Another March 3rd comes around. My grandfather’s birthday. He would be 107 today, but sadly, he missed that mark by 33 years. It would’ve been fun to have him around awhile longer just to see what he thought about these days and times. Things have changed since 1906.
Things had changed enough, as far as he was concerned, by 1964. One of the two grandsons that he and his wife loved and indulged was quite taken with the 4 boys from Liverpool, England: those noisemakers known as the Beatles. My brother, David, liked the Beatles as well, but not to the extent I did. David hardly needed to latch on to such interests at the time. He was popular, confident and athletic, always skilled at whatever game was being played at the moment. What he lacked in natural ability, he made up for in hustle and grit. I, on the other hand, had eaten too many grits and was usually the last chosen in neighborhood pick-up games. David was among the first picked. Sometimes out of necessity, we were a package deal. I’d go out to right field and they’d hope nothing would be hit my way.
But on many summer days while David was scooting around the bases, I was happily inside listening to Top 40 radio. And what a happy time it was for one enamored of the Beatles. In six months’ time, more than three dozen Beatles songs had been revealed. Atlanta’s pop music stations, WQXI and WPLO, seemed to be playing them all. So no worries. In the years ahead, the fat would disappear and there’d be fewer embarrassing moments on the playing fields, yet for a 10-year old in suburban Atlanta, 1964 was the year of the Beatles. Everything else could wait.
Just as they had with comic books and other things we wanted when David and I spent time with them, my grandparents would slip me some coins to buy the latest Beatles singles. On a birthday, an album might be provided. Saturday morning trips to Woolworth or W.T. Grant would result in vinyl purchases. Even more fun was a visit to the Radio Doctor, a shop in College Park, the town William Bell (“You Don’t Miss Your Water”) would eventually call home. The Radio Doctor was a real record store, such as they were in the South those days. A wide selection. The array of inventory would be more impressive in other places in years to come, particularly at Peaches Records and Tapes, the upstart chain I worked with for 6 years, but walking into the Radio Doctor in the mid-60s was like eyeing the stuff around the tree on Christmas morning. And one couldn’t help but remember what was purchased on those trips – the 45s and the LPs. Out we’d walk to Pappy’s big ’54 Nash or ’60 Chrysler after picking up “I Feel Fine”/”She’s A Woman,” “Eight Days A Week”/”I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” or even better, in summer ’65, Beatles VI. Then back to the house, with the radio blaring, where the wrapping was torn and one could hear – even then – the various directions the Beatles were taking.
My grandfather, Lamar Clarence Cochran, Sr, was better known around town as Pappy. Given the choice, Pappy was a far better handle. It seemed to fit his personality. While he wasn’t one to laugh loud or long, he generally seemed pleased with life, especially when seated in his lazy chair with everyone else minding their manners. Pappy, however, didn’t enjoy sitting through the Ed Sullivan Show when the new rock groups from England were featured. My grandmother, who we called “Mama Birdell,” leaned over one Sunday night and asked, “Don’t you like the Beatles, Pappy?” “No,” he said, tersely. And that was fine. He always came through on those trips to the Radio Doctor.
Many of Pappy’s prime working years took place during the Great Depression. While he was lucky regarding military service (“Too young for World War I and too old for World War II.”), he, like many, found the going tough in the 30s and 40s. But he hung in there. For a time he worked at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where guys like Al Capone were provided room and board. Later he worked in film distribution and advertising with Warner Brothers, the company with the great gangster films. Had David and I known more of his life around the criminal types, we might have better understood his affinity for the lazy chair.
A decade after being carried around town by Pappy, I would visit him and Mama Birdell, often after sentimental journeys to the Radio Doctor. On one trip I showed them Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan. If anything, I was sure they’d be impressed with my interest in letters, so to speak. At the time I was writing record reviews for Atlanta’s alternative papers, including the most radical of them all, The Great Speckled Bird. My grandparents would no doubt gasp at the political discourse in the pages of the Bird, but they never commented on that. “You write beautifully,” my grandmother said. Whether it was hanging out with socialists or playing rock and roll records too loud, a grandson could get away with pretty much anything.