Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sgt Pepper's 40th Anniversary

Saturday, June 2, marked the 40th anniversary of the release of one of the greatest albums of all time Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Can it really have been 40 years ago?
Sgt. Pepper was released at the beginning of the summer of 1967, what has become known to us Baby Boomers as the “Summer of Love.” It has a special place in my heart because I had just bought a 1966 Pontiac Tempest, which was my second choice because my Dad wouldn’t sign the paper work for me to get what I really wanted—a 1966 red GTO convertible. Then I made the major purchase of the latest audio technology: an 8 track tape player. After buying the player, I could only afford one album so I bought Sgt. Peppers. I listened to that tape over and over and over again until I could afford to buy another tape.
I knew the words, the chord changes, and the inflections to every song by heart—I still do. When I listen to the album now on cd I still expect to hear the “click” which the 8 track player would make when it moved to the next track.
This Beatles’ album provided the sound track for the summer of 1967. You cannot appreciate how inventive and creative those songs were! They opened the door for me to another world far removed from the stifling confines of rural southern Delaware. Riding around on hot summer nights listening to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Get By with a Little Help from my Friends,” “A Day in the Life,” and even the maudlin “She’s Leaving Home” carried me far away from the life I was living.
For me, and many other Baby Boomers, the “Summer of Love” was not what the merchants of nostalgia tell you it was. There was no chance I was going to drive cross country to San Francisco, California. That was only for rich kids. My Dad needed me to help him on our tenant farm for one more year as he was trying to find a new career to better provide for him, my Mom, and baby brother.
I had just graduated from Millsboro High School and was going to begin college classes at the new Delaware Technical and Community College because my family could not afford for me to go anywhere else. The two choices facing an 18 year-old male in the summer of 1967 were either college or the Army.
I had a part time job in a supermarket and a car payment for my “new” one year-old car. [I have had car payments for more than 40 years!] Even as an 18 year-old I had responsibilities that limited my options.
What’s more the “Summer of Love” was also a time of bad news and heartache for many Baby Boomers. During that year 11,100 American soldiers died in Viet Nam; that’s an average of nearly 1000 per month. During the “Summer of Love” the families, friends, girlfriends, and classmates of 2800 men received news of their death in that crazy Asian war. Some of those men had just graduated in June. The summer of 1967 was not all hippies, flowers, and free love. It was also heartbreak and grief for many.
All the while, playing in the background was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In some ways it’s hard to believe that was 40 years ago, yet it also seems like it happened in another lifetime. Such is the reality of aging.
In less than three years the Beatles would break up and never reunite. We who loved and listened to Sgt. Pepper would move on and grow up. We would have families, responsibilities, and greater things to worry about than “Fixing a Hole” in the roof. But the Beatles gave me a warmth from their music that I carry with me to this very day.

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