I keep thinking I’m going to run out of things to write about The Beatles. I keep proving that notion wrong, at least to myself.
I recently enjoyed the final night of Paul McCartney’s Freshen Up Tour. He played to about 50,000 fans at a sold-out Dodger Stadium, where I last saw him five years ago. In fact, I included the setlist of that previous concert in the appendix of my second book, Endless Encores.
My key observation then was that Paul was as committed to his new music as he was to his historic catalog. That is what has allowed him not only to stay in the game for six decades, but to remain at the top of his own game—that constant hunger for reinvention. That is what has made him not just an artist, but a legend.
I had a new observation this time, partly about us, and partly about much more than us.
We are aging through time. These songs are becoming a constant.
Our memories are a snapshot in time. These songs bridge those snapshots.
We are temporal, driving the arcs of our lives. These songs are a continuum.
We will not be here forever. These songs could be.
These songs are ours to enjoy, but they don’t belong to us. They don’t even belong to Paul or The Beatles. They belong to the world.
These songs are universal. They bring us together. They make us happy. They make us remember.
We connect the dots of our life’s timelines from song to song, and in the moment of a single song played back at various points throughout those long and winding roads.
I remember first listening to “Sgt. Pepper” as a child and it takes me back to the record store where I bought the album. I remember first listening to “Band on the Run” as an adolescent and I am back in the hallways of school. I remember first listening to “Here Today” and I am transported to that sad December day when I was in college and John was murdered.
Each song fixes a moment in time that is never erased. Sometimes these moments get back-burnered for a while, but then the associated song reignites our memory. It’s a visceral reaction. It cannot be preempted.
Then there are the songs that pop up all through our lives. I remember “Blackbird” when I initially tried and failed to play it on my first guitar, scratching up my copy of The White Album with each needle reset. I remember hearing it at a New England rally protesting the war in El Salvador. I remember hearing at it the memorial service for a dear friend who loved The Beatles and left this world much too early in his own life. Whenever I think of the ceaseless work we still have to do in civil rights, I hear the lyrics in my mind: “You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”
A single song can traverse the entirety of our lives, inspiring one emotional reaction in our youth, an entirely different response in adulthood, and something even more profound as we continue to age. That’s an awful lot of punch for three minutes of commercial composition. Call it the miracle of creativity. Maybe we’re just very lucky to be in this audience.
Is this somehow unique to Paul, or even to The Beatles? Of course not. We all have our own take on the soundtrack of our lives. Yet sitting there in Dodger Stadium far from the stage but genuinely close to the music, my mind wandered from here to there and back again.
This night’s setlist spanned the entirety of an impossible 60something year career. All those perfect songs held me in the moment and connected the dots of my own journey. The songwriter’s inspirations became my timeline and all of our shared history.
In a single performance, all these songs come together in a temporal theme. We connect the dots of our lives in the collision of moments forced into relevancy. Sadness, joy, loss, love, babies born, children grown, the progression of our careers, the paths of our relationships, generations of sharing—it’s all there in the continuum.
For the performer on the grand stage, it’s his life’s work in stunning summary. For those beyond the proscenium, it’s pure accessibility, sheer singalong joy, and dancehall madness.
At the end of the show, Paul thanks us because we are one with his brilliant talent. We are part of it, and now we pass along the music to others who will not know The Beatles as more than a story. They will not see Paul play live. They will only know it is real because of the continuum. Their memories will replace ours. That is the continuum. It is why art is more permanent than we can ever imagine.
John Lennon is gone, but the songs remain.
George Harrison is gone, but the songs remain.
George Martin is gone, but the songs remain.
Ringo Starr plays two songs live with his former mate, perhaps never again, and the songs remain.
Paul McCartney at age 77 puts on a three-hour rock show without a break that reminds us who we were, who we want to be, who we want to be with, and who we still can be. We connect the dots of our lives through his lyrics, rhythms, and melodies. There is something eternal about that.
Not convinced this is a form of magic that is as rare as it is tangible?
Listen again to the songs. Just listen to the songs.
This is awe.
Paul reminded us not to wait past the point of no return to say what needs to be said.
There’s one person I need to thank for bridging the continuum that is the almost six decades of my life.
His name is Paul.
Photos: Bruce Friedricks