Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Paul McCartney and I in Quebec, only 150 metres and forty security guards apart

I was there, my dear friends.  Your faithful correspondent was actually there, on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City on Sunday, at the free Paul McCartney concert.  You have undoubtedly seen the pictures of the audience members sprinting to get a place near the stage, of the massive crowd spread as far as the eye could see.  The event was one of the most gruelling and the most uplifting experiences of my life.  The concert of a lifetime.  I would never do it again.  

It's a long story, one I have written up in detail, so if any of you are interested, just write to me at beth@bethkaplan.ca, and I will send you the essay.  But briefly, my friend Monique and I went to Quebec to see the concert and also the city's 400th birthday celebrations, which were superb. What an extraordinarily beautiful place it is, elegant and historic, more European than Canadian in many ways.  We spent Saturday afternoon and evening exploring the city, but also sussing out where the gates for the concert were and where was the best spot to enter.  

We ended up arriving at Gate C at around 12.30 Sunday afternoon and camping there with the hundreds already in place, an amazingly diverse group, men, women and children ranging from toddlers to seniors, whole families identically dressed in Beatles t-shirts and jeans.  When the gates finally opened at 5.30, we sprinted, yes, ran at top speed to get a spot maybe 100, 150 metres from the stage.  Not as close as those who'd been camping at Gate A since 5 a.m., but a good spot, dead centre and right by a safety barrier that was also a corridor.  When you're surrounded by 200,000 + people, it's good to know you can get out if you need to.  Because otherwise, once we got to our spot, that was it.  No food, drink, bathrooms, barely any movement of the arms; we were surrounded, locked in.  By then we had already been waiting for five hours, and Paul not due for another four.  You see what I mean by gruelling.

But we made many friends - everyone was chatting, sharing food, singing Paul songs. "Il est le plus grand star du monde," said Gina from Lac St. Jean, and we all agreed.  It got darker, we heard two Quebecois acts, and then finally, at 9.30, Sir Paul and his band appeared and more than 200,000 people screamed a welcome.  And I began to cry.  

It was sublime.  So many of the greatest songs, Let it be, Lady Madonna, Something that he dedicated to George, Penny Lane, Eleanor Rigby, Sergeant Pepper, A day in the life and Give peace a chance dedicated to John who got a long ovation from the crowd, a few true oldies like All my Loving, and I'll follow the sun that he told us he wrote when he was very young, in Liverpool - and some of his newest stuff ... he sang for nearly three hours, nearly forty songs - Michelle, of course, Yesterday, of course.  He bantered with the audience, chatted in French, appeared waving a Quebecois flag. He was charming, generous, indefatigable - the man is 66 years old!  And almost at the end, he sang Hey Jude, and then stopped and came to the front of the stage to listen, and we sang to him.  More than 200,000 people, singing to him.  It was incredible from where I was - must have been pretty great from his vantage point, too.

Finally he sang, "And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make," and that was it.  It was after midnight, he and the band took their last bows, and the vast crowd made its way slowly home, carrying sleeping children, still singing.  I confess that I have tears in my eyes right now, as I write.  For some reason, the event moved me so deeply it is still making me cry. The songs haunt me.  "You say it's your birthday," I sang all day.  "Got to get you into my life."
"Well she was just seventeen, you know what I mean ..." 

Paul said in an interview in  Quebec, "I'm just a lad from Liverpool doing his job." He does his job well.  How lucky we are. 

"One day, you'll look, 
to see I've gone,
for tomorrow be rain, so
I'll follow the sun." 

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