Carolyn Steele Agosta
When We Was Fab
By Carolyn Steele Agosta
Like many other Baby Boomers, I was a big fan of the Beatles. At the time of their first appearance on Ed Sullivan, on February 9, 1964, I was in sixth grade and the Beatles were still so new to us that we weren’t sure which one was which (except, of course, for Ringo, playing the drums)! The next morning, we went back to school and could not think nor talk of anything else.
The music of the Beatles was fresh and new throughout my middle school and high school years. They broke up as a group around the time I graduated, and by then I was on to other types of music – Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Who, and Sly & the Family Stone, among others.
1964 was a time of innocence – at least for me – I was eleven! Yes, President Kennedy had been shot just a couple of months before, we’d already experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis, and things were heating up in Vietnam. But to a kid, the times looked good. The Mercury space program had successfully completed, and Gemini was about to begin. In the neighborhood where I lived, a suburban ‘subdivision’, the houses were new, the families large, we had block parties in the summer when a street would be closed off to traffic and everyone would bring out their charcoal grills and hi-fi’s.
The Beatles were clean cut (okay, yes, they had mop tops, but they were CLEAN mop tops), their music was joyful, and the country was not yet rattled by all the bad news that would come later – drugs, riots, a deeply divided citizenry, war escalation, inequities. (Sounds like nowadays!) I know now that my parents had plenty of worries of their own, but they didn’t talk about them in front of us kids. Everything seemed fresh and clean and upbeat. The boys wore madras shirts, the girls wore daisy jewelry.
We Baby Boomers would experience a lot of change, and we would instigate a lot of change, too. Some good, some not so very. And a lot of it, just change in general. Technology, consciousness, language, fashion, music. Changes in what’s considered acceptable or desirable, and what’s not.
I don’t generally run toward nostalgia. I enjoy old movies and books and fashions, etc., but I don’t want or need to live in the past. I don’t fool myself that things were simpler. Maybe for an eleven-year-old, yes. But not necessarily the adults. Once, my sister said that Christmases were better in the past. Well, sure. We were KIDS. Our moms did all the work!
But yes, once in a while, it’s nice to take a trip down Memory Lane. To remember our house back then, a split-level crammed with the eight of us. Afternoons spent playing records on a hi-fi, riding my bike, hanging out at the school playground, occasionally sneaking in some quality Barbie doll time (my girlfriends had all decided they were too grown up to play with dolls – at least publicly). I love the mod fashions of that era – A-lines and shifts, short pleated skirts, blouses with Peter Pan collars, and triangle scarves. I remember the sweet girlish fragrance of my first perfume – Heaven Sent. (Suddenly, there’s a heavenly fragrance that sings – it’s Heaven Sent! Suddenly, you’re an imp wearing angel’s wings – in Heaven Sent!) I remember my Charlie Brown wall calendar and my charm bracelet and WKNR “Keener” radio.
It's hard to believe that the Beatles had only eight years of recording 45’s and albums together. Their musical and cultural legacy is so impactful and their songs are still regularly played now, sixty one years later. They were the soundtrack of my adolescence and teen years. When I sing along to the car radio, I still get that upbeat feeling of their early hits, and still relate powerfully to their later, more poetic and soulful hits. Even as individual performers, they were still incredibly prolific and powerful.
In late 1986, George Harrison wrote “When We Was Fab”, along with co-writer Jeff Lynne. It’s a nostalgic reflection of the early days of Beatlemania, but it also references a lot of the musical influences of their later sound. It’s a happy song, I love to sing to it (Long time ago when we was fab. Gear.) The video is a fun one, with cameos by Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, Elton John and Paul Simon. It also makes me think of his other tribute to the Beatles, All Those Years Ago. (These videos can be found on YouTube.)
I don’t know. I just feel like my formative years were closely tied to their music and their vibe, from happy love songs to more melancholy, thoughtful tunes that carried and lifted me and understood me when I needed them. We were young and hopeful, before we experienced broken hearts and broken bodies and broken dreams and disillusionment. Before we got so old and curmudgeonly. We was all pretty Fab back then, we early Baby Boomers. And pretty darned Gear, too. And the Beatles’ music can still unite us like nothing else.
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