Sunshine on a rainy New York weekend

Tony Perri, award winning documentary School of Thought DVD producer, describes his personal experience of the Paul McCartney concert “Change Begins Within”

There’s a steady rain falling in New York City this morning.  My heavy video camera bag is slung over my shoulder and a black baseball cap is pulled down hard on my head.  I walk quickly and with purpose.  Taxicabs slosh past me, my socks are getting wet, and I’m smiling from ear to ear.

By the grace of a Priceline gamble, I ended up at a 3-star hotel just one block from Radio City Music Hall where the likes of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and a cast of A-list celebrities were now gathering for a press conference followed by an historic benefit concert for the David Lynch Foundation the next evening.

From under a soaked brim I see the famous red-lettered lights of the iconic Radio City Music Hall logo pierce the steamy mid-town air.  I think of the school field trips I took here as a kid.  Growing up just 20-minutes from Manhattan has its cultural advantages.  But I never dreamed I would be coming back to this venue to not only see a Beatles reunion - but also watch 15 scenes from my new documentary film, School of Thought, on the big screens both at the press conference and during the concert with Sir Paul!

I had met Paul McCartney once before.  He was in Berkeley for a concert and I was a local TV reporter.  That was a press event I will never forget.  The reporters rushed the podium when the presser ended to get an autograph from Paul.  I’ve never seen that happen before or since. But I think I may have left a good impression with McCartney.  Every question asked of him was geared toward the Beatles or Paul himself.  I asked him about his wife Linda’s new frozen vegetarian food line.  His eyes lit up and he talked for ten minutes about her.  Linda was way ahead of her time and Paul truly loved her.

David Lynch came into my life when I was interviewing him for another documentary called Serotonin Rising.  That film is about scientific research which proves that when you do a good deed for someone your body’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals rise up and you strengthen your immune system.  The same wonderful thing happens to the recipient of the kind act, and if there is an observer of the good deed, their serotonin levels increase and they also improve their immune system.

The interview with David was happening in Fairfield, Iowa during the David Lynch Weekend, an event organized by the students at Maharishi University in honor of David and his mission to bring Transcendental Meditation to school children around the world.   

While in Fairfield I took a tour of the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment with the amazing Molly Cutter.  I didn’t know it at the time but Molly would be instrumental in the making of School of Thought, and would become its Associate Producer.  She introduced me to students, took me through classrooms and showed me around town. Well, that was it - I was totally blown away by the students, teachers and residents.  I told Molly right then that I was coming back to make a documentary about her school and I’m going to call it School of Thought.  One year later, the film was done with the rare occurrence of keeping it’s working title.  Serotonin Rising is still on the back-burner.

My smile turns to a frown when I see the throng of media gathering at the press entrance on 6th Avenue.  I want a good spot on the first video platform to get close-ups of Paul and Ringo together again.  My plan is to film the press conference and add it as a “Bonus Feature” on a special edition School of Thought DVD.  With the huge number of reporters waiting I would be lucky to get any spot at all.  The rain began to lessen but so did my hopes of gaining access...And that’s when the magic began to happen.  I feel a slight tap on my shoulder and turn around to see a happy Ken Chawkin, from the David Lynch Foundation.  He pulls me aside and says, “Come with me.”

I enter the ornate room set aside for the press conference.   People are rushing about and the media is no where in sight.  I’m the first journalist in!  I make a beeline for the valuable center platform closest to the stage, set-up my tripod and camera, and about 20-minutes later watch hundreds of press enter and fill every available space.

Everyone wants the shot of Paul and Ringo together.  We’re not disappointed.  The two ex-Beatles joke it up as if it’s 1964.  They hug each other and pose for pictures with David.  I film every moment of the event, even the video screens when they show some of the School of Thought clips.  David reminds the crowd why all the celebrities are there and the New York media eat it up - and the concert is still a day away.

It’s still cloudy on the morning of the show when I make my way over to Radio City.  My plan is to see if my backstage pass will get me in to the rehearsal.  It does.  There’s only a handful of people in the massive auditorium as Sheryl Crow, Eddie Vedder, Donovan, Paul Horn and others rehearse.  The security teams make everyone sit in the last few rows so we all have this sea of empty red velvet seat leading up to the stage.

When Paul McCartney appears there’s a small smattering of applause from the twenty or so lucky people in the back rows.  Paul acknowledges our elite group and rips through some classic tunes including “Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna” and “Let It Be.”  Then it happens.  Ringo struts out to join Paul.  The two hug and I think I see Paul give Ringo a peck on the cheek!  This feels like a dream.

The two rock legends rehearse “With A Little Help from My Friends.” They stand close to each other at the one microphone with Paul playing his bass.  They’re having fun, giving each other looks and genuinely enjoying this historic moment.  I spy an empty drum set and hope Ringo makes a go for it.  Paul asks for all the stars to come out on stage and Ringo makes his way to the drums.  This is going to be good.

The entire group joins in on “I Saw Her Standing There.”  Paul is singing, and Ringo is banging away and bobbing his head, just like the good old days.  I think of George Harrison and John Lennon.  This is not a true Beatles reunion but for David Lynch to bring together the two surviving Liverpool boys to help raise money to bring TM to 1-million at-risk kids, well, that’s a reunion capable of making real change.  George and John would like that.

It’s 30-minutes to show time and the Big Apple skies are clearing.  I decide to wander over to the backstage door and I run right into Jerry Seinfeld.  We enter the building together as the autograph seekers shout out his name.  I was armed with twenty School of Thought DVDs.  I wanted each of the performers to have one in the hopes that it would inspire them to do even more to help bring meditation into schools.

The elevator arrives and we ride it one floor up in complete silence. It’s only now that I think of all the funny lines I could have said to Jerry in that confined space.  I am so lame, but still bold.  As we walk the narrow backstage hallway I mustered up enough courage to tell Jerry that clips of my film are to be shown that night and I would love for him to have a DVD of the movie.  He could not have been nicer.  With children of his own and a meditator of 33 years, I knew he would enjoy my documentary on the amazing Maharishi Schools.  Seinfeld gratefully accepted the DVD and we both walked away happy.  I’m sure he still thinks I’m a Long Island punk.  But so is he.

I decide to make my way back to the elevator but my path is blocked by two beefy security guards and a small woman in a white coat between them.  The woman smiles up at me and my eyes widen when I see it’s Yoko Ono.  Maybe it was the high of just meeting Jerry because I start talking a mile a minute as I tell her how John inspired me and how his music helped me to make this movie.  She is happy to accept a DVD and I hand it to one of the big guys who tucks it into his trench coat.  He’s smiling at me.

I watch the concert from Row A in the orchestra section, fantastic! The performers rock the house, Jerry kills, Howard Stern gets sincere for a full ten-minutes telling the crowd how Transcendental Meditation saved his mother’s life and the scenes from School of Thought shine brightly on the giant video screens.

My movie is on the same stage as Paul and Ringo!  At this moment in time, all is right with the world - and with the positive messages and music echoing from the halls of Radio City, the world can only get better.

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School of Thought DVD documentary is now available for sale at Maharishi School. 641-472-9400 X #5701