I have realized why there is such a disconnect between myself and everyone else on Paul McCartney. If I were to say “Paul McCartney,” who would that person be to you? Chances are his name draws up different connotations to you (and most everyone else) than his name does for me. Bear with me… I can tell you what most people think of when they think of Paul McCartney: they think of an artist who is inferior to John Lennon, an artist who “hasn’t done anything good since the Beatles,” a purveyor of bubblegum frivolous lightweight pop (Say Say Say, Ebony and Ivory, Silly Love Songs, etc.), or simply a man who crafts banal pop songs that may be entertaining but have no other value. At least these are the silly things I hear about him over and over again…. and simply put… if you think that you are flat-out WRONG! Here I intend to make my point, ruminate on him, and more.
So who is Paul McCartney to me? An extremely conflicted man and complicated artist, a hack and a genius, a phony and a man who creates music so profound, touching, insightful, mystical, honest, and personal that I am baffled as to how few people see it. I think of McCartney as a passionate music-obsessed workaholic whose commitment to music is immutable. I think of an artist who is as relevant today as he ever was. I think of Wings as a real band. I think of an artist, who contrary to popular belief, did not come into his full power until AFTER the Beatles. When I think of McCartney as an artist I think of the most experimental and progressive artist working today (and again, bear with me, I will explain this, too). Basically, being an extremely complicated person myself I need my favorite artist to be as complicated and conflicted as myself. I need my artist to be inquisitive, disciplined, and even self-contradictory, just like me. Frankly I see Lennon as being far less complicated than McCartney. Of course it will take time for me to say all I need to say, but at least here I can make my major points and set up what this McCartney blog will be about.
For a start I noticed that McCartney’s fall from grace happened for some very specific reasons, none of them having anything to do with the merits of his music. I won’t devote a lot of time to this but critics have played a large part in discrediting him, and I do not intend to spend much time on this because simply put… critics are not only boils on the ass of the art world (if critics knew anything at all about music they’d be musician and if they knew anything at all about writing they’d be writers, so having no knowledge of music and no talent for real writing they become critics… creatures of no real value). Critics frankly don’t really know anything important about life or music, and for the life of me I have no idea why people need to have their opinions formed or confirmed by these critters. So, point number one… critics don’t matter. Case in point, does anyone remember the critic who said Beethoven was destroying music? No, but they remember Beethoven.
Lennon, jealous over McCartney’s success, devoted a great deal of time to picking away at his credibility, and after he was shot Lennon quite naturally ascended to near sainthood. In fact Lennon has in many ways managed posthumously to get credit for a lot of McCartney’s work, case in point when I ask most Lennon fans what their favorite 5 Beatles songs are they generally choose 3 McCartney, a Harrison and 1 Lennon… go figure.
And lastly McCartney is partially to blame for his own fall from grace in that at exactly the time Lennon was becoming sainted McCartney released some of his most sappy and lackluster work (including the craptacular “Pipe of Peace” album). And since then McCartney has insisted on pretending he is “ordinary” and has taken a totally affected anti-intellectual stance in interviews. Simply put he has created an environment in which he plays into his moronic image. I am constantly amazed how consistently he sells himself and his work short. Additionally he seems to buy into his own bad press and image, refusing even to rethink the quality of less successful albums (“Back to the Egg” for example, perhaps Wings best album, McCartney utterly dismisses it). Additionally many of his recent tours are sad and shameful nostalgia shows.
Yet I am his BIGGEST fan!
OK, so I’ve rabbited on about how he fell from grace and how in some ways it was his own fault, so let’s scratch the surface and look a little deeper. Who is the Paul McCartney I like? The real Paul McCartney hides in his music and frequently hides his very best music from all but his biggest fans. I will dig deeper into all this later, but now I will talk about the Paul McCartney I love and why I think almost everyone needs to rethink him. My first point would be that his music itself is problematic for people, especially people who have a narrow field of interests or narrow expectations. McCartney draws inspiration from a deep well filled with a life of passion for many different styles of music. In the seventies many people became convinced that genre-rock was the only thing that mattered or the only thing that was honest or “hardcore.” Moreso, in many peoples minds they don’t take music seriously unless it is heavy, dark, or melancholic. For example when you buy a Pink Floyd album or a Led Zeppelin album you know you are going to the Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin place, with McCartney you are going to the McCartney place, and that place is a whole lot BIGGER! McCartney albums demand patience and an openness to go where HE wants to take you and not an insistence that he takes you where YOU want or expect to go. Yeah, McCartney rocks, and all-out and heavily, but he also has a sincere love of the music of this father’s generation, of guys like Cole Porter and Nat King Cole. Similarly a McCartney may not please fans of experimental music even though there are wildly experimental elements on many of his albums because they may cringe that following the experimental track is a delightful and well-crafted pop song. Lovers of his ballads and melodic songs feel put off when he gets noisy. Simply put, if you’re gonna listen to McCartney you have to let him lead the dance. This refers back to my point about how a complicated person like me demands a complicated artist. McCartney albums are complicated and sometimes hard to get close to to people who have rigid ideas about what music counts and what music doesn’t. An album like “Memory Almost Full” definitely makes this point, and as the years have passed I think “Venus and Mars” does as well.
McCartney’s lyrics come under fire, but personally I find his lyric writing inspired examples of what I call “stream of collective unconscious.” Even his so-called nonsense lyrics are brilliantly and deceptively fascinating and evocative. And if you can get over yourself if you feel some need to dismiss him, many of his songs are quite profound and tightly written as poetry. Of course over time I’ll give examples, but I need to keep this post moving… it’s already HUGE!
I also find McCartney to be the most experimental artist ever to have worked in the rock medium, but my definition of experimental is different than most. Personally I think the word “experimental” has become too narrow to fit McCartney. It has been co-opted by a cult of snobs who seem to like being poked in the eye by their music. Experimental music does not have to be antagonistic, ugly, or unapproachable to be experimental. Music can be highly experimental but still catchy and well-crafted. McCartney not only experiments with instruments and forms but with genres, life, and subtleties. His sense of melody (perhaps his greatest gift) cannot help but prevail even in his most experimental (and hard-rocking) music. The depth of his experimental nature I’ll talk a lot about later, but to make my point just listen to all the seeking he does on “Back to the Egg.” Yes, he is experimental, but far too tasteful to wallow in it for long or without redemption.
And contrary to popular belief McCartney was not a lightweight, he rocks, always has and always will… but he doesn’t just rock… to me THAT would be a bore. I could go on forever about his heavier tracks, but when he’s playing tough and hard it’s enough to make your hair curl… and no one can touch him. Rocking isn’t just about how distorted the guitars are or how deep the growl in the voice, it’s as much about something far less easy to quantify… ENERGY!
So far as the depth of his work on a mystical or personal level I will talk at length in later posts about the themes (particularly mystical) that recur throughout his work, primarily water and nature imagery. And while many people can’t see it, his work is intensely personal and revelatory, but he often takes the high road and rather than writing simplistic self-indulgent angst-ridden songs McCartney chooses to work harder and universalize his pain and moments of clarity and revelation so that we can all relate to it, and again I will talk about this world of wonders later, too.
So THAT is who Paul McCartney is to me, and I intend to talk about all this stuff in greater depth later, for now, trust me, as my friend Joe once said: “If you can’t see how great Paul McCartney is, that’s not Paul McCartney’s fault.”
Read on, I’ll keep posting!