McCartney reaches retirement age, Hendrix still dead – of time and rock stars….

“It’s funny how most people love the dead. Once you’re dead, you’re made for life.” – Jimi Hendrix

Today is an important day in rock music history .

jimihendrixfire.jpgOn this day in 1967, Jimi Hendrix burst upon the consciousness of American rock audiences with a blistering set of psychedelic blues rock at the Monterey Pop festival, at the climax of which he threw his guitar to the stage, squirted it with lighter fluid, and set it ablaze. That image of Hendrix – who would tragically be labeled “a sex machine/witch doctor” because of his action (a stage stunt meant to rival the hyper-destructive Who’s earlier instrument bashing at the end of their set) – burning his instrument would become the definitive moment of the first great rock festival – and an iconic moment in a decade full of iconic moments. Thankfully, it was captured for posterity.

None of us knew then that this “trans-cendiary” act would be the apex of Jimi’s career – and that from that magic moment he would enter the slow downward spiral that – despite the brilliant music he created while falling from the sky he’d kissed so passionately – would end in a London flat just over three years later – deeply in debt, lonely, confused, feeling abandoned by friends and business associates – dead by choking on his own vomit, his drug addled girlfriend too confused or scared to save him….He was 27….

“I am alive and well and unconcerned about the rumors of my death. But if I were dead, I would be the last to know.” – Sir Paul McCartney

Today is an important day in rock music history.

paulmccartneyonstage.jpgOn this day 65 years ago James Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool, England. As half of arguably the greatest composing team in popular music, writing songs for arguably the greatest rock band in history, he established a legacy that no other rock musicians have been able to surpass.

The Beatles, the band referenced above, broke up in 1970, a few months before Jimi Hendrix met his sad, ignominious end. McCartney was 27….

All four Beatles went on to solo careers of greater or lesser success. McCartney had great financial success as a solo artist, then formed a new band called Wings that had great financial success, then returned to working as a solo artist. His audience aging and ever diminishing, the music business moving further and further from the culture and conditions that allowed him to rise to stardom, he’s gone from being the biggest selling artist in history to being an irrelevancy. Despite that, McCartney can have few complaints with his life. He’s been feted, knighted, and enriched to a level that far surpasses embarrassing.

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” – Neil Young

Two important anniversaries in the history of rock music. Two very different career arcs. What should we make of them?

The Hendrix story is perhaps best explained by lyrics from the Joe Allison country music classic “…live fast, love hard, die young….” Like other rock stars of his generation – Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison – his fire burned brightly but all too briefly, fanned, yet eventually snuffed while experiencing what one of those all too mortal immortals described this way:

“Let’s just say I was testing the bounds of reality. I was curious to see what would happen.” – Jim Morrison

Jimi’s premature death haunts us in the way lost promise always haunts us – it crosses generations and serves both as romantic inspiration and somber object lesson….

McCartney, on the other hand, has had a long career post-Beatles that has seen him become increasingly undervalued by the world he helped create – which has led him to make decision after decision that has given his strongest supporters, his Boomer fan base, reason to mourn and disenfranchised him with Xer and Millenial audiences.

Here’s how it feels: when I’m in the mall and I see a Hendrix poster or t-shirt in one of those stores that cater to people a hell of a lot younger than I – I smile, a little sadly, and find myself thinking of Thomas Wolfe:

O Lost, and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again….

When I stop by Starbucks and see Sir Paul’s picture plastered on every wall hawking his latest album (which I like), I can’t help thinking of Oscar Wilde:

Morality, like art, has to draw a line someplace.

22 replies »

  1. “If I don’t see you no more on this world, I’ll meet you on the next one — and don’t be late.”

    “There ain’t no life nowhere.”

    “Feel like I’m livin’ at the bottom of the grave.
    “I wish they’d hurry up and execute me
    “So I can be on my miserable way.
    “I don’t/
    “Live today …”

    Jimi knew what was coming.

  2. Wow, great piece, man.

    Kids nowadays still celebrate and recognize what was great about Hendrix BECAUSE they didn’t have to see him grow old. No doubt the same thing will happen in the hip hop community with Biggie and Pac. They’re dead, so we never have to see what boring old men they would have become. Imagine if Prince or Michael Jackson had died at 27. They’d be lionized.

    It’s hard to grow old when you have a certain type of fame and a certain type of fanbase.

    That said, you are right by saying that Paul is not given enough credit for the world he helped create.

    In fact, his legacy will be forever compare with another dead man (John) who was taken from us before he got old and safe.

  3. Let’s be clear about something, Diallo:

    I love Sir Paul. I was a professional musician in another life – a bass player – and I became a bass player because of Paul McCartney.

    But he’s playing a losing game, as you note, and it’s simply saddens me to see him trying so hard like with this Starbucks thing. If he wants to do albums, that’s great. He’s earned the right to do whatever he wants as long as he wants to.

    But this “stooping to conquer” move of aligning himself with a corporate entity to try for bigger sales just looks greedy. And desperate.

    Neither of which Macca is or should look.

  4. I don’t know if I’d call McCartney irrelevant. His newer work is just not popular. That’s in no small part because of the fragmentation of radio. There’s no radio format out there today that plays songs like McCartney writes. So it’s harder for him to find that audience.

    I have fond memories of McCartney songs from my childhood defining times of my life — Another Day, Listen to What the Man Said, Silly Love Songs, Goodnight Tonight, Take It Away. So even now that I’m about to hit the ripe old age of 40, a new McCartney album is a major event for me, even if he is on the label started by those guys who think they know something about coffee but still always manage to make it taste burnt.

    My kids and I have listened to the new McCartney album probably 30 times in the car. We’re all groovin’.

  5. In a music environment where Justin Timberlake is the shnizzle, Jim, Macca is irrelevant. See my post to Diallo above for a fuller take on how I feel about him – and about how the sad state of affairs has caused him to make some bad decisions…as you note yourself.

  6. One of the things I liked about Paul and Jimi for that matter was that they touched on some of the social issues of their time within their music.

    I was not born during the 60’s…but whenever I feel I want to listen to music with a conscious, I listen to 60’s and 70’s music.

  7. Jim,
    Nice piece about two of my heroes. I hear folk say Sir Paul has become irrelevant, and, with respect to some of the recent releases, he may have become so.

    I guess I still just love listening to everything he did w/ the Beatles, and then the tone poem Standing Stones, which I believe is a really good representation of the evolution of music in stride with the evolution of humans. Then there is Working CLASSical, some of the Beatles pieces done by string quartet (much better than by the Hollywood Flutes Orchestra or the Fresno Kazoos Band)

    I’ve seen a few of the live concerts he’s done, in person and on the telly, and he still has the stuff. I’m just not sure about the current set of compositions.

    Happy birthday, Paul!

    Greetings from St. Clement’s, Jim

  8. Wouldn’t you agree that the mystic that Hendrix carried with him to the grave is part of what we all treasure, too? Yeah, he was incredible. Yeah, he was uber-spiritual and seductive in a time when those virtues were held high. Plus, once you’re “lionized,” and dead, you have no way of ruining your reputation.
    McCartney (and Lennon) broke ground that no one else had. They teleported musical society through generations in just the short span of eight-ten years. McCartney continued to grow, evolve and change — just as society did. You can’t be on a stamp — or frozen in time — until you die. I’d say the jury will be out on him until after he’s gone.
    Also, I agree with “felixwas.” Jimi knew. Part of why I love him still was his “otherworldness,” so evident in what he did.
    Excellent article, BTW.

  9. lostgirlfound: Remember an old SNL skit about “Elvis’s coat” being on tour to sold out houses? As has been noted numerous places, death can be a great career move. I love Jimi, but dying at 27 denies us of the very growth, change and evolution you claim for Sir Paul. As I’ve noted here and elsewhere, I love Paul, but his Starbucks alliance just looks bad because it makes the knocks on him that float around (he’s about the Benjamins, he’s a popularity whore) seem all the more viable.

    12stringNC: Can I get some i.d.?

  10. Ah, thanks Bruce. I remember you now. One of the things Susan and I miss about Advance is St. Clements. Good to reconnect. 😉