“Write what you know, Paul.”
On our recent trip to England, we were fortunate to visit Liverpool, the home of those Fab Four lads, the Beatles. Driving past Penny Lane, our tour guide recounted for us the back story of that famous tune: Paul McCartney, in a quandary about what to write for a school paper, was advised by his English teacher to stick to the personal, the everyday, for inspiration. Thus, Paul wrote about a bus shelter “in the middle of a roundabout”, where he waited for his friend, John Lennon. Close by was a barber shop “showing photographs of every head he had the pleasure to know.” In a neighboring pub, Paul and his mates would enjoy “a fish of four”, or, in other words, that iconic British treat of fish and chips. Around him were all the sights and sounds of his youth, so, for Paul, Penny Lane “was in my ears and in my eyes.”
Thus, the inception of one of the Beatles most famous songs.
Paul McCartney is much celebrated in the media this month, as he just celebrated his 80th birthday. Sir James Paul McCartney, born June 18, 1942, is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, “the most successful musician and composer in popular music history.”
Yet, it all began in that working class port city, where the young band got its start in clubs like the Cavern ( which we also toured), singing the likes of “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Love Me Do”, written by McCartney at age 16.
As a kid, the walls of my childhood room were plastered with photos of the “cute Beatle”, ripped from the pages of “Tiger Beat” and “16 Magazine.” In a sense, I grew up with Paul McCartney and the Beatles.
From the heartbreak of love gone wrong: “Yesterday love was such an easy game to play/ Now I need a place to hide away/Oh, I believe in yesterday…”
to all the ups and downs of the decades to follow, expressed so well in “The Long and Winding Road”: “Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried/ Anyway you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried…”, we saw our lives reflected in McCartney’s music and lyrics.
Paul McCartney may be a famous singer songwriter, worth 1.2 billion ( he spent his 80th birthday on vacation with his family on a yacht off the coast of a Greek island, and owns fabulous homes world-wide) but he, too, has had his share of tragedy. His mother died of breast cancer when he was only 14, and he lost his wife, Linda, to the same disease. His friend and bandmate, John Lennon, was murdered at a young age, and George Harrison, too, died from cancer.
Maybe because he is, according to Robert Frost’s poem, “one acquainted with the night”, McCartney has always had a sympathy and a fascination with the unloved and forgotten. In “Eleanor Rigby”, he asks, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from/ All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” And he questions in “Lady Madonna, children at your feet, wonder how you manage to make ends meet?”
When faced with troubles, as we all are, the universality of his lyrics touch our hearts. Paul especially displayed his compassion when he visited Julian Lennon shortly after the breakup of his famous parent’s marriage. “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad/ Take a sad song, and make it better…”
Probably his most celebrated song, “Let It Be”, was written after his mother appeared to him in a dream offering a solution: “When I find myself in times of trouble/ Mother Mary comes to me/ Speaking words of wisdom, Let it Be…”
Despite all that loss, McCartney has remained upbeat and philosophical, suggesting, “Just remember the great stuff…”
Which brings us to today. I’m personally happy that Paul has reached the venerable age of 80, and that he is still touring ( we saw him in Washington some years back. He gave a fabulous performance, singing until midnight and returning for four encores!)
He just headlined at the Glastonbury Festival to delighted crowds, the oldest singer to ever perform there.
Today, “Macca”, as he is affectionately known, has a happy family life with his wife, Nancy, his five children, and eight grandkids who call him “Granddude.” Sir Paul has been knighted by the Queen, and is the recipient of countless honors and awards.
But many of us still remember him as that floppy haired kid so many years ago on The Ed Sullivan Show. So, I’m glad it’s your birthday, Paul. You’ve touched our lives with joy.