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A Spirited Endorsement of Popular Culture: Volume II – Paul McCartney Edition

*Please note that this article is an opinion-editorial.

I’ve started to become a big believer in value for the money. Let me give an example of what I mean. Last week, I went to dinner with my friend, Nestor. We ended up at California Pizza Kitchen (It’s very middle of the road, and we often wind up there when we can’t agree on a place to go.) which is a perfectly serviceable place. You’d never think of CPK as extravagant, but by the time they brought the bill, we’d somehow run up a $50 tab before leaving a tip. I waited tables for years, so that makes me at the very least a knee-jerk 20% minimum tipper, so add at least another $10 to the total. Just looking at it from a value perspective, I just don’t think the meal we got was anywhere approaching something worth $50 (plus tip).

A few weeks ago, however, I had the chance to catch Center Theater Group’s production of David Mamet’s play, Race, here in LA and enjoyed it thoroughly. The play’s nowhere near as profound a treatise on race relations as Mamet thinks it is, but the enjoyment I got from the actors was well worth what I’d paid to see it. True Blood’s Chris Bauer was a real revelation when given vastly superior material to work with. It’s still running and if you live in LA, you should check it out.

Last night, I drove down to San Diego to see Paul McCartney in concert at some place called “Petco Park,” quite possibly the saddest casualty in the history of selling stadium naming rights. The ticket set me back $160, and the show was worth every single penny. It was fabulous on a lot of levels. First of all, Sir Paul was in not one but two bands before becoming a solo act, and his song catalogs from the Beatles and Wings provide a simply mind-boggling selection of classic songs to pick from. To illustrate just how insane the depths of that catalogs are, here’s a partial list of hits he didn’t play: “Drive My Car,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help!,” “Penny Lane,” “Love Me Do,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Oh! Darling,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Jet,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Ticket to Ride,” “All You Need Is Love,” “From Me to You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “The Fool on the Hill,” or “Michelle.” He played 29 songs last night, and those didn’t make the cut. I think it’s fair to point out that at this stage, we’re not just talking about these as a bunch of pop songs. These are songs that have gone far beyond being part of our collective pop culture consciousness. They are part of our DNA at this point; they are part of our being. Something as simple as hearing the Muzak version of “Eleanor Rigby” in an elevator is going to elicit some kind of emotional response.

Second, he’s a really unmatched figure in the cultural landscape. He was the voice of a generation (or at least half of that voice) to the Boomers, but his legacy has made him relevant to the subsequent generations that followed. The Beatles are like a good pair of jeans: they’re never going to be unfashionable. I’m too young to have been alive during the Beatles’ heyday, but I’m old enough to remember his solo songs being played on the radio during the ’80s. The audience last night ran the age range from elderly people in wheelchairs to children young enough to be their great grandchildren. It was a crowd at a rock concert that literally spanned four generations. Though Paul has long been a promoter of liberal causes (Both Amnesty International and PETA had booths set up on site.) and was a major figure in the ’60s counterculture, he’s never been politically polarizing in the way somebody like Springsteen has. Who doesn’t love Paul McCartney? And, if they don’t, what’s the matter with them?

Third, he’s still a vital, relevant artist. McCartney’s most recent studio album called New was released last year. He may not be topping the charts like he once did, but he’s still plugging away in the studio. Like any artist touring in support of his new material, he played several cuts from the new record. This wasn’t a whimsical night of greatest hits from a bygone era. You can probably argue that Ringo Starr’s concerts are sleepy exercises in nostalgia, but not Paul’s. At 72, he’s still fronting a proper rock and roll band. In one of the encores, after they’d been playing well over two and a half hours, the band broke into a blistering, feedback-spewing version of “Helter Skelter” that could peel the paint off the wall. As a fan of stripped-down, garage band rock, it was glorious. Long rumored to be the richest person in show business (with a net worth in excess of $1 billion), he clearly doesn’t tour because he needs the money. He does it because he still has a passion to perform.

I write all this, because this has been a common theme in my writing for a while, this idea that culture, popular or otherwise, matters, and it matters a hell of a lot. I can only speak for myself, but I suspect others have felt this as well, this feeling that what we love is somehow frivolous or without any real value. I grew up in a small Midwestern town that didn’t offer good arts education, because it simply wasn’t valued. It’s stunted my artistic growth and made it harder to be the adult person I would like to be. I grew up in an environment where my passion for film and music was belittled and seen as just “entertainment.” I know that’s not an uncommon experience, and I know it’s often people who love us deeply that discourage us, because they want our lives to be safe. They don’t want to see us fail. As overwrought and pretentious as this sounds, I make it my mission in life to tell you that that’s a giant, giant load of crap. Art, literature, film, music, these are the things that enrich life in ways we can’t quite comprehend, but we can feel in our souls. They are vital. Never forget that early humans were creating their art by painting their stories on cave walls long before we ever invented the abacus. Art predates accounting by centuries.

There are, however, accountants who would point to their wealth to prove success, but I would argue vehemently that Paul McCartney’s vast personal fortune is overshadowed by his contribution to the arts and, ultimately, to our lives. Think about this: it’s not an easy thing to take a loved one who’s wheelchair bound to places. Many wheelchair-bound people would simply rather stay inside. Yet last night, people made the extra effort to make sure their elderly friends and family members got one last chance to hear these songs again. Families made it a point to hear these songs together. Parents thought it was important to share this experience with their kids. I guarantee you that nobody has every done the extra work to transport a disabled elderly friend or relative, so they can get one last look at a bank or an office building. Why do we make mix tapes for people? It’s because there are pop songs that can convey our hearts better than we can articulate with our own words.

Last night, Paul McCartney reminded us what it means to be human and he did it with a guitar in his hand and classic pop song craft he helped invent. Don’t give up on your art. Don’t let anybody allow you to feel that your life’s work is unimportant or trivial. Culture is important, and it’s vital. Collective experience is important, and it’s vital.

Or as Paul would say, “And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Chris Spicer, Fanbase Press Contributor



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