I was driving along a deserted Kentucky highway late at night coming home from a gig. I hadn't played well at the show. It was in a style I wasn't familiar with, and every time I felt like I was hitting a groove, I'd get caught in a tricky section and stumble. My confidence just wasn't where it needed to be from the very beginning, and each mistake reinforced the nuanced emotion I'd feeling from the start: I suck.
The area I was driving through was so remote that I couldn't even find a clear station on the radio, and streaming music was out of the question. I kept twisting the dials through shades of white noise until I found a scratchy NPR station playing early Beatles music. They were airing a documentary about the group's early years, and we're interviewing Paul McCartney.
The interviewer scratched out in a thick London accent "we have with us today a special recording that we made of the group playing on the BBC back in the early days. Not even Paul has heard it before this moment". He dropped the record needle, and the signature rambles of the Beatles' early work came tumbling out. As the recording ended, you could hear Paul lean back in his chair. " I was only 18 when we made that. Wow." A short pause followed, then Paul did something I've never heard him do before in an interview. He added "you know we were really great, right?"
There's a reason I've been a fan of Paul McCartney for years, and this moment sums it all up in a ten second blurb. Paul is one of the rare people on earth that's put in enough time to become a genius, and is humble enough to admit it without arrogance. He has the gift of sight- he can see that he struggles with areas, and he also admits that he is amazing in other places. He works hard enough to be amazing at music.
Paul is not perfect, but I envy him in this area. I identify more with the darker John Lennon than sunny Paul. I beat myself up after bad performances, and I fight to keep my emotions at bay. Perhaps that's why I admire Paul McCartney so much- he's the kind of musician I want to become: he's understood that it's okay to celebrate accomplishments, while still realizing you haven't yet gotten to where you'd like to be musically.
There's a valuable lesson in that scratchy message I heard in the foothills of Kentucky. Yes, admit your mistakes. But when you've been amazing, make sure you celebrate it with humility.