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Local poet Thomas R. Smith said this poster at his home was one of the beginning elements of his Beatles project. Submitted photo

Beatlemania lives on as local poet leads tribute

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Local poet Thomas R. Smith feels a personal connection to the story of the Beatles and, like many, vividly remembers the day of John Lennon's death on Dec. 8, 1980, as he drove home in a blinding snowstorm.

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The 10-year anniversary of Lennon's death inspired Smith to write a poem, which prompted more Beatles-related writings over the years.

He realized the band had been a persistent source of inspiration and began to visualize the different works as a compilation.

That vision, plus a tribute concert at the Minneapolis music club First Avenue, led to the idea of a Beatles tribute event in which everyone could participate. He began a few years ago planning such an evening as this weekend's.

Smith invites all to a tribute night 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at the River Falls Public Library, 140 Union St., for: "The Night We Saved the Beatles: A Tribute to John Lennon in Poetry, Song and Story."

He estimates the event will last about 90 minutes and include a few special guests, as well as an 'everyone sing.'

Smith will release a 24-page chapbook of the same title that features eight poems and an essay. It will be available for sale at $5, and Smith says it will feature a bright yellow cover.

He said about the evening, "Expect a real range of emotions and mood."

Let it be

The poet said he's always been intrigued by the extraordinary phenomenon the Beatles created and was curious how and why the "Fab Four" became so influential.

Smith says it was a strange time in the country when the Beatles came upon the scene.

America remained in shock after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in late November 1963. The Beatles released the song "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" about a month later.

"We were in mourning I think," said Smith, "and all of the sudden out of the darkness comes this sound."

The British rock band's long locks and loud music made a big splash on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964, putting them even more firmly on a trajectory to fame of epic proportions.

At the tribute event, Smith plans to read his essay "The Night We Saved the Beatles," a personal and true story that happened in Smith's life shortly after graduating high school in Cornell. He would soon leave for college in River Falls and clung to the familiarity of his favorite Beatles tunes.

The day the band released "Yellow Submarine," Smith argued with his father about the band.

Many critics rebuked the group after John Lennon's controversial comment that the band had become "more popular than Jesus."

Smith's dad agreed with the critics and predicted that his son should enjoy his music now because the silly band was "finished."

Angry and sullen about his father's prediction, Smith left the house and wandered into the neighborhood bar, where he knew there would be music. He said the new-record rep had delivered the newest Beatles single that day.

Someone plunked money in to play it for the first time then it played over and over until bar patrons knew the words and sang merrily along: "We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine..."

Smith says in the essay,

    "In an ambiance so lacking in puritanical vengefulness as to seem a country apart from that mean landscape of my father's prophesying, a vision wonderful and strange emanated from the squat, merrily-glowing ark of the jukebox, the ale-golden radiance of a world more forgiving and free than our own, maybe one yet to come into being, hidden like the sun before dawn...

    It seemed that everyone joined in, everyone under the irresistible spell of the Beatles' good-hearted sing-along. Town kids, farm kids, mill workers, everyone, even the barflies, a forty-year-old bachelor who lived with his mother and a pie-eyed, once-pretty woman of about the same vintage, contributed to the boisterous celebration..."

The essay is a main part of Smith's new book and is also available to read on his web site: www.thomasrsmithpoet.com.

He said the essay began as a poem several times until he realized it would be better presented as prose.

If people miss the tribute evening but want the book, Smith says it will be available at Freeman Drug. He sees the book as a nice stocking stuffer for Beatles fans.

Smith reveals that he also played in a rock band during his younger years and as a hobby since then, always playing and singing Beatles songs like he plans to do Saturday.

"We'll also make the audience feel free to sing along," Smith said about the event.

He and others will recount Beatles-related stories.

For example, he remembers making specific plans to go to his grandparents' house to watch the band's appearance on the Ed Sullivan show because the rabbit-ear antenna at home would not receive the signal.

The local poet says the evening will also bring some surprises and a range of emotions from celebration to joy to grief.

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