Happy 75th birthday Paul McCartney.
I was born the year the Beatles officially split up and never experienced the fervor of Beatlemania. Yet I have had a lifelong fascination with the story of four boys who emerged from a struggling post-war Liverpool to reach a stratospheric level of stardom the world had never seen and may never see again. The music and that cracking rags to riches yarn, have been constant in my life. And all the while Paul McCartney has been my unquestionable favourite.
It began with the cartoons. I credit The Beatles cartoon and its follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-alongs with helping me learn to read. It also guaranteed that Beatles songs were the first I knew the words to. Those songs also gave me an early awareness that beautiful things can be made with words.
McCartney’s Penny Lane was my favourite. I remember, aged no more than five, asking my father what a Mack on your back meant. “He means Mackintosh,” my father told me. “That’s what people in England call a raincoat.” And some man had been going out in the rain without one. That is very strange.
Then there was the copy of A Hard Day’s Night that my parents owned; the first record I ever played. It’s still my all-time favourite album though, counter-intuitively, one of the more Lennon-centric Beatles albums. I was fascinated by Robert Freeman’s four rows of black and white head shots and the different facial expressions of these four young men. And I was drawn magnetically to Paul. Years before I had any inkling of what physical attraction meant, I recognised him as the handsomest and the coolest; his boundless charisma leaping from the cover.
Like all children I thought everything before my own memory was ancient history. My father told me the album was made a long time before I was even born (six years before I was born actually). I recall clearly telling him; in that case, “they must surely all be dead by now”. This was about 1975. They were of course all very much alive and youthful. McCartney had barely entered his thirties.
He was in fact building a second career with a new band; Wings. I eventually moved on from A Hard Day’s Night and pinched my brother’s copy of the triple live Wings Over America and played it to death when he wasn’t at home to stop me touching his things.
The four young men I admired on that album sleeve would not be all alive for much longer. A second wave of nostalgic Beatlemania crashed over the world in December 1980, prompted by the senseless murder of John Lennon by a deranged fan. A Melbourne radio station played nothing but Beatles music for the entire weekend following Lennon’s death in tribute. I listened with my ear pressed to a speaker for almost two straight days. It rekindled an interest in Beatles music that has never left me.
There have been challenges – first from ABBA in the seventies and then Duran Duran in the eighties and later from nineties grunge rock. But those musical interests were fleeting and none has stood the test of time.
Listening to Beatles tapes helped me get through the stress of exams and calmed nerves in other life milestones like moving house and the many challenges of a busy modern work life. McCartney even prompted a brief reconciliation in 1993 with a recently-ex boyfriend who happened to hold the tickets to McCartney’s outstanding MCG concert. That reconciliation didn’t stand the test of time either. But McCartney’s career has.
In an era when fame is fleeting and fans are fickle, McCartney’s own celebrity and influence endure. Love him or hate him (and I know some people do) his achievements can’t be matched. In a career that’s spanned close to six decades (an amazing feat in itself) McCartney:
- is recognised by Guinness Book of World Records (since 1979) as the world’s most successful song writer
- was knighted by the Queen in 1997
- has amassed a staggering fortune from his own music (proving people who claim to not buy his records really do) and from music publishing
- has collaborated with contemporary artists including Kanye West and Rhianna to remain relevant to new generations of music fans.
Now only two of those young men I admired on that album sleeve more than 40 years ago are still alive. Both are now well into senior citizenship. I’m now well into middle age. The music of Paul McCartney still provides me a comfort zone where I know I will always be able to retreat from noise and distraction.
So happy birthday Paul. And thank you.