9 February 1964 — I’m 13 years-old, an 8th-grader, in my first year at
an all-boys New England boarding school. No access to television
— required to be in study hall between dinner and lights out in our dorms.
The Beatles are appearing on the Ed Sullivan show for the first time.
What to do?
It’s possible to sign out of study hall to work in the library.
Three friends and I do this. Just before the Sullivan show goes
on we sneak out of a bathroom window in the library, move from shadow
to shadow across the campus to the math building, where there is a
television which juniors are allowed to watch. We enter the room
with the television where about twelve juniors are gathered. The
moment of truth arrives. If the older boys decide to bust us,
we’re in serious trouble with the school authorities, with so many
demerits it will take us the rest of the term to work them off on
campus maintenance details, with all privileges suspended.
For the first time it strikes me what a strange thing it is I’m
doing. I was a nerdy straight-arrow of a kid back then — I don’t
think I’d ever knowingly broken a school rule in my entire life.
Somehow, though, the Beatles seem bigger than school rules.
The juniors smile and stare at us for a few moments, giving us time to sweat — then wave us in. We watch the Beatles on the show.
This is the same television, in the same room, where we were allowed to watch coverage
of the JFK assassination not quite three months earlier. Hard not to process the Beatles, purveyors of joy, as a kind of answer to Lee Harvey Oswald.
We sneak back across the campus, climb back in the library window . . .
undetected. The librarian, a plump, genial woman, looks at us
wryly as we sign out — I’ve always suspected that she noticed our absence over the
course of the evening but decided not to bust us, either.
The decade of rock music and assassinations, desire and transgression had begun. The Sixties were on.