How America Convinced the Beatles They Wouldn’t Just ‘Fizzle Out’
In an excerpt from a book that accompanies his new photo exhibition in London (via The Guardian), McCartney explained his feelings when he rediscovered lost photos he’d taken during the 1964 trip, during which the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show three times and secured their future.
“Anyone who rediscovers a personal relic or family treasure is instantly flooded with memories and emotions, which then trigger associations buried in the haze of time,” he wrote. “It was a period of – what else can you call it? – pandemonium. We four guys from Liverpool couldn’t possibly realize then the implications of what we were doing. By the end of February 1964, after our visit to America … we finally had to admit that we would not, as we had originally feared, just fizzle out as many groups do. We were in the vanguard of something more momentous, a revolution in the culture.”
He added that “the airport scene that February was bedlam, mass hysteria. Not in Liverpool or London, not in Paris was there anything comparable. But the airport … was just the start of it, because caravans of folks lined the streets and highways to get a glimpse of us as our car crawled into Manhattan. The journalists and photographers followed us in vehicles and mini-trucks, well-wishers thronging both sides of the road as if we were some sort of triumphant athletes celebrating a victory lap.”
Despite those distractions, McCartney said he retained a connection with his roots. “My camera was attracted to this new American universe of common people,” he said. “There’s a man with a shovel in front of the Pennsylvania freight car in Washington, D.C., standing raptly watching, or four airplane mechanics clad in white at Miami airport. These are my people. This is where I’m from. I grew up in a working-class family in Liverpool, so I could never detach myself from people like these. I wanted to be right in the middle of them. My relatives were exactly like these people. You’ll find them – the bus driver, the postman, the milkman – not only in my songs but in many of these photos.”
He reflected, “Although we had no perspective at the time, we were, like the world, experiencing a sexual awakening. Our parents had fears of sexual diseases and all sorts of things like that, but by the middle of the '60s, we’d realized that we had a freedom that had never been available to their generation. Travel was one thing our parents had never done. They never had money, either. … You might be surprised to learn that I was the first person in my branch of the family who ever had a car. ... Only later did I come to realize that we were in the forefront of these new changes, this abrupt shift in the youth that in hindsight seems to have crystallized in 1964.”
McCartney said the old pictures didn’t make him feel sad, even though some of the subjects – including John Lennon and George Harrison – were now dead. “It’s not so much a feeling of loss but a joy in the past,” he explained. “When I look back and think, I have to say, ‘Wow – we did all that, and we were just kids from Liverpool. And here it is in the photographs.’”
Noting that he's always written songs about people he never met, McCartney wondered, “Like that man, ‘the Pennsylvanian,’ I’ll call him, in front of the train yard, whose story I will never know, but I can still ask, ‘What was he like when he went home that night? Did he mention having seen the Beatles at the dinner table?’”
The photo book 1964: Eyes of the Storm – Photographs and Reflections by Paul McCartney is published on June 13 and is available for preorder now. The associated "Eyes of the Storm" exhibition runs at London’s National Portrait Gallery from June 28 to Oct. 1.