But these current experiences—taking place at a computer rather than in a shop—are connected to the ones from before. Perhaps love is also this way. We meet the person we will spend our lives with, but we know how to meet them—how to come to them—as a full infusion of everything we are, how to be with them, in part because of a journey of knowledge that began with the girl on the playground in third grade, and the high school sweetheart, who, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “may be dead or some man’s mother.” Or the ex-wife.
This is how I have listened to and known music in my life, and all art. It’s how I’ve made it as well. But I mentioned there was one bootleg I was especially keen to track down, and that was the Beatles’ complete appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. The reason might not be what one would think.
The Ed Sullivan performances are underrated. They’re typically discussed in the context of what those first appearances from February 1964—when a nation effectively met these young men—meant as a seismic event in American pop culture, and culture itself, in following from the Kennedy assassination of November 1963.
But they also hold up as dynamic art—you can listen to them repeatedly, the same way you would A Hard Day’s Night or Mop Top-phase Beatles singles such as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” that contain as much energy—the Beatles’ ultimate strength as artists—as any existing work, for while genius may be comprised of an infinite number of component parts, energy is deeded as much space as anything. It’s the life force of human witnessing, growth, and connection, and it makes all great art move like only all great art can.
The bootleg I acquired on my treasure hunts was called Conquer America, an apt title and a manner of conquest one welcomes. What I wanted to lock in on, though, was an Ed Sullivan Beatles performance taped August 14, 1965, the day before their first appearance at Shea Stadium. The Beatles had arrived at the Help! portion of their career, with songs of overt introspection first hinted at on the second side of A Hard Day’s Night and then subsequently the pop-burnished confessionals of “No Reply” and “I’m a Loser”—with its lived-in country twang—on Beatles for Sale.
Paul McCartney, who always sang “Yesterday” like he meant it, even later on when the rest of the band went through the motions in Tokyo in 1966, seemed to do so on this day with a level of emotion that was practically tactile. You feel like you could blot up the residual sincerity that must have manifested on the stage underfoot. Having finished, his partner John Lennon, both suppressing and showing a touch of his urge to quip, remarked, “Thank you, Paul, that was just like him.”
This statement, which I had read about before I heard it expressed, fascinated me. Lennon was speaking to "Macca" and to us simultaneously, but as if betraying no confidences—everyone was being let in on a secret just for them, which others could experience. The intimacy, out in the open, that it involved. Naked friendship, and one person—who was no casual dispenser of kind words, compliments, or feelings—letting the world in on what it was they loved about their friend, in a clever, shaded way, so that not only could you understand it, but it’d resonate even more.
Lennon speaks the words, but they might as well be sung—it’s the Beatles’ brand of Liverpudlian recitative. There are Lennon zingers, and there are Lennon truths. Sometimes they were the same thing. He was one of those rare people and artists whose oblique statements somehow found their way faster to the human heart. The elliptical Lennon could fire his arrow to make Robin Hood wonder what he was doing out there on the same field, failing to hit the target with similar accuracy.
That was a special trip for me to the used record store, and I have never stopped thinking about this entrenched rapport of love—expressed pithily and completely—between two men who also wrote some of our finest love songs, and two in particular, that we might say are just like both of them.