Blasdell, The Beatles, And Brotherhood

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There was always The Beatles. Or at least it seemed that way.

I was too young to remember a time before The Beatles.

Strike that.

I certainly do remember the years before The Beatles (or, more appropriately, their music) landed on American shores. I can recall several memorable scenes from the time I was one or two years old.

I remember watching Mercury launches on the black-and-white TV in the living room of our apartment. I remember waiting for my mother to return home (from either work or school—that part I can’t remember) in that same living room on 83 Victory Avenue. I remember taking walks on that same street.

I remember staying at my grandparents on Ingham Avenue while my parents went out. I slept in the crib in the back room. Rather, I was supposed to be sleeping in the crib in the back room. What I really did was stand up against the railing and stare out the window.

The moonlit scene illuminated the slow moving railroad cars on the two levels of tracks. The raised level had box cars moving one way. Moving in the opposite direction, the lower level contained “coal cars.” That’s what I thought they were. I eventually learned the cars were called “gondolas” and they carried coke, not coal.

I don’t know why I remember this particular view. Many years later, long after I had told this story repeatedly, I discovered an old photograph of this exact scene taken from the same window. It turns out the rail traffic was standard for the era. The coke cars traveled to and from the coke ovens and mills on South Buffalo Railways track. The Lehigh Valley regularly ferried box cars containing car parts to the Ford plant on its elevated tracks.

How do I know I was between one and two years old? First, we moved out of the apartment in Lackawanna to our new home on Abbott Parkway in Blasdell in August 1963, just after my third birthday. Second, there was always another person in my memories—my brother Kenny.

He was in the living room as we waited for our mother to return. (Our poor father seemed a bit on edge with his two young sons, as if he was worried he’d have to do something he wasn’t quite sure how to do.)

He was in the stroller my mother pushed. (I tried to sit in the lower basket in the back. That didn’t work, and I preferred to walk.)

He was at my grandparents’ apartment in the high chair when my uncles threatened to feed us both to the barking junkyard dog next door. (My grandmother yelled at them for this, then put us to bed in the back room.)

By the summer of 1963, with a new home, a new street, and new friends (kids close enough to our age lived next door).

But that wasn’t the only new thing. Unbeknownst to us, in October of that year, John Lennon and Paul McCartney penned “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Released in the UK a month later, it would have been the number one hit had it not been for The Beatles’ previous release—“She Loves You”—already occupying that spot. Within two weeks, though, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” would displace its predecessor.

I can’t recall popular music until The Beatles defined it. There are claims, however, I did “The Twist” before I turned one. In fact, there’s video evidence of it, but I don’t remember it.

On the other hand, almost immediately upon the band’s first release (“I Want To Hold Your Hand”) in January 1964, Kenny and I took to the tune. I remember that. My three-year-old self sang it as “I want to hold YOU hand.”

When we visited our grandparents, we rifled through their record collection, eager to find my teeny-bopper aunt’s Beatles albums. We couldn’t play them—didn’t know how to—but we liked to look at the picture and identify each Beatle. It was a strange way for two elementary school brothers to bond.

Mom had an AM radio in the kitchen. Back then, all popular AM stations played Top 40. We’d either listen to WKBW or WGR. They had news, sports, and weather. And rock & roll. Kenny and I would perk up whenever a Beatles song came on.

What we couldn’t understand was how The Beatles so quickly traveled from one station to the other. Yeah, we were smart enough to know there weren’t miniature Beatles playing inside our radio. Of course, we did believe they actually played live at the radio station; hence, the perceived perplexing travel logistics.

We grew up with The Beatles. The Early Beatles. The movie Beatles (Hard Days’ Night and Help!). The Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles. And The Late Beatles.

We joined the school bus stop arguments about who was the favorite Beatle. We laughed at those who thought The Monkees were better (or even real).

One time, when visiting our cousin’s house, she furtively asked in a whisper, “Chris, Kenny, come to my room but don’t tell your mother.” She then played “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” as if it were some contraband song. Kenny and I looked at each other and said, “What’s the big deal? We hear this song on the radio all the time.”

When we walked the area streets on a paper drive for Boy Scouts with our next-door neighbor, we collected all sorts of paper products. One item included a Life Magazine that was a “best of the 60s” issue. It had a black cover, a montage of public figures from the “Decade of Tumult and Change.” Prominent among those were The Beatles (the early years version).

Kenny & I wanted to keep it, but our neighbor was older, and he was an actual Boy Scout (we were just Cub Scouts), so he had first dibs. He grabbed the mag. (I’ve since bought the issue for my collection.)

The Beatles broke up in 1970. We thought they did it just to get on a magazine cover and would soon be back together.

That wasn’t the only thing that broke up in 1970. Our family left Abbott Parkway for a new home in a new city. Blasdell, like The Beatles, became the past.

But the brotherhood remained. It proved stronger. Strong enough to begin a new enthusiasm for The Beatles (if not Blasdell). Kenny & I collected our allowance money to buy—guess what?

Nope. We used that money to buy baseball and football cards. We used those cards to trade for other cards. We sold those other cards. That brought in more money than our allowance. That was enough money to buy old Beatles albums.

And that’s what we did.

We tracked down every rumor that The Beatles would once again band together. I bought the Klaatu album. Kenny bought the books.We bought every re-release. My first CD gift to Kenny was a Beatles album. Not Abbey Road like I had hoped because at the time it was only available in a Japanese format. It was Tony Sheridan and The Beatles.

For his wedding I helped him splice together a Lennon song (“Grow Old With Me”) with a McCartney song (“Pipes of Peace”). Would we have had the technology then that we have today. All we could do was record one song on a cassette and play the other on the record. Between the two, we determined the best place for the splice to occur. Of course, between us and the wedding videographer, something got lost in transition, and the end product was less than what we imagined.

But we knew what it should have sounded like. And it was a perfect blend.

And maybe that’s all that mattered.

It’s fitting, then, that on this day, November 2, 2023, what is likely the final original Beatles single is to be released. Called “Now and Then,” it features recordings of the two dead Beatles with overlays from the two surviving Beatles.

Oh, yeah, did I mention that November 2 is Kenny’s birthday? He would have been 62.

Maybe I should go to Blasdell to listen to it.

The Morning the Music Died

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the December 14, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel. I decided, for the purposes of this blog, to switch this so it better coincides with the actual anniversary; hence, the beginning parenthetical note that occurred in the original publication might seem a little strange until you read next week’s post.]

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(C Note: OK, OK, so I’m a week late. I just thought it would be better to give our local merchants a plug as early in the Christmas season as possible.)

Chronologically, I was too young to grow up with the Beatles. Still, a very young aunt and several teenage cousins provided the avenue for me and my brother to experience at least the fringe of Beatlemania.

Not that we fully understood everything. Let me share with you just one example. During one family party in the summer of 1967,  a cousin spirited me away to her room, warning me not to tell my mother what she was about to show me. She proceeded to Continue Reading “The Morning the Music Died”

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