People, before I say anything, I want to first express my supreme joy and gratitude for being back on the air with WTTW working with former partner in crime Tom Siegel on this magnificent new show. I am ecstatic, and I think it shows. Also thanks to all of you who used to watch me in my past “Wild” life on Channel 11, and to all of you who’ve never before been privy to my pith helmeted, bare-legged antics. My aim is to engage and entertain you to the depths of your souls. Or at least keep you from zapping me in favor of Bill O’Reilly or Friday Night Smackdown (not available on Sunday nights.
When I first got wind of this story about George Harrison visiting Southern Illinois before the Beatles hit it big in the U.S., I started salivating. This was going to be a fabulous segment! And it embodied all that was new and exciting about the Road Trip concept. We weren’t just trotting out “Wild Chicago” all over again. We were (are) doing something new, not just in geographical scope, but also in subject matter, and interest. Here, with this Benton story, was a chance to interview Louise Harrison, the sister of one of the bloomin’ Fab Four! And to tell a story that really is of historical merit. Not only that, we could re-enact a scene from “A Hard Day’s Night” complete with screaming girls in the town square. Yes, this new gig is a plum.
Meeting Louise Harrison was a thrill. And moving too. I’ll tell you what I mean. I spent a little time thinking of the fact that this whole story was fueled by her brother’s presence in this small town. And I thought of how her dear brother was no longer among us. I didn’t want to lose sight that we were talking about her dead brother, not just some legendary show business icon. While at the bed and breakfast with Jim Chady, the first man we met there, he told me a story we did not include in the segment, just because we had so much else to cover. I’d asked if people come from all over to visit this place and he said yes, from Korea, Europe, everywhere. I asked if he remembered any particularly passionate fans that came and he said, yes, there was a teenage girl who came with her father from a neighboring state on George’s birthday, February 25. She brought a cake, candles, decorations, played his music on a boombox, and sang “Happy Birthday” to his picture. I found this touching and don’t really know why. George clearly stirred something in this young lady and maybe she just wanted to give some back. (Shoot, I’d do the same at a Jimi Hendrix site.)
So here was a girl celebrating a Beatle’s birthday the way anybody would celebrate anybody’s birthday. And while I talked to Louise I tried to hold George in my mind as the 19 year old kid he was when he came to Benton, a young guy who somehow got dealt a hand that included playing in the most famous rock and roll band in history. Yet here he was, in Southern Illinois, being impressed by the local insects, cars and guitar shops. To me, remembering his ordinariness, his humanity, made his stunning achievements all the more poignant. What must it have been like to be in his shoes, to step into a swirling sea of celebrity? I can only imagine. No wonder he loved his time here, in complete anonymity.