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McCartney ponders healing power of music in concert doc

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BEVERLY HILLS -- In the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, love wasn't all New York City needed.

But a little bit of it sure did help.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney -- who was on a plane about to take off from NYC when the attacks on the World Trade Centre occurred and all American air traffic was grounded -- did his bit by immediately helping to organize a concert event that boosted spirits and raised funds in support of the 9/11 rescue and relief efforts.

"I was on my way back to England, having just had a short visit to America, and we were on the tarmac at JFK (airport), and the pilot suddenly said, 'We can't take off; we have to go back to base,'" McCartney said this week via satellite from Cincinnati, a stop on his current concert tour. "And out of the window on the right side of the plane, you could see the Twin Towers. First of all, you could see one plume of smoke, and then you could see two shortly thereafter... Then suddenly, one of the stewards came to me and said, 'Look, there's been something really serious happened in New York.'"

Unable to leave the city, McCartney began wondering what he could do to help.

"I ended up not being able to get back into New York; I ended up in Long Island, watching it on TV, watching it unfold like everyone else in the world and wanting to get back into New York, but nobody was allowed back in. So while I was out there, sort of twiddling my thumbs and thinking of what to do, and whether there was any role I could play in this, the idea came to me that maybe we could do a concert."

The result of McCartney's efforts are on display in the new documentary The Love We Make: The Concert for New York City, which will have its TV première on Sept. 10 -- the day before the 10th anniversary of the attacks -- on U.S. cable's Showtime network (as yet, no Canadian pickup has been confirmed for the film).

During the wide-ranging interview this week, during Showtime's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles, McCartney talked about growing up in England in the aftermath of the Second World War and watching how his parents and other relations used humour and music to cope with the stresses of postwar rebuilding.

"I was born in Liverpool, which was subjected to a lot of bombing, and I noticed how they coped with it," he recalled. "It was like, (singing) 'Roll out the barrel, we'll have a barrel of fun...' -- you know, while they're getting bombed, they're singing. So I remembered that, and thought maybe that's what I can bring to this; maybe I can get that feeling, that old kind of courage I'd seen my parents and their generation exhibited, and maybe I would be able to help America, and New York, out of that fearfulness, and that really is what happened."

In addition to performance footage of McCartney along with the likes of Elton John, the Who, Billy Joel, David Bowie and many others, The Love We Make also includes candid backstage footage and scenes of McCartney on the streets of New York, talking to people about 9/11 and its effect on New York.

Mostly, though, it's about the music, and the healing power of music.

"Well, I've thought about it a lot, because that's my game, and I've come to the conclusion that it's magical," McCartney offered. "There's just so much that we don't know about it. I mean, when you get down to the scientific thing about music, it's vibrations, and you can measure them -- you know, E is measured at 400 thingies, or whatever. It's very measurable. And that fact that it's vibrations working on people, I think, is part of the answer.... I think what happens then is that with this scientific feature, it hits your emotions."

At a bit of a loss to finish the scientific breakdown, McCartney offered a more practical example of music's magic.

"For instance, just to sum it up, Yesterday is one of my most famous songs ... and Yesterday came to me in a dream -- this whole tune that was in my head, and I had no idea where it came from," he said. "The best I can think of is that my computer, through the years, loaded all these things and finally printed out this song in kind of a dream thing. I had this song, which was to become very famous in the world, and I just dreamed it. So there's no way out for me -- I have to believe it's just magical. I have no other rational explanation for it."

As for the 9/11 concert documented in the film, McCartney said he has no doubt the magic, and the love, were well received.

"You could see, particularly in the firefighters and the volunteers and their families, and the victims' families, that they were able to release all this emotion that had been sort of pent up. It was a really great feeling. We actually felt like we were doing a bit of good."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 6, 2011 G6

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