I'm what you'd call a second-generation Beatles fan. They'd been broken up for five years by the time I shuffled onto this mortal coil, and my first exposure to their music was through greatest hits compilation LP's and poor-quality mixtapes copied off the radio. Even in the blissfully naïve days of extreme youth in the early '80s, as glam rock gave way to hair metal and Michael Jackson dropped Thriller, you could tell there was something singular about Beatles music, something visceral. Even the lesser songs possessed a purity of emotion and a unique ability to connect to each person who heard them, as if they had tapped into the very life stream of all human consciousness. Love, longing, loss, hope and dreams of a better world flowed through each twang of their guitars, each perfectly harmonized note. They were on to something, those four lads, and billions are forever grateful that they chose to share it with us.
They could not have had any idea, one supposes, as Paul McCartney said hello to John Lennon for the first time at the St. Peter's Church hall fete in Woolton on July 6, 1957. Beatles fans can rattle off these dates and events as though they are gospel; these many accidental confluences of events have grown into the stuff of legend. The heady days of Hamburg, the passing of Stu Sutcliffe, sweaty nights in the Cavern, the firing of Pete Best, the first appearance on Ed Sullivan, A Hard Day's Night, "Bigger than Jesus," LSD and Sgt. Pepper, sojourns in India with the Maharishi, Yoko, marching across Abbey Road, the rooftop concert in London, the decline, drift and eventual collapse, and all the while turning out works of inspirational genius. No other band -- indeed, few other men -- has lived as boldly as they did, scoring the lives of an entire generation of humanity, and remaining, in their own quiet, Liverpudlian way, regular lads.
I was lucky to see Sir Paul McCartney play two years ago -- he blew apart the stage in a three-hour tour of the highlights of his unfathomably massive career at a pace that would have shattered men a third his age, with nary as much as a sip of water in between songs. Turning 70 today, he shows little sign of letting up. There seems to be a fragment of divine fire burning inside that man, pushing him on an endless pilgrimage from one musical venture to the next, one concert after another, whether it is in hurling showers of light into the sky in front of Buckingham Palace for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee or crooning the quieter sentiments of his standards album Kisses on the Bottom. People joke about the creaky Rolling Stones heading out for their hundredth world tour playing the same old songs; Paul never endures that kind of mockery, because his spirit remains young. He's perpetually that dreamy 22-year-old bopping his mop-topped head as he plucks away at his bass. No one's told him otherwise. No one would dare.
John Lennon's voice was taken from us by a madman, and George Harrison's silenced by cancer, but Paul McCartney's endures, and grows louder still. If there is a leader of the music world, a President of the United States of Rock, Paul wins unopposed on the first ballot. Since the fateful day he first picked up a guitar he has devoted himself to the cause of entertaining his fellow men -- to regale them with a silly love song and remind them that the things they're feeling, the questions they have about their world and their place in it, aren't unique, that ours is indeed a collective human experience. We're all in this thing together, man, and Paul McCartney is a shining example of what it means to bite into life and devour it whole, even if it's on a strictly vegetarian diet. Happy birthday, Macca, thank you, and hail to the chief -- yesterday and today and for many tomorrows to come.