My niece Megan called recently and asked a question that sent a wave of memories crashing over me: “Would you be interested in seeing Paul McCartney?”
I’d heard about the concert to take place at MetLife Stadium. The radio station I listen to was giving tickets to lucky callers; I tried a time or two, but all I got was a busy signal. I gave up without much regret.
But when Megan asked, I said yes.
It feels embarrassing to admit it, but I was a teenage Beatlemaniac. I saw the Beatles perform three times, twice in New York and once in Boston, in the mid-1960s when they were a phenomenon in the center of the world’s spotlight. Paul was my favorite. But in time my interest waned and I stopped buying Beatles records, and then the group disbanded for good.
Yet when Megan called, something got to me: nostalgia, perhaps, or the desire to see this performer again after more than half a century. I said yes, and so did Megan’s mom, my sister, Betty. We drove to New Jersey on Aug. 7 and joined the crowd of 55,000 heading into the stadium.
As I settled into my seat, I was more curious than excited. I’d been thinking of my Beatles days, including the way the adults in my life had been underwhelmed by the group. My eighth-grade teacher, Sister Denise, outspoken and the quintessential no-nonsense type, allowed my Beatle-crazed girl classmates to play a Beatles album in school one day. She was quiet throughout, but as she listened to Paul crooning “Till There Was You,” she wrote on the blackboard, “That song would be good if he could sing.”
My father, listening to Paul perform on television one night, remarked conversationally, “Now, if he ever went out on his own as a singer, he wouldn’t make it.” Well, Dad liked the smooth delivery of Bing Crosby and Perry Como; he thought Paul just couldn’t measure up.
How tastes change.
At the concert, the band started on time, but 25 minutes went by before McCartney strode onto the stage and the warmed-up crowd went wild.
He’s had a long solo career, writing and performing hugely popular songs. Tellingly, though, he opened with a Beatles hit, “A Hard Day’s Night.” It seemed as though the entire audience sang along, and the same thing happened with every Beatles song he played. I sang, too, and I marveled at how many of us remembered the lyrics. We swayed in time to the music, we waved our arms, we danced. The lights from thousands of cell phones pierced the darkness.
McCartney noticed. He told the crowd: “When I play a Beatles song, it lights up and you’re dancing. When I play the other songs, it’s like a black hole.”
He played both, all evening.
At 74, McCartney still shines as a performer and songwriter. Playing guitar, he has some of the same moves he had at 22. The show was terrific, and technology made it even more spectacular. Huge video screens projected McCartney’s image from the faraway stage, along with photos and colorful animations. One number included an impressive fireworks display.
Tickets were expensive, but we got our money’s worth. On the flip side, I couldn’t help but think of the huge amounts of money involved in this kind of production, of the hype and the glitz. A commemorative T-shirt for $40? No thanks.
When larger-than-life performances are over, they make me think of lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Recessional”: “The tumult and the shouting dies;/The Captains and the Kings depart:/Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,/An humble and a contrite heart.”
I still enjoy McCartney’s music, and I will always have a soft spot for popular culture and the songs that lifted my heart with a joyful, bouncy rhythm. But I’m glad that I left my Beatles days behind for other music, and for songs I have yet to hear. I’m glad, too, that I learned to seek the art and the truths that speak to the heart only in silence.