observations and opinion
Your Favourite Beatle
You had one, if you were the right age back then. Back then being 1964 through 1980, when all four were living. You had a favourite.
It was usually a John versus Paul contest. The other guys had their virtues but most people defined themselves, to some degree, by whether they were with Lennon or McCartney.
John Lennon, him you had to love. Overwrought, earnest, irreverent and never pompous, Lennon seemed always sincere and fundamentally simple. He was tart, but fragile; funny but smart; cool but a little bit angry. He seemed to be sneering much of the time but, when pressed, looked puzzled why people could be pissed at him. Lennon, you loved.
McCartney you liked. Kind of. Or maybe you admired him. He was, truly, almost humourless. His charm was affected, rooted in a self awareness of his compelling cuteness. Paul sometimes did not seem too brilliant but he was always, always “on.” He was cunning and careful and always, always a pro. He did not care if people thought he was cool or uncool. He just liked to write silly love songs and sell millions of them which, perversely, made him cool. And rich.
With those descriptions you would conclude quickly which camp I was in, but you’d be wrong. I preferred Paul. His songwriting seemed better, more classically “pop” in the modern tradition, melodic and irresistible. Paul’s coolness was internal – he was much tougher than John, more disciplined and more polite too. Paul wasn’t really much of a romantic but he was a loving guy, deeply devoted to his wife and children. And shrewd: he piled up the dough.
When we were young I doubt many of us thought about when the Beatles would die. Had we done so, though, I suspect most of us would have guessed that McCartney – Dorian Greyish in his eternal cuteness – would be one of the last to go. Not just because he looked younger but because he took care of himself, veggie burgers and all.
Which has turned out to be something of a problem. Not that he’s alive – I hope Paul sticks around for another 50 years (he’s got the DNA and money to do it) but because he doesn’t know he’s getting on a bit. And getting on he is, as evidenced by his most recent public appearances.
I’ve never seen McCartney live and never will now, because he’s past it. I love his songs and his recordings too much to listen to a well-preserved old gentleman wheeze through them – even that old gentleman. So when he wheeled himself out (metaphorically speaking) to yodel Maybe I’m Amazed on the SNL 40th anniversary show I girded myself for the worst.
He didn’t surprise me. He was about two bars into it when I elected, out of respect for the song, for Paul and for my inconveniently almost-perfect pitch, to hit the “mute” button. Millions more joined me or should have, judging from the commentary the morning after. For me to come away thinking how much better Miley Cyrus is than Paul McCartney is an epochal moment I never wished to visit.
But we are there. Listening (or not) to Paul we are reminded that age is a bastard, a cruel remorseless thing. It has robbed McCartney not only of his nice voice but also of his good sense, or maybe his ear: he cannot possibly have heard himself and come away pleased. If he was listening.
Then again, like Miss Haversham rotting for decades in her wedding dress, maybe Paul still thinks he is the lovely bride. Maybe he looks in the mirror and sees those big eyes of his, all soft and mooney. Maybe he opens his mouth and hears that hard, shining falsetto rising up to hit the high notes. Maybe he’s still amazed. Someone has to tell him, though, that he’s not still amazing.
We all wake up in the morning older than when we went to bed. We know new things, which helps because our bodies and brains seem to lose old things even more quickly. It is a fight to stay fit, or for some of us get fit, and to arrest the irksome process of getting older.
I am resolutely of the view that we have to soak ourselves in the unknown, the jarring, the unfamiliar – which as we get older means things and people that are younger than we are. To act anew, we must think anew and to think anew, we must experience the new. So our minds must be open.
But our eyes and, in Paul’s case, our ears – must be open too. We must recognize the inevitability of change, in our world and in ourselves. Think young, sure, but don’t think you’re young when you’re not. Don’t kid yourself, you’re not a kid anymore. If you’ve been on a long and winding road, eventually the time comes to sit down on a park bench and let it be. Like trying to be funny isn’t funny, trying to be hip, ain’t hip.