Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Definition of Friendship

When Mark David Chapman pulled the trigger on that coldest night in December 1980, he robbed the world of a visionary who seemed to finally be at peace with his own inner demons. John Lennon’s anger had largely dissipated and was being transformed into a dignified wisdom. It was indeed a tragic turn of events, and was made that much sadder by the fact that he had finally found happiness and balance in his life.

As with any pre-mature death, there are also the very private tragedies of the loved ones and the close friends of the victim. His son Julian, who had virtually been ignored by John-the-Rock-Icon and John-the-Activist during his formative years, was at the beginning of a new father-son relationship and was abruptly deprived of that experience. Then there was his five-year-old son Sean, who was extremeley close to his dad, and of course his eccentric un-charismatic widow.

And what of Paul McCartney? The two of them had forged a friendship and partnership that yielded some of the best music of the 20th Century. They were equal in every respect, trying to out-do each other but also improving upon one another’s work to the point of perfection. After the bloody breakup of the Beatles, Paul was alone. Who had the nerve and the credibility to say, “You can’t sing that – it's rubbish!”

In the late 60’s and early 70’s, John’s anger was at a fever pitch, and Paul was on the receiving end of some very nasty commentary. While John was firing off songs like “How Do You Sleep?” that were direct put-downs and insults directed at Paul, and saying mean-spirited things about him to the press , Paul was taking the high-road. He recorded responses like “Too Many People” containing some subtle and vague references, and “Let Me Roll It’" which lyrically had nothing to do with John, but was a spot-on re-creation of a John Lennon record replete with sparse instrumentation, heavy chordy guitar, low-register bass part and simple drum beat. The vocal was soaked in reverb, and it sounded exactly like John Lennon in parts, as if Paul was saying, "See, I know what you are about," but he refrained from the sort of attacks that John had leveled toward him. While John reveled in his anger and pain, Paul seemed to be oblivious to suffering, and content with smoking pot, loving his La-La-La-La-La-La-lovely Linda and making silly and innocuous records. It seems in retrospect that John may have been envious of Paul’s effortless bliss.

When John was murdered, he was elevated to legendary status in the public’s eye, but to Paul McCartney he was still the brilliant but flawed friend and bandmate from Liverpool who had turned against him. During the Beatle years, they truly were equals, but in the aftermath of John’s death, Paul was starting to be perceived as a lightweight and was getting the short-end of the stick in the respect department. The fact that he had recorded some of the sappiest and most ridiculous songs of his career in the 70’s did nothing to help him in this regard. As a result, he had to suffer John Lennon getting credit for songs that he himself had written, and what could the man say? Any sort of criticism or rebuttal would only have served to make matters worse, so he had to put on his best face and move on. On a few occasions, when Paul was honest about Lennon the man, he was quickly taken-to-task for being disrespectful and envious.

The years went by, and the legend of John Lennon continued to grow. Songs such as “In My Life” aged very well, and contrary to what John had said in interviews, Paul maintained that he had written the music and melody to John’s sublime lyrics. While most musicians and a subset of Beatle fans knew that the majority of the Lennon-McCartney catalogue was penned by one or the other and not as a team, due to the publishing credits on the songs, many people mistakenly attributed some of Paul’s best work to John Lennon. After suffering this for many years, Paul began to put his name first in the writing credits of songs like “Yesterday” which he indeed had written alone. Seems petty from the outside, but Paul still appears to feel as if he had been cheated by history, and looking at it from his perspective, I think I understand.

I believe that had John lived, the two of them would have reconciled their differences and perhaps even recorded together once again in the 35 years since. We were all potentially robbed of the fruits from that reconciliation, but Paul was deprived of the return of his best friend, and of his own self-image as the other-half of the finest song-writing partnership of the 20th Century.

From Paul’s latest effort, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” comes this song, which Paul has stated publicly is not about any one individual.

Riding To Vanity Fair (Click here to listen.)
By Paul McCartney

I bit my tongue
I never talked too much
I tried to be so strong
I did my best
I used the gentle touch
I've done it for so long

You put me down
But I can laugh it off
And act like nothing's wrong
But why pretend
I think I've heard enough
Of your familiar song

I tell you what I'm going to do
I'll try to take my mind off you
And now that you don't need my help
I'll use the time to think about myself

You're not aware
Of what you put me through
But now the feeling's gone
But I don't mind
Do what you have to do
You don't fool anyone

I'll tell you what I'm going to do
I'll take a different point of view
And now that you don't need my help
I'll use the time to think about myself

The definition of friendship
Apparently ought to be
Showing support for the one that you love
And I was open to friendship
But you didn't seem to have any to spare
While you were riding to Vanity Fair

There was a time
When every day was young
The sun would always shine
We sang along
When all the songs were sung
Believing every line

That's the trouble with friendship
For someone to feel it
It has to be real or it wouldn't be right
And I keep hoping for friendship
But I wouldn't dare to presume it was there
While you were riding to Vanity


Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

Another fine musical post. I'm afraid my Beatles "fanship" only goes so far, so I tend to ignore a lot of the stuff happening outside of the records. I'd feel like a pretender, thinking I actually understand the thoughts of these guys living a life I can barely imagine. You seem to have a handle on it all, though.

BTW: I do draw the line at calling Lennon-McCartney the best songwriting team of the 20th Century. I'm of the mind that the best Tin Pan Alley stuff is better than the best rock stuff (to me, namely Rodgers & Hart and George & Ira Gershwin). Of course, the times had changed and the Beatles weren't trying to do the same thing.

Would you settle for best songwriters of the second half of the 20th C.?

12:56 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Would you settle for best songwriters of the second half of the 20th C.?

No, but I can accept that as a respected difference of opinion. Not a bad position to be in, of course, considering the competetion.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Neil Shakespeare said...

Hey V: I see the Annie Liebowitz John/Yoko RS cover has just been named "Best Magazine Cover" of all time. Shucks, I was hoping George in his codpiece on the carrier would win that.

2:36 PM  
Blogger cali said...

a separate peace...

12:09 AM  
Blogger fuckstick2020 said...

Hey but now Paul is a knight. At least he's got that....

12:18 AM  
Blogger Randie said...

Paul wrote the great rock song Too Many People *first* on his May 1971 Ram album and this song and a few others including Back Seat of My Car had angry digs at John and Yoko and that's why John responded out of hurt and anger and wrote How Do You Sleep?

5:33 AM  
Blogger Randie said...

Paul McCartney's early solo early Wings music which includes a lot of great rock and even some hard rock from 1970-1975 which is Paul's best post Beatles music/

Here the very good Russian music reviewer George Starostin reviews Paul McCartney's solo and Wings albums and songs and he so rightly debunks the common stupid myth that Paul's solo and Wings music wasn't very good and he gives good and great reviews to almost all of Paul's 1970's albums.

Paul McCartney is still in the Guinness Book of World Records since October 1979 as the most successful song composer of all time and he has an honorary doctorate in music from Sussex University in 1988 and another from Yale in 2008.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Randie said...

Paul's 1975 Venus & Mars Wings album is a great rock album and out of the majority of great reviews on it gets a well deserved 5 stars out of over 100 reviews for this album. This is one of the *GREATEST* solo/Wings Paul albums he ever did! It's great and it's Beatles quality because every song is very good & if anyone wants to know what a true music genius Paul really is,just listen to the *music* in the great Letting Go.

My mother only liked classical music,Beethoven,Bach & Mozart,no rock & she played their music on the piano.

When I was playing this album and she came into the room when Letting Go was on,she asked me is that Paul McCartney and I said yes and she said Oh that music is brilliant,he's a music genius like Beethoven! My mother was also a talented artist who sculpted,and drew with charcoal pencils and pastels, and she even sold some of her sculptures at a few local galleries.

And my sister who is 4 years older than me and had a big diverse music collection since she was a mid teen,bought Venus and Mars when it came out,and I remember listening to it with her,and her friend and my best friend and we all loved it. My sister still says years later that Venus and Mars is one of the best rock albums she ever heard and that it's unique and she knows no album like it.

She always said his 1971 Ram album was a very good album too,although I like this album much better and I really don't understand all of the love everywhere for his Ram album I think it only has 3 great songs on it, the great rocker Too Many People,Uncle Albert and Back Seat of My Car. Paul's best post Beatles sounding music was from 1970-1975,with this being his last true great album.After this he wrote some good music but he never wrote the same great quality music again for some reason.

His first solo album McCartney where he played every instrument by himself (and he played them all great) is very good,Red Rose Speedway and Band On The Run are very good albums too,and he produced all of these great albums by himself and co-arranged the music on Venus and Mars by himself.

5:43 AM  

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