(1964, Olympia Stadium, Detroit. Paul, George, John, Ringo, and WT "Bill" Rabe. Credit:Tony Spina/Detroit Free Press)
A couple months ago, I got an e-mail out of the blue:
Hi, John. I'm a writer, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, currently researching a book about early Beatles merchandising and various intriguing spin-offs. I understand that your father, Bill T Rabe, was responsible for the legendary Stamp out the Beatles campaign in 1964. As I understand it, his intention was just to win a little publicity for the University of Detroit, but the concept snowballed.
It was from Marcus Gray, known for his book on The Clash, Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling.
Then the merchandizing started. Marcus Gray, who is trying to pin down all the details for his book, writes in an email:
On 11 February 1964, just 4 days after the Beatles landed, a Detroit company copyrighted a sweatshirt featuring the soon-to-be-famous image of a foot raised above a beetle surrounded by the slogan. A couple of days later, a deputisation was ready to meet the Beatles at their hotel in Florida with sample sweatshirts, bumper stickers and buttons featuring the design. Taking it all in good part, the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein was photographed wearing one at the time ...
... and George Harrison presumably took one home because he was photographed wearing it a few years later.
The Beatles played Detroit a few months later, and held a news conference at Olympia Stadium packed with reporters. There's at least one website with an mp3 of this news conference, but the reporter who recorded it must have left early to make deadline, because it cuts off before a very chilling moment, which I have not seen reported anywhere else.
"Can we keep the noise level down just a little?" the Beatles' press officer Derek Taylor asks.
The Beatles had two weeks left on their American tour and had doubtless been asked the same questions a million times -- about their hair (they didn’t grow it out to make a fashion statement), about the screaming girls (they’re flattered), about the deeper meaning of their songs (there isn’t one).
They answer politely, and when it comes to music, plug their favorite groups, and even get in a few pointed political comments, singling out the Motown and Tamla labels, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the "dirty" segregation of blacks at some concerts.
Someone asks, “Who keeps track of all the money you’re making?”
The Beatles answer, "Clever accountants."
Reporter: "Who keeps track of the accountants?"
The Beatles (in unison): "The police."
In my father's recording, featured on Off-Ramp, you clearly hear the following exchange:
Derek Taylor (repeating a question from a reporter): "Is it true they’re leaving show business in a year?"
John Lennon: "No."
Unknown Beatle: "Not as far as we know, anyway."
John Lennon: "Unless we get shot or something."