What a Clean Old Man

Paul McCartney at the Carrier Dome

There’s something about having become a Beatles fan in the 80s. Those of us who hover around 40 are too young to have known them as an intact band and we were only toddlers when John Lennon was killed. During the 80s, the Beatles didn’t quiiiite have that burnished oversaturated glow of Greatest Band Ever as George, Paul and Ringo sorted out their solo careers. It wasn’t until they set aside differences (and resolved lawsuits) to start releasing the Live at the BBC/Anthology/1/etc recordings that their legacy really got set into place.

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard the Beatles – their ubiquity meant it was probably quite early on, but I know it was in the mid-80s that I really started to love the Beatles. But I didn’t know who THE BEATLES were. The Beatles were the guys on that blue tape my dad had. I didn’t know their names or who sang which song at first. I just knew that I liked these songs that we played from that tape in the car on the long drive to Lake Placid.

I wasn’t “in love” with the Beatles and couldn’t really fully understand the screaming and crying girls I would see in footage from their concerts. I wanted to BE the Beatles. I wanted to be their friend and be in the recording studio with them. It was sometimes hard to reconcile that this band that my life revolved around so much didn’t exist anymore.

It was slightly harder to find out about bands then too. EVEN THE MOST WELL-KNOWN BAND IN THE WORLD. For a kid living in Herkimer, there might be a mention in the Encyclopedia Britannica and then you had to ask the librarian for printouts of microfiche articles, buy posters from The Last Unicorn or see if Waldenbooks at the mall in Utica had a book or two in stock. Eventually, I did fill up almost a whole wall of my room with posters and cut-out bits from magazines. The Disney Channel aired A Hard Day’s Night and Ready Steady Go! episodes which were dutifully taped. My copy of The Compleat Beatles documentary was worn thin. I wore THREE Beatles watches at once for a short time.

I remember when George Harrison’s Cloud Nine and Paul McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt came out later on in the 80s. And in the 90s, I devoured the Anthology and other aforementioned releases as treasure troves. But the superfandom waned a bit as this legend grew. I was uneasy with the “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” recordings.

The growth of the internet impacted my fandoms a lot as well. It was much easier to find information and connect with other people, but it felt less about my own experience and more like having to follow certain rules to be a true fan or real fan. I just knew these songs and movies and maybe more than my fair share of trivia. I wasn’t introduced to the Beatles via a mob of screaming people and when it felt like my personal experience had to be shared with mobs, it became harder. I couldn’t keep up.

Also, somehow related to this, I don’t like tribute bands – I think I’ve mentioned that one of my ideas of hell is having to endure Beatles tribute bands. This is probably internalization of forcing my family to endure myself and my sister and cousins dressed up “like the Beatles” (i.e. wearing similar colors to the Sgt. Pepper uniforms) and singing songs at family picnics.

Before the show last night, I said something about Paul being my third favorite (George being #1, John being #2), but actually George Martin was my true favorite (and maybe the one I actually had a crush on?). The sounds of the recordings with all of their nuances and idiosyncrasies are what I love and so much of that was him. I love that “Old Brown Shoe” sounds like looking up while driving by the Olympic ski jumps. That “We Can Work It Out” smells like the inside of my first car while I’m driving on 28. That the B-side to Abbey Road is playing on a Walkman while sitting at the kitchen table and drawing at my grandparents’ house. It’s not the legend of the Beatles that I really love. It’s the songs and how they became part of my life.

We were supposed to go see Paul in 1993 in Syracuse, but the show got cancelled. I could have tried to see him in the 24 years since, but it just didn’t happen and I guess I got a little jaded anyway. Paul alone isn’t THE BEATLES. But when the first notes of “A Hard Day’s Night” started sounding out in the Carrier Dome, being played and sung live in front of me by the Actual Paul from all those photos and videos who was and shared space with the Actual Beatles (and George Martin) as a group, I was suddenly a kid in my mom’s basement again, watching these four guys who were my funny, musical semi-imaginary friends run across the screen through the streets of London.

And I started crying like one of the people I used to mock.

Thanks Paul.
Thanks Jim.

I’ve got some albums I need to listen to.