Nov. 21, 1963: I couldn’t wait for tomorrow. Literally couldn’t wait. Couldn’t fall asleep. Tomorrow CBS News was going to show a British documentary about something called “Beatlemania.” Like most of my friends, I had thought of nothing else all week.
I was 12. For all the hype, I had no idea how hard I was about to fall in love with George Harrison and Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and, especially, John Lennon, with the kind of passion only a pre-adolescent girl can bring to it. In bed that night I was finally lulled into sleep by the song “Deep Purple” playing on WMEX in Boston, the singers crooning softly about gentle romance within the safety of sleepy garden walls. It was the No. 1 song that week of November 1963. Within a few months, virtually all the No. 1 songs would belong to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones; the cozy, safe songs and harmonies of the ‘50s and early ‘60s would belong to a totally different, more innocent, era: “Deep Purple” giving way to “Purple Haze.”
Tomorrow came, but “Beatlemania” didn’t. CBS News had other things to report that day. I had to wait to fall in love with John Lennon and the Beatles until we had mourned the passing of another kind of innocence, this one a national rite – but also a personal one. Camelot, that kingdom with its pretty garden walls, was gone for good. I had worshipped President Kennedy – his whole family – from afar, and the pain of that loss, for me, is forever mixed up with my own rite of passage from childhood to adolescence.
Five years later. I had fallen for another Kennedy – Robert – and my Beatles worship had transformed into political passion: anti-war, pro Civil Rights. Robert Kennedy embodied all that and more (I’ll admit it, he was cute; hey, I was 17), and he was poised to become the Democratic candidate just as I was about to be released from high school into a heady summer of peace activism and political campaigning.
I couldn’t wait for tomorrow. I went to bed that night, my head filled with thoughts of the end of high school, the beginning of summer. It was June 5, 1968, and the polls had just closed in California.
It took 40 years for someone else to rekindle the kind of passion I felt then, for politics, for possibilities – and mostly, for a politician. But it’s a passion that’s haunted by past spectres. Camelot – the Kennedys, Martin Luther King – are dead. Someone even shot John Lennon. There are no safe sleepy garden walls, and some nights when I go to sleep, listening to NPR, I wonder if today will turn out to be another “day before tomorrow.”
Amy MacDonald is a children’s book author who lives in Falmouth. She wrote this piece for “November 21: The Day Before,” a commemoration of Kennedy’s death, at the Symphony Space in New York City.