Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Beatles at Fantasy Park

On Memorial Weekend in 1975 a local radio station in Washington D.C.—I think it was DC101—broadcast a live concert, "The Beatles at Fantasy Park." The event was syndicated over 200 stations and, hipped to the event by my older brothers, I was primed. We recorded the entire broadcast over two Certron cassette tapes that we'd bought at Dart Drug. The concert was, of course, a fake, an homage to the era's propensity for pseudo-events and to the timeless desire for the Beatles to reunite. The show's creators played a "set list" of Beatles songs onto which they dubbed arena-sized concert noise: a roaring, elated crowd; ambient spectator chatter caught on-mike; "interviews" with local personalities and with the individual Beatles themselves; reporters offering remote, on-the-spot features inside of the venue. An exciting Concert Event, indeed.

The verisimilitude was astounding. More than three decades later I remember the top-of-the-head-coming-off excitement I experienced that my words can only now pretend to translate. It was the coolest thing I'd ever heard, magical, strange, even though I knew it was a faked event, a conflation of dreams and technology—most of this beyond my articulation at the time. I remember the realistic-sounding jostling of the reporters to get closer to Lennon or Harrison who were opining for a group of journalists backstage.  (Someone faked the accents, I guess.) I remember marveling at the hoots and cheers and whistles of the crowd, the level of which was expertly raised and lowered during the performance. I remember that the show's creators decided to open with "Baby, You're A Rich Man" which was a weird enough choice that my brothers and I debated it for days afterward. There was definitively something of the era in the whole event: our family had bought the "Red" and "Blue" albums at Korvettes a couple of years before, and my head tingled with imagined scenes of this concert, and at the very real thrill of the idea of the Beatles back together, manufactured and canned as the whole thing was.

A few years later, a rumor was floated that the Beatles were reuniting to play a series of benefit concerts for the Cambodian and Vietnamese boat people. That morning I hopefully clipped the article from the Washington Post and handled it up in my bedroom as if it was a sacred text. The rumor burned up the playground at Saint Andrew the Apostle for a few days and, like the fade of the imagined crowd after the last encore at Fantasy Park, soon disappeared for good. The 1980s and Lennon's murder were around the corner.

I have the Fantasy Park cassette tapes downstairs in the basement, somewhere. I'm hesitant to dig them out and play them. My tape deck has lurked in that basement as well for years now; I'm not sure I'd remember how to hook it up to my stereo. Also, I'm wary of the brittle tapes themselves coming apart in a cloud of dust if I did try to play them.


The tapes are a locus for a strange, dark memory, as well. Weeks after recording the event, I was down in the basement of the house listening obsessively. Something weird overtook me, and I watched as my fingers pressed the red RECORD button on the tape recorder, erasing several seconds of the program.  I stared at the recorder, dumbstruck. I was heartsick. My heart raced, I depressed the button again, and again, alone in the room, erasing more of the show.  It was bizarre, and kind of sick. I knew that I'd deeply regret doing it—and I still do, 35 years later—and yet I got off on a kind of power that I suddenly could lord over myself.  Don't, I said. Do it, I said. Don't! I did. I was nauseous, ashamed of the disappointment I'd created for my brothers who also liked listening to the tape, and was ashamed of myself, and yet I luxuriated, unhappily, in a quasi-masochistic drama with only myself to blame, myself to champion. The song was interrupted by the quiet of the basement and my own stupid breathing. I was learning, without realizing, the ways we can betray ourselves, often against our will, often with malice, and often with heartbreak. (President Nixon had resigned less than a year before my trivial transgression in the basement, the infamous 18 1/2-second gap in the Watergate audiotape soon to surface. Now, I associate those two erasures in my memory, impossibly, frivolously.) I'll never get those seconds back.

What's been erased has been imprinted in me in a different, equally unchangeable way. Andre Dubus: "A trifling incident in a whole lifetime, you may say. Not true." The blend of excitement, fear, regret, and power I felt in those moments was curious, and sad.

Image of Certron cassette via The Aural-Retentive Blog.


Alex V Cook said...

#1 tape rule: always pop the tabs. I ruined a friend's bootleg of an early Pere Ubu show in a similar fugue.

Joe Bonomo said...

I'd forgotten that trick!

Anonymous said...

Please check your email for a very important message. You may be able to get back those lost seconds.

Stuntdog said...

Has anyone recovered a decent recording of the Beatles reunion on this? I have it on a cassette tape and the quality is not that great.

Anonymous said...

Hola Joe,muchas gracias por esta historia.Genial tener un cassette
con un show de Los Beatles que resulta falso.Pero igual queremos escucharlo,lo puedes subir a la red.
Muchas gracias.
Jorge Morales,beatlefan from Chile

Joe Kenney said...

Joe, now this is some incredible synchronicity...first I stumbled on your blog because I was looking for reviews of Lilian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia. And now I come across your blog after doing a search for the Concert At Fantasy Park, which I literally just discovered yesterday! I've been searching high and low for some MP3s of this. Did Rod Serling appear on your broadcast? I came across a contemporary review of the concert that made the whole thing sound both bonkers and entertaining, complete with a "storyline" courtesy reporters on the ground, talking about a baby born at the festival, etc. Have you ever revisited your tapes of the broadcast? Maybe digitized them? You can get cheap tape-to-MP3 converters at Amazon...I got one the other year and it was super easy to digitize my old tapes. Anyway, please let me know if you ever digitize yours and are willing to share! I'd even Paypal ya, I'm so desperate to hear this thing. I was only a year old when it was broadcast, but still...I'm surprised I've only just learned of this thing, especially given how much I'm into vintage radio.

Joe Bonomo said...

Hey Joe! Thanks for reading, and commenting. I haven't digitized the tapes yet—though I want to get to it soon, and will def post when I do. I don't remember Rod Serling, but I vividly recall the "jostling reporters" and the attempt on their part to create a real vibe of festival excitement. Thanks for writing; yours may have been the push I need to do this.

Can you share that review you found?

Unknown said...

@Joe Kenney & Joe Bonomo
Joe K,
i think YouTube did an algorithm or something he popped up on my YouTube, i was reading about Serling on Wikipedia and discovered Fantasy Park i have been down the rabbit hole for days trying to find anything more than a snippet. ->

@ Joe B,
I was so happy to find your thread and recent and the thread from Joe k. I don't want to come out and bombard you. I know how long it would take to copy those but i would pay for copies if possible or maybe i could ship blanks. Im trying to find a track list to make my own but its not the same without the banter and what you guys who lived it experienced back in 1975. All i have is the order of the bands. And a 30min clip of the beatles from the following year fantasy park 1976. My name is Chris by the way it is nice to chat with both of you. Im 34 and music is my life i this is one of the coolest things. That weekend america was united. You are lucky Joe, and i hope this renewed interest pushes you to dig out those babies i bet it will bring you right back. If you remembered the erasure of 18.5 sec so vividly (i know, i know) you will surely be taken down memory lane. Hope to talk soon im going to hit to notify. Also i hope you don't find this as aggressive to get your tapes, its quite the opposite. i just find it such a cool thing to experience. Even if I had no copy of my own, i just want to hear a couple hours worth or something. All the best dude.
Chris Graham, NJ

Stereo999 said...

I remember listening to that broadcast on the radio when I was a kid. Might be the first time I heard The Who. I can still remember Rod Serling's voice saying "Possibly even the Beatles" Would be awesome to hear some of it again