I can’t remember the exact quote, but Chris Connelly (the MTV/ESPN one, not the Revolting Cocks one) once said that he wasn’t embarrassed to see Mick Jagger’s elderly-man gesticulations onstage because rock stars of his era are like Italian race car drivers from the ’60s: They all died. With that in mind, let’s think about Paul McCartney on his 70th birthday. You don’t have to be a Beatles Guy to agree that McCartney is probably, from a historic perspective, the single most important living musician on the planet, even if he owes that importance almost entirely to stuff he did between the ages of 22 and 17. (Jagger and Richards may be more important in tandem, but McCartney is more important than either one of them. You could probably also make a case for, like, Iggy Pop or Prince or Tony Iommi or DJ Kool Herc, but that would be incredibly difficult and just serve to piss off all of your friends.) McCartney managed to reach this particular milestone with mental and physical health completely intact, which is more than Brian Wilson, his closest living peer, can really say. He’s richer than God. He’s still got his dignity. He’s still working, and he’s still got the accumulated goodwill of a few generations of listeners. All of these things are reasons for celebration.
Thinking about McCartney, I keep thinking about an interview I did about about five years ago with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. Murphy is a music dork par excellence, and he was making a point about how musicians these days don’t try hard enough. In the process, he said that he thinks Coldplay’s Chris Martin is “as talented as Paul McCartney”:
Paul McCartney’s a hack. The difference is that Paul McCartney was a pop star in an era when the single would come out and then the Rolling Stones would put one out and you had to step it up. The Who would put one out, and you’d step it up. The Beach Boys would put an album out, and you’d be like, “Oh my God, we gotta take this all seriously.” They wanted to be everything to everybody, and there’s something really beautiful about that. It’s impossible, but there’s something magical about that. Whereas now, Chris Martin by his own admission will be like, “Oh, my lyrics are kind of dumb.” And it’s like no, come on, don’t say that! Fucking go try! Fail! Go face-down! Listen to the Paul McCartney records; he went face-down a lot, but you don’t get Ram, you don’t get “Temporary Secretary” if you’re not willing to go face-down.
Amazingly, McCartney is still willing to go face-down. In recent memory, he’s released a goofy electronic-collage album with Super Furry Animals, made an even-goofier music video with Michel Gondry, and, most recently, released an album of himself singing ancient songs that he loved as a kid. Even if he ever needed the money, none of these are cash-in moves. And even when he plays some fabulously expensive stadium show where he mostly just sings Beatles songs, or plays the Super Bowl Halftime Show that’s not for the money. He’s a legit billionaire, and he doesn’t need it. He’s doing it so people can hear him singing these songs, so he can see his legacy taking shape in real time, and there’s something terribly noble about that.
McCartney obviously isn’t going to retire anytime soon, so, people of the Stereogum community, what would you like to see the man do? Is there anything he really has left to offer? Are there places where he hasn’t gone, where he should go? Or is it enough for him to continue being who he is, in full public view?