Culture Magazine

I Saw Them Standing There — How the Fab Four Pleased, Pleased a Budding Fan Like Me

By Josmar16 @ReviewsByJosmar

Ah, to be young again and relive those treasured moments from one's past!

One such moment - indeed, one of the more pleasurable experiences I can remember from my youth growing up in the South Bronx - was the first time I laid eyes on the Beatles live and in the comfort of our living room. That took place, of course, on Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show on the CBS Television Network.

The performance was shown on February 9, 1964, not three months after President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, another of those life-altering events that frankly was not so pleasant. When the nation needed a lift, however, the Beatles' initial U.S. tour did exactly that. My family and I also bore witness to the Mop Tops' first Shea Stadium concert, broadcast live as well on August 15, 1965. By then, the gathering storm had turned into a veritable tornado.

From there, the Fab Four's music had exploded across the globe and onto every continent - even in Brazil, the country of my birth, where the group's recorded output went on to make an immediate and enduring impact. Not only was it a fixture in every record shop, but in the way people dressed, in the way they wore their hair, in the way they talked, the way they walked, and especially how their music was presented.

Many Brazilian and/or Argentine artists, including (but not limited to) Roberto Carlos, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, , the Beat Boys, Erasmo Carlos, Milton Nascimento and others, took the Lads from Liverpool as their guides and models. A good example was a young performer named Ronnie Von (born Ronaldo Nogueira), a 23-year-old singer-turned-actor who once introduced the Beatle's "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" on Agnaldo Rayol's TV show, then a year later sang John Lennon's "Girl" live on the Sunday afternoon program Jovem Guarda ("The Young Guard"). The song was translated into Portuguese and retitled "Meu Bem" ("My Beloved") for the Brazilian market.

Oddly, it wasn't Von's wisp of a voice that served as the main attraction, but his oh-so-bashful looks that seemed to "mow them down," so to speak. The dreamboat Ronnie would croon the number with forelock hanging precariously over his eyes. He barely managed to get the lyrics out (in truth, he edged ever closer to incoherence), which endeared him even more to the female members of the audience.

It was obvious from his performance that Ronnie had connected with Brazilian youth by way of the Beatle's music. And it seemed equally evident the British invasion had hit Brazilian shores as hard as it did the American variety. I was all of 11 or 12 and living in the Bronx when the Beatles came on the scene. So when and how did their music and reputation affect me personally?

What I heard on the radio, and from most of the kids at school, was that the group's tunes had become the Number One hits in the land. Soon after, I myself got hit between the eyes (and in the pit of my stomach) at, of all places, our public school's auditorium. Yes, that's right, at P.S. 77 in the Bronx, located on East 172 Street between Ward and Manor Avenues. My family had taken up residence on nearby Stratford Avenue, about two or three blocks away from the school.

As near as I can recall, P.S. 77 had what was known then as "assembly day," which normally occurred every Friday morning (at least, that's when our school held it). All the kids had to be dressed in white shirts or blouses, blue or dark pants and skirts, and red ties or kerchiefs. (Note the colors, symbolic of the American flag). That was a requirement - no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you forgot to bring your tie, one of the teachers would pull out a clip-on from his or her desk. If you failed to wear a white shirt or blouse (or dark pants and skirt), you were sent home with a note to your parents which stipulated, in no uncertain terms, that you could not return to class until you were properly dressed. Try doing THAT today!

I was in the sixth grade at that point, so this particular assembly day must have taken place sometime between September 1965 and June 1966. I don't believe it happened in the fall, but it wasn't in the winter either. So I'll take a wild guess and say the assembly in question must have occurred around the spring of 1966.

In prior assemblies, students had the privilege of seeing a number of varied programs: from puppet shows (I remember a lively presentation of Stravinsky's The Nightingale), a chamber orchestra, magicians, and short educational films or animated cartoons (of the "Don't Do This or You'll Be Sorry" type) showing the hazards of playing with fire, as well as public service announcements about hurricanes and such - something we hardly ever experienced in the Bronx, at least not at that time.

On that specific assembly day, we were treated to a talent show. Kids from some of the lower and upper grades performed on the assembly's stage. My memory is a bit fuzzy as to what the majority of student performers did that day. However, one group REALLY got my attention, and the attention of everyone present.

Three boys roughly my age, from the fifth or sixth grade (neither of them were in my class, by the way), took it upon themselves to form a singing group. The tallest of the boys, Ronald Naso (we called him Ronnie), stood in the middle and played an acoustic guitar. The other two boys, Joseph Pavone and David Diaz, flanked Ronnie on either side. After a brief interval, Ronnie started strumming the guitar and all three boys chimed in at once:

Last night I said these words to my girl I know you never even try girl Come on (come on), come on (come on) Come on (come on), come on (come on) Please, please me, whoa yeah, like I please you

It was the Beatles' "Please, Please Me," from the group's first UK album of the same name (the song was released as a single in both the U.S. and the UK in early 1963). Reliving that moment in my mind's eye, I am unable to recall, for the life of me, what exactly went through my head. Um, I dunno, surprise. Shock, maybe. Quite feasibly, I might have been stunned beyond belief, a fleeting lapse of consciousness.

But saying I was numb to the event, as it was happening, isn't quite accurate, either. All of us, including our teachers, had no clue what to expect. I don't want to state the obvious; that is, spew forth tiresome clichés about how the three boys had wowed the student audience (which they did - girls screaming, lots of yelling, cheers and applause!). I couldn't begin to capture the exuberance if I tried, or the feeling of excitement and discovery we collectively experienced. It must have been a magical moment, otherwise I would have wiped it from my thoughts. After it was over, there was chatter galore from the students as to who they liked best - Ronnie, Joe or David.

As I write this, I'm struggling to understand what made these boys stand out from the other talents. It might have been the simple fact that each of them bore a passing resemblance to the Fab Four. Yes, Ronnie was a dead ringer for Paul (tousled hair over his forehead and all); Joseph actually looked like George (except for his short haircut); and David could easily have passed for John (despite his light brown locks).

Was it my imagination? Had I subconsciously associated their presence to my burgeoning affection for the Beatles and their music? I really can't say. But how did they sound? Did the tone and timbre of their voices add or detract from the image I had inadvertently formed in my head? Here's the answer: Ronnie, Joe and David excelled in three-part harmony, and, to tell you the truth, they sang in tune. They did take the song a beat or two slower than the original, but considering the circumstances they made "Please, Please Me" work in their favor.

But where was "Ringo"? I couldn't help noticing that the trio needed to be a quartet if their initial notion was to mimic the Beatles. I began to suppose that I could be the one to fill the drummer's shoes (I don't know WHY I thought that, since I couldn't play the drum or any instrument). All I remember was imagining myself joining the boys on stage and singing right along with this terrific trio. By doing so, I could (hopefully) transform them into a fabulous foursome!

No chance of that happening! For one, I was much too shy at the time, and much too self-conscious to get up on a stage and warble my amateurish way into a song. "Please, Please Me," my butt! No way would I have had the courage to do what those brave lads had done. Kudos to them for trying, though! They had more courage than I could ever muster.

It must have been shortly after this occurrence that I sent away for a Beatles songbook. I must have torn apart that songbook every which way. Along with the lyrics and music to all their hit tunes (up to and including the year 1965, if I'm not mistaken), the songbook was filled to the brim with photos and mementos of the Fab Four's concerts. In other words, a Beatle maniac's dream! I even started wearing my hair in a Beatle-esque manner.

As these stories tend to go, a short time later Ronnie and Joseph found their way to one of my classes. Coincidentally, we wound up in the same junior high school (or middle school), James M. Kieran JHS 123. In fact, I got to know both of them quite well. Ronnie lived a few blocks from the school, and we would often get together afterwards to play touch football. Joe and I also went to James Monroe High School (no longer in existence); he attended Fordham University in the Bronx, where I had also graduated from. I never got to know David, though, since he must have moved from our old neighborhood.

Needless to say, neither Joe Pavone nor Ronnie Naso (nor I, for that matter) developed into a performing artist of renown. Years later, I ran into Ronnie at an outdoor basketball court. He had grown even bigger, and had filled out some more. I did keep in touch with Joe for a while after graduation from Fordham. Last I heard, Joe was working for the Metro North rail system. They both must be retired by now, David included.

Whatever became of the so-called Brazilian Beatle, Ronnie Von? He's still alive and kicking! Currently at age 75, Ronnie Von had been a fixture at TV Gazeta since 2004 as a singer and presenter. However, he was fired last July 2019 by the station for low ratings, but vowed to come back to live television. Supposedly, within hours of the announcement of his firing, Von received a proposal for a new show to debut in 2020.

In the wise words of the Lads from Liverpool:

Any time at all Any time at all Any time at all All you gotta do is call And I'll be there! Copyright © 2020 by Josmar F. Lopes

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