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It was forty years ago today...

In the autumn of 1983 I was fourteen. That summer, we went on holiday with my family in the South of Italy, something unusual for us. Some sea followed seven fantastic years on the mountain, a place I’ll never forget with all of its green, cows, dogs, cats and endless football matches, often played uphill (or downhill, depending on which team you were playing for!).

From 1976 to 1982 we spent two months there each year with my brother. The first month, July, we were there with our grandparents, while on the second, August, our parents joined us. And the biggest moment was waiting for my father’s car to appear that very morning when they were supposed to arrive. We only knew that they were going to pop up around lunchtime; so, we put ourselves on a big balcony at the top of the house, to have the best view of the cars approaching. Every car that wasn’t our father’s car left us in a delusionary state. But when they appeared, boy, that’s something you cannot get over. But that’s for another post.

The summer of 1983 was special in many ways. That place on the sea was so far away, and it took almost one day to get there. We didn’t like it at all, and my parents were even thinking of going away and getting somewhere else. But there were some friends who had suggested the place, and my father didn’t want to displease them. So, we stayed. Music was starting to become important for me, and if I have to tell one song that reminds me that very summer it would indubitably be “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. It was everywhere.

I had just finished my middle school and I would have launched myself into the classical high school in September. It was an old institute and building, founded in 1911 (and yes, it reminds me a lot of McCartney’s experience at the Liverpool Institute), that was famous for being the most prestigious (and difficult) in town and it formed generations of students from Milan’s upper middle class over the decades: lawyers, executives, doctors.

I was a parvenue there, since my family had definitely humble origins. So, I was opening a new path not only for me but also for my family. I felt the responsibility of being the first to study in such an important place. The first day, when I got there to know which classroom I was assigned to, I was shaking.

Back to music. I was a Michael Jackson’s fan. Thriller’s songs were so energetic, and I fell in love with that music, although I don’t remember having the LP at that time. When the video of “Thriller” was presented on TV, that was huge! We were talking about him (and other artists) with my schoolmates every day. Someone mentioned a new single, “Say Say Say” – maybe I heard it on television, maybe it was a friend – and I immediately asked my mum to buy it. Because of Michael Jackson.

Should have been mid-November 1983 or so. One day my mum came back from work with a record. It was Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney. I opened it up, trying to understand more about Jackson’s presence. I noticed there were two songs co-written by him. To sum it up: I was disappointed!

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I’ve asked for a Michael Jackson record and now I had a Paul McCartney one! Sure, I knew who Paul McCartney was. I knew “Ebony and Ivory”. I remembered “Goodnight Tonight” and “Coming Up” (although it took some time to associate these other two to Paul). I knew The Beatles. In my mind, that was the music of my parents. Another generation. It was hard to admit I liked Paul McCartney. I resisted for a while. Not too much. We can say whatever we want about Pipes of Peace, but for a boy like me, being exposed to this amount of melody was something unique. It seemed to me that something has clicked inside of me.

That record was the backdrop of those difficult first months at the institute. At the end of the first four-month period, I was in dire straits. I was poor on 9 subjects out of 12. All of my schoolmates with the same results after that period, changed institute (preferring a safer harbor, handsomely paid), changed type of school or failed to pass the year.

I was thinking that a part of the problem, in my case, was that I spent too much time listening to Paul’s music (and probably also my parents were thinking the same). I resisted. I never thought about changing institute or about any other solution. At the end of the year, I passed. I had filled all of my gaps. And Pipes of Peace was still on heavy rotation on my stereo system in June 1984.

Thanks Paul. Thanks mum and dad. And thanks that 14-old little boy who believed it was possible to succeed and who understood very early that Paul McCartney and his music could not be taken out of his life anymore.

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