After almost 60 years, Paul McCartney found almost 300 photos in his archive, which captured the dramatic transformation of The Beatles, brought about by their first American tour. You can now view the photos thanks to a book called Eyes of the Storm.
The photos were taken by McCartney in the pivotal year 1963-1964, i.e. the time when Beatlemania was born, which subsequently swept the whole world. (On March 22, 1963, The Beatles released their first album – Please Please Me. In May 1963, the album reached the top of the UK charts and remained there for an incredible 30 weeks.)
The first images were created during concert stops in Liverpool, London and Paris, where the band learned that they had become number one on the American charts for the first time. McCartney had previously identified this as a condition for The Beatles to go to the United States at all. From Paris, The Beatles continued on a successful tour of the USA: they played in New York, Washington and Miami.
“I thought of ‘Eye of the Storm’ in the singular because The Beatles found themselves in the very center of a storm of their own making. However, when I looked at the photos, I realized that they were more like the ‘eyes of the storm’ because it didn’t all happen in one moment; we’ve been at the center of the storm many times,” explains the title of McCartney’s book.
“Also, I caught a lot of eyeballs on people’s photos from that time. We felt like we were living in the middle of a crazy storm, a crazy whirlwind – we were touring, working pretty much non-stop and constantly being met with hordes of people wanting to take our pictures. And at the center of that storm were a lot of eyes and cameras.”
“Each picture evokes memories in me. I can try to determine where I took them and what we were doing in front of and behind the camera. The pictures of us and the photographers bring back memories of our first visit to New York and a trip to Central Park where the seasoned photographers shouted at us, ‘Hey Beatle, hey Beatle!’ And we turned to them and they took a picture. All these moments come alive again…”
“Photos stimulate my imagination. As if I could see everything that was going on around them. They bring a lot of stories and memories with them, and that’s one of the reasons why they are so precious to me,” adds McCartney.
During the years 1963 and 1964 they played over 200 big concerts. In Eye of the Storm, in addition to the photographic record, there are also two essays and an introduction by McCartney himself, who returns to the madness of Beatlemania, which was just beginning at the time. The American journalist Jill Lepore also gives her explanation of the strange (and absolutely fundamental) period of world pop music.
According to her, McCartney’s Pentax camera was a way to cope with the fact that the band was constantly being sought after by other photographers. Lepore describes the Beatles as the first global band. She wore French hairstyles, then popular among German students, played music influenced by African-American culture as well as British pre-war music – and especially entered a world that was slowly being absorbed by globalization.
McCartney’s photographs, though amateurish, capture a seismic time well in every way. Just moments before the Beatles left for their American tour, President Kennedy was shot in the USA. Directly across the ocean, the musicians also became surprised witnesses of racial segregation, which they had not known until then. Since the troubles of the time, the Beatles then rested in sunny, colorful Miami, which McCartney describes as paradise.
In an interview with Britain’s BBC, Lepore explains that Eyes of the Storm provides a completely unique perspective on the otherwise well-documented history of the most famous band in the history of music. They look through the eyes of one of the musicians. They show things that McCartney had no intention of making public, kept to himself. He photographed what was dear to him, what he considered important. Whether it was the band drivers, or the director of the fan club, or his teammates in the few moments when they weren’t running from female fans, performing concerts, or witnessing a radically changing world.
Book: Paul McCartney – Eyes of the Storm
Published by: Nakladatelství Práh, 2023
Translation: Jitka Jelínková