Paul McCartney turned 80 yesterday. Luke O’Neill writes a letter to the man who wrote the soundtrack to his life and much more
Hi Paul. I’m writing to wish you a happy 80th birthday. What an amazing life you’ve had. I’m sure the whole world wishes you well, but I want to add my own heartfelt wishes, because you’ve made a huge difference to my life. Your 80th birthday yesterday gives me a chance to say thank you very much for enriching my life with your music, your life story, generosity and positivity.
I’ve been a fan for 54 years — since 1968, when I was four. I remember the cartoon movie Yellow Submarine and jumping around the front room with my friend Declan Reale singing that song. Little did we know it was, apparently, partly inspired by the drug Nembutal that you took in Hamburg!
I would raid my older sister Helen’s record collection — she’s a fan too. She saw you once in a vegetarian restaurant in Brighton, southern England, and was so dumbstruck she just about managed to say hello. But you were so nice to her.
I remember cutting up the cardboard insert inside your never-to-be-beaten masterwork, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’d carefully balance the moustache under my young nose and march around the house to the beat of ‘Lovely Rita’.
Helen had the Beatles’ first greatest hits album. I played it to death, and when I heard you hit the high note on ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ my heart would leap. Hearing those songs made me want to learn the piano and guitar. I figured out how to play ‘Hey Jude’ — thanks for making it easy.
By my late teens I had all the Beatles LPs and some of your solo records too. But then someone broke into my house and stole them all. Whoever did it stole only my precious vinyl — mind you, there wasn’t much else to take.
Among my lost treasures was the original release of Rubber Soul on heavy vinyl. I scoured the second-hand record shops in Dublin looking for that and the other stolen records — to no avail. Soon enough, though, I had replaced them all. The word I’d use for what your music brings me? Joy.
When I began reading about your life history, I saw the parallels with my own. Your family had sing-songs around the piano; so did mine, in Bray, Co Wicklow. I saw a picture of you and John in your childhood home in Liverpool, playing guitars, and the fireplace and wallpaper reminded me of my own house. Your friendships and how you navigated them informed my own.
Later on, your music gave me comfort. After my mother died when I was 17, I bought your album Tug of War and the title track helped me grieve. “It’s a tug of war/What with one thing and another/It’s a tug of war.” That was how I felt about my own life then.
When I was going through a hard time, not sleeping and feeling down, I’d play ‘Little Willow’, a song you’d written to comfort your former bandmate Ringo Starr’s children after their mother Maureen Starkey died. “Bend, little willow/Wind’s gonna blow you/Hard and cold tonight.” I didn’t feel quite so frightened of the dark night ahead.
But, Paul, most of all it’s your generosity and positivity. That comes out in the music. I read how you’d donated a huge amount of money to your old school so the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts could be established. I read how you’d go there from time to time and give a lecture on songwriting, telling the students to “do it truthfully”.
You’ve always looked for the good in people. Your glass is always half full, no matter how bad things get. The death of your beloved wife Linda from breast cancer hit you hard, but you managed to cope.
Your songs of pure sunshine never fail to lift me. The various stages in my life are marked by albums you released. Flaming Pie came out soon after my son Stevie was born. And now my son Sam loves your most recent music, especially Egypt Station. So that tells me your music is an infectious disease, but in a good way.
As long as we humans listen to music, your compositions will be enjoyed. Because they’re true.
“They say it’s your birthday… We’re gonna have a good time.”
So thank you, Paul.