For the past month or two, I've had the honor of spending a significant part of my time helping to celebrate the uniquely positive and enduring impact of The Beatles on our lives. I was happy to do so on The Grammy Awards, in Playtone's The Sixties: The British Invasion on CNN, and this Sunday night on CBS, The Beatles -- The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute. Our big Grammy Salute to The Beatles is airing on the same network exactly 50 years after John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr first played on The Ed Sullivan Show. Please please me and see it -- it's Fab.
This two-and-a-half-hour CBS special features performances by Stevie Wonder, Dave Grohl, Katie Perry, Jeff Lynne, Joe Walsh, Maroon Five, Eurythmics, Brad Paisley, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Keith Urban, Pharrell Williams, Gary Clark Jr., Ed Sheeran, Imagine Dragons and John Mayer, and appearances by Johnny Depp, David Letterman, Anna Kendrick, Jeff Bridges, LL Cool J, Kate Beckinsale and Eric Idle. Of course, the whole show builds to something you don't want to miss -- Paul and Ringo performing a few Beatles classics together again.
To have these opportunities to salute my greatest heroes has been a profound privilege on a professional and personal level, and like the paperback writer that I am, I thought I'd try and tell you why. The Beatles changed my life -- as they have changed so many of yours -- but some of my experiences feel unique, at least to me. In fact, I could write a book about my brushes with and feelings for The Beatles -- in fact, I may be the only writer who hasn't written a book about them at this point.
I am part of a lost and found generation that fell in love with the Beatles in a peculiar kind of retrospect. I was born in the Sixties, but was too young to remember the British Invasion firsthand. I do remember my parents having a few Beatles albums in our record player that looked like a giant piece of furniture, and vaguely recall my childhood friend David Klein's older brother having those cool posters from the White Album posted on the wall of their basement. But in truth, I fell in love with the Beatles backwards, buying each and every one of their solo albums in the Seventies and gradually going back and realizing that the Beatles made possible all those Electric Light Orchestra and Raspberries albums I fell for first.
My love of the Fab Four just grew deeper with every year. The night John Lennon died so tragically in 1980, I was a freshman at Cornell working at the school paper. I will never forget my father calling me in my dorm and kindly asking me if I wanted to come home from school to mourn, as if this was a death in our family, because in a sense, it was.
Within two years of graduating college, I somehow found myself with my dream job at Rolling Stone where I would annoy my boss Jann Wenner by asking countless questions about his late great friend John Lennon. I thank Jann for his patience. Weeks after arriving at the magazine in 1986, I met my first Beatle. It was in the lobby of Radio City Music Hall where I was briefly brought over to meet Paul and Linda McCartney at the record release party for Paul's album Press To Play. For once in my life, I found myself virtually speechless, but I do remember the lovely Linda McCartney grabbing my arm as if trying to steady this overwhelmed rock critic.
Now cut to 1993. I am thrilled to be sent on the road with Paul and Linda, going around the world with them for a tour piece in Rolling Stone. During my time on the road with the McCartneys in America and South America, Linda was tremendously kind to me, even taking a portrait of me when I wasn't looking and offering it to me to use as my author's photo -- a generous offer I took her up on gladly. Another day when the tour hit the New York area, Linda asked me if I had a girlfriend. I told her that I had just met a nice girl named Fran who was, in fact, visiting New York that same week. Linda said she wanted to check out "this Fran character' and asked me to invite her to the next day's sound check. For the record, there is nothing like a Paul McCartney sound check -- they are even more fun than the man's actual concerts.
Afterward, Linda invited a suitably impressed Fran and I to have a surprisingly tasty tofu lunch with her. Within moments, Linda pulled me aside. "Marry that girl," she said, matter of factly. This was the very first time the thought had entered my mind. Sensing my surprise, Linda asked me a question. "Do you think I know something about marriage?" she asked. Having seen Linda's loving relationship with Paul and their kids firsthand, I responded that she very clearly did. "So hear what I am telling you." And so I did. Not long after that, inspired in no small measure by Linda's wise words coming from her strong and beautiful soul, I popped the question and ended up marrying the woman who became my love.
Now flash-forward another decade or two.
On February 3rd of this year, I was backstage working on writing The Grammy Awards on which Paul and Ringo both appeared, when my wife Fran and our two teenaged sons arrived to visit me backstage. My wife immediately asked me if I've seen the photo she had just texted me. I had not, so she showed me a photo on her phone of Paul with his arms warmly around our two sons. Remarkably, she explains, she did not even try to get this photo. Everyone tries to get a photo with a Beatle, but somehow my wife and sons were passing Paul in the hall when Paul stopped and put his arms around my sons. As my amazed and amazing wife snapped the photo, Paul warmly embraced them, telling my boys that they are "the stars of the future." I cannot explain how this happened exactly. Perhaps Paul mistook our two sons for some stray boy band members, and simply showed them extraordinary kindness. Yet I prefer to think it was the loveliness of Linda's kind spirit living on through Paul, recognizing something in the eyes of two kids who might not be here if she had not told me in no uncertain terms to marry their mom. So thank you Sir Paul, and most of all, thank you always to the eternally Lovely Linda.
As you may have noticed, I tend to drop a name -- or two hundred. But of all the musicians I have had the pleasure of getting to know, I always tell anyone who asks that my favorite hero I know is and always will be Ringo Starr. The artist formerly known as Richard Starkey is the greatest, funniest, wisest man I have come across yet and imagine I ever will. I admire Ringo even more as a man than as a Beatle, and that's saying something.
I first met Ringo shortly after that speechless first meeting Paul. The year was 1989, and Ringo has just cleaned up his own act, and was taking it on the road for the first time with one of his All-Starr Bands. I remember taking a Beatle Ringo doll I found in the Rolling Stone office to our first interview, and being amazed as Ringo gladly propped his floppy doppelganger on his knee during our entire first chat.
There are far too many Ringo stories to share here, all of them reflecting the warmth and wit and generosity of spirit he and his beloved wife Barbara have always exhibited. But here's just one favorite Ringo story -- one with which I annoy almost everybody I meet.
Sometime in the early 21st Century, I got an invitation to take the whole family to see one of the many incarnations of Ringo and The All-Stars at the Universal Amphitheater. To get my boys excited for the show, I took them to see Yellow Submarine that was screening at a local theater. Apparently, our boys were too young to appreciate the animated feature's mind-blowing brilliance -- in fact, I'm pretty sure one of them might have cried during one of the movie's more trippy sequences. When we got home, to calm my son's nerves, I showed the boys a treasured copy of All You Need Is Cash, the amazing Beatles mockumentary that allowed the world to Meet The Rutles.
When we arrived at the gig, I was surprised when Ringo's wonderful, longtime PR representative Elizabeth Freund explained that we were to come backstage and say hello before the show. When Ringo spotted our youngest son Alec -- then five or so -- he sweetly told him, "You're so young, you don't even know who I am, do you?" Alec, never shy, immediately set Ringo straight, "Sure I do," my son told my hero, "You're a Rutle, right?" I will never forget Ringo's wry smile, as he told Alec, "Unfortunately, son, I wasn't that lucky."
Four or five years later, Ringo asked me to help write some jokes and material for the event at which he got his star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Among the stars there that day was Eric Idle, of Monty Python and Rutles fame. Afterwards, we walked into a Fab after-party in the Capitol Studios. In one of the most surreal moments of my life, Ringo took son by the hand and walked him over to meet Eric Idle. "Alec, tell Eric what you said when you met me," Ringo told my boy. At that precise moment, I remember thinking that if as a child, a Beatle had asked me to quote myself to a member of Monty Python, my head might have exploded.
George Harrison I mostly loved from afar. I only met George once, but it was absolutely unforgettable. In the early 1990s, I was invited to Tom Petty's house for a Christmas party. Indeed, I had somehow been assigned to bring a gift for Tom himself in the day's big gift exchange. Having discussed our shared love for all things Beatles before, I had purchased and poorly wrapped an old Life magazine with the Beatles on the cover that I thought Tom might enjoy. When I arrived at the party, I stared -- as one does -- at a pretty woman near the entrance who looked familiar. Seconds later, I saw a considerably more familiar figure come behind this pretty woman and give her a warm embrace. The pretty woman was Olivia Harrison, and the man behind her was, of course, her husband and my guitar god, George.
When it came time for the gift exchange, George happened to sit down next to me on a couch, As Tom opened up my gift, George turned to me and said, with absolutely perfect, Hard Day Night's deadpan timing and a charming grin, "Oh yeah, The Fabs, I remember them."
Years later, Ringo told me, he had gotten a call from George who was working on an album that would become Brainwashed. Ringo said George told him he had been away from releasing albums for a while and wasn't sure what writers he should talk to about his new project. Ringo told me that he had suggested that George might enjoy talking to me. I will confess I was dumbstruck by this notion of two Beatles discussing me -- that trumped even one Beatle and one Rutle. I remember planning a trip to England to interview George for Rolling Stone, and then a last-minute call that the trip would have to be delayed because George was not feeling well.
Tragically, that trip would never happen, but years later, I remember being asked to help for a day on what would become Living In A Material World, Martin Scorsese's brilliant documentary about George. As I was leaving my house that morning, my son Alec -- now a budding young guitar player -- asked me why I always said George Harrison was my favorite guitar player. I tried to explain to him that George was my favorite not because he was the most technically advanced player ever, but because he always served the song -- that to my ears, he never played in a way that was about his ego. Alec took in this statement in for a moment then said, "So George Harrison was the best guitar player because he was the best person who played guitar, right?" Later that day, I mentioned this conversation to Olivia and George's lovely son Dhani. "Smart kid," Olivia told me with a smile.
I never met John Lennon. "You would have loved him," Ringo told me once casually, and I had to laugh. The truth is I have loved John Lennon all of my life. At least I got to express some of that love when Ken Ehrlich -- our Executive Producer of the Grammys and the driving force behind Sunday's Grammy Salute to The Beatles -- who in 2001 allowed me to work with him on a tribute to John Lennon that eventually became Come Together: A Night For John Lennon and New York City." Originally, this tribute was meant to be a benefit for gun control, but in the immediate aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11, it became much more than that. Come Together -- hosted by Kevin Spacey and put together with Yoko Ono's considerable help -- became a celebration not just of John Lennon's life and music, but also of the undying spirit of the adopted home he loved.
There are so many more stories I could tell and so many more names I could drop here, but suffice to say, I have rarely enjoyed my work as much as in the last month. For instance, for part of the CBS special, Ken Ehrlich asked me to work on a short video profile of each Beatles' early history to be voiced by -- who else? -- Eric Idle, who introduces these packages by confusing the Beatles and the Rutles, precisely as my kid did once upon a long ago.
Here's how much the Beatles mean to me.
At my wedding, the only song I asked be performed was "In My Life," sung by my groomsman E, later of Eels fame, who proceeded to surprise me by tagging my chosen masterpiece with a short version of "Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter" by Herman's Hermits with special lyrics about my wife. On the delivery room playlists for the births our two sons, much of the music was by the Fabs, including of multiple versions of the very fitting "Here Comes The Sun." And in perhaps my darkest hour, sitting with my late great father in hospice during some of his final hours here on Earth, I played my Dad music from two artists we both loved -- Frank Sinatra and the Beatles. The last song I ever played for my father was "Let It Be," praying the music comforted him, knowing that it comforted me.
How can any of us thank The Beatles for all they've meant to so many of us these past 50 years? We can't. Because what the Beatles gave the world more than anything else was love in a musical form. And in end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
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