I rather enjoy playing music videos from Youtube. I don’t much care about the videos, mostly, but I find it’s a great way to listen to music, kicking back in my beat up old armchair and hastening my hearing loss by cranking up the volume in my earbuds.
Anyway, I came across Paul McCartney’s first solo album (‘McCartney,’ with the cherries on a white tablecloth cover) and listened to it for perhaps the first time since 1971 or so. I actually bought the record while I was in high school, liked it well enough and even bought a book with all the sheet music, even managed to bang out a recognizable effort of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ on the piano.
I was surprised to find that I like it better now than I did then. What follows here are my thoughts in light of what I remember about the story of the Beatles and their breakup and their personalities and their personal growth as musicians and people. I’m not looking anything up here (I don’t want to regurgitate other shit you can read online); these are just my thoughts.
First of all, it’s obvious to me that the breakup of the Beatles was much more painful to Paul than it was to anyone else…including John Lennon. Lennon, you may recall, followed up with a solo album of his own (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, a tremendous record, and easily his best work post Beatles). He certainly vented his pain and anger on those songs.
But he had already emotionally departed from the Beatles and had already told his bandmates of his intentions. Indeed, part of the following anger and bitterness between them all probably resulted from the fact that while Lennon had quit the band privately, it was McCartney who announced it publicly. Many people thought he did so to simply promote his debut solo album. Maybe so, maybe so. McCartney is probably the most businesslike and practical member of what was (and may still be) the most famous band in history.
But John had already been releasing solo records. And McCartney is a surprisingly gentle and pretty and even melancholy record, and finishes up with a classic song, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed,’ as heartfelt and sincere an expression and affirmation of love as I’ve ever heard from anyone. McCartney is prone to keep his vulnerable side at a distance from his songs, but not this time.
As is well known, Paul McCartney played all of the instruments himself (recording each instrument separately and overdubbing) in a home studio. That’s an amazing feat, and could be and probably was thought of as just showing off. But I look at it differently. I think he was hurt. I think he may have felt isolated from his band mates as everything turned sour. Sure, a lot of it may have been his fault, as the other three Beatles resisted his attempts to manage everybody. Despite his warnings (his correct warnings) the others led the band into the clutches of Allen Klein (ouch). And what’s more insufferable than someone who always ends up being right?
I think McCartney was just not emotionally or spiritually ready to embrace playing with a new set of musicians. The album was partly proving himself to himself, and the sound of it is unusual to my ears. It flat out sounds lonely, no other musicians, just Paul playing by himself, no other incidental noises. The only part of the album that isn’t Paul is the sound of Linda McCartney’s laughter at the end of ‘The Lovely Linda.’ The moment comes as a welcome relief, actually, a reminder that perhaps he really isn’t alone in an empty world after all.
The album is filled with evidence of his musical genius, of course. In that regard I think there is more promise of future fulfillment than proof, though there is plenty of that. Paul McCartney is an amazing musician, the guy seems to be capable of doing anything, playing anything, singing anything, can compose music as easily as turning on a tap. Perhaps his only weakness is a reluctance to reveal his own self, as I wrote earlier.
Did you know that Paul McCartney once met with Isaac Asimov? The meeting is recounted in the second volume of Asimov’s autobiography. Paul was working on a project that involved some kind of science fiction setting (with alien creatures) and someone thought it would be a good idea for the two men to get together.
The meeting did not go well, though there was nothing acrimonious. Asimov starting asking about what kind of environment the aliens would exist in (since that would have logical consequences for how they would appear and behave), but Paul was just thinking, Hey, you’re the science fiction guy, just give me some weird looking things.
But the odd thing is that both men are comparable in this respect: they were both prolific and highly knowledgeable in their respective fields, and both were often criticized for producing ‘fluff’ pieces, not worthy of their reputations. But neither man ever felt intimidated by their own works. Nor should they have been.
Editorializing, I think that ever since the mid-1960s music has been unfairly burdened by the expectation of seriousness. “Excuse me, peasants. We are producing art here.” Well, we all want to be taken seriously, but surely there must be room for sheer enjoyment. In music there is the joy of interesting and pleasing and surprising sounds and rhythms (and humorous lyrics). If done effectively, there is a respectable art in that as well. Indeed, as exemplified by the Beatles and carried on in the work of Paul McCartney, perhaps there is no greater skill than producing works that truly entertain.
I wouldn’t actually say that he’s my favourite artist. But I see a brilliantly talented man who keeps a sober and sensible head on his shoulders, protective of his private feelings, unwilling to let it all hang out in public, determined to be cheerful to most people and perhaps too polite to get the respect of those who think rudeness is ‘telling it like it is.’
Gary Fletcher – August 25, 2017