Episode 11 – The Beatles Bonfire

A Beatles Bonfire near Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, August 12th, 1966.
A Beatles Bonfire near Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, August 12th, 1966.

Do you like rock music? I certainly do, always have. Most of my friends do, too. There’s nothing remarkable about that, though. Many people feel the same way. But it’s a bit different, I think, because music is how I found most of the people that I came to trust and love. It was that way growing up and it’s that way to this day. I play music (though not as much as I should) and it’s led me to a lot of wacky places.

Music also separates people, like weird little fences that we smack down to mark out minefields. If you can dig on a tune with someone else who digs it equally, everything comes up roses and daisies. But if someone is just totally into a genre that makes you grind your teeth, no cups of wine will be crushed betwixt you, y’know?

All of East Texas is like that. From high school on up to today, people blast country at the people blasting punk who are blasting at the people blasting rap. It’s dumb, really, but I get it. Even when I moved away from East Texas for six years, it was like that, to a lesser degree.

Apparently, things were much the same here in Longview back in the 60s. On a certain

Beatles Bonfire in Longview, TX, August 12, 1966.
Beatles Bonfire in Longview, TX, August 12, 1966.

evening, almost 50 years ago to the day, some people who weren’t too happy with a certain rock group took torches to vinyl in protest.

It was 1966. The Beatles were the biggest act that ever was or ever would be. Even here in the middle of nowhere, folks were shimmying and head-bobbing to “Love Me Do” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. Then John Lennon had to let everyone know that he thought the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.”

That, to put it mildly, is not something that you say around here. The response was swift and incendiary. All across the American South, local radio DJs refused to play Beatles records and held “Beatles Bonfires”, inviting kids of all ages to come out and torch all of their Beatles records, pictures and memorabilia in a public conflagration.

It didn’t end there though. The DJ at the Longview rock radio station KLUE sponsored and directed a Beatles Bonfire right here in town. The next day, a sudden late summer storm flared up and a bolt of lightning struck the broadcast antenna of KLUE, frying most of their equipment and sending that same station manager to the hospital.

Cosmic justice? Probably not. After all, assuming that the lightning strike was divine retribution goes against everything that Lennon said in the first place.

Anti-Beatles sign posted near Beaver Meadows, Pennsylvania, August 10th, 1966.
Anti-Beatles sign posted near Beaver Meadows, Pennsylvania, August 10th, 1966.

But, if you’ve ever rocked out the the Beatles in your pickup and watched storm clouds roll in over the horizon, you have to admit that an errant lightning bolt is just a bit creepy, even if it was deserved.

At the very least, the photographs of the Beatles Bonfire phenomenon are truly eerie. Enjoy, nowhere wanderers.