By E. Adam Porter
Editor in Chief, News of Sun City Center
If all goes according to plan, by the time you read this, I will be down island, lounging with my toes in the sand and a cool drink in my hand, enjoying the first day of our annual family beach vacation. I don’t have to daydream too hard to be there now: waves lapping on the shore, sun on my face, and Buffett on the radio.
Whether or not it’s the Chief Parrothead providing the soundtrack, music is essential when I want to wind down. There’s just something magic about what music can do for my mindset. And, do I ever need it. These past few weeks have been a cacophony of vitriol and spite that felt inescapable. In my line of work, with all the rage and the controversy saturating current events, it’s been hard to find a quiet, peaceful moment.
Sometimes, when my email inbox and my social media feed are full of political rants and grownups insulting each other like hyper-emotional middle-schoolers, I turn the music up and hit the weight room or take a long walk with one of the dogs. Whatever it takes to let something positive in. In those times, the music is like an island breeze, a balm that washes over me, calming and energizing at the same time. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way.
Recently, a friend shared a video that, I think, offers a glimpse of just how powerful a tool music is for bringing people together.
James Corden is the host of the Late Late Show. One of Corden’s best recurring bits is a segment called Carpool Karaoke, in which he invites singers or bands for a drive, and they sing their songs together. In between tracks, Corden offers a casual interview, giving fans an opportunity to get to know their favorite performers better.
In the episode my friend shared with me, the guest was none other than Paul McCartney. In the video, Corden and McCartney cruised around Liverpool, visiting places that inspired more than a few Beatles hits. On Penny Lane, they stopped at a barber shop to say hello to an absolutely gobsmacked stylist. Paul sat for a bit of a trim and, there on the wall facing him, was a photo of a teenage McCartney getting a cut from another young musician folks might recognize. From there, they visited Paul’s childhood home, giving the nice lady who met them at the door the shock of her life.
But the real treat of the video is when the tour stops by a pub where the Beatles gigged in their earliest days. Corden went in and greeted the bartender, before inviting anyone in the pub to pick a tune on the jukebox, conveniently stocked with Beatles music.
A somewhat perplexed young lady made her choice at the juke, and, before she could get back to her table, the curtains on the far wall parted, and there was Paul and his band, launching into A Hard Day’s Night. The pub patrons, after a moment of stunned smiles, jumped out of their seats to sing along. As the curtains closed, they raced to the jukebox to make their choices. The set list decided, Paul and his band ran through several more Beatles hits.
As McCartney continued to perform on a stage where he first gigged nearly 60 years ago, the crowd reveled in the music. Out in the street, passerby stopped, curious. They peered through the windows in disbelief. Yes… it really was “him!” They came racing in, men and women from three generations drawn to the music, and they joined the crowd, disbelief mixing with euphoria on their faces. There were Millennials with full sleeve tattoos dancing with Baby Boomers, all remembering the first time they heard the lads from Liverpool. In this room, in this incredible moment, there were no lines drawn, no arguments or name calling or denigrating labels. There was music, and there was joy.
As McCartney finished, Corden came up to close everything out, but Sir Paul had something different in mind. He turned to his host, “James, would you sing one with me.” Corden, shakily, agreed. He was so nervous, he forgot to grab the mic. Then Paul started singing:
“Hey Jude, don’t make it bad…”
Corden, who, earlier in the show, had confessed that his deceased grandfather had introduced him to the Beatles’ music, began to weep. By the second or third line, he managed to find the mic, and his voice. By verse two, most of the crowd was singing through tears.
“And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders…”
In that room, the cold world was kept at bay by the shared music. Those strangers had laughed together, and now they were weeping together. As prescriptions for unity and friendship go, that’s a pretty good one.
Then, before anyone was ready for it to end, McCartney left the building, stopping by his car to create one final moment. He turned to his hometown crowd and raised his fist, a sign of solidarity and shared humanity. Then two fingers went up: Peace.
Those strangers had laughed together, and now they were weeping together. As prescriptions for unity and friendship go, that’s a pretty good one.
Many in the crowd returned the salute. In that moment, the gesture was a celebration of peace, as much as a wish for it. Hundreds of people. Hundreds of backgrounds, opinions, and perspectives. They didn’t have to be asked to give peace a chance. For a fleeting moment on the street outside a Liverpool pub, they helped create it.
I watched the video roll to an end, thinking about my own island of peace in a world where caustic discourse seems to be the norm, where folks don’t seem interested in listening to each other.
What would happen if we turned off the talking heads on TV and radio, took those old records off the shelf, dropped the needle on peace and joy, and just gave it a chance to work its magic.