By Stuart Mitchner
People who listen to the Beatles love them — what about that?
—Richard Poirier in The Performing Self (1971)
Remarkable, unspeakable New York!
—Henry James, in The American Scene
My mood at the moment is best expressed in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, which I was reading when the Beatles landed at JFK on February 7, 1964:
“I enter upon this part of my story in the most pensive and melancholy frame of mind that ever sympathetic breast was touched with…. Every line I write, I feel an abatement of the quickness of my pulse, and of that careless alacrity with it, which every day of my life prompts me to say and write a thousand things I should not.”
Truer words were never not spoken. Did I really care about the Fab Four? I had no choice since my transistor radio was permanently tuned to Top 40 servings on WINS from Murray the K, the DJ who liked to call himself the Fifth Beatle. My idea of musical bliss in those days was a moment in Sonny Rollins Vol. 2 on Blue Note, the change of pianists that occurs in Thelonius Monk’s “Mysterioso,” after Rollins delivers one of his boldest statements and Monk makes way for Horace Silver as J.J. Johnson’s trombone booms overhead. Never did it occur to me that a bunch of funny looking characters from the U.K. could compete with that.
At the time of The Great Arrival, I was living in a small front room of a brownstone at 33 West 87th Street, with a poster of Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles over my bed and one of Joan Miró’s The Farm on another wall above a portable stereo and a box of jazz LPs. My window looked across the street to No. 26, where Billie Holiday had been living at the time of her death in 1959. Lady Day’s “townhouse” sold for almost $14 million in 2022. In 1964 I was paying $120 a month. Most likely Billie had a couple of furnished rooms in 1959. She reportedly died with 70 cents to her name. It’s been four years since I felt like going into New York. The city I love is not the one where Billie Holiday’s townhouse sold for $14 million. more