My dad introduced me to The Beatles. He’d play their “lighter” stuff for me when I was barely walking — kid-friendly songs like “Yellow Submarine,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Octopus’ Garden” that were as full of colorful imagery as they were musical innovation.
Those songs always stuck with me, even when my musical tastes became as weird as my hormones in my early teens. I was in college when I rediscovered them — Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour CDs I “borrowed” from my dad to help the drive back to campus seem not so long one weekend. I’ve been hooked ever since, well aware that there’s nothing unique about being a Beatles fan, but also very aware of the important role I have in sharing this music with future generations.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s, arguably The Beatles’ most influential album and the topper to many a “best albums ever” list (I’ll take Abbey Road, but that’s not important). I missed out on this era of music —which included Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones at their best, Motown and much, much more — born roughly 10 years later in time for disco and the 80s.But I’m no less fascinated by it. And as someone who regularly dives into Campbell University history — whether it’s for stories on a legendary basketball camp or the mysterious origin of a mascot — it was inevitable that I’d one day see how The Beatles fit into Campbell’s story.
This is where I say, “Thank you, Michael Ferguson.”
But first, allow me to set the scene. There were 490,000 American troops fighting in South Vietnam in 1967, and the anti-war movement back home was reaching its peak. College campuses across the nation provided some of the largest protest gatherings of the time.
The growing Campbell College campus in Buies Creek, however, remained mostly quiet that year. That fall, the campus rolled out the welcome mat for the school’s third president in 80 years, Norman A. Wiggins, the last man you’d ever associate with long hair, fringe vests and flower power. He was conservative, in other words, and wasn’t what you’d call tolerant of rebellion — instead believing students and faculty should join in “mutual respect and join responsibilities … to get on with the true business of education.” Wiggins even doubled down on the nation’s growing anti-war sentiment by establishing Campbell’s now nationally renowned ROTC program in 1971.
The culture on campus echoed in some of the writing for Campbell’s campus newspaper at the time, Creek Pebbles, which published an editorial in May 1968, “What was a hippie?” It read: “The flowers of power have wilted, the drug turned to transcendental meditation, and a lot of hippies have gone back to the straight world.”
Ferguson, a writer and editor for Creek Pebbles in ’67 and ’68, stood out. He focused solely on music and entertainment, offering surprisingly mature insight on that era of music and interviewing big names in the industry as they toured the state or played on campus. His writing also “countered the culture” at Campbell, whether it was a line about the “sexual image” of the late James Dean or the rebellious songwriting of Bob Dylan.
As you can imagine, Ferguson invoked the Beatles a lot in his writing. They had changed the world only a few years earlier and had just entered their “stop touring and focus on the art” phase of their pop culture reign. Ferguson interviewed Paul Anka, the crooner known for hits like “Diana” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” before his concert at Campbell in October 1968. Sporting a pin-striped suit, thick sideburns and John Lennon-inspired granny sunglasses, Ferguson asked Anka about the Beatles and their impact on pop music. Anka was surprisingly open: “They write great songs… unfortunately, they may let their personal lives get in the way.” Anka criticized Lennon’s inability to handle fame, but praised Paul McCartney, saying, “He seems to stabilize the group.”
A few months later, Ferguson reviewed the animated Beatles film, “Yellow Submarine,” writing, “While its story is predictable, the pure sensory delight of the film makes it a remarkable achievement. It’s a happy film that transports you back to the joys of childhood.”
I’ve tried to find Michael Ferguson, hoping for a larger article on his time at Campbell. As someone who has taken pride in his ability to track down even the hardest-to-find alumni, I’m embarrassed to say I have failed. And it’s a shame, too. In my research, I became a big fan of Ferguson’s writing. If he’s out there, I hope to tell him that.
And further tell his story.
Billy Liggett is Director of News & Publications at Campbell University and editor of Campbell Magazine.