I spent…it makes me physically ill to say how much, let’s just say a lot…on Paul McCartney tickets last week. It’s Macca’s first concert ever in Nashville, though not his first trip to Music City. He wrote and recorded one of my favorite Wings songs, “Junior’s Farm,” during a stay here in 1974 (“Up popped a C line…err, sea lion…ready to go!”). And it’s almost certain to be his last concert here, as well. Even if Sir Paul, who turns 68 this year, keeps going after the oddly-named Up and Coming Tour, I’m guessing we’ll see less and less of him at places that don’t have words like “Wembley” and “Madison Square” in their names.
The prospect of seeing Paul McCartney for the last time is rather bittersweet. I managed to see my favorite Beatle — and thus, favorite musician — on two occasions when I lived in NYC. Sandy and I caught him at the Garden a few years back in what I then thought was not only my last chance to ever see my hero, but also the greatest show I’d ever seen. Lesser-known (well, for The Beatles) gems like “Fixing a Hole” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” probably did an even better job of transporting me back to my childhood bedroom than did the expected arena favorites, though they killed as well. Just an amazing show, only to be outdone last year with the one-two punch of seeing Macca on the Ed Sullivan Theater marquee (from our perfectly perched offices across the street), followed by Paul’s return to Shea, err, Citi Field. “I’m Down,” “Paperback Writer,” “Mrs. Vanderbilt” (!) and even my favorite post-Wings Paul tune, “Only Mama Knows” – the set list was flawless. The performance, spectacular. And even Sir Paul seemed to appreciate the magnitude of the event (check it out on CD/DVD: Good Evening New York City).
Seeing your heroes can be the ultimate musical experience. And it can be a very personal experience. It evokes long lost memories and, in the case of Paul McCartney, supercharges them with a lights-out performance. Ah, but what if the performance doesn’t match the memory…or the legend?
So many of our musical heroes are in their autumn years, with some even putting on an extra sweater for the fast-approaching winter. Is it worth it to see one’s hero as a shadow of his/her former self? It pre-dates my first-hand sports experience by a few years, but you hear stories about an aging Willie Mays falling down in the outfield in the 1973 World Series. The ‘Say Hey’ Kid as an over-the-hill has-been. Unthinkable. And yet, if given the chance, would you have gone to that game anyway, just to catch a glimpse of the man who, in his prime, was quite possibly the greatest baseball player of all time? You bet you would.
I’ve had this happen a few times with music legends. I saw Jimmy Page (who, in subsequent years, absolutely recaptured his rock god form) with The Firm in Dayton, Ohio in 1984. Outside a brief burst of his former blazing self in a blistering cover of Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” he was a shambles. But god, it was worth it for that one moment when Page became Page.
I saw The Who in ’89 on the Tommy tour, playing with an extra guitarist, background singers and even a freakin’ horn section. Definitely not the ’orrible ’oo I’d waited my entire life to see, the Live at Leeds ear-eradicators. But that show had highlights, as well. And when Pete finally set down the acoustic and revved up the electrified power chords, you could see that glimmer. Was it what I wanted? No. But I’d still seen The Who…and mercifully, the band rewarded me years later with an amazing Angry Young Who show at the Garden. Pete was pissed off and, with Zak Starkey proving that he’s the only one who could ever come close to Moonie, they were the jet engine of a band I’d always hoped to see. Now, if based on that Tommy show, I’d decided to stay home all those years later, I would have missed out on one of the great shows of my life. Sometimes, you’ve got to take that chance.
A month or two ago, Sandy and I went with the Vaughans to see Roy Clark at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. Roy is 77 years old and suffers from arthritis. Think that affected our decision about whether or not to see Roy play the “Orange Blossom Special”? Not on your life.