My son, David, and I had the privilege to attend the Paul McCartney “Out There” concert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin a few days ago. We attended this sell-out event with 40,000 other fans from the surrounding area and neighboring states. It was a sweltering night with humidity that curled the former Beatle’s hair. Yet, start to finish McCartney played his iconic hit songs continuously for three hours. He didn’t stop long enough to take a sip of water.
I watched in awe, observing his musical prowess, engaging stage presence, vocal range, and the sheer passion and energy in which he performed his vast body of work.
In the midst of the throngs of people surrounding the center field stage in Miller Park, David and I relished the artistry of arguably the world’s best songwriter, living or dead. I listened with a renewed appreciation of his creativity and originality. Even songs that were never favorites took on new meaning as I, for the first time, listened to them in the presence of the songwriter.
As I reflect on this concert, I realize I learned three things from him about writing.
1) Write with passion—always. It was apparent that he loves his life’s work. How many times has he sung the same songs over and over again in the last 50 years? Yet, he sang them with the passion of a young songwriter in his first big gig. Do you write all of your articles or novels with equal passion?
2) Strive for Longevity. Due to the universal appeal of his songs, McCartney was a legend long before age thirty. Now at 71, he is still writing memorable music. His longevity alone inspires me to strive to create a large body of work and remain vital in this writing game for the long haul. Who wants to be a one hit wonder?
3) You Get Your “Bad Books” Out of Your System by Writing Them. In preparation for my night with Paul McCartney, I reviewed a few chapters of the Beatle’s Anthology. In this film clip, George Harrison was talking about the immense success of the songwriting duo of Lennon-McCartney and why they were reluctant to allow him to contribute songs to the Beatles repertoire.
Harrison indicated that Lennon-McCartney were the primary songwriters because before they were famous “they had already written all of their bad songs.” In other words, they had written so many songs they learned how to write successful songs. By contrast, the less experienced Harrison still had “some bad songs in him” so the Beatles wouldn’t take a chance on them.
The lesson for writers? How many books have you written? How many bad books do you still have in you? Write them. Get them out of your system. A friend of mine once said, “Your first book is to simply teach you how to write a book. Your second, third or fourth book may be your first book published.” The more you write, the more you learn how to write successfully.
It was a great concert. McCartney delivered on all dimensions, exceeded expectations and played with a passion that inspired thousands of musicians and at least one writer.
As I left the venue, I realized that although it may be easy for Paul McCartney to write hit songs, he works at it very hard.
And the good news for writers is we don’t have to achieve greatness to produce great work.
We just have to work very hard too.