denis gullickson | talking titletwon | july 2019
Kathy Kropp was born in February 1950.
She saved her babysitting money and bought her first album, “Meet the Beatles,” at the Five and Dime Store in Seymour just before her 14thbirthday. Within days, that album topped the Billboard charts.
Like many girls her age, Paul McCartney — with his boyish face, doe-ish brown eyes and cute bangs — was her “favorite.” One might call it a “first crush.” Brown eyes and left-handed — things Kathy noticed right away. Just like her! They were practically soulmates.
“I remember walking into the store and there it was, 'Meet the Beatles.' The records were on a wire rack right inside the door and my mom let me buy it,” she recalled. “I still have that album and next to every song I wrote, 'I love Paul.'”
This writer liked the Beatles too. His first album? “Magical Mystery Tour” bought just after arguing in class with his 7th-grade “girlfriend” that John Lennon hadn't said the Beatles were “more important” than Jesus, but fans had made them “more popular.” The rest of the kids in that Catholic classroom gasped in horror — signaling to him that he was absolutely on the right track.
He spent Saturday afternoons listening to the BBC Countdown on his family's shortwave radio. She played “Meet the Beatles” nonstop on her portable record player and listened for her favorite Beatles tunes on Green Bay's WDUZ-AM.
John was his favorite, followed by George and, then, Paul. John wrote those darker tunes that added the right touch to offset Paul's stuff, which was, well, the happy strains of “Oh Blah Dee Oh Blah Dah.”
Still, there was never any denying McCartney's musicality. Especially charming was the melody of Paul's upbeat, calliope-esque piano as though he was playing joyfully at a carnival or in someone's English parlor in an earlier age.
The summer they moved in together, 1976, McCartney's “Band on the Run” was one of the album's played nonstop.
A discussion at their farmhouse with friends one day revolved around all-time favorite bands. Steely Dan was named. So was CSN&Y. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd got mentions. So did others. When someone asked, “What about the Beatles?” everyone agreed: You didn't really think about the Beatles as your favorite band. They were everyone's favorite band. They were the gods while we were talking about the mortals.
Eventually, the two of them realized that — except for that album marked up with “I Love Paul” — they couldn't tell whose Beatles albums were whose and they got married.
Race through the years to Saturday night, June 8, 2019. Paul McCartney is at hallowed Lambeau Field for a historic concert. I have the privilege of covering the event for this publication and take a photographer with me — Kathy Gullickson, nee Kropp.
Long lines winding into the stadium were filled with anxious, excited folks — especially ladies (a bit older now) — reliving Beatles and Packers memories. A woman in front of us said that she'd been to the Ice Bowl and was making her return to Lambeau Field for this concert.
“It was a lot colder that day,” she laughed.
Inside, the pre-concert hum was robust. Lambeau field done-up for a world-scale rock concert was a sight to behold. A massive stage projected professionalism; huge twin projection screens and a guy on stage who looked to be programming something suggested that this would be a special night.
Not lost on this writer was the fact that “Sir Paul” and band would enter from the corner of the south endzone where recently deceased Bart Starr scored that legendary Ice Bowl touchdown. Well, sure, that's where the Packers tunnel is located — still it was a sweet sign that things were in synch.
Stirred into the blend was perfect June Wisconsin weather — a sporadic treat this spring.
In the crowd were many white-haired baby boomers in various states of disrepair mixed with enough younger people to suggest McCartney and the Beatles had classic appeal. An edgy anticipation was obvious. One solitary, older guy a few rows up seemed particularly anxious as though he were waiting for, well, royalty to arrive.
Smiles abounded and phones clicked selfies. In the crowd, stage-right, four gentlemen were dressed in the colorful band uniforms of the iconic cover of “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Even the security guards were swaying to and fro as Beatles songs played pre-show.
This writer pondered the “Freshen Up” tour theme. It sounded more like what ladies do in the powder room — a bit strange. The tour evolved over 2018-19 in support of McCartney's 17thsolo studio album, “Egypt Station.” Now, there, at least, was something Beatle-enough to grab hold of.
About 8:10 p.m. the angst was broken as the band appeared. Once onstage, McCartney took hold of the crowd of nearly 50,000 like the master showman he is. He gave opening nods to Green Bay, “Lambo-o-o” and Cheeseheads.
The concert began with “A Hard Day's Night” — part of a theme that was woven throughout the 38-song set: Pressing, putting in one's time, embracing the experience, focusing on the moments and putting one's feet up sometimes. Or — dancing when the time was right.
“Sit Back and Let the Evening Go”
And so, the show commenced.
“I'm getting the feeling we're going to have a bit of a good time here tonight,” McCartney told the crowd.
And indeed, a very good time would be had by all.
To quote from “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” it was “a scene over men and horses, hoops and garters lastly through a hogshead of real fire.” And, when they played that tune, Paul explained that the song had virtually written itself as he and John pulled the words directly from a show bill poster.
“The celebrated Mr. K performs his feat on Saturday at Bishops Gate … Having been some days in preparation … a splendid time is guaranteed for all.”
Over the next three hours, Sir Paul would draw the crowd closer and closer — pulling from the various and sundry catalogs of his Beatles, Wings and solo careers. Even a song from the Quarrymen made its way into the offerings from a smaller set that prompted even greater intimacy with the crowd.
At one point, McCartney was raised on a platform to sing a couple of solo songs, including “Blackbird” which he had written for the courageous black students in the southern U.S. who had first crossed the lines of school segregation — hoping to buoy their spirits.
Through it all, McCartney told stories of Jimi Hendrix and his fallen bandmates, John and George. He referenced his daughter who was a baby in the pictures from his first solo album. “She's got four boys of her own now,” he said. “And a husband.” He also dedicated “My Valentine” to his wife Nancy who was “at the show.”
He read fans' signs aloud. One sign said, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 — All Good Cheeseheads Go to Heaven,” to which McCartney responded, “Why, yes. Yes, I believe they do.” He had the girls scream for old-times' sake.
The sound, video display and close-ups were first-class — worthy of a Beatle. The band — touring with McCartney for nearly 20 years — was stellar: Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, backing vocals and guitars; Abe Laboriel, backing vocals and percussion; and Paul Wickens, backing vocals and keyboards.
The crowd was lulled into a near golden-slumber while singing “Let It Be” which set it up for the pyrotechnic-onslaught that was “Live and Let Die.” It was then rocked back into calm with the ensuing “Hey Jude.”
“And … in the End …”
More than royalty had arrived. A god had stepped off rock 'n' roll's Mt Olympus and delivered a gift to the humans in the form of song — a magic elixir that sent the crowd homeward with a spring in its step — dancing, perhaps.
And Sir Paul was no snake-oil salesman eschewing his own stuff either. Turning 77 on June 18, he played non-stop until after 11 p.m. The voice may have waned a tad in spots, but it was right there as the show ended with an encore of six more songs.
Paul did broach the idea that even evenings like this one had to end at some point. The crowd sighed a collective, “No!” But he was right, sadly.
Oh, and McCartney himself was gifted a share of Packers stock — returning the favor and firing one more synapse in a magical connection.
The crowd left Lambeau Field knowing they had seen a production “second to none.”
And 14-year-old Kathy Kropp — with just a few more years gone by — got to see it all center stage nine rows back.
Author, educator, horseman and farmer Denis Gullickson battles a wet, cold spring. Meanwhile, the Green Bay Theatre Company continues to develop “The Premier” arts and performance space at 520 N Broadway. Contact email@example.com for information.