Sir Paul the Evangelist: McCartney gets a bad rap

A Paul McCartney show these days is a music history lesson wrapped in a plea for understanding with a side order of “Remember when they made music and you actually cared about knowing the words…?”

Sir Paul McCartney (image courtesy imdb)

Sir Paul gets a bad rap.

Part of this I attribute to the influence of a certain generation of music critics, those for whom the term “snark” might have been invented, and many of whom resent anything and everything Beatle related. They have long crusaded against all things Beatle and especially against Macca, because he’s not John and because he’s not George, and because – Wings (which had its terrific moments and some damned silly ones, too).

Then, too, Sir Paul made that unforgivable decision, the one either Dave Marsh or Greil Marcus (I forget which – and that says something about the importance of critics vis a vis artists, kids) called “the decision for pop.” He’s focused on writing songs that get denominated pop no matter how hard they rock or how brilliantly they incorporate his many musical influences. The Cute Beatle he is the The Cute Beatle he shall remain. I have a response – and I know I don’t speak for Paul – but I wish I did, because I’d say…

Ah, to hell with you haters.

No one in popular music had made a contribution as wide ranging, as influential, as consistent as Sir Paul McCartney.

Yes, he made “Say, Say, Say.”

To quote another badly misunderstood guy, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

I saw Paul for the second time Thursday night. It was a spectacular show – and probably the equal of the best rock show I ever saw. (That would be The Who in 1976.) The opening act was a 20 minute video that used mash-ups, covers by a range of artists, and even some actual Beatles/Wings/Paul music as sound track for a series of images that covered the man’s entire life. He pulled no punches (well, he sort of ignored Heather Mills, but he gave her $60 million to go away, so if he wants to ignore her, that’s his prerogative).

What made this show special was that Paul has come to terms with his age. Even though he’s not the singer he once was (no one is the singer at 72 that he was at 22 or 32 or 42 or…you get my drift), he sings more bravely now than he did when I saw him for the first time in 2002. There’s also a plaintive quality in his singing that he used to gloss over. He’s learned to use that – and nowhere was it used to better effect than in one of his solo spots when he talked about his love for John Lennon and sang the tribute “Here Today.” The jumbo screens that showed McCartney in close up also showed a guy who still cries a little when he sings about his friend. As I have written before, Paul is a brave guy who takes chances and sometimes falls on his face. Isn’t that what we want from our artists?

The show also offered a couple of surprises. He covered more Wings material: “Listen to What the Man Said,”Let Me Roll It” (with a drop in from Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and an after song anecdote about Hendrix and Clapton), “1985,” “Live and Let Die,” and, of course, the alma mater “Band on the Run.” Here he is doing that one:

It’s also nice to go to a concert where everyone knows the words. As we have become more and more siloed both by the distributed culture and by our manipulation at the hands of those whose interests are best served by dividing us, one of the few possibilities for drawing us together might be music. That won’t happen, of course – the music made available to the masses is music that has become completely commodified and is produced in assembly line fashion using – hell, probably an algorithm if my ears are working correctly. Its sameness is such that even those who are fans mix songs up.

That is not the case with McCartney’s work with and after the Beatles. The set list took us from early Fabs’ work (“All My Loving”) to his most recent album NEW which has a plea for us to find our humanity, “Everybody Out There“:

There, but for the Grace of God go you and I
We’re the brightest objects in the sky
There, but for the Grace of God go you and I
Do some good before you say goodbye

As is always the case, McCartney was humble and lovable. It’s part of his shtick as I’ve mentioned. But it seemed much less of a shtick this time. McCartney seems a genuinely humbler guy. The loss of dear ones (Linda, John, George), the discovery that even Paul McCartney can be suckered by a gold digger, his recent health scare – all this has made Macca realize his mortality and appreciate his happiness. And it showed in his performance. He sang “Maybe I’m Amazed” with a freedom that told the audience that he would always love Linda. And he sang “My Valentine,” his song for his current wife Nancy, with a tenderness and appreciation that clearly came of knowing he was lucky to find someone who might actually love him for something besides that he is Macca, Sir Paul, a Beatle.

The show closed (well, the second and final encore) with “The End” from Abbey Road. And Paul sang those closing words with the conviction of an evangelist:

And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make

Maybe that’s how Sir Paul sees himself now – as an evangelist for the power of music and love to unite us – a role he picks up from fallen comrades.

If he does, the role suits him. With his charm, looks, and talent, he could be big….

12 replies »

  1. Dear persistent commenter CP: I’m taking the unusual step of replying here.

    Our comment policy is explained in the top two links here:

    As you’ll see, we only post some of what comes in, and aim for things that illuminate and further the discussion.

    We have not posted your comments for a couple reasons. First, they’re incoherent. Not to be mean, but we’ve read all of them and we simply don’t understand what you’re trying to say. As soon as we think we grasp your point, your next sentence convinces us we were completely wrong. Muddled thinking would only distract the reader.

    Next, we suspect that your comments are muddled because you don’t understand the post. You seem to have concluded that the author hates Paul McCartney (at least I think that’s what you believe), which is baffling. He LOVES McCartney and the staff in general is overrun with people who revere The Beatles and their influence on popular music. You have somehow read a pretty clear tribute to McCartney and decided that it’s an attack on him, and we’re simply not interested in posting comments that get the article THAT wrong.

    Finally, when your confusion leads you to calling us a “Nazi hate group,” I think it’s probably best if we go our separate ways.

    We’re glad you love Paul, in any event.

  2. wait a minute. you’re going to ban incoherence? well hell, there goes my commenting career.

    my problem with mccartney, and indeed the beatles, is i’ve simply grown tired of them. i was at a party, probably Makeni, Sierra Leone in 1973 or 4, and we had people from literally a dozen countries aged 20 to 60. i remember that a beatles song came on and every single person in the place started singing along. even people who had very little english. it wasnt perfect– a bit like the snl skit–we skipped some of the words, but it was a stunning display of how thoroughly their music has infiltrated our lives. so if they’d become ubiquitous then, now they’re simply overplayed. at least to me.

    i do think mccartney is probably better than i think he is. he’s one of those artists (like joni mitchell and john mellencamp whom i could only appreciate when i heard others do their music) a few years ago i saw the presidential tribute to mccartney and dave grohl (or whomever) did band on the run and simply tore the house down with it.

    • One of the downsides of being really good is that you’re going to get played to death, so I feel your pain.

      I have occasionally been pretty critical of PM. Not for being Pop – you should see all the Beatles-influenced Power Pop in my music collection – but because he is sometimes prone to egregious moments of excess. If you ever want to torture me into abject madness, strap me down and put “Let ’em In” on loop.

      In other words, he needed an editor and a reality check. He and Lennon were that for each other, and we saw what John’s unrestrained excesses looked like once he went solo, too.

      All that said, if you show me an artist who does not have excesses that need tempering, I’ll show you a bad artist. I sure as hell do, and I spent years building editing and revision procedures to make sure that the bad stuff got burned before too many people saw it.

      In the he end, try to imagine popular music since the ’60s without Macca. It’s not a pretty thought. Even if you hate him, most of your favorite artists either directly or indirectly owe him their souls….

      • I will make only one comment that sums up all the wonderful and cranky stuff said here:
        I am (as far as I know) the only professional rock musician on the S&R staff. As far as the history goes, I know a hellalot about everything now denominated “classic rock” (and thanks to the estimable Sam, a respectable amount about what used to be denominated “modern rock.”

        I could have chosen a dozen Web monikers that would have made sense to my friends. I chose sirpaulsbuddy. And I don’t think anyone who knows me was surprised at that choice. Macca is my guy and always will be. My other best friend, he who played John to my Paul for many a year, once observed that if I were anymore like Paul that I’d be Paul. It is one of the best compliments I have ever received.

        I love rock. I love the Beatles. I love Sir Paul. They have shaped and enriched my life in ways I could never explain – as another artist I admire who is under-appreciated put it, it would be “like trying to tell a stranger ’bout rock and roll.”

        As for CP, I am sorry you have misunderstood me so completely. We are actually on the same side.

        As for everyone else, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make….