Last night I found myself in NYC, at an off-broadway performance of Love Never Dies, the less-famous sequel to my favorite musical of all time, The Phantom of the Opera.
I'd seen it before in Atlanta, and though my reception to the original album was lukewarm, catching it in person was exhilarating. So given the chance to see it again, regardless of the venue, I wanted to go.
The theater was shockingly un-filled, perhaps a signal that we may never see Love Never Dies make it to a big Broadway run. Sigh. But I enjoyed the show, and decided to wander a little bit afterward--I had a limited time in New York, so I wanted to make the most of it.
Which meant hitting record shops.
I found a little place whose name I couldn't even tell you, and whose location I don't know (I'm famously bad at having an internal GPS)--a hole-in-the-wall, dimly lit, old-school record store. Nothing fancy here at all, just minimal lighting, the baked-in residue of cigar smoke from the 1970s, and crates upon crates of records.
Some record shops have bonus rooms, where they store either clearance or higher-end stuff they don't put out in the main showroom, and this was one of those shops. I didn't really know what I was looking for, but that didn't matter long.
As I walked into the back room, a man was looking through crates, the only other soul in the 150-square-foot room. I got closer and immediately my heart began to race.
That's Paul McCartney.
What am I supposed to do?? I'm the last guy to bother somebody, especially someone I know gets bugged all the time, and there are probably few people on earth who get hounded by music dorks more than Sir Paul.
But come on, man.
I played it casual, and just turned aside and started digging through crates as though I were clueless. But then he walked right by me, stepped up on a little platform area that may have once been a checkout counter, and started spinning a record. I didn't recognize it. No "Hey Jude"--the guy's not an egomaniac.
He's four feet from me at this point. He looks considerably younger than I know him to be--he must have dyed his hair for a video shoot or something, because it's light brown, which hasn't been the case since the late '80s at least. His features seemed more vigorous than I'd have expected to--maybe he's just come from a spa weekend, or perhaps even a botox session?
Regardless, I know at this point, I have to at least say hi.
"Finding what you're after?" I say, trying to at least pretend as though I am not freaking out--but he knows I know. He smiles and replies, but honestly I'm not sure what he said because the music was loud, he spoke softly, and I was freaking out.
It's then I decide I have to go for it. I will kick myself forever if I'm alone with Paul McCartney and I don't get some audio to bring to the show. So I just turn on my voice recorder in hopes of catching something--anything--I can use. (I'll get his consent. later, don't worry.)
So here's my move--I take a step toward him and reveal the copy of the 2015 Tug of War reissue I happen to be holding--one which has been autographed by several members of the production team. "You think this is worth getting?" I slyly ask.
His face softens in wistful wonder as he takes it from my hand--"Whoa, look at this," he says as if talking to a third party in the room. "Got six of the players, hasn't it?"
"Yeah, mate, it's really special," I reply, adding the "mate" in an effort to keep up my credibility, because--oh yeah, I forgot to mention--I had decided to speak in a British accent. I don't know why, ok?? I just did, and I didn't think we'd end up in a conversation, and did I mention I was freaking out??
He hands the hefty album package back to me, and I pause for a moment, before spilling, with zero confidence: "So I have this podcast..."
He drops his head to the side and comes just short of rolling his eyes as he says, "Yeah, of course."
I'd blown it. Of course he knew I couldn't just be cool and not ask him for something. Of course he did. He has this conversation 50 times a day with idiots like me. Now it's turned into a net negative interaction for both of us. Great.
So I don't say anything else. I go back to crate diving, and to his great credit, he doesn't bail. After a minute or so, he changes the record he'd been playing. He puts on a record I'm not immensely familiar with, but I at least know, and I know it's hard to find on vinyl--the first, self-titled album by Echo and the Bunnymen. I might not have even been able to place the opening track myself had I not just seen another copy of it in a crate.
This is my way back in. I have to try. For the show. For you guys. For the sheer determination JP seems to have that I don't.
By absolute force of will I grab the Bunnymen record from the crate just to my left, and I turn to Paul and hold it up with a grin and a raised eyebrow.
He softens again. He starts talking about what a great record it is, and what a great band they were, ahead of their time really, and I follow and get in some agreement when I find a spot (still in my roving English accent, what kind of idiot am I?). I finally hit a point or two at which I can assert my musical knowledge, and Paul seems, if not impressed, at least invigorated by it.
I go for it again, but less bluntly this time. "This is the kind of stuff we get into on my podcast," I say.
Again, Paul knows what I'm driving at. But this time, he's down. "Right then, well let's do a little bit. I've got some time."
It's 10:30pm in the dim back room of a nondescript New York City vinyl shop, and I'm about to interview Sir Paul McCartney with an iPhone.
Once the rapport is established, we just sink into conversation about our favorite musical things--studio sounds, songwriting, landmark albums, etc. I hesitate to ask a lot of Beatles questions, mostly letting him drive the topics, because I want to get as much as I can for what will be the most incredible episode of the show we could possibly imagine (short of getting Weird Al, of course).
We talk for what seems like a half hour. I can't believe this is happening. I can't believe no one else ever walks in the room, and I can't believe Paul is sitting here with me.
We only stopped because I had to pee. I know that sounds stupid--this was the most important musical interaction of my podcast and my life, but I had to pee really bad.
So bad, in fact, that it woke me up.