When I entered the fourth grade my Mom made me take piano lessons. Made might be a tad harsh a description- I had heard my sisters play the piano when I was growing up and always kind of wished I could do the same. But with the skills of a newt I knew I didn't have my sisters' natural talent (they've grown up to be college professors and soon to be attorneys and writers with masters degrees) so I sometimes cursed my fate underneath my breath as I was learning to play those grueling scales that I was told I had to learn before I could learn any actual songs. Driving me home from lesson and frustrating lesson Mom told me that once I learned how to play well enough to sight read and play the songs I wanted to play I would be glad I stuck with it. I don't know if she ever knew how right she ultimately was.
The disappointment continued on for a bit longer however as I found myself practicing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," and a painfully slow rendition of Beethoven's "Fur Elise" when I really wanted to be playing "Mandy" and "Rhinestone Cowboy." Then one day I pulled out a book of Lennon and McCartney sheet music and tried to teach myself "Yesterday" and "Michelle." Soon my forays into practicing the Beatles in place of Bach and Beethoven frustrated my teacher, Mrs. Good, who somehow could tell I wasn't spending the necessary time on my lessons. Learning the Beatles songs inside out added to my enjoyment of my discovery of their wondrous music.
I don't know how I would have made it through high school if I hadn't found the Beatles. For every rush of invading intense emotion and heartbreak I endured and the discouraging soap opera I had somehow found myself involuntarily right in the middle of there was a Beatle song to offer encouragement. "Your day breaks/your mind aches/you find that all her words of kindness linger when she no longer needs you..." or "Many times I've been alone and many times I've cried/Anyway you'll never know the many ways I tried..." could have been my senior yearbook quotes (and maybe they were I just don't remember and don't care to look them up).
I remember a sunny spring day late in my junior year when Paul McCartney's Tug of War came out and I bought it the day of its release. It was Paul's first solo record since I had become a Beatles fan and his first music since the death of his partner John Lennon. I plopped the LP on my turntable and lie down on my bedroom's green shag carpeting studying the liner notes and lyrics. I liked the ambivalence (something not usually a part of McCartney's songs) of the title track and the way it neatly segued into the second song the sublime "Take it Away." I remember looking at the picture of Paul writing on notepad while seated at a coffee table and for the first time thinking to myself that the paralyzing personal decision facing me, where to go to college, didn't seem so overwhelming anymore. I'm not sure why.
By the time my record player's needle hit the fifth track, the Lennon tribute "Here Today" I realized I had never been so moved by any music I had ever heard before. Aspiring/dreaming/fantasizing becoming a writer myself, it was one of the finest examples of a writer using something intensely personal and creating a universally inspiring message- expression not as a task but as a necessity. Instead of writing about things in the Lennon/McCartney relationship that all Beatle fans were familiar with, Paul wisely chose to write about little personal moments and sing the song directly to John (with a bit of a wobble in his voice). It's one of the rare moments in McCartney's career where he really nakedly opens his heart and because it is so rare it makes the song all that more touching.
To this very day whenever I pull out my Tug of War piano book and play my rendition of "Here Today" it fills me with memories of that sunny spring day (crystal clear palatable feelings of how the warmth of the weather was only equaled by the warmth the music made me feel inside) and the added feelings of remembering friends and others who I've somehow lost along the way.
When I heard he was playing here I really wasn't looking forward to seeing Paul perform. The cost of the show, having a seat in the upper regions of a hockey arena, and the fact that at this point in his career he has all the artistic significance of Ringo, made me lukewarm in attending. But I knew I'd kick myself if I didn't go. Quite honestly I was much more looking forward to the season premiere of Buffy scheduled for the following night.
As the lights went down in the Xcel Center around 8 p.m. the spotlights shone on several of the aisles of the arena as a dance troupe dressed in 18th Century garb meandered into place backed by some pounding eastern accompaniment. You had your prim and proper females in their bonnets along side some Asian geisha looking gals and a strong man with a bar bell and several tall geeks on stilts. Others were bouncing on balls and then to top it off some people came in the back with a bunch of really big balloons. It looked like a few of the members of Cirque du Soleil had accidentally stumbled into the wrong venue and the ballet/circus presentation went on for what only seemed like forever. The overly lubricated guy a couple rows behind me yelled, "We want Paul!" and although he was the only one drunk enough to say it, I think the rest of us in the section secretly agreed.
Not soon enough Paul appeared behind a screen wearing a dark suit coat (which he quickly shed) and a red long sleeved shirt. The band pranced into a jaunty "Hello Goodbye" and I was immediately reminded of my Macalester roommate Masashi's (the man from Japan) much better version that went something like, "You say goodbye and I say goodbye..." But it was fun to hear this song and I've always adored the coda (the heba heba part). A noticeable drop in energy followed with the Wings' hit "Jet" that I always liked simply because it uses the word "suffragette."
Paul looked good for a man in his 80's and his boyish good looks, charm, energy and enthusiasm were quite remarkable. The man always seems to be having a good time. At least I think it was Paul. From where I was sitting it might have been that guy in Beatlemania. He ended up playing 35(!) songs (37 if you consider he melded "You Never Give Me Your Money" and "Carry That Weight" into a medley as well as "Sgt. Pepper" and "The End" to appropriately close out the festivities). He played for over three hours which is kind of remarkable. That comes out to be something like $1.93 per song for those of us way in back and counting.
He played nearly everything you would expect him to play from "Let it Be," "All My Loving," "Can't Buy Me Love," "Lady Madonna," "Band on the Run," "Live and Let Die," and "My Love" (somebody call the better business bureau). And a few you probably wouldn't expect him to play including "She's Leaving Home,"(!) "Something," (dedicated to George and played on the ukulele which apparently George was a huge fan of- who knew!?) and the aforementioned "You Never Give Me Your Money/Carry That Weight" that was a highlight of the evening even though he flubbed the lyrics. (He also thought Minneapolis/St. Paul was in Wisconsin.) I guess it was a bit much to hope that he would play something more obscure like "Junior's Farm," or "Little Lamb Dragonfly," or "Spies Like Us," or "Why Don't We Do It In the Road?"
He did play four new songs from his latest CD Driving Rain including a wonderful version of "Loving Flame" which he dedicated to his lady Heather who was somewhere in the building. "Lonely Road" also benefited from its live treatment with some driving guitar work from the lead guitarist whose name I didn't catch (it might as well have been the late great Wings guy Jimmy McCulloch). But the show came to a screeching halt with the dreadful title tune and the equally insipid wannabe anthem "Freedom" (no cigar for the lad there- and memo to Paul: this whole terrorism thing may not exactly be about freedom other than we seem to be sacrificing some in the name of national security).
Highlights of the show (and there were many and I'm sure just about everyone in the crowd had their own personal favorites due to the consistently high octane efforts from Paul and the band) included an acoustic "Blackbird" (with some awesome guitar work and playing with the tempo by Paul); a scorching "Maybe I'm Amazed" (with some really nice bluesy vocals); and stunner to end all stunners- a solo acoustic "Here Today" that really got to the heart of a great great song. As the saying goes, "worth the price of admission."
Before the two encores he closed the opening/regular set with a singalong "Hey Jude"- the greatest song in the world that I also happen to consider my favorite song in the world. To hear the composer belt this one out in a passionate way, well any of the constant companion cynicism melts away in goose bumps. Yes I was nah nah nahing with the rest of the sellout crowd.
As he sang "Yesterday" I sat there remembering I'd gotten the attention of my heart's first love by screeching Beatle songs at the top of my lungs on the bus ride home from a band trip in the ninth grade. As we were closing out our senior year and I knew I'd never see her ever again I found myself at a pool table at a party with her and a friend and it was awkward and all I could think of doing was breaking out my version of Paul's "C Moon." "It would be L7 that I'd never get to heaven if I filled my head with gloom...." The friend of the person who broke my heart for the first time turned to me and said, "You don't say." The perpetrator herself, who had smiled at me years back with my go for broke, dark bus primal scream Beatle performance just kind of gave me a knowing glance.
On the morning of the Xcel Energy show I found myself quoted in the local paper about the price of going to see McCartney in 2002. All summer long I have pined over the girl next door and have spent way too many moments in silence in the same room unable to say a word. On this particular day I walked on over and spoke my first sentence to her- "I'm famous," I said. She was reading the newspaper and I showed her the story I was a part of. The reporter had quoted this pearl of wisdom from me, "When I heard he (Macca) was coming, I thought, 'There's no way in hell I'm going to pay to see him..." I explained to the girl next door that my Dad probably would disapprove of my cursing in the newspaper. The girl next door giggled. It was ninth grade all over again.