For a precocious nine-year-old, June 1967 was a mind-blower, with three events occurring more or less simultaneously that would have a lasting impact on my life: the 1967 American League baseball pennant race, the release of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the Six Day War.
While Israel was making history fighting for its existence in a miraculous display of courage and prowess, I was only interested in the equally miraculous campaign undertaken by the Boston Red Sox.
Dubbed “The Impossible Dream” after the popular song from the hit Broadway show Man of La Mancha, the Sox run that year from one of baseball’s doormats to the top of the league mesmerized everyone in the proximity of New England, a group of fans that in later years came to be known as Red Sox Nation. By June, it became apparent that this motley crew of Red Sox players – led by a resurgent hero, Carl Yastrzemski – had forged a mystical connection that ignited the hearts and imaginations of anyone who came in contact with the team.
For me, it was like someone had flicked on a switch – one day no baseball, the next day only baseball. Checking box scores and tuning in to games on the scratchy AM transistor radio became a daily ritual.
And then that August, when I held my father’s hand while walking into Fenway Park for the first time and experienced the most vivid colors, smells and sounds of my young life, I was convinced that I had died and gone to heaven.
The ensuing years were more like heaven and hell, though, as any Red Sox fan will tell you. They came close to winning the World Series in that fateful year of ’67, but devising original ways to beat themselves, it would take another 37 years before they achieved that feat, long after the obsession had faded; but the love remained as I silently cheered in bed while watching live in the middle of the night as my wife slept next to me.
BUT MAN does not live on strikeouts alone. The soundtrack to that eventful month in 1967 was undoubtedly The Beatles.
Thanks to an older brother and sister, I was exposed at a tender age to the musical rock & roll explosion of the mid- 1960s, and by 1967, I was using my allowance money to buy 45s by the Fab Four, The Byrds and The Beach Boys. As they spun around the turntable, it felt like the grooves were embedding themselves in the fibers of my brain.
But nothing prepared me – or the Western world – for the fresh and jarring sounds of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, when it was unleashed on an unsuspecting public that June 1. Full of strange instruments and stunning arrangements, it was as if The Beatles were calling out to a generation to ignore the rules and take over the world. Drugs obviously had something to do with it, but to an impressionable nineyear- old, it felt more like the music, the hair and the costumes were a bold challenge to walk to your own beat.
I began to read everything I could about them (their Authorized Biography by Hunter Davies was probably the first non-Hardy Boys book I ever read), and the first songs I learned how to play from my piano teacher were Beatle tunes.
Within a couple years, I would take that obsession further by forming my own band in fourth grade and performing the group’s latter-day hits such as “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be” at school assemblies. From aspiring musician to fledgling rock critic, music remained a No. 1 priority, and helped pave the way for an eventual career in journalism. It may never have happened, or been late in developing, if not for that June 1967 Beatles explosion.
But ironically enough, it was the overlooked June event 50 years ago that ended up having the biggest impact on my life.
My parents undoubtedly talked about the Six Day War around the house, we watched together as Walter Cronkite gave his nightly reports, and we learned about it at my afternoon Hebrew school lessons as we clinked our loose change into the JNF blue boxes that would mysteriously end up as trees somewhere in places with exotic names like the Galilee and the Negev.
But Israel was “over there,” and I was most definitely not. Just as it took the Red Sox a few decades to reach their pinnacle, my journey to the Promised Land was gradual, and not without its fair share of kicking and screaming.
Today, I’ve been an Israeli for more than 30 of the 50 years since June 1967. The sports and music passions of my youth have been tempered with parenthood, bank statements and deadlines.
I still check the one-minute Red Sox video game summaries online every morning, and last year, fulfilled a dream of any Red Sox fan by getting pre-game access to the field and watching the game from the press box above home plate. But baseball is now a pleasant diversion, rather than a life choice.
Music has been very good to me: providing a writing outlet, enabling me to interview some of my musical heroes, and most rewarding, encouraging me to write, perform and record my own songs. But I don’t know many of the names on the charts these days, and rely on my 16-year-old son to receive most of my current musical education.
Rock & roll didn’t save the world, as I thought it might as a teenager. But it did soothe some souls, and has remained a constant close companion.
What has saved some souls,while troubling others, over the last 50 years is Israel – a breathing, living adventure that is still unfolding. Whether it’s called liberation, reunification or occupation, the events and repercussions of what took place 50 years ago have reverberated around the world and affected lives in profound ways that are still coming to light.
An enigma, you never know if Israel will break your heart, boost you in exhilaration or fade into the ordinary. But you embrace it anyway as an intrinsic part of who you are, much like the crack of a baseball bat against a ball or the feeling of falling in love with a three-minute song.