The figure I have read is 1200 or more. That’s the number of times it’s estimated that The Beatles had performed together (anyway, John, Paul & George) by the time they appeared, relaxed and confident, on that first Ed Sullivan Show, 49 years ago this Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013.
But their appearance three days later in Washington at the Washington Coliseum stands out from every other Beatle appearance I’ve ever seen. Used as a venue for boxing matches, the Coliseum was likely the first time The Beatles had ever played in such an enormous venue, completely surrounded by a huge, enraptured but well behaved crowd and it was the first time that they had to rotate so they’d face everybody in every direction. It provides some perspective on what The Beatles did for the stature of rock & roll to see Ringo himself struggling to tug his drum set around to play to a new sea of faces.
This is the only Beatle performance I’ve seen where The Beatles are in as tumultuous a mood as their audience, the first I’ve ever seen where The Beatles seem on the verge of being washed away by the sea of screams and cheers and contagious (even the performers caught it) excitement. The film shows constant little furtive flicks of light, like meteors, whizzing across the camera lens. Jelly beans. The hard shelled American kind, not the soft gummy sort the English kids would throw. Ringo’s drum sticks visibly split and shatter as he plays. Ringo was especially worked up for the concert. He said afterwards he would have played all night for that crowd. As a final reminder that it wasn’t until The Beatles’ success that rock & roll reached the heights of big time entertainment, the black and white concert footage ends, “bang” like that, abruptly in mid-song. The movie camera had run out of film.
Last year a gentleman named Mike Mitchell emerged with a series of photographs he’d taken as, I believe, an 18 year old amateur photographer, when he attended the Coliseum concert. He apparently moved freely around the perimeter of the stage snapping pictures of The Beatles performing without anyone shooing him away… if true, another indication that rock & roll was still in its “this too shall pass” stage.
Jump ahead 48 years. Mike Mitchell discovers the roll of film he’d shot, develops it and plans to auction the resulting pictures off at Christies. The Wall Street Journal covers this story and runs one of the photos. It’s this photo. John and Paul, plugged in and fancy free, dapper and spiffy, from the Coliseum concert.
Having seen the Coliseum concert in it’s entirety—at least everything the Maysles’ brothers captured—many times, and having watched the significant segment that The Beatles included in their Anthology DVD’s many times, something about the showcased photograph didn’t seem right. Reviewing the filmed footage with this single photograph in mind, several things seem to be amiss.
- John Lennon is, in real life, slightly taller than Paul McCartney. He’s noticeably smaller than Paul in this photo, even taking into account the fact that he’s standing slightly back from Paul.
- The round stage at the Coliseum was ringed with mikes and mike stands. No mikes in this photo. John would occasionally wander away from a mike and step forward to sing his bit, but not Paul and not both of them.
- John Lennon is clearly actually singing in the photo and not merely mouthing a lyric but he’s singing into a void. Again, no mike.
- Where is the background in the photo? It’s a black void.
Perhaps someone can clarify or explain the photo and what it all means.