Before the concert: Photography
WASHINGTON D.C. — I was not expecting this. How could it be that my inspiration for photography and for music were there hand in hand in a room long forgotten? There he stood and their faces looked past him, as if time stood still for just them.
Of course, a photograph captures the essence of a certain place in time, but it also resonates and almost comes back to life when the time-stamp machine prints its thumbnail. Mike Mitchell, a photographer who had captured the way the U.S. public saw The Beatles when they first arrived in Washington D.C., was 18 years old and effectively preserved the moment.
On Feb. 9 it was snowing and cold. My colleague Gavin Stern, from the Scripps Howard Semester in Washington program, and I had taken a train and walked around what seemed to be a closed-down building. I was sure it was the Washington Coliseum. I knew it wasn’t closed because the email in my phone said it was open for today to look at a photo gallery. After walking all the way around the building, we finally saw people. We followed them into what looked like the entrance and right away noticed the greatest form of memorabilia there is, photos.
The walls on one side were covered in white plaster. They made each of Mitchell’s iconic photos from 50 years ago stand out like sculptures, almost. On the other side, the room was dark, exposing the aged bricks that held up the weathered Washington Coliseum. Each photograph had its own story to tell, whether it was to show the version between tin-type and digital, or if it was just the shot itself. Nonetheless, I felt like I had seen more art than I ever had before, to note, I have visited only one art museum in my life, the El Paso Art Museum. And, if this was the place to start looking at art, which is in a city that has so much to treasure, I hoped everything would live up to the hype, because this was everything and a bag of chips.
Let it be noted that I am a big Beatles fan. My dad played their music around me when I was a kid, and I have not looked back. Their music is mostly about love. In the different stages of my life, their musical messages have constantly changed as I perceive them. As I tie in their titles to the events I have lived, they continue to be a timeless factor that I cannot find when contrasting them to today’s music. If you ask my friends, right away they will be able to tell you what’s my favorite song and who’s my favorite Beatle.
When I made my way to the entrance into the coliseum, I looked in high hopes to find the center stage just as I had seen it in many photos before, but now the dome-shaped building is an empty shell of its former glory and the ground is used for a parking garage.
I turned back, still hoping that the concert in two nights would live up to its hype, that things would play out for the best.
Things did turn out for the better. I met Mike Mitchell, the person who took photos that I could only dream of taking, and whose photos and words had taught me a lot about how and when to pull the trigger on a camera. Mike, as he told me to call him, was as kind and open as he had been back in El Paso, when he visited our class at UTEP to talk about his photography and a little about how he knew my professor, David Smith-Soto.
He explained to me the process of taking the negatives he had tucked away for some time and how he turned them into digitals. The extensive process he used to extract dust and fix the nicks in the negative made me marvel what a talented artist he was. This man who paid so much attention to detail and at such a young age was able to utilize light under near-impossible conditions. When you look at his work, the guy is a boss.
As a typical fan-boy, I asked if I could take a photo with him. He consented and signed my poster, which had a replication of his photo. That moment is connected to how I interpret every photograph I take now. It is about appreciating every moment. Life is a blessing and, a photo is the time-print you set on it.
Feb. 11, 1964, was the date the Beatles arrived in Washington D.C. to play their first-ever concert in the United States and 50 years later I was standing in the building where they performed. After downing a Newcastle, which I drank to show my respect for their British birthplace, On Feb. 13, 2014, I walked into the stage area and thought, OK, this will work. The stage was toward the back, not quite how they had the place set up before. Most all of the original chairs had disappeared during a time that the building was not in use.
That did not matter to me. What mattered was the track list that was confirmed and the music was exactly what the Beatles had played. Roll Over Beethoven, From Me to You, I Saw Her Standing There, This Boy, All My Loving, I Wanna Be Your Man, Please Please Me, Till There Was You, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Twist and Shout, Long Tall Sally.
I am not sure if the rest of the audience knew, but I knew not to bring jelly beans because the night the Beatles came, they got pelted by them and they did not like it so much.
Tommy Roe, famous for his hits “Sweet Pea” and “Dizzy,” opened up. He was followed by a too- long documentary about the coliseum. By the time Beatlemania came up, everyone’s energy was a bit deflated.
Though I did not want to pester the people near me, I was really into the music. I knew it wasn’t the Beatles, but I have seen Beatlemania and they did a good job, to me at least of replicating the Beatles’ dialogue and character on stage. Check it out. You can see and hear it in documentaries and recordings in the Anthologies.
It was not until “I Want to Hold Your Hand” arrived that we stood up, lost our minds, and started having a really good time. Already, I had lost my voice.
The band members did take a break after performing the last song on the list. It had everyone aahhing until Lenie Colacino (Paul McCartney), promised they would return for more. Of course, they returned and played tracks from what we, Beatles fans, know as the young to older “everybody let their hair down,” phase. They did themselves proud.
While going mad with my dancing and singing, I thought, man if only Paul and Ringo would show up, which of course, they didn’t. When Beatlemania ended their performance, I was a bit distraught until they played an encore, ultimately ending with “Don’t Let Me Down,” a classic way to culminate the eventful two days.