When Portland Almost Killed Beatlemania


I caught the exhibit about The Beatles at the Oregon Historical Society. The displays weren’t specific to the Beatles’ visit to Portland on August 22, 1965 when they performed two shows to a combined attendance of 20,000 fans. There were relics from the concert but the collection, organized by the Grammy Museum and Fab Four Exhibits, included items from the full spectrum of the band’s career. Through November 12, people can pour over artifacts, admire replicas of the band’s gear, look over oddball Beatle merchandise, play drums with Ringo or even sing and record a personal version of Yellow Submarine.

Press kit photo by David Falconer

The band’s performances in Portland must have impacted those who attended, the excitement, the memories. The Beatles, in Portland. Imagine that. Their tours came with baggage. Every show factored into their decision to stop touring. Screams of excitement muffled their ability to hear their instruments. There was more fun backstage jamming, smoking and drinking Wink soda before being trotted out to face 10,000 adoring and screaming Portlanders in a boxy arena. It’s amazing to think facing a crowd like that could get old.

Press kit photo by David Falconer

On tour the band was shuttled by plane and limo in a whirlwind. On the way to Portland the airplane lost an engine. The incident shook up John Lennon but this didn’t merit a mention in Philip Norman definitive Beatle biography Shout, although I swear I read about it somewhere. I also had it in my head that the band landed in Troutdale. I just liked the idea of the Beatles in Troutdale. My memory was proven wrong by a photo of Ringo and Paul waving to fans from a limo at the Portland airport. Their concert rider at the museum called for two seven-passenger limousines, “preferably with air-conditioning” to pick them up. The hoopla netted them 50,000 dollars for their performances and possibly proceeds from the gate on top of that. Tickets, at four, five and six dollars, seemed like a hefty price for the time. How much that equals in today’s money is beyond me.**

Ringo’s suit jacket.

Tiny details from the exhibit revealed more about the band’s personalities. There were things you would never absorb from a book. I saw John Lennon’s loopy handwriting, the use of his elbow to play keyboards in a show photo and a suit that Ringo had made to wear on the cover of the Abbey Road album. George liked it so much he ordered one. In a concert projected on one wall, I watched Paul graciously invite Ringo to sing “With a Little Help From My Friends.” I’m not sure why Ringo is all over the exhibit. He must have been the one Beatle willing and able to participate. His deadpanned intro to the Yellow Submarine booth was hilarious.

The most significant thing I learned about the Beatles’ Portland shows was that Allen Ginsberg was in the audience for the evening performance and he wrote a poem about it. Now a Beatles concert for the band was just another show. For the city and those who attended it’s historical. Not many concerts have poems written about them. Ginsberg has already received props for hanging out with Dylan and recording and performing with The Clash, his poem offers a sense of the essence of a Beatles show.

PORTLAND COLISEUM
by Allen Ginsberg

A brown piano in diamond
white spotlight
Leviathan auditorium
iron run wired
hanging organs, vox
black battery
A single whistling sound of ten thousand children’s
larynxes asinging
pierce the ears
and following up the belly
bliss the moment arrived

Apparition, four brown English
jacket christhair boys
Goofed Ringo battling bright
white drums
Silent George hair patient
Soul horse
Short black-skulled Paul
with the guitar
Lennon the Captain, his mouth
a triangular smile,
all jump together to End
some tearful memory song
ancient-two years,
The million children
the thousand words
bounce in their seats, bash
each other’s sides, press
legs together nervous
Scream again & claphand
become one Animal
in the New World Auditorium
—hands waving myriad
snakes of thought
screetch beyond hearing

while a line of police with
folded arms stands
Sentry to contain the red
sweatered ecstasy
that rises upward to the
wired roof.
— August 27, 1965

Now I’m going to attempt something, rare in this blog or any other, poetry analysis. If you absorb the poem you get images of that cavernous “New World Auditorium” filled with screamers while the Beatles jump as the complete a song. That must have been their stage move at the time. I got a kick out of his band member descriptions. George, so sick of being labeled the quiet Beatle probably kept his mouth shut about it. Paul being painted “black-skulled” is something he’ll never live down. “Screech beyond hearing” seems likely what the Beatles heard but these were Portland kids, sweaters and all, and that could have made all the difference.

**From a story in the Oregonian I learned 6 dollars I s equal to 47 dollars in today’s money.

P.S. The museum is free to residents of Multnomah County and the exhibit is worth checking out if you find yourself downtown. It’s fun to have a look but the mock teenager bedroom decked out in Beatle paraphernalia is a bit of a stretch.

For the Beatlemaniacs:
https://www.beatlesbible.com/1965/08/22/live-memorial-coliseum-portland-oregon/

www.bobbonis.com

Bob’s website doesn’t appear to work well but it’s an archive of photos from the Portland show.

The Author: New kicks, old road.

 

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