Paul McCartney’s Stab at a 9/11 Documentary

Of the avalanche of programming planned for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the most entertaining may be “The Love You Make,” the documentary of Paul McCartney’s organization of the concert at Madison Square Garden for firefighters, debuting Saturday on Showtime.

Shot in black and white by Albert Maysles, who had chronicled the Beatles first trip to the U.S. with his brother, it’s been sitting on the shelf for most of the decade, unseen

“There was no really particular reason why it took 10 years,” McCartney told TV critics at press tour last month, via satellite from Cincinnati where he was performing.

“We did not put it together and finish it till quite recently. I think the fact of the 10th anniversary spurred me into thinking, wait a minute, Albert took some great footage back then that we never did anything with. And it just seemed like it would be a good opportunity. So I got in touch with Albert and said, ‘Is it still all around? You know, would it make into a film?’ And he was very enthusiastic. He said, ‘Yeah, it would.’ So I said, ‘Come on, let’s do it, then.’ So I think it was re awakened by the 10th anniversary.”

John Lennon is linked to New York, the city he lived before his death 30 years ago, but McCartney says “I have a lot of connections” to the city. Primarily, he says, “I married a New York girl, Linda. And I’m about to marry another one.”

It was his first girlfriend that brought him to the states first, apart from his big tours with The Beatles.

“I had a girlfriend, Jane Asher, in the ’60s, who was an actress, and she was touring with a Shakespeare company. And I got to come out to Denver and spent some time in Colorado, just hanging out, which was very nice. Used to just kind of go up in the mountains and hike. That was a very gentle pace.

“And then later, I would come to New York a lot with Linda who was from there and whose relatives were there. So we would just go and hang out. And it was funny, really, because around that time, I’d grown this big, black beard. And the fashion was kind we were dressed in kind of, like, old army stuff from thrift shops and stuff. So I had complete anonymity. I could be on the streets of New York and people would say, ‘Aren’t you worried about someone mugging you?’ I said, ‘No, I look like the guy who’s going to mug you.’

But in those solo trips, he said, “I had a lot of fun. I would go up to Harlem, whereas with The Beatles we’d been warned you mustn’t go up there, you know, it’s dangerous. So I was able to go up there and go into record shops and talk to the guys, talk to the people there, and just generally hang out in New York. So that was another very sort of good restful time to just see America for what it was rather than the hysteria.”

And there was plenty of hysteria when the Beatles came to the U.S. in 1964.

They were sort of prepared for it, he said. “We were very lucky because we had a kind of staircase of fame. Not like now where you’re just overnight success and you’ve got to deal with it. We started in Liverpool and we had to sort of schlep around, trying to get some work, and trying to get a little bit more money, a bigger club. Went to Hamburg. Then we played all around England. So by the time we had the offer to come to America, we were now kind of famous in Europe and we had a little handle on how to behave and how to do it.

“ We’d met quite a lot of people who were likely to criticize us, and we kind of we felt like we had a way to deal with it. So we were very excited to come to America because this is where all the music that we loved came from. We had said to our manager, look, we’re not going to America until we have a No. 1 record, which if you think about it, was really quite a sort of bold move. Because we’d seen other stars from Britain come to America and just fade into the general scene.

“We got No. 1 with ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’ And we just hit the roof. We said: ‘Now we can go to America.’ So we came in here on a bit of a wave of success. We kind of felt good about ourselves. But we were really, amazingly excited to come to the land of our music. And then we heard on the plane coming over I think the pilots, you know, radioed JFK, Idyllwild as it was then. And they said, ‘Hey, there’s millions of people, there’s thousands of kids at the airport.’ We’re going, ‘Oh, yeah? Quick, better have a shave.’ And so we were very excited. We got off the plane to this amazing hysteria.

“We went into a press conference, and I think this is what I’m talking about. The press would say, you know, ‘How do you find America?’ And we’d say, ‘You turn left at Greenland.’

“We kind of had it all down. We kind of knew what to expect. By then we were fairly sort of cocky kids, you know, which, I think, helped a lot. Instead of kind of saying, sorry, sir, we shouldn’t be in your country. They said, ‘Well, you know, what are you doing here?’ We said, ‘Well, check it out, we’re No. 1,’ which is a pretty good thing to be able to say, you know.

“We did so many groundbreaking things. We didn’t set out necessarily to do that, but as we got more popular, things came our way,” McCartney says of the Fab Four.

They were unaware of the legacy of their biggest U.S. TV showcase, for example.  “We didn’t actually know who Ed Sullivan was,” McCartney says. “We’d say, ‘Who is that?’ ‘He’s very famous in America. Don’t worry.’ So, you know, and then we found ourselves on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ and the guy who was holding the curtain for me as I was about to go on and sing ‘Yesterday’ solo with a string quartet he said, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘No,’ slightly bluffing. I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well, you should be. There’s 73 million people watching.’”

Later, when they played Shea Stadium, he said, “we didn’t really understand the significance, that it was a big famous baseball park. To us in a way, it was just a huge gig.”

A huge gig with a kind of ungodly screaming. “You really couldn’t hear anything. It was like a billion seagulls screaming, and we just looked at each other. You can see it if you look at the film. We’re just in hysterics. John ends up doing a solo with his elbow.”

Years later, McCartney had just boarded a plane back to England at JFK, it was on tarmac, when “the pilot just suddenly said, ‘We can’t take off. We’re going to have to go back to base.’ And out of the window on the right hand side of the airplane, you could see the Twin Towers. First of all, you could see one plume of smoke, and then you could see two shortly thereafter. I said, ‘Well, that’s an optical illusion, you know. It’s just the one, and it’s probably, you know, just some sort of little fire or something, but, boy, it does look pretty serious.’ And we were just looking at that for a while. Then suddenly one of the stewards actually, rather than the pilot, came to me and said, ‘Look, there’s been something really serious happened in New York, and we’ve got to get you out of here.’

“So I was got out of ahead of the other passengers for some reason. But I ended up not being able to go into New York. I ended up in Long Island watching it on TV, watching the whole story unfold like everyone else in the world wanting to go into New York, but nobody was allowed back in.

“So while I was kind of sitting out there twiddling my thumbs thinking of what to do, was there any role I could play in this, the idea came to me that maybe we could do a concert, maybe get something together. And that thing grew into a conversation with Harvey Weinstein, who said that MTV was putting one together and maybe we should all get together on that.”

The big concert included the Stones, the Who, Elton John, Billy Joel and just about everybody important in entertainment. And the audience needed the healing and assurance that familiar music provided.

“The whole mood of the world, the country of America, and particularly the city of New York, had changed,” McCartney says. “It was there was fear in the air, and I never experienced that in particularly in New York. So this was where the idea of doing a show came about.”

McCartney had recalled something about wartime rallying ‘round. “My father’s generation were in World War II. I was born in World War II in Liverpool, which was subjected to a lot of bombing. So I grew up with all these people who’d just recently survived a war, and I noticed how they dealt with it.”

Music was a big part of it, he says.  ‘It was, like, “Roll out the barrel. We’ll have a barrel of fun,’ boom, boom. You know, while they’re getting bombed, they’re singing. So I remembered that, and I thought that’s maybe what I can bring to this. Maybe I can just get that kind of feeling, that kind of old courage that I’d seen my parents and their generation exhibit. Maybe I would be able to help America, New York, out of this fearfulness, and that really is what happened. And we were very kind of happy that so many British guys and so many artists anyway, but there were a lot of British guys who flew in especially for it when that was a time when people weren’t flying.

“It gave a great message. It said to people in America, ‘Look, we don’t even live here, and we’re coming for you. So you guys who live here, you know, don’t worry about it.’ And I did have a woman who rang me up. She was from Boston, and she said, ‘I said I was never going to fly again after these attacks, but I’m flying up to this concert.’

“We were emerging from the fearfulness of the immediate impact, and now you were seeing the emotion releasing through music, which I always think is a great thing. It’s one of the reasons I love music and I’m in it. You could see particularly the firefighters and the volunteers and their families and victims’ families were able to release this emotion that had been sort of so pent up. So it was a great feeling. It was a really great feeling. We actually felt like we were doing a bit of good.”

Then as now, McCartney knew to mix his own recent songs with the Beatles classics people loved. “Let it Be” served as kind of a benediction.

“The proportion of Beatles songs has grown,” he says of his current concerts. “But I try and mix it with Wings, which is also very popular because there’s kind of a younger generation out there that comes to our shows now. And then I mix that with stuff that is my kind of own solo stuff, but the largest proportion these days is Beatles stuff. Because, you know, I try and give audiences what they want, and a lot of that is Beatles stuff.

Besides, he added, “It’s not bad music.”

“The Love You Make” premieres Saturday Sept. 10 on Showtime.

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