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Because I Almost Killed Paul McCartney with Flaming Pie

by Shawn Rubenfeld

When I would tell my father that “I’m not the oldest, I’m not the youngest, I’m not Mr. U.S. Government, and I’m not the only girl,” he would only shrug and say, “You know what, you’re right.” But after almost killing Paul McCartney with Flaming Pie I finally achieved the status of Alpha-Beatles fan. And that’s something that none of the others can claim.

It goes like this: At sixteen I was lucky enough to score tickets, second-row center, to see Macca and his band at Madison Square Garden. Already nearing Alpha status — you want proof? Fine. At fifteen I edited and published a Beatles fanzine which had international distribution and a short-term deal with Tower Records (an aside: Tower Records filed for bankruptcy two weeks after said deal was complete). I needed just one lucky break to propel me over the hump of Betas and into the ranks of “I have a strand of John’s hair, circa 1971” Alphas. Of course, I was Alpha enough to know that after his second and final encore, Paul signed albums people threw on stage, and quickly calculated that from my seat in the second row, I would have no problem throwing an album on stage, thus getting it signed, and thus obtaining Alpha status — Madison Square Garden, second-row center, tossing the album with subtle grace, Paul strolling over, swiping a P and then an M, and tossing it back. It was the second-best thing to exchanging fluid with the guy.

Of course, I didn’t want to take any chances, so I did two things: 1) I practiced throwing albums for an entire week — outside, on my front lawn (my mother’s stuff, of course) — to the chorus of insults from two of my brothers. You’re wasting your time, Mr. U.S. Government said. You’re embarrassing me, the youngest said. But I didn’t care. No. I kept working, experimenting with variation. The Frisbee toss. The underhand wave. The nunchuck. With the album itself — weighted with English essays or Math exams, or unweighted, with just the cardboard. My throws became so calculated and mechanical that I was tossing albums in my sleep. It was my version of counting sheep. Throwing, I decided, would be easy. 2) I brought backup. Not in case I missed the stage. In case I was robbed at gunpoint somewhere between Penn Station and Madison Square Garden — in which event I’d convince said robber to walk off with only one of the two albums, obviously, and that would be that.

Anyway, the show was great, as expected, and at the end of it, I stood on my seat and waved my arms frantically (as a middle child, this, too, was something I had grown accustomed to). I was holding up my album of choice, Tug of War, 1982 — because I figured having a somewhat rare cut would give me an advantage over the other near-Alphas, who, as expected, were holding the likes of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road — and sure enough, Macca walked right to the edge of the stage and motioned me to throw. Me! He motioned me. How many of my siblings could say that? I took a deep breath and wound up, just like I had practiced: a gentle Frisbee toss, released at exactly thirty degrees.

Maybe it was the collective jealousy of my three brothers and one sister (the nicknames: “middle finger,” “hole in the wall.” My father telling me over and over again to ignore them) but the exact second the album was landing in Paul’s hands a gush of wind came down from the rafters and catapulted it between the first row and the stage. Paul shrugged and moved to the other end of the platform. The moron next to me, an obvious Beta, patted my back and said: Gee, that stinks. You think you’ll get it back?

But of course, the backup! My chest like the inside of Pete Best’s drum kit, I jumped off the seat and grabbed the second album. 1997’s Flaming Pie. Back on the seat, I jumped and waved and screamed and did everything I could for Paul’s attention, using every single trick I used on my parents growing up, every single thing I knew building to this very moment. Paul was at the far end of the stage now, signing someone else’s copy of Tug of War — and it looked like he was finishing up, like he was giving his final waves, like my chance was gone.

But no, I wouldn’t blow it. I wound up and threw Flaming Pie as hard as I’ve ever thrown anything in my life. The force of the thing caused my entire body to recoil, nearly tossing me off the seat. Paul was turned the other way, waving to people at the end of the stage — and the album, a sharp cardboard blade of his most average solo work was heading right for him, full speed, moving so fast that surely it would take his head off, surely it would decapitate him, right there, Madison Square Garden. I saw it all in slow-motion: the album spinning, Wix, one of Paul’s bandmates, throwing him to the ground, the collective gasp of Madison Square Garden. I took a deep breath and stepped off the seat. Seconds later, security ushered Paul from the stage and album throwing was banned for the rest of the tour.

When I went home that night, I perused the regular websites checking for news (thankfully this was the era before YouTube and camera phones, and all A/V equipment was forbidden). And sure enough, I found entire threads of people discussing the show. Things like: Yeah, Paul and the band were great as usual but some douchebag nearly took his head off with an album. Threads and threads of this stuff. At first, I was humiliated. The last thing I could do was let my brothers and sister find out. It would be worse than the Tower Records fiasco. Then, when thinking about the story a few days later, I realized what it actually meant. I was the guy who almost killed Paul McCartney with an LP. I was part of Beatles lore, of Beatles history — which is even more Alpha than getting the album signed. It wasn’t pretty, no, but I made it. I was an Alpha-Beatles fan — an Alpha-Beatles fan so Alpha that I almost killed Paul McCartney with an LP, which is better than being the oldest or youngest, it’s better than being Mr. U.S. Government or the only girl. Not even my father could deny that.

Shawn Rubenfeld has work in 580 Split, gravel, SmokeLong Quarterly, theNewerYork, and The Westchester Review, among others. A native New Yorker, he is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Idaho, where he teaches courses on rhetoric and creative writing, and served as Managing Editor of the literary journal Fugue. He is working on a novel.

Lead image: “Vinyl” (via Flickr user Anders Printz)