Their Liverpudlian accent was excessive, but their sixties attire was perfect, from the pointed toes of their zip-up boots up to their signature lapel-less jackets. These were the four lads we’d all been waiting to see, twisting and shouting, cracking wry jokes, and shaking their moptop heads.
Paul was noticeably chubby, though, his jacket straining at the buttons. George was short. John’s wig was a tad loose, and Ringo’s nose was too small. But they sounded good, and it was a big surprise to hear Beatles music played live in 2003.
My daughter’s high school business club flew the band in for a single fund-raising performance, and for a rural county with more cows than people (true!) there was a healthy turnout to hear four Beatles impersonators (euphemistically, a “tribute band”) from the Midwest.
The lighting was bad and their stage was just a corner of our high school gym. The seating was what you’d expect for a school band recital – straight rows of wobbly metal foldouts with an aisle down the middle.
The near-packed crowd sat polite and motionless with a kind of curiosity normally reserved for zoo animals. The experience was not their normal cup of tea, but the tiny community of farmers and ranchers prided themselves on supporting their children and schools, so there they were in clean cowboy boots and Wrangler jeans listening to (according to the promo flyers) one of the “top-rated Beatles tribute bands” of the Chicago area.
Having daughters who helped organize the event, My friend Lance and I sat in the front row, comfortably assuming the role of local authorities on Beatles literacy, the de facto judges of Liverpudlian orthodoxy, scrutinizing these presumptuous thirtysomething Midwest Americans as they dared portray the legendary lads of Liverpool.
John had his characteristic nasally voice. George took his traditional position a couple steps behind Paul, his face as stoic as we remembered. The drummer looked nothing like Ringo, but he mimicked Ringo’s unique style and perfected that distinctive head-waggle. “True” Beatles fans know that, unlike typical drummers who nodded their heads up and down, Ringo kept time by jerking his head to the side as if shaking water out of his left ear.
The pudgy version of Paul played an authentic Höfner violin bass, left-handed no less, but that is a minimal requirement for anyone feigning to be Paul. Genetics did favor the bass player, however, giving him Paul’s trademark puppy dog eyes that made girls swoon.
Nevertheless, despite the band’s able musicianship, and all their attention to detail, the fire just wasn’t there. They dutifully performed their music sets, inserting well-rehearsed witticisms between songs, but the rawness, that edginess, that British version of Elvis’ early swagger which tapped into American teen angst – it was all conspicuously absent. Their performance, though professional, was in fact sedate, a description which is the ultimate insult for any rock band.
But who could blame them? For a band accustomed to the rowdy clubs and glitzy music halls of Chicago, our rural Oregon gym, packed with polite country music fans, was far from their normal gig.
Then something happened.
There was a rustle of activity in the back. One fortysomething teacher grabbed a few other young(ish) women, whispered in the ears of several teen girls, and pulled them out of their seats to the back of the gym. At a given signal they rushed to the front, surrounding the band, jumping, screaming, dancing, their arms in the air, hair wildly whipping about.
The faux Fab Four then kicked into high gear. Their singing got louder, their shouts more authentic, their music more dynamic, and their wigs shook with zeal. There was a magic in the room – a marvelously familiar frenzy.
This was it – the taste of Beatlemania that Lance and I had longed to see, but thought unimaginable in Oregon’s high desert.
That electric experience lasted for just one song, however, then the girls and their teachers went back to their seats, smiling at the experience, and the imitation Beatles fell back into their practiced professional routine.
For a few glorious moments, though, I was once again sprawled out before our black and white Zenith on a dark Sunday night, the dial set to channel six, as four mopheaded lads played to a screaming TV studio audience, and to millions of grateful teenagers, and to a nation of confused adults.
For just three marvelous minutes it was 1964 all over again.