On February 9, 1964, I watched, along with millions of other Americans, the Beatles’ historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (watch it here). I’ve been a diehard fan ever since. I never got to see them in concert, something I’ll always regret. Not that there were many opportunities to see them to begin with. They only toured in the USA over a two-year period until their final show at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966. And you couldn’t hear them anyway, what with thousands of hysterically screaming chicks and shitty PA systems.
Of the millions who were lucky to see them live in concert how many can say they met a Beatle face-to-face? I did. It was one of those spontaneous things that just happen in life when you least expect them. It was May, 1975. I was in my car driving from an errand, and listening to the AM radio station WFIL, Philly’s Number One music station then. John Lennon was in Philly for the annual Helping Hand Marathon. Run by WFIL and Channel 6 News it was a three-day event to raise money for charitable organizations in the Philadelphia area. That particular late afternoon WFIL was broadcasting live from Fairmount Park, and I heard John’s distinctive voice inviting anybody who was listening to come out to the park, that he would be there.
Well, I jammed on the brakes, and just stopped wherever I was. As soon as I was able to breathe normally again I plotted the quickest route to Fairmount Park. Anybody who lives in Philly knows that the park is a huge place. It’s one of the world’s biggest parks totally within a city’s limits. I had no idea where in the park John was! No big deal, I thought. Just look for a big crowd. Sure enough, I wasn’t in the park long before I saw a lot of cars and a lot of people.
I parked a distance away, and followed a line of parked cars leading to a mass of people congregated in an open green space. It was orderly, and very civilized. Nobody was pushing or shoving, everybody was friendly. There was peace and joy in the air. Everybody was elated just to be anywhere near John Lennon. I got in line and moved along slowly with the rest of the crowd.
Finally, I could see more than a few feet in front of me, and there he was! The walrus himself. He was just standing there, cool as can be, greeting everybody who approached him. I was shaking as I walked up to him. I had a little speech prepared about thanking him for the great music and memories, blah, blah, blah. When I got directly in front of him my mind went totally blank. I just offered my hand, and said, “Hi.” We shook hands, and he said, “Thanks for stopping by.” Can you imagine that? One of the 20th century’s greatest icons thanked ME for going to see HIM! I never wanted to wash that hand again.
Who knew? Could anyone have imagined John leaving us so suddenly and violently just five short years later? In hindsight it’s plain to see that he was very vulnerable by being so approachable. We miss you, John.