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NANCY CARR • Paul McCartney’s hour-long June 12 appearance on The Colbert Report was great fun — if you missed it, you can watch it all here. Colbert’s introduction was characteristically hilarious and pointed. McCartney plays so many instruments he’s “a one-man karoke bar without the weird videos,” and Colbert is hosting a “150-person Paul McCartney concert. So Oprah, you and your free cars can suck it.”
And the interview featured McCartney seeming looser and happier than he’s been in many others. Partly this had to be knowing Colbert was a fan who would throw softballs right over the plate, but partly it’s down to the vibe Colbert reliably establishes. He can make fun of himself, and invites his guests to lighten up similarly. When McCartney responded to Colbert’s question about why he recorded “Band on the Run” in Lagos with “it was the climate and disease,” it was pretty funny. And I loved the way he delivered the line “at times I was begrimed” when Colbert asked about the reception of “Ram” and early Wings efforts.
Predictably, there were no stunning revelations, though it was nice to hear McCartney attribute the Beatles’ consistent musical quality to the band’s “incredible democracy,” in which the endorsement of all band members was needed to include a song. And speaking of songs . . . . . why, oh why, given carte blance to do the songs he wanted from his entire catalog, did he go with “Hi, Hi, Hi” as one of six songs to do? I know he’s promoting the re-release of “Wings Over America,” but why not “Picasso’s Last Words” or “Bluebird”? Arghhh . . . .
Still, watching the episode, I felt we were getting as close to the “real Paul McCartney” as we were ever going to. The experience reminded me of this photo, taken by Linda McCartney, which is the single most revealing portrait of Paul.
This photo captures the way McCartney both courts the public’s eye and wants to retreat from it. It IS his public presentation: jokey and theatrical on the surface, defensive underneath. He’s happy to give an audience what it wants, but he’s going to be cagey about what he discloses. He’s basically at ease with being a performer, in a traditional rock-as-showbiz sense, as John Lennon wasn’t. And part of being a performer is never fully lowering that velvet jacket. Playing it safe in this way often gets McCartney labeled “insincere,” but I think it’s intelligently self-protective.
Lennon and McCartney, despite their many similarities, had opposite reactions to the pressures of performing and fame. In his 70s interviews John talked about how humiliating it had been to be one of the “Fab Four,” how he hated wearing suits, how horrible concert experiences had been. After the band’s break up he went to being “just John” with a vengeance: there was to be no separation between his public and private selves. He and Yoko were going to talk to reporters while lying in bed. Their private life would become the subject of his songs. “Yoko and me . . . that’s reality.” I’m not sure how far he acknowledged that this posture inevitably involved performance, since the public and private selves would never be identical. (Check out Michael’s post “Time-Lapse Photography” and its comment thread for more fascinating thoughts on this question, from multiple perspectives.)
I see “Double Fantasy” (the album and the surrounding interviews, which function as a whole performance) as his doubling down on the idea of making all his art a direct expression of a private self, an insistence that it is possible to live as a public figure without subterfuge. As such I find it both admirable and pretty terrifying. It’s terrifying because, as Michael Gerber has often pointed out on this blog, it’s finally impossible to live that out without burning up in the process.
Not so McCartney, of course. He’s maintained a separation between his public and private selves, and he sees disguise and indirection as all in good fun. Whether he’s listing a songwriting credit as “Bernard Webb,” presenting the Beatles as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or releasing music as part of the initially-mysterious entity The Fireman, he’s consistently playing with both revealing and concealing. I don’t think he’s really trying to fool us, because it’s too transparent. McCartney is always acknowledging what he’s doing as a performance. He’s showing us the jacket he’s pulling up.
Well said. You summed Paul up.
I watched the interview (online) but not the concert. I hope Paul sounded better singing than he did speaking – his voice seemed pretty roughed up. Nobody seemed to agree with me when I posted about the last Colbert-McCartney interview a couple years back. I thought this one was a lot less uncomfortable to watch, but Paul still seemed a bit irritable, or maybe just too guarded. The reference at the beginning to their previous encounter seemed to confirm my recollection of it; Colbert made a joke about his original “Who are the Beatles, exactly?” approach that I took as an acknowledgement that McCartney clearly hadn’t enjoyed playing along. (And Paul’s response to Colbert’s joke didn’t alter that impression.) Still, it was a good interview that went down some not-so-obvious byways and led to some pretty interesting responses from Paul. And yes, I loved the use of “begrimed.”
It seems to me the “jokey and theatrical” veneer that you identify so accurately, Nancy, is wearing with age. Or perhaps it’s the tour schedule that wears it down. But the defensiveness is more on the surface than it once was — I think he just doesn’t have the energy to keep up the cheery persona the way he once did.
@Nancy, this is a fantastic post. Really insightful.
He’s basically at ease with being a performer, in a traditional rock-as-showbiz sense, as John Lennon wasn’t. And part of being a performer is never fully lowering that velvet jacket.
And THIS is why the rock establishment cannot see McCartney for the genius he is. Lennon, yes, because he’s dead; Dylan, because he’s difficult; even Brian Wilson, because he’s damaged. But McCartney is always gonna be your Mom’s favorite Beatle, and because of the generational psychodrama the Boomers insist is at the center of rock, that’s an unforgivable sin. He’s a generational traitor–that’s what “granny music” means. That’s why John claimed Yoko influenced New Wave and got away with it, at the same time Paul was ACTUALLY MAKING NEW WAVE MUSIC.
It is a point of Boomer scripture that post-psychedelia 60s rock was fundamentally different–more honest, more personal, more important–than what had come before. Your listening to Jefferson Airplane was BETTER than your dad’s liking dixieland jazz, it was about destroying the old, flawed world and creating a new, better one.
Lennon played this game consummately well (and by the end believed it was utter malarkey). McCartney never played it, and never wanted to play it. People like Jann Wenner and the doyennes of rock criticism quite rightly saw this as McCartney subtly, passively, but nevertheless definitely calling bullshit. That’s a blood libel, and why they’ll never give him his due.
McCartney’s whole career is built on the idea that “Til There Was You” is just as good a song–and just as honest a type of communication–as any blurt of protest or supposed look into a musician’s soul. And his lasting popularity, in the face of generations’ worth of disdain from the rock press, is proof that he’s right, and Wenner, Christgau, Bangs, and all the hyperbolic fanboys that have followed are wrong. Not for themselves–rock certainly changed THEIR lives–but in what rock is, and has been able to accomplish, in the world outside of their heads.
Wenner’s lionizing of Lennon and backhanded treatment of McCartney is, in some sense, his own guilty conscience in the face of this knowledge. And the same goes for all the myriad cultural critics who pump out the “Paul’s a lightweight” meme. (Strangely, these same folks often characterize Yoko Ono as some sort of heavyweight, which is truly WTF-worthy, but that’s another comment.) Turns out that rock isn’t THAT powerful. Turns out that it’s for singing and dancing to and enjoying, not changing the world. The two-for-one that’s at the heart of the Sixties simply isn’t valid, and fifty years on, I think it’s pretty obvious that McCartney’s showbiz stance is fundamentally more accurate, and I’d argue, fundamentally more honest and less adolescent, than the alternative.
@Mollie, I think we should keep in mind that Paul’s 71. God knows what aches and pains he’s having to fight through, and while it’s clear that he gets well on stage–a wonderful phenomenon I’ve experienced myself!–I think his final gift to his generation could be showing that everybody, even rich, famous, impossibly talented icons, gets old.
So is it a veneer? I’d say not; look at the guy’s public persona and it’s hardly varied over 50 years. Even “the world’s best PR man” can’t pull that off. I think he genuinely is the cheery chappy, at least to himself, but it’s him that’s wearing down, not the act.
Paul’s voice does sound tired, but he is 71 years old and singing rock and roll like a wild man. 🙂 I saw him in 2011, and he was absolutely amazing. I love hearing him tell new stories, like Ringo switching out snare drums for different songs, and in the Harrison doc where he reveals that GH came up with the And I love Her lick. I wish that somebody would interview him the way Lennon was interviewed in 1980 by Playboy: song by song, Go a little deeper than the ‘scrambled eggs’ warhorse stories. I’m tired of the carefully staged stuff like the 09-09-09 Beatle album docs. Love to hear the Wings song stories, too. Guess he’d have to mention Denny Laine, though. Doubt that would happen after virtually erasing him in the WIngspan movie,
Mollie, I think McCartney was more relaxed in this interview than in the previous Colbert one you wrote about, maybe because he’s in a happier place personally. He is showing his age–his singing voice particularly–but I appreciate his not resorting to lip-synching. The one place where the persona got to me was “Hi, Hi, Hi” which he just has NO business singing now, IMO. Some stuff he could just drop at this point, and be better off for it.
But I’ve come to think that one of the main reasons McCartney is still sane, and still able to perform at 71, is that he keeps a distance between his public and private selves. That means he looks defensive sometimes, but honestly, keeping a guard up seems like a pretty rational response to megafame. More generally, I sympathize with the desire to keep private life private. (Just look at my profile picture!)
And Michael, well said about McCartney and “granny music.” When Colbert asked Paul if there were songs he wished he’d written, he said “Cheek to Cheek.” Spoken like a guy whose dad was in a jazz band.
I definitely noticed a more playful demeanor between Colbert appearances (I laughed out loud at the one-word answer “drugs”!). It’s also interesting to contrast his Howard Stern appearance promoting Driving Rain in 2001 to the recent one behind New. Before, he dodged most of the dodgier questions (I think an answer to one of Howard’s more risque queries was “that’s for me to know and for you not to know”). The more recent one was less guarded (granted, Stern was a lot more deferential). These days he seems more open to joking about his past – he made groupie jokes on Jimmy Kimmel and in Rolling Stone recently as well. Singing “Hi Hi Hi” seems to me emblematic of Paul feeling free to embrace the less squeaky-clean parts of his character. (Although you may have noticed how clearly he enunicated the word “polygon”…)
Interesting. I always thought ‘Double Fantasy’ was his admission that it was all a bit of a sham. From the pretend happy marriage to the album title itself, meanwhile John insisting in interviews that all the songs had arrived at once in a burst of inspiration. Jack Douglas says they pretty much recorded their work in separate sessions, and that, initially, it didn’t even begin life as a John and Yoko album. And that became his swan song! A cynic would say that a Lennon come-back album, as it was then, was a fantastic vehicle for Yoko to hitch an opportunistic mainstream ride upon. It almost worked for her. But what I’d give to see it in context, 30-odd years on, yet minus the drama of John’s forced ending. It’s just gotten steadily more warped since then.
And Paul, well, he’s just very very well-practised, and always has been. It doesn’t always work though: if he’d said what he was really thinking, when that reporter cornered him on Dec 9th 1980, which was probably something like “F_ off, how do you think I f_ing feel?” instead of some vague sarcasm (“drag innit?”) that no-one really picked up on, he’d have earned far more respect in the years that followed. I mean, George even quoted The Rutles in his statement: “Shocked and stunned. Shocked and stunned…”
I don’t know… with fame that enormous, things do get odd.
I’m glad Paul is singing Hi Hi Hi. It’s a GREAT track. And why shouldn’t he sing it? Just because it’s about sex and drugs? He’s 71, yes, but he’s not dead. I hope he’s still getting some. 🙂
That said, this is a good analysis of Paul. I’ve seen that photo many times and never thought of it in that way, but I think you’re right on the mark, Nancy. And Paul actually confesses this tendency to hold back in his song “Nobody Knows” on the terrific McCartney II album. The lyrics are:
“And that’s the way I like to keep it
Just so nobody knows.”
I think that’s an autobiographical line. That IS the way Paul likes it. He’s willing to share 20 percent of himself with the public but not the rest. Notice when he does major interviews with newspapers or magazines, he is rarely ever photographed inside any of his homes. He’s never done what many celebrities do and pose inside his home(s) for Architectural Digest (like Elton) or have a TV interview where he is interviewed inside his house. He’s done interviews inside his Sussex studio; that’s it. Even with David Frost recently, the interview was in a hotel room. Or he does interviews at his London office. But never in his homes. He doesn’t want you there.
I don’t think Paul seems at all “irritable” on Colbert’s show. Perhaps he was a bit nervous about keeping up with Colbert. I would!! But he’s definitely more defensive in interviews these days — since the emergence of the Web and the way that it encourages personal attacks about someone’s aging or their hair or some misspoken comment, etc. The media is a different game now. He knows that any mild quote can get blown WAY out of proportion and go all over the world. It’s happened to him all the time. So, yes, he’s more guarded than ever. He should be. People are so ready to pounce on the Web.
why not “Picasso’s Last Words” or “Bluebird”?
Sorry, that just slipped out.
A good post. McCartney has never been particularly good at pretending to be pants-down honest — which has an integrity all its own. And anyway, over the years, his facial expressions, if you’re paying attention, are much more revealing than his words. He may not always say what he’s thinking, but you can pretty much read him anyway.
Drew and Mythical Monkey, I guess we’re all going to have our “yeech” songs, as well as our songs we like despite the critical disdain heaped on them. My objection to “Hi, Hi, Hi” isn’t that it’s about sex and drugs, or about feeling Paul’s to old to be “getting some,” it’s that to me the song sounds forced and kind of lame despite its attempted good-time vibe. Whereas I love “Bluebird,” especially with the acoustic intro it gets on “Wings Over America,” and I hear “Picasso’s Last Words” as McCartney starting to think about death — a rehearsal for “The End of the End,” if you will.
[But then, by this point on this blog I’m a WELL-established sucker for McCartney’s melodies. Just have to plant my freak flag there.]
Drew, glad you brought up “Nobody Knows” — very strongly agree with you that that’s a 100% honest McCartney statement. Also a good point about his keeping his houses private. He even wrote “I Love This House” about his feelings for home (recorded in 1984, and better than many songs he put on albums of the period. Again, arghh!)
And Mythical Monkey, I love the way you express what I was trying to get at: “McCartney has never been particularly good at pretending to be pants-down honest—which has an integrity all his own.” Exactly.
After watching Paul on Colbert, I saw Lennon auction for the Voice:
– hologram sam
@hologram sam – the end of that video had me laughing out loud.
Michael and Nancy, you guys really have to get past this “Paul McCartney really is cooler than John Lennon” chip you have on your shoulder. It’s become quite tiresome. The “rock establishment cannot see McCartney for the genius he is”?! Seriously? You can’t get past Jann Wenner? Probably still feeling a little Ian McDonald burn as well, I’d imagine? Geez, that was so 20th Century!
Maxwell and his bloody hammer, Your Mother Should Know, All Together Now, etc. etc.–that’s the “granny music,” NOT Till There Was You. Though John (and George, let’s not forget) should really have called it “kiddie’s music,” which is what it is in actuality. Sorry, but it’s NOT cool. Never was, never will be. (And the same with Paul’s trademark caginess, btw.)
But forget all that because everyone knows McCartney’s a genius. Okay? So chill. Oh, and so was Lennon, by the way.
Peace. Now blog on…
Thanks for commenting, @Anon, and thanks for clarifying what my McCartney-related beef really is. (Skip the rest because it’s more of what you hate. Sorry.)
In my experience, people who think certain stuff is “cool” and other stuff is “uncool” are, almost without exception, decidedly uncool. Privately John and George held those people in particular disdain, as I’m sure you know. (Cool people tend to be judgey.) And funny thing: Paul’s supposed squareness only became public after the breakup, when John and George needed a stick to beat Paul with.
But about that lawsuit: as I never tire of saying, Paul’s never gotten enough credit for protecting The Beatles’ catalog, and every time there’s a decent reissue or something neat like LOVE or Rockband, we should thank god it’s not ABKCO running the show. I harp on this because it’s the very things that made Paul uncool to John and George–caring about money, acting like a businessman, etc–that saved their asses. That’s worth saying, and often, because nobody says it enough. Not even Doggett.
Why? I’d argue because McCartney ISN’T considered a genius, not like Lennon. He’s considered an entertainer, not a visionary, and somehow lesser. But whatever those guys created, it was together–that’s obvious from the history of the Beatle years, and the disappointing solo ones, too. Lots of modern rockers want to walk in the footsteps of John Lennon; how many feel that way about McCartney? Not nearly as many. YMMV, but I think Lennon still is held in higher esteem as an artist, and (speaking as a fellow popular artist) I think that’s bullshit. It’s marketing and marketing, to me, is the height of uncool.
Because John died in 1980, we’ve been robbed of him really apologizing for all the nasty, silly stuff he said regarding Paul in the 70s. And the biases of Philip Norman–Lennon’s main biographer and soon McCartney’s, too–suggest that this worn-out “McCartney stinks” meme is still alive and well.
I’m particularly full-throated in my defense of McCartney these days for two reasons:
1) I’m a John guy who read everything he possibly could on John, and found that he was a lot of things, but certainly not the image most fans have. John was just as acquisitive as Paul, more soppily romantic, less generous, and maybe less politically astute. That’s (still) news to most of the Beatle world, I think.
2) All the songs you mention aren’t my favorites, either–but are they any worse than, say, “Goodnight”? If we can defend, and even enjoy, John’s warmed-over musique concrete, or George’s Indian Tunes for Foreigners, surely we can tolerate Paul’s kiddie music? To me it’s all part of the stew.
Calling Paul soft because you don’t like Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is silly, because it clings to a demonstrably false, totally media-driven idea of who these guys were, what they stood for, and how they acted. I’m sorry if digging into that is boring for you, @Anon, but it’s kinda what this blog is about. There’s not a lot of new things to say about John or George, God rest ’em, but we try to do that, too. Just read those posts if it bugs you. Thanks again for commenting–I do love to hear everybody’s opinions.
It’s funny how often I see Lennon fans get all upset when someone suggests that McCartney deserves respect, too. Not that Paul was “cooler” (whatever that means) than John, just that Paul was every bit the genius John was. That’s all Nancy and Michael have been saying here. But I think “anonymous” is one of those Lennon fans who reads anti-John sentiment into any praise for Paul. It’s probably because Anonymous doesn’t like when Lennon’s altar gets shaken to make room for Paul.
P.S. That person’s comment about Ian MacDonald implied that his book, Revolution in the Head, was pro-John. But that’s a willful misreading of the book. In fact, McDonald’s book (along with Mark Lewisohn’s books) has helped restore Macca’s reputation by showing again and again how integral he was to the Beatles music, and how he was the driving force in the studio for much of the band’s history. McDonald can be critical of all 4 Beatles but he is by no means anti-Paul, or pro-John. Nor is he pro-Paul and anti-John.
The reason I come to this blog is because it’s fair to all of the Beatles. You’re critical of all of them at times, but you don’t play favorites. Thank you for that!!!
@Anon – If you can’t see the subversiveness in a nursery rhyme with the line, “black, white, green, red, can I take my friend to bed?” then you’re missing a lot of the point.
Whether he’s listing a songwriting credit as “Bernard Webb,” presenting the Beatles as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or releasing music as part of the initially-mysterious entity The Fireman, he’s consistently playing with both revealing and concealing. I don’t think he’s really trying to fool us, because it’s too transparent. McCartney is always acknowledging what he’s doing as a performance. He’s showing us the jacket he’s pulling up.
@Nancy Carr – Very well put. I think with the more transparent, “revealed deceptions” like Sgt. Pepper, Bernard Webb, etc., Paul is pointing to the fact that there’s plenty we don’t know. We don’t even know who’s writing the songs, between the vagueness of the Lennon/McCartney credit, and the fact that Paul can clearly release songs without putting his name on them.
Anon, sorry you see what I’ve said about McCartney on this blog as “McCartney is cooler than Lennon.” I write about McCartney because I’m interested in him and his music. He’s the one I think I have something to say about. That doesn’t mean that I think he’s the “coolest” or that I don’t welcome analyses of Lennon, Harrison, Starr, or whatever else people want to discuss here.
To clarify, I’m not claiming that McCartney’s “trademark caginess” is cool, but that’s its worth thinking about in terms other than “insincere jerk.” I do dislike a fair bit of McCartney’s music (though not all the songs you list), and agree he’s done some artistically idiotic things over the years. (“Spies Like Us,” anyone?) But in the same way, I dislike a fair bit of Lennon’s.
If you have something to say about Lennon (or anything else Beatles-related) that you feel isn’t being talked about here, feel free to write up your idea and send it in as a comment, for consideration as a post. Free exchange of opinions is what it should be all about.
Great post, Nancy. Paul’s reluctance to reveal too much is in itself revealing of his character, and an important trait to factor into any sort of analysis of him. There’s that 1969 Alan Smith interview where Paul himself talks explicitly about it. Here’s the money bit:
Ask him to analyze himself and tell him I have always believed him to be Likably — repeat, likably — Insincere.
Pause. “To you, possibly,” says Paul. “Because I think ‘Here’s an interview!’ I don’t think ‘Alan Smith, person,’ at all. I think I have to watch what I say because you don’t say certain things to papers.
“Whenever I’m faced with a Pop Press Conference or a drink with the reporters, I can’t be sincere… ‘cos I wouldn’t be there. But I suppose that by being pleasantly insincere, I can at least get to know people on some level in the short space of time.”
Long conversation and then finally, a statement.
“The Truth about Me,” says Paul, “is that I’m… Pleasantly Insincere!”
Emphasis mine. I think what he’s saying is that he can’t be himself in interviews, because if left to himself, he would never opt to do the interview (“be there”) in the first place — it’s an obligation of his job, nothing more.
Which squares with his habit of recycling the same stories again and again. They’re the stories he’s earmarked for public consumption, they get him through the interview with a minimum of discomfort, then he gets to go home. The rest of his stories are his.
look at the guy’s public persona and it’s hardly varied over 50 years. Even “the world’s best PR man” can’t pull that off. I think he genuinely is the cheery chappy, at least to himself
I would say that in the ’60s and ’70s he was equally guarded, but didn’t seem to feel a need to offset or “disguise” that guardedness with the kind of self-conscious, forced hamminess that started to take over his interview persona in the mid-80’s or so. I’m not sure if this change was a conscious effort or an organic response to new stressors (John’s death/bad press thereafter? Family/marriage stuff? Creative downturn?). I might chalk it up to him getting goofier with age for some reason, except that the goofiness seems to have been ebbing back down for the past 15 years or so.
As for how much Paul really is “the cheery chappy,” I dunno. It’s hard to say because, for one thing, Paul seems to require at least ten years before publicly discussing more difficult periods of his life — when he’s in the thick of it, he bluffs. There’s that one mid-’80s (I think) interview where he says that during the early Wings years, the interview question he most dreaded was “Are you happy?”, in response to which he said he’d always have to “lie through [his] teeth”. I was surprised to hear that, and I haven’t seen him mention it again — which seems to be his MO on revealing the darker specifics of his life (the traumatic visit to his mother in hospital, being hit by his dad, etc.). He’ll say it, once. Otherwise he sticks to his script.
Oh-oh, length too long! TBC…
… PT 2:
Sorry for going on and on! I find this aspect of Paul very interesting and compelling; it’s a big part of why he’s my favorite. I remember a lecture from a theater professor in college. He said that, in theater and film, big sloppy breakdown scenes are often regarded as the gold standard of dramatic performance, but that for his money, it was much more moving to watch a character struggle against tears.
One more thing: Another factor I feel is at play in the perception of Paul as “insincere” is his stage persona. I love (like, LOVE) Paul’s way of expressing melancholy in song, and find his recorded performances completely poignant, heartbreaking, real, etc. But I’d be the first to admit that his stage performances of songs like “Eleanor Rigby”, “LAWR”, even “Yesterday” come off pretty canned — schlocky, even. But I don’t think that negates the sincerity of the songs themselves; I just think the true emotions behind them are simply incompatible with the performance rush he gets onstage. Now, there are lots of artists who CAN channel their most raw and vulnerable feelings in front of a crowd, and that is really special and awesome and way to go, them! But Paul’s not one of them. He needs a safe and private “home” environment in order to get in that “zone”. Like the “pleasantly insincere” exchange above, all this tells us is that Paul isn’t prone to great wellings of naked authenticity under highly contrived and pressurized circumstances. And what’s wrong with that, I’d like to know.
Michael I never tire of your thoughtful, even brilliant, comments. Also Drew and Nancy always manage to hit it right on the head too. The three of you are the reason I read this blog. I’m pretty puzzled that any of the points you make could be misinterpreted as “We think McCartney is cooler than Lennon”. I can’t help thinking that some people willfully misinterpret what they read.
Annie: What a fascinating post. I kept nodding my head as I read it thinking “yes” and “Yes” and “YES!”
This comment of yours: “Paul isn’t prone to great wellings of naked authenticity under highly contrived and pressurized circumstances. And what’s wrong with that, I’d like to know.”
That’s well said. And so is the observation about how he takes 10 years before he can talk about traumas in his life. That quote about him discussing how unhappy he was during early Wings is kinda heartbreaking. Gosh, Linda had her hands full.
And that “pleasantly insincere” quote. You know the irony is that he’s totally right that he can’t be comfortable with the media because they WILL use any slip against you. Case in point: That “pleasantly insincere” quote. He’s clearly not saying he’s pleasantly insincere in life — JUST TO THE MEDIA. And yet, in the special Beatles issue published a few months ago by Uncut Magazine, they featured that quote prominently: McCartney Admits He’s ‘Pleasantly Insincere” (or somesuch). And people wonder why he doesn’t trust the press. He shouldn’t.
One thing I’d disagree with: I think his performance of Yesterday had gotten increasingly poignant as he’s aged. For me, he does sound sincere singing that song live — more so than he did when singing in live in 1965. Maybe it’s his aging voice but it just feels like he means it. I’ve become increasingly convinced that that song is about his mother, but that’s for another thread. 🙂
Wouldn’t it be nice if Philip Norman’s bio of Paul captured some of this? Somehow, though, we all know it won’t. It’ll run with the “pleasantly insincere” schtick, without the context.
Thanks, Drew. 🙂
in the special Beatles issue published a few months ago by Uncut Magazine, they featured that quote prominently: McCartney Admits He’s ‘Pleasantly Insincere” (or somesuch). And people wonder why he doesn’t trust the press.
I didn’t see that! Sheesh.
Gosh, Linda had her hands full.
No kidding. Linda was also interviewed on the same program, and when asked if Paul ever got nervous before performing she said, “He’s been nervous since I met him.” Paul’s an odd stew of stability and neurosis; ever since I read about his imaginary friends who turn up during painting crises, I’ve suspected he probably has a whole host of pretty, um, INTERESTING coping techniques.
Good points about “Yesterday”, and you’ll get no arguments from me; in honesty it’s been a while since I watched him sing it (via Youtube). Definitely agree with the about-mother interp!
Wouldn’t it be nice if Philip Norman’s bio of Paul captured some of this? Somehow, though, we all know it won’t.
Yeah, my hopes are not high. Even his John bio didn’t seem to fully capture some of the best parts of John: his warmth, humor, playfulness, etc. (this is true of most film depictions of John, too). Which makes me wonder if Norman is the sort of fan who actively LIKES that John could be a right bastard — who might even feel it justifies his own mean-spiritedness (as evidenced by the George-obit and Paul-doggerel discussed in an earlier post). Like a “cruelty is an entitlement of greatness” sort of attitude. Ick.
Annie and Drew, good points about wariness of the press being reasonable for public figures like McCartney, and about his probable dislike of interviews, period. What dogs McCartney is that he’s able neither to defy public opinion believably, a la Lennon, or to seem genuinely comfortable with the press (which I think requires real acting ability).
I can’t resist adding this factoid, which suggests that performing in disguise may run in the family (it’s from Michael J. Hockinson’s “Ultimate Beatles Quiz Book II”):
“The Masked Melody Makers was the first name given to the band formed in 1919 by Paul’s father, Jim McCartney. (The MMMs wore highwayman masks until the masks melted on their faces one night, during a particularly strenuous performance. McCartney then changed their name to Jim Mac’s Band.)
Sorry, but it’s NOT cool. Never was, never will be. (And the same with Paul’s trademark caginess, btw.)
Okay, you know, this comment by Anon actually really pushed my button in the wrong way.
First off, how does Paul being cagey make him “not cool”? Since when does not wanting to share every facet of ones personal life with the public translate into un-coolness? Has our reality-show culture becomes so prevalent that anyone who dares keep part of their personal self and lives to themselves somehow becomes fake, or phony and therefore – in YOUR eyes Anon – Un-cool?
Because, you know, John always gave off the impression that he was always telling everything about himself, that he let it all hang out and had had nothing to hide . . . and yet, that wasn’t every really true. There are many things John said that were obfuscations – if not outright lies – in the press; especially in the 70s during the great break up. John even admitted, 10 years later, that many of the things he said in the famous Lennon Remembers interview for Rolling Stone that he was lying. Because he was angry.
I think many Lennon fans who attack McCartney in this way really do miss how Lennon used the press in the same ways that John accused Paul of doing. John always gave the impression, in many of his early 70s interviews that he was being “straight” with people and many Lennon-fans latch onto that and really don’t want to confront the fact that John wasn’t – for the most part – being “straight” with them at all. And I agree with Michael, a lot of it was also telling the press what they wanted to hear.
As for what’s “cool” and what isn’t – well. That is so freakin’ subjective as to be funny. But I will say this: people who usually have to push and declare all the time that something is cool usually, themselves, aren’t cool at all. When something or someone tries hard to be what they think is considered “hip,” then it usually isn’t.
And I love Revolution in the Head. I too think it was one of those books that was fair to every member of the group, and didn’t just praise one person over the expense of the others.
I’m sorry but I forgot to sign my comment above. Like I said that last part of the comment by the Anon just pushed the wrong button in me, so I kind of forgot to. It’s just, I’ve never seen it as a problem that Paul dosen’t give the public all of himself, even when it comes to his songs. So whenever I see that type of criticism directed at him, it kind of gets my back up.
I understand people who like “personally introspective” songs that seem to lay bare the performer’s soul and such. There are many songs in that vein that I love too.
But just because a song maybe dosen’t do that does NOT make it worthless, or unmeaningful. And that is the tone I get from people like the Anon who criticize this aspect of Paul and his songwriting (or interview skills or what-have-you).
There was, IMO, a silly criticism in this vein made about the song She’s Leaving Home. Again, it kinda goes into the whole Boomer psychodrama stuff @Michael Gerber mentioned. Some (boomer age) critic said that Paul’s “sentimentality” (i.e. his “uncoolness”) ruined the punch the song could have had because he had the verse in the song that included the parents POV on the situation. The critic not getting, IMO, that the song was telling a story, and that getting the parents POV actually made the characters – especially that of the girl who ran away – even more full and rich, and you understood even more why she left home.
But the criticism of having the POV of the parents in there goes, IMO, into that whole “don’t trust anyone over 30” mentality that many boomers still carry with them, even now when all of them are way over 30.
And it’s clearly a mentality that Paul never really subscribed to. It was a song, like Eleanor Rigby, that told a story. And Paul – for the most part – seems to be more of a storyteller with his songs than wanting to always lair bare every corner of his soul. Not that he can’t do that; I think he dose it unconsciously when he does do it. (IMO the song Yesterday was this). But it wasn’t/isn’t ever his conscious modus operandi when it comes to writing a song, like it seem to become for John. And I just don’t see anything wrong with that.
how does Paul being cagey make him “not cool”? Since when does not wanting to share every facet of ones personal life with the public translate into un-coolness?
You know, I think there are two kinds of “caginess” being discussed here. There’s Paul’s defense of his privacy, and then there’s his defensiveNESS, his tendency to minimize and justify his flaws and failings to the public.
Which he totally does! I’m not saying he doesn’t. But again, context:
A) He puts a positive spin on almost everything and everyone, not just himself — he’s just pathologically positive, at least in public. If you take a really comprehensive look at his interviews, you’ll actually find him admitting (however reluctantly) to his own faults FAR more often than he’s finding fault with others. Not so John or George. You’ll also find him much more upfront and clear-sighted about how his solo work doesn’t measure up to his work with The Beatles.
B) Paul has been taken to task for his worst moments (musically and personally) and commanded to EXPLAIN HIMSELF! in a way that is totally unprecedented for a music icon. Are we really so sure John or George would have handled that level of criticism more gracefully?
I mean, how is John’s justification for “How Do You Sleep?” in any way LESS of a slippery cop-out than anything Paul has ever said? And as far as I know, George never had to answer for any of his own poorer behavior (which by the way was probably due in no small part to the fact that Paul didn’t publicly bitch about them like they did about him).
For John, the best defense was a good offense. And of course John (and George) also had the advantage of a visible, self-righteous conviction, whereas with Paul (like Mythical Monkey said above) it’s often plain to see that he’s hedging, that he knows he’s hedging, and that he knows we know he’s hedging. It’s certainly an uncomfortable little tap-dance to watch; it’s so much easier to believe someone who believes their own propaganda. But it doesn’t make them more right, and it certainly doesn’t make them more cool.
Are we really so sure John or George would have handled that level of criticism more gracefully?
They didn’t, @Annie. Both John and George turned vicious as hell the moment fans (or interviewers) deigned to criticise their work, their passion of the moment, or even any of their life-choices.
In fact, the moment that both of them weren’t regularly lauded as superstars, both John and George retired. That’s their right, of course, but we know how they would’ve held up under the welter of critical disdain and periods of musical irrelevance that Paul has suffered. They would’ve quit–because in the end, both of them saw music as a job and a means to an end. Is there any doubt Paul lives to write and perform songs? That doesn’t make him a better person, but it is a good characteristic–love of the game–that seldom is mentioned.
I think the most revealing McCartney moment is during an interview in Wingspan, when Mary starts getting playful with her dad. It’s a sweet moment where they kick each other a bit. You see the real man for a second,but then he clearly realizes he’s on camera and shuts it down,becoming PAUL MCCARTNEY again. It’s akin to a moment in “The First US Visit”, when Paul hears the radio announcer talk about the Beatles reading ‘poetry’. For a moment he laughs and begins to say something,but then remembers the camera and…swoosh!…PAUL MCCARTNEY appears!
It’s also well to note: this guy has had a life full of devastating loss and heartache. From his mother to his wife to his brothers, he’s lost so much that the billions can never make up for. I’m sure his psyche must be even more scarred than Lennons in many ways.
[…] public Paul do the public things, and maintains a private person in a protected space. Nancy has talked about this extensively and well. For me, I think it’s summed up in Paul’s song “That Was Me“—which is […]
I have recently started to take on board a lot of the gripes about ‘showbiz’ that Van Morrison has set forth over the years. Despite his demeanour suggesting he’s incapable of other than gripes, he actually has it fairly nailed in that he attributes even individual fans’ unreasonable expectations of musicians to the culture of ‘rockist journalism’ (my term) that grew up in the likes of Rolling Stone after The Beatles’ revolutions. In this frame, someone like Paul McCartney is being ‘insincere’ when he doesn’t let you into the bathroom while he’s on the toilet. He must have something to hide and therefore more biographies are needed to extract that turd from the bowl for pictures.
In fact, Paul just tells people where to get off and does it pleasantly. It’s that simple.
@Michael: Paul’s supposed squareness only became public after the breakup, when John and George needed a stick to beat Paul with.”
And to be fair, John was looked on as a genius by the rock establishment before he was dead.
As for Drew who goes unchecked on here despite some flaming posts – Maybe Lennon fans read anti-John sentiment into any praise for Paul because there is anit-John sentiment in any praise for Paul? The opposite can also be true, but in the internet age it’s a landslide in Paul’s favor. JFC, I was actually enjoying a cute video of Paul and Linda doing “I Am Your Singer” at their farm with two of their kids frolicking. Then I made the mistake of looking at the comments (which as a John fan I avoid when watching Paul videos) and someone posted, “John and Yoko could never” and the comment favorited. Linda is the singing Lady Di now, but where was that from Paul fans during the ’70s? Why attack John and his wife on what should be a heart-warming video of Paul and his family? I know it’s only Youtube fans, but still I see this all the time and worse.
Michelle, Drew hasn’t posted on the blog for quite a while now. As for her going “unchecked,” I’m not sure what you mean. Her views definitely got countered by other readers on several occasions that I recall. Michael and I only intervene as moderators (as distinct from just commenting ourselves) when things get really out of hand.
On a general note, I think there’s a point where getting personally angry at people we don’t know for things they said or did decades ago regarding other people we don’t know is unhealthy. I say that as someone who’s gotten into this kind of back-and-forth a lot, very much including on this site. Partly through doing that, I’ve seen in myself a difference between relatively healthy emotional involvement and getting too invested. One reason I don’t read YouTube comments on anything anymore is that it’s a site that, at least in my perception, really brings out overly invested, all-or-nothing commentary.
Overall, I resonate more with McCartney’s solo music than with Lennon’s, but I don’t think that equates to McCartney’s solo music being objectively better or to his being a perfect person (he’s obviously done and said some foolish things). I think it has a lot to do with my personality and life experiences. I’m an introvert and have had negative run-ins with people who come in hot with their emotions, for example. The need that many people on YouTube have to “prove” that Lennon or McCartney is better seems to me fundamentally wrong-headed.
@Michelle, YouTube comments sections are trash and should be avoided.
The perception of John before his death was positive, but mixed. Anybody who called John “a genius” after 1972 was selling something.
His assassination transformed public perception of Lennon so profoundly that it’s difficult to remember before it. He was very much identified with the Sixties, and so what he did was lumped in with all that — which was a mixed bag. Lennon, Dylan, Leary, Ginsburg, Hoffman — surely geniuses all, in their way — but men that history had moved on from. Lennon as a musician was considered to be generally played out — all right if you like that sort of thing — but definitely a nostalgia act. Like Dylan, but without the mid-Seventies “Blood on the Tracks”/Rolling Thunder resurgence. And Lennon’s musical gifts were always so hard to decouple from McCartney; his solo career had been perhaps the most disappointing of them all, given who he had been. McCartney was seen to have done mostly what everyone expected him to do; Harrison definitely surprised people; Ringo did surprisingly OK; but before Lennon’s death, his last really important song had been released in 1971.
So that’s my memory of how I, and other older fans, saw Lennon as of December 7, 1980. Certainly an interesting person and musician; certainly someone who’d been seminal in the 60s, what that was for the entire West and what it became; someone whom you wondered if they had another rabbit in the hat — maybe as an author or playwright — or would he slide into irrelevant talkshow celebrity, a la Truman Capote or Orson Welles? People like Wenner and Christgau might call Lennon a genius, but it was like they referred to Elvis or Dylan, a lifetime achievement award.
Then the murder happened, and perceptions shifted vastly. Out of guilt, out of promotional inflation, out of plain ol’ affection for the guy. He became viewed as a political leader, which he never had been (not even in 1969-72; serious New Left people thought of him as a way for them to draw a bigger crowd/get publicity, but not as a serious political figure). His fandom shifted from appreciation to a kind of worship — there was, and remains, a bleaching and simplifying of Lennon, and a hardness against his perceived antagonists, that you see with gurus and such. As a result a lot of what is most interesting and valuable about John Lennon has been forgotten: his profound ambivalence towards fame even as he used it; his bloody battle to figure out who he really was; his love of and belief in popular culture as an ennobling force.
Was he a genius? Probably. Was he a figure on the level of Gandhi or MLK? Most definitely not. (But then again, they never had any #1’s.) We’ll see Lennon more clearly in a century, and I doubt he’ll be considered one of the five most important people in English history. That’s no reflection on him.
Why such a high standard for John? I never thought he was on the level of Gandhi or MLK, but I don’t care for whatever politics he espoused. I just think he’s on the level of Paul, whom you unequivocally called a genius in your first comment on this page. Why is he a genius, in your estimation, but with John you have doubts? Record sales? As Oscar Wilde once said – genius is born, not paid. What song did Paul write that was so important compared to, say, anything on Mind Games or Walls & Bridges. Ear candy is all he did, but I like that and I like John’s too.
I use the standard for John that he set for himself, @Michelle. You may not care for the politics John espoused, but after 1968, his political activities — up to and including his decision to be a househusband — were essential to his own self-appraisal. He believed they were at least as important as his music, and probably more. And his political activities are also essential to how Lennon is viewed by the larger public today.
That may be fair, or unfair. But it’s the standard that John judged himself on, and consistently dismissed other musicians in his cohort (McCartney, Dylan, Paul Simon, Mick Jagger) because they did not seek this larger importance.
Lennon is a bit of a Wildean figure in that both men were hyper-self-aware, and so impacted their times. But Wilde was such a creature of his era he exists now mostly as shorthand — for verbal wit, for oppressed homosexuality — rather than an author. It may be that Lennon will occupy the same fate. Not a bad fate, but not the fate post-68 Lennon wanted for himself.
Judging John on the metric I judge Paul — as a maker of pop culture, as an influencer of music history — I think he’s unquestionably a genius, though his gifts were more as a communicator than as a pure musician. As a political figure, I think he’s vastly overrated — though his absurdly short life did not give him an opportunity to develop.
Remember, too, that the conventional wisdom touts John as a genius (and John endlessly touted himself as one, too); so I feel it’s less important to affirm that. Paul is seldom called a genius, and Paul’s type of talents are more frequently dismissed, so I feel its important to give him a bit more weight, and John a bit less. But of course YMMV.
@Michelle. To unequivocally refer to Paul’s work as ear candy (and it’s tiresome implication that only John was deep and meaningful, that only Paul was shallow and commercial) is the very thing that causes such deep resentment towards the Lennon fandom. Any attempt to reason with or to challenge such views seems to result in defensive anger. Cling to such bias if you wish but it is simply not borne out by the music itself. Both men were thoughtful, introspective, reflective, and experimental, which found creative expression in their own personal but different approach. It was the very essence that made their music so extraordinary, so profound – not because they were opposites, not ying and yang, not because they “balanced” each other out (which is nonsense) or any other simplistic interpretations found not only in YouTube comments but everywhere it seems. We are entitled to our favourites but like many others I find the ceaseless adherence to baseless allegations made of Paul’s music from over fifty years ago exasperating and annoying. Why does it have to be this way? And yes, both had their fair share of sugar particularly in their solo work.
@Lara, please allow @Michelle to have her opinion. Express your opinion, give your reasons why, but please don’t personalize like this. It only causes conflict.
@Michael. Fair enough but I would appreciate the recognition that this goes both ways given some of my opinions on various threads have been met with some fairly snarky responses. However, I accept your comment but won’t be contributing any more to this interesting site. I find it too demoralizing given the times we are living in at present which we can all appreciate. Keep safe.
@Lara, of course it’s gone both ways. I’d go even farther than that: I think the snark is almost reflexive; it’s just how people have come to talk on the internet.
This is what I’m trying to nip in the bud: commenter A states a valid opinion, but does so in a slightly sharp or intense way; commenter B feels it’s necessary to “defend” a person or concept, and does so in a valid way…but makes that counterargument a personal response to A. Then A feels personally attacked, and….
So, you have two knowledgable, passionate, well-informed fans getting pissed off over a topic that should bring them both pleasure. And after the exchange, both are less willing to see different viewpoints, simply because of the communication style being used. This is how the internet makes enemies out of friends.
I’m stepping in precisely because I think your comments (and @Michelle’s) are generally exactly what I want — except for the heatedness and the personalization. The internet encourages heatedness and personalization, and I’m trying to combat that.
It’s really quite simple: just state your opinion, and any reasons you have, especially primary or secondary sources. Don’t characterize others’ opinions, or restate them. Use “I” statements. Be measured. When you’re popping off about a topic that’s personally hot for you, own that. “For some reason, I really *care* about the so-called ‘Jap tart’ note. So indulge me for a second…”
You didn’t ask me, but for myself, I think one of the most powerful things we can do during these times is get clear about how the ecology of the internet creates conflict and activates our attack/defend mechanism. The best thing a site like this can do is help us get better at allowing “wrong thought.” So someone disagrees with me about John Lennon or Paul McCartney. Is anyone harmed? Really and truly, or is that just a story I’m making up? If there’s no harm, why do I feel so attached to my counter-opinion? Can I experiment with feeling less attached? The next time someone comes at me with a lot of anger or emotion, what’s the most skillful way to handle that?
I try to practice on stuff that doesn’t matter — like the Beatles — so that when politics, religion, science come along, I can be part of the solution. I would encourage you not to step away, but to work with all this. But of course if it’s too irritating, I totally understand.
@Michael – “his absurdly short life did not give him an opportunity to develop”
Exactly, he only lived 40 years so to say he didn’t have the kind a resurgence that Dylan had is kind of unfair. Paul didn’t have a resurgence until he was 55. Face it… It wasn’t until Flaming Pie that his output rivaled that of his Beatles career. John seemed to have found his muse again before he was killed.
Lara, I was talking only about both of their solo careers. Neither made profound musical statements in the ’70s, in my opinion. Yes, some of John’s early ’70s stuff was introspective, political whatever but after that it was mostly just pop or even middle of the road. Like Paul’s, but without the benefit of good production/arrangment (listen to the Lennon Anthology – without the overproduction his albums seemed to have the music is awesome). That changed for Paul from the late ’90s on, and now he’s the darling of Rolling Stone mag. See, they weren’t out to get him.
@Michelle, I was actually speaking of John’s political thought/activities with that phrase. I don’t think either man’s solo music ever approached what they did as Beatles; I think the place in the firmament for solo Beatles is roughly that of Paul Simon or The Kinks: good, well-crafted pop music that forms a solid part of our pop cultural life. The Beatles’ music, and the world that music helped create, is orders of magnitude more meaningful.
The release of each Beatles album, from 1963-70, moved the cultural needle in a way that probably isn’t possible today. Though they were pieces of commercial art, they had a cultural impact so great that they felt political, and that’s in large part why John developed in the way that he did. But J/P/G/R were only that powerful while they were Beatles, because of what The Beatles had done, how popular they were, and what they represented.
In the 70s, people were fans of the solo Beatles because they had been fans of The Beatles, and solo Beatles music simply never had the kind of galvanizing effect that Beatles music did (“Imagine” very much included.) Stripped of the emotional impact of his murder, Double Fantasy is in no way as lasting, powerful, or influential, either within the business or in the larger culture. Lennon’s murder was epochal; Lennon’s singles, “Imagine” included, were interesting and likable slices of AOR. Similarly McCartney’s relationship with Lennon is epochal; but the crests and valleys of his solo work are of interest to his fans, not the world.
There is one thing before I go. I do have an issue with being referred to as a fighting fan, which I perceive as an attempt to close one down, akin to opening Pandora’s box and shutting the lid tightly when it suits. To fight is one thing, to defend is another. The casual slurs made against McCartney’s music should be addressed and continue to be addressed (the usual suspects: granny shit, schmaltz, insubstantial, poor lyrics) and his character – the conservative businessman only interested in fame and money. They are not opinions, they are insults. That also applies to the derogatory comments about his physical appearance. I know the man has been a twat at times and some of his solo work is dire (as is the others) but he’s made his mistakes and paid for them. It has been heartening to read intelligent and thoughtful discourse on his behalf by some contributors here. If nobody spoke up for him then the perception of him from fifty years ago would remain: McCartney the tuneful sidekick to Lennon’s artistic genius.
Lara, I hope you’ll reconsider and continue to comment. I think there’s plenty of room for reasonable discussion.
@Lara, I similarly dislike these characterizations of Paul McCartney’s music and appearance, but none of them amount to anything. Similarly, insults and dismissals of Lennon. These people are/were who they are/were; they do/did what they do/did. Nothing any fan says can subtract from, or add to, the real lives and accomplishments of these people.
I think on the whole the commenting community here avoids commonplaces; at the same time, I don’t think it’s my place to tell people what to think, only what *I* think. The issue of “granny music” is worth discussing, not to definitively determine what “granny music” is, whether it’s good, or whether Paul made/makes it, but to remember that was the battle line drawn by John as regards Paul. This gets us into a discussion of the purposes of art and commerce, intent and effect, past styles and present fashion — all good, worthy stuff. And we can’t go there if we say, “No talking about ‘granny music’!”
I’m sensing that people are reading/commenting at a bunch of toxic Beatles fan gathering places — like, say, YouTube — and then coming over here loaded for bear. There are a lot of recent comments characterizing other fans’ attitudes — “Lennon fans who” or “Paul fans who” — but those types of fans really aren’t here (remember, I’ve read all the thousands of HD comments). Fans whose attitude towards Paul McCartney is simply insulting, or that he’s a square, or who make derogatory comments about his physical appearance, well, they don’t stick around. Similarly, people who have a visceral dislike of John don’t stick — unless we feed them, by arguing.
Paul McCartney is widely acknowledged as the most successful songwriter in history. He is a billionaire, beloved in a way few humans have ever been, and continues to write and perform music, which is the job that he loves. So what if someone doesn’t like “Say, Say, Say” or thinks he’s a square? Paul doesn’t care, and you or I shouldn’t either. The need to defend here is something worth thinking about, and trying to draw the heat from. We cannot control how people perceive Paul McCartney or his music 50 years from now; he will be dead, so he won’t care. But the music, the only really important part, will remain. I trust in that.
As to he maligned song noted quite a few comments above, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, referenced several comments above, I read a very interesting and detailed assessment of it…..Turns out it contains the most elaborate rhyme scheme Beatles ever did and is in late Victorian Stage burlesque stage style. Someone above denigrated it as kiddie music…turns out it is much more elaborate story than piggies lyrics and is in tradition of dark nursery rhyme endings. Lyrics about a serial killer fits the dark endings of tradition grimes fairy tales. Nevertheless, besides his now released with reissued box set solo 1882 song about unjust excursion of a hungry boy stealing bread, Maxwell song contains his darkest lyrics. I find Paul solo career and songs by far to be most varied and interesting and his own lyrics just in the seventies defy stereotypes about him. Oh woman, oh why is about a man apparently being unjustly shot by his woman.
As for the now commonly picked up John reference to Paul’s granny music, and the contemporary tendencies to beat on this denigration..,,,That was a time when rock was expanding and incorporating other older genres, like doors circus sounding music, kinks and their genres and sounds, this was an asset and seen as progressive then, otherwise rock would have been severely restricted. It was only in late sixties when Dylan, beatles in let I be and others returned to roots music. So if you want Paul’s granny music out of Beatles m create a play list without it. However, you’ll have to take out benefit of mister kite, piggies and other Beatles genre music on pepper, mystery tour and white album as well as octopus garden as is a children’s song. In their day, the Beatles varied genres were seen as an asset but it was only in early seventies John minimalist phase did he disown these early efforts and genre blendings, old music other than rock n roll, rock an occasional simple blues.
As a Beatles fan beginning to buy later Beatles albums when they were contemporary, these songs were integral parts of the whole album in pre Spotify days. Even rev 9, was first rock attempt to do hat later came to be called “sampling” in a song.
@Michael. But I think that is part of the problem though – that YouTube type of comments are creeping their way into reputable blogs just when you think you have escaped them. However, this has been a problem long before the age of the internet when you consider the considerable clout Rolling Stone had and still does to some extent and old habits die hard. Having said that, I don’t want to appear too snooty about YouTube, as to be fair I have also read many reasoned and thoughtful posts. And despite its toxicity, it is probably the most democratic of platforms for people to have their say without being blocked, moderated or reprimanded. I’m capable of filtering information about the Beatles, which is why I question why this particular blogpost about Paul – I’ve Just Seen (or part of) a Face, and mainly concentrating on Paul’s solo career in his discussion with Colbert – has quickly turned into becoming all about John several years later after the last comments. For me, this isn’t a case of John versus Paul but being able to discuss them as individual men and artists in their own right. I know many think they were joined at the hip, that you can’t possibly discuss one without the other, but I don’t. Whether people like or dislike a particular song or think he is square is irrelevant, I agree, but it is hardly the point, it is the overall dismissal of Paul’s body of work either as a Beatle or as as a solo artist, or both, that still exists in many quarters. I’m fully aware that John has his share of insults, but remember he has had a vast amount of literature published about him, including a good deal in his own words and much of an intimate nature from his wives and lovers. This is simply not the case with Paul. That Paul is widely known, but only known, as the most ‘successful’ billionaire songwriter is problematic in itself. This is likely to change of course when he dies, and his genius recognised once finally out of John’s shadow, but I wonder in an age of populism how people will cope with this. Will be people be accepting or will it release a torrent of outrage? Of course Paul won’t care what people think of him once he is dead anymore than John has cared what people think and he been dead for nearly forty years. And in fifty to a hundred years time the generations of fans who have lived within Paul’s lifetime won’t care either, we will all be gone. As I have mentioned before, the music should have been allowed to speak for itself.
Lara, that’s an interesting point about the way comments on this post have changed over the years. I originally wrote it to focus on the complexities of McCartney’s self-revelations, and that thread seems to have dropped more recently. In general, I’m tired of the way so much discussion now often focuses on putting a “vs.” between two terms; see the Revolver “vs” Sgt. Pepper post for more on that. Too often those conversations generate a lot more heat than light.
@Nancy, as the writer of that post, I will say that I find both Revolver and Sgt. Pepper easier to see if you reflect each on the other. To me, if you’re reading this blog, you think they’re both great.
Michael, wasn’t thinking so much of your stance on that post as of other “vs” conversations that pig album against album.
Good thoughts, @Lara, but I would ask you two questions:
Do you not think that Paul’s relative opacity is a function of his wishes? If we know less about Paul the person than we do about John, it’s at least to some degree because Paul doesn’t want us to know. The dearth of literature on Paul is mostly because 1) he has strongly discouraged his intimates from speaking about him; and 2) he’s still alive. John died while all the people who worked with him, and all the fans who would buy a book about him, were still alive. Not so with Paul. That’s not proof of some anti-Paul bias, that’s circumstance and Paul’s wishes.
Secondly, what in the world makes you think everyone “hav[ing] their say without being blocked, moderated or reprimanded” is a good thing? It’s an appealing idea, but if I understand you correctly, you’re seeing the same tired, unfair, incorrect anti-Paul arguments in that unmoderated space that we saw in the old gatekeeper days of Rolling Stone. How is that progress?
My whole professional life has been in the service of editing, and so you will not be surprised to hear that I just don’t see much lasting benefit in everyone having their say. Discussing anything remotely complicated requires genuine communicative skill, and care, neither of which most people have. Which is OK! I can’t fix a motor, but I don’t think everybody should be a mechanic because that’s less elitist or more fairsies or something. (I’m kidding but you get it.) Most comments sections are just awful, and you have to read through all the terrible, ignorant, semi-literate stuff to get to the occasional well-expressed thought. I simply do not have time to read ten shitty comments for every one interesting one, and turns out, neither does anyone else so whoever speaks the loudest, whether it’s Donald Trump or some anti-Paul asshole on YouTube, drives the discussion. And it’s reading through all that dreck that makes “YouTube style of comments” creep onto reputable blogs; what you read changes how you think, and how you express yourself.
For the millionth time, I want to push back slightly on this idea that Paul *suffered* during the mid-70s. Yes, Christgau was wrong on RAM, and Jann Wenner had it in for him; but Paul was by far the most commercially successful of the solo Beatles, and sold out a world tour in 1976 which got great reviews — meaning that even most rock fans were not paying attention to RS. There is an idea — which I think is a fan’s idea, not reality — that Paul was injured or suppressed or disrespected then, and this is why people don’t like Paul now. Which I honestly do not see. I was alive then, and Paul McCartney was all over the radio and TV, much more than the other ex-Beatles. He seemed to do exactly what he wanted to do, when and how he wanted to do it. All of the Beatles, perhaps Paul the least, plummeted in cultural importance after 1970 because 1) they’d already occupied the pinnacle for a freakishly long time, much longer than anyone (including them) thought they could, and 2) what they each produced was less popular (and I would argue less good) than what they made as a unit. Paul’s day as a cultural force largely ended in 1970, as it did for J/G/R. That’s in part why Wenner did what he did.
Lennon was lionized after his death because everybody was terribly upset and a bit guilty, and for a time, that translated into thinking Paul was a lightweight because John sometimes said he was. But that vision of Paul didn’t last, and even in 1984, at Paul’s supposed critical and cultural nadir, he was able to make and star in a movie. How many performers in any field have that kind of juice? And if that movie was lightweight and disorganized and not very popular outside of hardcore Paul fans…that’s on PAUL. It’s almost as if…maybe Paul’s oft-stated flaws are real flaws?
Anyway, 25 years later, here we are with I think a pretty fair and nuanced vision of both men — on this site. If there’s “overall dismissal of Paul’s body of work…in certain quarters,” you gotta fight it out with those people there, if you wish to. Me, I’d simply move to different quarters. I don’t think there’s any winning that battle.
I agree Nancy. The ranking of Beatles albums amongst the Beatles community is endemic and so subjective that for me it feels like not being able to see the wood for the trees. Good art of course should always be examined and re-examined but I don’t think retrospective analysis always matches the facts at the time. A whole generation (whether specifically Beatles fans or not) embraced each album as it was released with absolutely no idea of what was to come next. That was the wonderment, the astonishment, as they unfolded, constantly evolving and developing both musically and culturally. No one can possibly recapture those moments, we can’t get them back again, there are no what ifs. I just love the music regardless of whether it was early, mid, or late career – at times even the lemons!
@Lara, one of the things I love hearing from first-generation fans is how they were endlessly *surprised* by the next Beatles LP. Their versatility, fecundity, and courage is simply unmatched in popular art.
I was on another forum that was not intended to degenerate into a John vs Paul or a bashing of anyone but was about interesting subject f the Beatles myth. It descended into is Paul touring helping or hurting it, which I thought was fair. Then a commenter got into a subject discussed in this forum about Paul’s personality. He claimed that he and folks where he’s from or around him claimed to figure out Paul’s personality in the mid sixties. I doubt any f them were psychologists, so I took this as a derogatory stereotype of Paul, which seems to have occurred frequently but I have a room and a half full of paper mags, books, newspaper clippings and other Beatles and solo stuff from 63 from America and other countries and I don’t remember this in print in mid sixties but I do remember the type casting begun in Beatlemania and solidified in hard days night movie. I looked for and wanted to put this comment in the Paul pulling up half his jacket pic and article.
Paul’s personality indeed has the most mystery but I remember when he was honest with the press about LSD, he was crucified and was again when had off record interview after John died with Davies which author leaked selected bad quotes. I definitely don’t blame the man for not letting his guard down and for continuing to repeat his story. I do think he was from the beginning dismissed as a pretty boy light weight and highly resented by some fans and rock press when he rose and John diminished by pepper. I read when confronted about way Norman handled Paul in shout the hypocrisy of him writing a bio of Paul, Norman admitted that all of his girlfriends were obsessed with Paul and that Norman wanted to “be” him. There was a lot of male jealousy of Paul in the sixties and by seventies the knives were out for him. I’ve noticed the Paul bashing comments on forums and on YouTube comments are almost all by males the rock critics who went overboard scorching him were also male those days. One forum discussed this and had two females who left the forum who pointed out that Paul’s appearance, musical styles and themes are feminine and incite some males. The two women noted that Paul was a victim throughout the years of rigid male expectations by other males.
As to the folks debating, I had a past incident but decided to return to this forum as finally figured out how to log onto comments, with Michael’s patient help and mainly because the subjects as a whole are more interesting. I don’t regret my past comments because they were from what a saw a needed fill in to Paul’s solo career for several decades not discussed on this forum and they were in an appropriate thread. When Paul dies, I simply will refer folks here to stuff he did solo……to quote the title of a great solo Paul song, On the Way.” I would encourage folks to continue commenting because my spiritual beliefs are you should always give folks another chance.
You have made some good points Michael, but I get the impression that possibly some of my comments may have been misinterpreted. Firstly, I’m pro-Beatles and, while I prefer him, I’m not nearly as pro-Paul as you think; in fact I can be quite critical of him. He seems to be his own worst enemy at times and I have said that before in an earlier comment. Obviously he is flawed, pyschologically and otherwise, but if he is going to be discussed in depth, or even criticised, I think it’s helpful to know what makes him tick. After all, isn’t this what has driven the thirst for knowledge about John, regardless of how much has been written about him? What difference does it make? Yes, Paul is still alive but do we only discuss John and George because they are not? That’s the reason why I was interested in reading the topic in hand about him, and not about John, and not because I think there is some rabid anti-Paul bias lurking in the shadows.
Paul’s opacity. Sure, he doesn’t want us to know. But on the other hand perhaps he does. Doesn’t that illustrate the very duality of his character? At times he has been known to bemoan the fact that people don’t really know him and it needles him. But then as you said it’s his choice. Not all of his intimates have been discouraged to kiss and tell; others have refused because they simply don’t want to. They wanted to move on with their own lives and we don’t know how he really feels about that.
Its easy to say that we can’t control what people think of Paul. I know we can’t. But the reality is that attitudes towards Paul as a “lightweight” have actually stuck, and by those who should know better, and not necessarily from idiot YouTubers who serve to reinforce prejudices that already exist. There we will have to agree to disagree. For me it comes from a sense of justice of how I felt about the Beatles as a collective, rather than umbrage at anti-Paul tirades in particular. It’s part of it, for sure, but not all of it. Wenner et al. weren’t interested in just attacking Paul’s solo work; goodness, it had hardly even begun. It was his Beatles’ catalogue they were after. To diminish one of its two major songwriters was to undermine the band as a whole and the musical and cultural impact we have just discussed.
Nobody criticised Paul at the time when he wrote those iconic songs, nor at the time were people under the misconception that he wasn’t a full partner to John, or that he needed to catch up to John in some way. So what changed? Again, we’ll have to agree to disagree about what happened to Paul in the 70s but I don’t think I’m alone there.
YouTube. Like yourself I have spent all my professional life in the publishing industry and I’m too busy to trawl through thousands of youtube comments. One only has to look at a few to get the general picture. But I don’t regard it as being unmoderated in the sense that hard copy publications such as Rolling Stone were. It’s not so much progress, or lack of, but more a veering from one extreme to the other. But isn’t life like that? Two steps forward, one step back? In the old days one had little opportunity to express a different perspective unless they wrote to the editor (and hoped their letter got published) but today one can so easily respond to clickbait and anonymously slug it out with another. Much of it may well be unsavoury; however, I find more people are able to self-moderate and filter than given credit for.
I do agree with you that the Beatles as a cultural force ended in 1970, which is the reason I’ve never felt quite the same about the solo Beatles. Their individual careers were emotionally driven by their fans, starting with the people who grew up with them, and this is still apparent today. Nevertheless, in my opinion they have all done some fine work in parts, worthy of being included on any Beatles’ recording.
In light of all this, perhaps it highlights slight cultural variances in how we see and interpret the Beatles. Possibly it’s my north of England background, but I find it interesting how they are perceived in America compared to Britain and other Anglo/Commonwealth countries; I think maybe we are more direct and perhaps less inclined to overanalyse? I don’t know, I’m just surmising.
@Lara, let me see if I understand your points.
You believe that, in general, people don’t investigate Paul as intensely as they do John, and as a result, he’s not understood as well?
And that this difference in attention isn’t because Paul has kept his own feelings more private, and has discouraged tell-alls, and because he’s not dead so the story isn’t over, and because he’s a beloved billionaire who would sue the SHIT out of anybody who published something he didn’t like —- that it’s none of these things, but it’s because he is perceived as “lightweight”? Because of what John or Yoko or Jann said in the 70s? Or that there’s some sort of continuing bias against him? Is all this correct, or am I missing something?
Could it also be that Paul…is a bit lightweight? That his facility, and a surfeit of praise, and his embrace of a pretty conventional entertainer relationship with the public (rather than John and George’s much more confessional stance) gives him a lot of surface but not a lot of depth? In other words, that there’s good reason for why we know less about Paul, and that people talk about him less? Not bias, but a function of who the guy is and isn’t, and the choices he’s made (which by the way have kept him alive, unlike John and George)?
For me, I feel I have a pretty good handle on “what makes Paul tick.” He’s the product of an alcoholic family, playing the role of the “hero.” He learned that to survive his birth family, and then replicated that role within his surrogate family The Beatles—-each of whom were also products of alcoholic families, playing distinct roles. (Which is why, perhaps, Pete Best didn’t stick.) This theory of Pauls personality fits very well with what we know of him — including his “know me/don’t know me” behavior. And the larger schema fits very well with what we know about the group.
I don’t know if there’s any deeper than that a fan can go in trying to figure Paul out. I believe if you read a bunch of 12-step/ACA stuff, you’ll see it.
But even though this is the best, most accurate schema I’ve ever found after (Jesus) 40 years of thinking about these guys, it never seems to spark much discussion on Dullblog. What does spark discussion is spectulation about whether John and Paul ever had sex, which I find mostly immaterial, especially with two guys who had literally had more sex with more people ever with the possible exception of Genghis Khan or some super-Randy Roman emperor. And the “proof” of this mostly immaterial thing is…song lyrics and glances in videos. “OMG OMG DID YOU SEE THAT?” It’s an immature take on these people, and if you’re obsessed with it after 20 or so, it’s not about John or Paul.
But the problem is, people never dig down and find out what it’s about for them, much less share it with us on the site. They just write MORE about “Dear Friend” or RAM. It’s no different than playing records backwards—when the real topic should be, “Why are you so interested in this?”
Like my own alcoholic family theory, all this speculation reveals very little about the Beatles, and very much about the interpreter. And the thing about comment sections is: not every opinion is equally valid, and no truth is found by taking all opinions about a topic and aiming for the middle. Someone’s opinion reflects their wisdom, their seriousness, their education, their life experience, their commitment to seeking the truth in their own lives and out. And what the internet-driven media is showing without any doubt that the vast majority of people are not very wise, not very educated, numb to their life experiences, not in therapy, and not very serious about an “unserious” topic like the Beatles.
Which is why I don’t spend time over at youtube considering their comments. I figure that anybody who wants to engage in the way I want to engage, will find their way here. But when HERE starts to feel like the rest of the Internet, I squawk.
You got a theory about Paul? I’m truly all ears. Write up a post, and we’ll put it up. But this site isn’t really about the Beatles — it’s about the individual writers on it, and the quality of the site is proportional to how willing the writers have been to show themselves on it.
P.S. — In my experience, and you would be able to speak to this better than I could, English culture is about 25 years behind in its view of addiction. So a view of the Beatles as a product of alcoholic families wouldn’t catch on there, it would be considered a slur on their characters. It’s not. It’s a genetic predisposition which causes behaviors, and the behaviors cause certain replicating relationships. It is highly, highly, HIGHLY unlikely that if Ringo is a recovering alcoholic (and he is), that the other three have been able to form lasting friendships with him, without family backgrounds in addiction.
The Beatles’ individual and group relationship with addiction is infinitely more determinative than whether John and Paul ever had sex. In fact, any sex that took place was mediated by those relationships.
This American agrees with most points in above comment, including Paul songs not being criticized during Beatles and many solo Beatles songs being as good, I would add better than Beatles songs, even albums. The thing I see, beginning with 1970 for different reasons, folks always thought had to apologize for qualify when said liked Paul but never did when said liked another solo Beatle because their music more critically acclaimed, less varied and less risky, more repetitive in styles. This herd mentality in fandom , seems to have caused band on the run or critically revised ram or even late Paul music to be cited as folks favorites . When John at his worst in early seventies and George was at his most fanatical with his preaching, I don’t remember folks feeling compelled to justify why where they are fans of the others and don’t see them doing that now. Somehow John and George were hip because of their causes.
Many kudos to commenter above, as none of them ever were or are perfect and ever produced perfect work, but I’m tired of criticism of one of Paul’s greatest musical assets, like genre and stylistic varieties and adaptions of music throughout decades being held against him and Beatles music being held up as the great standard and no solo as good. As a slightly younger boomer, I’m glad to have remembered music of Beatles in sixties but even more glad to not have gotten stuck in it and to have enjoyed most of their solo music. Let it not be forgotten that Beatles had such talented members that their solo careers went on a long time and two living members continue to thrive solo but zeppelin and stones solo careers flopped. Paul and George solo careers may not be as impactful today as were in early seventies but music industry has changed as was radio and record driven then. KUDOS to above commenter. Twas to hip fashion to diss Macca in the seventies and until anthology restored his rep. I do find it interesting that folks younger than me note that lionizing John after his death and boomers lionizing Beatles turned them off. However, I noticed Macca’s biggest fans from wings throughout decades are younger guys, some young as 18 or so. Because he kept going in his career k they hooked onto a later album, video, his broad street, wings rock show. It is especially interesting that almost all of these younger folks are NOT Beatles fans and see their music as dated.
Great post, @Michael. I agree entirely. Paul’s false image of being a lightweight didn’t hurt his career at all. He is more interesting than he lets on, in the rare times he actually opens up in interviews. I guess we’re not entitled to his “innermost feelings” but it’s part of why people saw John as honest and genuine, even when he was talking BS. Don’t tell me that even (or especially) Paul fans do not wish he had more to say than these lovely but well-worn anecdotes: How he wrote Yesterday, how John convinced him not to take out the line “the movement you need is on your shoulder” and how the contrast between “getting better all the time” and “it couldn’t get much worse” was the secret to the greatness of Lennon/McCartney. I don’t think John repeated the same thing twice in all his interviews. Indeed, he would sometimes say things in complete opposition to each other in the same interview. That made him look like more of a puzzle than Paul, when that likely isn’t the case. There is this interview recorded by Elliot Mintz in early ’73 where John is asked about Paul and the current state of their relationship. John started saying, “I first met Paul…” and was interrupted with no no, we’re not interested in that aspect. It made me laugh because John was using the only hackneyed quote he ever gave to something he knew he wasn’t being asked, and you could hear John sort of laugh when being re-directed. Another thing: People often confuse the opinion that John was more interesting than Paul as a person with thinking his music had more depth than Paul’s. I think their best work had equal heft. To make a rambling post short, Paul is responsible for his own image.
John used “honesty” as a mechanism to deal with the press. Paul uses “cheerfulness.” Both men kept their true feelings to themselves. Because people like puzzles, and “honesty” appears to give you more pieces to arrange, there’s more talk of John.
Michael, I really feel at cross purposes here. The ‘lack of attention’ again only refers to this topic in hand, and other topics about Paul, which I’ve noticed have a tendency to become all about John. That’s all. I’m not necessarily referring to how he’s seen by the general public, although obviously that partly comes into it. As I have mentioned somewhere else, Paul has had millions of words written about him unlike no other, and it’s the fact that he is still alive and nearing eighty, it is surely unhealthy. Myself, I feel a certain discomfit in contributing. If this is confusing, then I apologise, and okay, it’s your site, I understand that.
Nevertheless: perhaps Paul is a lightweight – post Beatles, that is. He certainly wasn’t when he was with the Beatles (and before anyone says it, not necessarily because of John). His songs and many of his interviews attest to that. Isn’t it interesting that in the same interview with Maureen Cleave in the Evening Standard where John made his Jesus remarks, Paul’s criticism of American race relations and civil rights went completely unnoticed by the American press. In contrast, the British press paid little heed to John’s remarks by being able to see them in context, as John himself tried to explain. Ditto Paul’s comments on the White Australia immigration policy in 1964. The lad had a mind of his own. Perhaps in light of this Paul had already thought: “oh, what the hell”. It’s also useful to remember Paul’s own remark about resenting feeling pressured in the presence of John and Yoko to write something intellectual and politically clever. Which is why he eschewed intellectual clever cloggery and instead settled on issues of domesticity and family life. Possibly some do interpret this as a lack of depth compared to John’s philosophising homilies or George’s spiritual didactism, but that’s up to them, not me.
Yes, there is the point about Paul just being Paul. He took his music just as seriously as John and George but he didn’t give the IMPRESSION (apologise for the caps but I don’t have italics on my device) that he was taking it seriously, whooping it up with Linda and Wings in stoner heaven, eventually ending up in a Japanese slammer. Not to mention some truly cringe-inducing films and videos. It hardly helped him in the eyes of the general public.
Paul’s demeanour changed significantly and suddenly mid to late 1968, not only noticed by Beatle insiders, but curiously enough, by fans thousands of miles away. This is very difficult to explain, I know, but it was a weird sense of what the hell happened to him? It also went over and above the stress and trauma of his immense fame.
Psychologically, Paul seemed to draw a veil over himself and perhaps this is the man we see today with his hail fellow well met image. But if Paul didn’t really care what people thought of him despite his popular and commercial success in the 70s (the fact that his image didn’t hurt his career is really beside the point), I doubt if he would have over reacted so strongly to John’s songwriting claims and to claims in general that it was John, not he, who was the ‘experimental’ Beatle. From what I’ve read, surely this was distressing for him?
Perhaps he doesn’t draw attention to his experimental work with the Fireman and Sonic Youth because he is tired, just tired, of yet again being accused of egotism and indulging in John vs Paul politics. Perhaps after the death of Linda other things seemed more important: that life is too short and hey, I’m just going to enjoy life in the rest of what I have left. Yet still, even now in the shadows of his psyche, he admits to imposter syndrome …
I have to say I’m astonished at your claim that England (do you mean Britain? Or England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? All Anglo-Saxon countries?) is 25 years behind in its attitude to addiction. These nations have a centuries old relationship with alcohol built deep into their culture, not always well understood by those outside. The genetics behind alchohol addiction is well known everywhere, including the UK, as it is for all dysfunctional states. Michael, your theory that the Beatles came from alcoholic families is interesting but debatable.
I don’t think anybody has a handle of how any of us really tick, not even people we have known all our lives, let alone people we have never met. Books alone can’t help us.
@Lara, astonished? Really? I’m genuinely sorry if you’re offended, but I know lots and lots and LOTS of people from the UK — dated an Englishwoman; am related to an Irishman; have many, many friends and business associates from all the countries you mention, having had lots of success in all those territories from 2003-8. When I met them, not one had what I would consider a particularly informed or nuanced view of alcohol or addiction, or how these often manifest. Instead, there was a consistent belief that it’s about “being able to hold one’s liquor,” and that the only problem with alcohol is the external misbehavior that it causes. So, if you avoid that — if a person can hold down a job, doesn’t crash a car, doesn’t beat their kids, and so forth — then they can’t be an alcoholic.
Saying “[t]hese nations have a centuries old relationship with alcohol built deep into their culture, not always well understood by those outside,” is the precise response you get. It’s like me saying, “Well, you have to understand, guns are part of American culture, the Old West, frontier myth, blah blah blah.” Is there a grain of truth in it? Sure, a grain. Is it sidestepping the issue? Yes. And this is what I mean by “behind.” Of course I see that alcohol, pub culture, and so forth is a prominent part of UK culture. It’s a part of UK culture that I personally like. But it’s also clear that a terrible price is paid for it (you can Google, I won’t link here). Perhaps because AA and ilk were born in America, perhaps because the mechanisms of therapy are viewed with distaste, the UK and other Anglophone countries are significantly behind the US in their attitudes towards the dangers of alcohol, how addiction manifests in individual behavior, the patterns that it causes, and the traumas it creates. I can only guess at why, but it’s been really consistent.
People are complicated, yes, but the moment one begins to address addictions in general, and alcoholism in particular, one recognizes patterns. This is a big reason why fellowship-based treatment can work–many addicts in my life have told me of the moment they recognized themselves, and their families, and their thoughts/conclusions/behaviors, in some piece of 12-step literature written decades before. I defer to them in these matters.
Of course my theory is debatable–I look forward to hearing debate upon it. But debating the “nay” side is a tough hill to climb. Given John Lennon’s behavior, arguing that Freddie and/or Julia were not addicts will be a tough argument to make; addiction explains their disordered lives, and the disordered extended families, quite well. Similarly, it’s going to be tough to argue that Paul didn’t have a unhealthy relationship with pot, and that Mike McCartney hasn’t also struggled with substance abuse. Or George, whose struggles with cocaine are acknowledged. Or Ringo. In fact, the question should be asked: why are we looking anyplace else, to understand the group and its dynamics? It’s be as if all of them owned tigers, and three of them had lost arms, and Ringo’d actually almost died from being mauled by a tiger, and we were saying, “Did the Beatles have an excessive love of tigers? Did they come from families which taught them to love tigers and downplay their dangers? It’s an interesting theory, but people are complicated…” At some point it must be asked: why look away from the obvious?
The only reason you CAN look away is if you think addiction is a character issue: “I like these guys, and don’t want to think less of them.” But it’s not a character issue, and I don’t think less of J/P/G/R — or Julia, or Brian, or anybody. The reason I bring it up is simply this: considering alcoholism, or any other addiction, as a matter of character is unhelpful and reinforces the shame that drives it. If we can look at these substances dispassionately, and really see how tightly they’re weaved through our entire culture–even The Beatles!–perhaps we’ll have a better idea how to use them properly, combat their harm, and quit pretending that they’re harmless, “just part of our culture,” or value-neutral. And I think this shift in attitude is especially important for UK culture, or indeed any culture where alcohol is inextricably linked to a lot of great things.
Anyway, it’s fun to discuss all this at length, but I’m done with this thread. Thank you for a nice discussion. I think the best way to make sure Paul gets his due is to keep writing comments that investigate him responsibly, as you have.
Don’t know how we folks who grew up in and liked seventies made it without all of the withering cringing…..We loved our various seventies music, singers, promo videos, star attire, our pot stoner era…..no no way worse than wide eyed hippies stumbling around on acid in late sixties. We loved our zany pop, glitter and glam worthy videos, cool hair styles, platform heels, and concerts, like Paul had ….We did not cringe and cower in herd mentality like the shy do now. The term for the lame cringe worthy was not invented then, the dissing of stoners not invented in that LIBRUL decade before Reagan. Folks LOVED stoner musicians then and did not have to become acid freaks ir heroin addicts to live rock. In fact, Paul’s japan bust, though his band said Linda admitted throwing it in the bag…but that….stoner bust gave Paul restored cool cred to the rolling stone mag hipster crowd then. He was called the world’s most famous pot smoker in world. We stoners took our pit everywhere then, we understood. His old seventies videos and songs were great to us then, as we didn’t know they were embarrassing and not deep as are a marvel to folks now…We saw Paul and other seventies folks as entertainers, as when we wanted deep philosophy, we read college books and did not read Elton, ELO or wings lyrics. We enjoyed seventies lyrics as they suited the song but did not view them as the holy bible because that was so sixties and we were very tired of and over the sixties failed philosophy singers.
The above poster must not be reading the same YouTube comments under these old wings video and concert or promo videos I am. The seventies songs and singers were Elton, Bowie, glam rock, AM radio was light rock, FM prog rock, ELO, ELP, etc. Folks wee indeed tired of the old failed sixties lecturing lyrics. Paul had so many styles in seventies he moved on quickly and that’s why he succeeded where lecturing and droning John and George failed. Only when John and George shifted out of that sixties pontificating did they succeed. Seventies was a great fun era, the big stadium rock shows, mid seventies the rise of great disco, r n b and funk. Folks were worn out with depressing war, failed generational fights. Sixties cool folks remained open about pot, took best of back to nature like Paul did, and many boomers got educated in seventies and became professionals but kept their views and pot vices. I am a younger boomer and well remember when got so over the judgemental and snob boomers who got petrified in the sixties and kept pushing their failed revolution message stuff and lyrics . Social norms and freedoms progressed in seventies. I am so very glad I grew up in seventies….because older boomers were seventies snobs, dismissing Paul and others as lightweights and playing up their old decayed, failed false idols, ideals and causes instead of moving forward with the times. Had I listened to boomer “cringing” though not a derogatory comment then, I would have lived in the past, in the late sixties, and I would not enjoyed glam or prog rock, “bloated” stadium rock as kids now call it, “cringeworthy “ stuff, Paul videos which were great we thought, stoner concerts, and would have never been to or enjoy or go to discos.
It is the boomer and sixties snobbery that finally caused me to reject boomers and even the Beatles who sounded and continue to sound dated by the seventies. Uneducated rock singers were never meant to be profound social or religious leaders, John and even George got it wrong and fell for and hid behind that. I’m so glad I lived in and enjoyed the sixties but moved beyond it. Many kids now I read hate boomer haughtiness and snobbery. I do too….such wilting phrases as cringe worthy, such judgementalsm dismissals as as lightweight and stoner terms as deragatory. Man, I’m glad Paul got beyond the sixties narrow minded garbage and constraints. Otherwise, I’d have no favorite solo Beatle as now Beatle, a group to me now sounding very dated and their snobby fans finally turned me off. Paul adjusted and changed throughout the decades. Most folks condemning Paul seventies image and music are hypocrites as well , as most tried pot. Even Clinton himself said didn’t inhale. Mist everyone was a stoner in the seventies or at least tried it. It was everywhere….still us, legal many places. Pop radio was consumed with stoner music, FM as well, Grateful Dead tours. As I grew up in seventies m it’s my favorite decade and Paul was most creative and prolific then…..folks are astounded in his YouTube comments at his seventies music and videos. Sorry to read that he disappointed some, but he certainly didn’t disappoint my generation.
I will add that the seventies was the last truly spontaneous musical decade with the rare exception of later rap. By the eighties and later, music and acts had become tv and concert performance art and we are now to the point where folks don’t play instruments. There was the mini moog in seventies, programmed, which wings used and the later programmed synth in later seventies, which wings had first number one hit using, with a little luck. It could well be argued that grunge, resurfaced heavy metal style was the last genuine spontaneous but dying glimmer of rock in final decade of twentieth century, Ive read. Paul’s extensive solo efforts will be more closely studied and folks won’t be cringing then probably, but will be amazed that especially in the seventies, he crammed in so many musical genres and styles yet stayed current to those times. Seventies were my grade school and college decade and I attended untold number of great concerts then, including wings, which was best concert saw in fifty years of concerts. Had I been a Paul cringe lyrics snob, would have missed them. Now, I’d pick the seventies over the sixties any day, as remember the sixties as well.
Michael, thanks for your comments. I agree with you regarding the role that various addictions played in the Beatles’ lives. Absolutely. But that wasn’t the issue I was referring to specifically – it was alcohol. I wasn’t offended. Perceptions vary greatly from individual to individual, let alone from nation to nation. Thanks.