Beatles or Stones? Paul or John? Dogs or cats? These are the questions that divide us. When I was asked if I wanted to see Paul McCartney play an in-store (a.k.a. free gig) at Amoeba for work, my initial reaction was less than ecstatic. Now don’t get me wrong, I may not be a huge McCartney fan, but at one time I was a huge Beatles fan and though my affections swayed more toward John, it was mostly because my best friend had already claimed Paul. That’s just how it works with teenage girls and boy bands.
I agreed to go because Paul was in the Beatles and, really, who can pass that up? So I shuffled somewhat begrudgingly to the long press line outside of the all-powerful Amoeba Records. Begrudgingly, because a few weeks ago, I had picked up a copy of Paul’s latest release, Memory Almost Full, one morning while ordering a large coffee at Starbucks, his new label, to check it out. The cover kind of confirmed everything I felt about Paul McCartney — he was kind of cheesy. Intensely lovable, but cheesy. His puckered half kiss and hands-on-his-turned-up-collar pose was so pose-y and contrived, as if the look had been developed in some kind of test-marketing group.
The number of people who would camp out on a sidewalk on Sunset Boulevard for three days astounded me. I’ve never loved a band that much. I don’t think I’ve loved anything that much and, in a way, that kind of made me sad. I waited for three hours for a roller coaster at Six Flags once, but I wouldn’t ever do that again. The people who scored wristbands knew all the words to McCartney’s songs, even the new ones, by heart; they wore daisies in their hair to reference lyrics; they made 400 signs to pass out to the crowd; they drove for miles, and even flew across the country and world. Some in the line were freaks, plain and simple, which on some level all fanatics are, right? I mean there’s a fine line between passion and obsession. The crazy dude in the Sgt. Peppers’ band-leader costume could fall into the latter category. One woman didn’t even know what the line was for, but if there’s a line a block long in Hollywood it must be something good.
And these poor people had to endure holding their piss, the intense heat, and being harassed by street musicians, performers and Jesus freaks, who took advantage of the fact that they were captive. “Jesus loves you,” one dude yelled, shaking his sign at them. Another tortured them with off-key, squeaky Beatles covers, incessantly — like when we invaded Panama (and even Noriega gave up after a few hours). Not these folks. They stood their ground. And three days and a few hours later, they were herded in like cows.
Finally, the payoff. Paul took the stage with the drippingly smarmy guitarist Rusty Anderson, smiling and waving at everyone as if people actually gave a rat’s ass about him. Theresa, a school teacher from Montebello, who was standing next to me, just wanted him to move out of the way, as he was blocking her Paul. She had a tissue in her hand and would fight back the tears by waving her hand in front of her face. See, she had fallen in love with Paul when she was 5, sitting mesmerized in her parents’ living room when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. For the next 30 years of her life she collected McCartney memorabilia, including the Beatles handbag she waved in the air, hoping Paul might notice her. She nervously asked me not to take any pictures, because she said someone told her if Paul sees one flash go off, he will stop playing and the concert will be over. It’s true, no professional cameras were allowed and the press was put as far back from the stage as possible. It made me wonder if Paul had been disfigured and they were trying to hide it. Not that it mattered — we were way too far from the stage to capture anything but a dark and blurry spot.
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Paul gave the crowd what they wanted. He opened with “Drive My Car,” and hit all the hits: “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” “Back in the USSR,” “Blackbird,” “Get Back,” and of course some new songs and classic solo stuff. The crowd danced in the aisles, sang along, called back to him when he asked. There were more hands waving in the air than at a Christian revival. Poor Theresa: Whenever McCartney took to the piano, all we saw was the back of his head. He never once looked in our direction, until when he turned to wave goodbye after his encore, at which point she cried, “He looked at me! He finally looked at me!” while jumping up and down. And there was a moment, when I was watching couples slow dance together, kids screaming lyrics, lighters waving, that I remembered what the Beatles meant, and though Paul was certainly a Beatle, mostly I missed John.