But Paul Is My Favorite Beatle

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Michael Gerber

Publisher at The American Bystander
is Blogmom of Hey Dullblog. His novels and parodies have sold 1.25 million copies in 25 languages. He lives in Santa Monica, CA, and runs The American Bystander all-star print humor magazine.
Michael Gerber
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As I’ve written, John Lennon was my favorite Beatle growing up—for all the reasons we love John: his intelligence and wit, his directness, his unique gifts with words and music, his sense of larger purpose in the world and ability to inspire. Plus, I felt that as a young creative person in the middle of nowhere trying to make a black-and-white life turn into glorious Technicolor, John Lennon had specific things to teach me. Plus, his difficult beginnings were similar in some ways to my own, and so we shared that fierce desperation to make it, no matter what. Happy people don’t aim for the “Toppermost of the Poppermost,” and normal people don’t think they just might be able to get there.

Beatle Paul in a Stones t-shirt
It’s wash day for Paul.

So I came by my John-love honestly, and for the first decade or so of my fandom, he was my guy. But starting in my thirties, that began to change. Now, as a middle-aged creative person, facing middle-aged creative person problems—professional ones like how to stay fresh and enthused and how to mature gracefully in an artistic sense, as well as personal ones like family and aging, death and dying—the Beatle I look to most regularly is Paul. He’s the one with the most to teach me now. John Lennon can show you how to become, but Paul McCartney’s a much better guide on for how to be.

Oh sure, George has his appeal, when I’m fed up and considering a mountaintop or a monastery. But George, like his main Beatle pal John, was a fundamentally unquiet fellow. He was, first of all, excessive; with George, as with John, it was either orgies or celibacy. He had competing drives, and couldn’t resist either. I think George was probably getting close to resolving this conflict (age gives as it takes away), but there’s still a fundamental dissatisfaction there—a wishing that things were better, different, more than they are. I get no such sense from Paul McCartney; I never have.

Think of it: The world gave four men—boys, really—everything they could ever dream of. Two of them took those gifts and were content, and have lived to ripe old ages. Two were never content—all they got, seemed to stoke more wanting—and died young. 58 is young in my book; it’s only eight years away, the span from 1962 to 1970.

It’s not just that at 50 I’m older than John ever was, and rapidly approaching George’s Launch Date, too; it’s also that Paul seems to have been uncommonly successful at navigating the stuff that so few rockstars can pull off. He’s continued to work without becoming an oldies act (sorry Ritchie), paid his taxes, never lost his money, and never shows up drunk, bandana askew, in some strip club down by LAX. With a few hiccups aside, Paul’s family life seems to be pretty good, too—especially when judged against others in music and showbiz.

Go read Sticky Fingers and tell me who’s life you’d prefer, Jann Wenner’s or Paul McCartney’s. Paul’s a control freak? Paul’s materialistic? There’s more perfidy on every page of that bio than all the supposed dirt we have on Paul. And Wenner, like his pal Lennon, was living a lie for most of his adulthood, just so he could stay in the good graces of the public. Not so with Paul, and that’s why the cool kids hated him. He didn’t have to wreck himself to be famous, nor did he let being famous wreck him.

The very things that the Rolling Stone crowd castigated Paul for—his “uncoolness”—are the things that, in the end, make for a happy life. Stability; focus on work and family; an ability to relate to people of different ages and stages; pleasure in the little things like (famously) riding a bus. Rock and roll in the Sixties was so often about breaking away from the family, doing your own thing, remaking the world in one’s own image. That’s why Lennon is such powerful cultural shorthand for that era, and Paul isn’t. Lennon, especially in full-beard guru phase, evokes all those things so powerfully. Paul, at that time as now, evokes Paul.

This is perhaps why we talk less on Dullblog about Paul than we do about John. John Lennon is a leaping-off point to lots of stuff—that’s how he lived, and that’s how he liked it; John wanted you to think about “peace” so you wouldn’t look too closely at him. And the contemporary press was happy to oblige, because John Lennon was a rolling controversy machine. Then all that good copy was stopped in the cruelest, saddest, suddenest way; you could fill an entire blog on John’s “what might have been.” Whereas writing about Paul is like writing about the MacIntosh computer. There is only what is; there is only what happened. Yes, it changed the world; yes, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now without it; but a successful is, is inherently less dramatic, less interesting, than a tragic might’ve been.

“What would Paul McCartney do?” At 12, when I thought about how best to be a person, I would frequently look to John Lennon. Now, nearly forty years later, I look to Paul. I suspect I’m not alone in this, which is why I took the time to post.

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  1. Avatar Tasmin wrote:

    I loved this, Michael.

    One comment you made about Paul in your “John Was My Favorite Beatle” piece, stood out to me.
    “But I’d argue that part of why a certain type person loves Paul best is precisely because he is stable.”
    I think that is true. At least for myself.

    My childhood was definitely unstable. Consequently, I have made choices in my adult life to make things as stable, and calm as possible. So, subconsciously, I may have chosen Paul as my favorite, because he projected warmth, stability, openness. I say subconsciously, because as a teen, I wasn’t self aware enough to realize that.
    I also was/am a people pleaser, like Paul, so that may be another reason I chose him. But again, that’s retrospective.

    I love Paul for all the reasons you stated so well, but also because Paul loves to make music, and to make his fans happy with his music. I’ve seen him 3 times, and it is so apparent how much he loves performing. He is in his element, and exudes joy. He is energetic, and gives 100% to his performances. That does not go unnoticed, or unappreciated, by his fans.

    So, I love Paul because he is stable, a good father, husband, and person, but also because he is the ultimate music man.


    • @Tasmin, people who strike a chord in massive audiences are, I’m convinced, archetypes. There is something about that person that makes sense to millions of strangers. In addition to the music, what made The Beatles so much more powerful than their contemporaries was the fact that they had several powerful archetypes in the same group–and if you ask me, what made those people into archetypes was the alcoholic family matrix.
      According to what I just found on the internet, there are six typical roles. The Beatles, plus Brian Epstein, fit into five of them.
      John is the addict. “Addicts function and fulfill their responsibilities to varying degrees. For most, addiction progresses as the quantity and frequency of their drug or alcohol use increases. Drugs and alcohol become the primary way the addict copes with problems and uncomfortable feelings. Over time, addicts burn bridges and become isolated. Their lives revolve around alcohol and drugs – getting more, using, and recovering. They blame others for their problems, can be angry and critical, unpredictable, and don’t seem to care about how their actions affect others. One can also substitute other forms of addiction or dysfunction (sex addiction, gambling, unmanaged mental health problems) for drug or alcohol addiction and the dynamics are virtually the same.”
      Paul is the hero. “The hero is an overachiever, perfectionist, and extremely responsible. This child looks like he has it all together. He tries to bring esteem to the family through achieving and external validation. He’s hard working, serious, and wants to feel in control. Heroes put a lot of pressure on themselves, they’re highly stressed, often workaholics with Type A personalities.” Sound like Paul?
      George is the lost child. “The lost child is largely invisible in the family. He doesn’t get or seek attention. He’s quiet, isolated, and spends most of his time on solitary activities (such as TV, internet, books) and may escape into a fantasy world. He copes by flying under the radar.” Sound like The Quiet One?
      Ringo is the clown. “The mascot tries to reduce family stress through humor, goofing around, or getting into trouble. He’s seen as immature or a class clown. Humor also becomes his defense against feeling pain and fear.” Ringo, the clown, was the one all of them could always talk to.
      And Brian is the enabler. “The enabler tries to reduce harm and danger through enabling behaviors such as making excuses or doing things for the addict. The enabler denies that alcohol/drugs are a problem. The enabler tries to control things and hold the family together through deep denial and avoidance of problems. The enabler goes to extremes to ensure that family secrets are kept and that the rest of world views them as a happy, well-functioning family. The enabler is often the addict’s spouse, but it can also be a child.”
      It’s very likely that all of these roles were practiced by each Beatle in his own family before the group came together. And this is what bonded them so tightly, much more tightly than normal. They called each other “brothers,” and in a very real sense they were. Brian saw The Beatles and, yes, he saw them as sexual objects, but he also saw that he could do a job for them, a job he craved to do.
      When John’s enabler Brian died, he felt a very real and understandable fear: who was going to clean up his messes? What would happen the next time he went and did something reckless or impulsive? John had to find another enabler–another fixer, another person to save him from consequences–and he eventually found one in Yoko. But Yoko wasn’t part of the family; the family threatened her. So John was caught between the person he felt he needed, and all these others who played roles. Painful for everyone.
      I’m also a people-pleaser, and people-pleasers often go into entertainment, which is pleasing people for money. There’s nothing wrong at all with these labels, or even these behaviors (within reason). Paul is a charming, wonderful, talented fellow who has probably been a hero since before he could talk. Then, when his mother died, it went into overdrive. It’s plausible that Jim was an addict, Mary was the enabler, Paul was the hero, and Mike was the scapegoat. When Mary died, the family system went kablooey, and Paul kicked all the hero stuff into another gear.
      This also fits the conflict between Jim and John — each wanted that hero.

  2. Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

    Michael, your explanation of what McCartney specifically has to offer those of us who are no longer young aligns with my own feelings on the subject. Paul is my Beatles co-pilot in part because his music deals with the sheer dailiness of life in a way that acknowledges darkness without succumbing to it.
    One of my favorite McCartney solo tracks is “Somedays,” because the verses articulate how our feelings about practically everything inevitably vary day to day, while the chorus reasserts the lasting value of love.

  3. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    I’ll always love McCartney because of his gift for melody.

    People have compared him to Mozart, but I think he’s more like the unschooled street musicians that guys like Mozart stole their melodies from. Folk musicians connecting directly to the people, while the classical boys stood in the back taking notes.

    I’ve probably said it here before, but when I hear a McCartney melody for the first time, it’s like I’ve known it my whole life (or in a previous life), but have forgotten it, and am now being reminded. His music makes perfect sense structurally. Unforced. Natural and flowing. I love his chord progressions. And I believe he is the most melodic bass player in Rock music. I often find myself humming along with his bass parts on Beatle songs and his solo stuff.

    I think he was the heart of the Beatles. (John the brain, George the soul, Ringo the body? Just spitballing here…)

  4. Avatar Water Falls wrote:

    I love this blog. So glad the community is back in action. Great discussion as usual.

  5. This sort of thing is why I love Paul: https://metro.co.uk/2019/08/20/sir-paul-mccartney-reveals-literal-penny-pinching-tip-make-guitar-picks-10601934/.

    There’s a ton of individualism and rebellion there, but with a quirky confidence that lets him stay under the radar and not make a target out of himself, needlessly. It’s that spirit as much as John’s iconoclasm that makes the Beatles.

  6. Avatar MG wrote:

    Great break down of their roles, can definitely see that in the family lives and the band.

    I’ve only seen Paul live once, it was a long time ago now, but like Tamsin, I remember being struck by just what a natural he was and what joy he exuded just in performing. It’s this huge stadium and yet still felt so warm and welcoming because he’s able to make such a connection with the audience. It’s very authentic.

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