Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Get Back, Loretta

It was 50 years ago today
That the Beatles went outside to play
And since they never went out of style
VCU  guaranteed me a smile
To Cabell's rooftop I took my ears
Fab Four songs in fresh air for to hear

January 30, 1969 was a freezing cold day in London, with a bitter wind blowing on the rooftop by mid-day. So chilly, in fact, that John borrowed Yoko's fur coat when the Beatles plus Billy Preston headed to Apple HQ rooftop for a surprise show.

Fast forward to January 30, 2019 in Richmond and it's a freezing cold day (35 degrees but feels like 23) with a bitter wind blowing at 24 miles per hour.  Too bad for me, the fur coat my husband gave me in the '80s had long since been sold via classified ad in Style Weekly during the '90s.

Truth be told, I was never really the fur type in the first place.

But fur or not, a music lover doesn't pass up a 50th anniversary, especially when a rooftop-like third floor balcony has been procured and the weather is replicating the original, so I layered up - 6 on top, two on bottom - and took a wind-blown walk to Cabell Library.

Up on the third floor, the campus radio station WVCW had already set up speakers on the balcony. The first familiar face was the poet, who'd been under the misconception that actual musicians dressed like the Beatles were going to play (the librarian later copped to expecting the same thing) when in fact, the plan was to play the original set list (minus the extra takes) along with a couple more Beatles favorites and close with the live recording of the final song from the original performance.

What I hadn't known was that students from Emanata, the student-run comic anthology, were also there with plans to illustrate the floor-to-ceiling windows leading to the balcony with Beatles-related drawings.

The event's organizer went up to a trio of female students and asked if they'd come because they were Beatles fans and though they answered in the affirmative, none of them had seen the original performance footage. He suggested they YouTube it, while I marveled that they'd bothered to come.

Promptly at noon, "Get Back" began blasting out of the speakers and the artists began drawing. Even better, one of the DJs began walking up to people like me with a gift. "Here, I'll give you a yo-yo to commemorate that time you came to hear the Beatles on the roof," he said, handing me a blue yo-yo emblazoned with the station's call letters.

Could there be a better souvenir? I don't think so.

But there was a better place to listen to the music and that was on the balcony, so I left the crowds inside to watch the drawings beginning to take shape - John Lennon was already instantly recognizable with no more than glasses and eyes drawn - and planted myself on the balcony.

Besides, it was much easier to see the drawings taking shape without a gaggle of people in front of me. And yes, it was cold and the wind was gusting, once even knocking a speaker on a stand over, but the whole idea had been to hear the Beatles on some semblance of a rooftop.

Et tu, conference room dwellers?

My vantage point near the railing overlooking the Compass afforded me a bright blue sky, a fair amount of wind, a view of passersby and a peek into the VCU community's appreciation of the Beatles. Occasionally, a student or two would glance up when they heard the music from above, say, "Don't Let Me Down" or "I've Got a Feeling," but that's all they'd do is look up.

Although I could hardly expect the two guys wearing shorts (if their mothers only knew) or the girl in a mini skirt to slow down or their skin would have frozen, I was honestly surprised at the lack of reaction from below.

I'd been expecting groups of listeners to form on the Compass, intrigued to hear music blasting from the library and reverberating off of Hibbs Hall a microsecond later, but no. The only people I saw pause at all were of an age that screamed staff or faculty.

And the one older guy I was absolutely positive would stop and stay, a guy with distinctive blue hair, didn't even seem to notice. I gave up hoping others outside would appreciate what was giving me so much pleasure.

At one point, the librarian pointed out that all he needed was for his hair to be blowing in the wind (a la Lennon in the film footage) before commenting that mine was. Of course, a smart woman would have worn a hat given the cold.

Because the goal was to recreate the original performance without duplicating the second and third takes the Beatles had done, a few additional songs were added in, so after "Dig a Pony," they went to "Penny Lane," which got no more response than its more obscure predecessor.


But out on the balcony, there were three of us who reacted instantly when "Hey, Bulldog" came on because it's not one that lesser Beatles fans know. When I mentioned that to the organizer, he admitted he'd been the one to request it.

Well done was all I could say.

By the time the live third take of "Get Back" began, complete with Paul's improvised lyrics to reflect the occasion ("You've been playing on the roof again and you know your Momma don't like it. She's gonna have you arrested!"), I didn't care about being cold.

Thanks WVCW for providing the coolest possible way to revel in loud Beatles music, January breezes and celebrating a cultural milestone outdoors.

I've got a feeling I might have enjoyed it even more than you did.

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