THEY'RE REAL. The Beatles, that is. I had never seen them in the flesh before, so I expected some kind of supermen to step out of the plane at Metropolitan Airport last Saturday morning.
After all, aren't they the group who changed the whole face of pop music over the past four years? They showed people that pop music can have meaning and its creators can be intelligent, talented artists.
Then there they were, coming down the plane's ramp, four smiling, slightly tired looking guys.
John topped his casual outfit with yellow steel-rimmed sunglasses. Paul wore black slacks and a wild strawberry colored jacket. George, all in black. And Ringo, in blue jeans and a yellow print shirt. (Paul later saw me write down paisley. "It's not paisley," he said. "What would you call it? Flowered? How about art nouveau?")
An hour later I saw them again at Olympia when their press secretary, Tony Barrow, gave the OK to only three reporters to come in for an interview. Paul McCartney, 23, George Harrison, 23, Ringo Starr, 25, and John Lennon, 25, were stashed away in a private office near the stage area at Olympia Stadium.
Right away they were friendly. I was introduced and shook hands with John, Paul and George – each one saying "Hello or Hi, Lorraine."
I didn't see Ringo leaning against a table in the corner until George said, "There's Ringo." Ringo jumped up on the table top so that the shortest Beatle was suddenly the tallest Beatle and we said hello.
Because time ran out, I didn't get a chance to talk to Ringo again, but I did talk to the other three individually for about 15 minutes each.
George, John, and Pawl completely charmed me with their intelligence. Though they've all been through hundreds of interviews by now, I didn't have the feeling that they were saying to themselves, "Oh well, here's another one. Let's get it over with fast."
George was first, with his black shirt and black pants reflecting the serious look on his face. But get George talking about Indian music as he's perched on a table top with his legs tucked in front of him, and his eyes light up. He looked straight into my eyes and he spoke with great intensity.
George is interested in the work of Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitar player. George used the sitar on cuts for the Beatles' Rubber Soul and new Revolver albums. How did an Englishman get so hung up an Indian music?
"A whole lot of things got me interested," he said. "The more I heard it, the more I liked it. It's very involved music. So involved. That's why the average listener doesn't understand. They listen to Western music all their lives. Eastern music is a different concept.
"The main hang-up for me is Indian classical music. Really groovy, to pardon the expression, as opposed to the hip things in Western music which are opposed to Western classical music... Indian music is hip, yet 8,000 years old.
"I find it hard to get much of a kick out of Western music. Even out of Western music I used to be interested in a year ago. Most music is still only surface, not very subtle compared to Indian music... Music in general, us included, is still on the surface."
That last remark is indicative of the Beatles attitude – they are not big-headed stars, they can tear themselves down on occasion. They really come on as artists aware of their talent, but not wrapped up in themselves.
"You might include this in your article," George went on. "For anyone who likes music a lot and has a good understanding of it, let me suggest they listen to Indian classical music... I'd like to see more people interested in it, honestly interested. Not just to cash in on the sitar boom.
"On 'Norwegian Wood' on the Rubber Soul album I used the sitar like a guitar. On the new album I developed it a little bit. But I'm far from the goal I want to achieve. It will take me 40 years to get there. I'd like to be able to play Indian music as Indian music instead of using Indian music in pop... It takes years of studying, but I'm willing to do that."
George's passion for Indian music is so catching he made me want to hear Shankar play right then and there.
George put his opinion of the Beatles' effect on pop music this way: "We were right for the time when we came out. The pop scene five years ago was definitely looked upon by 'musicians,' put that in brackets, as a dirty word. Pop was just something crumby. Now I think a lot of things in the pop field have more to them.
"We're very influenced by others in pop music and others are influenced by us... That's good. That's the way life is. You've got to be influenced and you try to be influenced by the best."
John Proves A Cool One
Tony Barrow interrupted and brought over John, and George moved away.
John peered through his yellow glasses and I was a little nervous because I had read that if he was bored by the questions, he would cut you down with his wit.
I shouldn't have worried. Not only did he listen to the questions, but he put thought into his answers. While he wasn't as intense as George, he was just as sincere.
He gives the appearance of being a perceptive, intelligent man. On stage he's cool, slightly rocking his head with the beat, concentrating on his guitar. He hardly seems the type girls scream for, but they do.
He's just as cool off stage.
Do the Beatles still thrill to the screams?
"It's just there," John answered. "If it's not there it's noticeable by its absence. You expect to hear it. You expect it to howl like your amps howl. It would be unnerving without it."
John talked about his song writing.
"l usually just make something up," he said. "When you get down to it, it's all based on actual experiences but I never consciously think of any. It varies immensely. Some of it is just whatever comes into my head."
Like George, John is open to influence in music. "Every-thing I hear influences me if I like it – any music, pop, or classical, or anything else." Beatle music itself, according to John, "has progressed and gotten more like Beatle music. Before it was more of anyone else's music."
I wondered why the Beatles reversed the tape on the last part of their single record 'Rain' so that it came out backwards at the end. "After we recorded it, it wasn't long enough," John explained. "I took it home. It was 4 in the morning – and I played it backwards. I was knocked out."
As you may have read, the recording session for Revolver took a good two weeks of hard work, day and night. John said that it took him and Paul longer to get started once the recording date was set. "Paul and I didn't snap to it like normally... We worked hard because we wanted everything so perfect. On the Rubber Soul album we found out a lot technically. Things have come into focus. From there we could evolve into Revolver."
I asked John if he had been surprised by the adverse reaction to his now famous statement about Christianity. "I was shocked out of me mind. I couldn't believe it," he said. "I'm more religious and more interested in religion now than I ever was."
Paul Has Devilish Grin
It was time to move on to the handsomest Beatle of all, Paul. With a devilish grin he asked me to sit beside him on the table and rub knees. I told him that I could make some extra money by selling my knees to hundreds of girls clustered around Olympia's entrances. He laughed and swore he could sell his for more money than I could get.
Turning to a more serious side, Paul said that his inspiration for songs comes "mainly from imagination." Take 'Eleanor Rigby'. "It just came. When I started doing the melody I developed the lyric. It all came from the first line. I wonder if there are girls called Eleanor Rigby? Originally I called her Miss Daisy Hawkins. Father MacKenzie was Father McCartney originally. But people would have thought it was my father...
"'Yellow Submarine' is very simple but very different. It's a fun song, a children's song. Originally we intended it to be 'Sparky' a children's record. But now it's the idea of a yellow submarine where all the kids went to have fun. I was just going to sleep one night and thinking if we had a children's song, it would be nice to be on a yellow submarine where all your friends are with a band."
In writing a song Paul and John usually work it out on the guitar. "We use a tape recorder if the song is difficult," said Paul, "but normally we can remember them."
Paul can't read or write music although he is taking lessons. "I may learn eventually, but I'm lazy. The only thing that makes me learn is that it's silly I can't read music Its not that difficult. But it's easy to compose without being able to write it down."
What does Paul think the Beatles have done to pop Music?" "Given it a bit of common sense... A lot of it was just a bit insincere I think. Five years ago you'd find men of 40 recording things without meaning it just to make a hit. Most recording artists today really like what they're doing and I think you can feel it on the records."
It is evident that John, Paul, George and Ringo are too bright not to know that you can't stay on top forever as teenage idols. With their talent and their intelligence they'll be around making records, writing songs and books and acting in movies long after the screams have faded away.
© Loraine Alterman, 1966
Beatles' first visit to America, 1964 | Credit: United Press International