Jean Shepherd’s reporting about his extraordinary experience of being with the Beatles concludes with his description of a riot on stage and his own comments on what it was like to be a part of the Beatles’ world and to be surrounded by a mayhem of pre-pubescent girls gone amuck.
The Beatles sat in total control of their world. They would either give people an audience or they would deny them. And believe it or not, it got to the point where I began to feel special myself because they talked to me! Yes! This is the kind of nuttiness that must have created a Hitler. Must have felt good to a guy to walk in and have Mr. Hitler say, “Oh, hello, hi, Hans!” We all have a secret desire to somehow be greeted on a first-name basis by somebody who is a real myth and a legend. And up to that point, I’d been a non-believer. And I saw this happening.
Nobody got angry at the Beatles. Oh no. When the Beatles would throw somebody out, like the countess—just hurl her out in the street, she felt pleased to have spoken with them for a moment.
So it got to that point where I would come into their room and John would look up and say, “How ya doin’, Jean?” I would glow! The Beatles recognized me! When one of them would say to me, “How’d ya like a drink, heh? Here, have a drink,” and he’d hand me a drink, and that great warmth would come out again, and I realized that I had been admitted to Olympus! I was allowed to be on the same plain with a world phenomenon. Fascinating! And when I got out into the privacy of a hotel hallway, all of a sudden I’d say to myself:
“What are you doing? This is a rock and roll group—these are the Beatles. For god’s sake, Shepherd, get a grip on yourself!”
And then the door would open down there and McCartney would stick his head out and say, “Hey, Jean, when you come back, knock twice, we’ll let ya in.”
He’d slam the door and I’d say, “God recognizes me!”
I learned something then. I learned how impossible it must be for a reporter to remain objective in the presence of the very great. Notoriety can be greatness, you know.
As I rode through the countryside, I found myself becoming not only a Beatle fan but a Beatle! Yes—when the screams were out there, they were screaming for me! And so, one of the band-boys—one of the kids who work in the Edinburgh theater—all he did was set up the drums. He came backstage and there was this little window looking out over the alley where there were eighteen million kids screaming to the Beatles, and he was talking to one of the Beatles about setting up the equipment. Then he turned and walked to the window—just stood there for a moment, and then pulled the curtain back and looked out and there was a fantastic
He pulled it closed. He turned back to us standing there and said, “Just once I wanted them to scream for me!” Just once. That sounds like I invented it, but so help me, that’s exactly what happened.
Which brings up a point—how many of you secretly scream for whatever it is you scream for—whether it’s a presidential candidate, whether it’s a philosopher, whether it’s a Beatle? How many of us scream just out of a sheer exuberance of screaming for something? Anything that will respond to us screaming. I have a feeling that one day, in some of our major countries there will be mechanical devices which will be set up to receive and record the quantity and quality of screams that we can hurl at them. And that we will have favorite machines. Somebody will like the green one, somebody will like the red one, somebody will like the blue one. And every night they will put another one of these on stage for us to go scream at.
It’s a curious thing to be backstage with the Beatles and see the kind of madness they engender. You know that when the Beatles are on stage, not one person listens. A good twenty-five to thirty minutes before the Beatles come out, their screaming starts, and of course they’re all standing. Have you ever seen paintings by Hieronymus Bosch?
Hell portion of Bosch triptych–
“Garden of Earthy Delights.”
Well, let me tell you, the wildest scene of all is not to watch the Beatles—I stood on the stage apron just back of the curtain where you could see out and they couldn’t see you, and I watched the audience. Whoever was staging this did a fantastic job. They had red lights playing over the audience—just back and forth, red and green spotlights up into the balcony and over into the lodges and into the theater pit.
And this entire mass of screaming, waving, insane, wild human beings you couldn’t even relate to as human beings. It was like looking at some kind of swarm of beetles or gnats, some kind of insane wasp nest that had been stirred up.
And then it had to happen. Even the Beatles themselves had never seen anything like this. We were playing a town called Leeds. Leeds is an industrial city. An ordinary kind of place—like Gary, Indiana or like Union City, a lot of factories and refineries. Sort of a tough, nothing-city in England. An ancient one but very nothing. Nobody was expecting what happened. It just came out of the combustion. The Beatles were on stage and the waves of sound were coming up. Screaming, screaming, just roaring out, one after another, it was getting higher and higher.
Leeds, the Odeon Theatre with Shep and the Beatles
The road manager, standing next to me, had heard thousands of these. He said to me, “This doesn’t sound right.” He called two of the stage hands. “Get over back of me. Something’s going to happen. It sounds funny.”
Sure enough it did. More and more it was coming in wave after wave and quicker and quicker and suddenly without any warning, it was like a big wave coming right out of the ocean—it broke right over the parapet and there were about fifty girls on stage.
It went BROOOOOOM! And the Beatles staggered back, their zippers popping. This great wave of girls all poured on the stage and it was a fantastic melee, and the stagehands, constables, and me, we all rushed out—big scream for us—part of the show—and what do you think the girls were doing?
The girls were tearing off their clothes—not the Beatles’ but theirs! Literally tearing their clothes off on the stage. Fifty of them.
And we all were throwing these chicks like footballs, back into the crowd. And they were all about eight-years-old! Nine-years-old! You grabbed one and her bloomers were flying. And the rest of the crowd went RAAAAAAAA! and we were throwing them back.
One of them had crawled under the stage, and she came out of the wings like a shotgun shot—BOOOOM! like a little bowling ball. She rolled three times and knocked Ringo’s drums over, and as she rolled, she was peeling off clothes, wildly peeling. Ringo grabbed her by the neck and pushed her. “Get away from me!” And she let go a fantastic AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! Ringo yelled, “Pull the curtain down, man!” BOOOOM! down it came and the Beatles were trapped with seven naked five-year-olds.
What a moment, I’ll tell you! A great moment in the English Theatre. Of course that ended the show for that night. The next day the Press blamed the Beatles:
“The Beatles once again have caused violence to strike our small city here.”
I’m thinking of all those parents at home with little girls named Agatha. Little, skinny girls eating their oatmeal, and the mother says,
“Did you enjoy the Beatles last night?”
I can only imagine a picture of little Agatha flying through the air, trailing her pants behind.
I began to have a real understanding of what this is all about. It has nothing to do with rock and roll. The Beatles often talk about this: “I wonder what the next act is gonna be like.” When you get to the underbelly of all this that’s going on, you wonder really, in what direction. The third day I was there Pravda had an editorial with a picture of a riot that had occurred over the Beatles in an English city. Translated, it said, “Another example of Western decadence.” Is it or isn’t it? Are they telling the truth or are they not?
Shepherd has been in the underbelly of Western decadence, 1960s- style in the British Isles, and he has come home to tell us and Playboy readers all about it. His interview of them took place in the town of Torquay on the English Channel, the south-western coast of England, following the Beatles performances in Exeter, on October 28, 1964, about ten days after he’d met them. In Playboy, Shepherd describes the hotel setting as consisting of a padlocked suite with a “goodly supply of Coke, tea and booze.”
PLAYBOY asked if they were primarily entertainers or musicians
JOHN said they were money-makers first, then entertainers.
RINGO said they were entertainers first because they were entertainers before they made money.
John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Shep traded questions and remarks for about six pages in the February, 1965 issue of Playboy. The published interview is not as exciting as Jean Shepherd’s spoken descriptions of his experiences in the land of Richard the Lionhearted—his hard days’ nights’ adventures with four regular fellows who had only recently been inexplicably, miraculously, transformed into a performing entity known forevermore as The Beatles.
The Beatles Performing
Jean Shepherd Performing