I had not planned on writing this blog.
But early last week, I found myself at a benefit where I witnessed at fairly close range the former Beatle paying tribute to his daughter, designer Stella, before presenting her with an award for her long-standing commitment to the environment. Not being a big detail guy, I confess I had no idea that Paul McCartney would be joining us that evening, nor that Stella McCartney was being honored.
Now I am a fairly jaded New Yorker who has attended many events of this type over the years, and seen countless business titans and celebrities speak, either to accept these awards, or introduce other recipients. These experiences now make up the faintest blur in my crowded consciousness.
The other night was different for several reasons. First, hearing Paul speak in person, listening first-hand to that achingly familiar voice I've taken refuge in so often over the years. To me it sounded precisely the same as it always has; I could discern no age-related shifts to a lower register, and for some reason, this floored me.
Second, Paul's tribute to his daughter was completely forthright and surprisingly personal, a one-two punch that also took me aback. What? No ego? No self-congratulation?
Paul volunteered that Stella's name had certainly given her an entrée into the fashion business, but that if she hadn't the talent or work ethic to stand on her own, the industry would have used that same name as a "cudgel" (his word) to deter her progress. A trifle blunt perhaps, but absolutely true.
He also praised her courage in challenging established practices by announcing from the outset she would use no animal skins in any of her products; on the face of it then, not the wisest career move, McCartney or no McCartney.
He then brought up how proud Stella's late mother Linda would be, to see her daughter receiving the award where she (Linda) grew up- in New York. At this point, Sir Paul became slightly emotional, and so did the rest of us.
I thought Stella's acceptance speech showed surpassing grace and humility as well. She fully acknowledged how lucky and blessed she'd been, and she thanked all those who had influenced and encouraged her, including her parents. If there is a heaven, Linda Eastman McCartney must have been looking down.
The positively merry ex-Beatle beamed with pride the entire evening. My own engrained cynicism temporarily thrust aside, I started beaming too. I had to admire that someone who had experienced unparalleled fame and adulation from his early twenties could seem so balanced and self-aware, and also be sufficiently responsible and caring to help raise someone as grounded as Stella.
This unexpected pleasure brought back my two prior sightings of Paul McCartney: once, walking the streets of New York the day before 9/11, the other in Paris circa 1963, when as a five year old, I looked inside a limousine covered with screaming schoolgirls, and saw the cherubic Paul within, smiling and waving at his ever-growing public. I couldn't identify any of the other Beatles- only Paul's face was at the car window. Just several months later, the world experienced a seismic shift when the Beatles first appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show".
In the sixties, most everyone had a favorite Beatle, and since Paul always got the majority of the female votes, I latched on to John. In truth, I found John's anarchic spirit and mischievous persona more appealing then. I had also noted that George, known as the "shy Beatle", had a sizable female contingent in his corner, while court jester Ringo was pretty much universally adored (though few volunteered them as their favorite, as this made an automatic statement about one's musical acumen).
The martyred John, of course, will always occupy a symbolic place in my life: only six days and Central Park separated John's slaying with the death of my own mother from cancer. When my immediate family went out to lunch the day she died, Beatles music was playing everywhere, and I recall this fairly cosmic coincidence felt oddly appropriate, since the Beatles was the first rock band my parents ever listened to in earnest.
Believing in the timelessness of art, not only would my four children be exposed to great films of all types and stripes, but also to the music that met the same high standards. The Beatles were always front and center. Less than a year ago, we took our kids (now grown) to see the jaw-dropping Cirque de Soleil Beatles tribute, "Love", in Las Vegas. For me, there are few experiences more enjoyable than watching young people totally turned on to something you introduced them to. That's just what happened that night.
Like Sir Paul at that benefit, the Beatles themselves never seem to grow old. You may not want to hear their music all the time anymore, but over forty-five years, never have I tired of a Beatles song I loved in the first place. And beyond their enduring songbook, much material exists that keeps the Beatles alive: beyond the literally countless books, you have both the CD and DVD versions of "The Beatles Anthology", arguably best for true fanatics. (Patrick Montgomery's 1984 feature-length documentary "The Compleat Beatles" may be the definitive documentary on the group, but the title remains unavailable on DVD.)
To relive Beatlemania in all its madcap glory, I suggest you sit yourselves down to the following double-feature:
A Hard Day's Night (1964)- The sheer energy and originality of the Beatles made no traditional plot necessary for this, the group's first film. Director Richard Lester felt it would be sufficient to portray a day in the life of the world's most talked about rock band just as they were attaining a stratospheric super-stardom. The result is part narrative, part documentary- and all magic. The explosive talent and natural charisma of the early Beatles commands our full attention, while fine British character actors like Wilfrid Brambell (playing Paul's incorrigible grandfather) are on-hand to provide comic support (not that much is needed). This contagious romp remains the freshest, most breathtaking of musical rides. Highlight: the spontaneous jam session of "I Should Have Known Better" in a train compartment.
Yellow Submarine (1968)- Don't miss this inspired fusion of Beatles music and the Peter Max-inspired, tie-dye color sensibility that became a visual signature for the late sixties. In this trippy animated classic, when the Blue Meanies take over Pepperland and turn its inhabitants to stone, lone survivor Lord Admiral escapes in a yellow submarine to London, hoping to enlist the help of the Beatles. Traveling through strange landscapes, the Fab Four (here voiced by other actors) bring their psychedelic pop and message of love to the beleaguered land. Forty plus years after release, "Submarine" endures as an irresistible fantasy, ideal for younger children and their parents (as well as us aging flower children). Its dazzling visual and aural compositions combine with the Beatles' trademark British humor and endless punning to create a generous and satisfying feast for both eyes and ears.
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