Paul, your picture from the early days is so innocent, handsome, and carefree. You’re wearing an earth-toned, collarless suit from the Epstein days. Your arched eyebrows and auburn eyes twinkle, and I can’t imagine how I can survive in this world without you.
Who knows? This may be the last letter you read as you await the end. And to be honest, I don’t know who hurts more, me or you? You’ve “taken me from crayons to perfume” as the British singer Lulu sang in the ‘60s song “To Sir With Love”.
As little girls, my cousin and I played at being Beatles, too. We polished our nails and donned fuzzy slippers. We took turns playing “Paul” or “Paul’s girlfriend”. We talked into the early morning hours, giggling at our self-taught brilliant British accents. Desperate to get close to you, to understand your culture and that industrial town called Liverpool, we collected magazines and cards and posters, taping them to our walls so that we’d see your face before drifting off to sleep.
Back then, my friend’s older sister actually got to attend a Beatles concert. You can’t imagine how hurt and jealous I was that I couldn’t go. After the show, Karola came home so elated, clutching what seemed to be an empty mason jar. The next morning, however, I heard her scream as her father opened the jar in order to store some tools. Karola screamed hysterically, Paul, Paul, Paul!
Seems she had carefully and lovingly saved the air from the show, air you undoubtedly breathed inside the concert hall. Her poor, helpless father was aghast, not knowing what he had done, releasing you. Of course Karola immediately tackled him and saved a few, short breaths. I would have done the same, you know? Time moved us forward.
* * *
Another moment when you seemed to touch my life happened when a boy came to school with a picture of you. His mother was an artist, and our teacher said he could give the portrait to any girl in school today. My arm ached; I remember screaming, Paul, Paul, Paul! as I waved again and again, praying to get Ronald’s attention. Suddenly, like a burst helium balloon, the picture fell on my desk, and I kept it in a special drawer for years afterwards.
Later in life, at one of your Chicago concerts, the footage of “Good Day Sunshine” and “English Tea” for NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russian Cosmonaut Valery Tokarev was shown. McArthur and Tokarev were orbiting some 220 miles above earth in their space shuttle Discovery. I was (and still am) so fascinated by what you’ve accomplished, Paul.
And during that same concert, after a few fans heckled you and you stopped playing, remember? You didn’t get angry; you simply turned toward the crowd and asked, “Do you know what I’ve accomplished?” Aside from the few hecklers, the rest of the crowd supported you in that moment, myself included. I felt like I really understood you—that intimate compassion you feel when some blowhard hurts someone you’ve always loved, and suddenly, you don’t know who hurts more. What do these accomplishments mean as you lay here? I wonder if they bring you peace?
I also understood then what it was to grow older with someone, beside someone. As I looked around the room at the people of all different ages, I realized that the very young ones had no idea who you really were, let alone what you’ve accomplished in your lifetime. Of course, they can hear your songs in the same way—after all, we hear Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole harmonizing long after her father’s death—we can hear the music, but how many can say they’ve known a man’s life the way I think I know yours.
That same night at the United Center, the lights lowered, and you walked on the stage with your beautiful acoustic guitar strapped around your neck. Your innocent, solitary, and purposeful image reminded me of the album cover of Ram, where your firstborn James was swaddled inside your warm jacket. You strummed the first few chords of “Yesterday”, and the sheer loveliness of the sound was as delicate as Renoir’s brush strokes on a lily pad.
I was enraptured, Paul, at the delicacy of that moment, hearing you sing a song that has been covered by artist after artist, but the music was pouring from your heart nonetheless. And if I had died with you, Paul, after sharing this moment, it would have been absolutely fine. Sharing your art, be it writing, singing, or guitar playing, is always so frightening; but releasing that part of yourself never dampened your spirit—a fear some of us, like myself, harbor—and I’ve tried to carry that same spirit with me as a teacher, writer, and mother.
* * *
I read that you watched in horror on September 11th as the twin towers in New York City burst into flames. You were traveling on an airplane yourself as you witnessed this tragedy, but grief stricken as you were, you resolved to help the survivors. You buried your grief long enough to play benefit concerts for these families. Giving back—how easy to get caught up in the trivialities of life—but giving back is important, Paul, and I think you can honestly look back and feel you’ve done that.
It’s hard to imagine you grieving, Paul. As I grew up, you were the cheerful one, the one who rallied the troops. But watching you grieve, first over Brian Epstein who gave you your start, then Linda, your wife of 30 years, then the deaths of John and George, made me admire your strength even more than before.
Maybe you don’t feel that strength now, Paul, but the weakened figure you are now on these last days, are not who you have been your whole life. These last few moments don’t measure your entire life, which leaves it to us to realize your achievements for you.
Once, I played “She’s Leaving Home” for my father. Of course, like most fathers then, he hated rock music. “How can you play that,” he would ask me. But after hearing the beautiful string section and cautionary lyrics of that song, he smiled. Through your voice and your words, he understood how your music could revolutionize the world, bringing together a multitude of cultures and generations.
“Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy,” your sultry voice sings before trailing off. Watching Hard Days Night and Help and learning the tablature parts for “Norwegian Wood” is what bound my days together, you should know.
You’ve saved seals and raised consciousness about land mines; you’ve performed concerts for the people of Kampuchea; and in 2008, you played the “Friendship First” concert in Tel Aviv. Will people remember the man behind the donations, Paul? Know that I will always remember that conviction and the lesson that even one person can change the world. You really did, Paul, and you still are changing us, and I know, you still will continue to do so, even when you’re gone.
// Notes from the Road
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