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The Beatles in America

Saturday, Feb. 7 marks the 40th anniversary of the Beatles arrival in the United States. We celebrate on the show: TV critic David Bianculli remembers their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, 40 years ago.

06:22

Other segments from the episode on February 6, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 6, 2004: Commentary on Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show; Interview with Ringo Starr; Interview with Pete Best; Interview with Paul McCartney;…

Transcript

DATE February 6, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Profile: Music of The Beatles and their 40th anniversary of
appearing on "The Ed Sullivan Show"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "The Ed Sullivan Show")

Mr. ED SULLIVAN: Now yesterday and today our theater has been jammed with
newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these
veterans agreed with me that the city never has witnessed the excitement
stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles.
Now tonight, you're going to twice be entertained by them, right now and again
in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles. Let's...

(Soundbite of fans screaming)

(Soundbite of "All My Loving")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Hey, one, two, three, four. Close your eyes and I'll
kiss you, tomorrow I'll miss you. Remember I'll always be true. And then
while I'm away I'll write home every day, and I'll send all my loving to you.
I'll pretend that I'm...

BIANCULLI: It was 40 years ago on Monday that the Fab Four, John, Paul,
George and Ringo, performed live on American TV for the first time. That
episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show" launched a musical revolution, and we're
devoting today's FRESH AIR to The Beatles. We'll hear from Paul McCartney and
Ringo Starr and The Beatles' first drummer, Pete Best.

But first, I wanted to talk about just how amazing this Ed Sullivan appearance
was. You have to remember or imagine what TV was like then. There were three
networks, no cable; and because this may not be obvious to today's teen-agers,
no MTV. Rock 'n' roll rarely, if ever, showed up on TV then. When it did, it
was on talk or variety shows. Yet, word got out fast that The Beatles were
going to be on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Their first single had just topped the charts in America, and young people
were dying to see them perform live. Film of The Beatles had shown up on Jack
Paar's "Tonight Show" and even on the "CBS Evening News" with Walter Cronkite.
But what was shown there was a lot of girls screaming insanely and The Beatles
themselves sporting what, at the time, seemed like insanely long haircuts.

Virtually everyone I know who's about my age claims to have seen The Beatles
on "The Ed Sullivan Show" that night, and I believe them all. That variety
hour was seen by an estimated 71 million viewers which, at the time, accounted
for more than 40 percent of the nation. That's 142 times as many people who
were at Woodstock. It's also, to this day, among the most popular TV shows
ever broadcast. In terms of percentage of population, only one program, the
finale of "M*A*S*H," scores higher than The Beatles on "Ed Sullivan." Not
even any Super Bowl ranks that high.

Five songs were performed that night, three at the top of the show and two
more near the end. Pity the poor juggling act, Wells and the Four Kays(ph),
who had to follow the Fab Four and close the show. But variety was what
Sullivan's program was all about. Also on that same show, it's worth noting,
was Davy Jones, one of the young cast members of the musical, "Oliver!"

(Soundbite of music from "Oliver!")

Mr. DAVY JONES: (Singing) I'd do anything for you dear, anything, for you
mean everything to me. I know that I'd go anywhere...

BIANCULLI: After watching The Beatles from the wings, it was only two years
until Jones was starring as one of "The Monkees," American TV's answer to The
Beatles.

I also find it fascinating that in the same Sullivan show, impressionist Frank
Gorshin, who later played The Riddler on TV's "Batman," based his routine that
night on a premise that he and the audience found equally far-fetched and
amusing.

Mr. FRANK GORSHIN: (From vintage recording of "The Ed Sullivan Show") Well,
it's election year, and once again, a lot of Hollywood stars will be out
campaigning for the candidates of both parties because of their interest in
politics. Well, a funny thing occurred to me. What if these stars should
suddenly decide to run for these offices themselves? They'd have no trouble
getting votes because of their popularity, and in just a short time the stars
will be running the country.

BIANCULLI: That was before Ronald Reagan, much less Arnold Schwarzenegger,
ran for governor of California. How times have changed. Yet after all this
time, newly issued Beatles' CD collections continue to sell millions and top
the charts. Their impact was and is phenomenal, and we'll examine that
phenomenon in today's show.

The current occupant of the Ed Sullivan Theatre where The Beatles performed 40
years ago is David Letterman. Monday on his CBS "Late Show," Letterman will
note that occasion in a variety of ways. One of them will be to replay, in
full, one of the songs The Beatles performed that night, "I Want to Hold Your
Hand." Before we welcome Ringo Starr, we'll play another song from that
historic "Ed Sullivan" show, "I Saw Her Standing There."

(Soundbite of "I Saw Her Standing There")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Well, she was just 17, you know what I mean. And the
way she looked was way beyond compare. So how could I dance with another,
ooh, when I saw her standing there.

Well, she looked at me, and I, I could see that before too long I'd fall in
love with her. She wouldn't dance with another, whooh, since I saw her
stranding there.

Well, my heart went boom when I crossed that room, and I held her hand in
mine...

Whoa, we danced through the night, and we held each other tight, and before
too long I fell in love with her. Now I'll never dance with another, whooh,
since I saw her standing there. Whoa.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Paul McCartney discusses his new book, "Blackbird
Singing," and his experiences with John Lennon
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

We conclude our Beatles tribute with Paul McCartney, who shared that "Ed
Sullivan Show" spotlight with his fellow Beatles 40 years ago. He spoke with
Terry in 2001.

TERRY GROSS, host:

You know, when The Beatles started performing, the adults were up in arms...

Mr. PAUL McCARTNEY (Former Beatle): Yeah.

GROSS: ...about them, about your hair, and about, you know, the silliness of
the lyrics and everything. But with "Yesterday," like, the nightclub adult
performers started adding it to their acts.

Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.

GROSS: Did that feel like a victory to you or did you really not care what
the adults were doing in their acts anyways?

Mr. McCARTNEY: No, it was very nice. It was very nice to have that because,
you know, we thought what we were doing was quite good and we were proud of
it. And there was this sort of backlash, particularly from the elder
generation. People tell me stories now. They say they were watching that
first "Ed Sullivan Show" and it's always the dad in the family who sort of
says, `Well, them Beatles, yeah.' And he never likes us. And he always says,
`You know, those are wigs.' They always thought--the dads always swore the
kids--yeah, the kids say, `We knew they weren't. We knew they weren't.' So
it was always the problem; the dad was always the problem. So I suppose he
was symbolic of the problem. So that when people started to like anything out
of our repertoire--it was a certain victory. And "Yesterday" was a personal
victory of mine.

I mean, for instance, the great clarinetist Benny Goodman, who we had loved
and thought was great talent, started for some reason--and maybe it's just a
journalistic thing--but he came out against us. He said, `Oh'--you know, I
can't remember what he said, but, of course, we hated him from then on. And
we started saying, `He's a lousy clarinetist anyway. What does he know?' you
know. So there was this sort of group that didn't like us, that thought we
weren't very good. So when "Yesterday" came out, I think a lot of them had to
change their tune. And it eventually got recorded by way too many of them.

GROSS: Now your songs were co-credited, you know, in The Beatles era. My
understanding is--and correct me if I'm wrong--that many of the songs were
written by one of you or the other, although the other would do some editing
on the song, but few of the songs were actually true collaborations. Is that
right? Is that accurate?

Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah. Well, what happened was in the early days, they were
pretty much--the very earliest days were separate. We wrote one or two
separately before we actually got together. But when we got together and
actually started writing the earliest Beatles' stuff, everything was
co-written. We hardly ever wrote things separate. But then after a few years
and as we got a bit of success with The Beatles and didn't actually live
together, or weren't just always on the road together sharing hotel rooms,
then we had the luxury of writing stuff separately.

So John would write something like "Nowhere Man" sort of separately in his
house outside London, and I would write something like "Yesterday" quite
separately on my own. And as you say, we would come together and check them
out against each other. Sometimes we would edit a line of each other's, but
more often we'd just sort of say, `Yeah, that's great.' And very often, a
line that one of us was going to chuck out, we would encourage the other not
to chuck out because it was a good line.

I had a line in "Hey Jude" much later that said, `The movement you need is
on your shoulder.' And I thought that was me just blocking out the line,
and I said, `I'll change that.' And he said, `You won't, you know.
That's the best line in it.' And similarly, I would encourage him to keep
lines in his songs that he didn't think were very good. And I'd say,
`No, that's a really great line.' There was a song of his called "Glass
Onion" where he had a line about the walrus, `Here's another clue for you
all, the walrus was Paul.' And he wanted to keep it, but he needed to
check it with me. He said, `What do you think about that line?' I said,
`It's a great line. You know, it's a spoof on the way everyone was
always reading into our songs.' I said, `Here we go, you know. We give
them another clue to follow.' So we would check stuff against each other,
and it was obviously very handy for our writing to be able to do that.

GROSS: Were you ever sorry that your songs were co-credited? Did you ever
wish that you could get the composing credit for your songs; that it was
clearer?

Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, it was an arrangement we made in the early days, very
early days. And, of course, you know, a lot of people don't realize that
we--our admiration goes back to people like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rogers
and Hart. We loved a lot of the work of those people. And so we were looking
for something similar, so Lennon-McCartney grew up so that we would be a
songwriting team in the tradition of those people.

For the first few years, it was fine. And it never bothered us. But more
recently, I must say, it started to bother me. What happened was the kind of
thing that would spark the feeling that they, maybe, should be better
credited, the songs, was that Adrian Mitchell, who helped me edit my poetry
book, did an anthology of verse where he had my poem, "Blackbird"--my song or
poem, "Blackbird" in it. And, of course, it was credited `"Blackbird" by John
Lennon and Paul McCartney,' which was just not true. John hadn't had anything
to do with that. So I started to think, `You know, this is a bit of a
nuisance because I don't want any credit if John's stuff gets separately put
in something like a poetry anthology,' you know. `I don't want any credit for
"Give Peace a Chance," even though I am credited on that. Some of John's
stuff was purely John. And I'd rather it be that.

So that kind of started me thinking. And then when we had--"The Beatles,
Anthology" record came out, I actually did request that on the song
"Yesterday," which was solely penned by me, that, for the first time in 30
years, I be allowed to actually have my name in front of John's; not remove
John's name, but that we credit it, `"Yesterday" by Paul McCartney and John
Lennon.' As I say, John actually didn't have anything to do with the song at
all. He didn't sing on it or play on it or write it. So I thought that was
fair enough. And in actual fact, I wasn't allowed to do that. That was
vetoed. And it started me thinking that, you know, with the computer
generation coming in and data being stored for the future, that there probably
is a scenario in the future where someone will think that "Hey Jude," "Let It
Be," "Long and Winding Road," "Blackbird" were written by the guy who came
first, because you know the way computers often knock off the ends of
sentences.

GROSS: Right, yes.

Mr. McCARTNEY: I mean, I just went to see "Miss Congenia" the other night.
Do you know that I mean? On the ticket it didn't have time...

GROSS: Right, right, right.

Mr. McCARTNEY: It didn't have time for the `lity.'

GROSS: I got it, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Mr. McCARTNEY: So this kind of thing happens. And I was actually in Italy,
and I was looking at a pianist's songbook, the fake book that the pianist was
using. And I--you tend to flick through and look for your own songs, you
know. You see, "Fly Me to the Moon;" very, very nice. You see "Moon River;"
lovely. You see, "Hey Jude," you go, `Wait.' And this was credited `"Hey
Jude" by John Lennon' just because his name comes first. So you've hit on a
sore point of mine there.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. McCARTNEY: I don't want to remove his name, but I must say just for kind
of Trades Descriptions Act(ph), as we call it over here, I wouldn't mind on
the songs that I just did without John to have my name first. I think it
would inform future generations as to what was happening.

GROSS: My guest is Paul McCartney.

OK, a lyric like, `Love, love me, do. You know I love you. I'll always be
true. So please, love me, do.' Now on the page, that won't look right, but
it works well as a lyric--or, like, `She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.' I
mean, that's not gonna read great on a page, but it sings great.

Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, as my father would have said, `Paul, there's enough of
these Americanisms around. Couldn't you write "She loves you, yes, yes,
yes"?'

GROSS: Did he really say that?

Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah, he did.

GROSS: Oh, that's so adult.

Mr. McCARTNEY: Even though he was very working class, he was fussy about his
words.

(Soundbite of music)

THE BEATLES: (Singing) She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you, yeah,
yeah, yeah. With a love like that, you know you should be glad. With a love
like that, you know you should be glad. With a love like that, you know you
should be glad. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

BIANCULLI: Paul McCartney speaking with Terry Gross in 2001.

Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews Bernardo Bertolucci's new
movie, "The Dreamers." This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

THE BEATLES: One, two, three, four.

(Singing) Well, she was just 17, now you know what I mean. And the way she
looked was way beyond compare. So how could I dance with another, ooh, when I
saw her standing there. Well, she looked at me, and I, I could see that
before too long I'd fall in love with her. She wouldn't dance with another,
whooh, and I saw her standing there. Well, my heart went boom and...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New film "The Dreamers"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

"The Dreamers" is the first feature film in five years from the 63-year-old
Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, best known for "Last Tango in Paris,"
and his Oscar-winning "The Last Emperor." Set in Paris in 1968, it's an
intimate and sexually explicit portrait of two young men and a woman who hole
up in a townhouse re-enacting scenes from movies while the city outside
explodes. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN (Film Critic):

Bernardo Bertolucci has the perfect subject in "The Dreamers" for his sensuous
style and his psychoerotic sensibility. In the first few minutes, you get
passion for movies and political demonstrations and a tantalizing whiff of the
sex and hysteria to come. The young American narrator, Matthew, played by
Michael Pitt, has come to Paris in the spring of '68 to watch movies at the
Cinematech with what he calls a free masonry of film lovers. He wants to sit
close to the screen, he says, so he can receive the images while they're still
fresh, so that their power doesn't dissipate before they hit the back rows.

That sounds pretty fanciful, but Bertolucci's images make you feel as if
you're in that same metaphoric first row. Even when those images are edited
in from other films, in direct quotations from Kadar and Josef von Sternberg
and Chaplin, they're a vivid part of the characters' inner lives. Bertolucci
probes the locusts of the dream world and the real world in ways that reach
back to the French New Wave, only with more control and much more ambivalence.

"The Dreamers" comes from a novel by Gilbert Adair called "The Holy
Innocents." The title characters are Matthew's fellow movie lovers, Theo and
Isabelle, played by Louis Garrel, and Eva Green. He meets this dark, sultry
and intense couple during a violent demonstration after the government has
fired the politically outspoken director of the Cinematech. But instead of
taking to the streets for more political activism, the young American moves in
with them. They're brother and sister, it turns out, the children of a
well-off celebrity poet who leaves them alone in their house, which is dark
and rambling, full of long corridors, like the castle of the Beast in
Cocteau(ph). It's there that these borderline incestuous siblings admit
Matthew into their freaky psychosexual playpen and here that Matthew,
exploring the connection between uncontrolled sex and unlimited freedom, is
finally forced to grow up.

Much of the media talk about "The Dreamers" focuses on its NC-17 rating. And
while there's no hard-core action, the squirm factor is off the charts. Sick
pop quizzes, like the one in which the penalty for not identifying a movie
reference is having to masturbate in public. And there's the scene in which
the three characters lie naked in bathwater turning red from Isabelle's
menstrual blood.

The novel's bisexuality is here only a tease, but the hetero stuff is
explosive. Eva Green's Isabelle strikes one delirious self-infatuated femme
fatale pose after another. It's no wonder that Matthew goes along for the
ride. But then he begins to find it all as gross and infantilized as some in
the audience will. And he hears in Theo's Maoist declarations a similar
infantile egocentricity. This is where Bertolucci, the old Communist, might
surprise you.

(Soundbite of "The Dreamers")

Unidentified Man #1: The Red Guards that you admire...

Unidentified Man #2: Mm.

Unidentified Man #1: ...they all carry the same book, they all sing the same
songs, they all parrot the same slogans. So in this big epic movie, everybody
is an extra. That's scary to me. That gives me the creeps. I'm sorry to say
it, but for me, there is a distinct contradiction.

Unidentified Man #2: Why?

Unidentified Man #1: Because if you really believed what you were saying,
you'd be out there.

Unidentified Man #2: Where?

Unidentified Man #1: Out there on the street.

Unidentified Man #2: I don't know what you mean.

Unidentified Man #1: Yes, you do. There's something going on out there,
something that feels like it could be really important, something that feels
like things could change. Even I get that. But you're not out there. You're
inside with me drinking expensive wine, talking about film, talking about
Maoism. Why?

Unidentified Man #2: OK, that's enough.

Unidentified Man #1: Tell me why.

Unidentified Man #2: That's enough.

Unidentified Man #1: Ask yourself why, because I don't think you really
believe it. I don't think you...

Unidentified Man #2: No, you speak too much.

Unidentified Man #1: OK.

EDELSTEIN: Michael Pitt isn't ideally cast. He has a great wide-open Leo
DiCaprio-like face, but he doesn't give off feverish intellectual vibes. He's
an inarticulate stoner type, and his renunciation of Maoism and violent
demonstration sounds a little smug to me. It's not that the sentiment is a
problem. It's that it's not the anti-Vietnam War American in the middle of
the moment talking, it's the 60-ish director and screenwriter with their 20/20
hindsight. It's also quite an admission from a director who came of age as an
artist in the late '60s and went on to stage his own movie-fed Communist
pageant, his epic "1900." With his lyrical interpolation of old film clips,
Bertolucci both celebrates movie-fed glamour, then goes on to show the perils
of a medium that can't help but favor masturbatory fantasy over political
reality.

"The Dreamers" doesn't achieve the mixture of longing and despair in
Bertolucci's masterpiece "Last Tango in Paris," but it's a wonderfully
suggestive team-picked version of it.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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