Faced with an opportunity to see your idol, you should a) scream, b) cry, c) faint. The fans at the Ed Sullivan Theatre did those things when the Beatles appeared, and so it was hard not to get caught up even if I was only watching them on TV. This week I got to see Paul McCartney in concert and felt that same excitement. A chance to see my favorite Beatle and hear the songs I love.
For about an hour before the show, two big video screens in the venue displayed a pictorial timeline of Paul’s life. The images appeared to be two cylinders, rotating to the left, unspooling a scroll of still and moving pictures. The Fab Four; the Queen; US presidents going back to Eisenhower; bits of footage of press conferences, movie shoots, family photos; all easily covering 60 years. As if he had to remind the crowd who he was and where he came from. My brother once overheard kids in a record store who came across Revolver or Let It Be and exclaimed, “Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?!” – so, yeah, perhaps some people needed reminding.
When the Beatles broke up, I grieved, then studiously followed their solo careers and came to love those songs almost as much as the Beatles canon. Then it happened. He was touring with Wings and was coming to Cincinnati. I wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t coming to Louisville, but it was still too amazing to be true that he’s come as close as a mere 100 miles away. I had to go.
The venue was huge. When the lights went down and the band rushed out, everyone jumped to their feet cheering. I remember wanting to hear every syllable, every note, and memorize every movement. I held my breath. I was astonished that some people talked through the concert (what?!) and I tried to take pictures with my Instamatic. The pictures ended up being mostly the backs of heads and small colored dots representing the stage in the background. But it did’t matter. I had been in the same building as Paul, I had seen him with my own eyes. It was amazing.
So this week we headed off to the southwest suburbs of Chicagoland – an appropriate distance for a pilgrimage. Paul was still only an inch tall as viewed from my seat – thank heavens for the jumbo screens. When he played and sang, instead of holding my breath in a stunned reverence, I sang along – as did most of the crowd – knowing every word of the lyrics. Floating up around all of those songs were strong memories. The stack of albums and 45s next to the turntable in my room. Playing and replaying songs until I learned every word. The thrill of catching a favorite song on the radio. Running across a picture of Paul, with Linda and the kids dashing through an airport. Going to see Live and Let Die just so I could hear the soundtrack.
That visual timeline at the concert was not only a subtle reminder of the span of Paul’s life and career, it caused me to reflect about everything that has happened to me over most of that same time. And through it all, Beatles’ music, in its group and solo-artist forms, was a part of it. A soundtrack for many events, imbedded into experiences. Hearing Yesterday takes me right back to our living room when I was seven. I hear Maybe I’m Amazed and I’m standing in the kitchen at night adjusting the radio. So, thank you Sir Paul, for taking me back across the universe, if you will, to all those places I love.