• Michael Ruscoe

The Fab Fourth

On Independence Day 2020, what's more patriotic than thinking about...um...the Beatles?

I’m writing this on Saturday, July 4, 2020, when we Americans celebrate the 244th anniversary of the day we officially severed our ties with England and became a country of our own. We’re an imperfect union, to be sure, as both our history and the past several months have proven beyond any shadow of doubt. But as a nation, we’re special. We’re worthy of high regard, and we’re worthy of pride (more on that in a moment).

On this Independence Day—one that comes in a year of challenges and turmoil unlike any I’ve seen in my lifetime—I find myself reminded that Monday, July 6, is the anniversary of another important event. It was perhaps more modest than the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but it was to have repercussions perhaps just as profound and influential on our national and global history as America’s Blog Post Heard ’Round the World in 1776. And like the American Revolution, this other anniversary was rooted in British soil.

The day is Saturday, July 6, 1957, and the place is a lawn behind St. Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool. St. Peter’s is holding a church fete, a garden party organized to raise funds for the parish. On the flatbed truck that serves as a stage is an equally modest “skiffle” group, a ragtag band performing songs from the latest fad that has swept Britain, a mixture of American jazz, blues, and folk that will eventually morph into rock ’n’ roll. The band, like all skiffle groups, plays a mixture of traditional, homemade, and improvised instruments; it isn’t unusual to see members of skiffle groups playing washboards, cigar-box fiddles, or paper-and-comb kazoos. This group, however—a band that calls itself the Quarrymen—also features a sixteen-year-old guitar player, a local boy named John Lennon.

One of these Liverpool skiffle players will go on to be one of the most famous men in the world, and one of the most influential musicians of all time. Can you pick him out?

Milling about the church ground crowd is another Liverpool youth, a fifteen-year-old by the name of Paul McCartney. Like Lennon, McCartney is fascinated by music, skiffle, and the sound that’s making its way across the ocean from the United States, recorded by artists such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly. A mutual friend introduces John and Paul. They strike up a friendship, and shortly thereafter, Paul is invited to join the band.

Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon...and some guy who will never be one of the Beatles.

Over time, different members of the group come and go until its roster solidifies as John, Paul, George Harrison, and finally, Ringo Starr (who celebrates his 80th birthday on Tuesday, July 7, with a YouTube concert featuring Paul McCartney). The group morphs from the Quarrymen to Johnny and the Moondogs to the Nerk Twins to the Silver Beetles to the Silver Beats to the Silver Beatles, until they finally settle on the unusual yet iconic name, the Beatles.

Almost 188 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Beatles lead a British Invasion of the United States and proceed to conquer America and the world. They change everything. They change popular music, elevating it to an art form; and Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly (not to mention every single person and group that’s cut a record before or since) are recognized as “artists” only because of what the Beatles have done. The Beatles change the way we speak. They change the way we dress. They change the way we think. And right now, we’re only a week or so past the June 25 anniversary of the 1967 Our World broadcast, during which the Beatles perform in front of television’s first worldwide satellite audience to deliver their greatest lesson...

I’m thinking about all of this on July 4, 2020, as our nation is buffeted by a deadly illness, and our citizens take to the streets in righteous anger over the systemic racism that has plagued us since well before that first Independence Day in 1776. And we can be proud of our country. The thing I’m most proud of as an American is that while we may be a country founded largely by slaveholders, we were given the tools with which we could end slavery. While our history may be bloody and often unjust, we’re a people who are smart enough and brave enough to look our history dead in the eye and say, “No, that was wrong. We can aspire to a better future for everyone.” We’re an imperfect people, and while we may never reach perfection, we can always strive, in the words of our Constitution, “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

Toppling statues that memorialize cruel and bloody regimes is a practice steeped in American tradition and patriotism. This one, dedicated "in memory of the boys who wore the gray," until recently stood in front of the Old Courthouse in Durham, North Carolina.

How we’ll do this, especially in light of the all the current dilemmas that torment us, I haven’t the slightest clue. I do know this, however: All we need is love. Once we remember that part, the rest is easy.

BLACK LIVES MATTER. Click here for ways to donate to and support the cause.

Photos and video not in the public domain are the property of their original copyright holders, including The Beatles/Apple Corps Ltd.

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