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Beatlefest 

What do Yoko Ono and Ethiopian children have in common?

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What did you do this weekend?

I went to Beatlefest '88 at the O'Hare Hyatt.

Who was there?

Nearly 6,000 potential Mark David Chapmans.

What's a Beatlefest?

A Beatles convention, sort of. Mark and Carol Lapidos have been putting them on since 1974; there are three each year: one in New York in the spring, one in Chicago in mid-August, and one in LA around Thanksgiving time.

How often have you been there?

Often enough to--it was my first, actually.

So what went on?

Sunday night, upstairs in the big ballroom of the main building of the Hyatt, there was a "Battle of the Bands," which consisted of a series of about a dozen short sets by bands playing Beatle songs. (Or Beatle solo songs--one did a rousing, distortion-laden version of Paul McCartney's "Junior's Farm.") In two other smaller rooms, a videotape was running (the same one in both rooms), playing various Beatle or solo Beatle song videos and other clips. There was a McCartney appearance on Good Morning America, which was a hoot.

I'm sorry?

David Hartman asks Paul's wife, Linda, if she has received any hate mail for stealing away every young girl's idol, Paul McCartney. The interview took place somewhere around 1977, and the question comes across as very inappropriate. Paul responds, "Just from your wife, David." Hartman took it full in the chest.

So what else?

Downstairs, there was another series of rooms, which included a display of someone's Beatle memorabilia, an "art room," a panel discussion setup, and a "flea market" where various Beatle collectors and merchandisers could sell stuff.

Wait, what's an "art room"?

A place where nearly 100 fans could display their Beatle-related artwork, the vast part of it less than picture-perfect paintings or drawings of various album covers or well-known photographs.

How did it leave you?

Speechless.

What went on in the discussion room?

The one I saw featured special guest Alistair Taylor, former gofer for Brian Epstein and onetime GM of Apple Corps, and Tim Riley, a Boston-based music critic who has just written a much-needed commentary on the music of the Beatles.

What'd they say?

Some random jottings from my notebook:

"It's not just a coincidence that the Beatles are still with us" (Riley).

"We were just having fun" (Taylor).

"A Beatles album is deceptively fun; it's the same problem with comedy--nobody takes Charlie Chaplin seriously" (Riley).

"As an Englishman, I mean, 500 years on, people are still interpreting Shakespeare" (Taylor).

"The songs have meanings the Beatles never intended; the art has a life of its own, and that's hard to accept" (Riley).

Was there lots of stuff at the flea market?

Sheesh.

So what's the most expensive bit of Beatles memorabilia?

At the show, it was apparently a set of "Beatlephones," a pair of Beatle brand headphones going for a cool grand. I was told that the rarest thing, worth about $2,000, was a set of promotional dolls with bobbing heads--not the 8-inch set, which is relatively common, but the 14-inchers.

Rarest record?

"Please Please Me," on Vee-Jay records, backed with not "From Me to You" but "Ask Me Why" and featuring a misspelling of the group's name ("Beattles") on the label. One guy had it offered for $380.

Anything you were taken with?

"The International Battle of the Century," a record also on Vee-Jay, pairing off the Beatles and the Four Seasons: "Each delivering their greatest vocal punches. You be the Judge!"

Buy it?

For $550?

What else didn't you buy?

Beatle coffee cups, hats, cereal bowls, and photos. Beatle hair, T-shirts, sweatshirts, coasters, lunch boxes, and jigsaw puzzles. Beatle games ("Flip Your Wig," by Milton Bradley). The John Lennon Bag One collection of drawings--because of or despite the inclusion of several renditions of Yoko masturbating and John performing cunnilingus on her. Did you know, by the way, that most of the Bag One drawings, though not the ones I just mentioned, have been licensed by Yoko for T-shirts and other paraphernalia? Including, as was sold at Beatlefest, some "uniquely framed" novelties, which is an understatement. It reminded me of a joke I once heard.

What's the joke?

What do Yoko Ono and starving Ethiopian children have in common?

Uh-oh.

They both live off dead Beatles. You could also buy a mint, first-edition copy of Yoko's book, Grapefruit, for $50. It probably could have sold for more if the seller had thought to promote it with John's endorsement, which was that he thought it was the most important book since the Bible. I also found out that the Spanish-language version of "Old Brown Shoe" is called "Viejo zapato cafe," and that the French version of John's In His Own Write is En flagrant delire. Ask me what my favorite comment was during Beatlefest.

OK.

It wasn't even spoken aloud. It was in a video for McCartney's single, "Press," from the recent Press to Play album. It was a dumb clip, featuring the all-too-winsome Paul (winsome, lose some, I always say) causing a commotion in a London subway, or tube I suppose I should say. Anyway, the camera caught a guy mouthing a sentence, apparently to a friend. It wasn't anything racy, just sort of poignant.

What'd he say?

"He used to be in the Beatles."

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