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John Lennon and Paul McCartney in Transit

Scenes

THERE I STOOD, next to Paul McCartney and John Lennon — calm, but without a thing to say. I wasn’t intimidated, but more amazed I had managed to get through an endless skein of Beatlemanic intrigue. But with the aid of my press card there I was, for 15 minutes altogether, with them as they were hustled from one custom’s checkpoint to another last Saturday afternoon. Only while driving back to the city later did I remember that I had forgotten to ask them about all the rumors. Was it true that they were here to denounce the Maharishi? Was it true that they were breaking up and that’s why only two of them had come? Was it true that they were merely in New York to help promote their Apple enterprise into another million dollar Beatle spinoff?

(Tuesday at their press conference it turned out that the only rumor that wasn’t true — as usual — was that they were breaking up. Gently putting down the Maharishi, Lennon said they still meditate now and then but, speaking for all four Beatles, he said they feel they made a mistake about him. “After all we’re only human.”)

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Back at the airport, I did ask Paul if the screaming teenyboppers still turned him on and he said of course. He did a lot of sophisticated waving, and signed autographs for some of the airport personnel. John, more aloof and at times sort of surly, looked pretty tired even in white suit, white shirt, white tie, white shoes, and a plain white button on his lapel. He scrawled autographs without looking at the paper or the beseecher.

There had been reports all week, but the Beatles press people had kept the actual day and time of their arrival a good secret and so only two or three press people were there to greet them. But several thousand frantic crying teenyboppers in last year’s bellbottoms, informed by WMCA Good Guys, were racing all over the International Arrivals building trying to find out where the plane would unload. Watching them float was fantastic. If a girl screamed in one part of the terminal, maybe just out of frustration, a hundred others rushed shrieking in that direction.

After John and Paul left by way of a distant airport exit road in their black Caddy limousine (driven by a chauffeur wearing yellow shades), I headed out through the terminal to my car but a burly airport security supervisor stopped me.

“I can’t convince these kids that the Beatles have left. They just won’t believe someone like me,” he pleaded, while over his shoulder I could see at least a thousand of the tearful faithful trying to get in the doors I had to get out.

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“Someone who looks like you they would believe. You tell them that they left and they’ll all go home.” I said all right.

“Hey kids, this fellow is a reporter and he just had an exclusive interview with the Beatles and …” Two squealing girls grabbed my sleeve and the whole crowd suddenly found me fascinating and they screamed and screeched. I finally got everyone quiet enough to be heard if I yelled. They immediately began planning hurriedly at which hotel they would set up vigils until they could get a glimpse of their idols.

The Beatles are still up there. ❖

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CULTURAL COMMERCE ARCHIVES From The Archives

Beam Us Up. No Wait — Just Get Us Outta Here!

[Archivist’s note: When we saw the ad in the October 10, 1968 issue of the Voice, we thought, hmm, this looks interesting — “INTERCOURSE begins at EARTH. Hallucinate yourself in a variety of environments where everyone joins hands in a new coalition understanding and love.”

Talk therapy? Group sex? It was 1968 on East 49th Street, after all.

Two weeks later we got an answer of sorts when the intrepid, street-level culture reporter Howard Smith made the scene at EARTH in his weekly column.]

SCENES
October 31, 1968
By Howard Smith

I guess the sociologists could explain why people act like lemmings whenever anything new opens in town. Just use the right pop words and huge first night crowds will appear. I made myself the victim of this two weeks ago while attending the opening of a new discotheque called EARTH. The invitation beckoned: “We would like to include you as an honored guest … when the chic inherit the ‘EARTH.’ New York’s most avant-garde restaurant and discotheque. A whole new concept in dining and entertainment. Be kind to all you see and touch. A deep sense of oneness with nature … The earth steams gently … touch the warm wetness … Breathe in fragrances … The enchantment of ‘EARTH’ is knowing the joy of being alive. The newest sights, the newest sounds. Opening a whole new world … ‘Earth.’” Pretty good reading, but the discotheque was something else.

Full page ad for EARTH

Outside was the proving ground of human behavior. It was as if THE BOMB had fallen and this was the only refuge for the beautiful people. To get in became the only aim in life, and how was unimportant.

Suddenly the invitation seemed prophetic. I had a deep sense of oneness with the crowd. Tempers were steaming gently. I couldn’t help but touch the warm wetness of the person pressed against me. It was impossible not to breathe in the fragrances. I was kin to all I saw and touched, but far from a meaningful encounter, everyone was gagging from this unwelcome shoving kinship.

Earth’s owners, who managed to raise enormous sums of money to open their doors, were unable to manage the doors themselves. There was an ability gap. Even their publicity people would do nothing more than smile. Pleas of form a line, please, were ignored when it became apparent that brandishing invitations, press passes, even folded money didn’t accomplish what just plain shoving did. A few creative people used their tongues when elbows were rendered useless in the crush: “I work here … and besides I left my coat inside.”

The fact that people were struggling to get out as intently as others were struggling to get in did not dim anyone’s determination. When at last the resistance gave way and I penetrated the inner depths of this “new concept” in entertaining, the experience was literally over.

The inside story was the biggest let-down of the season. The first floor, dubbed “Earth Gardens,” was crammed with tables, chairs, potted plants, and perplexed people. The hot-house atmosphere was carefully created by that infamous interior design firm of Broken Air Conditioner.

Onward, with much climbing of stairs and peeking into hot, dim caverns. Each floor had its own self-conscious name: “Cafe Intergalactic,” “Karamu Safari’ Room,” and “Up.” There was the usual light show and deafening music. A visual miasma of rather passé day-glo wall decoration and the dismal sensation of flash bulbs popping at unexpected moments did cause me to blink occasionally. The soul food buffet was tasty but in short supply. Kool-Aid flowed like wine, increasing everyone’s thirst and irritability. Squeezing back down the steps required almost the same elbows and determination that it took to get in.

Looking over the invitation again, it seems someone had a great idea in his head. Too bad we don’t all fit.

Howard Smith's SCENES column, which appeared every week.
Continuation of Howard Smith's SCENES column, which appeared every week.