I have written about the relationship I had with my Mum before on my music site “White Feather” such was the influence of the woman and the effect that she had on me and my musical development… and of course the immeasurable sense of loss when she died. Much too soon for all of us.
Being able to publish some of that sadness in words and music for me was very cathartic and in many ways reconnected me with the things that really mattered and the passions I have for playing and writing.
I read an article a few years ago (Telegraph, I think) where Paul McCartney was being interviewed: he wore a tee-shirt that bore the slogan “You don’t know me , man”. This simple statement stopped me dead in my tracks.
But … we do all know Paul …. don’t we? Didn’t he write the “soundtrack to our lives” for many of my generation? And yet the thought of being recognised wherever you go on the face of the planet seemed quite Faustian; what had he traded to perform, to write, to sing? How does he feel about it? I mean … really feel… not “interview question” feel? Does it actually matter when you have so much wealth; wealth you can use to shape how you feel? You can …. can’t you?
All these comparators and dilemmas kicked around for a few years …. Paul McCartney says “You don’t know me, man”. And then I brought the whole thing into focus when I remembered Mum; her passion for music and the last few days of her life.
My Mum loved the Beatles and in particular Paul McCartney. “He’s the real genius” she would tell us. “Not that John Lennon. He’s a buck!” (No, I wasn’t sure what that meant either).
She admired Paul McCartney to the extent that she used to call me “her little Beatle” and, as she was in charge of haircuts, that’s the haircut I had. You can see in this image not only was it Beatle-straight but I was also enjoying a healthy and nutritious 1960’s meal of ham and chips with a slice of white bread resting directly on the table. Next to the bowl of white sugar.
I remember her buying “She Loves You” and playing it on the Dansette and every time a Beatle song came on the radio I’d be dragged into the kitchen to listen to it with her.
Years later she encouraged me to learn guitar and it was the “Beatle’s Complete” book that drove me on to play and perform and for that encouragement and investment I have every reason to forever thank her.
But there was one song that really resonated with her; it would stop her dead with whatever she was doing. And with her hands up to the elbows in the washing up water, she would just listen.
The song was Paul McCartney’s “I Will” from the White Album.
I had learned to play my version of it from the Beatles book and she would continually ask for it. Even after I moved away from home, I would get a telephone call… 300 miles away saying “Ken? Turn the radio on “I Will”‘s on!” or “Quick! You’ll miss it! Terry’s playing “I Will” And so it went on like that for years …
And then she got sick. Really sick. The sort of sick where you know that that’s the thing that’s eventually going to get you, regardless of chemo and remission and relapse and good days versus bad days. She just knew. We knew too and hoped she wouldn’t really notice that we knew. But she did.
We were sat together one day…can’t actually remember where but think it was near the seafront at New Brighton in the summer, July 2004 … bloody freezing it was. Both had coats on. Then from completely left field she said …
“I want you to sing “I Will”.
“No! When I die. At my funeral.”
“Christ, Mum. Do you know how hard that’s gonna be?”
“Oh yeah. Hardest gig you will ever have to play!” She smiled.
“Can’t I just read a prayer like everyone else?”
“No. I want “I Will”. You can do it.”
“But what if I make a mistake or start crying?”
“You won’t. And anyway … don’t think I won’t be listening”
And that was the last we ever talked about it.
Her death was at home, in a white bed in a bright room with open windows, lace curtains that ebbed and flowed gently on the breath of a warm breeze. She was surrounded by those who loved her. And in her final hours she drifted away from us… and we sang “I Will”. We hoped our voices and the song were the last shards of this life that she carried over to wherever she was journeying.
And I sang a version of “I Will” at her funeral right next to her and we all clapped loudly and sadly. And I made no mistakes.
So when Sir Paul tells us we don’t know him… I think “You don’t know me man”
The song he created and cast out into the musical oceans of the world possibly came to rest on many shores, each with their own unique stories and emotions and heartaches. But it definitely came to rest in a big way on ours… mine and my Mum’s. It had a meaning for us way beyond anything that Sir Paul originally intended, of that I have no doubt.
We interred Mum’s ashes a few months after the cremation; found a small plot called a rock niche. And it’s marked by a small plaque. On the plaque are the words:
“And when at last I find you, your song will fill the air”
And for whoever reads this … why go to all of this trouble to write this down?
I just wanted Sir Paul McCartney to know.