Saturday, February 03, 2007

154. Just Play

I'll admit it: Film is not merely a gazing game. Sometimes I hear things, a tune I can't get out of my head--but in a good way, a beloved melody--OK, "unchained"; and any key I want it in, it sustains.

Better yet, listen to this:

I would sit, seven years old in 1964, in my rocking chair--that's right, Boomers, like JFK, just gone; and what's left? Meet the Beatles, spinning over and over, that perfect A side--"I Want To Hold Your Hand," "I Saw Her Standing There," "This Boy," "It Won't Be Long," "All I've Got to Do," "All My Loving"--then flipside--"Don't Bother Me," "Little Child," "Till There Was You," "Hold Me Tight," "I Wanna Be Your Man," "Not a Second Time"--and I'd deejay the album, talking fast between tracks--then be The Beatles themselves (Paul, mostly, obviously)--my hair pushed down on my forehead, almost mop-topped, my eyes straining up to catch a glimpse of it--singing every song, alone in the corner of the living room with the record player, sotto voce joy deep in my heart.

How much fun was it to be a Beatle? We thought we knew, until they really showed us, almost right away, in A Hard Day's Night, released the same year as that first "official" Beatles album. I don't recall if I saw the movie in 1964, but of course have run into it a number of times over the years; and the older I get the more sentimental my smile at their beaming faces, flushed with being The Beatles, glad simply to be there. John winking at us like Bugs Bunny, whatever script and structure just something for him to fiddle with and happily confound, his nose stuck against the Coke bottle--get it!--and Ringo telling the reporter he's neither mod nor rocker but mocker--get it!--and George observing Ringo's pile of fan mail--"He's got a large family"--get it!--and Paul insisting that his grandfather is clean, and we get it--or we'd like to. It's The Beatles, though, who really do, all of it, and we're happy simply to watch them getting it. I saw it again a week or so ago, and sometimes had to look away, foolish and misty-eyed; getting soft. John and George gone, two of all things that must pass; but for a few minutes there Richard Lester followed them around as they sported in his movie, real mixers, in black and white, the way I picture Penny Lane and the last light slanting along Abbey Road.

And can I bear one of these days to watch Let It Be, filmed just six years after we'd met The Beatles and already down that long and winding road? Today, six years doesn't seem like much, but the Beatles came when I was seven and went was I was thirteen--and that is a long time, if I may indulge in gross understatement. From genuine little kid to the first year of high school--from toting around my Johnny Seven gun, posing with my cousin Ed in front of the flag in our front yard--and sent home early from school (like every other little kid in America) to find my mother crying in front of the TV over what happened in Dallas, November suddenly cold all over that day--to one last afternoon in eighth grade when I pulled out my toy soldiers to play Army and found myself suddenly bored, and knew there was no turning back; Gomer Pyle couldn't fool me anymore, just because he was the only jarhead in the whole damn country who never had to ship out. We were all tuned in by 1970, whether we knew it or not.

So I'll let myself strain a little under the weight of A Hard Day's Night's hand-held, long-gone spree. I sang those songs the whole time first go around, then started again--after having tossed them out for a few years, in college; and looking back, I wonder how desolate something must've been for me to have had enough of them. But they wouldn't go away; they were too surprised by joy--and maybe self-aware and even almost already jaded, but still ready to chuck it all for a giggle in a joint surging with girls--and John exults, "Please sir, sir, can I have one to surge me sir, please sir?" and he has only sixteen years left, so why not? Plenty of hard days to go around from 1964 to 1970 (and so on), and everyone deserves a dash and a romp before the house lights go up.

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