When I was pregnant with my son, my husband and I took a trip to Washington D.C.. One because we had never been there before, and two I was fervently writing a novel at the time that took place in D.C. (Some actors method act, I partake in method writing.) One of the places I had to hit on our D.C./my-book-research tour was the Washington Coliseum.
On February 11, 1964, the Washington Coliseum housed the first concert by The Beatles on their first tour of America. And since my characters attended the concert, I felt like in order to truly understand and write the scene well, I needed to “walk their path” in person.
Today is the anniversary of that concert.
The cabbie dropped us off as close as he could, and my husband and I walked our way around the facility that once welcomed one of the greatest musical phenomenas in history. But looking at the mostly abandoned building, you would never know it. There was graffiti everywhere, miscellaneous plants and ivy overtaking the roof and walls, and some of the building’s foundation was falling apart. It was a bit like finding a decaying body in the middle of a busy town–dreadful and surprising.
Architecturally, it was clear that the building had served many purposes over the years, because it no longer had a cohesive design. Small parts of the building were functioning for a present day business, and the rest of it was a decaying mess. As a result, it made it really difficult to imagine what my characters would have seen back then. But I tried. (Thank God for Google images.)
I began to wonder: Where did the Beatles enter in at? What were they thinking and feeling as they were about to play their very first concert in America? What kinds of conversations were had by the fans as they piled in through that cold and snowy evening, especially with Vietnam on the table and Kennedy having been assassinated not but three months prior. Could they feel the heaviness of a trialling time, like a storm brewing on the horizon? Or again, maybe I was failing to separate my reality from my characters’. (Even now, I am not 100% sure that I love the Beatles, because they are THE Beatles, or because my characters loved them.)
I knew that before we visited, the building was in poor condition, but I still was not prepared for what I saw. Seeing this once prestigious building succumb to the equivalent of ancient ruins—it was a bit like meeting your longtime idol for the first time, except now he’s broke, homeless, and drunk.
Looking around it was clear that the world had carried on, and it was apathetic to this fallen legend. Even the cab driver wondered why we wanted to go there. This realization brought a variety of emotions: partly, because I was living out the imagined reality of my characters, and partly because it was a reminder of our mortality–no matter how famous or significant we may be. This building had become a symbol of death for me, as it would become in my novel too. (Well, that was until the McCartney and Kanye collab.) I picked away some of the decaying brick and put it in my pocket. I at least had that.
I am happy to report that since then, someone also felt as passionate about the significance of the coliseum as I did. As a result, the building is on it’s way back to a state of grandeur.
If you would like to relive this monumental event back in ’64, you can watch the actual D.C. concert here: Beatles Live At The Washington Coliseum
**Oh, In case you are wondering what happened to that novel of mine…like the Coliseum, it is also a mess in progress. 🙂
To read more about the progress of the Washington Coliseum, visit the links below