Friday, May 9, 2014

Mom's Magical Mystery Solved

Recently, my mother did a spring cleaning of her home. While clearing the clutter, she asked me if there was anything I might want. There was one thing, and you're looking at it. This is my mother's ticket stub. She saw the Beatles in Tokyo on July 2, 1966. I knew she had it tucked away somewhere, but I had never actually seen the ticket until she gave it to me. Having it in my hand after so many years was a real Wonka-like moment.

My musical journey began at the age of 9 when I saw an episode of the band's cartoon on television one Sunday afternoon. The song highlighted that day was "Strawberry Fields Forever." I'll never forget it. When the show concluded I sprinted upstairs and asked my mother if she had ever heard of the Beatles. She laughed... then took me to her records. That was it. She still had much of the discography, and the albums she didn't have I quickly found via bicycle at the local library. After a quick conversion to cassette (a completist even then), I was in heaven. For a couple of years there, as my peers played in the sunshine, I spent my free time at the family stereo listening to the Fab Four.

In my life (see how I did that?), I had asked Mom about the concert from time to time, but I was usually met with, "Oh, Brian, that was a long time ago. I don't really remember." It was almost 50 years ago. I understand that, but this was the Beatles! So, yesterday, I gave her a ring (she lives 2,000 miles away) to get details about the experience. To my delight, she gave me 30 entertaining minutes. Looks like I'm receiving the present this Mother's Day.

She set the stage with some backstory on the move from the United States to Japan. "My father was transferred to Tokyo for Caterpillar. We were among the first Cat families [My mother is one of four children.] to go there, and our housing wasn't built yet. So, we lived in the Tokyo Hilton for 15 months. We lived in three rooms. Two were connected, and there was a kitchenette."

Living in a hotel always sounded like a dream... especially for a kid that was barely a teen. "Oh, it was [a dream]. Cat gave us an allowance to eat, and we could go down to the restaurant whenever we wanted. I used to get steak sandwiches for lunch all the time. It was great! We used to go down to the club and watch performers rehearse. I remember seeing a production of 'West Side Story,' and Peter Allen used to play there. I don't know if you know him. He was married to Liza Minnelli." It was an exciting time in Tokyo. The Olympics were coming. "We had to move out of the hotel and live in the mountains for a month." Every room was booked long before they moved there. "I never really thought about it before, but that's probably why our housing wasn't finished. The construction companies were probably working on Olympic venues."

The Beatles landed at Tokyo's Haneda airport in the wee morning hours of June 30. My mother didn't meet the plane. "I was a big fan, but not in that way like you saw on TV with all of that screaming." The band played five shows in three days and, amazingly, the first show was that very night. As you can guess, it was a tough ticket. "The only way to get one was through a lottery. I think it was run by a radio station, but that's not how I got my ticket. A girl I went to school with, she was Asian, asked me if I wanted to go. I was surprised because we were friends, but we weren't really close friends, you know? Her dad got them on the black market." My mother's ticket was for the afternoon show on the band's last day, July 2, 1966.

There were protests around the city because the Beatles were playing the Budokan. It seems ridiculous, as it is now famously known for hosting rock concerts, but the Beatles were among the first to perform there, and the old guard wasn't happy about it. The Budokan was a symbol of Japan and considered sacred ground reserved for martial arts events. The kids, of course, didn't care at all. "I wasn't aware of all that going on. I was so young, and we hardly ever watched TV." Security was so tight inside it was reported there was a police officer standing at the end of each row. "Nope. I didn't notice the police at all. I was there to watch the Beatles.

"The Budokan was big, but the seats didn't angle back much as they went up like at most arenas you've been to. There were tiers, but they were on top of each other. Even the seats on the top tier seemed close to where the stage was. We were off to one side, up a little bit, but we seemed pretty close. I don't know what it was like in front of the stage, but I thought the sound was good. There was a lot of screaming. There were some times when John or Paul would talk when you couldn't hear them." Speaking of the lads, were you surprised about how they looked in person? "I thought they seemed really dressed up, but they looked exactly like I thought they would... standing just like they always did on stage when you saw them on TV."

When I lived in Japan in the early '90s, I saw Elvis Costello right after he reunited with the Attractions. It was a big theater in Osaka, and I was shocked at how the sold-out crowd showed such restraint. There was polite applause after each song, and nobody even stood up until the encore. Part of this is cultural, but it was a mature crowd too. I was happy to hear the crowd for the Beatles wasn't quite so reserved. "Surprisingly, it wasn't all just young girls. It was quite a mix of males and females, younger and older. I had a friend in school that was supposed to go with her brother, but she got appendicitis. Her dad took her ticket. [Laughs.] It was terrible. She didn't get to go. I went to other shows at the Budokan. I saw the Beach Boys there, Herman's Hermits and others, but the crowd for the Beatles was completely different. It was much louder, and everyone was on the edge of their seats all the way through to the end."

The setlist for all five Tokyo shows was exactly the same. It's a very odd and somewhat sparse mix, in my view. Not sure I would have guessed any of these songs except maybe "Nowhere Man" since 'Rubber Soul' was a somewhat recent release. I wondered if seeing the list would trigger any memories in my mother.

"Rock and Roll Music"
"She's a Woman"
"If I Needed Someone"
"Day Tripper"
"Baby's in Black"
"I Feel Fine"
"I Wanna Be Your Man"
"Nowhere Man"
"Paperback Writer"
"I'm Down"

"I have seen the list, but I don't really remember the songs. Yes, this show seems short, but I don't recall feeling that way. When the concert ended we rushed out of there to catch a taxi back to the Hilton. That's where they were staying, and we wanted to catch a glimpse of them returning from the show. Too bad we had moved from the hotel to our new housing by then. I'm sure I took the train to the Budokan. It wasn't unusual for a young girl to take the train by herself back then, especially in the afternoon, but we took a taxi to the hotel. Of course, we couldn't even get close. It was crazy outside. If my older brother, your Uncle Steve, had been with us, he probably could have gotten us in. He was always close with the staff. He knew those guys, but I was just so young. I didn't really know them, but I did know hiding places and back halls that would have helped us that day, but it didn't work out."

The security was tight. In fact, outside of the concerts, the Beatles weren't really able to leave the hotel. They wanted to shop, but the shopkeepers had to be brought to the Presidential Suite to sell their wares. To pass the time, the four of them worked on a painting together. "Images of a Woman" is the only painting they ever completed as a group.

The Beatles left Japan for the Philippines and then on to America. "I didn't know they would play their last concert eight weeks later, and I don't think I really understood how big a deal it was to have seen them until much later. When we returned to the United States everyone was like 'you saw the Beatles!' Then I kind of got it, but it would have been better if I had been a little bit older, but, yep, I saw the Beatles!"

My hope is that someday my kids will ask me about the Beatles. I'll show them the ticket stub, tell them this tale, and then they'll know they have a cool Grandma. I hope all the moms out there have a wonderful Mother's Day weekend.


Dirk said...

I wonder whether my son will ask me one day if I had really seen Nirvana play ... I doubt it! Not that I ever saw them, but you know what I mean ...

Someone Said said...

Great story with a wonderful memory of your Mother.

Séamus Duggan said...

Great post. thanks for sharing. I love the way objects can become loaded with personal history... Still have a number of surviving tickets, including a couple of Nirvana ones... and my five year olds favourite song is Smells Like teen Spirit...

Brian said...

Hey, Seamus. This gives me hope. I too have a Nirvana stub from the very early days that means a lot to me. Unfortunately, at least to this point, my two kids could care less.