Paul McCartney actually turning 64 used to have the same resonance with me as waiting for 1999 to roll over to 2000. It seemed so impossibly far in the future that it was almost silly to ponder since it would never happen. Then the millennium rolled past me and now Paul is 64 on Sunday.
Paul was just on the cover of AARP magazine, if you can believe it. His face shows his years now, but whose really doesn't when they get to their 60s, I suppose. Of all the tributes you'll probably read, I found that oddly enough, this AARP section is quite good, especially their life timeline they put together for him. Here's USA Today on McCartney, if you prefer.
Even though it's a drag to getting divorced as Paul is from Heather Mills at such a time, and surviving John Lennon, George Harrison and his first love Linda McCartney, Paul has still had one of the most charmed lives of anybody on the planet. He's still vital, worth $1.2 billion, makes $20-million a year off Beatle royalties alone.
I remember my sophomore year of college, living with three other guys in a house, and each one of us taking on the character/stereotype of one of the Beatles. Jim was our cynically political, drug-taking John. Taylor was our Tai-Chi mystic George. Jay was our fun-loving people-pleaser Ringo. This left me as the commercial mainstream Paul.
I guess, even though I've enjoyed all the Beatles as men and musicians, Paul really was my favorite. At the very least, I've spent more time with his music than the others. Here are five McCartney songs that never end up on lists (because he's had so many hits) that I've always enjoyed a lot:
- Young Boy
- Picasso's Last Words
- The World Tonight
- Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Saw Sir Paul last year here in Los Angeles at Staples Center. It was a good concert, even though I practically needed bottled oxygen from where I sat. I particularly enjoyed Paul reaching deeper into both his and the Beatles' songbook for some tunes that played as fun surprises like "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" and "I Will."
This was the fourth time I've seen McCartney in concert. A few years ago, also at the Staples Center, I had some phenomenal close, near floor seats. About ten years earlier, I'd seen him at the Inglewood Forum. That's a concert I'll never forget because it was the first time I ever heard him perform a Beatles' song "live." It was pretty much a blow-away to hear "Sgt. Pepper" for the first time that way.
But the one that will always stand out takes me back nearly thirty years. It was 1976 and I was working the morning shift at KZEL-FM in Eugene, Oregon as a news man. We were the counter-culture life-line to the city (and sometimes the region) back in those days so if anybody was wired into what was happening, we were.
1976 was a time of rumor concerning the Beatles. Everybody hoped and prayed for a re-union and a rock promoter named Bill Sargent had just offered $50-million dollars for a single re-union concert. Against this backdrop, Paul was on tour with his own band, Wings. My program director dropped into what we affectionately called the "News Cave" after I'd finished the morning news and laid this bombshell on me.
"If it's going to happen, it's going to happen tonight in Seattle."
He handed me a couple of tickets to McCartney's concert and told me to get on the road fast and to be ready to go "live" as soon as it was over. It's a nearly six-hour drive from Eugene to Seattle, as I recall, and I made the trip in my rumbling '65 Mustang beast in record time. All I remember is being on a natural high the entire way. I was getting paid barely minimum wage at KZEL, but this was going to more than make up for it. In the Time magazine you see here, McCartney had been quoted thusly:
"The only way the Beatles would come together is if we wanted to do something musically."
That sentiment, of course, left the matter open, despite the fact that all three of the other Beatles steadfastly refused to say anything on the matter.
The concert took place at the Seattle Kingdome which has since been destroyed (there was some phenomenal video a few years ago of them blowing up the place). I'm not sure how many people in the crowd actually knew what I knew. It felt like an incredible top secret.
McCartney came out that night and he was wonderful, of course. But as the concert continued, it became more and more obvious that there would be no full-fledged Beatles re-union. Still, I kep hoping that, maybe, John would pop out on stage like he'd done for Elton John around the same time during a New York concert. No such luck. No John, no George, no Ringo. It was an incredibly odd feeling. I was seeing a Beatle, for God's sake!, and yet I was feeling let-down and deflated. It didn't help that Paul stubbornly refused to embrace his Beatles past and played not a single tune from the Beatles; only his solo and Wings work made the cut.
It could have been the most magical of nights, but it wasn't meant to be. With John dead 25 years now and George gone five, it will never happen. Maybe it was never meant to happen at all. Maybe John and Paul were wise to never give in to that temptation, knowing that the reality could never be as good as the expectation.
Still, when McCartney opened his last concert with "Magical Mystery Tour" I had a flashback to what might have been. Man, that would have been something...
For now, though, it's time to give McCartney his due. He was always just as talented as John, he managed to keep a family together and sane even on the road as a rock-star, he's dealt with tragedy with grace and made an example of how to move on and still keep memories dear and, now, he's showing us you can grow old and still be cool. Well-done, Paul, and happy birthday!