Thursday, 19 July 2012

FEATURES: The Beatles and me - 46 years ago

  The Fab Four as they emerge from their airline jet that brought them to Manila.


IT WAS 46 years ago this month when the Beatles performed live before a huge, hysterical and adoring audience of Filipinos that included me.

I think I can still remember what happened.

I was only 18 when the Fab Four came to Manila. The date was July 4, 1966. 

The Manila gig turned out to be the final leg of their hugely successful world tour that kicked off in the US. It was a Saturday - a day which Filipinos then celebrated as the country's Independence Day.

The Beatles - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr - stormed Manila for a one-off performance at the city's largest open sports stadium that Saturday night.

They had been the biggest news for almost a week now, to say the least, as the whole nation waited in awe for their sweet, rowdy invasion.

But a day before the Mopheads came, I was still in my far-flung hometown in Bicol - to be precise, Mambulao, CamNorte --  some 400 kilometers south of Manila, or roughly 14 hours by bus ride.

Posters announcing the concert.
I knew the Beatles were coming the next day.

For several days, I had been glued to my old-fashioned transistorized Sony radio listening to the Beatles songs my favorite DJs were airing from Manila.

At the same time, Manila radio programs were plugging the group's coming every now and then. Every time a Beatles song was played, I felt an explosion of excitement coming out of my pores.

That early Friday morning, I harped on my dad incessantly. I told him that we should be traveling to Manila that afternoon so I could catch up with the on-going enrollment at the University of the East where I was to take my second year in accounting course (it was a big lie and at the same time an ingenious ploy for him to escort me to Manila that very same day).

Convinced that I could miss the enrollment, dad consulted mother about my "problem", then hurriedly packed our luggage and prepared ourselves for a grueling 14-hour bus journey to Manila, a bumpy ride that began at 3pm from a makeshift terminal next to the town market.

WE ARRIVED in the city just before daybreak the next day.

All over the BLTB bus terminal in Pasay, I saw that all daily papers carried on page one the blown-up pictures of John, Paul, George and Ringo - along with screaming headlines: "Beatles invasion today!", "Fab Four are coming!", "Manila prepares for the Beatles", and so on and so forth.

I just kept my cool. Or else my excitement could betray my real agenda. But I grinned like I had never grinned before as I browsed the Beatle-dominated newspaper headlines.

My dad never knew of the madness that was hurtling inside my head, bouncing back and forth against its walls. 

"Tonight, I'm going to see my idols ..." were the neutrons and protons that were bouncing back and forth excitedly inside my shell.

Ringside ticket

For our stay in Manila, my father and I went to a relative who lived in the city's suburb. However, he told me I would transfer to a boy's dorm later once I got enrolled. Fine.

That afternoon, after I got up from a long slumber, and therefore very much recharged, I bravely announced to my dad: "Dad ... I am going to see the Beatles' concert tonight ..."

The news hit him like a 747 plowing into a skyscraper.

"The Beatles? Don't be silly ... what will you do there ...?" was all he said to dismiss my grandiose plan.

I felt slighted. What a stupid question a father could ask a Beatle fan like me!

Although I assured him I knew how to find my way to the Rizal Memorial Stadium (I told him I knew how to get a cab) where the group was going to perform, my dad stood pat on his big "NO".

I pleaded to him; I even promised that I'd be studying harder this semester ... blah ... blah ... blah.

Still he rejected me flatly. It would be risky for a boy like me to be riding through the city especially in the night. Case closed.

But hearing this, I saw a glimmer of hope: Why not come with me so you'll see them too?"

Still, he thought the idea rubbish.

But all is well that ends well, as the classic saying goes. Finally, my dad said he wanted to see these outrageous-looking (because of their hairstyle) guys.

I knew he had heard over the radio about the Beatles' arrival shortly before noon that day straight from Australia.

PANDEMONIUM. There was no other way to describe the chaos in front of the main gate - one of the seven around the Rizal Memorial Oval.

Just to think that it was only 5.30pm and the show was to start at 7pm, but the concert management had announced that tickets had been sold out and all seats taken.

And still there were a thousand more or so clawing and elbowing their way to the ticket windows around the stadium building.

I hung for dear life as I struggled against the violent, wave-like whip of the crowd, with my dad's body pressing hard against mine, his hands firmly locked on my back leather belt.

The agitated crowd becoming wild, it now pushed towards the gate. Women being mercilessly crushed screamed in pain and men cursed to high heavens in utter desperation.

This time, I had totally forgotten all about my dad. I was resigned to bulldoze my way, however impossible it was, through the wall of thousands of sweat-soaked bodies and anchor my hands for good in one of the ticket windows.

Those being crushed against the giant gate door could do nothing but stood their grounds with a "come-what-may" resolve.

Things were getting hopeless now when luck of all luck, the sun shone on us Beatles diehards that night as the giant steel-and-wood gate panel suddenly gave out a loud crack as it was thrown wide open, followed by a booming crash when it jumped out of its hinges and plunged violently into the pavement.

I was as if a wall of a giant water dam collapsed, followed by an avalanche of thousand bodies roaring past the breached gate doors and onto the open-air stadium.

Nobody knew how it happened but it just did.

With my whole body aching now from bruises and my right forehead made swollen by bumps and sharp, nasty elbows, I clambered my way up, as did the rest, through the steel railings of the elevated rows of the bleacher seats.

Indeed, it was great triumph to finally reach the crowded middle rows of the seats, from where I could see a square of an inch of the makeshift stage about 400 meters away.

This was where the Beatles were to perform in an hour's time.

It was great to feel in my face the cool breeze humming from the open fields as I watched in awe the sea of humanity right there before me.
But my state of mind was short-lived. From close behind, I heard my dad's familiar curse.

Jesus Christ! Dad was a lump of mangled meat, his hair disheveled and the starched white polo shirt he was on an hour ago was now in tatters, as it he came with it through a shredding machine.

Reddened scratches crisscrossed his arms, a reward from being able to break away from the melee that finally had died down.

NOW, IT'S SHOW TIME. The entire oval erupted into a hellish confusion when four powerful spotlights zeroed in on John, Paul, George and Ringo.
"Ladies and gentlemen ... John, Paul, George and Ringo ... the Beatleeeesssss...!"

From where I sat, the four were just specks of moving black objects on stage, but I knew Harrison was doing his best to float above the vocal carnage with the hair-raising opening bars of "Day Tripper".

The thunderous roar from the maddening fans trebled as the Fab Four belted out one hit song after another.

Minutes ebbed like the dripping sand in an hour glass as the whole affair turned into a concerto of discordant revelry. (John Lennon, in a news conference the next day, joked that they were not actually singing - they were just mouthing their songs, anyway nobody could hear them anymore.)

But this one is great, I tell you.

A rather odd incident unfolded right where I was glued while the mayhem stretched out into the night.

One of the girls, aged about 17 or 18, who sat right next to my left was still screaming her head off without letup as John, Paul and George engaged the hysteria below, taking turns on the lead vocal.

Now Harrison was man of the hour. As he tinkled on the chimey opening chords of his haunting song "If I Needed Someone", the same cacophony of screams and shrieks heaved like a gigantic wave on a pitch-black stormy sea, drowning out this great classic tune for a while.

And then, I happened to glance at this girl to my left.

She was till screaming, but getting faintly now, until it died down slowly to a sobbing staccato, her two hands pressed hard against her chest, as she told me in a sobbing, halting, panting plea: "... please help me ...I can't breathe ... I can't breathe ... please help me ..."

Suddenly, she grabbed me on the shoulder and before I knew it she crumbled right on my lap, unconscious, while I, then greatly stunned, just stared at this lump of warm body.

Harrison was still at it, perhaps midway into his classic song and nobody, save my father, saw what was going on.

Moments later, noticing the little commotion my dad and I were making as we tried to revive the girl, her girlfriends screamed in chorus, not on Harrison's solo, but out of panic over their friend's little scene.

By then, all eyes were upon us.

HOME NOW at past midnight, after walking from the stadium up to Quiapo for a ride to Bacood, Sta Mesa where we spent the night, I never heard father say a thing, except:

"Putang-inang mga Beatles yan ... b’wisit …!"

No comments:

Post a Comment