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July 15, 2024

A Tale on Me Birthday

By Pete McArdle

I'm sixty-four today and I guess you could say I've had a good life. I've been married for many years to a better woman than I deserve, I was blessed with a kind, hard-working son whose wife will soon present us with that most precious of gifts, a grandchild, and I recently sold me roofing business, so I need never work again -- unless I choose to.

But if me life looks fine on paper, there's been times when it seemed filmed in black-and-white, or in color with no sound: something not very special. And perhaps that's every man's lot, to feel so ordinary.

Still . . . I remember a time when I was absolutely on fire, when me brain was boiling with bass runs and grace notes, me heart was simmering in a sea of love, and me groin was cooking up something else altogether. A time when me life, for one fleeting, unbearably-hot summer, was like a Hollywood movie. And I was the star.

I remember the day I met Paul and John like it was yesterday. I was eighteen at the time, a full-time roofer working for me Dad and a self-taught guitarist living with me folks in Woolton, a sleepy suburb of Liverpool. I was lean and taut from workin' so hard and had long dark hair, cut just above the eyes by me Mum so I could see me way around a roof. And when I wasn't hammering nails or torturing me guitar, I was out clubbing to the wee hours of the night, digging the bands, knocking down a few pints, and trying desperately and unsuccessfully to get laid. My problem was being so shy, 'cause I wasn't too hard on the eyes.

So where was I? Oh yes, the day I met Paul and John.

It was a little before noon that Sunday, I recall, the fog just beginning to burn off the choppy, gray Mersey when I set out for the Woolton Village Fete. I was feeling a bit dry in the mouth from the previous night's carousing and as I walked, I lit a fag, blowing the smoke out me nose like James Dean.

The Fete was quite popular for the flower, cattle and baked goods contests, the local bands clamoring to make a name for themselves, and the best fish and chips this side of Birmingham. But I was going there for the birds, and I don't mean the winged variety. I'd purposely left early that morning knowing the bands would be there rehearsing and where there's bands, there's girls. That's probably what drew me to guitar-playing in the first place.

Soon enough I was standing inside a stiflingly hot tent, one of a dozen or so set-up in Strawberry Fields, and grooving to a band called The Quarry Men who was singing nonsense words to a Buddy Holly tune. As I hummed along with the band, a young bloke sidled up to me and said, "Cool hair, mate. I think those chicks over there are checking you out."

I glanced first at the stranger, whose chubby cheeks and doe eyes made him look pretty rather than handsome, and then over by the stage where a hot blond and a be-freckled redhead was staring in our direction.

I hastily looked down at me Sunday shoes, which could have used a little polish, truth be told, and asked the stranger, "Do you know those girls?"

"Well, I shagged the blond's older sister a few months ago but I've no idea who the redhead is." The bloke smiled in a way that banished any doubts about his veracity.

"I'm Paul," he said, "Paul McCartney."

"Um, I'm Trevor," I stammered, "Trevor Jones."

I was completely in awe of Paul, then, afterward and forever, like most everyone who ever met him. He had such a commanding presence, it was hard to believe he was the same age as me.

The Quarry Men had taken a break to smoke and tune their guitars, and by the sound of things, they was sorely lacking in technique. Paul walked right up to the stage, me following like a brainless sheep, and offered to help. The leader of the band, a big-beaked lad with his hair in a pompadour, said something sarcastic causing his band-mates to snigger, but Paul just grabbed a guitar and expertly brought it into harmony. Without thinking, I reached out for another guitar, an acoustic one, and quickly tuned it to Paul's.

Paul began playing a simple C/F chord progression, crooning, "Screw, screw me, do . . . you know what to do," then I jumped in with a little back-beat and sang, "I'll always do you, so ple-e-e-ease . . . screw me, do," and now The Quarry Men's boss joined in with his raw harmonica, raising the pulse of listener and musician alike, and the three of us nailed four increasingly-perverse stanzas then stopped on a pence, like we'd been playing together our whole lives. The entire joint was silent for several seconds after we'd finished.

Paul introduced himself to the pompadoured kid, a fellow by the name of John Lennon, and as the two of them conversed, they stared deep into each other's eyes, like lovers. I simply stood there, sweaty, red-faced and apparently invisible, until John said, "And who's your little doggie here?"

"Why this is Trevor Jones," said Paul, patting me on the back.

"Does he speak?" asked John, getting a few chuckles from his band-mates.

"Um . . . sure I do," I said, reaching for John's outstretched hand which he pulled away at the last moment, pretending to smoothen his hair. This got a big laugh and it would not be the last time John hurt me feelings for the amusement of others.

"I dig your playing, Sir Paul and Jonesey," -- John gave everyone nicknames, it seemed--"And someone's gotta teach us how to tune our guitars, so why don't we get together soon and jam?"

Paul and John worked out the particulars as if I wasn't there and then The Quarry Men went back to work. I was still trying to suss what had just gone down when the next thing I knew, Paul was introducing me to the blond and the redhead. The blond, whose name I didn't catch, was clearly smitten with Paul but the redhead, Ivy, was smiling right at me.

"Are you in a band?" she asked.

"Um, no . . . I'm a roofer," I said, speaking to my scuffed-up shoes. "But I hope to be in a band someday."

"Well you're certainly good enough," she said. Ivy smiled and her teeth were straight and white, a rarity around Liverpool in those days. She smiled with her sea-green eyes as well and her hip accidentally brushed up against mine.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur as Sir Paul, the Smitten Blond, Ivy and me traipsed about the Fete, stuffing our gobs, laughing at all the stupid cows -- both four-legged and two-legged -- and chattering away like magpies.

Paul and me talked a great deal about song construction, getting the beat down, adding the lyrics, and gussying up the leads. What to leave in and what to leave out. Not only did Paul appear genuinely interested in me musical ideas, he also seemed to like me, to actually enjoy me company.

At this point, was I feverishly imagining myself in a band with Paul and John, our fab band cranking on the BBC?

No, because Ivy was everywhere, I smelled her hair, her rosewater scent, her sweet and sour breath. I had to look through her to see other people. I knew the sun was intense because it sparkled in her hair, the fish and chips was smashing because she was enjoying them, and every couple we passed seemed to be in love -- 'cause Ivy was holding me hand. Sir Paul and the Smitten Blond were certainly in love, they were shamelessly sucking face and copping feels from one another.

And later that evening, it somehow got even better. The four of us was dancing to The Quarry Men, who were cooking with gas, and we were laughing so hard we spat on one another. I'd just finished a romantic waltz with Paul when John called us up on stage, handed us guitars and announced, "Ladies and Germans, I give you 'Roll Over, Beethoven' in the key of E."

We broke straight into it with a tight, driving beat, adding harmonies and trading leads like Chuck Berry'd never dreamed of. The tent shook like crazy, people was dancing like lunatics, and when I wasn't marveling at John, the driving force behind it all, or sharing grins of astonishment with Paul, I was looking out at all manner of lovely birds, smiling, screaming and waving at me, one little redhead in particular.

Of course the song had to end. But when it did, I knew that if I fell off a roof tomorrow, I had tasted heaven. And felt love.

*******

I swallowed a shot of John's tequila, shut me eyes tight and waited for the nausea to pass. This was our third jam together and the alcohol and perspiration was flowing freely.

"If you tune the open strings to an E chord," I said to John, doing just that, "then all you have to do is double-bar any fret, third, fifth, seventh, whatever, and you get that major chord. Plus you can fly up and down the neck, or back and forth, as fast as you want."

As I played a little double-bar, John downed a shot of tequila. Tequila neat was his signature drink, salt and lemon was for wankers.

Paul, on the other hand, fancied himself a Grand Marnier man. For him I demonstrated the "pull-off" technique, picking a note on the third fret of a string and then quickly pulling off it, so the open string twanged without being struck, two notes for the price of one. I pulled off on me B-string, then one string up and one down, a sudden deluge of notes, a small hurricane when I added a little reverb.

"That's so cool!" gushed Paul.

John said nothing but I knew he was impressed, by me sound if not me. Besides, John's idea of a compliment was "Not bad for a Nancy!" so I was fine with his silence.

Paul said, "Listen to this, mates," and started strumming a D-minor chord on his twelve-string. Then he sang:


"A love like ours,
could never die,
as long as I,
have you near me."

I joined in with some finger-picking on electric, John sang an understated harmony the second time around and the drummer, whoever he was, had the good sense to stay out of the way. When we finished there was a sacred silence, like the moment when the priest raises the trans-substantiated Host, not that I'd made many Masses lately, a sore point with me folks. Then the quiet was shattered by our chicks, clapping, squealing and rushing for me and me band-mates' laps like it were a game a musical chairs.

Ivy snuggled tight against me and the glow I felt from the sweet sounds we'd just made migrated south and settled in me privates. She gave me a swig of her beer -- "any available beer" was me signature drink -- and a long, sloppy kiss, her mouth tasting of beer, tobacco and bubble gum. Then she gazed at me with those gold-flecked, hazel eyes, a jungle cat sizing up its prey.

"You know, lads," said John, serious for once, "People would pay to listen to that song, maybe even part with a few quid for a recording of it, it was that grand."

Everyone nodded, whether they agreed or not. You did not cross John, not if you ever wished to be invited back. Unless, of course, you were Paul who was somehow exempt from John's hair-trigger wrath.

After a brief break, we got back to work, practicing the impromptu riff we'd come up with at the Fete. Armed with more family-friendly lyrics -- "Love, love me, do," -- we rocked that tune like we was bloody mind-readers, all of us tight except Beasley, on bass, who kept coming in late.

Predictably, he got reamed out by John afterward and then was foolish enough to sass him back. We knew right then we'd never see Beasley again.

But I didn't care a whit about Beasley, I was sweat-drenched, happy and horny, staring over at Ivy and stripping her bare with me eyes. Paul, never one to beat around the bush, was stripping his girl bare with his hands, her top went flying past me face and her bra landed on a high-hat. Suzette, or Suzanne, or whoever she was, just laughed as her clothes came off, she made no effort to cover her small pointy breasts.

We were jamming in Paul's parents' garage, a free-standing edifice shielded from the main house by dense stands of spruce. And despite the spider-webbed shelves, mildewed walls and the overpowering stench of petrol, it appeared that a small Roman orgy was about to break out. And although I wanted Ivy terribly, I did not wish to lose me virginity in front of strangers.

"C'mon, Ivy," I said to her, "Let's go."

Ivy seemed disappointed but she stood up, grabbed her bag and a couple of beers, and together we snuck out into the clear, moonlit but preposterously-hot night.

"Goodnight, Nancy!" yelled John as I closed the garage door behind me.

*******

We'd just passed an audition to compete in a local talent show -- sponsored by the BBC, no less -- and me, John and Paul retired to his garage to properly celebrate our smashing success. I was already on me third or fourth beer when I smelled an odd, bittersweet odor, like the smell of burning leaves in the fall.

John, grinning like the cat in Alice in Wonderland, handed me what looked like a badly-rolled cigarette and said, "Don't be such a poof, take a puff."

I did, I inhaled deeply and just about coughed me lungs out, causing Paul and John to crack up.

Paul said, "Try again, Trev, only nice and slow."

This time I kept the bitter smoke in and as I passed the weird fag back to John, I noticed an old pin-up calendar on the back wall of the garage. It featured a brazen slut lying on a couch in the altogether, a huge daddy long-legs now treading on her considerable bum. This was the funniest thing I'd ever seen and I laughed me arse off, me voice sounding strange to me own ears.

"Guys, we should write songs on this stuff!" I blurted.

"No shite, Sherlock," said John, sucking hard on the strange cigarette before passing it to Paul. "Where do you think I get me brilliant ideas from?"

Paul took a long slow drag then blew out a smoke ring and watched it rise to the ceiling. "Can you imagine the possibilities if we used electronics in our music?" he said.

I could, I'd actually paid attention in physics and math.

"You know," I said excitedly, "we could, like, record a tune multiple times, each time with a different voice or instrument, and then put all the recordings on a master, like a musical layer cake."

John rolled his eyes but Paul seemed intrigued.

"Theoretically, then, one person could play everything and sing all the parts," he said.

"That's right," I replied, taking a big puff and letting it stream out me nose. "And we could also use non-traditional instruments," I said with a shit-eating grin. "Like the oboe, or the harpsichord, or the French horn."

"Or those weird Indian instruments you hear at the curry houses," said Paul. "Now that would be something!"

"If we're only going to appeal to queers," said John, "why don't we just throw in some chirping crickets or barking dogs?"

I collapsed in hysterics at this, laughing so hard snot was coming out me nose. John was a certified bastard alright, but the man came up with the wildest, most amazing things.

Paul said, "How 'bout we call ourselves The Crooning Crickets, eh?"

"Or perhaps The Barking Beetles," I volunteered.

"To The Barking Beetles!" toasted John, and we clinked our glasses of beer, tequila and Grand Marnier, three drinks we should have known could never go together.

I was so wasted now, so out of me friggin' mind I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or scratch me nuts.

"I'm sorry, mates," I said, getting a bit teary-eyed, "but I really love you guys!"

John scowled and said, "Well I hate your fuckin' guts!"

Paul simply smiled and rolled another joint.

*******

Paul's parents had gone away on holiday, so now Paul, John and me was standing in the bathtub of his parents' john, trying to master three-part harmonies. I'd used the bathroom once before and noted the fantastic acoustics, probably due to the high, tiled walls. When I'd first suggested we sing in the tub, John questioned whether I wanted to screw him in the arse or just suck him off.

I replied I was hoping he'd blow me, but immediately regretted opening me big yap when neither John nor Paul laughed.

We started our practice with simple major chords, Paul taking the high road, me taking the low and John working the middle. Then we worked on minor chords, sevenths and augmented, John struggling a bit with his unrefined voice and Paul sounding just like an angel.

When we finally took a break, I put some Everly Brothers on the living-room phonograph to show John what was possible vocally. But for some reason this infuriated him and he snatched the record off the turntable and smashed it on the floor. Paul, who was usually the rational one, turned on me as if I'd done the damage.

Frankly, I felt hurt and betrayed but before I could say anything, the doorbell rang. It was Ivy and a few of the regulars who hung around our fledgling band, sleeping with Paul or John, even going down on them in public if asked. Total sluts as far as I was concerned.

My upset quickly faded as we poured drinks and passed around joints, chatting, laughing and telling dirty jokes. Ivy was wearing skin-tight jeans and as the alcohol and pot took effect, I found me self staring right at her crotch. She caught me gawking but instead of taking offense, she whispered, "Why don't we go upstairs?"

As we climbed the stairs, me a bit awkwardly due to me wicked erection, John called out, "Jonesey, don't do anything I wouldn't do!"

"Do you have to be such an asshole, Lennon?" I shot back, "Or do you choose to?"

Paul was the only one who laughed.

Upstairs, Ivy and me hurried into the first available bedroom and closed the door, Ivy shaking her head as I fumbled about trying to lock it. Then I held her close and kissed her neck, and her cheek, and ever so gently, her closed eyes. She moaned soft and low, and I thought I was going to bust me zipper.

Then Ivy pushed me onto the bed and lay atop me, kissing me hard and raking me hair with her fingernails. She began rocking against me, slow at first, then faster and more urgently.

I was hearing heavenly music at this point, me heart close to breaking at the beauty of it all. I wanted this girl so bad, and I was wondering just how to go about undressing her when disaster struck: I let go, I just couldn't help it.

One moment I was filled with a pleasure beyond words, and the next I was filled with shame, fiery passion giving way to cold, sticky dampness. We sat up on the side of the bed.

"I'm so sorry, Ivy," I said, "It's just that . . . I love you so much."

Ivy stared at the floor and said nothing.

"I'll make it up to you, babe, I promise," I said, squeezing her hand. "But right now I gotta go change me trousers. Listen, tomorrow night, after the talent show, you and me will do it right and proper, okay?"

"Okay," she said without much enthusiasm. We shared a chaste kiss and went downstairs, me continuing right out the front door to avoid John's scrutiny and inevitable commentary.

As I trudged home alone, I cursed me self and me sex, and felt the Man in the Moon starin' down at me with his cold, dark eyes and pock-marked cheeks.

*******

The next morning found me in fine fettle as I devoured a huge plate of bangers and mash. I was practically delirious over the prospect of us winning the talent contest -- and what it would mean to me musical career -- and even more excited about making love to Ivy afterward. I was squirming in me seat just thinking about it.

Me old man was going on and on about something -- me crappy work habits or maybe me "girly hair" as he called it -- but all I noticed was his lips moving. 'Cause right now the morning sun was shining bright, just for me, and the birds was chirping me name.

The phone rang and I heard me Mum pick it up.

"It's fer you," she said, standing in the doorway. "It's that McCartney chap."

Paul was very brusque on the phone, he wanted me to come right over and just like that, he hung up. I wondered what was up, perhaps he was feeling the pressure of our first real gig and wanted to rehearse a little more? Change things up a bit, who knows?

I told me Dad I'd be late for work, him making the obligatory face, kissed me Mum on the cheek, and strolled out into the torrid early morn. It looked like another scorcher but I was too cool to care.

Half an hour later, I let meself into Paul's house -- his folks was still away in Brighton -- and from the look of things, the revelry had continued long after I left last night. There were dirty glasses and overflowing ashtrays everywhere, and a pair of pink panties hung from the dining room chandelier. I found Paul sitting on a sofa in the game room, looking pale and somber, perhaps a trifle hungover.

"Sit down, Trev," he said.

I did.

"We found somebody, Trev, an amazingly talented singer and guitarist. And he's real easy to work with," said Paul, looking out the window as he spoke.

"Great!" I said, "The more the merrier. Can you imagine the three-part guitar runs, using different time signatures and tunings? When one guy's doing arpeggios, the other's -- "

"We don't need three guitars," Paul interjected.

Confused, I started to ask a question . . . but then I understood. It was all quite clear, really.

Suddenly the door to the guest bedroom creaked open and John strolled out, naked as a jaybird and scratching himself. He glanced at me, yawned, and padded down the hallway to the john.

"So that's it," I said, practically whispering.

"Yep," said Paul, "that's it. Sorry, mate."

Now I would have bet you a million pounds that I could not possibly feel worse than I did at that very moment. But that's a bet I would have lost.

I heard a cough from the direction of the bedroom and looked up to see Ivy standing in the doorway, wearing only a pink bra and the gold-heart necklace I'd given her.

"Hey, Trev," she said evenly, as if her sex was not on display for the whole world to see.

I opened me mouth but no words came out, so I shut it. This was a nightmare of the highest order, a "bad trip" as they say, and I knew then that a vast tidal wave of unspeakable pain was surely heading me way. But right then, thank God, I was numb.

John returned and saw what was going down.

"Don't be angry, Jonesey," he said with a smile. "You see, the birds belong to the band." He walked over to Ivy and kissed her on the head. "But you can visit any time you like," he said before disappearing into the bedroom.

Ivy shrugged, said, "See ya, Trev," and followed John inside.

I looked to Paul for comfort but he was staring intently at something in the backyard, a squirrel perhaps or possibly a cloud in the shape of a snowman. It occurred to me then how small in stature he and Lennon were, how puny they seemed without a guitar in their hands.

I, on the other hand, was close to six-foot and strong as an ox from hauling bales of shingles up two-story ladders, six days a week during the worst heat-wave in recent history. I could have easily punched Paul into a bloody pulp, beaten John to within an inch of his life, and still had plenty left to slap Ivy's face -- hard.

But it wouldn't have changed a thing.

So I let me self out and staggered home, brushing away hot, bitter tears as I went.

*******

I never saw John, Paul or Ivy again, at least not in person. I made no attempt to contact John or Paul and they were content to return the favor. I did receive three or four letters from Ivy but threw them in the trash, unopened.

I cut me hair, sold me guitar and amplifier, and after apologizing to me folks for being such an ingrate, went partners with me Dad.

I got up for six-o'clock Mass every morning, tended me tomatoes and squash after work, and read The Complete Works of Charles Dickens every night before bed. I suppose to those around me I seemed fine.

But inside I was a boiling cauldron of toxic emotions: anger, lust, shame and regret. And hurt like I'd never known or imagined. God knows I tried to be brave. But the memories of that summer had sharp, lupine teeth that bit and left scars, and when I couldn't take it any more, I drank Jameson's straight from the bottle.

It's a wonder I didn't fall -- or jump -- off a roof.

It took quite a long while but eventually me life was good again. Not great, but good. And the rest of it you've already heard.

Ah-h-h, look at the time! It was so kind of you to listen to an old man rambling on his birthday. No, don't say it! When I was a lad, a sixty-four-year-old was close to death by me reckoning and could be counted on for some sad, saccharine tale of his youth. So you've performed a Penance of sorts by listening to me, maybe even saved yourself a few weeks in Purgatory.

Can I pour you a brandy?

Brandy was George Harrison's signature drink, I believe.

Article © Pete McArdle. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-02-10
Image(s) are public domain.
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