One night, when I was seven years old, my father blasted Meet the Beatles! from his stereo. I think it was some kind of mistake. Maybe he thought he had his fancy, chunky headphones plugged in. We were in bed and it was LOUD. And irresistible. “I want to hold your ha-a-a-a-and!” I ran to the living room, unknowingly joining that classic mob. Yet another girl completely, almost tearfully, enthralled by the early Beatles.
My father did woodworking as a hobby and had built himself a little corner of shelves to house his stereo equipment and records. Receivers glowed with backlit needles dancing in VU meters, and the whole thing looked downright scientific. I knew that records were to be handled reverently by the edges, and, furthermore, that the little, lesser, player in my room was deemed not fit for my parents’ collection. How was I going to get my hands on this record and play it to my heart’s content?
One Saturday morning a few months later, my neighbors had a garage sale and I wandered curiously over with a little change in my pocket. There, in a box of records inexplicably separated from their jackets (who were these barbarians living next door?), I found their copy of Meet the Beatles! Twenty-five cents later, it was mine.
I took that record home and, in the privacy of my room, I could play it over and over. It was terribly scratched, but I could deal with that. To this day, I expect those songs to skip the way I listened to them hundreds of times. “All My Loving.” “Hold Me Tight.” “It Won’t Be Long.” It was the Beatles as America first knew them — all pop perfection, yet raw and rollicking too. It was adult love but fun and vague, and I spent many hours staring at their faces on my parents’ copy, reading the liner notes and listening along to my own scratchy record.
My parents’ Beatles selection bookended the band: they had Meet the Beatles! and Abbey Road. The summer I turned ten, having started guitar lessons, I bought myself a book of Beatles songs with easy chords. I became a one-girl Beatles cover band (again, in the privacy of my room), picking out the melodies of so many unfamiliar-to-me Beatles songs and doing my best to sing them. There I was, guessing at French for “Michelle” or puzzling through the delivery of the verses on “Give Peace a Chance.” A little bittersweet? As the years went by, I would be fascinated each time I finally heard the real recording of one of these songs and got to see how close or far off I had been. Still, that book got me started on something that would become a core part of my identity. I was someone who liked to sing and play.
My parents’ copy of Meet The Beatles! now hangs in a record frame on my own living room wall. It was never really theirs to begin with. My aunt’s name is written in careful cursive in the top left corner. A few years ago at a rare family reunion, I mentioned the record to the original owner, thinking she might like to hear how much it had meant to me. Her face lit up and she looked over at my other aunt. Suddenly they were telling me about how they had watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. How they had taken pictures of the television screen with their camera in excitement. And how they had snuck out of the house that night and walked to the record store to buy that album. It’s kind of a magical record that way.