I was fourteen in 1966 when my father came home from his job at the Douglas Aircraft plant in Charlotte, North Carolina and announced that he was being transferred to Santa Monica, California. That sounded great to me. I’d watched all the beach blanket/surf movies and it appeared that everyone in California lived near the ocean next door to movie stars. I liked the Beach Boys music too, although I was most definitely more of a Beatle’s fan. In those days, I could do a perfect imitation of John Lennon.
That’s my Beatles scrapbook, circa 1964.
My parents sold our home, packed up the house, said goodbye to their widowed mothers, and loaded us in the car. We headed across the country. Each of us kids got to pick a place to stop on the trip. My youngest brother chose the St. Louis Zoo. My middle brother picked the Mint in Denver. I decided on Yellowstone National Park.
It’s a big country to travel across in a sedan with five people and no air conditioning. We were so excited when we finally crossed the California border, my dad got off the freeway, thinking we’d arrived. We were only in Bakersfield. California, it turned out, is a big state, full of surprises. We rented a house in Reseda, surprisingly nowhere near the ocean. There were no movie stars living next door. It was hot and smoggy. I started to miss my friends, my cousins, and my grandmothers. I’m sure my parents were lonely too. We knew no one.
But one day I heard on the radio that the Beatles would be performing at Dodger Stadium. Tickets were three dollars, four-fifty, five-fifty and six. The announcer said to send the money in a self-addressed stamped envelope to KRLA.
My parents said I could go if my middle thirteen-year-old brother went too. My mom wrote a check for six dollars. I put the check in the mail and then started worrying. I hadn’t indicated how many tickets I wanted. What if they only sent me one six-dollar ticket? My parents would never let me go by myself.
I called KRLA and explained my mistake. Somehow, whoever answered the phone retrieved my order and sent me two tickets. My dad loaded us all in the car, drove to Dodger Stadium, and dropped me and my middle brother off at the gate. He and my mom and my youngest brother took off to do something else. I have no idea where they went. I’m sure I never asked.
We were in. We climbed to the top of Dodger Stadium. We could see Los Angeles spread out in the distance but our eyes were focused on second base where the stage was set up.
“They’re going to look like ants,” my brother complained. He was right.
Dodger Stadium was only four years old then and this was the first concert in the ballpark. It was my first concert too. I didn’t realize that concerts had opening acts and the Beatles had three—the Ronettes, the Remains, and the Cyrkle. I waited impatiently. Finally, the Cyrkle played their hit “Red Rubber Ball” as the sun set in the distance.
It was dark when the Beatles came out and the screaming started immediately. I screamed too, and even then I wasn’t sure why. Puberty perhaps, peer pressure, possibly. Everyone else was screaming. There were tears too. I remember my brother watching me, asking if I was okay.
The Beatles played ‘Rock and Roll Music’ first, followed by ‘She’s A Woman,’ ‘If I Needed Someone,’ ‘Day Tripper,’ ‘Baby’s in Black,’ ‘I Feel Fine,’ ‘Yesterday,’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Man,’ ‘Nowhere Man,’ ‘Paperback Writer,’ and Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally.’ Not that I remember the order or could even hear the songs that night. It’s easy to find the set list online and the band played the same thirty-minute set at almost every concert on the tour.
The Beatles had already decided this concert format wasn’t working for them. They couldn’t hear themselves play. They felt their musicianship deteriorating. And the press only wanted to talk about the decline in ticket sales because of the controversy over John Lennon’s statement that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” This comment incited protests and threats, particularly throughout the Bible Belt in the Southern United States, including my birthplace, North Carolina. Some radio stations stopped playing Beatles songs and organized record burnings.
That night at Dodger Stadium when the Beatles began their final song, hundreds of fans swarmed onto the field. When the band left the stage, their limousine was immediately surrounded. The promoter had only hired one hundred private security personnel to control a crowd of 45,000. Dozens of fans were hurt and twenty-five were arrested.
I didn’t realize any of this. I was shocked that the concert was already over. I remember a woman telling me not to cry, that I should look forward to seeing the Beatles again on their next tour.
My brother and I left our seats and started our descent out of the stadium toward the parking lot, unaware that fans were climbing over the limousine with the Beatles inside of it. Police used clubs to get people out of the way. Fans wielded wooden barricades and threw bottles and sticks. The limo sped across the field and the Beatles got out and fled underground to a team dressing room. For two hours they waited for extra cops to arrive and clear the crowd. The limo was undrivable. Two girls ran off with the keys as a souvenir.
Meanwhile, outside the stadium, my brother and I waited patiently for our parents to pick us up. We might have stood there for two hours, I don’t remember. My dad said later that we were easy to find because there was no one else in the parking lot. We went back to the house in Reseda.
The Beatles eventually escaped from the stadium in an armored truck. They slept in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills that night, played Candlestick Park in San Francisco the next day, and the 1966 tour was over. They never toured together again.