McCartney Still Gives Me Wings

Submitted on the eve of the release of his album New

In my previous blog on Bruce Springsteen's early career, I shared some stories of how my own youthful career intersected with the Boss's, including how I accidentally helped him in his negotiations with his record label leading up to his success with Born to Run. You can check it out here.

I recently screened David Chase's entertaining (to a guy of nearly 60) feature Not Fade Away, the story of how some New Jersey youth, inspired by the British Invasion, tried to make it in a band and escape a boring dead-end life in the suburbs. By the way, thanks to fellow traveler of Springsteen, and of all of us musical aspirants from that era, Steve Van Zandt for his great authentic soundtrack. (Thanks also Steve for putting together the recent Rascals show on Broadway. Felix is an inspiration and The Rascals are still a fantastic band. I'm getting to like you in spite of thinking an early demo of yours I heard on WJLK, Asbury Park really sucked and resenting it when you took over the guitar leads for a while in the Born to Run era. From then on, you've done good!)

Anyway my latest piece goes back to a source of inspiration that Bruce and I and millions of other music-obsessed adults of an era past share: The Beatles. Saw them on Ed Sullivan, right? Thought they had all cut their hair to look like Moe of the Three Stooges. They changed our lives.

Sometimes I think that the youth of today live in an era where to be young is so much fun, so full of fun things to do, that kids don't want to grow up or run away from home. They're having too good a time. When they do leave it's to move here to Silver Lake and have some more fun -- a personal choice to continue their childhoods in a freer setting than they already had. In the '60s we wanted out. Our parents completely didn't get it. Dads were mean or at least too preoccupied to attempt to understand. And then, for me, came The Beatles. Their existence clarified the generation gap and everything that followed amplified it.

The Beatles, with their combination of nostalgia for '50s pop rock n roll and rockabilly, love of early '60s soul and girl groups as well as classic tin pan alley "tunesmithing," provided the pre-pubescent AM radio nursery rhymes for my exact generation. When they arrived on Sullivan my brother was seven and I was nine. The Stones carried me into my rebellious teens, Cream, Dylan and The Band made me feel grown up and serious and Cat Stevens and James Taylor got me in touch with my feelings. But the Beatles first lined my youthful brain with music.

How strange that vaguely following and relating to the doings of Paul McCartney over the subsequent half a century is still a preoccupation for me. The last albums of his that really mattered to me were 1989's Flowers in the Dirt and 2005's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. Elvis Costello -- my age peer, who took over in my life as a driving source of my musical obsession after I outgrew Bruce -- co-wrote several great songs on the first of these albums, so that made it a must. But it was Paul's lovely "Distractions" with it's beautiful clarinet lines coming out of the sound of rain and a solo done in imitation "And I Love Her" style that knocked me out enough to want to learn the song and show it off to my then-girlfriend Cybill Shepherd back in early 2001. Then there is Chaos, the album on which producer Nigel Godrich of Radiohead and Beck fame, fearing for his own reputation, banned Paul's band from the process and exercised veto power over the song selection. This the album on which Paul again played most of the instruments, aided by Nigel, and re-examined many of his stylistic reference points-- or should I say deliberately recycled himself to decent effect throughout. It could have been called McCartney 3! For years I've been threatening to put out an album of my own with that title just to cash in on the reference. Am I too late?

I liked Memory Almost Full, particularly for the brilliant title. Yeah, I admit it. I listened to it a lot. Although the barista in my local Starbucks complained he had to put up with it all day long, I found plenty to love!

And now New is about to land just in time to get me through a difficult time of transition in my life. I will leave out the personal details and just say transition from 50s to 60s. Ain't that enough! So far I like the Pet Sounds-y arrangement of the single. I haven't yet placed from whence Paul borrow the last two bars of the chorus melody. Someone enlighten me please! He probably stole it from Paul. No mistaking that it resonates with an ear before he was born but one to which he was much exposed in his youth.

I never saw the Beatles but I saw Wings' "practice tour" when it hit Gothenburg, Sweden in the summer of '72. My teenage Swedish companions agreed "this music is bullshit" but when Paul walked out and sang the opening line of "Smile Away" -- "I was walking down the street one day...", I got a unbelievable chill. I'm getting it now! I was in the same room with Paul McCartney!

Paul has now gone on touring and playing and revisiting and even expanding longer than all but a few of the musicians of his era. It confuses me, just as it must have been confusing for those who grew up on the idols of the swing ear to see them thriving into the late 1960's. To me they seemed like old men who had been adults forever. But that's because the style of the times was to look all grown-up. The youth culture didn't exist yet.

McCartney still looks boyish, at least on my TV. Is it the vegetarianism? Is there, dare I say, a picture in the attic? Or is his life literally the perfect model of the new long life, made longer by allowing perpetual playful youth to mix with maturity, responsibility and social consciousness. I like the latter interpretation best. I'm sure the vegetarianism helps. And no doubt so does a budget for, at very least, pricey high quality dye jobs. The truth is I'm sure he only looks young to those of us for whom he defined our picture of youth in that era. And of course the Beatles all grew beards in the late '60s, creating the proto-type of one of the current era's youth preferences.

Watching the concert video of the Wings Over America tour on Palladia recently, I was shocked to see that Paul actually let Denny Laine do some of the talking and sing some songs, like the hit "Go Now" from his days with The Moody Blues. Paul and Linda enthusiastically harmonized. Can you imagine he would do this just a few years after the Beatles' break-up and with several solo hits already under his belt!

So maybe this is why I appreciate it that Paul, a major role model of my youth, has stuck around to be a role model of my looming 60's. When I was younger I was partial to the idea that life would be endlessly long, with changes all around me, guide-posts falling away and newness constantly at my door. Paul gives me continuity, damn-it. He makes life seem shorter! But it's okay. I've accepted it. Paul's not dead. He lives! He believes. He shares the spotlight and he let's me think it's all right that I still want to sing and play. Thanks dude. In the words of your song "Put it There".

My next piece is going to be a follow up to my Springsteen story. So many readers wrote to me with their own stories of the early Bruce years that I am working on one called SPRINGSTEEN AND US that will quote liberally from the anecdotes and observations of some of my readers who have given me permission to incorporate their words. It will also feature a long unprinted photo from my old buddy, the brilliant photographer Richard Hurley.

Thanks for helping me launch this column. I'll do my best to keep'em coming.