Close Encounters of the Rock Star Variety

Lee Zimmerman On Meeting Macca

Paul McCartney recording session in LA 2017

For most folks of a certain age — and those of succeeding generations as well — the opportunity to meet a Beatle up close and personally is the kind of thrill that rarely happens in a lifetime. It’s not even worth confining to the proverbial bucket list, given that the chances of a close encounter are so removed from reality, it’s not even worth considering the possibilities.

That’s why my memory of meeting Paul McCartney continues to be one of the epic events in my musical life.

Of course, it didn’t happen by chance. It was, however, a stroke of luck… an opportunity that came about because, like most happy circumstances, I was at the right place at the right time.

In 2006, I was living in Miami and working at a television station, WFOR/CBS4. Macca happened to be in town gearing up for the start of an upcoming Stateside tour. Lisa Petrillo, our entertainment reporter, was determined to get an interview with the former Fab, but his publicists had yet to commit, or even offer the promise of a possibility. We had followed up with due diligence and came close, scoring an interview with guitarist Rusty Anderson, then and now a member of McCartney’s touring band. It took place at the hotel where the entire entourage was encamped, bringing us closer to our eventual goal and what we hoped what be an impromptu sighting.

Sadly, we had no such luck. The interview with Anderson went well, and though we lingered around afterwards, Paul’s presence evaded us.

Then we got the call. THE call. I was sitting in my office when Lisa beckoned. The station had been granted a last minute interview just prior to his soundcheck at the venue that was hosting his performance that evening. She was on her way there and she urged me to gather up a team of station photographers and hurry over. Naturally, that didn’t take any convincing. I spread the word in the news department, jumped in the station van with three more than willing photogs, and hurried over to Miami’s BackAtlantic Coliseum where the rendezvous was set to take place.

Once we arrived, we met Lisa in a room located in the building’s inner sanctum. It had been decorated with various tapestries, cushions and decor, all for the purpose of making all involved feel comfortable and relaxed in a relatively sedate setting. We diligently set up the cameras and waited for his arrival.

And then we waited some more. And waited some more after that.

Approximately 45 minutes later, one of his reps walked in the room and told us that the interview would have to wait until after soundcheck. That led to further uncertainty, and the chance that due to the delay, we might not have our audience after all.

Then luck — make that fate…maybe make that a miracle — transpired. The rep told Lisa that she and one other person could come and watch the run-through. Everyone looked at me, and with the most gracious and generous and approving attitude one might ever imagine from one’s colleagues, suggested that I be the one to accompany Lisa.

Thank you, gents.

Lisa and I followed our host as we made our way to the auditorium. There, on the stage, was Sir Paul and his band. The other occupants consisted of a few members of his road crew, no more than maybe ten in all. We were ushered to seats in the stands and there, to our great delight, Macca and company ran through an hour and a half set of songs, essentially previewing the performance he would give later that night. “Lady Madonna,” “Band on the Run,” “Hello Goodbye,” “Jet,” “Eleanor Rigby.” We witnessed those and well over a dozen more, performed without a pause save some clowning about in-between, more a concert than a rehearsal, for which we were the audience…the only outsiders allowed in.

Not surprisingly, it exceeded expectations.

Ah, but the fun wasn’t over yet. After rehearsal ended, Lisa and I were shown back to the designated meeting room to await Paul’s arrival. When he entered the room, it was hard not to contain our excitement. The anticipation paid off.  

Macca took his designated seat promptly, then asked his handlers to check the angles and to ensure the lighting was right. At his then age of 63, he naturally wanted to ensure his cuddly youthful image wasn’t infringed on. (Never mind that fact that these days, at age 76, he looks as beaming and invigorated as ever.)

The interview transpired accordingly and once completed, McCartney said his goodbyes and prepared to exit for a veggie meal that awaited. Desperate to prolong his presence, I showed him a newspaper article I had clipped before departing the station and asked him to sign it. He looked at it and scowled. It was a brief news clip about an endorsement deal he had signed on to but the  headline suggested something otherwise.

It read: “Sir Paul Sells Out.”

It wasn’t exactly fake news, but it did leave an erroneous impression, and clearly Sir Paul was not pleased. It was an awkward moment to be sure, but I thrust my pen towards him and asked for the autograph regardless.

He signed it. There it was…the simple inscription “Paul McCartney” etched on my feeble newspaper clip.

He turned towards the door, but I was not done with him yet. “Say, Paul, would you mind taking a photo with us?” I asked. I couldn’t believe that no one else had enquired. How could we let this amazing moment go without documentation? Happily, he agreed, apparently letting the headline happenstance go.

While we were waiting for the photographer to line up our shot, I found myself standing next to the man himself, a moment I would never have imagined.  We’ve all seen those celebrity shots, where the celeb graciously agrees to pose with an adoring fan, but in that moment, it was hard to believe that Paul McCartney and I were occupying the same space, breathing the same air, sharing a conversation. Anxious to extend the audience, I asked a candid question.

“So Paul, given all the choices available for one of your set lists, how do you decide which songs to include in concert?”

It was a reasonable question, even in these starstruck circumstances.  He answered immediately, not surprisingly considering that he had quite a few years of experience trying to figure out that same solution.

“Well,” he surmised. “I think about the songs I would want to hear if I was in the audience. ‘Hey Jude?’ Right. ‘Let It Be?’ Right. ‘Band on the Run?’ Right.”

Then the photo was snapped and we all shared our broad smiles, Paul extending his arm and offering a typical Beatle-like beams

I still have that photo of course. It’s mounted in a frame along with the autograph and a few mementos of the concert that we attended later that evening. Sadly, our paid admission had us tucked away in the distant depths of the bleachers by that point, a major disappointment to my wife, but only a minor matter for me.

I had seen Macca in a way no concert experience could ever rival. It was as pure Paul as anyone could hope for.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

 

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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