"Regrets? I've had a few," sang Frank Sinatra in his 1969 version of "My Way."
Reflecting on the influence rock 'n' roll has had on me in the last four decades, I feel the same way. Back in the mid-sixties when I started listening to rock seriously, the music of the Beatles grabbed my attention. It hasn't loosened its grip in the forty years since.
Besides the fifty Top 40 smashes recorded by the group, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr each enjoyed hit-filled solo careers into the seventies and eighties as well.
The Beatles' impact on music and popular culture cannot be over estimated. Their sixties-era success was repeated in the nineties with the hugely popular "Anthology" series of compact discs and videos.
For a original Beatles' fan, the experience included hearing your favorite tunes on the radio, buying new hit singles every three months and new albums every Christmas, picking up fan magazines and seeing your heroes on television or at the movies occasionally.
The Beatles stoked interest in their music by touring. They performed in Milwaukee on Sept. 4, 1964 and two days later at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. Another show at Olympia came on Aug. 13, 1966.
Thousands of lucky fans attended those shows, but they were little more than experiments in hysteria. Screaming fans were so loud, the Beatles couldn't hear themselves play through their monitors. The chance of traveling from the U. P. to Detroit or Milwaukee to see a rock group as a young teenager was probably pretty remote, anyway. The Beatles stopped touring in 1966.
The fact that the Beatles no longer toured didn't bother me. They could concentrate on recording and I thought it was most important to own the records-- you could listen to them anytime.
It was 1970-- the year the Beatles broke-up-- before I saw a big-name rock group perform. Early that year I traveled to East Lansing to see Sly and the Family Stone play at Michigan State University. They put on a spectacular show even though Sly was hours late getting to the venue.
As a student at Central Michigan University, I saw more shows in Mt. Pleasant. On Dec. 9, 1971, I read in the Detroit Free Press that John Lennon was to appear at a Free John Sinclair Rally at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. An activist and manager of the MC5, Sinclair had received ten years in prison for trying to sell two marijuana cigarettes.
Lennon's appearance at the 15,000 seat Crisler Arena was scheduled for the next day, Friday, Dec. 10. One of my musical idols was appearing just 105 miles away!
Not only that, the list of political activists and music stars scheduled to attend the rally read like a who's who of the counterculture. Those celebrities included Fr. James Groppi, poet Allen Ginsberg, and members of the Chicago Seven, including Bobby Seale, Rennie Davis and Jerry Rubin. Also slated to appear were Commander Cody, folk singer Phil Ochs, the Joy of Cooking, David Frost and the Up, as well as Lennon's wife, Yoko Ono.
But, with just one day's notice, I didn't feel I had sufficient time to plan a trip. Final exams were approaching, and money was hard to come by. I didn't go.
Singing, "It ain't fair, John Sinclair in the stir for breathing air," Lennon performed his new song which had not yet been recorded. The radical Sinclair was freed from Marquette Branch Prison three days later.
The former Beatle didn't tour and never performed in Michigan again. He was assassinated in 1980. That is regret number one.
After I graduated, I returned to Escanaba. By the fall of 1974, I was working for the Escanaba Daily Press when I saw an advertisement in the Detroit Free Press that George Harrison was bringing his "Dark Horse" tour to the Motor City. The Beatles' lead guitarist was to play at the same Olympia Stadium the group appeared at ten years before. His concert was set for Wednesday, Dec. 4, 1974.
However, the show was in the middle of the week, I was working a new job and money was short. Again, I didn't go. Harrison never toured the U. S. again and died of cancer in 2001. That is regret number two.
When Ringo Starr scheduled an All-Starr Band show in Charlevoix on Aug. 20, 1989, I finally got to attend my first "Beatles" concert. The amiable drummer for the world's most famous band played many of his hits and brought along some of his musical friends including Joe Walsh, Clarence Clemmons, Billy Preston, Nils Lofgren and Dr. John.
A few months later, on Dec. 4, I saw Paul McCartney play at Chicago's Rosemont Theatre. The Beatles' bass player performed "Get Back," "Long and Winding Road," "Let It Be," "Hey Jude," and hits from his solo career to an enthusiastic response.
My wife Sue and I saw Starr again on Aug. 9, 2003 and McCartney on June 2, 1993 and Oct. 23, 2005. All three unforgettable shows were in Milwaukee.
As a younger person, I put off seeing my musical heroes, thinking there was always next time.
Now, I know better.