Growing up with The Beatles

My brother was too young and didn’t care.

My parents were too old and didn’t care.

My sister was 12 and I was 10. We cared like crazy.

Before that Sunday night when The Beatles first showed up on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” we knew that what was coming was something else.

We all knew, every American kid did. We weren’t our parents, who listened to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. We were listening to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on Top-40 radio. Once we heard The Beatles, nothing much mattered except hearing them again.

To see them, even on our black-and-white box of a TV, was a dream.

So there we were on Feb. 9, 1964, in our shared bedroom in Spokane, a place as culturally distant from Liverpool as it gets. My sister and I had twin beds, side by side. At night we would sneak transistor radios under our pillows.

Because they didn’t care about The Beatles, our parents let us take the TV into our room — just that once — to watch “Ed Sullivan.”

No one my age will ever forget it. The Beatles played five songs that night. They started with “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You” and “She Loves You.” After a break — viewers sat through several other acts, including impressionist Frank Gorshin — the band ended the show with “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

We didn’t jump up and down or cry. We just sat there, way too close to that little TV. It wasn’t long before we somehow got our hands on movie magazines. We snipped out Beatles pictures and taped them to our closet door.

Being ordinary girls, not rebels or poets or cool musicians, we both liked Paul, “the cute one.”

Chuck Dingee gets it. He’s a founding member of The Walrus, a Bellingham-based classic rock band that started as a Beatles cover band. The Walrus has played at the Tulalip Resort Casino and other venues around the region.

Dingee is 60, like I am. Regarding The Beatles, he was much luckier than I ever was.

“I was a Beatles nut. My life was The Beatles at that point,” said Dingee, who grew up in Hobart, Ind., near Gary. That’s close to Chicago, where on Aug. 20, 1965, The Beatles played at Comiskey Park, then the White Sox ballpark.

“My neighbors knew I was into The Beatles,” Dingee said. “One of my neighbors worked at Montgomery Ward, where they had a Ticketron outlet. They managed to get fifth-row seats. They were $5.50 each.”

The Beatles played two shows at Comiskey Park that day, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Cheaper seats were $2.50 or $4.50. The band played “Twist and Shout,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Act Naturally,” “A Hard Day’s Night” “Help!” and six other songs.

Dingee, 11 at the time, could barely hear the band.

“When they started playing, it was so deafening — the screaming. I was only able to figure out which song it was by the time each song ended,” said Dingee, a singer-guitarist who lives in Bellingham. “The stage was out on second base, but our fifth-row seats were very close to the dugout where The Beatles came out.”

Dingee, who also performs solo gigs, has spent years trying to understand the lasting appeal of Beatles music.

“It definitely had a feel that was different from anybody else,” he said. “The music was both deceptively simple and deceptively complex. It sounded so easy. But with the chord structures, not that many people out there can really play Beatles music and get it right.”

Complex chord structures and great harmonies were only parts of the magic formula. Those mop-tops were instant screen stars. You couldn’t take your eyes off them.

Dingee sees The Beatles as the first band that made each member famous. Up to that point, top artists had generic backup bands. “The Beatles were actually doing all the music themselves,” he said.

Dingee’s Indiana hometown and Spokane had Beatlemania in common with the rest of the country.

“When I was 12 or 13, the neighborhood Beatle nuts would play Beatles songs and grab sticks as guitars. You’d pretend you were The Beatles,” Dingee said.

With The Walrus, he hasn’t stopped the great fun of being a Beatle, at least on occasion.

Dingee grew up with that music. The songs grew up, too. “When I was 10, it was teeny-bopper music. By high school, their music was getting a lot more mature,” said Dingee, whose favorite Beatle was George Harrison.

“I still love The Beatles,” he said.

Who doesn’t?

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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