Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Listen to what the man said

In anticipation of seeing Paul McCartney in concert on Thursday, I've been listening to some of his post-Beatles albums. Some I'd never heard, some I know from having checked out cassettes from the library when I was a budding Beatles fan.

I was born after The Beatles broke up. I remember when John Lennon was shot and killed but don't know that I realized how big of a deal it was in popular culture at the time. What I'm getting at is that I came at the The Beatles more from a historical perspective than as something that was part of my life.

As I've listened to McCartney, McCartney II, and Band on the Run, I've started to associate the songs I know with the times I first heard them. Suddenly these songs are no longer things I plucked out of history or a pre-pop culture consciousness but part of my life. It seems weird to say that seeing McCartney, who I've never seen perform live, will be a nostalgic experience, yet there's no doubt that such will be the case.

Nowhere is that truer than with his 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt. Until recently it was the only McCartney studio album I owned. On cassette, no less. [I also have the succeeding double live album Tripping the Live Fantastic on tape and the live albums CHOBA B CCCP and Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) on CD.] Looking up songs from it on YouTube, I'm struck by how familiar they are even though I haven't heard them in who knows how long. I listened to that album a lot at the time.

If forced to pick, I'd probably select McCartney as my favorite Beatle. Perhaps it's because he was the most visible in my formative years. Perhaps it's because his impeccable pop instincts hit a sweet spot.

The knock on McCartney is that he's prone to sappy sentiment. Fair enough. At least with the songs I've sampled, I'm amazed by the positivity emanating from them. I find it refreshing, though. I certainly can't say who Paul McCartney is or know if his art is as sincere as it appears, but when so much of what I see and hear seems to be at arm's length, it's breathtaking to come across an artist who's putting himself out there even if it won't win points for being cool. (Seriously, an ode to long-term marriage that doesn't make your teeth hurt isn't the sort of thing you're going to come across much in pop music.)

Initially I questioned if I should get a ticket for this concert. I haven't kept up with his solo work in a long time. Ultimately I decided to go because it's surely the last chance I'll have. As I've returned to his work, I've become genuinely excited about seeing him perform songs I've loved for a long time. I expect I'll be among the younger attendees. No doubt I have a different relationship with his music than those who came of age with The Beatles. Nevertheless, I look forward to this journey into the past, in part because I haven't been there for so long.

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