, July 18, 2024

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Does the President Still Want to Give Paul McCartney a Haircut?

  •   4 min reads
Does the President Still Want to Give Paul McCartney a Haircut?
By Joey Salgado

I was four years old when The Beatles came to Manila to perform at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on July 4, 1966. 

I was too young to be a Beatles fan, or to be a fan of anyone other than my nanay and tatay. Too young to read newspaper accounts of the Fab Four “snubbing” the Marcos children and the kids of Manila’s alta crowd who waited for hours at Malacañang (poor, poor things) where a reception was organized by no less than the First Lady.

I was too young to read about airport officials and politicians fumbling over each other in condemning The Beatles for insulting the First Family. It was a disgraceful act, they said, an insult to the nation. And I was too young to read about a Marcos-loving mob at the airport sending off the band and their entourage with kicks and punches, the lads running for their lives and crying help. That last line was actually a newspaper headline. 

The Manila incident was front page news around the world, especially in the United Kingdom where The Beatles are worshipped as living national treasures, not to mention major contributors to the British treasury. 

In Beatles lore, July 5 has been described as the Manila fiasco or the Manila nightmare. But like all things unflattering to the Marcoses, the sordid details of the event were scrubbed from the national consciousness in the 70s, existing only in the recollections of those who were old enough to read them in the dailies or lucky enough to have seen the show, crappy sound system and all. Local media accounts remained in cobwebbed archives of newspapers that were padlocked in September 1972. 

It was only some 30 years later that I learned about the July 5 Manila nightmare. By that time I was devouring everything printed about The Beatles. Depending on who you read, the brouhaha was the result of a misunderstanding or snobbery. On social media, the event is commemorated every year by a handful of Beatles fans, often with a plea to the remaining members - Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr - to forget the whole thing and do a show in Manila. In 2017, Esquire Philippines posted a well-researched, if longish, article, citing reports from local and foreign newspaper from those dates. The article is resurrected every July 4. 

One quote that stood out was attributed to an obviously frustrated Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., then eight years old: “I’d like to pounce on the Beatles and cut off their hair! Don’t anybody dare me to do anything, because I’ll do it, just to see how game the Beatles are.”

In 1966, that statement from the presidential son, the uniqo hijo, and the oh so dignified remonstrations from the First Lady, were all that was needed for sycophantic government officials to spring into action. 

First, the security escorts given to the Beatles on arrival early that morning were pulled out by the time the show ended. Next came a notice from  the Bureau of Internal Revenue ordering them to pay taxes. At the airport, the escalators were switched off and they were made to carry their bags, all the while being trailed, heckled, and mauled by a rowdy crowd, described by some reporters and columnists as ordinary Filipinos. Ringo, however, claimed the men had guns bulging from their waists.

The Beatles Anthology, a TV documentary later released in DVD format in 1996, showed rare footage and photos from the Manila incident. The surviving members recounted their ordeal and vowed never to set foot in the Philippines again. 

But every dark episode has a silver lining. The Beatles decided to stop touring altogether and focus on studio work, changing popular music forever with the groundbreaking albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album, Let it Be, and Abbey Road.

The Arrogance of Power

The ruckus over the supposed snub of the Marcos children was not about a clash of generations or rock star arrogance, although some of these elements were present in the mix.

It’s about power, the intoxicating sense of entitlement that power bestows on those who hold them, their immediate family, and those blessed to be part of the inner circle. And power breeds arrogance, the conceit that everyone, even world famous celebrities, can be summoned at a moment’s notice. 

There is also the unspoken dynamics of power. Direct orders need not be given for government factotums to carry out deeds in their benefactors’ behalf. Then, and until now, the powers of government can be used to advance political and personal goals, or just to settle a score.

I may have been too young for The Beatles in 1966, but those who watched the show - 80,000 was the official count, the biggest crowd for a one-day show performance - were teenagers at that time, hopeless observers to the power play involving their idols. For many, this would be their first encounter with abusive authority, what activists would later call fascism. 

In the ensuing years, these teenagers would witness scandalous displays of privilege and questionable wealth in the midst of poverty, divisive elite politics, and a presidential re-election campaign marred by widespread fraud and violence. And some of these long-haired Beatle-loving kids would later be waving red flags and storming the gates of Malacañang. 

A few months back, reports circulated in media about a possible Paul McCartney concert in the Philippines. So much has happened since 1966. The Beatles broke up. Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. John Lennon was shot by a crazed fan. Ninoy Aquino was shot by still unknown assassins. George died of cancer. Marcos Sr. died of lupus. Paul and Ringo were knighted. Bongbong Marcos went to Oxford and became an anglophile. He would be elected President in 2022. 

via Flickr

A Beatle manhandled for snubbing the presidential son in 1966 performing here? Perhaps, but I won’t bet my record collection on it. But should that happen, will the President see the show? And does he still want to give Paul a haircut?

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