An open letter to Paul McCartney and the elder statesmen of pop
I have been a fan of some of you work for a long time. The Beatles is, of course, a given and even some of you post Beatle work is very underrated. I admire the way you have kept the show on the road for decades and your work ethic is pretty admirable.
Last week, though, many people suddenly felt that age had caught up with you and you could feel the collective national gasp as you stumbled through Hey Jude at the Olympics ceremony.
We appreciate that you played the show for the sum total of one pound – a great gesture in these times.
What should have been the fitting climax to the show, sounded, well, a bit wonky. It wasn’t all your fault. The backing track was out of sync at the start of the song which threw things and you were playing catch up after that but after the performance the knives have been out saying that Beatle Paul should hang up the iconic violin bass.
This may not be strictly fair but it asks an interesting question.
You are not the only old rocker who is is struggling to maintain that youthful vigor that was so much part of the sixties myth. The stories keep leaking out of the Stones camp that the real reason that the band can’t get this 50th anniversary tour together is not Keef saying Mick had a small cock in his autobiography but that the old rascal guitar player has too many health problems to commit to the road.
They are not the only band struggling to maintain their myth- a myth central to all pop music but to the sixties especially that, as the great Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople once sang so wisely in the classic All The Way From Memphis ‘As your name gets hot so your heart grows cold ‘n you gotta stay young man, you can never be old . The aging world of rock n roll is full of examples of bands who have been confronted with the sudden spectre of 70 which has become the new 40 and that eternal youthfulness, that Peter Pan- we live forever in rock n roll suddenly evaporates in front of their eyes.
We are not down on old rockers playing music, we are old rockers oursefes and just more interested in the public response to the gig.
Madonna cops a lot of flak for flaunting her sexuality and Iggy Pop get it for taking his shirt off onstage in his late sixties but there is something oddly touching about this display of feral, let it all hang out honesty from Iggy whilst the lucrative comeback circuit is full of old legends disguised by technology and great light shows playing replications of their old classics- which is not always a bad thing until age suddenly catches up on the golden generation.
That’s the crux of the problem. The pop myth was sold on bands selling the elixir of youth and it was pretty attractive. The sixties was the decade of the young and that generation has maintained its vice like grip on youthful high jinks ever since with your good self, Sir Paul and your old mate Sir Mick at the helm. Suddenly, though, we all are confronted by our own mortality and our own human failings and it’s met with a mass thumbs down.
Not that anyone is immune, even your author questions his own right to be playing high energy punk rock shows over the age of 50. This is not an ageist blog though and we celebrate the old crew who somehow find a dignified way of dealing with inevitable. Tom Waits still makes consistantly great records and last year a 91 year old Ravi Shankar played one of the best gigs that I saw. We are not opposed to you Paul performing or playing, just more interested in the reaction to your performance with people questioning whether it’s time to change who closes these affairs.
What does an ex Beatle do? You can’t retire, the love of playing music is still very much part of your psyche and this is a good quality. It wasn’t purely your fault that Hey Jude sounded lame, and Danny Boyle choosing you to close the show was, on paper, a smart move.
A history of the UK told in pop culture terms which is what the Olympic ceremony was has to include the Beatles ( would have been better if your old mate Ringo had been there though…) and Hey Jude is a massive song, a pop culture national anthem with the mass populist singalong at the end that would have been perfect for the context of the show.
Instead, like British diver, it belly flopped and has cased many awkward questions to be asked…like when should a Rock n roller retire? Or is there another way of playing the cards? Or is this what happens when you play to the whole nation and not just your own audience.
We have no truck with the idea that musicians should retire because of age and we respect and love the wisdom of the older generations, maybe it’s time for the sixties to finally grow up? Or maybe Peter Pan just has to get craggy in public. It’s like looking at those pictures of Alice Liddell, the small girl who was Alice In Wonderland, when she was 80 years old. They are shocking because she was trapped in time in the aspic of youth. Maybe this has happened to you as well and the public had that same sudden feeling that the Beatle Paul of Britannia rules the waves of pop culture was suddenly a mere mortal, granted a mere mortal with the mighty Hey Jude at his fingertips, but a mere mortal nonetheless.
History has already been unkind to you Paul, for some reason John Lennon is always referred to as the genius in the Beatles when we know you were equals and we know that your solo career amounts to far more than the frog chorus. We know that you are a consummate entertainer we were just wondering whether it is time to rethink but we know that you have that burning desire to prove yourself even if you were in the fucking Beatles, the band that, more than any other changed pop culture.
Was the Olympic gig a genuine cock up, a minor blip or a sign that mortality comes to us all? Maybe the publIc suddenly felt old and that’s not a bad thing. Getting old and dying is part of life if we are lucky but people don’t like to be reminded of it.