I have long wanted to see Paul McCartney. So, earlier this spring, when I landed a summer internship in New York City, it didn't seem unreasonable to think this might be the year. After all, it's the 50th anniversary of the American Year of the Beatle, the commemoration of the band's arrival at JFK Airport and the performances on "Ed Sullivan" and America altogether losing its mind. A New York show seemed inevitable. Then Paul announced he was coming to Missoula and put me through the emotional wringer. My heart sank at the realization I'd be back east when he was in Missoula. My heart sank again when I checked his full tour dates and realized he wasn't even planning on visiting the Big Apple. Then my bank account sank when I did the obvious thing and purchased concert and plane tickets and planned for days off from my internship for a midweek trip back to Missoula.
I say this was the "obvious thing" because 2014 has been my own personal Year of the Beatle. I've been in the midst of a musical renaissance, re-discovering the group's early rockabilly covers and re-shuffling my preferences among Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver. A friend gifted me Anthology 1-3, and I've listened to them obsessively. I bought one of those "50 Years Ago..." magazines put out by Time or People, the ones priced through the roof for sale to nostalgic saps like me. I actually bought two. In New York, I found the theater playing the 50th anniversary re-release of A Hard Day's Night—restored to 4K super high definition!and went to see it. Twice.
And then there was the trip to San Francisco, back in March. I was visiting a buddy and he told me, apropos of nothing, that I should meet the girl who cuts his hair. He said we were "birds of a feather." Well, my hair is long and straight and black and I figured that if we were that alike, she'd understand my deepest desire, the thing I've always wanted but never been able to ask for.
Now I have a mop top.
My love for the Beatles has a religious fervor, deep and often irrational. It's something to do with the fact that the music is full of—in the true, religious sense of the word—mysteries. The songs are flawless but rife with musical and lyrical nuances hard not to puzzle over. The Anthology albums of b-sides, outtakes and early versions of songs shatter the illusion, seemingly. Hearing a classic like "Got to Get You Into My Life" muddied with an over-complicated, obtrusive vocal arrangement makes you realize: Oh, these guys weren't perfect. But then, who knows what Jesus' terrible teens were like? Has anyone heard a rough draft of the Sermon on the Mount? The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, anyway. They lend themselves to iconography and worship. You say every good religion needs a famous martyr? I remind you that Paul is dead.
And, all due respect to John, is Paul not the perfect enigmatic central figure? When the band outgrew its early pop records, and entered into psychedelia (and beyond), John's blossoming as a writer became an open book of personal history. "I'm a Loser," "Julia," "Strawberry Fields Forever"great songs all, but, after a while, easy to fit into John's persona. Paul's blossoming became ... what? He seemed to write everything: Tender ballads ("Blackbird"). Old-timey music ("Honey Pie"). What-the-hell-was-that? music ("Wild Honey Pie"). Psychosis as music ("Helter Skelter"). And that's just one album.
Paul's voice—literally and spiritually—is a nomadic wonder. Where does it want to go? What does it want to do? What can't it do? I don't know that the edginess, the search, has subsided any as he's gotten older. Maybe "Let Me Roll It," from the Wings era, is a good example of this but I think of Electric Arguments, the 2008 release from his side project, The Fireman. The opening track is sung in an almost unrecognizable caterwaul. It's a barnburner of a song. When I realized who was singing, it was a perfect shock.
Since I've been living in Missoula, I often think of the time it hit me that the opening monologue in "Rocky Raccoon" was Paul's best backwoods American accent. I'm sure he's poking fun but I'm also sure he loves that voice. In fact, the more I've thought about it, the more it makes sense to see him play outside The Center of the Universe. NYC is a bit safe, isn't it? He's going to love playing in Rocky's neck of the woods.
That's why, next week, I'm hopping a plane. I'll look out the window at the cultural mecca of the U.S., wave goodbye and head to the mountains way up North. New York can have JFK and the Ed Sullivan Theater. I'd rather see Sir Paul off the beaten path, right where he belongs.
Paul McCartney plays Washington-Grizzly Stadium Tue., Aug. 5, for his Out There tour. 8 PM. $49.50–$250. Visit griztix.com. A pre-concert party at Caras Park starts at 4 PM with music by Three-Eared Dog, food and drinks. Free.