McCartney, part 5

HOST: Tonight on Hardball, Beatle Paul McCartney, singer Stevie Wonder and screenwriter/blogger Todd Alcott. Our subject is racism, let’s start with Sir Paul. Paul, what is your answer to the age-old, seemingly insoluble problem of racism?

McCARTNEY: Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony, side by side on my piano keyboard, oh lord, why can’t we?

HOST: An indelibe metaphor for a cogent and seemingly irrefutable argument. Mr. Alcott, how do you respond?

ALCOTT: Ebony and ivory may live together in perfect harmony onMr. McCartney’s keyboard, but Mr. McCartney’s keyboard is not the real world. What the esteemed composer neglects to mention is that, speaking generally, there are real social, economic and cultural differences between black and white people, genuine grievances and imbalances, ones that cannot be wished away through a simple musical metaphor. I would also like to point out that on this keyboard of “perfect harmony” that Mr. McCartney refers to, the “ivory” keys play “major” chords while the “ebony” keys play “minor” chords. So this idea of “perfect harmony,” as far as Mr. McCartney is concerned, is perfect only so long as whites remain a majority and blacks remain a minority. This is not an “irrefutable argument” Chris, this is blatant racism, pure and simple.

HOST: A stinging rebuke. Mr. Wonder?

WONDER: We all know that people are the same wherever you go —

ALCOTT: Now, I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t let that stand —

HOST: Please, Mr. Alcott, let him finish —

ALCOTT: No. No, I’m sorry, “We all” don’t “know” anything of the sort. What can this statement possibly mean? People are not the same wherever I go. There are vast differences between classes, income levels, personality types —

HOST: Okay, you bring up a good point. Mr. Wonder, what do you mean by this broad, general statement?

WONDER: There is good and bad in everyone —

ALCOTT: Well so what? That clarifies nothing. You might as well say “The sun comes up in the morning.” That’s not an observation.

HOST: Please, let him finish. Mr. Wonder, I apologize —

WONDER. But we learn to live when we learn to give each other what we need to survive —

ALCOTT: We do? Since when?

WONDER: — together alive —

ALCOTT: What planet are you from?

HOST: Now, now —

ALCOTT: You can’t expect me to sit here and listen to this bullshit. “There is good and bad in everyone, but we learn to live?” That’s not even a statement, that’s just a bunch of words strung together. They sound like they mean something, but they’re just meaningless crap. Why is Stevie Wonder even supporting McCartney with this crappy logic? This is no platform for ending racism, this is no prayer for tolerance, this is an abomination. Since when does anyone give anyone else what they need to survive? If you look at the history of the world, you see that it’s the story of people taking from other people what they need to survive. This isn’t a support for racism, it’s a simple honest truth, and no piano keyboard is going to change any of that.

HOST: I think what Mr. Wonder is saying, in his passive, roundabout way, is that we, as a people, we will learn to live when we learn to give each other what we need to survive. And I think there is some logic in that — Sir Paul, any further thoughts?

McCARTNEY: Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony on my piano keyboard, oh lord why can’t we?

ALCOTT: I’d also like to know where Mr. McCartney is buying his pianos. I was under the impression that the ivory trade was illegal, yet Mr. McCartney seems to have no trouble locating plenty of pianos made with ivory. Ivory, for the kids at home, is made from the tusks of dead elephants, elephants killed illegally by poachers. And ebony is a valuable wood — both of these are precious resources which Mr. McCartney is all to happy to squander on musical instruments, all to fuel his pie-in-the-sky metaphors of white supremacy. I should also point out that ivory comes from the jungles of sub-Saharan central Africa, and ebony comes from India. So, if I might shed a little light on Mr. McCartney’s position, he apparently feels that everyone in the world can live in perfect harmony, just so long as whites are in the majority, all the elephants are killed, and Africa and India are stripped of their natural resources.

HOST: And we’re out of time. Next up, we talk to Sir Bob Geldof and ask if they do or do not finally know it’s Christmas.
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22 Responses to “McCartney, part 5”
  1. kusoyaro says:

    While there have certainly been McCartney lyrics that call his racial views into question, I think in this case he’s referring to the ebony and ivory on his piano keys as literally as lead is referred to in pencils.

    (yes, I’m just being cheeky here and deliberately ignoring the point of this post)

  2. craigjclark says:

    Harsh. Do “What’s That You’re Doing?” next.

    Or “The Man,” his other, less-heralded duet with Michael Jackson.

    • Todd says:

      I can’t remember, do we ever find out what’s that he’s doing? And is it the same thing McCartney suggested we do in the road?

      • craigjclark says:

        I don’t believe so. Our only clue is that both Stevie and Paul like what the girl is doing and entreat her to “do it some more.”

        • Todd says:

          Perusal of the lyric to “What’s That You’re Doing?” indicates that neither Paul nor Stevie know what the girl is, in fact, doing. ‘Cos it makes no kind of sense to them. That must be a very mysterious activity indeed.

          The girl in question makes them feel so proud, and furthermore she can make them holler ow! She makes them want to dance and sing, their minds are blown and she’s the blame, they say it’s sunnin’ when there’s rain, they jump in leaps and bounds.

          Clearly, this activity is both provocative and inspirational.

          It involves speech, but it’s not clearly audible speech, for in the next verse, Paul and Stevie ask what it is that the girl is saying.

          And it goes on like that. For six and a half minutes.

  3. medox says:

    Finally…someone with the guts to stand up and confront crappy, facile song metaphors.

  4. mcbrennan says:

    Todd, we’re not going to fight about this…

    Reading this has finally made enduring that song worthwhile. I bow to your brilliance.

    However, not even you can save “The Girl Is Mine”.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Todd, we’re not going to fight about this…

      I cut out the part where JS Bach called in to remind everyone that ebony and ivory only live together in perfect harmony side by side on Paul McCartney’s piano keyboard because of the standardized tuning system that he championed back in the 1700s.

      I am pleased to report, on the other hand, that the dog-gone girl did indeed turn out to be McCartney’s. In fact, she turned out to be Stella McCartney, who later became a fashion designer of note.

      • mcbrennan says:

        Ah, Bach…

        Yes, I always found Mr. Jackson’s claims in this matter a bit spurious, not to mention his overwrought insistence that–and this always struck me as odd–that he was not Billie Jean King’s lover and that her kid was “not his son”. Yes, yes, that is a load off all our minds, sir. Thank you so much. Methinks the Thriller doth protest too much, etc, etc. Besides, if it was Jackson’s kid, it would have been named “Blanket”.

        Actually, speaking of standardized tuning systems, playing the ebony and ivory keys simultaneously usually makes quite an unpleasant sound, not “perfect harmony” as McCartney suggests. If anything, the net effect is a kind of musical apartheid in which the black keys are forced to keep to themselves unless and until they can be of token service to “whitey”. Nevermind the fact that this dubious metaphor leaves a veritable rainbow of ethnic and social minorities completely unrepresented. Why is my note not in your precious PC symphony, McCartney? If you pluck me, do I not sing?

        • Todd says:

          Re: Ah, Bach…

          playing the ebony and ivory keys simultaneously usually makes quite an unpleasant sound, not “perfect harmony” as McCartney suggests.

          That’s on your piano keyboard. Side by side on McCartney’s Magic Piano Keyboard of Tolerance and Metaphor, they make only beautiful music.

  5. dougo says:

    Also, the “ebony” keys are only 5/7 of the keyboard. I guess that’s an improvement over the constitutional 3/5, at least.

  6. edo_fanatic says:

    We all need somebody to lean on?

  7. gdh says:

    I’ve always wondered where “ebony and ivory” leaves the non-black non-whites of the world.

    • Todd says:

      I’m told the first draft went “Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony side by side on my piano keyboard, far away from all the yellow and red and brown keys, who live in my dustbin.” But it didn’t scan.

  8. mikeyed says:

    I remember being taught in school about the Triangle trade of pianos. It was rampant, even Jefferson had a piano.

  9. You are in very good form!