It was the 1963-64 school year and the fifth grade talent show was fast approaching. Being only a spectator was not an option. Everyone had to have an act, a talent to display.

My friend Max at Powerpop has declared “Beatles Week” and invited others to write about “a favorite Beatle song”. (In another part of the same post he invites folks to write about “their favorite Beatles song”, an important distinction in my eyes. Who can have a single favorite from their catalog? I’ve written about the my problem of declaring favorites before.) This post will appear over there sometime, but I’m guessing there is not a lot of overlap between us, so you see it here first. Maybe you’ll want to stroll over there and see what others have to say about The Beatles this week. It should last at least 8 days.

okay, I couldn’t resist that one

A classmate approached me about joining an act with a couple of friends. When I asked about the act he was very secretive. He couldn’t tell me what the act was until I agreed to be in it. Once he told me, I couldn’t back out. Note I called him a “classmate”, not a “friend”. I didn’t trust him enough to go along blindly with this. Besides, I already had my act together. What was my act? I have no idea. What was their act? That still sticks in my mind 60 years later.

Four guys took the stage. Each had a rag mop on his head, dyed black and trimmed just so. Three of them held brooms – no mere air guitar for them. The fourth was, of course, Ringo. They lip-synched to “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. It wasn’t my favorite Beatles song even then. I bought the single of “She Loves You” but I didn’t buy “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. It seemed like the sort of song that reinforced parental stereotypes about pop music (and “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” didn’t?) with its simplistic lyrics about holding hands. (Image from WebRestaurantStore)

On February 9, 1964, the US saw The Beatles in person for the first time, on The Ed Sullivan Show. Those of us in the know had seen them a month before on grainy, low fidelity video on Jack Paar.

They had appeared in an NBC News story on November 18, 1963. The news was more about Beatlemania than about the music, though they did acknowledge that The Beatles wrote some of their own songs. Early coverage of the band was more from a sense of amusement at the phenomenon of those crazy teenagers than it was about the music.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” was not received with universal acclaim in the US. Esquire music critic David Newman wrote, ‘Terrible awful. …It’s the bunk. The Beatles are indistinguishable from a hundred other similar loud and twanging rock-and-roll groups. They aren’t talented singers (as Elvis was), they aren’t fun (as Elvis was), they aren’t anything.”

On the other hand, it did reach #1 in most western countries (stalling at #6 in Belgium and Finland). In the US it was replaced at #1 by “She Loves You”. In the UK, the order was reversed. It was subsequently released in German as “Komm, gib mir diene Hand” – that version also received US airplay. They recorded in German (just this and “She Loves You”) because the German division of their record company was convinced their records wouldn’t sell in English – despite the fact that they cut their teeth as musicians in Hamburg.

Contrast Newman with Rob Sheffield’s assessment in the Rolling Stone Album Guide (40 years later): “Just check out ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ which explodes out of the speakers with the most passionate singing, drumming, lyrics, guitars, and girl-crazy howls ever – it’s no insult to the Beatles to say they never topped this song because nobody else has either … It’s the most joyous three minutes in the history of human noise.”

So what made them such a big deal? We were used to “singing groups” lip-synching their latest single on American Bandstand, complete with orchestration and fadeout. These were actual musicians. They played and sang at the same time. Of course, they weren’t the first, but it was still somewhat unusual in the pop music world. And they wrote their own songs. Sure, they covered American R&B (“Twist and Shout”, “Roll Over Beethoven”) Girl Group hits (“Chains”, “Boys”), and even show tunes (“A Taste of Honey”, “Til There Was You”) but the list of hit songs (and great songs) they wrote is too long to recount here. Some singers can produce great harmonies in a studio with multiple takes and overdubs, but The Beatles sounded great live in an era without monitors (and with fans screaming loudly enough that they might not have heard themselves even with monitors).

I went to a summer camp that had a carnival with games. One game involved headphones through which a few notes of a Beatles tune were played. Your challenge was speed in identifying the song. How many notes did you need? How quickly could you answer? With what other band would you play that game? What other band went so far in the 7 years during which they released albums in the US?

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” is far from the best Beatles song, it’s not my favorite Beatles song, and it wasn’t even the first Beatles song. But it was the only one that dominated the fifth grade talent show at Winnequah School and made 4 boys instantly popular. I was not one of them.

You call that old?

I’ve been reading blogs about “classic rock” by writers talking about times they’ve read about, being too young to remember some of it. Sometimes they bring back memories and sometimes introduce me to things I hadn’t known.

My earliest musical memories are my brothers’ records. Both were teens in the 1950s. The first records were 78s. Three stick in my mind, one a big band record from the 40s, and here they are.

Pre-rock n roll with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra and “Opus No 1” by Cy Oliver
“Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard, who taught Paul McCartney to shout “woo” and shake his hair.
“Don’t Be Cruel”, the flip side of “Hound Dog”. Once I heard Big Mama Thornton’s original version of “Hound Dog”, Elvis’s paled in comparison; partly because it left out the primary concept of the song, comparing a lover to a hound dog “snoopin’ ’round my door”, and letting him know that sex was out of the question with “I won’t feed you no more”.

The first album I recall was Duane Eddy’s “especially for you” with “His ‘twangy’ guitar and The Rebels”. We played it on my brother’s portable stereo, which looked a lot like this:

Theme from Peter Gunn, an early TV detective show

When we moved to 45s, the record pile grew quickly. We played them on my sister’s record changer, which looked a lot like this.

My first single was a cover of The Beatles’ “She Loves You”, on Hit Records, a Nashville label that did note-for-note knock-offs of current hits and charged half as much as normal 45s. My own first album was the 1964 release “In Touch With Peter and Gordon”. This was the hit single:

Like most artists of the British Invasion, they listened to the blues and tried to cover blues songs. Here is their attempt at Willie Dixon’s “My Babe”, followed by Little Walter’s original recording.

After hearing the real thing, my musical tastes changed, aided by Big Bro, host of “Two for the Blues” on “Up Against the Wall” FM radio. I had to listen to it under the covers, down low, with the lights off, as broadcasts were 10:30 PM to 3 AM and I got up at 4:30 to work starting at age 12.

The hosts of “Up Against the Wall” up against the wall of Breese Stevens Field.

As a result, the first touring acts I saw live were BB King, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters.

[Breese Stevens Field is the home of the Flamingos of Forward Madison FC, whose official mascot is Lionel Bessi, a Holstein cow. The Flamingos are named after the city’s official bird, the plastic pink lawn flamingo, after a stunt in which 1008 plastic pink flamingos were placed on Bascom Hill in 1979. (See previous post re: Pail and Shovel Party and thousands of dollars in pennies.) It is also the place where I first promoted a concert and learned to do things myself instead of trusting others to keep their promises. I was urged to find an older and more experienced person to help me, as I was 16 or 17. It was his idea to save time by having each band bring part of the equipment and share it so we wouldn’t have to take so much time resetting the stage. Of course, the band he had arranged to bring some crucial stuff never showed up, so I (and another band that I had brought on-board) had to scramble to get equipment on site as the potential audience milling about outside started leaving when they heard no music. I, of course, am not bitter or anything;). This was to be a major fundraiser for Young World Development (see previous post). Fundraiser, yes. Major, no.]

Photo by Michael Kienitz

For those not familiar with Lionel Bessi’s namesake, here’s a look at his skills.

I also found video of an 8 year old Lionel already showing dribbling finesse, a powerful left foot, and the ability to be in the right place at the right time:

Maybe that lack of sleep in my formative years made me what I am today. That, coupled with being sick, means most of my exercise today is for my ears and fingers. (And too much for my eyes!) De-decorating the Christmas tree, hauling it out, cleaning up, and a couple of trips up and down the stairs was way more aerobic than it should be.

Soon I should be back on the bike and maybe writing about that again.

We’ll meet again

The ride is over. I get on a plane today to go home. My original flight was too early and Cycle America said they couldn’t get me to the airport that early. I switched to a later flight that turned out to be nonstop. I spent twice as much, but money seemed like a bigger deal before the trip than it does now, after seeing others drop hundreds (thousands?) on bike repairs during the journey.

Music defined today’s ride, so here we go:

It was a beautiful morning as we rolled through the New Hampshire countryside and I was singing this.
Since we’re in England, we’ll stay there for nostalgia for places he’s never been.
The quintessential road song – heading out, hardships, going home, thinking about heading out again.
Going home…featuring one of my favorite guitarists, Jesse Ed Davis.

We started through idyllic New Hampshire countryside…quiet country lanes. We were warned by our router that the roads would change when we crossed the border into Massachusetts and he was right. The road surface deteriorated immediately. These were the worst roads since Michigan and were probably worse. Speed limits are unnecessary because the roads are so bad. The scenery helped to redeem them until we reached more heavily populated areas, when nothing redeemed them. Most of the last 20 miles were just a case of “get ‘er done”.

First view of the Atlantic Ocean.

We rode into Gloucester High School to await the arrival of the last rider – the birthday boy, Tony. Once he arrived we proceeded to the beach with a police escort, complete with lights and siren. I was met by a former co-worker (and later boss). After a shower and change of clothes we were on our own until our harbor cruise and margarita party.

The birthday boy (Tony from the Netherlands, age 79) arrives, shooting video as he rides in.
The ceremonial dipping of the front tire in the Atlantic Ocean. The melding of the Pacific and Atlantic was cancelled, as the wax seal failed and the water leaked out. I decided not to fake it.
Your blogger at the Atlantic Ocean, photo by Noreen Poirier. Another Madisonian (my neighbor, unbeknownst to me before this trip) in sleeveless jersey at left, mechanic in red shirt at right.
Bosnia, UK, South Africa

My water bottle cages bit the dust today. Casualties include: two water bottle cages, two chains, two tires, six (?) inner tubes, one front derailleur. I noticed today that my rear shift lever has delaminated. Not to mention me. Despite a bout of COVID-19 keeping me off the bike for a few days, I rode more than 4000 miles. That illness and recovery made this special in a different way. I had a flight home booked from Jackson, WY. I canceled that after crossing Teton Pass, probably the toughest climb of this trip.

When I get home, I have a routine physical scheduled as well as an appointment with a massage therapist. I will ride a century in a month (with a couple of nights of camping) and have a fall colors tour with the half-fast cycling club planned for October.

Feats don’t fail me now

And by feats I mean tires and tubes in this case. The last rainy day we had a good dozen flat tires including two of my own. Today that was not my plan.

Rain started during our meeting Wednesday night. We could hear it pounding on the school roof. This was the setting in which I wrote a review of my tent for REI four years ago today. It was raining inside the tent as I typed; seemed like as good a time as any to discuss its shortcomings.

With that memory and the forecast for a 100% chance of rain at packing up time in the morning, I decided to sleep in the gym. Why people need to set an alarm for 5 AM when sleeping in the gym, with gear loading time at 6:15, I don’t understand. Packing up a wet tent and campsite is easy in that time. With nothing but a bedroll, it seems pretty weird.

There must have been a downspout right outside the gym, as it sounded like I was camped by a stream. It was raining lightly when we broke camp and headed out to breakfast. It was still raining lightly when we left breakfast, with a temperature in the mid-50s (about 13º C).

The rain continued without letup. At 20 mph it felt a lot harder than at 10 mph. We climbed through Crawford Notch (“notch” is the New England word for “pass”). Coming down the other side it got worse. A strong crosswind kicked up and coming down a 13% grade in strong wind and hard, cold rain was not my idea of fun. Climbing I burned calories to stay warm. Descending led to stiff fingers.

At mile 33 the sun came out and the rain stopped…for 30 seconds. The rain continued and at mile 45 I saw my shadow despite the continuing rain. I passed through Conway, NH at around 11 – way too early to visit the recommended Tuckerman Brewery, which opens at 2. This was coffee weather, not beer weather. My hands and feet were too wet to be interested in stopping anyway. The new rain jacket kept me dry again. Other folks said they were soaked through.

The rain stopped for the last ten miles and, as we entered Fryeburg, ME, I decided to turn right, which appeared to be toward town, to find a coffee shop. The route went straight. Lo and behold, a coffee shop appeared at that intersection. A cortado and a donut hit the spot.

I continued to the fairgrounds and cleaned bike first, me second. Bike clothes won’t get washed today. A threatening sky makes it look unlikely that they’ll dry. They will get washed at home in a few days. With the choice of packing them dirty or packing them wet, dirty won. With a threatening sky, I will sleep indoors for the second night in a row. I guess I’m getting soft after 62 days. No photos today due to the rain. See the post from four years ago for pictures. Also no flat tires, for me anyway. I saw one person flatted at the roadside a mile before picnic.

We lost one rider today. He went home with pneumonia, two days short of the end. Our oldest rider turns 79 today (Friday). Since it’s already Friday in the Netherlands, we celebrated at dinner and toasted him after dinner, along with the Trail Boss, who is hanging up his spurs after 25 years at the helm of Cycle America (how’s that for a mixed metaphor), and Dan Brown, a long time router whose ashes have been scattered all along the route. The last bit will go in the Atlantic Ocean on our final cruise. A relative will bring the front wheel of his bike to dip in the ocean. The rear was dipped in the Pacific at the onset.

Friday we ride 90 tough miles to end at a primitive campground. Then one more day.