While the Jets were being pummeled by the Patriots in the first half of the Monday Night game, I felt a bit like the drunken washout I resembled when the Jets fell to the AFC Champion-to-be Raiders in the January 2003 playoffs, about five months before I dried out. It was an awful feeling, having nothing else but inebriation to shield me from feelings of cavernous loss. I wouldn’t have cared if the world had caved in. My disappointment was at least tempered by the fact that I eventually had no sense of, well, anything at all. There was no other consolation.
So what was my consolation tonight? Oddly, I found myself listening to the Beatles. From their newly published catalogue on iTunes, I downloaded everything essential gone that's gone missing and stolen over the years, especially Revolver and Hard Day’s Night. The latter became suddenly important to me as the Patriots tagged on a 21-point lead going into halftime. I found Richard Lester’s film A Hard Day’s Night on YouTube and watched it while psychologically checking out of a humiliating blowout. The game played on in the background. We may play in the playoffs and have a revenge, but more than one fellow fan has wondered to me if the Jets will even win another game this year. Ah well. They will finish with a winning record for sure, but I knew the Jets shouldn't have given Danny Woodhead away.
But meanwhile, what came up in the foreground of my view were the Beatles. I first listened to them through my Mom’s stereo as a little kid. She owned A Hard Day’s Night, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper’s, and Abbey Road, her least favorite, a gift from her drugged-out brother-in-law. Each Sunday, while living in Queens and later in North Merrick, my parents would return from Mass, cook breakfast, eat, open the Sunday Times, and listen to two albums – Eileen Farrell’s Puccini Arias and A Hard Day’s Night. The music emanated companionably, twining together like an odd couple not unlike Mom and Dad, themselves – one part classical, one part modern. They insisted on liking both, refusing to choose either at a time when the classical and the modern were entirely separating.
Both albums were recorded before I was born, each a remnant of the early 60’s, back when my parents first fell in love. Though she was more partial to Sinatra than opera, Mom loved Farrell singing “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicci, which I would later hear in the Merchant Ivory film A Room With a View. Dad preferred opera almost exclusively, just as he considered himself a Rockefeller Republican until he met Mom. But in 1964 he found himself voting for Lyndon Johnson and going with Mom to see A Hard Day’s Night in a hot Manhattan theater so crowded with screaming girls as to prohibit a clear sense of exactly what was going on in the movie. But my parents went back again, and despite the fact that they had both skipped over Elvis in their adolescence, they suddenly discovered there and then for themselves the four British men who were already changing the world.
One night, when I was a little boy, and Channel 5 was showing Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, my parents pulled the RCA black and white into the kitchen for us to watch in its entirety while we ate at the table. I was about six. I may not have been aware of it, but Mom claims that while the music in the film came on, I bounced up and down as I ate. It's an infectious response to the Beatles that I’ve seen in my nieces and my friends’ kids – they’ll all perk up at the sound of Harrison’s Rickenbacker, Starkey’s drums, Lennon’s ooo I need your love, babe and Paul’s Hofner. It's a simple human language of love.
There was once a time when my brother and I could practically do the film from start to finish. Richard Lester presents a colorless picture of an England that I grew up desperately wanting to see for myself someday. When I went to England, I found that The Beatles weren't of anyone's interest, any more than someone on a Memphis street had something to say about Elvis to a Japanese tourist. The Beatles are more an American obsession, but Lester's England was there in England for me to find in its colorless towns and the natives' cheekiness. The movie is more English than the group themselves. The Beatles were already reaching well beyond the simple English trains they run in and out of in A Hard Day's Night, away from the screaming girls from the provincial towns where they play. What makes the movie special is Lester's dialogue.
There are so many great scenes from A Hard Day's Night. In one sequence the film turns toward Ringo’s private sojourn. Having been talked into it by Paul’s Irish grandfather (“a king mixer,” Paul says) Ringo decides to leave the group and go “parading before it’s too late." He's going to find himself as an artist, taking photos of the bleak scenes he encounters. While he walks along a dingy riverside, he collides with a little boy's rolling car tire. The boy is Charlie, aged “10 and two-thirds,” whose face is lashed with dirt. He doesn’t know who Richard Starkey is. To him, Ringo’s just another guy. Charlie says he doesn’t want the tire anymore.
Why? asks Ringo.
“Ah, you can have it. I’m packing it in. It depresses me. It gets on my wick.”
“That’s lovely talk, that is,” says Ringo. “Why aren’t you at school?”
“I’m a deserter.”
“Are you now?
“Yeah, I’ve flung school out.”
“No. Ginger, Eddie Fallon, and Ding-Dong.”
“Ah,” Ringo says, taking off his camera strap. “Ding-Dong Bell, eh?”
“Yeah, that's right,” Charlie says, nonplussed.
When Charlie asks Ringo why he isn’t at work, the world’s most famous drummer says he’s a deserter, too. Just another dropout.
The Jets’ travesty sped its way into the fourth quarter.
I know full well that the Beatles' melodies have kept me aloft through most of my depressing episodes of the past, some real, some imagined. Things like losing at Foxboro 41-7 in 1976, or 55-14 at Foxboro in 1978, or 56-3 in 1979. Or when the first place 10-1 Jets met the Miami Dolphins for a Monday Night Game almost exactly 24 years ago in 1986 and lost 45-3 - and then never won another game during the regular season.
Well, anyway. Whatever the degree to which they are a little too legendary, looming too large in our legend, to turn a phrase from the movie, The Beatles have always existed well beyond the grasp of my own self-inflicted misery and are therefore always a consolation. They sit behind Mom and Dad, and the Jets, right behind Catholicism in the list of the longest looming influences of my childhood. And I’m a little like Charlie tonight. In the film, Ringo eventually abandons his sojourn and gets back with the group in time enough to go onstage for the live show in the film. But what happens to little Charlie? Does he stay a deserter? He throws the tire aside.
It depresses me. It gets on my wick.
Where are Ding-Dong Bell and Eddie Fallon. And Ginger?
“Ginger’s mad,” Charlie says. “He says things all the time.”
What things? I wonder.