by S. Nadja Zajdman
a cocktail of bitters
They were four lads from Liverpool. Born in war and raised in austerity, they formed a band of musical brothers that made Britain swing and Europe smile. They were vital, tenderly young, and having the time of their lives. They conquered America less than three months after the first Kennedy assassination. For Ringo, The Endearing One, and the eldest, the best part of their first overseas tour was “All of it! Especially Miami, because of the sun!” For John, The Intelligent One, and the cheekiest, America’s music and social mobility proved siren calls luring him to an early and violent death.
It was George, The Quiet One, and the youngest, who was most conscious of the peril provoked by their spectacular fame. He refused to participate in a ticker tape parade held in San Francisco in 1964. Yet the first serious threat would come, not from the recently traumatized Americans, but from a cozy northern corner of this continent. It was at the beginning of the school year in September, 1964, that The Beatles were scheduled to perform at the Forum in Montreal. Of course I wanted to attend the concert. Since I was only eight years old I expected my dad to not only buy me a ticket, but to purchase a second ticket and come with me. It was one of the few times in our time together that my father said no. It was not a regretful refusal, but a vehement one. He envisioned and vociferously described how we would be trampled and crushed into powder by a horde of hysterical adolescents if we dared to go. What my dad could not know; what the general public did not know for decades to come is that the xenophobic hate mongers who stain Quebec were not about to tolerate another British invasion. At that time there were cells of Separatist thugs who had a bad habit of placing bombs instead of letter in mailboxes. These hoodlums had decided that the blissful, bopping Ringo was not only English, but also Jewish, and for these twin crimes, they were going to kill him. That Ringo was English was obvious and irrefutable. That Ringo was Jewish was untrue and to racists, irrelevant. He had a protruding nose, wore large, flashy rings, and had transformed his original surname of Starkey into the stage name of Starr. An official death threat was issued, and Montreal police responded in their usual manner. On the night of the concert, they sent a plainclothes policeman to sit on the riser with Ringo. Ringo raised the cymbals on his drum kit, hoping they might afford him an iota of protection. As the concert progressed Ringo would glance at the cop, wondering what he might do in case of an attack. He soon realized that what would be done was nothing. Because The Beatles, unlike their audience, were neither accustomed nor resigned to ineffectual cops, they left Montreal the next day, never to return, as a group, again.
In December of 1980, I was traveling through northern Greece. It would be the week before Christmas, upon my return to Athens, when I stumbled upon a ten-day-old issue of Time Magazine. A discontented working-class lout, rescued through music, had walked into a fatal confrontation with his Shadow Side. John’s murder sent a generation into mourning for its lost innocence. I felt so far away from home.
The three remaining Beatles came together over John, and then went their separate ways. Simple Ringo, whose greatest ambition had been to own a chain of hair salons, floundered and lost his footing before reclaiming sobriety and settling into a contented second marriage with a former Bond Girl.
Paul, The Cute One, always a charmer, appeared to be leading a charmed life. He was lauded, feted, and ultimately knighted. The last to marry, his first marriage, unlike those of the other three, would’ve been his last had not breast cancer claimed his Linda, as it had taken his mother over forty years before.
It was George’s post-Beatle existence which appeared the most fulfilling, until he was waylaid by the cancer and the violence that have been added to the soundtrack of our lives. When madness descended upon George, it came in the proverbial peaceful English countryside. An intruder found his way onto George’s secluded estate. He believed God had sent him on a mission to kill The Quiet Beatle, and his mission almost succeeded. Having survived throat cancer, George now sustained forty stab wounds, including wounds to a lung, which punctured it, before his wife subdued the assailant by bludgeoning him with a fireplace poker and a lamp.
George’s cancer returned, spreading from his lungs to his brain. As the ex-Beatle lay dying, the attending doctor insisted upon an autograph. George protested that he could barely remember his name, let alone write it, so the accommodating doctor forced his hand.
The two Beatles destined to reach old age came together over George. Ringo had to leave earlier than intended in order to fly to his daughter, who was undergoing brain surgery. George perked up, and the quirky British wit we fell in love with when we were young and uncompromised, bubbled to the surface one final time. “Would you like me to come with you?” he quipped, to his departing friend.
George joined John. The two surviving Beatles got older. We got older. Life got hard. We aren’t carefree anymore.