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How Paul McCartney’s words of wisdom helped my family leave the USSR

How Paul McCartney’s words of wisdom helped my family leave the USSR

How Paul McCartney’s words of wisdom helped my family leave the USSR
December 15
11:00 2017

There was a little red record player in the corner of my bedroom. And though I loved playing stories of beloved 1980s Soviet children’s characters, it was my dad’s bootleg vinyls that were my favourite. I’d carefully slide the precious disc out of its case and gently drop the needle. A few crackles, and the room would flood with words I didn’t know the meaning of but melodies that drove me crazy. I danced around my brother’s desk repeating the only sounds I could keep up with – help, obla-di obla-da, yeah yeah yeah. My brother joined in under his breath, hunched over his drawings of newly discovered Disney characters.I left the Soviet children’s creatures behind in the echoing tunnel of my past. But the Beatles came with me – with us. They were additional family members. Dad may as well have been Paul. We said it often. He was just like him with those earnest brown eyes and a voice that shook a little at the end of a long note. I saw it in the black and white photographs of him and his friends playing guitars next to the Volga river. And even though my Australian friends have similar memorabilia of their parents from that era, there’s something different in mine. And I think it’s that mum, dad and other Soviet Beatles fans weren’t just impersonating the Beatles – they were copying Western kids impersonating the Beatles. They weren’t trying for fashion, but reaching towards freedom. Until the Beatles penetrated the Iron Curtain, they weren’t aware that’s what they wanted. And then they got braver, wielding guitars they’d bartered for rather than bought, and wearing bellbottom jeans their mothers had sewn a black-market Levis label onto.
We got braver too. In 1991, as the train rattled across the border to Hungary, we hummed the tune to Maxwell’s Silver Hammer to keep ourselves sane. And later in a refugee camp, mum would hum Golden Slumbers to get us to sleep. In line at the embassy she heard Paul’s voice whispering words of wisdom – and she believed it was Mother Mary who finally, safely got us to Australia. The Beatles didn’t just make up the soundtrack to our journey – they paved the way.

More than 20 years after that train ride, we stood at our plastic seats at AAMI stadium last week.

I was terrified for my parents – for mum’s fragile heart when she laid sight on Paul, for the inevitable crack that would shatter dad’s stoicism the second he heard the chords of And I love Her. I was terrified they’d feel that the 30,000 other fans who had decades ago owned the movement my parents had just barely managed to impersonate belonged there more than they did.

I saw dad discreetly wiping away a tear towards the end of Blackbird. He stood away from us, probably afraid to let us see the consuming emotion. But he cast a proud look our way when Paul told the story of playing at Red Square. A member of the Russian government – the same ones who had banned Paul’s music yet were the first to ensure a spot backstage – had come up to him and said, “You know, we learnt English through Beatles songs.”

Source: How Paul McCartney’s words of wisdom helped my family leave the USSR

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Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

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