In the late fall of 1968, I walked to the school bus stop at the corner of my street. My neighbor, Frank, was already there. He was 11 and I was 12. Frank was holding a record album, which he proudly showed me.

What was this? The cover was completely white, totally unadorned, without any photographs of a musician or a band on it. I squinted and saw that there was some writing on it: “The Beatles.”

It was, of course, the double-record set that would come to be known as “The White Album.” At age 50, it is an undisputed cultural icon.

At the time, to a sixth-grader, it was an oddity.

In that pre-internet era, without a 24-hour cable news cycle and social media, I doubt that I knew this album was coming. I was an avid listener of the local AM rock ‘n’ roll station, but even if the DJs had talked about it, I wouldn’t have paid much attention. My parents never let me buy rock albums. I had a metal box filled with 45 rpm singles, but I wouldn’t have an album of my own until I started earning my own money.

Mom and Dad grew up during the Depression, so I just assumed they didn’t want to spend money on record albums. “The White Album” went for about $10, at a time when milk was a dollar a gallon. Singles were less than a dollar.

In retrospect, however, I think they were comfortable letting me buy two songs at a time, songs they might have heard on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” An album might include tunes that they would deem inappropriate. As an example, there was no Rolling Stones music in my collection. Herman’s Hermits, with their light, innocent pop sound, was the kind of band my parents could live with.

They would not have been happy with a record that included titles such as “Sexy Sadie” and “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”

It would be a few years before I had a chance to listen to “The White Album” in its entirety, and even longer before I recognized its importance. The Beatles’ previous studio release, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” with its narrative structure, was more accessible to a kid my age (although I wouldn’t truly understand it until I was a young adult). Still, I had my favorite “White Album” songs, such as “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

In August 1969, members of the Charles Manson cult murdered actress Sharon Tate, three of her friends, and a visitor at Tate’s home in Los Angeles. The next night, they killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their home. The words “Healter Skelter” and “Pig” were written in blood at the murder scenes. These were references to “The White Album” songs “Helter Skelter” and “Piggies.”

It turned out that Manson had been inspired by “The White Album” in horrific ways. He heard a call to revolution, anarchy and race wars.

The Manson murders shocked Americans. They sickened us, but they scared us, too. There was no real motive behind them — just a misinterpretation of song lyrics to fit a twisted mind’s needs.

Later, I would learn that members of The Beatles wrote the songs that eventually would appear on the album while they were in India, studying transcendental meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While in college, I too studied TM, although this was in the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and did not lead me to write songs like “Rocky Raccoon.”

I was doing graduate work in 1979 when Joan Didion’s collection of essays, “The White Album,” was published. I loved the book and wrote a review of it for the college newspaper. The eponymous essay is not about The Beatles album of that name. In fact, The Beatles are never mentioned. Instead, the essay reflects how the album represented the strangeness, the turbulence and the self-indulgence of the late 1960s. Didion writes about her obsession with reading about violent crime and her encounters with the band The Doors, Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver and the star witness in the Manson trial, Linda Kasabian.

Some critics have called The Beatles’ album a mess, arguing that it could have been shorter and better edited. But we were living in a mess at the time. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in April; Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, in June. The Democratic National Convention was a violent shambles.

Didion begins her essay with this: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Those words spoke to me as a writer, then and now. Here’s a story about me: I have “The White Album” in my iTunes library. Sometimes, if I’m sitting on a train, earbuds in place, I marvel for a moment that I can just hit play and listen to it. And that, if I want, I can choose to play “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” first. And that, once again, we are living in a strange, turbulent and self-indulgent time.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]cloud.com.

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