A while ago, my son asked me if I had any regrets about my life. After Michael died, our whole family has spent time thinking and evaluating, pondering the big questions of life. I was actually surprised by my spontaneous answer. I was transported back to 1989, my year from hell. Michael was running for alderman that year after losing an election against the same opponent four years earlier by only two votes. I was his campaign manager both times and we were devastated at that first outcome and determined to not let it happen again. Shortly after his victory he developed a severely herniated disk which put him flat on his back for months. Almost immediately after that, both my parents were diagnosed with cancer within five weeks of each other. My mother had a radical mastectomy and my father was being treated for bladder cancer. Eventually, Michael’s back was so bad he required surgery. By this time, my mother was recovering as my father failed.
In the meantime, I had a full time job and two young children. I was doing my best Edith Bunker imitation, flying from one person to one place and then on to the next one. We were having our roof done that summer and were having classic contractor difficulties. A job that was supposed to take one week took six and left our house and yard disasterized. One day, a strong electrical storm came through town and an old oak tree on our parkway was struck and fell on the new roof. The symbolism of the sky falling wasn’t lost on me. Eventually Michael had the back surgery. A brief month later my father died.
At this point in time Michael was a partner in a music store business which had a few locations and was doing well. This was before the big box stores showed up, selling CD’s as loss leaders and undercutting the independent record businesses. The Record Service also predated the days of downloading music from the internet. That fall there was a big party to celebrate its 20th anniversary in business. The store never made us much personal money, but it came with a lot of perks. The record companies owned box seats at Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park and the Chicago Stadium. We saw lots of terrific games during the fabulous days of the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen fame. We had preferred parking passes and were living like royalty. In addition to those privileges, we got free concert tickets to every group imaginable. The tickets often came with backstage passes.
Can you imagine the fun of hanging out and chatting with people like Tina Turner, The Commodores, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Ben Harper and Billy Joel? There were many more. My love for music had started early.
When I was eleven I had a pen pal from Liverpool, knew all about the Beatles and saw them at the Chicago Amphitheater when I was thirteen years old. At 10 o’clock every evening, I lay in bed with my little transistor radio to hear Dick Biondi, a DJ on WLS radio, who would announce the top three songs according to call-in listeners. That was just the beginning.
I saw the Supremes, the Temptations and James Brown. I saw The Rolling Stones multiple times along with The Beach Boys. When Michael and I got together, the list grew longer. Before he died, he compiled the names of every band we saw and met, and were stunned to realize we’d seen over 300 groups. I never got around to buying him the t-shirt which said, “we might not have any money but we’ve seen all the best bands.” We had an absolutely wonderful time.
So right around the Record Service’s 20th anniversary bash, the rep from Capitol Records gave Michael two tickets to see Paul McCartney who was touring and would be playing in Chicago. Paul was my favorite Beatle. I admired John’s intellect, George’s sweetness and Ringo’s humble style, but Paul was my lifetime crush. At that time however, I really didn’t feel comfortable about going to attend a rock concert. My dad had just died and I felt a moral responsibility to stay close to my mother. So I declined and Michael stayed home with me. I didn’t know then what I know now, that life is uncertain every day and that you should always take advantage of wonderful opportunities while you have the chance. When we were dealing with Michael’s cancer we got better and better at doing that and managed to squeeze some fabulous times in between the hard ones. I’ve been practicing that skill since Michael died. I’ve traveled to long desired destinations on my own and seen so much beauty. I took a dream train ride across the country and am getting ready to do it again to another pined for place.
I finally got to see Roger Federer in the flesh after watching him on television for 20 years. Every time I tick a dream off my list I feel like I’m honoring Michael who left this life with so many wishes on his to-do list. So when my kid asked me about regrets the first thing out of my mouth was that I wished I’d seen Paul McCartney in 1989 when I had the chance. My staying home didn’t really change anything for anyone. I just missed a good time and a memorable experience. Shortly after that conversation, I received an email with two tickets to his latest concert tour in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. My kids decided to correct that regret.
I was stunned and excited although I thought Ft. Wayne might be a strange venue. The concert was taking place at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum which sounded odd. But it turned out to be a lovely building, clean and new with a 13,000 person capacity which meant there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house. The professionalism of Paul’s team was impressive. There were lights, lasers and fireworks. Paul’s image was projected onto huge screens so everyone could feel close to him. There was a movie screen in the center of the stage which scrolled images appropriate for every song.
And the music selection was fabulous from the early Beatles catalogue to Paul’s early solo albums to Wings and his most recent music release, Egypt Station. The crowd was electric with excitement and was demographically diverse, from race to age. It’s not every day that you get to see a genuine icon in the flesh. Which brings me to the more substantive feelings evoked by watching this soon-to-be 77 year old man handle a challenging 3 hour performance. First, I recognized that this person does not need to be doing this. He’s already reached the pinnacles so many people could never imagine. He’s wealthy, successful, world-renowned and well-loved. He’s performing because he wants to and maybe needs to, as his passion seems undiminished and joyous. Paul presents as a grownup. He’s comfortable talking to a huge crowd and doesn’t pretend he’s a kid. His banter with the audience touches on his early life as a young performer. But what left the strongest impression on me was that he was clearly using his platform to share painful acquired life lessons in an unembarrassed, open way that was powerfully moving.