Can music heal our differences?

This article appeared in The Winchester Sun on Thursday, June 13, 2019

This column is a bit of a departure for me. I’d like to share some thoughts about a very personal and impactful thing that happened to me recently.

On Saturday, June 1, my wife and I got together with about 19,000 friends and had a spiritual experience — otherwise known as a rock concert.

I’m of a “certain age” — meaning I grew up in the 1960s and 70s. In those days, rock concerts were practically a way of life for my friends and me. I’ll bet I attended at least 40 major concerts in my teens and early 20s. But as I have gotten older, I’ve gotten much more selective. The only big name acts I’ve caught in recent years were all leftovers from my youth: think the Eagles and James Taylor.

So when I heard that Paul McCartney was coming to town, I knew I had to go. McCartney had been on my bucket list for decades. But he had rarely made stops in Kentucky.

Until he did.

And the concert did not disappoint! The iconic former Beatle and Wings frontman performed a three-hour, 37 song setlist that was heavy on Beatles and Wings standards and deep cuts, with a few of McCartney’s newer numbers thrown in.

He worked the entire show tirelessly with only a momentary respite before his encore. He was as enthusiastic and full of energy as he was when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, way back in 1964. By the way, McCartney is nearing his 77th birthday.

One thing I’ve come to expect from the elder rock generation of performers is an emphasis on audience connection through storytelling and lively banter. I remember noting how well James Taylor had connected with his Rupp Arena audience. McCartney did that and more.

At some point during the performance, my reverence for him faded into familiarity. Somewhere between “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Blackbird,” he ceased to be Sir Paul McCartney and morphed into my friend Paul. It felt like I was hanging out with a bunch of friends. And one of them was regaling the rest of us with music and stories and inviting us to sing along. It just clicked.

There’s something powerfully emotive about music, and especially when that music also conveys a sense of shared experience. Humans evolved to respond to such social cues, which can at times feel transcendent.

I saw fans ranging in age from early teens to perhaps 80s — all singing along to those familiar tunes. There was a sense of belonging, of shared hopes and dreams.

I thought about how there were people in that arena who might have had little in common beyond an appreciation for Paul’s music. People of different backgrounds, political persuasions, generations, races, genders, sexual orientations, probably even languages.

They came from all over Kentucky and all over the U.S. — I know of one family that came from Florida for the show. For another fan, it was his 122nd time seeing Paul in concert.

These were people who may have quarreled with one another on social media. Perhaps they would never even have sat down together, so strong were their differences. We live in a world that is so fractured, it’s sometimes hard for me to imagine how we can ever come together again.

Perhaps here was my answer.

A friend of mine said, “The impression I came away with was that you were witnessing some sort of incredible historical event, captured in time at the moment you were there.”

There were many tear-inducing moments. Paul did tributes to the late Beatles George Harrison and John Lennon, and also to Jimi Hendrix. He told some funny and touching stories. I was surprised at how emotional an experience it was.

There was much to revel in, but my favorite part was seeing all those people having a bonding experience that somehow transcends all our differences. It was — dare I say it — magical. But music can do that.

Somehow it gives me hope.

Final thought: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

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