A thumbs-up for a musical idol
Gerald Ingolby tips his hat to a member of the Fab Four
According to reports in the media overnight, fears are growing for the health of former Beatle Paul McCartney, 71, now hospitalised in Tokyo by some form of virus that has caused the cancellation of four gigs in the Far East in advance of a 19-date US tour planned to begin next month. Despite this, a PR representative for the musician has issued a statement denying that there is any cause for concern.
Whether connected to these developments or not, today website of The Guardian contains a piece by Labour politician Alan Johnson confessing his long-held hero worship for McCartney, see here – THE GUARDIAN
To an extent McCartney suffers from the inevitable lot of a pop star who ends up living a long and happy life. Rightly or wrongly, rock & roll revels in a ‘live fast, die young’ self-image – or should that be a ‘never grow up’ mentality? As an oldie myself, I can see the in-built irony in the prospect of beholding the surviving members of The Who, now both approaching their seventies, having to perform My Generation in response to popular demand, with its defiant ‘couldn’t give a stuff’ stance brilliantly encapsulated in the iconic line ‘Hope I die before I get old’.
In a technical sense, why should a middle-aged, or indeed elderly, former teen idol not continue to write great music into their dotage? There is a view that great mathematicians, chess players and scientists do their best work before the age of thirty – which, depending upon your choice of example, may or may not seem true – but, if you happen to be Einstein, Mozart or Bobby Fischer you might take issue with that presumption.
McCartney has always had an image problem – even he seems to acknowledge it. Although long after the Beatles broke up, revisionist views of their contributions have given Ringo and George greater recognition than they had at the time, for most people the driving force of the band was always Lennon-McCartney.
Of those two, history has cast McCartney as the pretty, always easy-to-please, classic Tin Pan Ally tunesmith, whilst Lennon was the tortured, edgy true genius who infused McCartney’s saccharin-saturated ditties with the relevance and ‘bite’ that, on their own, was always lacking.
To McCartney’s frustration, that view has prevailed ever since, despite him taking every opportunity to point out that he was at least as interested as Lennon, if not more so, in pursuing an interest in 1960s experimental music and art. He has also gone to the extent of seeking to switch the writing credit for Yesterday from Lennon-McCartney to McCartney-Lennon on the potentially-justified basis that he came up with the song entirely on his own … and been rebuffed.
Part of McCartney’s problem is that all this smacks of sour grapes and an attempt to re-write history to his own advantage. The legend of Lennon as the ‘hard’ genius (but inferior composer) and McCartney as the ‘nice’ one has endured, despite the fact that – on the one hand – Lennon could also knock out a mean tune and – on the other – McCartney could rock out with the best of them.
I once hosted a farewell lunch for a well-known A & R man retiring from EMI Records. During it I asked him to identify the most musically-talented person he had ever worked with. Despite a career going back long enough to have worked with Ivor Novello, and being instinctively more at home and familiar with mainstream ‘adult’ (grown up) popular jazz singers than anything to do with pop or rock, he immediately nominated McCartney. He said that, even though McCartney could not read music, for sheer musicality and talent, he was out there on his own as far as he (the speaker) was concerned.
In the early 1970s I once interviewed McCartney for a student paper, not long after he had started his band Wings. He had the ability to make anyone who came into his orbit feel special (or rather, an equal), even a minnow like me. For the five minutes I had with him, spluttering out my inane questions, he gave the impression that I was the only person in the world that he would have wished to speak to before going out on stage that night.
McCartney is an all-time British musical great. If you can ignore the dyed hair, the stereotypical ‘Scoucer mateyness’ and the fact that (on the evidence of some recent gigs) his singing voice is ‘shot’, it’s worth celebrating him being around.