I Saw Him Standing There: My Encounter with a Beatle
So I hung out with Paul McCartney for part of today. Okay, it was really only for about a minute, but I'll take it.
The occasion was the unveiling of George Harrison's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame outside of Capitol Records earlier today. Something amazing happens when McCartney is in the vicinity. It's a little like all the air flows in his direction. Even if you want to look elsewhere, you can't help but check back and see where he is and what he's doing. And it's likely that he's smiling.
He came bounding out of the Capitol Tower onto Vine to huge cheers, but he did a masterful job of acknowledging the crowd (several hundred people strong) while never taking away from Olivia, Harrison's widow, and Harrison's son, Dhani. He didn't speak at the unveiling, but in a terribly sweet moment, after Olivia and Dhani had kissed their finger tips and gently rubbed them over Harrison's name on the star, McCartney took out a hankie and lovingly polished the star. It was touching, caretaking and funny at the same time.
Following the ceremony, there was a small reception in Capitol's famous Studio B. In a room with Tom Hanks, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Olivia Harrison, David Foster and lots of other big names, McCartney is still the one everyone wants to see. Fame hangs comfortably on McCartney, which is a good thing because I'm hard pressed to think of many people on the planet who are as famous as he is. He's now been famous for two-thirds of his life, so it is second nature, I'm sure, but it still must be odd to know that people are staring at you all the time and to pretend that they aren't. It's an incalculable level of fame and yet he seemingly shoulders it with such ease. None of that "heavy is the head that wears the crown." I don't think he was always this way. It seems to have increased with age. With both John Lennon and Harrison gone, he seems to savor his ability to represent the Beatles in their totality. It's as if he knows time is passing and these are days to be relished. He has nothing to accomplish or left to prove. He gets to create music however, whenever he wants-some of it very good, by the way-- with no expectation or pressure that it has to live up to his past genius.
At the reception, I hung back while he chatted with Olivia and Lynne, but there was a moment when no one was talking to him. I introduced myself and simply asked what Harrison song was his favorite. He very diplomatically answered, "All of them." I'm not buying it, but I'm certainly not about to challenge him. Okay, it's not the most innovative question, but I didn't trip or stutter or embarrass myself and sometimes that's the most you can hope for when encountering greatness. We make a little more small talk and I move on. I'd gotten my moment. But what I really wish I'd asked him is what does it feel like to know your music has given so much joy to so many people? I also would like to know what song by someone else he wishes he'd written. There are about two hundred other questions I'd really like to ask him, but it was enough just to have him to myself for a minute.
On a separate note, I was one of the incredibly fortunate people to see McCartney when he performed at Amoeba Records, a fantastic, independent record store in Los Angeles, in 2007. It was DNA changing to see him play in such a small setting. Here's a link to what I wrote about that show and how I feel about music and what it means to my life--which would basically be everything. (Editor's note: in my haste and excitment to write up the concert, I made a few mistakes- I know that "Hey Jude" was released as a single, and not recorded for the album, as well as tha the song was inspired by Julian Lennon, but then took on a more personal significance.)