‘Get Back’ symposium: Sixty years later, people are still talking about Beatlemania

BEATLes symposium


The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University presented a Beatles symposium, Feb. 3.

Music journalist Rob Sheffield compared it to “a donkey race — and The Beatles showed up in a Maserati.”

Jim Babjak of The Smithereens said “they looked like they came from outer space.”

Bob Burger of the band The Weeklings said “it was like the sun came out that day.”

They were all talking about Feb. 9, 1964, the day — 60 years ago this week — that The Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and 73 million people, including many youngsters who would later become rock musicians themselves, watched.

That day, and that broadcast, were referred to frequently throughout “Get Back to 1964 … The Beatles Come to America,” an eight-hour symposium that The Bruce Springsteen Archives & Center for American Music at Monmouth University in West Long Branch presented at the university’s Great Hall, Feb. 3.

Panel-discussion topics included “American Music: Setting the Scene,” “Beatlemania!,” ” ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and the Making of American Cultural Iconography,” “The Music of the Beatles: What Made It Different?” and “60 Years Later: Why Do They Still Matter?”


May Pang at “Get Back to 1964 … The Beatles Come to America.”

In addition to Sheffield, Babjak and Burger, participants included Burger’s Weeklings bandmate Glen Burtnik; May Pang, who worked for John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1970 to 1973 and had a relationship with Lennon from 1973 to 1975; writers Ken Womack and Kenneth Campbell (both also Monmouth University professors) and Bruce Spizer; DJs Dennis Elsas and Tom Frangione; and BSACAM executive director Bob Santelli, director Eileen Chapman and curator Melissa Ziobro.

The symposium’s master stroke was screening the hour-long 2/9/64 “Ed Sullivan Show” in its entirely, including commercials. This allowed attendees to see just how enthusiastic the audience was, how straitlaced (though, admittedly, entertaining) the other acts were, how primitive the commercials were, and how downright uncomfortable Sullivan often seemed.

“You’ve been a fine audience despite severe provocation,” Sullivan said near the end of the show, making a characteristically awkward joke.

The symposium ended with a 45-minute mini-concert by Burger and Burtnik. They sang 14 Beatles songs — including rarely covered material such as “I Need You,” “All I’ve Got to Do,” “Rocky Raccoon” and “One After 909” — backing themselves with acoustic guitars and Burger’s harmonica, and creating a sense of “Beatlemania”-era intensity on early songs such as “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You” and “I Should Have Known Better.”


Glen Burtnik, left, and Bob Burger perform at “Get Back to 1964 … The Beatles Come to America,”

(The Weeklings, incidentally, will be among the many participants in The Fest for Beatles Fans, taking place Feb. 9-11 at The TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York. That is the airport where The Beatles landed on their trip to New York to appear on the Sullivan show.)

On Feb. 10, BSACAM will present another historical symposium, at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, looking at that club’s 50-year history. And on Feb. 15, it will mount a concert — with Lyle Lovett, Alejandro Escovedo, Ruthie Foster, Jimmie Vaughan and others — at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, to celebrate the opening of its new exhibition there, “Music America: Iconic Objects from America’s Music History.”

At the end of the Beatles symposium, Santelli told the crowd, “We’ll be doing a lot more of these as the years go on,” meaning events of this kind.

“Also, this year in particular, we plan to stick around with The Beatles,” he continued. “We’ll have some more celebrations, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of The Beatles coming to America. So watch for us.”

For more on BSACAM, visit springsteenarchives.org.

Here is a gallery of photos taken by John Cavanaugh:


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