A few months ago when I first heard that Oriole Park at Camden Yards would host Paul McCartney, if I’m being honest, I initially, for a few fleeting moments, had some hesitation about attending. I’ve seen Paul on five other occasions and the erosion of his vocal skills has had me longing for the past – to get back to where he once belonged.
But then I snapped out of it.
This is Paul McCartney – a living legend, at the very least the co-driving force behind the greatest band of all time and arguably the planet’s most popular human being. He, more than anyone else, has painted the canvas of my musical landscape. The Beatles, particularly Paul, feel like lifetime friends. How could I not go to this rock show in the scarred city that I still call home?
When I was a youngster, there were two men I looked up to the most – my Dad and my Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe was an athlete – a stud pitcher who played for Patterson High School, was drafted in the 4th-round by the Minnesota Twins and had some success in the minors before an auto accident and subsequent arm injury derailed his career. Before his accident, Uncle Joe, played for the Orlando Twins, once tossed a no-hitter, winning 2-0. The difference in the game, was a 2-run home run that HE hit! Quite a day!
Uncle Joe was also a huge fan of The Beatles and this starry-eyed 7-year-old wanted to learn more. This was after all, my mentor, my Uncle Joe.
When we visited my grandparents’ home in Fells Point and then later in Highlandtown, each visit included my own little personal journey through Uncle Joe’s collection of Beatles’ albums. I played one after the next until it was time to leave. The Beatles became my musical muse, a love affair that will never end.
Last night we waited quite a while for Paul to take the stage. The band was supposed to start at 8PM but that didn’t happen. The clock pushed 8:30. The anticipation was killing me and I began to get a bit antsy. But I internalized the angst and calmed it by looking around the stadium, soaking it all in. Paul McCartney was about to take the stage in Baltimore for the first time since 1964. As I looked around a few generations were represented – from those even older than Sir Paul to some who were my age when I first embraced The Fab.
As Paul took the stage a bit after 8:30, he opened with the energetic Can’t Buy Me Love. And while seats for the show were anything but cheap, the song told a tale of how the most important things in life aren’t bought. There was a sense of community in the stadium that I haven’t felt for a long, long time. OPACY hasn’t seen many good days for several years given the struggles of the team that calls it home. And the City of Baltimore has suffered its fair share of civil, political, social and financial setbacks, seemingly to the point that for many, the city we once loved, is lost. But last night was a reminder that it isn’t. It’s right there waiting for us all to embrace it again. Paul McCartney reminded us of that.
The show itself was extremely entertaining, directed by the affable McCartney who charmed his way through 2 ½ hours of hits we’ve known and loved for decades. It didn’t matter that Paul’s voice is a shadow of what it once was. His capable band has figured out, along with McCartney, how to overcome such deficiencies in a way that makes all of the songs no less enjoyable than the way we remember. Plus, Paul is deserving of a little slack. After all, this is a man who is 5 days removed from his 80th birthday. Marinate in that for a moment.
Paul McCartney, an octogenarian, can still sell out a stadium. The venue isn’t a 5,000 seat theatre; it isn’t an entertainment hall attached to a casino; it isn’t an outdoor venue shared by many entertainers as part of a music festival. This is a 40,000+ capacity ball park that was packed and its guests were captivated for 150 minutes.
Like anyone who attended, there were a few songs that I would have nicked and replaced with classics like Penny Lane or Eleanor Rigby or Listen to What The Man Said, but then I reminded myself of Paul’s huge canon of work and it’s impossible to completely please everyone unless the man decided to play for five hours.
There were a few moments that I thought were particularly special and they involved McCartney’s skills as a storyteller. His subjects were his fallen bandmates, John and George. Paul explained that as young men growing up in Liverpool, sharing one’s feelings with each other, particularly man-to-man, was frowned upon as if it somehow challenged the masculinity of up-and-coming rockers. But in his posthumous tribute to writing partner John Lennon, with his song Here Today, McCartney shared with John what he hadn’t taken the time to say for all those years: “I love you.”
Later McCartney would bring out a ukulele, a gift from George Harrison who was quite an accomplished ukulele player. McCartney told the story of how he informed George that he had been working on an arrangement of a Harrison song with the gifted left-handed four-string. He shared that tender rendition with us all, the Abbey Road classic, Something.
When the band returned from a momentary break for its first encore song, Paul explained that Peter Jackson, the director behind The Beatles recent 8+ hour documentary, Get Back, reached out to McCartney to let him know that he could separate John Lennon’s vocal and allow Paul to virtually play alongside John while performing the rocker I’ve Got a Feeling from the Let it Be album. Chills ran up and down my arms as the two sang together. As the song played out, I was lost in thought about these two brilliant artists and how their chance meeting at St. Peter’s Church in Liverpool, in many ways, changed the world.
Still lost in thought, I remembered a story shared by one of rock-and-roll’s innovators, Carl Perkins. Carl was invited by Paul to join him on the Island of Montserrat weeks after John Lennon was murdered in 1980. The two recorded together, some of the work landing on McCartney’s 1982 classic, Tug of War. Perkins enjoyed his time on the island with Paul so much that he wrote a song in appreciation titled, “My Old Friend”.
Carl played the song for McCartney.
As Paul listened, tears poured down his face and he had to leave the room. Carl wasn’t sure what had just then happened because the song was really an expression of thanks and love.
Part of the lyrics go like this:
My old friend
Thanks for inviting me in
My old friend
May this goodbye
Never mean the end
If we never meet again
This side of life
In a little while
Where it’s peace and quiet
My old friend
Won’t you think about me
Every now and then
Linda McCartney, who was in the studio at the same time, explained to Carl that the last time Paul and John spoke, not long before he was gunned down, the last thing John said to Paul was, “think about me every now and then, old friend”.
Carl was completely unaware of this conversation between Lennon and McCartney.
I snapped out of my momentary reflection upon this magical moment between McCartney and Perkins to turn my full attention towards another magical moment happening right in front of me – John and Paul pulling off that virtual duet with the excellence we’ve come to expect from The Beatles.
I smiled as John sang:
Everybody had a hard year
Everybody had a good time
Everybody had a wet dream
Everybody saw the sunshine…oh yeah!
The sun did shine on a day when we weren’t so sure that it would. Times have been hard on Baltimore but on this pleasant June night, there was no doubt that everybody had a good time. And the dream, albeit not a wet one, was comforting thanks to a living legend helping a proud city remember what it is capable of.
I then thought of Uncle Joe and how happy he would have been to be there.
And somehow, I think he was…