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Back in USSR...

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In 2003, years after that barbed-wire wall of inhumanity came down, you shared your talents with the Russians. You played the Back in USSR tour in Moscow’s Red Square, where you personally met Putin. Later you played the Tsar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the site of their revolution. Maybe those “cold wars” only exist in our imaginations, Paul.


I hope those memories feel warm to you, Paul. As I recall these historical events, I can’t imagine a timeline existing without your presence, without your warm smile and those careful words that I’ve heard in interviews and television shows and movies.


I can’t imagine Carnaby Street or Piccadilly Circus without your sentiments. I can’t imagine Earl Grey tea or bell bottoms or poison rings or Mary Quant fashions without my mind drifting past your mop top bangs, black, shiny boots, and shy smile. I can’t imagine looking at a flock of sheep without thinking of your farm in Scotland or looking at Stella McCartney fashion and wondering if the teens know that her dad is a rocker.


I think it’s the father in you that brought out the mother in me. For me, you were the first superstar who wore the role of nurturer so well and so proudly. Your love for your children and your thirty-year marriage may be considered “old school” in an era where half of all first marriages end in divorce, but that never seemed to phase or influence you. With your prickly beard and button down pullovers, you made parenting look sexy. You were a “believer, you couldn’t leave her if you tried” as that rival gang song expressed.


Rock-solid and working-class in values and sensibilities, I learned from you, Paul. Be polite, but never phony. Be thoughtful, but never ingratiating. Be talented, but share these gifts generously. Maybe you never said this, but through your extensive catalogue and contributions to this world, the implications were many, and intuitively, I held them close.


One YouTube interview showed you and John besieged by a journalist. Your auburn hair, streaked with light, your eyes still retaining that twinkle, you glanced into the camera. You mumbled about maybe enjoying fame for another few years—this was the early ’60s. How could you have known, Paul, that this wild ride would go on and on and on? But your humility was unmistakable, which is a rare quality, Paul. And maybe that’s why your ride went on and on and on.


* * *


Years later, when you were interviewed by Howard Stern and he tried to catch you off-guard with piercing and embarrassing questions, remember how you stood your ground, never showing an ounce of surprise or anger, enthusiastically anxious to play the game, but not too caught up in the drama? You’ve grown from lovable lad to predictable sod growing lovelier vis-à-vis the charm of Benjamin Button.


My journalism reflects those moments, Paul. Each interview and album review gives me access to the overpowering feelings that musicians live for and often have to overcome. Music and writing about music immortalizes us, documenting the triumphs and tragedies for posterity. Maybe that’s what gives me hope and faith, Paul. That I can still share in this life of yours by constantly raising my own bar, finding joy in looking back and hope in looking forward. 


Paul, you taught me that love changes. I didn’t know that when I had my schoolgirl crushes, but having a child, getting married, piecing together a career when the responsibilities prove overwhelming, the love changes—it has to change. Of course I waited for you, but now I’m taken, and he’s a Stones fan, please don’t judge.


The beautiful boy you were when you played that amazing solo on “Taxman” or the haunting vocals on “Eleanore Rigby” or the chill I get when I hear the first, few bars of “Maybe I’m Amazed” will thrill me now and forever. But what once made me scream, now makes me reflect. I’m really not sure which sensation I prefer, but I’ve been moved and that’s what seems to really matter.


* * *


Paul, I have a confession to make. At a local Beatles fest not too long ago, I purchased a gorgeous photograph of Ringo smoking a cigarette. It currently lies beside my sneaker collection. Though I love this black and white photograph of Ringo’s baby blues, I’ve never actually nailed it to the wall. It’s like you’re tugging at my sleeve, Paul. “C’mon, Lisa, I know I wasn’t there for prom or homecoming, but haven’t we had a few good moments there?”


Yeah, we’ve had them, or I’ve had them. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference. Our paths have been so intertwined, my senses aligned so closely to yours, that it’s impossible for me to separate them or to fathom what life will be like without you, Paul.


Donovan, who meditated with you and the Maharishi in India, wrote the song, “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”. Would those words be more spiritually uplifting now? Even as your mantra wanes from conscious memory?


But all my life I’ve followed your lead, from transcendental meditation to experimental music to flashing a peace sign at cops. You’re everything I know, and I can’t see how that can ever change. So even though my heart will break should you pass into the next realm, I’ll turn my grief to action, Paul. I’ll give to someone needy or smile at someone sad. Why? You’ve changed me and watched me grow and on that final note “maybe I’m amazed at the way I really love you…”


* * *


I remember the famous “Paul is Dead” rumor, do you? Insipid clues from The White Album suggest that if we play the song “Revolution 9” backwards, we will hear, “turn me on dead man”. The song “Glass Onion” was British slang for the handle of a casket, according to DJ Russ Gib, as 19th century caskets had round glass handles that resembled glass onions.


The cover of Abbey Road shows the Beatles as they walk across a zebra crossing in St. John’s Wood, staging a funeral procession according to fans. Dressed in white, Lennon was the priest, Starr in black was the undertaker, Harrison in jeans was the gravedigger and you, Paul, barefoot, were said to be the corpse. Did these rumors prepare you for what’s happening? It all seemed so silly back then, but now so deadly serious.


Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s front cover shows a funeral flower arrangement. The white flowers to the right either illustrate your left-handed bass or they spell P-A-U-L. It was such eerie fun, such a game. But now, faced with your demise, these images turn to dread and sadness. When I look at these album covers and hear the songs that held me through courtship, marriage, and loneliness, will I forget the outlines of your face?


I sang “I Am the Walrus” for a talent show once. I begged a girl named Lou Anne to sing the lyrics with me, I remember. Well, we actually lip-sang. We wore love-beads and go-go boots and sat in the lotus position. Lou Anne was a nervous wreck. Don’t worry, I told her. There’s nothing to be nervous about. The music started, and I looked at her and then to the room full of kids, teachers, and principals. Suddenly, I started to crack up and laugh hysterically. Poor Lou Anne was horrified—she just stared blankly at me—as I bit my tongue to keep quiet.


“Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come… Mister city policemen sitting pretty, little policemen in a row…” The music continued. I’m sure the kid running the tape player was scared to come anywhere near me. I continued to laugh away, and Lou Anne sat there, pale as a ghost. The curtain closed on us—thank God—and I ran to the girl’s bathroom for salvation. Of course, Lou Anne didn’t talk to me for awhile, but we finally reconciled. Still though, I can’t help but giggle hysterically when I hear that song.


That’s what you gave me, Paul. A life filled with insanity and deep emotion. In 2006, you became the lyric to your own song, “When I’m 64”. You’re just as gorgeous to me now as you were back in the day, though one of my favorite teens said, “Isn’t he kinda old to still be singing?” Maybe I can’t see the transcendental forest through the psychedelic trees, but you were there for me marking time and filling my heart with music and art and love, and for that I can never forget you.


Lisa Torem, a Chicago journalist, has written for The Chicago Reader, New City, Windy City Times, Pennyblackmusic, Inside Publications and Chicago Parent. She also has written CD and live reviews for PopMatters. She leaves the kettle on for Paul just in case he drops in.
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