John, Paul, George, Ringo—and Harry
Our Town downtown
July 16, 2007
Last week I saw an ad in one of the dailies for back-to-back shows on PBS; one was on John Lennon, one was on Paul McCartney. I didn’t watch either of them. But I have an old Walkman that gets a few TV stations and I happened to take a walk through the East Village the night they were on and so listened to some of the Lennon one. (Try doing that with your TV.) Anyway, while I’m not much of a music listener anymore, and seldom put any tunes on, my whole being lights up when I hear almost any Beatle tune. One will come on in a bar once in awhile, and for three minutes life for almost everyone in the place I have to believe is transformed. I think I can see it in their eyes and from the way their lips are moving a little with the lyrics. Conversations stop for a bit, maybe just a second. In my 60 years, nothing has been as big in life as the Beatles. I’m way more a sports nut than a music guy, but not even Willie Mays was as big. Or Michael.
I can remember driving through the hills of Western New York as a teenager on my way from my rural hometown to Cooperstown with my girlfriend to see Casey Stengel and Ted Williams inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. On the ride there, on the car radio, we heard ‘Paperback Writer’ for the first time. Whenever the Hall of Fame comes up in talk among buddies and I tell them I was there the day Casey and Ted Williams went in their eyes light up. My biggest memory though was not the ceremony but that drive through the hills on the way there and back with that new Beatle tune on. (I think ‘Rain’ was the flip side.)
Here’s why I’m thinking of that today. Some day maybe 50 years from now some guy will be sitting at a keyboard telling some readers that the biggest thing in the life of the culture during his lifetime were the Harry Potter books. He may be from here or Omaha or Birmingham or Cape Cod or from a rural town in Western New York and he’ll remember his equivalent of driving to Cooperstown. Whatever it might be; the first book, the birthday gift from his now-dead mother, the third time he read the second book, the night he stood in line at the big store in the mall with his buddies at midnight to get the newest one, how he read 700 pages in one weekend.
The Harry Potter thing is so big my eyes water about it sometimes knowing it’s like the Beatles to millions of kids. Years from now they’ll happen upon one of the movies flipping though the channels. They’ll buy the books for their kids hoping to light up their lives. Publishers will release 25-year anniversary editions. 50-year boxed sets will appear. J.K. Rowling will come out on stage at 75 at the Oscars for some special honor and the kid that plays Harry in the movies will walk onstage looking eerily like what John Lennon might have looked like if he had lived that long.
I wasn’t, and am not, a reader of the Harry Potter books and while I really thought the first movie was wonderful, I have not seen the others. Like my father never listened to the Beatles, I guess I wanted to leave the books for the younger generation and not be that baby boomer can’t-miss-a-thing guy about them. But I did observe it all wide-eyed. I used to own a bookstore and just the publishing phenomenon of Harry alone was enough to fascinate me. I had made a note to go to the Scholastic store on Lower Broadway for some Harry Potter event on the evening of September 11, 2001. I may have even thought about it that morning when I woke up. I saw Jim Dale at the big Barnes & Noble on Union Square read in all the characters’ voices one night. I’ll never forget the kids’ faces in the audience. It was a kind of Beatlemania.
‘It took me years to write, would you take a look…’