When I Get Olderí: The Beatles At Shea

When I Get Olderí: The Beatles At Shea

Associate Editor

Many of the Lost Boys and Wendys among us, for whom the Beatles still conjure up the tender shepherds of distant youth, are now closer in age to the Beatlesí lyrical landmark of 64 than to the girl who was ìjust 17.î The way 1960s schoolchildren ìknewî about the Beatles legend was something they were sure old men and women couldnít possibly understand. Yet, in this August of 2000, perhaps the oldest living guardian of the legend is a man who is now 18 years past even 64: Sid Bernstein, the promoter who first brought the Beatles to America, turns 82 on Aug. 12.Bernstein threw himself quite a birthday party, 35 years ago, bringing the Beatles to Shea Stadium on Aug. 15, 1965. It was the largest crowd (55,000) for whom the Beatles ever played.Two Jewish filmmakers, Jason Ressler and Evan Strome, are in the mid-stages of a documentary, ìSid Bernstein Presents,î illuminating a career touching upon Miles Davis, Tito Puente, Muddy Waters, Ella Fitzgerald, Frankie Valli and Frank Sinatra. Ressler says Bernstein was the man who ìtook Ray Charles and James Brown off the black circuit,î a man ìwith a finely honed sense of justice who never has a bad word to say about anyone ó except Charles Lindbergh.îBut there was no act bigger than the Beatles and to the Beatles the stories return. In fact, it is to Liverpool that Bernstein has often returned in recent years as an honored guest of the city. He stops by the Jewish graveyard where his friend, and Beatles manager, Brian Epstein lies buried.ìI go to visit Brian,î says Bernstein, ìto the shul where his funeral was, to visit his family, just to say thank you Brian, thank you. Iíll never forget you. He turned my life around. We never worked with a written contract. Brian gave me his word. That was the beauty of Brian Epstein. The most wonderful, decent, honorable man.îIt is remarkable how often it is that Jews find themselves behind the curtain of Oz.In 1966, Bernstein was at the Olympia theater in Paris, where the Rascals, whom Bernstein managed to a Rock And Roll Hall of Fame career, were about to embark on their first European tour. Epstein flew over from London, surprising Bernstein during the rehearsal.ìHe came to wish me luck,î says Bernstein.Epstein, gay when there were repercussions for being so, was careful in those years about being physically affectionate with other men. ìHe was not someone who touched,î says Bernstein, ìbut he put his arm around my shoulder. He said to me, ëSid, What are two Jewish boys doing here, in this theater surrounded by four goyim (nodding at the Rascals) and all these French people?í îBernstein smiled and said to Epstein, ìWeíre talking to the rest of the world through music. They understand us. And donít we understand them, Brian?îìOf course we do,î said Epstein.Bernsteinís show business career started out, as did so many others, in the Catskill summers of the early 1950s. He wasnít a performer but found a niche as activities director at the Brownís Hotel. He worked in the music business, but went broke promoting the Newport Jazz Festival in 1961.ìI had to get away from the meshugace of the music business. I signed up for a course on American Civilization taught by Max Lerner at the New School. Max Lerner told the class it would be interesting to pick up English papers, to see how that other democracy works.îIt was early 1963. ìIíd look at the entertainment pages. There was a little story about this big,î says Bernstein, holding his thumb and index finger apart, ìabout four or five lines, single column, about four kids from Liverpool. The next week, the story was maybe 10 lines. The third week, the story was over two columns, with a little picture of these kids with long hair. I decided to call Brian Epstein.îBernstein had yet to hear even one Beatles song, but ìI was carried away by what I was reading and the idea that Iíd be first, the first to bring the Beatles.îAlmost 40 years later, Bernstein remembers Epsteinís phone number: CH(Childwall)-6518.Bernstein promised Epstein Carnegie Hall at a time when the Beatles were playing the Cavern, and more than tripling the $2,000 the Beatles were then getting for a nightís work.ìI had him,î says Bernstein. ìI wanted to bring the Beatles over in mid-1963. Brian warned me, ëNobody knows us there. We havenít gotten any airplay. Youíre the first call from the States. How about a year from now?íìSo we agreed to wait until February 1964. Iíd have agreed to anything,î says Bernstein. ìIíd have waited two years. If he told me to wait for moshiach, Iíd have said yes.îWith a borrowed $500, Bernstein reserved Carnegie Hall for Feb. 12, 1964.The rest is history: ìAll of a sudden Iím not Sid Bernstein from the East Bronx; Iím Sid Bernstein, promoter. Kids lined up outside my building, waiting to touch my hand. Then I booked another new group that hadnít gotten airplay yet: The Rolling Stones. I found them in the English papers, too. Then I brought over the Dave Clark Five, the Kinks, the Animals, Manfred Mann, Hermanís Hermits ó I was leading the British invasion!îWhen the Beatles returned for their 1965 summer tour, Bernstein suggested the concert at Shea: ìHow much did I make at Shea? Just 6,500 bucks, less than the $10,000 I made at Carnegie. No one ever did a stadium before. I had no idea of what it would cost me. I had to pay the unions to build a stage. Lloyds of London charged me $25,000. I promised the Beatles $100,000 against 60 percent of the gross, which was $304,000; that was another $82,000.îThe Beatles played 12 songs in 28 minutes.A year later, Bernstein presented the Beatles at Shea one last time. Six days after, they gave up touring forever, but not for Bernsteinís trying. For years, there were reports of Bernstein offering hundreds of millions to the Beatles, and to charity, for one more concert.In 1980, John Lennon said of the Bernsteinís highly publicized pleading: ìThat was a commercial for Sid Bernstein written with Jewish schmaltz and showbiz and tears, dropping on one knee. It was Al Jolson. So I donít buy that. OK?îLennon and Bernstein, living across Central Park from each other, had their tender moments. Bernstein remembers Lennon telling him, years later, ìYou know, at Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain.íìI said, ëYou know John, so did I.í îIn the sun-bathed living room, Bernstein says that, aside from the birth of his six children, ìShea was the event of my life. It gave me a reputation. It made me a semi-hacham (a wise man). A quarter-hacham. So I want to do one more big one, so then Iíll be a hacham. One more.

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