The Unbarbershopped Quartet

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From the Show Business section; page 46.

Adults may not dig, but how could 20 million teen-agers be wrong? The Beatles are fab. The Beatles are great. The Beatles are different. The Beatles are cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.

All week long, the four young British singers progressed through scenes that might have been whimsically imagined by Dante. Whether it was New York or Miami, teen-aged girls by the massed thousands closed in as if to devour them. They pressed in and literally over the Beatles' limousines, standing on hoods and tops, screaming. On a brief trip to Washington, hundreds of grotesquely clawing hands reached toward them through the massive iron bars that partition Union Station. At a sell-out concert in Manhattan's Carnegie Hall, the Beatles stood on the stage in a hail of their beloved jelly beans, while flashguns intermittently lighted the great interior light night artillery, and they boomed their electrified rock 'n' roll into the wildly screaming darkness.

Real Fuel. All this seemed redolent of flackery, and the Beatles were certainly well-publicized. But no pressagent can light a blaze like that — he can only strike a match here and there and pray to the pressagent's god. The Beatles are being fueled by a genuine, if temporary, hysteria. In every part of the U.S., teen-agers are talking about little else, and superthatch Beatle-size wigs are being sold by the hundreds of dozens. But part of the Beatles peculiar charm is that they view it all with bemused detachment. If they are asked why they think they qualify as, well, four Rockmaninoffs, they disarmingly concede that they have no real talent at all.

They are pure and classic idols. All they have to do is lift their arms or shake their waterweed hair to provoke screams that would blot out an all-clear signal. This is the oddest thing in the Beatles' strange celebrity. They are adulated singers whose swarming fans scream so steadily through each song that they cannot possibly hear what is being sung. Every so often the Beatles step forward and shout, "Oh, shut up," but that only quintuples the screams. Perhaps this is because the audience already has heard on records what it is missing in mere reality:

This boy would be happy just to love you,
But oh my/ai/ai/ai
That boy won't be happy 'til he's seen you
Cry/ai/ai/ai

There is a considerable difference, however, between the coleopteran flight of these four English boys and the phenomenon of Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra in his swooner phase. Presley made his pelvis central to his act, and the screams of his admirers were straight from the raunch. Sinatra's Adam's apple bobbed in Morse code, and no lass missed the message.

But the Beatles are really Teddy bears, covered over with Piltdown hair. The one word that teen-agers use over and over to describe them is "different." They are different not only because they all grope around under four years' growth of hair. They are different because they are as wholesome as choir boys. They only stand and sing. In a mass of misses, they only bring out the mother.

No one seemed wholly exempt from the contagion. Those who were not enthusiastic were at least curious. On the strength of their appearance, Ed Sullivan doubled his ratings. Even the highest brows and the remotest recluse were undone by their young. Painter Andrew Wyeth, for instance, was badgered by his 17-year-old son into wangling a ticket, admits he would have gone along himself if he could have found a pair. Happy Rockefeller took young Jamie and Wendy Murphy to the Carnegie hall concert — the first time she has been photographed with her children since her divorce and re-marriage. In Washington, British Ambassador Sir David Ormsby Gore invited the non-U foursome to join a reception at the embassy and, with Lady Ormsby Gore, escorted them down the long staircase to meet the assembled guests. When the door prize turned out to be a Beatle album, Ringo presented it to the winner with a cheerfully irreverent aside: "We can get you a Frank Sinatra for the same price."

One Married. All from Liverpool, all in their early 20s, they come from similar working-class backgrounds. George Harrison's father is a bus driver. Paul McCartney's sells cotton. Ringo Starr, the somewhat corvine drummer, is the son of a house painter. He is called Ringo because he wears as many as six rings on his fingers. His real name is Richard Starkey.

John Lennon, organizer of the group, never knew his father, who left home when John was three. John went through grammar school and into art college, where he married a classmate. They have a baby son. With Paul McCartney, Lennon has written most of the songs the Beatles sing — and he coined the name Beatle to suggest the steady pounding beat of the rhythms of rock.

Ludwig von Keats. Singing groups are countless in Liverpool, and the Beatles did not just come in off a street corner to fame, as happens so frequently in the U.S. They developed their skill in a coordinated line of one-night stands. They actually went off to the beer sellers of Hamburg to become fully professional. When they recorded Love Me Do in 1962, they began their giddy spiral to fame.

The present group has been together around two years. There were two earlier beatles, one who died of a brain hemorrhage and another who was dropped by the Beatles' manager because he didn't have enough personality and/or hair. Ringo, the oldest (23), is the newest Beatle.

What recommends the Beatles more than anything else is their bright and highly irreverent attitude toward themselves and their international magnitude. Reporters toss ticking questions at them, but it is generally the replies that explode.

"Why do you wear so many rings, Ringo?" demanded one reporter.

"Because I can't fit them all through my nose."

What do you think of Beethoven, Ringo?"

"I love his poems."

What did the Beatles think of the unfavorable reviews they got in the New York Times, and the Herald Tribune?

"It's people like that who put us on the map."

How do they rate themselves musically?

Average. We're kidding you, we're kidding ourselves, we're kidding everything. We don't take anything seriously, except the money."