It was 20ish years ago today…
The first pop music I ever heard clearly was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and if your experience is the same, then you scarcely need read this preamble. The vinyl record belonged to my father. I was very young and had only a vague concept of music being in two categories: 1) All my father’s classical records, in which I had begrudging compulsory interest, and 2) something called rock music, which was on the radio. Self-image having formed well before musical vocabulary, I knew that rock was the cool category, and that I could not possibly belong to the cool category. In terms of “having musical taste,” I mainly knew the opening theme to the Battle of the Planets cartoon. Bach and Brahms and Beethoven were things that happened in an adult world: pleasant, settled, defined. But next to these 3 big B’s in my dad’s record collection, there was this one record by the Beatles.
Since it was the only album that didn’t have an old man in a white wig on the cover, I was fascinated by its kiddie-friendly colors. And anyway, I had to figure out how this record player thing worked at some point or other. I put Sgt, Pepper on side A and carefully placed the needle.
And the rest, as you know, is Earth-bound magic.
Shortly after, I discovered the joy of the animated feature YELLOW SUBMARINE. My dad also had the 45 single of “Yellow Submarine,” with “Nowhere Man” as the B-side. (Was there ever a better pop pairing of mirth and melancholy?)
Somehow, after repeated listenings on lazy preadolescent afternoons in the Mah household, I gradually absorbed the knowledge that the people who made the Yellow Submarine song and the Nowhere Man song were the same people who did the Lucy song and the I Don’t Really Wanna Stop The Show song and the really sad one with violins about leaving home. I think at this point in my suburban upbringing, I literally did not understand what the phrase “She’s Leaving Home” meant.
At some point after this I bought my first album (Madonna, I think) and from then on, pop-music-consciousness-wise, I was in. Activated. I owned part of the radio. I was a music fan.
The actually epic bigness of Beatlemania need not be rehashed here. The key part of their legend, for the purposes of this brief, is that their last public concert was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California, August 29, 1966. They also played music in the outdoors, towards normal people, in the famous final scene of LET IT BE. But the concert at Candlestick was the last time they were humans in the public figure sense. They were, at the time, not quite yet gods, martyrs, the G.O.A.T. of pop music. The Beatles were at one point “just” a wildly popular rock band that went on tour, and you could buy tickets to go to their show (for $4.50!!!). Imagine all the people living in a world where you could do that.
Candlestick Park’s construction began in 1958. In 1960, then-Vice President Richard Nixon threw out the first pitch on Opening Day. It is scheduled to be demolished in 2015.
Candlestick Park was the home of the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. Both teams I followed, as per my father’s preferences. Candlestick is notorious for being an uncomfortable sports venue, cold, cavernous, somewhat distant. The Giants now play at one of the most beautiful baseball-only stadiums in creation, right next to the bay. The 49ers are moving into a new stadium as of the 2014-15 season. So there’s nothing really left to happen at Candlestick.
Except, perhaps, one thing.
All You Need Is Love And Credit
Buying tickets through Ticketmaster was not, by Internet standards, easy. Even though it involved no standing in line in the rain, no walking or talking, and (truth to tell) no clean underwear. But it was totes annoying to see blocks of marked-up tickets for sale on StubHub and TicketSpot a mere 10 minutes after going on sale at Ticketmaster’s main site. This was Beatlemania, in the online age. Imagine the Twittered rage if tweets had existed in the 60’s. “I missed #Beatles tix cuz some square scalper bought them all! Paul is dead 2 me. #PaulIsDead”
I bought four separate single tickets, because after repeated tries and increasingly-agonizing captchas, getting two seats together seemed like it was not going to happen. Four singles seemed like a good number. There’s no way we would want a fifth person, would we?
Just the night previous, I’d been in my local karaoke bar and sung “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “All You Need Is Love,” both badly, but with intoxicated joy.
My literally juvenile attachment to the Beatles has something to do with this: I believe they were the last big pop music act to sing about Peace and Love (in a time of war) and actually mean it. The popular anti-war song is a lost art. So, one could argue, is the song about universal love. On today’s radio, the songs about sexing you up far outnumber the songs about agape and philia. And for every ostensibly-honest anthem about Love as Peaceful Salvation (I’m thinking mainly of hip-hop, e.g. BEP’s “Where Is The Love,” Macklemore’s “Same Love,” but also Mary J. Blige’s “Love Is All We Need” duh.), there is a little nod and a wink, an acknowledgement either that “this is a corny message” or “this is hopeless.” We’re too smart now, we’re too sick of thinking about love, to really believe that Love/Luv/Lurve is All You Need to actually end war and end the suffering in yourself.
Whether or not the Beatles actually meant it, Paul and John understood the importance of saying it our loud. Hence, “All You Need Is Love.” “Revolution.” “I’ve Got A Feeling.” And later, absent Paul’s slightly mawkish influence, John gave us “Give Peace A Chance.”
I mean, no big star hitmaker would write that song now. “Peace?” That sounds like pathetic hippie Zen-ass whatever.
So we’re going to Candlestick in 2014, to see a rather old Paul McCartney play the last rock concert that will ever happen at the ‘Stick. We have our usual reservations, but we are going to give it (i.e. peace) another chance.
Paul has a great sense of humor. He does funny accents (in addition to his natural one). He moves like a boy. On video monitors from a football-field’s-length away, he looks like a boy, with shaggy hair and suspenders. He takes the stage with “Eight Days A Week” and for the next two hours I don’t believe he pauses to take a drink of water.
The criticisms of Paul are usually something like: he’s too cute, too pop, too cheezy, always mugging, not brainy, not genuine, not mystical, not John. The thing that withers such critique is the fact that Paul is not only a musical genius but a genius musician, and he makes music seem effortless. He never just tosses one off; he arranges and plays everything, every drumbeat, every harmony part, every dynamic change, so it is exactly as it is meant to be. Not a note is wasted. Not a note wanks. These songs that we’ve heard a thousand times sound fresh again, because Paul’s crafted all the details. When there’s a vocal bit that he can’t reach anymore, he adjusts his phrasing slightly and it’s still harmonically flawless, if maybe a little corny. He makes perfect music out of perfect parts.
And (this is more a victory of the technical crew than Paul’s) at this concert you could hear every part. The drums are big, clean, and inside you. The “We Can Work It Out” guitar-jangle shimmers throughout the stadium like no jangle has ever jangled. The main keyboard device sounds an awful lot like a piano. Paul’s precise voice rises above the singalong din. It was wonderful.
“Let’s hear it for John,” he says, and waits several minutes for the applause to subside, before going into “Here Today,” his song about their friendship. “Let’s hear it for George,” he says, before going into a truly memorable reworking of “Something” on ukulele.
Aside: It must be weird to be Paul McCartney and know that your music will be forevermore regulated to 3 categories: A) your current material, which will cause 40,000 people to shuffle around and get beer B) your Wings material, which will cause some of 40,000 people to go nostalgically nuts and the rest of them to check their phones C) your Beatles material, which will cause 40,000 people to lose their minds and sing together as one.
That said, I did sit next to a group of true McCartney fans who knew all the words to all the songs even from his 21st-century albums, and sang along full-throated.
There was Tom, a longtime Beatles and Giants fan, who drove us young kids to the venue, through the sea of traffic, taking the side-street back route that only real San Francisco Giants fans know about. Tom was 16 in the year of the last Candlestick concert. This year, he turned 64.
There were a few elderly usher ladies who also at some point said “Eff it” and just danced crazy in the aisles, irrespective of crowd and fire code, because really this was the last time to do that before the building is leveled by high explosives. Also, I was standing next to my friend who happens to be named Michelle.
There was an unsteady moment at the end of “Live And Let Die,” when it was unclear to me whether Paul was just playing around, or whether something Very Bad had happened. A terrifically loud fireworks display had just gone off, and the applauding crowd was in a state of pure unending noise. A Wall Of Sound, as it were. Paul sort of drunkishly stumbled around the stage for a moment, pointing to his ears, waving towards the crowd, a silly look on his face. I thought for an awful moment, were those fireworks actually too loud? Were WE being too loud? Did Paul, in his 70s, just suffer catastrophic damage to his eardrums or his brain, live on stage in front of us? Had rock and roll finally caught up to him?
Nah. It turned out he was just playing to the crowd, because he’s Paul McCartney. Then he hop/skipped over to the piano and played “Hey Jude” for what seemed like forever.
After the second encore, the lights came up over old cold Candlestick, the smoke of pyrotechnic explosions and pot hovering still in a ghostly halo over the crowd. Candlestick, a place of underachievement and frustration for the Giants, a hall of glory for the 49ers, the place where the Beatles gave up on live concerts because they grew tired of not being able to hear their own music over the sound of ten thousand girls constantly screaming.
Every song in the setlist, with the exception of Let It Be and Hey Jude, lasted the platonic ideal pop song length of between 2:30 and 3:45.
“Paperback Writer,” performed live, ROCKS, BRO.
“I’ve Just Seen A Face.” I had to clear my head and went walking through the oppressive cement corridors of Candlestick. The people in the beer line are dancing and singing all the words. Fallllling, yes I’m falling.
I never knew that “Blackbird” is intended to be a song about civil rights, but Paul explained that he wrote it in solidarity with the movements in Alabama and Arkansas in the ’60s. Very timely, given what’s still happening in the American South. And btw makes “Blackbird” a much, much cooler song.
“We Can Work It Out,” “Lady Madonna,” “All Together Now.” The Beatles are a very versatile band for dance styles, when you turn up the music loud enough. You can do the hippie sway, you can get your tap/jazz/hip-hop on (I credit the Cirque du Soleil show for reclaiming “Lady Madonna” as a hot beat to step to), you can just jump up and down like a kid.
“Lovely Rita” was truly lovely, flangey and grand and psychedelic in the best sense (for a minute, small things seemed really big and big things seemed really small).
Again, walking around through the concrete walkways. Paul sings “Eleanor Rigby.” The lonely people walk to and fro, looking at their phones, looking for pot, beer, the bathroom.
“Something” on ukulele; Paul plays it slower, but with a swing, making it slightly more challenging to sing along to. By adapting the song to the natural mode of the instrument, I feel that Paul successfully re-reclaimed the ukelele from Zooey Deschanel, hipsters, and all Youtube chanteuses.
“Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da,” “Back In The U.S.S.R.” Another cool thing about the Beatles is that they wrote a lot of songs which are basically Nonsense That Rhymes, and they are also among the greatest dancealong songs ever made.
“Let It Be.” The lead guitar player, who looks somewhat like young Daryl Hall, plays a somewhat shreddier version of the classic guitar solo, but with the same arc; a church scaled up to cathedral.
“Live and Let Die.” The greatest James Bond song ever, duh. And also the top of the stage exploded.
“Hey Jude.” Yeah, it’s kind of the same vibe as “Let It Be,” but when Prince plays “Purple Rain” for the last 27 minutes of his set, you don’t complain about that either.
1st encore: During “Yesterday” I was having a real dilemma figuring out what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
2nd encore: “Golden Slumbers” unto “The End” was pretty much just like it is on the record. During the “Looove you” refrain, Paul and his fairer-haired guitarist do the Two-Guys-Singing-Together-On-One-Mic rockstar thing. John was there, somewhere.
Getting out of the show and finding where Tom parked his car was not my finest point of the evening. I ended up lost, phone dead, wandering the gravel lots on the outskirts of Candlestick, amidst a giant sea of people doing same. The lines of idling cars were stuck at standstill for at least 90 minutes. (Part of the reason the sports teams were hot to relocate from Candlestick is because its bad access routes insure that this happens at the end of basically every game.)
While walking through those weeds I thought about a lot of shit: My dad. The number of times I watched YELLOW SUBMARINE as a kid. The aerialists and the trapeze artists in the Cirque/Beatles show. Trying to sing all the vocals parts of “That Boy” on a porch in Oakland with Jake, Iain, Brendan, Lorenzo, Tasho, and a guitar. Giving up and singing “Ticket To Ride” instead. The Giants’ 100-loss last-place season. The Bay Bridge World Series with the earthquake. My Aunt Lois, who was a Niners season ticket holder for as long as she could walk upright. How much I wished he’d played “When I’m 64” and “Michelle.” How glad I was to have been getting a hot dog during “Long And Winding Road” but how appropriate that song would’ve been at this actual moment of lostness.
Eventually, we four were reunited at the car, and Tom drove us back into present-day San Francisco, towards the East Bay. We were stuck for a long time. “A Day In The Life” played on the radio. We found a clear path to the bridge by cutting across to Harrison Street.