When I booted up my Mac laptop the other day, four familiar men appeared on my screen.
There was no caption naming them. None was needed.
Just a simple, two sentence, five word announcement.
The Beatles. Now on iTunes.
Judging by the hair and dress of George, Paul, John and Ringo, the simple, black and white portrait of the four was taken in the late 1960s. Which is a bit sad, in a way. It meant that their break-up was not all that far off when the photo was snapped.
I found myself just staring at that photo … and while doing so, drifting back, to the very first time I heard The Beatles.
It was a unique moment, in so many ways. It wasn't something that I simply stumbled on, alone, requiring me to try my best to describe what I had just experienced to my brothers and my mom and dad and my friends.
So many of us, on a Sunday night, in February of 1964, heard The Beatles – for the very first time – at the exact same time.
The Lias family saw their grainy black and white images and heard their first hit songs on the less than ideal Zenith television in our living room.
This was before surround sound. It was before digital or high definition television. We felt lucky that night. The Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan Show, broadcast on CBS, the network affiliated with KELO, which was the only station our sorry little television could receive, with its wires connecting it to an antenna that somehow hadn't yet blown off the roof of our farmhouse.
My dad watched television at night by, well, not watching it. His easy chair was near the tube, but his face was always buried in a book or "Hoard's Dairyman" or "The Farm Journal." Television, was, for him, simply white noise.
Then Ed Sullivan introduced The Beatles. And they began playing, and singing, and the audience began screaming. And something a bit strange and a bit wonderful, all at the same time, happened.
My dad put down his magazine. And listened.
That alone told my brothers and me that we should listen, too.
I don't think I could ever peg my dad as a big Beatles fan. He loved music, though, and he was the kind of guy who, if you asked him what makes up a good song, would simply reply he would know it when he heard it.
The fact that he stopped reading long enough to listen, and that internal message my brothers and all were receiving (it's a message that I'm sure you've received, too, whenever you hear The Beatles) was enough to tell us all that we were all the recipients of something a little different and new and very, very good.
My brother Mike and I were in the second grade at the time. If there had been prior media coverage of The Beatles appearing for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show that Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964, we had simply ignored it.
The Ed Sullivan Show, after all, usually featured dancing bears, or a guy that tried to keep five or six plates spinning at once, or a corny comedian.
We watched it because there was nothing else on our TV with its ability to capture only one station's signal.
And I think we watched it because we were still trying to escape. In a book. Or a magazine. Or a TV show that featured anything other than news.
Less than four months earlier, we watched the news bulletins as the president was gunned down in Dallas. We watched the funeral procession, and I thought of how I was not that much older than the Kennedy kids. And, by February, the country was trying to get back to normal.
I remember thinking how odd it was to have a new occupant in the White House that we really hadn't voted for – not to be our president, at least, and I couldn't help but wonder if all of the adults around me felt the same way. Everyone could sense – even us youngsters – that things still weren't like they were, and likely never quite would be.
In the midst of all of this change came something else that was so different and strangely uplifting. Perhaps part of The Beatles' appeal was that they came over to the United States to perform at a time when this country's people really needed something new and beautiful and compelling to take their minds off of all of the ugliness they had just encountered.
I guess The Beatles performed on Sullivan's show the next two Sunday nights. I don't remember that. Deeply ingrained in my memory is that first night, with John fronting the band, with Paul and George on his right, and, of course, Ringo drumming in the background.
We had no idea that we had just encountered something that would be a part of so many lives yet to this day. I remember Dad returning to his reading as the four concluded their last song that night. He muttered something about being good showmen, which I really didn't understand.
Today, I know that it was more than just the music that impressed him. It was really hard to judge the quality of their performance through the tinny quality of the single speaker on our TV, and the many times that the musicians seemed to almost be drowned out by the screams coming from the audience.
The four men – strangers then – were neatly dressed in their tightly tailored jackets and ties, their hair a bit long but neatly cropped. They didn't hop around the stage; they simply stood, and sang, and at the end of each song, deeply bowed to the crowd and the cameras.
That image would change, naturally, as the nation changed during the 1960s. Their appeal likely will never wane, however.
Robert Greenfield, a former associate editor at Rolling Stone magazine who has written about the band, sums it up this way:
"People are still looking at Picasso. People are still looking at artists who broke through the constraints of their time period to come up with something that was unique and original. In the form that they worked in, in the form of popular music, no one will ever be more revolutionary, more creative and more distinctive than The Beatles were."
Research shows that more than 40 years after their last public performance, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr's music remains as interesting to young people now as it ever was.
The Beatles closed their first appearance on Sullivan's show by singing I Wanna Hold Your Hand:
"Oh yeah, I'll tell you something I think you'll understand …"
Feel free to sing along. We all have something in common. We know the rest of the words.