All Things Must Pass, Across the Universe, Please Please Me, I Will Be Glad All Over when we Let poor McCartney Be

Or, Why You Need to Stop Encouraging Paul McCartney

Personally, I blame Ian Leslie[1].

OK, I don’t really blame him.

But Leslie was definitely at the vanguard of a movement to rehabilitate the reputation of a performer, about whom I was pretty sure the debate was settled and the world had moved on: Paul McCartney.

Leslie’s piece, ‘64 Reasons to Celebrate Paul McCartney‘ – which you should definitely read by the way –  appeared to herald the beginning of some form of rediscovery and rehabilitation for “the kid”.

The second reason Leslie gives as reason to celebrate this multimillionaire is, “it’s the end of 2020, the kid is 78 years old and is widely regarded as having made more great songs than anyone else alive. He is releasing a new album, McCartney III.”

Writer – and McCartney apologist – Ian Leslie

Ok. Well, firstly, he ain’t no kid and – as far as I can tell – the only people who widely regard him as “having made more great songs than anyone else alive,” are Ian Leslie and Alan Partridge. I imagine it would sure as hell come as a surprise to Bob Dylan, for a start.

Suddenly there was a wave of this nonsense. He headlined Glastonbury for the love of all that is right with the world. Everyone was rediscovering “the legend”! That bloke who made interminable movies about some geezers in need of a wax walking and lasted for12 hours, Peter Jackson, made an unwatchable documentary about four men in early middle age sitting in a music studio which lasted eight hours. Cheers for that.

However, what the whole sudden appreciation of McCartney really put me in mind of is the conclusion of Alan Bennett’s play ‘An Englishman Abroad’.

As Coral Browne tells the audience, “If you can eat a boiled egg in England at ninety, they think you deserve a Nobel Prize.”

People aren’t suddenly reappraising McCartney because he’s got relevance or he’s amazing at melodies. People are reappraising him because he’s old and he’s not dead and he’s less of a weapon’s grade tool than Ringo.

Except, he’s not really – and he doesn’t even get the Thomas the Tank Engine bye.

“McCartney’s reputation has never fully recovered from the shredding it took when The Beatles broke up,” writes Leslie. Yeah, again, funny that. It’s like when Paul Weller broke up The Jam to do The Style Council. Can you trace the roots of that subsequent venture in singles like Beat Surrender? Of course.

Should you vilify the artist for branching out and trying new things?

Also of course. Because it was awful, it looked stupid and it pleased no one. It pleased no one because it wasn’t cool.

And that matters. it matters because they’re supposed to be rock stars.

I get that he wasn’t originally. I get that by the time they’d ceased being The Quarrymen and got shot of DAs and rocker jackets and been repackaged, he was in a little group marketed as cynically as any Busted, Boyzone or McFly.

And I agree that The Beatles made some quality pop records and they could play their own instruments – at least before the acid years when they got “interesting” – or unlistenable depending upon how honest you want to be about it.

In the absolutely superlative documentary series – and mercifully shorter than ‘Get Back’, ‘My Life as a Rolling Stone’ – Mick Jagger speaks revealingly about the way the attitude of the group was deliberately cultivated as the anti-thesis of The Beatles’ holier-than-thou goody-two-shoes-ness.

Actual rock stars. Should be dead. Aren’t.

It’s the reason your Mum loved the Liverpudlian quartet and your Dad was a Stones man. Because she went to church on Sunday and he was too hungover.

But now, it’s half a century later and the loathsome ditty guffer is getting praise for being a fantastic musician and for his ability to write a melody and…

Yawn.

But, here’s the thing: that’s not his job.

His job is to be a rock star. And that’s not his métier at all.

McCartney is probably a really nice man and, if you’re a music person, I’m sure his melodies are charming and carry you away.

Presumably to the Mull of Kintyre.

But, as the late, great Bill Hicks said, “I want my rock stars dead!”

A proper rock star comedian, Bill Hicks

In Relentless, the comedy equivalent of a proper rock album, he continues, “When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? I want my children listening to people who fucking rocked! I don’t care if they died in pools of their own vomit! I want someone who plays from his fucking heart!”

You know why Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Petty, Deep Purple, The Who and The Rolling Stones are cool?

It’s because they played from their hearts.

“But McCartney does play from his heart”, mewl the fans. Yeah, but their hearts were weird, warped, dangerous and black and his heart is a branch of Clinton’s Cards, all faux-Cath Kidson bunting and environmentally damaging glitter balloons.

The UK is not about sincerity. We are allergic to asinine assertions of hearts on sleeves. It why you can respect Phil Collins’ drumming and still know he’s musical criminal.

It’s why when Americans do political shows we get The West Wing, when the Brits do it, we get The Thick of It. If you’re sincere, you’re suspect and, probably, a wrong ‘en. Look how everyone believed the sweet-hearted, tennis-loving, Brexit Elvis-impersonator Cliff Richards’ Yew Tree stuff, even when demonstrably false.

It’s not just about dying – but it is about living on the edge. It’s about sex and drugs and rock and roll, not the Frog Chorus or Ebony and Ivory  – even though they are the musical equivalence of the Iraq invasion – Go to The Hague, do not pass go, do not collect a Middle Eastern Peace Envoy role.

It’s because rock stars are Hendrix and his plastercast junk, not buttersoft balls like ‘Yesterday’.

Oh, all your “troubles seemed so far away,” did they? I bet you took a full 4 seconds to come up with that rhyme, ya whopper.

So, in the final analysis, what does Paul McCartney leave the world?

Some decent pop tunes in the early 1960s, Wings – “the band the Beatles could have been”, as Patridge said and the ability to not be dead.

The sort of men who value McCartney

Well hold the front page.

Vegetarianism, trainers with a suit jacket – which everyone used to rightly chastise him for before the Shoreditch “massif” began copying it ironically and then it became de rigour, like beard oil and unicycles -does not a rock god make.

Everyone knows the only Beatle that mattered was George anyway. For a start, he got to go and play with the big boys of the rock world and be cool.  

And you see who’s not there? That’s right, because he’s not cool. Never has been, never will be.

When he made the trip to a muddy field in Gloucestershire, people were suddenly surprised that he wasn’t very good. “His voice has gone,” they whined. Gone where? Tell you what, who knew?

Oh that’s right, everyone.

Can’t imagine why letting the Werther’s Original Grandad have the main stage of a major festival which used to be good, could in any way go wrong…

I know that Caitlin Moran and Ian Leslie are better writers than me, more successful than me, vastly more talented than me and Moran, for sure, knows far more about music than I ever will.

Caitlin Moran – better writer than me, better knowledge of music – still wrong on this topic.

But they are wrong on this topic. They are backing Clarkson-era Top Gear, jeans at the nipples, middle age, middle of the road “rock” compilations. And that’s never the right horse to back.

So, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, From Me to You, please, I suggest we let Grandad slope off back to his shed and leave the rock music to the mad, the bad and the dangerous rather than the safe, the saccharine and the benign.


[1] Despite his blocking of me on Twitter (I think because of this subject?) I don’t really blame him. I think he’s an exceptional thinker about the world who, even when you disagree with him, is worth listening to and who introduced me to Substack. I have read more, and more widely, because of the money I give him for his newsletter and I rate him as one of the best writers working today. I emailed to apologise for whatever it was I did which upset him but have yet to receive a reply. You should definitely buy his book, ‘How to Disagree: Lessons on Productive Conflict at Work and Home.’ Perhaps the secret is to block people who annoy you online?

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