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A Welcome McCartney : Former Beatle Reunites With Fans at the Bowl for Earth Day Concert

April 19, 1993|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"W ill you join in with us? . . . Clap your hands, stamp your feet, sing if you wanna. Make as much noise as you like because it's not our place anyway."

That was Paul McCartney at the Hollywood Bowl in August, 1964, with the Beatles.

Now, nearly three decades later, the Bowl pretty much is his place--at least it was Friday night as McCartney, who also played the Bowl in August, 1965, with the Beatles, returned to headline the National Earth Day concert.

And he wasn't the only one making a return visit.

For many of the estimated 18,000 fans--including this writer--it was a homecoming full of memories.

"My parents drove us the last time I came here, and we were screaming in the car we were so excited," said fan Lori Russell, on the way into the Bowl. "I was in the fifth grade then. We couldn't even hear the concert we were screaming so much."

At least one person back then made the most of that hysteria. Los Angeles mayoral candidate Larry (Melrose) Green, who was greeting concert-goers Friday with campaign leaflets, recalled, "I was at the concert in 1964. It was unbelievable. There was no AIDS then, no herpes, no nothing, and I must admit I was kissing all these girls, making out. I swear to God I had more sex that day than in the whole year."

Being 10 at the time, my own memories of the '65 show are decidedly less heated.

I recall vendors on the sidewalk out front frightening fans into buying cheap toy binoculars at inflated prices by declaring, "The Beatles are a mile away!"

KRLA radio sponsored the show, and the opening acts, including East L.A.'s Cannibal and the Headhunters, had to contend with rival station KHJ buzzing the Bowl with a helicopter with a message sign reading "Boss Radio KHJ Welcomes the Beatles to Boss Angeles." This prompted KRLA DJ Dave Hull to declare, "There's a station that hasn't earned its fourth letter yet."

All this peripheral matter is clearer than my recollection of the Beatles themselves, because the event was akin to a band playing on the beach while you're out in a raging sea. They were onstage for less than 30 minutes, shaking their heads, dodging well-flung gifts and--as recordings of the event attest--actually playing songs.

Out in the audience that playing had to be taken on trust, since the full-faucet sound of thousands of teen-aged girls in relentless screaming, sobbing, vaulting hysterics was an unfathomable elemental force, one for which the Bowl's paltry PA system was no match.

One veteran screamer in the audience Friday, Suzanne Lerer of Harbor City, was already hoarse from having attended McCartney's Las Vegas show two nights before. The satin Beatle-jacketed 46-year-old, who saw the group in '65 at the Bowl and in '66 at Dodger Stadium, tried to explain why she screamed the first time around.

"I just couldn't believe I was seeing them because they were four adorable British idols with these great accents. We'd seen them on Ed Sullivan, and then there they were. It was so much bigger than life," she recalled.

In a city rife with dire rumors, there were some lighter ones at the concert: "Ringo is here!" (He was indeed.) "Julian is here!" "George must be in town for the Long Beach Grand Prix!" "Reunion!" (George was never spotted.)

There were also those in the audience who weren't much interested in such speculations. They included the two k.d. lang fans who left in a huff when the singer was relegated to singing backup on a McCartney tune. "He might as well have had (his wife) Linda sing that," fumed one as they exited.

Meanwhile, 23-year-old New Yorker Joanne Falbo said, "I was born in the '70s, so my parents were Beatle fans. I'm here for Earth Day, for the cause. That's what matters tonight."

Some older attendees, however, suggested Earth Day might not exist were it not for the cultural revolution the Beatles sparked in the '60s.

"I think that was John's doing mostly, but they questioned things and raised people's consciousness," said Maureen Shenton, 63, of San Pedro. The British expatriate saw the Beatles at Liverpool's Cavern Club in 1962 and was joined Friday by daughters and a granddaughter.

"I don't think they started out to change things. I like Paul because he's from a poor working-class family, like me, and probably only dreamed of being liked down in the pub, much less a legend to the whole world like this," she said.

Legends don't always wear through time, as evidenced by the Bowl itself. With its half-moon reflecting pond long-gone--an absence McCartney noted during his show--and the famed concert bowl cluttered with ugly acoustic baffles, it's hardly postcard material now.

That did not discourage two members of the audience who were visiting from Russia and were in awe of seeing the historic combination of McCartney and the Bowl.

Russian guitar teacher Vladimir Ustinov and his student, Anatoli Olshanskij, used to head a secret club of musicians who gathered to play Beatles songs in Moscow.

Expectantly waiting for McCartney to appear, the bearded, bearish 42-year-old Ustinov said, "It has been since 25 years ago when I began teaching Anatoli that I have dreamed of us someday coming here and seeing a Beatle. People said I am a crazy man and very bad for my students. But I believed it for 25 years. Now I'm here, but I can't believe it."

Moments later, when McCartney strode onstage with his trademark Hofner bass, Ustinov's fists went to his temples, in the same reflexive move screaming fans had made decades before. Then, as McCartney launched into "Coming Up," Ustinov's hands moved to cover his face as he wept with emotion.

* DOWN TO EARTH: Paul McCartney was the main star but Don Henley brought home the message.

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