‘Elvis Romero and the Cosmic White Corvette’: Beatlemania

- July 16, 2012

A serialized novel and podcast by Andrew Leo Lovato

(The following is Chapter Five in an ongoing series. Start at the beginning or listen to Chapter Two/Chapter Three/Chapter Four.)

Even though my early attempts at playing the clarinet did not bear much fruit, one of the great loves in my life was always music. This seemed predestined after my mother had christened me after the King. One of my early memories was when I was five years old. I was sitting on my parents' bed with the record player spinning and the magical voice of Elvis Presley pleading, “I don’t wanna be your tiger, cause tigers play too rough, I don’t wanna be your lion cause lions ain’t the kind you love enough, I just wanna be your teddy bear.”

I stared intently at the cover of the album while I listened. Elvis Presley seemed like a mythical being, not of this world. I was entranced by Elvis’s hair. It was so amazingly perfect, the way it curled and shimmered. I couldn’t help but feel a deep bond with my name-sake. Elvis Presley represented everything exciting and optimistic about the late 1950s. It was like the whole country knew it was on the verge of a new era.

I wasn’t really concerned with all of that; I just loved the sound that came out if the hi-fi. I played the album over and over again until my mom chased me outside to get some fresh air.

Another defining moment in my childhood occurred on a Sunday evening on February 9, 1964. I sat mesmerized in front of a small black-and-white television in our living room waiting in anticipation for the Ed Sullivan show to begin. I was hardly alone in my enthusiasm as 73 million other Americans were also tuning in to witness this new phenomenon that had crossed the ocean from Liverpool, England.

Since the moment I’d heard the driving guitars and the high, rising harmonies of “She Loves You” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” I had become a full-blown Beatles fanatic. Elvis Presley had captured my imagination earlier, but these Beatles were something else again. In my mind, the Beatles were magical creatures who had been transported to earth to infuse color into a drab, gray world.

John, Paul, George, and Ringo did not sound or act like anyone else in 1964. They were an explosion of style and charisma in the American cultural scene, especially for young, impressionable minds like mine. They moved differently and talked with thick British accents that you had to strain to understand. Yet inexplicably, when they sang, their accents seemed to disappear.

The Beatles had a confidence and flair that went way beyond their years. They were warm and cuddly, yet dangerous and subversive at the same time. They were both embraced and suspiciously viewed by society, the perfect combination of attributes for pre-adolescents.

As I sat and watched the Beatles perform five songs that Sunday evening, I was transformed. My dream in life was no longer to play shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers; I finally knew what my true calling was. I wanted to play rock n’ roll music and be adored by all the girls. Like millions of other boys across America, I knew I had what it took; I just needed a few guitar lessons. The next day in school, my third grade class could hardly talk about anything else.

Martha Sanchez, a normally shy girl with dark, curly hair and the kind of glasses that pointed up at the ends, professed her undying love for Paul to the entire class.

“He’s so cute! I didn’t even look at the other ones. I couldn’t take my eyes off him” she gushed.

Surprisingly, running a close second was Ringo, the drummer with the protruding nose and a wide, open smile. Lots of the girls thought of him as a big teddy bear, come to life. The boys tended to gravitate towards John because of his strong presence and many favored George because of his facility on the guitar.

It wasn’t long before the boys’ hair in Mrs. Garcia’s class started to cover the tops of their ears and hang down to their collars. The local 7-11 convenience store sold Beatle collectable cards that we snapped up quickly. A pack that sold for 15 cents contained five cards and a stick of impossibly hard, pink chewing gum. No one ever actually chewed the gum but it did give the cards a sweet, nostalgic smell.

These cards became the most sought after currency at Cristo Rey School. If you were lucky enough find one of the “rare” cards in your pack, you gained instant status with your peers. I envied a gangly fourth grader with thick, black-framed glasses and a premature mustache. Ramon was the school king when it came to Beatle cards. He held the largest, most impressive collection imaginable. No one knew how he came to own such an amazing stash. Judging from his well-worn jeans and sneakers, he did not appear to have the considerable spending power it took to acquire his magnificent booty. But somehow, Ramon had assembled an incredible assortment of rare and valuable cards and this elevated him to legendary status next to the school’s star basketball player and the spelling bee champ.

My resolve to be a rock star was cemented when Rudy and I went downtown to the Lensic theatre to watch the Beatles movie, “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Rudy complained impatiently, “Man, can you believe this crowd Elvis? It’s like we were waiting to see the Pope or something.”

We stood in line for over an hour as the cue snaked around the block. When we finally got our tickets and squeezed into a couple of seats in the back, we sat spellbound.

“Rudy, we gotta get some guitars,” I shouted above the din.

“Let’s see if we can trade in our old clarinets,” he offered and I shook my head excitedly in agreement.

During the entire movie the girls screamed incessantly. Even though we could not hear any of the songs the Beatles performed, much less follow the plot, we were mightily impressed. Yes I thought to myself, as far as jobs go, being a Beatle is the one I think I’d like the best.