My first boyfriend was George Harrison. It was 1963. He was 20, handsome, talented, smart, and perfect for me in every way. I was only 11, and we lived on different continents, so he was an Imaginary Boyfriend, but I had a great imagination. I loved George for three years before the boys my age stopped being dorks and losers and I began to consider the benefits of getting a Real Boyfriend.
But at 11, George was perfect for me. He loved me for who I really was, and he always asked me how I was feeling and really listened to my answers. When I was mad at someone for being a jerk, George always sympathized. If I loved a book or a movie, George loved it too. Sometimes whole days passed without me really noticing the real world, because I was so involved with George and our wonderful conversations.
I had a group of friends — Lisa, Jan, and Susan — and we all had Beatles for our Imaginary Boyfriends. Lisa loved Paul, Jan loved Ringo, and Susan loved John. This was decades before the internet, so our sources of information were primarily glossy magazines with stories like “Never Before Seen Pix From the Beatles’ Private Collection” or “George Harrison: Nobody Understands Me.” These magazines had titles like “Teen Life” and “Teen Beat,” and they cost 25¢, what I earned for half an hour of babysitting.
There was also KRFC and KYA, which we listened to on transistor radios, some the size of a dictionary with a handle attached, and some that you could (sort of) fit in your hand and were made of brightly colored plastic. Not only did they play Beatles songs pretty much incessantly, they were always the first with the news of a new album, or upcoming tour.
Albums we bought at the same Rexall Drug Store where we bought our fan magazines. We all had to own all the albums, but sometimes we didn’t all have enough saved up babysitting money, and only one of us would have the album for awhile, so we’d get together for slumber parties where we listened to it over and over. LP albums cost $2.99, six hours of babysitting. Of course, you could buy the stereo version for $3.99, but what was the point? None of us had stereos except maybe in our living rooms where we couldn’t listen to Beatles music without ridicule. We mostly listened to our precious LPs on record players you could fold up and carry around like a suitcase. You’d unlatch it, fold out the speaker, plug it in, put the record on, put the needle on the edge of the record, and Voila! You’d be listening to your Imaginary Boyfriend.
We knew we had to meet the Beatles so our relationships could progress to the next level. The likeliest opportunity was when they were on tour and performing a concert in San Francisco, right across the bay.
The first time they came was August, 1964. But alas, we were not allowed to go. I had just turned 12; some of my friends were still 11. And our cruel and oppressive parents felt we were too young to be turned loose in a huge crowd of over-excited, screaming, jellybean-hurling teenagers. It was tragic. Our lives were over.
But we wanted to make sure the Beatles were aware of our presence, even though we were technically not going to be within 25 miles of them. Of course, we hoped they would just happen to drive through our Marin County town and see us and insist on meeting us, but we knew we couldn’t count on that. We were realists, after all.
So we concocted a plan. First, I asked my father (one of the church leaders) if I could have some of the butcher paper on the enormous roll in the Sunday School building. He said sure, so I took about 50 feet. We carried it over to our friend Wendy’s house, and in her driveway, we cut it in half and taped it together to make a giant paper canvas. On that, we painted (in huge letters we painstakingly drew with pencils first) the words “Welcome, Beatles!”
There must have been at least eight of us involved, including some high school girls because Wendy had an older sister. We let it dry in the sun while we admired our work, and then carefully rolled it up. The plan was to take it up to the top of Mt. Baldy, which was practically in our back yard and … you know, BALD, no trees or other cover to block the view. So we would spread out the sign, weigh it down with rocks, and then the Beatles would look down from their airplane, see the sign, and know that we existed. I’m not sure why we thought their flight path would take them over Marin County on their way to SFO, or why they would be flying low enough to read a sign on a hill, but we were optimists.
It was determined that the sign needed to be transported and set up before dawn. We were smart enough to realize that no adult would approve of this and we needed to use stealth. In my little friends group, we knew there was no way our parents were going to let us get in a car with unknown teenagers at 4 a.m. no matter how stealthily. So Wendy’s older sister and her friends actually placed it. But we woke up knowing it was there. Thrilling.
But it wasn’t there. The wind had come up and the rocks that were supposed to hold it in place didn’t do the job. Some people who lived up there got up that morning and saw lots of voluminous white material covering their back yard, and called the police to report a parachutist down. The police came, found no injured parachutist, loaded our sign into some vehicle, and took it down the hill to Ross Commons, where they spread it out to see what it was, and took a picture of it.
That photo wound up in the big local newspaper, the Independent Journal, with a story about what a mystery it was. The police said it was pretty sophisticated work, probably done by high school students, and that really thrilled us, to be mistaken for high school students.
We were so excited that I confessed to my parents that it was our handiwork, and they were, predictably, pretty upset. Looking back, I can see their point of view. We had committed what could loosely be defined as a crime. And we had used “church paper” to do it, which particularly horrified my mom. They were angry and mortified. We never mentioned it again.
But Lisa and I always remembered our secret criminal past and delighted in it for many decades. Come to think of it, that was probably the closest I ever came to getting the attention of the Beatles. Or at least their news clipping service.
A year later, we were allowed to attend their concert, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, during their second U.S. tour. We had to pay for our own tickets, and were under adult supervision, of course. Lisa’s mother, Dora, took a carful of us, and we chipped in to buy her ticket. But she agreed to sit by herself, several rows behind us, so we wouldn’t appear to be there with a chaperone. Dora lived to be over a hundred years old, and I trust she got into heaven based solely on that saintly gesture.
We weren’t too far from the stage, and could see our Imaginary Boyfriends pretty well, though we had to leap to our feet (screaming) to do it. Everyone else also leaped to their feet, screaming. I’m not sure about Dora.
We couldn’t hear the music at all, but that was not the point, obviously. We could see them and they could see us, something we dwelled on when we discussed it later. I’m pretty sure George picked me out of the crowd and winked at me.
And then it was 1966, the year of their last U.S. tour, though we didn’t know it at the time, and San Francisco was their last stop. Some of our other friends had moved away or lost interest, but Lisa and I were loyal and spent $5.50 each (eleven hours of babysitting) for our seats at Candlestick Park. Dora took us again, and we had the same seating arrangement, bless her, though I think she kind of liked the Beatles by then and bought her own ticket.
This was a giant ballpark, and we were sitting very, very far away from the Beatles. This was long before huge video screens and powerful sound systems. Truth be told, we could really only tell the Beatles apart by their instruments. As soon as they appeared, everyone jumped to their feet screaming (again, I’m not sure about Dora), so we could barely see them and couldn’t hear them much at all. But we were there, breathing air not too far from the air the Beatles were breathing. (It was good that breathing with them was so important, because they only played 11 songs, about half an hour of music.)
After it was all over, we left Candlestick sobbing in ecstasy. Lisa and me, not Dora.
In the next few years, our fandom matured. In high school, I tried to dress like Pattie Boyd, the model who dated George and later married him. (I simultaneously hated her and wanted to be her.) This involved wearing my skirts short and my hair long. I wore bangs that partially obscured my eyes, and grey eye makeup with white lipstick, a look reminiscent of a tuberculosis patient. Very, very fashionable.
We still bought all the Beatles’ albums until they stopped recording them and beyond. We were still interested in them, but more as friends than lovers. Once we were in high school and Real Boyfriends entered our lives, it was all about the music. But you never forget your first boyfriend, and I was just a little bit in love with George Harrison until the day he died.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
A wonderfully nostalgic piece! Very authentic feeling, I loved the story of the sign and how it was mistaken for a parachute. The infatuation over the Beetles which matures over the years into a love of music is really well done. Loved the mentions of Dora always chaperoning them.
Thank you, MB! I really enjoyed my trip down memory lane, and the details that came back to me after almost 60 (!!!) years. I loved Dora. She lived to be 102, and was a character up to the end.
This was sweet and funny in equal measure :) And the Beatles' fandom was certainly a force to be reckoned with. The drama of a young person's life came across well, and the misadventure with the sign on Baldy was amusing. Now I'm wondering if any of them ever read the article. I also like expressing value in babysitting hours. Very fitting :)
Thank you, Michael! I really appreciate your comments. It was fun to switch from fiction to memoir for a week. My memories of these events is so vivid, it's shocking to realize it was 60 years ago!
Nice little ‘slice of life’ story. I wasn’t around during the 60s but as a young teen I was a huge Beatles obsessive.
Thank you for your kind comments, Darryl! I think when I became a Beatles fan when they were new and young and my parents really thought their music was stupid, I never dreamed that this music would enter popular culture and be so present even decades later.
This was so cute! I love the voice (for example, the repeated speculation about Dora's feelings on the matter). You really got the headspace of a preteen girl down in words pretty effortlessly. If you ever decide to take this piece a step further, I would love to read some of these moments as full scenes with dialogue!
Thank you, Laura! I really enjoyed going down memory lane on this one. I think the emotions we feel when we're 11, 12, 13, can be pretty sticky. For me, I just had to start thinking about it and all the details started flooding back.