The crowd was silent. As the first few notes of the song projected over the audience, 30,000 people leaned forward in their seats and waited with baited breath for one man to strum a ukulele.
It’s not every musician who could hold an entire stadium’s attention with just one instrument and a microphone, but Paul McCartney has had 60 years to perfect this moment. He couldn’t be more comfortable or unhurried if he was performing in his own living room. Then, he begins to sing the opening lines to “Something,” and the crowd goes wild.
I’ve Just Seen a Face
I had my first encounter with the Beatles when I was still in high school. It would be wrong to say I wasn’t aware of them before then. Their music is so ingrained in pop culture that you’d have to be living under a rock not to know the chorus to “Hey, Jude” or “Here Comes the Sun.” However, I didn’t truly experience the phenomenon that is the Beatles until I was about 16.
It was 2008, and the movie Across the Universe had come out the previous year. I stumbled across the film by accident one night when I was babysitting. The infectious songs and bright backdrop seemed like the perfect distraction to enjoy while the kids slept. Little did I know I was setting the stage for a love that would last for the rest of my life.
Nothing’s Gonna Change My World…
In case you haven’t seen it, Across the Universe is a musical based entirely around Beatles songs. It doesn’t actually feature the Beatles themselves or their original music. However, it does include excellent covers of the Beatles’ original tunes and weaves a story that incorporates the music. Basically, the Beatles are to Across the Universe as ABBA is to Mamma Mia.
So, my first real Beatles experience wasn’t even a firsthand one, but I have to give credit where credit is due. If the directors made it with the intention of introducing a whole new generation to the glory that is the Beatles, they did their job well.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack to this ‘60s style musical has only 16 songs. It wasn’t long before I had exhausted these tracks and went looking for more, stumbling headfirst into the Lennon/McCartney songbook. Across the Universe was my gateway drug, but once I started watching Hard Day’s Night and the original Beatles music videos, there was no going back.
With A Little Help from My Friends (or Not)
It’s hard to explain exactly what my attraction to the Beatles was. Unlike a lot of younger fans, I didn’t grow up listening to their music. My parents were both born in the ’50s, but neither profess to be fans. I never remember hearing any Beatles songs around the house as a kid. Likewise, none of my friends showed more than a mild interest in their music. The Beatles obsession was something entirely of my own. Perhaps that’s why I was so ready to embrace it.
It’s not as if I could start calling people up to say, “Hey, I discovered this cool new band—The Beatles. You should check them out!” Liking a band from the ’60s that everyone had already heard of hardly made me cool, but it didn’t matter. They were my first experience with music that didn’t have origins on the Disney Channel. It was as if the Beatles had opened a door to a whole new decade of music. I had finally found the place where I belonged. Over the next several years, I would read biographies, watch documentaries, and listen to countless hours of music on repeat.
La-La How the Life Goes On
A fangirl can never forget her first true obsession, something she loves not because a friend liked it first, or because she’s trying to impress a boy, or because her parents/teachers think it might be a good idea, but because she is drawn to it. When you love something that much as a teenager, it becomes a part of your identity for the rest of your life.
Fortunately for me, the Beatles were something I never felt pressured to outgrow. Although I first fell in love with the “Hard Day’s Night” singers who ran from screaming girls and made jokes about their own floppy hair, I stayed loyal to them because of the depth and breadth of their musical history.
Whether it’s love, loss, religion, or politics, the Beatles wrote a song about it, if not on their original group albums than on one of their individual albums as solo artists. While songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Feel Fine” have stayed popular because of their upbeat tempo and innocent relatability, songs like “Revolution” and “Give Peace a Chance” are just as relevant to today’s political crisis as they were 40-plus years ago.
Yesterday and Today
Which brings us to the year 2016 and that crowd of 30,000 people all waiting as Paul McCartney picked up his ukulele. Yes, I was one of thousands who leaned forward in her seat, as if the stadium’s sound equipment wasn’t fully capable of blaring its way to my spot in the very back row.
I was one of the thousands who grew misty-eyed when Paul dedicated “Something” to his former bandmate George Harrison, an anecdote I’m sure he’s been telling on stage for almost as long as I’ve been alive. I was one of the thousands who screamed in delight as fireworks erupted behind the stage during “Live and Let Die.” I was one of the thousands who held her arms up and swayed along with the chorus during “Hey, Jude.”
That crowd of 30,000 pales in comparison to the millions of fans who have seen Paul McCartney perform sometime in the last 60 years. Yet, when I bought my ticket, and chose to attend that concert by myself (because I am still the biggest Beatles fan I know), I felt like I was making history. I was buying a little piece of the Beatles that I could experience live for the first time.
A Day in the Life
Maybe for Paul it was just another night in a career that has been decades long. However, standing alone in that crowd of thousands was a life-changing moment for me, and not just because of who was on stage. Buying that ticket and attending that show was something I chose to enjoy just for me. Not because someone else I knew enjoyed his music or wanted to drag me to the concert, but because seeing Paul McCartney live was something I had always dreamed of doing—so I was doing it.
The 16-year-old me would be proud of the decision I made to stay true to something I love. Meanwhile, the fangirl in me is already planning her next concert.
You can never re-experience your first love too many times.