In the Trump era, music is not just a distraction. It’s a chance for communion.

Paul McCartney performs a concert at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Sept. 11, 2017.

I have a confession to make. Over the past month I have had to disconnect from the world in a way I have never done before. Not an easy move for someone who normally follows media and culture pretty obsessively. I am aware, of course, of the tragic devastation happening due to massive hurricanes and earthquakes 1,000 miles south of me, but I know precious few details. I wish I could say it was simply because I could not handle seeing such human suffering, but that would be a lie.

The truth is far more parochial and petty: I am exhausted by the Trump presidency. I am exhausted by the lethal game of nuclear chicken he is playing with a delusional dictator in North Korea, by his defense of white supremacists, by his pandering to the darkest impulses of his base, by his outright lying or by any number of other bizarre, ad hoc “disruptions” he has caused while in office. I simply could not bear to watch our commander in chief doing photo ops amid the devastation, feigning empathy and concern for others when I have yet to see any evidence that he possesses those traits—or any others—that are remotely “presidential.”

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There is no peace in this man. Our nation and the world will have none while he sits in the Oval Office.

The sad truth is that it was not hard to see this coming; living through it, however, is another matter. There is no peace in this man. Our nation and the world will have none while he sits in the Oval Office.

I had been dragging around those feelings for far too long when I went to see Paul McCartney in concert on Sept. 11. I do not generally think in terms of bucket lists, but I had seen George Harrison many years ago and, more recently, Ringo Starr, so I wanted to complete my Beatles trifecta before it was too late. If nothing else, I thought, I could use some good, distracting entertainment right about now.

I certainly was not prepared for what I actually got. Walking around the arena’s concourse with a couple of musician friends before the show, I was struck by the crowd. With artists of this vintage—Mr. McCartney is 75—you expect to see a lot of baby boomers in the audience, but this was different. Ten-year-olds with Beatles T-shirts, accompanied by their parents or grandparents, were buzzing around with a sense of anticipation usually reserved for Christmas morning. A couple of college-age girls who were separated by a few seats from their parents begged the people in between to switch so they could share the experience with their folks. When I saw a 20-something couple walk down our aisle holding their 8-month-old wearing noise-canceling headphones it occurred to me that this was not a rock concert. It was something else entirely.

Joy and beauty and love are not crushed by darkness, just temporarily obscured.

I am generally skeptical in situations like this. But as show time approached I could not help but feel my anticipation begin to mix with something that felt a lot like reverence to me. This was a Beatle after all.

Sir Paul finally hit the stage to the opening chord of “Hard Days Night,” an iconic moment ripped right from the heart of Beatlemania in 1964. He then proceeded to play for nearly three hours, pulling songs from the Beatles, his early solo records, Wings and his later solo career. After a lifetime of listening, it was a bit surreal to be in the presence of that voice, that face, that goofy humor, that Hofner violin bass playing those songs. This was not nostalgia; it was a reminder to me of how sacred the space is that music occupies in my life. How it engages my heart, my head, my joy and my heartache in ways that other art forms do not. And how much of the foundation of that sacred space was built by the Beatles and Paul McCartney.

 

It was a reminder of how important song is, melody is, words are. How important singing along with others is. “If you lived a hundred lifetimes you would never see this many people singing this many words by heart to this many songs,” my friend Gary told me. He could not have been more right. This was not escape but communion.

“We are going to dedicate this show to the people involved in what happened 16 years ago,” Mr. McCartney said to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary—yet another national crisis involving deep doubt, fear and anxiety. Somehow that night, Mr. McCartney’s relentless optimism—for which he is sometimes criticized—did not feel like a distraction. It felt like a fundamental conviction that joy and beauty and love are not crushed by darkness, just temporarily obscured.

Paul McCartney concluded the night with the medley from the end of the Beatles’ final album, “Abbey Road.” “Once, there was a way to get back homeward. Once, there was a way to get back home,” he sang as 18,000 voices filled the rafters of the Prudential Center. All I needed to do was sing along.

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Anne Chapman
3 weeks 5 days ago

I am exhausted by the Trump presidency. I am exhausted by the lethal game of nuclear chicken he is playing with a delusional dictator in North Korea, by his defense of white supremacists, by his pandering to the darkest impulses of his base, by his outright lying or by any number of other bizarre, ad hoc “disruptions” he has caused while in office. I simply could not bear to watch our commander in chief doing photo ops amid the devastation, feigning empathy and concern for others when I have yet to see any evidence that he possesses those traits—or any others—that are remotely “presidential.” You speak for many. I have had to try to stop reading the news, or watching it because no more than a day or two can pass before Trump does or says something that is a betrayal of everything I have believed in as an American and as a christian. I have young grandchildren, and I am very afraid that this crisis - Trump and the movement that put him in office - is actually worse in some ways than what we experienced 16 years ago at the hands of sworn enemies. Now the enemy is within - the terrorists will not destroy us, but the fear and loathing stoked by Trump and his followers might do what Osama bin Laden and ISIS could not do. But their attacks seem to have caused America to betray itself. Although a minority of all voters, tens of millions of Americans supported someone to occupy the most powerful position on earth who may represent the beginning of the end of America because his agenda betrays the values that America has always stood for. A betrayal of American values and of christian values.

I wish I had a concert by Paul McCartney to attend. Maybe it would not only distract, but would offer some hope for the future of our country, hope that America will right itself, will see what it has allowed fear to do to its very soul, and will save itself before it is too late. If Paul can help move us in that direction then maybe we should all pray that he he will live to sing for many more years.
Somehow that night, Mr. McCartney’s relentless optimism—for which he is sometimes criticized—did not feel like a distraction. It felt like a fundamental conviction that joy and beauty and love are not crushed by darkness, just temporarily obscured.

Paul McCartney concluded the night with the medley from the end of the Beatles’ final album, “Abbey Road.” “Once, there was a way to get back homeward. Once, there was a way to get back home,” Let us pray that America will find its way again, that it will get back home.

Bill McGarvey
3 weeks 5 days ago

Thanks for your comments Anne. With all the instability over the past 9 months I'm finding it more important lately to balance things out with hopeful voices as well. Bill

Wine Correspondent
3 weeks 5 days ago

I came across your article and it saddened me to my core. Being a big Paul fan myself as well...I'm sure he's hates the 'Big Boys Bickering'...and he's right...but it's been going on and on...
So I'm going to just type away. There are many things going on presented to us by a our media that is really pushing to upend our constitution and destroy our first amendment rights and you play right into it. What's going on in our Universities with the suppression of speech and religion is alarming and requires a quick correction. The violence by Antifa and the likes at Berkley and Charlottesville are real. Those terrorists are uneducated and promote Stalinist tactics. It's real. Look at Berkley. They will beat you so you cannot talk. Now the KKK is a virtually extinct cancer whipped up into a frenzy that day. Because a beautiful young lady was killed by a real jerk who drove into her. He deserves the death penalty. Plain and simple. But to say that Antifa should not have been called out that day is irresponsible and a disservice to our Democracy. Trump has his ways. He is gruff. But he's all about America. The media is truly framing him in the worst light because he's been right so many times about the 'Fake News'. It's actually very funny. Barack Obama spent most of his Presidency making decisions on race which were horrible. You name it Travon( with the news being edited); Ferguson and the riots for a death that was proven that the police was not responsible. The Beer Summit; it goes on and on. Trump is systematically undoing all the unconstitutional overreaches that Barrack Obama committed. You have to be a person of faith to have understanding. Obviously, you have lost yours and there is hope. Trump is a very religious man and very he's pro-Christian. During these storm tragedies; he's been not only terrific but out in front and even cut a deal to make sure the monies got where they needed to be in a timely basis. They loved the guy in Houston. It was hard to conceal that. He's in Puerto Rico today. The Korean Dictator has been allowed by previous administrations including the Barrack Obama Administration to build Nuclear weapons to hit Hawaii and San Francisco or Long Beach CA. It's here. Believe it or not it's not a happy situation. Trump has managed to get a couple of decisions in the UN Security Council (Whoah!) and cornered China to finally realize that they need to clean up their backyard or we will. That's where we are at. 5-10 Million people may have to die. That's an incredible thing to say. Is it our 5 Million or theirs? Sucks doesn't it. Let's pray for a peaceful resolution. It might be Japan, South Korea or China itself that may need to force the situation. This NFL controversy is the latest of necessary confrontations. Who would of thought that the NFL and it's hateful commissioner; a refuge of non-politics would allow the desecration of our Flag and National Anthem on foreign soil. Unbelievable! Can you imagine the feeling of our troops overseas watching that. To think that it began with a punk kneeling because he hates the police. loves Castro and decided that he should use our flag and Anthem as his platform. It's disgusting and shows how uneducated these millionaires ballplayers are. It pains me because I love the sport. But. Let's be thankful for a moment; that we live in a country that allows these discussions for the most part.

Bill McGarvey
3 weeks 5 days ago

Dear Wine Correspondent, I'm disappointed you aren't commenting using your actual name as I find it unhelpful to debate with someone who won't reveal themselves. "Trump has his ways. He is gruff. But he's all about America. The media is truly framing him in the worst light" suffice it to say that I disagree. Our president is all about one person, himself. The media framing him? Trump clearly understands and uses the power of media in ways that the main stream media can't comprehend. Thanks for your comment.

James Madden
3 weeks 4 days ago

Thank you for the beautiful article on Paul McCartney! I choose not to comment on the political portion of the article other than to say that I too am exhausted by the political rhetoric, which to me is coming from BOTH SIDES. Extremists, left and right have taken over main-stream
western society. It both sickens and frightens me.

But back to Paul. I am a boomer whose passion for music was ignited by the Beatles in my preteen years. A few years ago I saw Paul and it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I too was struck by the fact that every person in the auditorium, young and old, sang every word to every song obviously by heart. Paul's youthful enthusiasm was refreshing and infectious. I was astonished that a man his age had so much energy, perhaps attributable to his vegan diet? Paul has been known to speak his mind occasionally but he is never offensive and his message is always positive. What a great role model. I wish more would look up to his example.

Bill McGarvey
3 weeks 3 days ago

Thanks for your comment, James. A lot of people have been getting in contact with me having seen Paul on this tour or in the recent past and they all seem to share that same sense of importance and joy. B

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks 2 days ago

Bill
You seem constitutionally unable to write an article about anything without using Trump as your foil. Your obsessiveness is a match in every respect for Trump's mouthy self regard.
Again I remind you that the unfortunate election choice we were given was an entitled, practically zero accomplishment, self absorbed, lifetime politician or a strutting,screaming peacock with no political experience who was opposed by every element of the establishment on both sides of the aisle.
That Trump won is a testament to the rejection of the melancholy liberal past you seem to treasure. "Hey Jude ....take [your]sad song and make it better"

Bill McGarvey
3 weeks 2 days ago

Thanks for your comment Stuart. Honestly, I'm not trying to relitigate the election. That is done and it's over. I'm simply commenting on what I believe is the sad reality of where we are right now in the United States. If, as you say, the election of Donald Trump was "the rejection of the melancholy Liberal past quote that [I] seem to treasure" I guess I'm wondering what that "melancholy Liberal past" has been replaced with? Modern, traumatic, dangerous instability?

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks 2 days ago

THE REPLACEMENT: The rejection of just about everything the "establishment " of both parties has stood for leaves the coastal Elites with an apparent vast void.

In reality it is just the re-emergence of the basic American values unfettered by politically correct linguistics: personal responsibility for one'S own acts and their consequences;rejection of of central government programs as solutions for most problems; free market economics; removal of government controls over health care; starving the government bureaucracy; returning the Country's environmental and energy policies to serve rather than dominate its citizens; etc etc. These lurching changes are unquestionably quite disturbing to establishment types and their reaction in trying to stem this tide of change is a source of even more disruption.
Believe me the corporate lobbyists are just as fearful and uneasy about the future as you say you are. What you describe as "The sad reality of where we are right now" is more a sense of your loss of control and ability to rely on the coastal political class to control the future. If you were/are fully invested in the liberal past being the path to the future, then you have every reason to be very uneasy and sad. Elections have consequences.....and we have all learned that "the primaries " are critical if we hope to avoid jarring change. But like Eleanor Rigby you may have to keep your sad face in jar by the door!

Andrew Strada
3 weeks 2 days ago

I look forward to the day when someone can enjoy a Paul McCartney concert without feeling the need to give a political speech as a preamble. Why not focus on the things that unite us (e.g. former Beatles) rather than the things that divide us (e.g. American politics)? No matter how strongly you feel about current events, you still only get one vote, as do I.

Bill McGarvey
3 weeks 2 days ago

Thanks for your comment, Andrew. In many ways that was my point. We have deep things that unite us and the concert was a reminder of that. I don't think for a second that the 18,000 people in the room that night were all on the same page politically at all but I do think the chaos that emanates from the president's undisciplined and unreflective behavior has enormous numbers of Americans across the political spectrum exhausted.

3 weeks 1 day ago

Yes, you speak for many. I confess that I am a bit surprised by the number of comments here from subscribers who objected to your linkage of the exhausting Trump presidency with your attendance at the recent McCartney concert. I attended the same concert in August in Tampa, Florida and had a similar sense of community with thousands of folks singing in unison to "love" songs from the rich Beatles/McCartney catalog. The humanitarian spirit evoked at that concert was for me an antidote to my despairing feelings of where Trump and his supporters are taking our country. The excellent musicianship on display and Paul's boundless, positive energy helped me overcome my growing feelings of hopelessness brought on by today's dominant political forces hell bent on unraveling all the progress "toward a more perfect union" which we have made as a country since the Beatles' era in the 1960's.

Bill McGarvey
3 weeks 1 day ago

Thanks for your comment, Paul. Glad you got to see it as well (hope you made it through the hurricane ok). In terms of people's response, there's so much anger all around right now in the US that it's hard to know what to do with it all.

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