16 October, 2007

Burying Paul, or, "turn me on, dead man"

So, I went to see Across the Universe the other night, which I enjoyed although I can certainly see how someone might not. I always enjoy Julie Taymor's striking imagery, and so for that, it was great. A story based all around characters from Beatles songs (Jude, Sadie, Prudence, etc) thrown into a sort of weirdo narrative, however, was less convincing. Nonetheless, a good time. And the songs are still really great.

After seeing the film, I was sent into a bit of a Beatles fit, dug out my copy of The White Album, and listened. First: what a weird record this is. Great, yes, but totally weird. Second: "Revolution 9" is amazing in how it contextually illuminates what was going on culturally at the time. (John Sinclair talks a little about this in his book Guitar Army; The Beatles and Freak Culture.) What listening made me realize, however, is why I have always disliked Paul McCartney.

Now, those who know me know that I have always had issues with Paul. For a while I thought it was because I am a composer and he is a fake-composer. But that's really not it. I don't really care if Paul writes "classical" music. Someone has to, since none of my friends do it anymore. What really irks me is, I now realize, is his public persona; the character he appeared to play in The Beatles, and has continued to play since. (Regardless of whether it is sincere or not).

Each of The Beatles had their own public image, which has since become their little myths. John was the martyred rebel artsy weirdo who fought the law (even though the law won). George was the spiritual one who--perhaps the most brilliant musician of the lot--was trounced by the Lennon/McCartney musical personality. Ringo was the lucky one. The worst musician of the lot who wrote all of their dopiest songs (Octopus’s Garden?!) and who was the ultimate right-place-at-the-right-time stand-in for Pete Best. (…but more on Ringo another time) And Paul? Well, Paul was the nice one.

And what does it mean to be the nice one? Well--and perhaps this is unfair--to me it always suggested a lack of personal conviction. It was clear that John and George had beliefs. Even Ringo had them, even if his beliefs were more along the lines of "I am going to ride this magic wave as long as I can." Paul always struck me as a bit of a goody-goody who always listened to his record execs. Sometimes I fantasize that he sold his soul to the corporations, which is why he has outlived his more noble band mates.

It will be interesting to see how his myth plays out. What will Paul's legacy be? Will they make movies about him like they have about Lennon? They may, but I can't imagine they will be all that interesting. What could they be about, really? How nice he was? His dramatic friendship with Michael Jackson? ("Paul I told you, I'm a lover, not a fighter!") Who really cares about any of this anyway?!

On a side note, has anyone ever thought how amazing it would be if wacko artist Paul McCarthy were to be inserted into The Beatles line-up? Now that’s a band I'd love to see--all mop tops and Heinz ketchup! Something more akin to GWAR than the Crickets I suspect!


Judd said...

He may have been the "nice" one in the early Beatles days, but what's funny about that period is how they were all perceived as "bad" because of their haircuts and such. We can't see it now. So being "nice" meant something different. Later on, though, I almost see him as the core - John wanted to be doing weird shit with Yoko, George wanted to be in India, Ringo was obviously not the core (though I imagine you'll wind up arguing otherwise at some point), so it was Paul who was carrying the flame of the earlier Beatles years. I don't know if he had any more desire than the others to keep the band together, but if what he stood for was "being part of this awesome band", then that's something, right? He's the straight rocker of the group. In most cases, I'd probably agree with you that that's not quite enough, but when you've formed one of the seminal musical ensembles of all time, I'm willing to give a pass - a high pass, even.

DTL said...

Yeah, that's true. He was definitely the "let's-keep the-band-together" guy, and that's a hard thing to be. It invariably makes that person the parent-figure of the group, and therefore, in some respect the enemy. And this pretty much happened, right?

Since I tend to favor post-Yoko John, perhaps I resent Paul-as-parent vicariously. Like, I am 10 years old again, and Paul is the mean Dad down the street who won't let my friend come out to play.

And you are right: they were certainly not "nice" in the beginning, although there I would have to say that he was still probably the "cute" one, if not "nice" right? The "sorry-girls-he's-married" guy.

Anyway as you know, my opinion of Paul is weird, and not really based on any real events or facts, just half- or ill-informed opinions from my youth. The post was just an attempt to unpack it a bit; a little Paul-therapy on an autumn evening.

As for my thoughts on Ringo, you'll have to wait. In the meantime, go listen to Octopus's Garden a few hundred times, so your anti-Starr appetite will be nicely whetted. Sharpen them knives.