie days that the rest of us have forgotten.

After a few outstanding local craft beers and a lot of singing we called it a night. Tomorrow was another day in the Kingdom.

For me, Vermont holds on to the past but cares about the future. My stay in Vermont reminded me of what’s important. There’s beauty in this struggle with nature.

Visiting Trane

A stay in North Philadelphia turns into a visit with John Coltrane.

It’s always a special treat when serendipity pays a visit. Even more so when there’s music involved.

Exploring North Philly Neighborhoods

I needed to drive to Philadelphia and get an overnight place to stay this past Friday night. Having had some interesting, and mostly rewarding, experiences using Airbnb.com, I searched for a place near Fairmount Park where most of our FreeWalkers’ Philadelphia Marathon Walk would be taking place early Saturday morning. Using Google Maps and Airbnb reviews, I found a place in Brewerytown, a section of North Philly I knew nothing about.

The Airbnb photos and reviews were good for a simple, private room on N 32nd St. and plenty of parking. Best of all the cost was only $50 for the night! But, reading into the listing and reviews there appeared to be two items to reconcile. What was this section of town like? And, what did the possibility of hearing CSX trains at night mean? No reviewer seemed particularly put out by either.

Coltrane2018 (3 of 5)
Overlooking power plant and tracks, Brewerytown is in the middle city skyline in the background.

Using Google Maps, locating the place was easy and close to the highway. You could see  signs that this was a distressed section of town, but also signs of new building among old industry. As you might have guessed, this section of town had been home to dozens of breweries in the past due to its proximity to the Schuylkill River and the German population. Today only one exists – Crime and Punishment Brewing which I unfortunately did not get a chance to visit.

The neighborhood seemed similar to the gentrification I saw recently in Brooklyn. My place was a small front room of a new townhouse close to the street, clean and sparse with all the amenities available. The owner, Tyler, was a young friendly guy and highly rated by Airbnb.

Part of my interest in any Airbnb stay is to explore the area once I get checked in. You could see that this might be a challenge because its a mixed use area with old and new residential as well as industry and converted loft space. Parts looked cool. Parts looked threatening. Using Google Maps again, I decided to take a walk. Fairmont Park was close by. And, then I saw a map bubble for The John Coltrane House. Whoa, I had no idea he was from Philadelphia but I needed to know more.

Finding John Coltrane’s House

That CSX train’s tracks literally separated Brewerytown from another part of North Philadelphia across Girard Avenue and just a few blocks away on 33rd St. Even though this was adjacent to the park, it was literally “on the other side of the tracks” and looked badly neglected. Still there were signs for and about John Coltrane there, beckoning me to find out more. I continued walking to see what tribute was there to honor the great jazz legend.

JohnColtranesignI walked about a mile to an old section of row houses needing repair and saw the home and a marker outside. It read “The John Coltrane House” which is designated as a national monument. This place was formidable for his career where he developed his unique style and worked for a time with Miles Davis. The monument on the street did not reflect the place and the place did not reflect the monument.

John Coltrane
John Coltrane

According to the website John Coltrane House…

During the years (1952-58) that Coltrane lived on N. 33 Street, the house was often referred to as Trane’s House by many Philadelphians who were part of the jazz scene and by local fans that frequented the live music bars and clubs… (stories that) Coltrane played his horn on the front porch and in the park across the street are still told by old timers in the neighborhood.

It would appear there was an effort to renew and revitalize the place in 2012. What happened afterwards? Was it a lack of money or organization?

Coltrane had his bout with drugs and alcohol and moved to New York for his final years. He had recovered from his addictions and produced some of his best works inspired by a spiritual recognition before he died at the age of 40 due to liver failure. Some speculate it was from Hepatitis due to his earlier addictions.

It’s All About the Music

You may not be a jazz enthusiast or musician but I challenge anyone who has ever heard a riff by Coltrane to ever forget it. There is something otherworldly about his tenor sax that experts agree was unique and even spiritual. Here’s a sample of “In a Sentimental Mood” with Duke Ellington.

Let me say that I’m not a jazz expert but more a casual fan. There is something that’s palpably different with a saxophone, especially one so sweet and longing as “Trane” played. Coltrane died much too young but the legend lives on. How lucky am I to just step into the legend? It even forced me to review and learn about his life and music for this piece. I began thinking the old building may not make it but at least his music will.

The Legacy: A Love Supreme

Picture of St John ColtraneOf course, there is one piece that even transcends all his other great work and that is “A Love Supreme“, considered to be among the best jazz music ever recorded. Coltrane’s music was so profound that a church was created as Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco that mixes African Orthodox liturgy with Coltrane’s quotes and a heavy dose of his music.

You can learn more about the making of a “A Love Supreme” and the special jazz talent he worked with at the time here with this NPR piece.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/148148986/147872677

When you begin to see the possibilities of music,
you desire to do something really good for people.” 
-John Coltrane

Bumping into legacy of Coltrane was pure luck…or maybe improvisation? Just as John Coltrane might have played it.

Coltrane2018 (5 of 5).jpg

 

 

 

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