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June 18, 2014

All My Loving by Beth Kaplan

all-my-lovingNine years ago today, I got married, and about ten years ago, when this date was selected, what first occurred to me was, “How cool! Paul McCartney’s birthday.” Because to me, June 18th has always been Paul McCartney’s birthday first, at least since I was a Beatles-obsessed 13 year old and organized a Paul McCartney Birthday Bash in my dorm room during our Grade 8 year-end trip to Ottawa. (It was not a wild bash. I recall jumping on a bed, and turning the volume all the way up on my Sony Sports Walkman so we could listen to The Beatles’ 1967-70 through the headphones.)

As I did to a lot of things, I came to The Beatles late, about 20-some years late. Being a Beatles-obsessed 13 year-old in 1992 was a curious thing. It involved feeling inordinate, impossible pain at John Lennon’s murder; trying to be a vegetarian because of Linda; scouring the TV guide every week in order to schedule tapings of Paul McCartney on Saturday Night Live or showings of John Lennon Imagine on Much Music. I even kept a scrapbook, comprising clippings of Paul McCartney’s son’s surfing mishap, various Beatles’ legal troubles, and a cut-out of the “Be My Yoko Ono” lyrics from my Barenaked Ladies’ “Gordon” cassette tape liner notes. I made Beatles posters in my Grade 8 art class–they weren’t very good. I bought Beatles’ biographies written by Geoffrey Giuliano and Hunter Davies. I built a Beatles shrine in my Design and Technology class, specially designed to store my cassette tapes and biographies. I was forbidden to talk about them at the dinner table. I listened to their music over and over (and learned to play their songs on the guitar). I remember listening to Hey Jude for the first time when I was about 11 years old, sitting in my backyard with a red battery-powered cassette player, and it was as though I’d discovered for the meaning of life. The meaning of my life. For a few years, it really was.

So I was eager to read Beth Kaplan’s memoir, All My Loving: Coming of Age With Paul McCartney in Paris. Kaplan was fortunate enough to fall in love with the Beatles at just the right time, on the cusp of her own adolescence and the Beatles’ fame. The memoir is based on her own diaries, scrapbooks and short stories (in which she fantasized about being Paul McCartney’s wife and/or [gasp!] his lover). In a fun and breezy fashion, she puts her reader in the mindset of a 13 year old girl who is as confused by the world as she is by her terrifying range of emotions, and who is also in thrall with The Beatles. Like many of her peers, her identity as a “Beatlemaniac” was one of her first acts of self-definition, a small rebellion against her conservative parents. Though they’re not so conservative–the book begins with young Beth ecstatic at the news that her parents are attending a Ban the Bomb demonstration, and therefore she is free to turn the radio dial and hear “She Loves You” for the very first time, and I love the way she describes her visceral reaction to the music, the way she’s transformed by it and so is the world around her.

WordCloud-originalKaplan outlines a complicated relationship with her parents, even more complicated than the average teenage love/hate, and while she alludes to her own parents’ experience (her father experiencing anti-semitism as a professor at Dalhousie University; or the time her mother reported of The Feminine Mystique, “I took one look at Betty Friedan and put the book down”) and she is indeed chronicling a cultural phenomenon, there is a lot in the book that is particular also. But the particularity is not always explained, instead the reader receiving the unfiltered thoughts of a solipsistic teen girl and all the contradictions that entails. (One of the many times I laughed out loud was when her list of “hates” included The Dave Clark Five and “intolerance.”) This approach makes sense in the grand scheme of the project, but it also leaves the reader with a lot of questions.

But then, the Beatles are the focus, as they were for 13 year old Beth, her parents’ own dramas firmly in the background. Or perhaps the Beatles were her escape? And Paul McCartney in particular, her chosen Beatle, the proxy by which she explores notions of love and lust and sex and longing. During the time she recounts in the memoir, she moves with her family to Paris for her father’s sabbatical year, and the Beatles are a consolation of her loneliness during this time, and also a bridge between her and her French classmates.

I was especially amused by her friend in France who had learned to speak English through Beatles lyrics, and so only spoke as such, expressing her gratitude with, “Thank you girl” and other such phrases. And it made me think about how those of us who learned about life through the Beatles are similarly equipped, not so literally, but still, to us, the world is all Strawberry Fields, A Day in the Life, Help and Penny Lane, etc. I knew these songs before I knew the world, is what I mean, and in a way, these songs are still my foundation, fundamental to my vocabulary. (Longing for love meant longing for someone to get high when they see me go by. My oh my). It is probable that Beatles songs have affected the shape of my brain.

1969-12marypaulI went to see Paul McCartney at Exhibition Stadium on June 6 1992 on his Live in the New World Tour. It still stands out as one of the most extraordinary days of my life, and I will never forget the excitement, but also the sadness at my realization that I was just one tiny person is a sea of people that night, that he couldn’t see me at all. That indeed, he’d been the subject of “All My Loving” (for I too was a Paul girl, even though he was not far away from being 64 at the time) but to him, I didn’t even exist. That all my loving was only a drop in the ocean… and it was heartbreaking. Such is the pain of being a 13 year old girl.

And even though she did it at the right time, a few decades before me, Beth Kaplan’s memoir brought the whole thing back. The roller coaster ride, the battles, and the unbelievable excitement of being on the edge of something huge–such confidence too that in just another year or two, surely we’re going to have the whole world figured out.

One thought on “All My Loving by Beth Kaplan”

  1. You must “meet” Kimmy Beach, and read her book “fake Paul.”

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