“The lights go down, they’re back in town okay.”
The Beatles had performed at the Cow Palace on their 1964 and 1965 tours of the US. The venue was in Daly City, a little south of San Francisco where Greg and I were staying at the YMCA Hotel on Turk Street. Close by was a liquor store called Turk and Larkin Liquor, a sing song name that suggested some sort of sexual activity performed in the heart to the Tenderloin District. The Y was our home base for taking in concerts, movies, walks on record row (Polk Street), and a shop that sold movie memorabilia where we would search for 8 X 10 stills of our favorite movies and movie stars with the same determination we exhibited going through the bins and poster racks on Polk Street. We had planned our bus route carefully to allow enough time to get a good place in line and make a dash for the stage. We wanted to get close as we could to the band.
It said very clearly on the back of our tickets that we were not allowed to take pictures or use recording devices, but as usual I had packed my camera and a couple of lenses. I had even purchased a 2X lens converter because it was cheaper than buying a long lens. It would bring the action closer.
My plan was simple. I would pack my gear in my leather jacket. I could remove the jacket just before the security frisk and throw it over my shoulder, and then hold it limply away from my body during the pat down as if it wasn’t really that heavy.
I broke down all my equipment, separating the lenses from the camera body, tucking the component parts in each pocket, taking special care with the three rolls of Tri-X 400, 36 exposure rolls of black and white film and the single roll of Ektachrome 160, 36 exposure slide film that would have to be pushed one stop in processing to get the results that I wanted given available light concert conditions.
It wasn’t The Beatles we were going to see. It was Paul McCartney’s band, Wings. The Wings Over the World Tour had finally made it to the US and Greg and I had scored two tickets at our local BASS outlet in Sacramento, Pacific Stereo, only $8.50 a ticket plus a small transaction fee. We were grateful to have gotten tickets at all. When we stood in line for Elton John, the tickets sold out just before we made it to the box office. We considered going to that concert anyway and paying a Scalper, but we nixed that plan as too extreme.
Outside the Cow Palace, fans were queued like cattle between white fences leading to the main entrance. As we moved slowly towards the security check, the crowd, feeling like cattle, mooed in unison. As it turned out, Security was more concerned with cans and bottles than they were with doing a full pat down. They looked us up and down and waved us on.
Once in the building, we moved quickly to the ground floor of the arena. Waiting for the show, we were about forty feet from the stage, but when the house lights went down, the crowd lurched forward and we found ourselves about twenty feet from the bandstand. I was satisfied that I could get some good shots of the band from where we stood. And, it would have taken some real muscle to break through the wall of human flesh and get any closer.
Greg had scored a little pot while we were in line for the show, but I preferred to stay straight and get some good shots. For all my good intentions, it’s possible that I had a contact high. There was no getting away from the marijuana and tobacco smoke that filled the air.
The room became cooler as another kind of smoke poured out and over the stage. The smoke from the stage merged with the smoke from the audience. The crowd roared and I recognized the sound, I’d heard it on the Ed Sullivan show and on the soundtrack of A Hard Day’s Night. We were about to see only one fourth of the Fab Four, but the crowd was in full scale Beatlemania mode. Wings took the stage, took flight, and began to play the opening medley of “Venus and Mars”, “Rock Show”, and “Jet”. We got our first taste of synthesizers and laser light.
There he was, Paul McCartney, in a black shirt with two vertical white stripes clutching his left handed bass about to spend a couple hours belting out songs from his solo albums, songs by and with his new band, and even a few Beatles’ tunes framed in the viewfinder of my Olympus OM-1 Single Lens Reflex 35mm camera. The tears welled up and I let them flow. I managed to wipe them away by the time the band segued into “Jet”.
With my 100mm lens, I shot over 100 black and white photos of Paul, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch, and Joe English. I saved my new 2X lens converter for the roll of color slides hoping to get a vibrant close-up shot of each band member. When a tall member of the crowd obstructed my view, I asked Greg to lift me up. He was only able to do it for a few seconds before dropping me back to the floor. When Greg asked me if he could get an unencumbered view, I was able to lift him up on my shoulders briefly, giving him a chance to use my camera like a magnifying glass and capture a close up or two. We didn’t want to piss anyone off, blocking their view of rock and roll history. And we didn’t want to break our backs, so we spent the rest of the concert with our feet on the ground and our heads somewhere in the clouds.
Mike Maginot is a writer and photographer. His books, Auteurs, Adaptations, and Outsiders and Belevedere Street are available from Amazon. Belvedere Street can also be ordered from your local independent bookseller.