Landmark Birthday Sunday for Paul McCartney
Friday, June 16, 2006; 6:27 PM
LONDON -- About 14,000 yesterdays have passed since Paul McCartney first mused about turning 64. Sunday, he can stop musing.
The Beatles' groundbreaking 1967 album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" made room for the more mundane McCartney song "When I'm Sixty-Four," in which he wondered about ... well, his golden years. "When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now," he crooned.
The famous hair is intact (though what shade is hard to discern), but the year is now.
A spokesman would not say what McCartney's plans are for Sunday, but he could be excused for skipping a party. It has been a traumatic year, in which he split from his wife of four years, Heather Mills McCartney, amid lurid headlines about their relationship and her past.
"People seem to be interested in him as a celebrity, but not as a musician," said Beatles historian Peter Doggett _ a bitter blow for a man who with John Lennon formed rock's most storied songwriting partnership.
Beatles fans, however, seem determined to answer McCartney's question _ "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?" _ in the affirmative.
The Beatles Story Exhibition in McCartney's hometown of Liverpool was celebrating with cake, balloons and a weekend of events including a "When I'm Sixty-Four" karaoke contest.
The "nice Beatle" is widely revered in Liverpool for retaining strong links to the gritty port city, founding the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and playing an outdoor concert for 30,000 people in 2003.
"There's tons of affection towards Paul personally," said Jerry Goldman, director of the Beatles Story, which draws 200,000 visitors a year. "He doesn't forget that his home is here and his heart is here."
A seemingly throwaway but strangely enduring Beatles song, "When I'm Sixty-Four" is a musical hall-style ditty evoking images of a quiet old age of gardening, holiday cottages and visits from the grandchildren _ "Vera, Chuck and Dave."
McCartney wrote the song when he was a teenager and recorded it at 24. Two years later, he married American photographer Linda Eastman. It was a famously happy union that lasted almost three decades. When Linda died of breast cancer in 1998, McCartney was devastated.
He eventually began a relationship with model and anti-landmine activist Heather Mills, 26 years his junior. The pair, who share a passion for animal rights and vegetarianism, married in 2002 and had a daughter, Beatrice, the next year.
But newspapers soon began running stories about trouble in the marriage. Mills McCartney was accused of meddling in her husband's career, persuading him to dye his hair _ he said he did it of his own accord _ and to undergo plastic surgery (he denied having any).
McCartney robustly defended his wife _ and continues to stick up for her. Since the split was announced last month, the tabloid press has been full of lurid allegations about Mills McCartney's past. She has been the subject of several unflattering articles that included pictures of her in naked or semi-naked poses.
A statement released last week by her lawyers said Mills McCartney was "distressed" by the stories and planned to sue for libel once divorce proceedings were over.
There has also been intense speculation about Mills McCartney's likely share in her husband's estimated $1.5 billion fortune.
McCartney posted messages on his official Web site condemning "the malicious spreading of rumors and made-up facts" in the media.
"It's been suggested that she married me for the money and there is not an ounce of truth in this," McCartney said.
Despite his recent difficulties, there are few signs that McCartney plans to slip into quiet retirement. He toured last year, and released an album, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," hailed as his best in decades.
Many listeners detected a melancholy and fragility missing from much of his solo work.
"Even though I'm essentially an optimist, an enthusiast, like anyone else I have down moments in my life," McCartney told The Associated Press last year. "You just can't help it. Life throws them at you."
Beatles-watchers say McCartney, who has also written an oratorio and a symphony, is still fired by musical ambition.
"He still has got it in him to write great songs," said Pete Nash, chairman of the British Beatles Fan Club. "He thinks he can write another classic, and I think he will."
Doggett says McCartney shares a dilemma with the Rolling Stones and other aging rockers _ legions of baby boomer fans just want to hear the old hits.
"I think he could write a song as magnificent as `Hey Jude' now, but it couldn't have the same effect on society because he's not the 20-something rock star at the heart of the biggest band in the world anymore," Doggett said.
"But I would be amazed if he's not making a record or writing a symphony or painting or writing a book. When faced with a difficulty he always throws himself back into work."
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