The Band That Saved Rock ‘N’ Roll

It’s the 57th anniversary of the Beatles first appearance in the United States.

You’d think February would be no big deal of a month, being as short as it is. But it’s the month that the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, does or does not see his shadow. It’s the month George Washington was elected President. It’s the month Queen Elizabeth II became queen.

And it was Feb. 3, 1959, the day the music died. The day Rock ‘n’ Roll lost its soul. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, and the promise they brought to American music, died in a plane crash. No more “That’ll be the day.” No more “Peggy Sue.” No more “Chantilly Lace”. No more “La Bamba”. Then, on March 24, 1958, a day referred to as “Black Monday”, Elvis was drafted into the Army. When he got out in March, 1960, he wouldn’t be the same king of rock ‘n’ roll that once upon a time he had been. He was Col. Tom Parker’s watered down version. Jerry Lee Lewis was banished from rock ‘n’ roll hero-dom and Chuck Berry was in jail. Only Dion, Roy Orbison and the Everlies remained standing. But they weren’t the threats to Western Civilization Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and the early Elvis were. The glory days of rock ‘n’ roll were over.

Teenagers were left with the likes of Frankie Avalon, Connie Francis, Bobby Rydell, Paul Anka, and David Seville and the Chipmunks. Weak imitations of the glory that had been rock ‘n’ roll in its heyday. Only the Beach Boys gave us any reason for hope. And their sound was much more smooth than the authenticity of the music that filled the airwaves from Philadelphia, PA to Los Angeles years earlier. There seemed to be no place for the real stuff that had blasted out of our radios and created a revolution of sound. Instead of Buddy Holly, they were now given Bobby Vee. Rock ‘n’ roll was drowning and it had no saviors to throw it a lifeline. At least, not in America. Parents were pleased.

But, across the pond we call the Atlantic, a new sound was being created in the streets and the underground clubs of towns like Liverpool and Manchester, Andover and London and Hamburg. Born out of early rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and skiffle, this sound would change the world of music forever. Like a storm that starts with a little rain, they would give teenagers back their battlecry of freedom. They would show America how music should be made.

Just as a February day killed off the dynamics and energy of what was once a great sound, it was reborn on another February day in 1964 On the ninth day of February, 1964, history was made on the Sunday night broadcast of the “Ed Sullivan Show”. With a one-two-three-four, John, Paul, George and Ringo in their moptops played “All my loving” and “Till There Was You”. Then “She loves you”. There was a pandemonium in the studio with all the screaming pouring out of the audience. It was Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers and Chuck Berry rolled into one. Seventy-three million people watched as the four performed songs from their first Capitol album, “Meet the Beatles”. Within twenty-four hours of their performance on Sullivan, there were few in the country who did not know their names. These Beatles from working class Liverpool were not only musicians and singers, but they wrote their own songs. And they were personable. And funny.

Suddenly a flood of British musicians were breaking down the walls of American radio and television. The Rolling Stones. The Kinks. The Hollies. The Animals. Herman’s Hermits. And dozens more. But they were only stepping into the footprints left by the Beatles.

Then there was an August tour and a movie. Only Elvis had his own movies. But now here were the Beatles with their own movie, “A Hard Day’s Night”. Not only did the director Richard Lester capture on film the songs but also the spontaneity and the spirit that were the Beatles without taming them the way Hollywood had tamed Elvis. It was a jolly good case of pretend with all its madcap zaniness, and even better songs. It was something to see, musicians successfully performing comedy. With the two films and the songs the band wrote for them, it was clear that the Beatles were growing as songwriters, as musicians and as performers. They were emerging as the best thing since Elvis. Soon they would bypass Presley as the new Kings of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

In a time when bands did not perform in large arenas, the Beatles were filling stadiums. In those early years they steamrolled across America in a way that no artist before or since has. Other bands were taking up the mantra of out-Beatling the Beatles. Everybody from the Rolling Stones to the Beach Boys to Buffalo Springfield to the Byrds to the Hollies. Just when the others thought they had beat the Beatles at their game, the Beatles upped the ante and blew away all the competition.

Soon the craziness of Beatlemania made them quit the touring. They went into the studio and innovated, not just once but again and again, producing magic the way no group before or since has. Working with their fifth Beatle of George Martin in Abbey Road Studios, they produced one masterpiece after another, the mature “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver”, the innovative “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” and the unsuccessful “Magical Mystery Tour”. Then the straight-up rock ‘n’ roller, “The White Album” and finally what may be their best album, “Abbey Road”, ending their career as a group with the Phil Spector produced “Let It Be”. Their power as musical artists can be seen by the fact to they performed “All You Need Is Love” on a live global television link and were seen by 150 million people in 26 countries on June 26, 1967. They didn’t need gimmicks. They were the real thing.

For seven years, they changed the way we saw things, setting trends not only in music but spirituality, fashion and art. It was the Beatles who introduced Indian music into the mainstream of Western music. Musically they never stood still. They were always evolving, exploring, using different styles to serve the music they were producing. It was the Beatles who made popular songs that were a way to express not only love but other things few songwriters of popular song had dared to express.

It was always the music. That amazing music. Song after song of it pouring out of these four extraordinary artists. Again and again they hit a bulls eye with “And I Love Her”, “Eight Days a Week”, “Ticket to Ride”, “Here, There and Everywhere”, “Norwegian Wood”, “Yesterday”, “Penny Lane”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “In My Life”, “A Little Help from My Friends”, “A Day in the Life”, “She’s Leaving Home”, “The Fool on the Hill”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Lady Madonna”, “Get Back”, “Here Comes the Sun”, “Something”, “The Long and Winding Road” and so many more. Songs that have been recorded by hundreds of musicians, maybe thousands, everybody from Frank Sinatra to Aerosmith to Wes Montgomery to Stevie Wonder to Tori Amos to Billy Joel to Norah Jones to Pat Metheny to Guns N’ Roses to Elton John to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Jason Mraz and Michael Jackson, and these are only the names of some of the artists who have tried to put their stamp on some of the greatest popular songs ever written. Cirque du Soleil produced a major show based on the Beatles songs, and who knows how many directors have put their music into a soundtrack.

Without the Beatles, rock ‘n’ roll likely would have survived. But it wouldn’t have had the impact it has had. It would only have been a shadow of the self it became. Those three guitarist and a drummer, from the very beginning on that Ed Sullivan stage, made it look easy, made kids everywhere want to pick up those same instruments and play. When “Rolling Stone Magazine” ticked off the greatest musical artists of the twentieth century, it was not Elvis, it was not Ray Charles, it was not Bob Dylan who was number one. It was the Beatles.

The Thing They Carried

Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. This reflection was inspired by The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

It could have been the Germans. It could have been the Japanese. It could have been the Russians. But it was the Americans. The United States was the only nation with the resources to be able to create such a Thing. It was a Thing made for one job. For one purpose.

Since the Nazis launched their blitzkrieg on Poland in 1939, since the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor, war raged around the world. Millions were refugees, dead or held in concentration camps. It was time for it to be over. It would take a Thing to bring it to an end.

The question was: Would it work? The scientists said it would work. The tests had given them the assurance that it would work. But no one was absolutely sure. They would not know until those final moments over Japan. Until it was dropped.

By August, 1945, the Nazis had surrendered. But not the Empire of Japan though it was defeated. It had no air force to speak of. It was under allied blockade. Many of its greatest cities, including Tokyo, were devastated by the firebombing American B29s. Yet the military fanatics who led Japan had decided that the Empire would go down in a blaze of glory rather than submit.

The Japanese military used fifteen and sixteen-year-olds as pilots of planes that were designed to be nothing more than bombs to crash into ships. They fired human torpedoes from their submarines. This was a foreshadowing of things to come if the United States invaded the Japanese homeland. Every man, woman and child was to be a kamikaze. Even Japanese school girls were taught to attack the enemy with spears. Suicide was preferable to surrender.

Few events were as controversial as the decision to drop the Thing. It was debated among the scientists who created It. It was debated by both the civilian and the military leadership in Washington, D.C. President Truman decided the Japanese leaders had left him no choice. After discussions with his advisers, he came to believe that the Thing would shorten the war and save not just thousands of American lives but millions of Japanese as well.

The Thing’s name was Little Boy, also known as the Gadget, the Device, the Gimmick, the S-1, and the most technical of all names, It. It was created at Los Alamos in New Mexico. Then It was assembled 5500 miles from there on Tinian Island, a part of the Marianas in the Pacific. On the night of August 5, 1945, the technicians wheeled It out to a special loading pit to be lifted up into the the bay of the B29 that was to deliver It.

Hours before the mission, the crews of the 509th Composite Group waited. They did what crews do the night before an important mission. A few ate. Some lay in their bunks and thought about loved ones. Some drowned their homesickness with a few shots of whiskey. Some played poker. One, a Catholic went to confession. Another spent his time briefing the New York Times reporter assigned to the mission. The navigator checked his flight bag to make sure his navigational tools were all in order. Each found a way to while away the hours that dragged.

Practice. Practice. Practice. For months, the team had practiced dropping The Thing, then make a 155 degree turn to get the hell out of there. Now there was a different kind of practice. Just in case of a crash upon take-off, the weaponeer decided to load and arm the Thing once the plane was in the air. In the hours before the takeoff, he practiced inserting the explosive charge and the detonator into the Thing. Difficult work to do considering how tight, how hot, how poorly lit the bay of the B29 that was to carry It. When offered a pair of gloves, the weaponeer said no. “I’ve got to feel the touch.”

At midnight, the commander of the mission gave a final briefing. He was the pilot of the B29 that would deliver the Thing to its destination. He finished with a word of advice for the twenty-six airmen in the room. “Do your jobs, obey orders, don’t cut corners.” Then the crew had breakfast while the flight engineer went out to the plane for his preflight check.

Early in the morning of Monday, August 6, 1945, the rest of the crew—the pilot, the co-pilot, the navigator, the electronic countermeasure man, the two radar operators, the bombardier, the tail gunner, and the ordinance expert—climbed aboard the plane, joining the weaponeer and the flight engineer. Painted on the nose of the B29 was the name of the pilot’s mother, Enola Gay.

2:27 a.m. Front engine No. 3, then No. 4, then No. 1, then No. 2.

“Okay to taxi,” the tower said.

2:35 a.m. In position to taxi.

Clear to take off.

A final check.

Take-off weight: 150,000 lbs., 7000 gal. of fuel, 12 men on board, and a five-ton Thing in the plane’s belly. The Enola Gay was eight tons over its normal weight.

“Let’s go.”

All throttles were pushed forward. Down the 8500 foot runway, the plane went past the ambulances and the fire trucks every fifty feet on each side. At the last minute, the B29 lifted into the air and was off the island and heading north by northwest toward Iwo Jima. It would be over the Japanese homeland 1500 miles away in a little less than six hours.

The tail gunner tested his gun, using 50 of the 1000 rounds he had.

The radar operators studied the radar pictures of Hiroshima.

“Judge going to work.” The weaponeer began to load The Thing. He inserted the gun powder and the detonator. He tightened the breach plate. It took him thirty minutes to complete his task.

The pilot did a check with the two planes following and got a “conditions normal”. So far nothing out of the ordinary. He turned the plane over to his co-pilot and went off to chat with the rest of the crew.

The pilot palavered with his crew for a few minutes, answering any questions they might have, trying to ease any tension there might be. The crew gave him a thumbs up that everything was a-okay. The pilot returned to the cockpit. He took the plane up to 9000 feet for a rendezvous in the pale, pink sky above Iwo Jima. A camera plane and an instrument plane joined up with the Enola Gay.

“Proceeding as planned,” the pilot radioed Iwo Jima downstairs.

“Good luck.”

The three planes formed into a V, the Enola Gay leading the way. Now it was on to what was left of the Japanese Empire.

The ordinance expert armed the charge. He was the last person to touch The Thing. Then he checked the circuits of The Thing on his monitor.

The pilot announced to the crew, “You are carrying the world’s first atomic bomb.”

The Enola Gay climbed to an altitude of 30,800 feet.

“Bomb primary,” came the message from the weather plane ahead. The pilot announced, “It’s Hiroshima.”

All lights on The Thing remained green. It was ready to do its job.

Course change to a heading of 264 degrees.

“Initial Point.”

Hiroshima’s morning sky was bright and clear. Perfect weather.

Below soldiers did their calisthenics.

Below a doctor was administering a shot.

Below a sixteen year old girl drove a tram.

Below two women arrived at the bank where they worked.

The pilot knew the city like the back of his hand from studying maps, photographs and radar pictures. He headed straight to the Aiming Point.

From below: “Top alert.”

“On goggles,” the pilot directed his crew to put on their goggles to shelter their eyes from the blast of The Thing they were about to drop. Only the pilot, the bombardier and the electronic countermeasures man did not slip their eyewear over their eyes. They needed their naked eyes to do their jobs.

Hiroshima in the bombardier’s viewfinder.

The plane began its three-and-a-half minute run.

The pilot: “Stand by.”

Below a nurse sterilized hospital tools.

Below a group of boys played hide-and-go-seek.

Below a woman had breakfast with her two children and her husband. He read the “Chugoku Shimbun” daily newspaper.

One of the women in the bank wiped a desk top. A soldier removed his shirt.

The Aiming Point of the T-shaped Aioi Bridge came into the bombardier’s cross hairs. “I’ve got it.”

Fifteen seconds.

The doctor looked up and saw the Enola Gay. Just one plane. Nothing to worry about.

8:15:17 a.m. Enola Gay’s bay doors opened. The Thing dropped from its restraining hook. Freed of the five tons, the B29 lurched upward. The pilot swung the plane into a 155 degree right turn and a steep power dive. The bay doors shut.

The Thing wobbled, then picked up speed.

Below Field Marshall Hata dressed for a meeting.

Korean Prince RiGu cantered his horse on the Aioi Bridge

Radio Hiroshima broadcast an air raid warning. Thousands of workers stopped what they were doing and hurried toward the “safe areas”.

The Enola Gay now five miles from the Aiming Point and heading out of the city.

Five seconds to go.

At 1890 feet above the city of Hiroshima, the Thing detonated, untold quantities of energy released in a blast. A white light, a flash, a fireball fifty million degrees centigrade at its center. The fireball expanded to 300 meters wide.

There was a new sun in the sky. A sudden and throbbing roar, then total darkness, then red, yellow, orange, green burbled up from the city below, then grayish, brownish, black smoke. Looking down at it all, the tail gunner said that it was “a peep into hell.”

That morning in 1945, the people below in the city were no longer Japanese. They were human beings.

Sources
Books

Hersey, J. (1989). Hiroshima. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Smith, J. M. (2010). Fire in the sky: The story of the atomic bomb. Place of publication not identified: Textstream.

Thomas, G., & Witts, M. M. (1995). Enola Gay – Mission to Hiroshima. Loughborough, England.: White Owl Press.

Films

Hiroshima (BBC History of World War II) [Motion picture on DVD]. (2009). BBC Home Entertainment.

Joffé, R. (Director). (1989). Fat man and little boy [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

Modern Marvels – The Manhattan Project (History Channel) [Motion picture on DVD]. (2005). A&E Home Video.

The April Fool’s Day Bride

Teri was a lovely bride. Mika had never seen any lovelier. Dressed in white from her shoes to the veil on her head, Teri made her way down the aisle, her train following two feet behind her. When she passed Mika, she turned toward her sister and winked that wink she had. It said that Teri had a surprise in store for her groom. Mika just knew that wasn’t good. Teri’s surprises could be extreme.

Teri had chosen April Fool’s Day for a reason. John, the groom, objected but Teri was adamant. “It’s that day or not at all.” Teri could be stubborn like that. John knew Teri’s sense of humor and the practical jokes she pulled. They were legendary. So he stood at the altar, anxious as all get-out. He wasn’t sure what was to come but he knew something was up. He just had to wait.

Teri’s parents knew trouble was on its way as well. So did the rest of the wedding attendees. Many were on pins and needles waiting for the axe to fall down. Others came just to see the surprise Teri had planned.

Teri reached the altar. Like the supporting actor he was, her father kissed his daughter on the cheek, then moved offstage. The couple said their I-doeses. The minister introduced the Mr. and Mrs. to the world, then the couple rushed down the aisle.

Mika gave a sigh of relief. Teri had held back on her surprise. Now it was on to the reception. That must be where Teri was to deliver her whammy. The wedding reception went smoothly, not any sign of a practical joke.

When the waiter brought in the wedding cake, Mika thought that this must be it. The cake would blow up, and there would be a mess everywhere. Mika managed to get to the back of the attendees just in case. The bride cut the cake, then the waiters laid slices of cake on plates and passed them out. Mika took a bite. The cake was delicious. Finally, it was time for the bride and groom to head for Hawaii for their honeymoon.

After they were gone, Mika asked her mom, “What just happened?”

“I don’t know. She’s not planning on destroying the honeymoon I hope.”

“I hope not too.”

“Poor John.” He mother shook her head.

Deep down there was terror in Mika and her mother’s hearts. They remembered Teri’s prom. She almost blew up the gym. She would’ve if her father hadn’t stopped her plans. They remembered how she had made her college campus news. Somehow she had switched every one of her sorority sister’s clothes around. It took weeks for each woman to get all her clothes back. The stunt had gotten Teri expelled.

On her first date with John, she had put jalapeno peppers in his chocolate mousse. After he calmed his mouth down, he had a good laugh over the incident. During their year of dating, Teri had given him a lot of good laughs.

Two weeks later, Teri and John came back from Hawaii. When asked, John commented, “I’m not sure what happened. But something’s coming. I just know it.”

Mika took Teri aside. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“The joke? When’s it coming?”

“Oh, that.” Teri laughed.

“You’ve got something planned. What is it?”

“Sometimes a joke is no joke at all.” There was that impish grin on her face.

“What?”

“I’m just saying,” Teri said. “One thing is for sure.”

“And what would that be?”

“He’d better remember our anniversary. Otherwise–let’s just say, I’m saving up.”