On Paul and Kanye

Untitled“Phoney Beatlemania/Has Bitten The Dust”  —  Joe Strummer

When I first heard Kanye West and Paul McCartney had recorded a duet, I really didn’t care. My interest in hip-hop is strictly historical [the stuff that came out when I was in the demographic hip hop is intended for], and my interest in the post-Beatles work of Paul McCartney was pretty close to zero. I’ve always regarded Paul as the least interesting of the three Beatles with actual talent [sorry Ringo]. He’s spent most of my life making the kind of bland, inoffensive, often schmaltzy music that critics and fans wouldn’t tolerate from someone who hadn’t been in the Beatles [you know, like the Carpenters]. To be totally honest, the actual Beatles never did that much for me. For all their “creativity” and “experimentalism” they’ve always struck me as a pretty good band that was able to build a huge cult through appearing “revolutionary” and “ground breaking” but were actually extremely doctrinaire, middle of the road even. Sure, they did the occasional “hard rock” tune or something with deliberately vague drug allusions and lots of songs festooned with hippie platitudes that sound better as advertising copy than actual social commentary, but no matter what album you play, you’re never far from some ersatz music-hall ditty, or stagey send-up or schmaltzy ballad. I tried to get into them during middle school, but truth be told, I’ve never thought the Beatles were all that.

When I realized I would eventually have to think about Kanye and Macca making a record, what I thought was  McCartney is now in his third decade of latching onto the most successful black artist he can find in order to stay current [as opposed to the black artists he imitated to get famous in the first place]. It’s always worked for him before, so why not? Stevie Wonder in the 70s, Michael Jackson in the 80s, now Kanye West. To a jaded outsider like myself, it all seems a bit silly, but what the heck? I can’t blame a guy for doing what works.

And then it hit the fan when someone posted [apparently seriously] that Kanye was cool for helping out some old nobody [not as far from the truth as you might think – what’s the last McCartney album you bought?]. Next thing you know it was Beatlemaniac Butthurt on parade as the entire world seemed to wag their fingers in unison at anyone “ignorant” and uncivilized enough to not only fail to recognize the great Sir Paul, but to publicly admit it. For shame!

But here’s the thing: Why should a 20-something rap/hip hop fan know who Paul McCartney is? Really, why should anybody under 60 know [or care] about the Beatles at all? We’re talking about a band that hit the scene over 50 years ago. Expecting a 20 year old to know about the Beatles now is like expecting a 20-year old Beatles fan in 1966 to have a complete set of Enrico Caruso cylinders. Sure, I like music from 50 years ago [and a lot further than that…but I’m a frigging geek. It’s my job]. Back when the Beatles’ success was only 30 years in the distant past, there was a joke about meeting a “dumb” girl [it was always a girl] who’d ask “did you know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?” Ha ha ha. But that’s actually how people at the time should have remembered McCartney; as an old[er] guy who’d been in another band before the one he was in at the time. Nobody made jokes about Rod Stewart being in another band before “Do you think I’m Sexy?” — of course now, you could probably shock anyone under 30 by claiming Rod Stewart ever sang rock and roll at all, but that’s snark best saved for another blog.

Most of the hand-wringers claim that to have any valid musical acumen, not only knowledge of, but blind adulation of the Beatles is requisite. This, of course is bullshit – You don’t hear anyone saying that about the Animals or Supremes or even The Who…but it sounds legit, because we’ve been hearing it for so goddamn long. The albums that Brubeck, Miles, Mingus and Ornette Coleman put out in 1959 have influenced music as much [maybe more] than the Beatles, but it’s not like everyone thinks you should have a copy of “Time Out” or “Kind of Blue” [even though you should]. There’s been influential, important music created in every era since John Phillip Sousa, but none of that music has a die hard cult of True Believing zealots scolding you into thinking you like it [seriously, how many Beatles songs do you really know well? 6? 10? You might know as many songs by Martha Wash as you do George Harrison but there isn’t a whole industry built on worshipping her – though there probably should be].

The only reason we think “everyone” should know about Paul McCartney is because the dysfunctional weirdoes that comprise the core of the Beatles cult have been telling us so for the last FIFTY FUCKING YEARS. While I’m sure it’s good business for Kanye to be seen with Sir Paul, objectively it’s the same as the Beatles recording a duet with Jimmy Durrante or Liberace in 1968. I’m old enough to remember how freaked out everyone was that David Bowie was doing a christmas duet with Bing Crosby back in the 70s. Somehow that turned out to be legendarily awesome, but the cross-generational disconnect wasn’t lost on anyone. People are looking at this Kanye/McCartney duet as if it makes perfect sense and it DOESN’T. It’s FUCKING BIZARRE and Saint Sir Paul should really be doing something other than grasping at straws to stay relevant. This is the musical equivalent of Madonna frenching Britney Spears at the MTV awards because Madge took one look at that albino python on Britney’s shoulders and knew she had to blow some shit up if anyone was going to remember her [little did we know that a few years later Miley Cyrus would make Madonna and Britney] look like the day-old rack at a Moscow bakery, but that’s how progress works.

So at the end of the day, what we’re [hopefully] witnessing is the beginning of the end of the sixties [which were nowhere near as great as boomers keep telling you]. The Boomers have held sway over art, culture, music, and media for over half a century, but the digital age is moving faster than they can react and it’s getting harder and harder for them to keep messaging effectively. The digital age has re-democratized culture and now The Kids can create their own culture in their own images without oversight or interference from the Boomer patriarchy. Sure there will always be mop top true believers, but the sections of reality [and virtuality] they can’t reach into will grow and multiply. Slowly, but surely the sixties [and the Beatles with it] will shrink to their proper size on the historical timeline. I probably won’t live to see it, but I hope that one day, a bunch of college kids  sitting around wondering if they should throw a Great Gatsby party or a Woodstock party will throw the Gatsby party because they like the music better.

NEXT:  Unknown Pleasures

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