I was already a huge Beatles fan when the group performed at the Baltimore Civic Center on Sept. 13, 1964. So that's why my Catonsville friends were surprised to learn where I spent that evening: at home.
Those same friends were again surprised about 10 years later when I told them how I had met Paul McCartney by accident (well, sort of).
Let me connect the dots between those two stories.
I became an instant fan of The Beatles after hearing their music on Baltimore WCAO-AM radio in late 1963. A few months later, a few classmates and I donned wigs as we performed several Beatles songs and got a standing ovation at Johnnycake Junior High School's "Hi-Jinks" talent show. This was before the Internet, Bill's Music House, and the emergence of British-inspired local bands, so our stage show was the first time many of those people heard Beatles songs "live."
I'll confess that from an early age I've been a bit of a purist when it comes to sound. In 1964, I had read concert reviews that said the Beatles' live music was often difficult to hear because of audience noise, so I decided to skip the Beatles' Civic Center show and listened to their album at home instead.
I figured that Civic Center concert-goers were going to squirm their way through sets by Bill Black Combo, the Exciters, Clarence "Frogman" Henry and Jackie DeShannon before The Beatles took the stage.
I'd heard that The Beatles only played for about 30 minutes, and that it was impossible to hear much of their music about the screams.
So believe it or not, I actually enjoyed placing the record player's needle on my Meet the Beatles album, followed by The Beatles Second Album, listening to each in clear stereo via my headphones.
Days later, I heard from friends who had gone to the show. They had paid $3.75 for tickets and verified that they barely heard the music. Word had gotten out that The Beatles had stayed at the downtown Holiday Inn, which had a revolving restaurant at top.
Teenagers were collecting Beatles items from day one, so friends were already cherishing ticket stubs, fliers and posters they had snagged, and other memorabilia. All things considered, I didn't mind missing the show.
A few years later, I was recruited by the Baltimore News American as a teen writer. I wrote feature stories, a weekly "The Beatin' Path" music review and later became a full-time editor and writer.
I reviewed a wide range of pop music releases, but always took the keenest interest in The Beatles' records. In 1975, a few years after The Beatles disbanded, I took a working vacation in London, researching several music-related stories, including one on what it was like to be a neighbor of Paul McCartney's.
Someone had given me the address (7 Cavendish Ave.) of Paul's house in St. John's Wood, an affluent but cozy suburb northwest of London, and one morning I took the underground (tube) to Paul's neighborhood. I spent the day canvassing the area around Paul's house, interviewing his next door neighbor ("We sometimes drink tea in our living room and hear him through the bay window playing piano in his living room"), a clerk at the liquor store ("Paul likes dom Perignon"), a checkout girl at the local grocery "(He comes in here a lot, carrying his baby") and others.
Late that afternoon, as I headed back to the tube station, I decided to go a block out of my way and walk along Cavendish Avenue for a final time. As I approached Paul's house, I saw a red Lamborghini across the street, driving toward house number seven from the other direction. The car pulled into Paul's driveway and stopped at the locked green metal gate. The driver got out to press a buzzer that would let someone inside the house know to open the gate for him.
As he waited for a reply, the man turned to look at me, and, from across the street, I was shocked to see it was Paul McCartney, and that he was waving at me, inviting me to come over and speak with him. His wife, Linda, sat in the car's passenger seat.
I had a camera around my neck and carried a notepad and pen, so Paul must have known I was either a tourist or journalist.
The gate opened, then Linda moved into the driver's seat and drove the Lamborghini into the brick driveway in front of the house. Paul graciously spent the next 15 to 20 minutes talking with me.
He said that he and Linda had just returned from practice and that they were getting ready to go out, otherwise he would have invited me in.
We chatted about his band (Wings), his upcoming album, Baltimore, and other topics, and then it was time for him to go.
"Are you going to use that?" he asked..
"Use what?" I said.
"That," he said, pointing at the camera hanging around my neck. Prior to that I had interviewed a wide range of celebrities, from authors to recording artists and actors, but I had never been starstruck.
As I spoke with Paul McCartney I had the feeling that this person will be written about in history books far into the future, and yes, I was a bit starstruck.
If Paul hadn't reminded me, I would have left without a single photo of our meeting. As it was, I was a bit nervous as Paul raised his hands in two "V" signs. As I snapped the photo, my hands shook, causing the picture to blur a bit. And I forgot to ask for his autograph.
The next day, I returned to St. John's Wood, hoping that lightning would strike twice. As I approached 7 Cavendish Ave., I saw a man in a white knee-length jacket, lifting a metal plate from the sidewalk in front of the house. He peered into an underground pit filled with wires and pipes.
"Do you know whose house this is?" I asked him.
"McCarthy, innit?" he replied. "In the music business?"
"Yes, you could certainly say that," I said.
At this point, it felt like something like a scene out of a British comedy. I could see from the man's truck that he was a utility worker, and looking in the pit I could tell he was checking the below-ground telephone cables. Meanwhile, he could tell from my camera, notepad and American accent that I would probably enjoy learning more about "McCarthy."
"Would you like to get a look inside?" he asked, nodding toward McCartney's home.
I replied yes and he quickly said, "Alright, pop 'round the back of the truck, put on a white jacket and grab the end of the ladder. Help me bring the ladder into the house and get a look, but don't muck about."
We were let into the house by McCartney's red-haired maid, who was the inspiration for the Wings album title, "Red Rose Speedway." The family sheepdog, Martha, came over to greet me. She had inspired the McCartney song, "Martha My Dear," featured on The Beatles' white album. And there was the bathroom that inspired the song, "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window."
Framed finger paintings by McCartney's children hung in several rooms. The living room had a jukebox stocked with American R&B and '50s rock records. Several McCartney children watched TV, oblivious to the telephone worker and his helper.
I took photos when Rose wasn't looking, but when I returned to America I decided not to publish them in my music column. I felt I had invaded McCartney's privacy, so I tucked the pictures away.
In May 1976, less than a year after I had met Paul at his London home, lightning struck twice. I had the opportunity to "officially" interview Paul at his Wings Over America concert at the Capital Centre in Largo. I was one of five area journalists who were invited to speak with Paul for about 30 minutes prior to the show.
We were led to a below-ground room with green-painted cinderblock walls, where we saw five folding chairs arranged in a semicircle, all facing one empty seat. Shortly after we sat down, Paul was escorted into the room. He shook each of our hands, took the seat that faced us and began answering questions.
As the interview proceeded, I thought I noticed several times that when another journalist asked a question, Paul looked at me as he gave his answer. When another reporter said he noticed the same thing, it struck me that because I had recently been at his house, Paul might have been trying to place where he had seen me.
Or maybe he was wondering why I had skipped the 1964 show.