Magazines did respond; they passed me over. Rolling Stone. Circus. Guitar Player. Creem. Crawdaddy. The memento mori of a career that would never be. Death head rejection letters. I was turned down by the best. There actually came a point when receiving personalized rejection notices made me feel like I was getting closer. After all, someone had to read the story in order to comment on how shitty it was. Did it matter that the work really was wonky? That I was sending live reports to publications that didn’t run that type of article? That I hand-wrote the stories because the letters a and y on my ancient Underwood manual didn’t work? The y wasn’t a problem. But you try and conjure words that don’t contain a certain letter – a vowel nonetheless – and all you can think of are words that do contain the vowel. Anonymity, shine your dim light down upon your stupidest son. I was fading like Levi’s.
Youthful exuberance and blissful ignorance is a heady potable but it will only take you so far. I needed to go farther. Change. A road trip. At that moment, changing who I was on any percipient level seemed about as likely as being published. But I could change where I was and the summer after high school, I embarked upon the wandering nomad-does-Europe incursion. I stuffed a backpack with a pair of jeans – my best faded Levi’s – a couple shirts, my best tale-telling writing pen and Kerouac’s On the Road (what else would you take?) and spent three months in Europe trying to find and lose myself.
The final two weeks were spent in England and here I could feel the metamorphosis beginning. I could feel myself not dissolving. I might yet outrun life as an outline. While in London, I met Tony Brainsby, a bigshot publicist who represented Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Curved Air, and Paul McCartney. Tony took me under his wing and let me sleep in his office. I don’t know why, really. I was an innominate object, a byline-less journalist. The only pieces I’d managed to get published were for a softcore porn rag called the LA Star. No money. I gave him a copy when we first met. He thumbed through several pages before blurting, “This is fucking great, mate.” I was beaming like the village idiot. Recognition, finally. He turned the paper around and showed me the black and white photo of a gravity-defying blond.
I was vapor. Insubstantial. I was the Escher etching of a hand drawing a hand in reverse; I was being erased. I could see him looking through me. He couldn’t have taken me seriously but still he let me stay. Money was scarce and sleeping on a sofa was infinitely more desirable than bedding down in Hyde Park. After three nights in a row outdoors, even my parsimonious nature was ready to cough up for a cheap motel. When the pursuit of artistry runs headfirst into strange nocturnal murmurs, strange nocturnal murmurs win every time. The wonderful Mr. Brainsby, perhaps glimpsing in me the rumblings of a future rock scribe, allowed me access to his couch and entrÃ©e into a world I would occupy for the next several decades.
One morning, he came into the office while I was still rising. A question: “Paul McCartney is playing in Birmingham tonight and I wanted to know if you’d like to go and see the show and interview him afterwards?” After Paul McCartney came out of his month, I didn’t hear much else. I knew he was putting me on. I waited for the punch line to come out. But it never did.
The entire experience was out of body. “A fucking Beatle,” I kept thinking. One of the first interviews I’d ever done and it was going to be with Paul McCartney. The next day I took a train up to Birmingham. Everything appeared to be slightly out of focus. Like when you go to the optometrist and he checks your eyes in that giant robotic looking device? He changes the lenses one at a time and until he reaches the perfect match, there is a slight blur. I was suspended in that one click away. The train had no movement; no loco-motion.
I attempted to write down some questions but it was someone else’s hand moving the pen. I jotted something down. “Will the Beatles ever get back together?” That’s about all I could muster. I tested the batteries in my cassette player. Nothing. No play, no forward, no rewind. Checking the battery department revealed – no batteries. I’m about to interview Paul McCartney, my nascent career finally gaining purchase, and I have no batteries. I am breaking down into small pieces. Fractured.
But God, they say, looks after the weak and dimwitted and that evening He had his hands full. Right across the street from the Odeon, the cinema where Wings was playing, was an electronics store. There are batteries of every shape and function. They are purchased, inserted into my cassette deck, and tested. Motion. Wheels are turning. I am no longer evaporating
From this moment on, it’s truly difficult to recall anything clearly. I remember seeing Linda on keyboards and Henry McCullough on guitar, and some left-handed bass player singing. I’m trying to watch the show – and the band does sound remarkable – but I am fixated on only one thing: Please, God, do not let me disappear in front of one of the Beatles.
The show ends and I’m escorted backstage. There he is, sitting in a corner, Linda and kids by his side, the rest of the band alternately sitting down and walking around, drinking beer and noshing. I’m introduced and I think I said Steve but it may have been Walter. There were a couple other writers there and they seemed so confident, so unaffected by this man sitting in front of them. So chill. As if it was no big deal holding court with an icon.
Paul, and maybe this is why he is Paul, sensed my trepidation, my terror, my anxiety, and took me under his wing. He had me sit beside him and, holding my $5 microphone, I made an attempt at professionalism. At one point he accidentally brushed the arm-extended mic with his hand and quipped, “Sorry, mic.” It was the most brilliant thing anyone had ever uttered. He knew, he understood, what it meant for me to be there with him. He gave himself to me. No question was too stupid or too small. Even when I posed the inevitable Beatles reunion query – again – he just grinned and bared his soul.
“I don’t know, really. What I say is, if we just kinda get friendly and cool and if anyone wants to work with the other … I done a little bit on Ringo’s new album and the other two did too. And those kind of little things we’re all happy to do. But a definite no to the Beatles reforming because I think it’s gone too far. I think if the Beatles had broken up for a week and then reformed, there was a possibility. But it can’t go two years and reform again.”
The interview flew by and before I knew it I was back on a southbound train heading for London. Had it not been for the conversation being recorded, I may have questioned the entire experience. A magical mystery tour. Me, a 20-year old no one, breaking bread with a Beatle. The cute one. Paul McfuckingCartney. I could feel myself growing substantial, gaining momentum, shape shifting from vapors to visibility.
To this day, that moment still remains essentially indefinable. I constantly try to refine the memory, un-blur it and add dimension, but it will always be dream sequence-like. That was fantasy-given-flesh, my own personal fairy tale in which the common man is plucked from obscurity and vanquishes the dragon. A sort of faux-real life roman a clef. I mean, how would you describe it? You’re a virgin writer gone off to see the world. Someone presents you with the opportunity of talking to a Beatle. You’re scared senseless and every indicator is pointing to the true north of fucking up. But you don’t. You are not calm, under control, engaging, or insightful, and only marginally professional (you did buy new batteries but neglected to see if you had any cassette tapes and Thank God again that you had one left). I possessed none of those qualities that 6th of July, 1973. But I was there and I managed to get through it without turning invisible in front of Paul McCartney. In fact, I wasn’t even close to throwing up all over the guy and I had a long way to go before I made a complete idiot of myself. In my mind, I had been perfect …