The Day Sgt. Pepper marched into My Life...
Maybe it was even called "Beatles Day" when "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" finally arrived in the German record stores in 1967. (WHAT??? 50 Years ago?)
It was such a big event that we were like jittering kids who needed to be emotionally prepared for such excitement. In those days you didn't just get the newest records fresh off the press everywhere. No, we had to wait torturous weeks for them all: The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Pink Floyd, the Stones, Bob Dylan, counting the days and weeks for their arrival. You could actually order records in your favorite record store while the lucky Brits and Americans already owned the treasures.
The ritual for Beatles records was always the same. So, again, I stood in a long line in front of my fave store at 9 am, bought Sgt. Pepper and raced home as if on a mission, happily smiling in anticipation of the wonders waiting for me. This almost religious feeling of anticipation because of a pop-LP is probably inconceivable for younger people. I doubt whether downloads could ever produce such consuming exhilaration, or that anybody would even shiver with sheer excitement because Beyonce or some rappers have a new album. But the Beatles managed to put whole continents into a spin of mania and adoration.
At home, the cellophane wrapping was impatiently ripped off, the "Braun" record player turned on, the black slide carefully placed on it like a delicate treasure - and my boyfriend and I waited for the first tone - breathless and with closed eyes. Weren't we lucky to be young and alive today? They did it again! It was fantastic, almost impossible that such young English men possessed so much talent. Everything was - as usual - surprising and completely original. No, doubt, we've decided after listening to it for about four times in a row (printed lyrics in hand), "Sgt. Pepper" was a piece of perfect, explosive, provocative art.
Only after recovering from the first musical impressions did I study the colorful, crazy, fantasy cover. Pure pop-art, ingenious and funny the mustaches and shimmering circus uniforms and the group of icons, idols and other celebrities - including Dylan, Churchill, Marlon Brando, Marilyn and Edgar Allan Poe.
After that the lyrics were painstakingly studied before finding proper interpretation of partly mysterious messages hiding behind complicated phrases. To me, that was part of the delightful search: finding the key to their kingdom that allowed you - like Alice in Wonderland - to step into the world of Lovely Rita, the meter maid (what was that??) and Lucy in the sky with diamonds, hear about newspaper taxis, 4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, about the poor guy who blew his mind out in a car, and the misunderstood teenage runaway who left her distraught parents when she left home.
It was weeks before there was a "Pepper"-break, the thin cardboard-cover looked already mighty shabby - and let Jimi, Cat Stevens and the Mamas and Papas sing for a while.
I was 19 years old when “Sgt. Pepper” came out. An age you were supposed to be almost a grown-up. But where to turn? Where were the inspirations, the role models, and in my case, how to get away from the pesky German Nazi-past that was hanging over us postwar teens like a black cloud? So I did my private "de-Nazification" musically. Since I was ten (and listened to the British Forces Network - BFN) I always only liked foreign music. Elvis and the Everly Brothers were my first heroes...until one fine day, the four lads burst into my life...
When I heard the Beatles for the first time in 1963, I was struck as by lightning and knew there and then that I had found the sound and the voices in that combination I had always longed for, and never ever again wanted to be without. Like magic, their music contained everything I needed: sex, rebellion, truth, pain, humor and hope. Rock was the soul of everything, the essence - the Way! This wasn't only my salvation, this was my victory over parents, over the horrible German legacy and the following daily postwar complacency: music in a foreign language. Literally.
1967 was a year of political upheavals, cultural explosions and also traumatic events. Students got shot in America and Germany, as did Che Guevara in Bolivia. In spite of the Vietnam War, American hippies and hipsters, decorated with flowers and turned on with LSD, indulged in the “Summer of Love”, the Doors did their first album and Jefferson Airplane their "Surrealistic Pillow". Cult-movies like "Bonnie and Clyde", "Blow-Up" and "The Graduate" introduced a new generation of filmmakers and stars.
Nothing beat “Sgt. Pepper”, the first "concept"-album. Although “The New York Times” actually found “Sgt. Pepper” rather “conventional”. But “Sgt. Pepper” keeps winning the number one spot of the 500 greatest Rock & Roll records of all times. Of course.
How does Sgt. Pepper sound today? Great as ever. Certainly for me, it remains an unsurpassed, peerless "Zeitgeist"-collage, artistic and avant-garde, complex and complicated, yet whimsical and witty, wise and soulful. An incredible, almost baffling, achievement for regular young men from simple Liverpoolian backgrounds.
So it doesn't really matter one teensy bit what people say and write - then and now - about the Fab Four and Sgt. Pepper. John, George, Paul and Ringo were and always remain our heroes, the Princes of the People, and we devoured them with love and passion because they also delivered the illuminating soundtrack of our wild and wonderful youth. So Goodbye, Lucy and Rita, Mr. Kite und Billy Shears, and especially John und George, we will never forget you. In our Lives we Loved You All.