Sir George Martin crossed paths with me twice during my career in marketing, and both times he left his mark. I remember those two moments clearly as I reflect on the passing of the Fifth Beatle:
A Personal Encounter
I first met him in 2000 when I worked on the Accenture global marketing team. Someone had the presence of mind to book him to speak at one of those team-building meetings that features a blizzard of PowerPoint presentations and character-building exercises. He was a welcome sight. Drawing upon his career with the Beatles, he spoke about the collaborative nature of creativity and the give-and-take that must occur with any productive partnership. Certainly he was one who could speak with authority on those topics.
Afterward, he hung around and chatted with anyone who cared to linger. Of course, I took advantage of the opportunity. He patiently listened to me blather on about the Beatles (why is it that when you meet someone as famous as Sir George Martin, you can’t think of anything meaningful to say?). When I was done reciting my favorite Beatles songs, he did something I did not expect: he asked me about me. What did I do for a living? What inspired me? He noticed I was wearing a wedding ring, and so he asked me about my family. I mentioned how I wished my wife, Jan, could have joined me for the occasion. He replied, “I’m sorry you have to travel alone for work and that your wife cannot be here with you. Why don’t I sign something for both you and Jan?”
I still have that autograph.
Hosting Sir George
Years later, when I ran marketing for Razorfish, it was my job to plan the annual Client Summit, which was conceive to inspire clients and employees to celebrate the state of the art in digital marketing. I thought it would be a great idea for Sir George to speak at the 2008 Client Summit, held in New York — not just because of his musical legacy, which was patently obvious, but because of that gentle warmth and charisma he’d displayed years before. After negotiating with the agency that represented him, I landed him as our closing keynote.
At this point in his life, he was in his early 80s, and it was public knowledge that he was hard of hearing and a bit more fragile. More than once, I was asked by colleagues, “Do you think everyone will know who he is?” and “Has he been in the public eye recently?” which were polite ways of asking whether he was too old for our event.
Fortunately, my boss, Darin Brown, and our CEO, Clark Kokich, were not among those asking those questions. With their support, the moment happened.
His handlers were very protective of him. They gave me strict instructions on details such as where to position him onstage so that he could listen to the audience properly with his good ear. His team inspected every element of the room including the event A/V system. Their attention to detail was understandable because his presentation relied on audio and video, including the use of different versions of “Strawberry Fields” to demonstrate the evolution of the song.
When he took the stage, all of his elegance and warmth were immediately evident. He spoke fondly not only of his experiences as the world’s most famous producer but also of his love for his wife and children. He discussed his career producing classical music and comedy records long before the Beatles came along; later in his presentation, he demonstrated how he applied that background in shaping the sound of the Beatles.
For instance, he applied his classical music background often. He played the baroque piano solo on “In My Life,” and it was his idea to use strings in “Yesterday.” And, of course, he also famously corralled the orchestra that plays on “A Day in the Life.” He drew upon his work producing comedy albums in some unexpected ways, such as digging into his catalog of ambient crowd noises to create the audience laughter that occurs in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I learned a lesson that day: there is no such thing as a wasted moment when you do the things you love, and if you have vision and patience, you can apply your skills and passions in unexpected ways throughout your life. Little did Sir George Martin know it when he was making comedy and classical albums in the 1950s and early 1960s, but those experiences helped prepare him for the most fruitful musical collaboration in modern music history. (Similarly, little did I know it, but getting a journalism degree in college prepared me to become a blogger years later.)
But most of all, I remember that personal warmth and grace shining through. He spoke with obvious pride when he described the work of his son Giles on the Beatles Love remix for Cirque du Soleil. He ended his presentation by sharing a memory about learning of the death of a good friend and realizing how happy he was to be a husband and father during a time of loss.
Ironically, I could not enjoy his company personally as I had done at the Accenture meeting. I had an event to run, and a million demands to address seemingly every minute. As he was speaking, I was in the producer’s booth, making sure the sound and video elements went off without a hitch. For instance, before Martin came onstage, I had instructed the sound engineer at the Client Summit to program “Revolution” to play when Martin left the stage. But as Sir George closed with a tender, personal memory, I turned to the engineer and said, “We can’t play ‘Revolution.’ It’s too harsh. We need to change the song to “All You Need Is Love.”
The engineer gave me an “Are you freaking crazy?” look. “I can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t have the song programmed in the playlist, and I can’t start searching for a digital file while I’m managing the sound for his talk.”
“Here,” I said, waving a CD of Magical Mystery Tour in the air. “The song we need is Track 11 on this disc. Let me do it.” So I opened a compact disc tray, inserted the CD, and queued up “All You Need Is Love.”
“But I can’t test the volume while he’s speaking,” the poor engineer replied. “How do you know the song won’t skip?”
“It will work,” I replied. “Just turn the volume up high. Trust me.”
And so we swapped “All You Need Is Love.” Everyone in the control panel breathed a sigh of relief when the opening chords of the song played while Sir George left the stage. And by the way, no one ever asked me why I had chosen Sir George after he enchanted the audience with his journey.
I cannot add anything to his musical legacy beyond what you’ve probably read already. My lasting impression of George is of warmth and love — warmth to strangers in a conference room, and love for both his family and his music.