Ringo’s Photographic Memory

The ex-Beatle's reunion with the fans he snapped a picture of nearly a half-century ago captures the Fab Four's enduring appeal and connection to the public.

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Ringo Starr's reunion with five fans whose picture he snapped the day the Beatles landed in the US made heartwarming headlines this week. The touching scene came about two months after Paul McCartney sent a long-overdue thank-you note to two British fans who mailed him an audiotaped love letter that took a half-century to reach his ears.

Sure, excitement over the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in New York is growing among fans. But the latent wave of Beatlemania also seems to be sweeping up, at least in modest ways, Starr and McCartney.

Starr's meeting with the now-gray quintet and McCartney's letter to his former teenage aficionados underscore the group's deep and enduring connection with fans – and a recognition that the fans are nearly as big a part of the Beatles’ story as the music.

The Beatles, even amid the sad absence of John Lennon and George Harrison, keep rewarding fans of all ages for their support. The “On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” double CD set released earlier this month offers some stunning early radio performances, and quickly became the 31st Beatles album to reach the Billboard Top 10. The 71-year-old McCartney wrapped a tour of Japan on Thursday in support of his latest strong album, “New.” Starr, 73, just finished a tour that took him to South America, Mexico and Las Vegas, where he met the surviving five fans of the group of six he photographed all those years ago.

The shot is part of his new book, “Photograph,” which contains rare pictures he snapped of his band mates and other luminaries over the years. But it’s telling that he picked the fan photo for the book’s centerfold – his choice is a sign that the Beatles were just as amazed by their fans as their fans were by them. If the Beatles were the most photographed band of all time, then their followers were certainly the most photographed fans.

Pictures from Friday’s reunion in Vegas show Starr and his rediscovered friends sporting time-erasing smiles. The reaction to the story also serves as a reminder of the intergenerational appeal of a group that, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey, placed in the top four favorite music acts of all Americans ages 16 to 64. Just go to a McCartney or Starr concert, or a Fest for Beatles Fans gathering, and you’ll see plenty of us too young to remember them as a band and many more whose parents weren't even born when John, Paul, George and Ringo took their last stroll across Abbey Road.

We can expect the same age range of folks to perform at the upcoming post-Grammys concert celebration of the Beatles’ golden anniversary as American icons. Starr and McCartney are expected to be on hand, amid hopes they’ll do more than just watch and listen. After all, they know a thing or two about pleasing fans. In the meantime, check out this “Today” show report on a reunion that commemorates Feb. 7, 1964 – a day when both six fans and the Fab Four became witnesses to music history: 

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Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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