An open letter to Paul McCartney and the elder statesmen of pop

Dear Paul,

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.

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13 comments on “An open letter to Paul McCartney and the elder statesmen of pop”

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  1. Sad but true. I have all the tapes, LPs, CDs and mini discs I could ever want, and I have seen enough concerts to keep my memory factory thrumming along for a good while yet.
    I like the idea of listening to my own generation (I’m 60) of music quietly as I write, and enjoy thinking back back to the times we had at gigs back ‘in the day’.
    There comes a time when even your most favourite uncle becomes an embarrassment when he pisses his pants laughing too hard at a family party.
    Uncle Paul – just keep the intimate stuff going and leave the stadiums for someone else.

  2. Stuart Hatfield

    Good review John, I agree that the performance was a little jaded and totally agree with you that Paul does not have the public kudos that John has. Maybe, one day, we’ll look back and think that we were lucky to have seen a British icon grace a global event.

  3. They even paid him a quid for that shonky performance! Unbelieveable.

  4. Good piece John. What struck me about the opening ceremony was that it presented a new Britain, a multicultural Britain of the 21st Century with a wealth of history to draw from, not only in a traditional sense, but by embracing the riches of its pop culture of the past 50 years, of which The Beatles take the central roll.

    Time has moved on, and this was clearly symbolized in Paul McCartney’s performance. In many respects it felt like the changing of the guard, which is a good thing, but it was obviously uncomfortable to hear a younger generation criticising one of the main icons of the old. They were right, of course – the climax of the event should have been better served, forward looking not backwards. It was only a few weeks ago that McCartney was closing proceedings at the Jubilee celebrations, so rather than having the element of occasion this was supposed to represent, that special one-offness, before he’d even started to sing there was a collective moan of ‘not him again’ expressed by a whole chunk of the nation. The sound problems compounded this, and all of a sudden we weren’t looking at the most successful pop performer of all time, but a 70 year old man who was struggling to hold a tune. The king was very much in the altogether.

    It reminds me a bit of Muhammed Ali who, having had a glorious career, just couldn’t stop, and ended up being well beaten by lesser men. Instead of going out in a blaze of glory, it was ultimately a sad demise – the old fighter trying, in vain, to re-capture his youth. McCartney reached too far in his attempt to consolidate what he already has – immortality – and, as you point out, ended up looking like a mere mortal. I only hope that this doesn’t sully his reputation for this younger generation, whose first impression of him is a somewhat cheesy out of tune senior citizen, rather than one of the most vital figures of youthful expression to have graced the 20th Century.

  5. Derek McNaughton

    I think this is a reasonable question. The answer, I feel, lies with the individual, some like McCartney and Richards, have clearly reached the end of the road in the live arena, nothing wrong with new recordings though. But thats not the end of the story. Bands like the magnificent UFO never stopped or split up, kept recording killer albums, and to this day regularly tour and give stunning performances night after night. Singer Phil Mogg is 64 now, yet his voice never fails, just his memory now and then! There are others, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tul fame is now 65 and still touring extensively, standing on one leg and giving great performances, Nazareth also. I suppose the point I am trying to make is, yes McCartney should stop, but don’t tar all the oldies with the same brush, give them a chance, and I would think they will now when to stop.

  6. I have no objection to rockers performing into their 80s and 90s. I just think that the stage needs to be appropriate for their performing ability.

    I also feel as though there was a BIG opportunity missed here… London 2012 has been lauded for its legacy; “Inspiring future generations” has been thrown out by commentator and journo alike. The clamour that was made regarding the 7 young athletes who lit the Olympic cauldron was possibly the most visible example of that.

    Why could Sir Paul not have done something similar? There could quite easily have been a stage hand-over to another artiste to take the iconic song and breathe freshness and vitality into it; something that would truly inspire generations to come.

    How cool would a grime remix of ‘Hey Jude’ have been, performed by Dizzy? What about a Jessie J version? Or even an arrangement by Adele!?!

    Opportunities to bridge the gap between the old and the new; something that pays homage to the origins of this fast-paced pop culture, that nourishes the process further and uses the global collective audience to boost and extol British brilliance in this field.

    These opportunities come around so infrequently that they should be seized with both hands. I think this is the question that should be asked, not whether or not there is an age for rockers to leave such arenas…

  7. face it…Macca’ and the stones are 1 off’s, yrs from now in music lessons up and down the UK, the world, they will be mentioned in the same sentences as Mozart and Bach…innovators that are still here today…jaded or not it was still the obvious choice apposed to Cheryl Cole’s PR driven racket…every country has a bimbo like cole and the others, but they dont have Macca’s…

  8. I have to say it really lifts the spirits to see someone in their twilight years put on a great show. I saw the incredible Andre Williams a few years back and even at pushing 80 he was still the coolest cat on the block. Also saw the KPM All-stars a couple of weeks back and some of these folk must have a few years on Macca but were tremendous.

  9. When Paul McCartney does a headline show 80,000 people buy tickets. When Goldblade play a headline show they sell…what?…400 tickets? Who do you really think should give it up as a lost cause?

    Also taking aside the artistic merit of his performance at the closing ceremony, think how many people are employed due to his continued touring commitments. Not forgetting all the staff that work at the Stadiums that he seems to regularly fill. He generates a lot of work and income for 1000’s of people within our industry and if he was to give up thats less work for everyone involved.

    Your music snobbery has clouded your vision. Hundreds of thousands of people pay good money to see PM every year and they love his shows, so why, would you be asking for him to retire? Its not exactly a great punk ethic is it? Surely letting people do what ever they want is much more punk? If he wants to play stadiums and people want to pay to seem him then let them for fuck sake. You don’t have to go or even watch on him on TV. As far as I can see its just jealousy on your part as a failed rock star who would swap places with Macca at the slightest opportunity.

    The fact that you are asking someone to give up rocknroll disgusts me and surely shows you have lost all your original punk ethics and maybe its time for you to give up lazy journalism taking a pop at commercially successful artists for cheap rewards.

  10. This was the same thing said by Alan McGee two years ago (Alan McGee says musicians such as Sir Paul McCartney should retire at 40 and yet he was excoriated for it.

    This appearance by Paul at the opening ceremonies, although great (and the only this about the Olympics that I even cared about) clearly shows the over-influence of the Art & June Baby Boom’s generation on things; there could have been something else preformed at the ceremonies that spoke to current day Britain than ‘Hey Jude,’ great as it still is. Even the kids who were watching the Grammy Awards got tired of this (‘Who the fuck is Paul McCartney?’) Maybe a medley of songs, from old to new, would have been better.

  11. I know this is a very old post and I’m pretty much just jotting this comment down for my own satisfaction, but I feel like it’s necessary for me to say this: I have been a Paul McCartney/Beatles fan for my entire life. Paul has shaped many things about my childhood and adult life thanks solely to my father’s wonderful taste in impeccable music and my immersion in said music for many years.

    This brings me to the reason I started this post and the comment I wanted to direct at this John character who wrote the above letter: What in Lucifer’s vast infinite hell gives you the nerve to immaturely and ignorantly assume that you are worthy of even beginning to form your own opinion of Paul McCartney’s retirement, and much less suggest that he’s run the course of his career, regardless of his latest performance or any of his future performances?

    I don’t care who you are, how much experience you claim to have in music, etc., you aren’t even close to qualified to make the above assanine suggestion. Please keep your ignorant and unqualified suggestions/comments to yourself until you become Paul McCartney himself, for then you will possess the right to open your dumb mouth.

    Thanks,
    Fellow Paul fan and concerned citizen.

    • I’m a bit late in posting a comment also & I doubt anyone will read it. I totally agree with Andrew. This John character who wrote the letter to Paul is totally clueless! You’re talking about a Legend, who, in my opinion, is the coolest Senior citizen to ever grace the stage. I grew up with the Beatles & to this day, I think Paul is one of the greatest of all time. Yes, I’m a baby boomer but I’m not stuck in the 60s. Musicians today have all the high tech equipment to sound much better. Many of them can’t even carry a note but with today’s technology, you think they sound great. The Beatles & then Paul after the Beatles didn’t have this technology. Paul is now 72 years old & I’m going to his concert in 2 weeks. So what, if you think he was a bit off when he sang “Hey Jude”. I’ve heard young musicians who are suppose to be really good, do a pretty bad concert. John, you have no right to criticize Sir Paul! He can still get down with anybody. My opinion may not mean anything to you but I could care less. Your stupid letter sounds ridiculous! Paul will retire when he feels like it’s time. You sound like some immature jerk lost in your own world! I just felt the need to post my thoughts at 3:00 am in the morning.

  12. John Robb was never more right than when he wrote this article, as it applies to 2018 in a lot of ways, as shown here in this article, which has even brought up his ‘pipes’ not being as good as they used to be in his most recent performances (although I loved this video of him singing with James Corden.

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