August 7th, 2009


Meet the Beatles

As the rave reviews come in from Paul McCartney's Fenway Park concerts, I want to talk about my experience at Citi Field 2 weeks ago. First, some background.

I'm not sure anyone who came of age after Beatlemania can really understand it. Sure, there have been popular performers, but not a whole nation (and world) going completely nuts over a band. When the Beatles' plane landed in America, radio stations covered it live. And my 7th grade Home Ec teacher let us listen to this IN CLASS. It was as important as a spaceshot (which in those days we also dropped everything to hear).

I had a British pen pal J who sent me fan magazines, so I had heard of the Beatles before they hit in the U.S. In fact, J claimed to have met them and sent me an autograph book with their signatures. It did look like their handwriting, but to this day I'm not sure it's real.

In any case, I was hooked on the music and especially Paul, "the cute one." I watched all their TV appearances, and devoured teen magazines like "16" and "Datebook" which often included G-rated accounts of lucky girls who managed to meet the lads (something like, "I opened an unmarked door in the hotel, and there was Paul! He smiled, touched my hair and said, 'Hello, Luv'"). I saw "Help" in the movie theater 4 times (favorite scene: Paul saying "Up up up!"), and even sent away for a square cut from an airport motel sheet that Paul supposedly slept on.

At ages 11-13, I was too young to be allowed to attend those early concerts at Carnegie Hall and Shea Stadium. Radio station WMCA knew their audience and provided the next best thing: a live broadcast from the final Shea Stadium concert in 1965. For legal reasons, they couldn't play the concert itself so they'd do commentary to a background of screaming girls and throw on a record of the same song when the music actually began. Afterward, they played "I'll Be Back" which comforted me to think they would be back and someday I'd hear them. Who knew that someday would be 44 years later?

Paul was not my first love (there was that boyfriend in pre-kindergarten), but he was my first celebrity crush. As time went on, I never stopped liking the Beatles' music but gradually I grew up and Paul and I both went on to other things. When Linda died and when the Heather Mills (gold-digger!) marriage broke up, there was the fleeting thought of "He's available!" but one must be realistic. Then again, he does like New York Jews (Linda, his current girlfriend Nancy Shevell - and I believe Jane Asher was Jewish, as was the woman Jane caught him in bed with, Francie Schwartz) but probably not really nerdy New York Jews. Besides, he apparently indulges in substances I don't approve of (ick, all those things), and lives on a farm (ick, animals). I don't like older men. And what would one do with a Beatle all day? Listen to him sing? It's over! (sob)

Still, watching him move at Citi and on YouTube videos, my junior high crush instantly returned, and we were 12 and 22 again instead of 57 and 67.

He is standing right in front of me

I haven't been to many rock concerts because they're too LOUD, and because I don't want to be among people doing things I don't want to be around. My former co-worker described a Bon Jovi concert in the Meadowlands where a drunk person threw up near them, and they had no choice but to get stoned so they wouldn't notice it. "Ellen, you would have hated it!" she said, reminding me to avoid that stadium scene.

I never saw Michael Jackson live (or lip-synced, as his upcoming London concerts were rumored to be), and his death made me realize there are stars I want to see before it's too late. Top of the list is Stevie Wonder (as an adult, anyway; I attended a dress rehearsal of "The Ed Sullivan Show" at age 11, and one of the guests was Little Stevie Wonder). Last year, N mentioned getting tickets to see Stevie in Madison Square Garden and I went into my "concerts are too loud" spiel and N assumed I wasn't interested and went with A. They then talked about how fantastic it was, and I regretted not going.

Stevie was among those slated to perform in a Radio City concert July 18 honoring Nelson Mandela, and N and I discussed possibly going. But it was expensive, Stevie was just one of many artists, and there was no guarantee he'd even be there. While we were discussing this on IM, various separate Facebook friends were posting how they planned to see Sir Paul at Citi, and just for fun N (who is a big Paul fan) checked the official ticket site for the added Tuesday July 21 concert (Friday and Saturday had sold out within minutes). "I just bought a ticket!" he said, having procured a floor seat in Section B2, row 10, at top dollar. "I will definitely go with you! Get some more" I said without hesitation, so he got 2 more in B6, second row. He was pretty sure his brother would want the third ticket (he did, and drove 6 hours to get here).

So all of a sudden I was going to see Paul. Not only a Beatle, but my very favorite Beatle. This was huge! The nostalgia factor alone would have made it a memorable event, never mind the quality of the music. Then I watched video of the Letterman marquee concert (aired and extended) - he was great! Reports and videos came in from Friday and Saturday at Citi - equally great! I watched recent concerts in Kiev, Coachella, Halifax - wow! The performances were all slightly different - no Britney Spears fakery that I could see.

Finally it was Tuesday, and we met in a subway station to take the 7 out to Citi. Rain was forecast, and the guys had ponchos and I wore a bedraggled dress I didn't care about getting wet, and brought a plastic laundry bag to drape over myself. As a PA announced the concert was sold out, we entered through the bullpen gate, and security failed to notice N's 2 umbrellas (supposedly forbidden, since they could block people's view). They apparently also didn't notice the multiple video cameras of YouTubers. A guard snapped a wristband on me to identify floor seat-holders, and we were on our way. N stopped at a porta-potty and said it was clean, so I went. There was a heavily deodorized deep bowl that was almost empty.

We found the seats, and N was chagrined to see the entire section A in front of us; he'd thought it was the second row, period. But the seats were still good - except for the large A6 sign that totally obscured his view of the stage. A security person was pretty sure that would be moved, and we found a supervisor who confirmed that. Also, it turned out cameras taping the concert for an eventual DVD might have blocked the view closer up so this was fine. The section was not yet full, so I sat with them as long as I could. We went over to the other side of the floor to see my seat, which was the only empty one in an already full section, between a young couple and slightly scary-looking older bikerish guy. Back in N's area, we heard the ridiculously loud opening act, The Script, from Dublin. My headphones dulled the edge a bit, but the music was still very loud and not memorable. They then started playing Beatles film clips on the large screens, and soon the actual ticketholder arrived and I left for my real seat.

Walking across the field, I was stopped by someone who recognized me from "Wordplay." Hey, Paul, I'm a celebrity, too! (uh, right, and he's the premiere songwriter of the second half of the 20th century) The scary-looking dude next to me remarked they wondered if I was ever coming, and I explained I was sitting with friends on the other side. He said he'd also been there Saturday and it was great and pointed out what was coming up throughout the concert, while taking tons of photos/video (I couldn't find them on YouTube). I told him about how my mother wouldn't let me go to the original Shea concerts. We were all fans and everyone was nice. No one smoked a thing, thank goodness.

Paul finally took the stage, and the place went wild as we stood up en masse. And never sat down (except a few times I just needed to rest - unlike Paul who not only stood up, but sang and played for 2 1/2 hours without even a break for water). The opening chords of "Drive My Car" rang out. The couple next to me moved into the aisle, so we all shifted right. I danced. I sang. Across the aisle some short women jumped up and down and rarely stopped. Paul talked about how the girls at Shea screamed so loud the Beatles couldn't hear themselves, leading everyone to scream on cue (except now the "girls" were middle-aged women). I cried during "Blackbird." By the time he got to "Yesterday" I thought maybe I shouldn't sing and just listen but when I stopped singing, everyone around me was still singing so if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Usually when someone with so many classic hits trots out their newer material, you listen politely and hope it will end soon - but Paul's newer stuff was great! I've listened to it repeatedly on YouTube. The only non-Beatles song I thought was blah was "Dance Tonight" and even that wasn't so bad. In all, a great selection of music done really well. I'd like to acknowledge the fantastic band - Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray on guitar, Abe Laboriel Jr. pounding the drums, and Paul "Wix" Wickens on keyboards/synthesizer.

It sent chills through my spine to hear the concert-ending, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" sung by the person who wrote it. "That's really PAUL up there," I thought throughout the evening. I rejoined N and his brother and we took a crowded subway back to Manhattan. I haven't stopped reliving the moments on YouTube since.

Oh, and it didn't rain. Maybe a little drizzle. I didn't really notice. And I never needed my noise-cancelling headphones for Paul.