In show biz sometimes all you have to do is live long enough and the honors and plaudits start rolling in. It helps if you were once a major rock star. It’s even better if your politics happen to be left-leaning. And if you were once part of a pop cultural phenomena, like the Beatles were for my generation, it’s guaranteed. Paul McCartney fits quite nicely into all those categories so he is now getting honored all over the place.
He has already been knighted by the Queen of England. Not to be outdone, this past July the U.S. bestowed McCartney with the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Music which included a PBS-televised gala concert at the White House. You might remember his humble and charming remark on accepting the prize at the White House affair when he said, “After the last eight years it’s great to have a president who knows what a library is.” What a gracious, classy guy. How nice to come to a country that is honoring you with an award and insult one of its former twice-elected presidents in your acceptance speech.
But we’re not through worshiping Sir Paul yet. Now he has been chosen by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as one of the five recipients of their annual Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented at the Kennedy Center, which will also be taped and broadcast on PBS sometime around the Christmas holidays. So is this it, or are there more American honors we can bestow on McCartney?
When will he be receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor? And throw in a couple of Silver and Bronze Stars while we’re at it, and maybe a Purple Heart too because I think he once had a bad “trip” on LSD. How about an honorary Academy Award for his lifetime achievements in the art of motion pictures? How could anyone forget Help, Hard Days Night or Yellow Submarine? Three of my all time favorite movie classics.
Maybe there is a presidential high-level office he can be appointed to, like maybe becoming the National Endowment of the Arts Czar. We might create a new cabinet post, like the chief of the Department of Homeland Music. Oh, wait a minute. Maybe an actual American citizen might be better for those appointments. That’s right, McCartney is a citizen of another country, I forgot.
There already is a Secretary of State, but considering McCartney’s prior experiences, we might dub him the Secretary of Altered State. wonder if he still talks with Ravi Shankar?
I know what you’re saying, “Come on, Greg, you’re ignoring his enormous contributions to the world of music! You forget all those beautiful and inspiring songs he wrote! It was those great songs that got him the Gershwin prize, Greg!” Is that what you’re saying? OK, then let’s go over the tunes. It would be unfair of me to name only the nonsense like “Rocky Raccoon,” “Ob-La-Di-Ob-La–Da,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” so let’s skip those and get right to the big important stuff.
The Best of Paul McCartney might include the following: “Hey Jude,” “Yesterday,” “Let It Be,” “Michelle,” “Helter Skelter,” “Penny Lane,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and “Band on the Run.” Which of those would you describe as a song for the ages, in the same league as the best of Gershwin, Porter, or Irving Berlin?
Most of the so-called “serious” tunes of McCartney run the gamut from vapid, sappy and uninspired, to meaningless, incomprehensible and shallow. Does anyone know what the hell “Hey Jude” is all about? And does it get any more trite than “Michelle, my belle” or any more sophomoric than “Yesterday?” Remember, these are considered his best efforts. I admit that there’s a place in our world for bubble gum-snapping, teenie-bopper music like McCartney writes, just don’t give out prestigious, pretentious awards for it.
And then we turn to the performance of the man. Be honest. As a singer and pure entertainer would you really put him in the same category as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, or even Elvis Presley? Are his contributions to popular music on an equal par with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman? What really has McCartney brought to the party of any consequence either in the writing of music or the performance of it?
Excuse me if I don’t gush enthusiastically over Paul McCartney, but I just don’t think the guy ever had the goods, as they say. To bestow on him serious honors is to diminish the talents of the true giants of 20th Century popular music. But that’s what happens when the really great people are all gone but the need still exists to find someone to honor so that you can have a gala award show to televise on PBS.
“Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da, life goes on, Bra! La-La how the life goes on.”