It seemed particularly meaningful when he sang it again this past weekend. McCartney, the son of a Liverpool fireman, performed the song for firefighters, police and rescue workers and their families. Dan Rather reports.
"I wanted to do something," he says. "Like a lot of people, I felt helpless. I'm not a firefighter but my dad was in World War II. He was a volunteer firefighter in Liverpool, which got a lot of heavy bombing."
Six thousand rescue workers and their families were given free tickets to attend the event, "The Concert for New York," at Madison Square Garden. Broadcast nationally on VH1, the event raised millions for charities set up in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. For his part, McCartney wrote a new song specifically for this concert, called "Freedom."
"My parents' generation went through World War II, so I know how they dealt with it. And it was with humor, it was with courage, it was with strength," says McCartney. It was also with music. "They had to have something to keep their courage up. So they did. There was a lot of humor, a lot of music. And if it was good enough for them, I think it's good enough for us."
Earlier this week, Rather took McCartney back to the old studio, and showed him a tape of the original performance. "Good group. Wow," McCartney said jokingly afterwards. "You had to take me back there, didn't you?"
It doesn't feel like 37 years ago, McCartney said. "It's one of those staggering things about life, you can just literally seem a few years ago. And it isn't - it's a long time ago. But I have memories. Very excited for us as Liverpool kids to come to America and thn to suddenly be involved in something like that. A really big show. And then the reaction to it, I love. I still meet people who say, 'I know where I was, I was in our sitting room and And their dads invariably say, 'Those are wigs. Theyre wearing wigs.' You look at it now. It looks pretty short, it looks pretty tame."
McCartney's connection with New York has always been powerful. A year after their first Ed Sullivan appearance, the Beatles played Shea Stadium in Queens. McCartney recalls laughingly that the sound system wasn't very good. "If we thought we were playing well, it was a little bit annoying, because the people who came to hear couldn't hear us. If we were not in a very good mood, and not playing very well, it was a blessing."
Thirty-six years later, he was the first to sign on for last weekends benefit concert. He says his love for New York played a part. But so did his own experiences with untimely loss, beginning with the death of his mother. In 1968, the Beatles' first manager, Brian Epstein, died at the age of 33. In 1980, John Lennon was murdered. And just three years ago, McCartney lost his wife, Linda.
McCartney offers advice to those who are grieving now. "All I can really say is that I think it's important to let it out, and to not hold it in," he says. "That was really the single most important thing I found. As a guy, you like to think you're tough, you can take these things, and you can give me your best shot. But, of course, when you lose someone it's not really possible. You can put it inside yourself and hide it if you want, but I don't think that's a good thing. So, for me, what I found was to talk to people. A lot. Not worry about crying, like a baby sometimes if that's what you had to do. And not worried about who was looking at you. And just really let it all out."
His wife of 29 years died after a long battle with breast cancer. "After Linda died I didn't really do anything. Some people said to me, 'Get back into work. That's what you should do, put yourself into work.' I just couldn't. I thought, 'I don't want to.' Didn't seem like the thing to do. After I'd sort of spent the year grieving, I said, 'You know, what? I'm really blessed to have 30 years with that girl. She's such an amazing woman.' And it's not everyone has 30 great years of married life. So I looked at the positive aspects of it, tried to kind of rationalize it. And felt that that helped me."
McCartneys positive outlook can be heard on his new album due on Nov. 13. Called "Driving Rain." It is his first since his wife's death. On it, he sings about Linda, and his new fiancee - Heather Mills who was with him at the benefit, and is now never far from his side. With this album, McCartney says he is moving on with his life.
What about those who criticize McCartney for being an opportunist, taking advntage of the terrorist attacks to hype his album?
"If we listen to them, we'll all just be pessimists. And no one will ever write an up word ever again. No one would be able to go back to work. I know why I'm doing it. So end of story for me. I want to do it because the Mayor and the President have told me that this is the way to go, and what, who am I to argue with that? Let's listen to the bosses, for one. Let's show some respect. I think the day it happened I heard someone say, 'Well, we got this knucklehead for a President.' I said, Okay, listen to me, stop there. Yesterday he might have been a knucklehead. Today he's not. Listen to me, he's your President. Get with it.' I'm not normally that political, but I think that you've got to do that in these circumstances. You certainly don't want the Indians fighting the Indians. I mean, people have got to rally. So I'm doing it and if one or two people might think it's cynical, so what? I don't care. I'm doing it for good reasons. And it will help people."
For over five hours, New Yorkers certainly embraced the concert. Some of the biggest names in movies and music took part. Even though other acts garnered onstage attention, backstage, all eyes were on McCartney. New Yorker Billy Joel, for one, gave him credit and thanks for pulling it all together: "When McCartney committed it really made the difference for everyone else. Why? Because he's a Beatle. Can you think of a bigger name in music? I can't."
At the evenings end, Joel and the other performers joined McCartney onstage to perform a Beatles classic, "Let It Be."
"I'll get people on the streets, particularly here in New York, 'Yo, Paul! All right, man. "Let it Be,"' You know, truck drivers, taxi drivers, just people everywhere. It obviously hit a chord, like it had done for me. That's something I really feel very lucky to be part of."
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