Sunday, July 25, 2010
I went to see Paul McCartney last night. I had felt pretty indifferent about it, until we were actually there. Seat prices were steep; it was $250 apiece for our floor seats. I'd encouraged my fiance to get whatever he wanted, though, because I knew that the show meant a lot to him. He'd been a Beatles fan since grade school, and I knew for him, especially, it meant seeing a hero, seeing a legend perform. Such opportunities arise seldom in life.
I was very impressed with the show. This 60-something's stamina and ability were wowing. His voice sounded amazing. The fab four may have been initially dismissed, but the truth of the matter is they were fantastic musicians. They were real innovative artists who wrote cutting edge music and had the talent to back it up with their instruments, voices and personalities.
One of the things that was coolest for me were the stories that Paul included in the show. Sometimes it was a simple explanation for an homage, sometimes it was the inspiration behind a song. The sorts of things that fans speculate about but never know for certain. One of my most favorite Beatles songs is "Blackbird." Last night, Paul explained that that particular song was written during the period of the Little Rock Nine desegregation in Arkansas, and it was written to offer some hope to those nine brave teens, as well as the rest of the American south. It made a beautiful song all the more meaningful.
It's remarkable what the Beatles, and all of the solo projects that occurred after the band, have meant to the world. Looking at it from a historical perspective, this was a group of young men that transformed the world. They were present from the very beginnings of rock and roll, and changed it from being something that was simply danceable bubble gum to being sound experimentation. They took their popular culture icon status and used it for good -- looking to educate the world about alternative lifestyles, about causes they believed in, about global issues. Certainly any flea market worth its salt also proves that they changed the face of merchandising in America. The concept of the teenager was fairly new as the Beatles emerged as giants. Their faces were used to hawk everything from body powder to breakfast cereals. Millions, upon millions, of dollars were exchanged between this newly recognized generation and capitalist retailers eager to win a piece of their dollar power. Most significant, of course, is the way in which this band personally affected their listeners.
My mother was in early twenties and living in Washington D.C. during the time of the British Invasion. She says that there were lots of buses covered with signs of warning, "The Beatles Are Coming!", but she was too involved in career and a new baby to pay much attention. Figuring it was advertising for a new car, she just didn't give it much thought. My best friend's mom, a bit younger, was the perfect age to become totally absorbed. I don't know that she had the Laverne & Shirley cut-out that required kissing upon departure and arrival, but she did follow them across the country, screaming her way through four or five shows.
I always liked the Beatles, but decided I really loved them in seventh grade. It seemed the whole lot of us did. You could tell who was cool and who wasn't by the number of Beatles cassettes they had. (Yeah, cassettes. Ah, the 80s.) We greedily purchased Smiths albums and Cure cassettes, and paid respects to the original great British recording artists by consuming as much Beatles as possible along with it. I associate the Beatles with so many different people in my life, especially boyfriends. A love of them was just sort of a given for quite a while, though I have a very strong memory of one fellow as just being REM, Sonic Youth, and the Beatles. He made a mix tape for me one time that had all sorts of wonderful things on it, including a Laibach version of "Across the Universe." It was a great bonding issue with a teacher, and we'd spend hours talking about the importance of Abbey Road. A road trip with a college boyfriend to his pal's glass blowing studio is laden with Beatles memories. We sat all night in a converted-barn studio, watching the artist at work, making glass pieces. It was bitterly cold outside, and no one wanted to go back to the house for additional music. We listened to a small tape deck playing Let it Be, over and over again. But these were "guy" guys, and that meant they fast forwarded through "The Long and Winding Road" every single time, and that made me sad, because it was my favorite on the tape. Later, I recall driving home a guy I was interested in and didn't know if we had anything in common. I put in a tape and said, "This should work. Everybody loves the Beatles, right?" to which he responded, "I don't." Ooooh. This made him mysterious and a challenge. I'd never met such an animal before. I dated another guy during the big Beatles anniversary period, when ABC aired the documentaries and newly remastered CD collections were released. It was like manna for him to hear the interviews, to watch the video, to obtain a never-before-heard recording. I think he actually went out and purchased the CD with "Free as a Bird" at a midnight sale, just so he could be the first of our little group to have it. A Brazilian friend of a friend in college was named Michele, after the song. It was how her parents learned English. I was at a girlfriend's new home recently, and one of her prized possessions was an antique record player she'd found at a thrift shop. She had only one album, the White album. Despite this being a two-album set, she just kept playing Album One, Side Two, over and over. "Martha, My Love," will always make me think of her now. She's younger,and my fiance actually asked her at one point if she realized that albums, unlike CDs, could be turned over and new material could be played. (She just made a mean face, and we never figured out if she knew or not.)
At the concert, you saw people of every age, all equally delighted to be seeing Paul in person. Some of my former students were there, one with his grandfather, which I thought was really cool. It's pretty rare that something spans the generations anymore. Lately, when attending shows, I've felt like a hired chaperone, watching over all the youngin's. It was actually nice to be in a sea peppered with gray hair and feel somewhat youthful at a rock concert for a change.
The show itself consisted of what you'd expect it to. Lots of Beatles, a few new songs that you sat through politely though they were pretty "meh," and, honestly, not enough Wings for my liking. Despite my passion for the kitsch factor, there was also not any sort of rendition of "Ebony and Ivory" anywhere in sight. Without sounding too maudlin, I really had a great time seeing a living legend, playing what I'd never really contemplated before as a soundtrack of my life. I doubt there's a soul that attended the show that couldn't second that statement.