Paul McCartney I

I’ve been thinking a lot about Paul McCartney, what with his new record out, with its valedictory feel, and all. McCartney is a subject of longstanding fascination, fandom, frustration and exasperation around my household, so much so that it’s hard to know where to begin. For every moment of genius in his work (about sixteen million or so) there seems to be an equal number of missteps, squanderings of talent, outright atrocities and failures of character, and I’d like to take the time to sort it all out in the next few days.

But here’s a good place to start:

The Beatles are popular around my house because they fulfill the same function today as they did in 1964: they’re the one group everyone can agree on. The kids love the songs because they’re irresistably singable and Mom and Dad can listen to them and revel in their craft, polish, complexity, uncanny sense of melody and harmonics, relentless creativity and experimentation. There is simply nothing else like them in the history of popular music.

So we were listening to the Beatles on the way to Target the other day, chatting about this and that, and their recording of “Long Tall Sally” came on, featuring McCartney’s joyful, electrifying, vocal-cord-shredding singing, the only serious challenge to Little Richard’s ownership of this song ever attempted. And Kit, 4, in the back seat of the Prius, started getting really excited. “Mom! Mom!” she said. “This is what I wanted my ukelele to sound like!” Kit’s mom explained that she had earlier in the week expressed dissatisfaction with the sound of her ukelele, despite the time spent tuning it. Little did she realize that Kit wasn’t looking for tuning, she was looking for electricity, and of course, the propulsion of John Lennon playing it.

I could probably tell a personal story or two about every single Beatles song in existence, but this incident struck me. We had been driving in the car listening to the Beatles for about twenty minutes at that point, and songs like “You Won’t See Me” and “Hello Goodbye” had played. In fact, McCartney’s very “Long Tall Sally”-esque “I’m Down” had just played moments earlier, and Kit hadn’t batted an eyelash. What was it about the recording of “Long Tall Sally” that had captured Kit’s ear? What quality did that recording have that produced the shock of recognition, the sudden realization that this is what she wanted her music to sound like? She didn’t want it to sound like “Nowhere Man” or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” or “All Together Now” (three of the most requested tunes on my iPod), she wanted it to sound like “Long Tall Sally.” (This is the child who picked, of all things, 1963’s “There’s a Place” as the song to listen to 19 times in a row while we were recently stuck in traffic.) All the songs we’d been listening to featured electric guitars, and most of them featured McCartney singing. Did Kit sense, on some level, that McCartney singing a Little Richard song in front of Lennon and Harrison’s guitar (and Ringo’s drums, of course — that’s the only thing my kids really understand about the Beatles is that Ringo plays the drums) produced an alchemy that the other songs did not? And what is that alchemy? Why was the startling, shattering “I’m Down” pleasant enough, but “Long Tall Sally” a life-changing experience?

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“She Loves You:” a closer look

Above: the young McCartney, pale and drawn, haunted by his recent encounter, and the ensuing recording.  Is the awkward pose a kind of code?  And why are the other Beatles obviously distancing themselves from McCartney?  Are they worried about possible sniper fire? 

Below: the young woman in question.


Your ex-girlfriend has a message for you.  The message is, “She loves you.”

And you know that can’t be bad.

Can’t it?

Let us consider.

It is 1963.  You are, presumably, a teenage boy, although the song does not specify age or sex.  The point is, you have an ex-girlfriend and she says she loves you. 

The question becomes: Who is your ex-girlfriend?

Your ex-girlfriend is, apparently, a person of considerable power and influence.  How do we know this?  We know this because Paul McCartney is her messenger boy. 

McCartney, one of the most celebrated young men in the United Kingdom at this point, has recently been in contact with your ex-girlfriend and she has impressed upon him the overwhelming, urgent nature of her message, which is that she loves you.  Not only is McCartney impressed, but he is sufficiently terrified of the repercussions of his failure to deliver this message that he has enlisted the aid of his band The Beatles, overwhelmingly the most popular and influential musical act in the UK, to assist him with this message delivery.  McCartney, you see, apparently does not know you personally, nor does he know where to find you.  All he knows is that your ex-girlfriend has a message for you and it is his urgent need to deliver this message.

And so McCartney has used every ounce of his compositional talent to craft a bombastic, hysterical football-chant of a song, immediate in its impact and devastating in its catchiness, and has enlisted The Beatles to play it, and on top of that has enlisted the aid of Parlophone records to distribute the recording to every record store in the nation, and Swan records in the United States (and, when their distribution capabilities prove inadequate, Capitol).  Every radio station in the English-speaking world will be pressed into service to play it, and The Beatles will even sing a version in German on the off-chance that the message might reach you in Deutschland as well.  On top of that, The Beatles, leaving no stone unturned, will eventually visit every civilized nation in the world (and Indonesia), playing this song in concerts before millions of listeners, and will continue to do so for three years, in a marathon attempt to deliver this message to you.

That’s some ex-girlfriend.

Who is she?  How did she come to wield such power and influence?  Why didn’t McCartney simply say to her “I’m sorry luv, I’m a rather busy pop star and this, frankly, seems to be a private matter?”  What methods did she use to impress upon him the overwhelming importance of her love, so that he would spend the next three years of his life delivering the message, through recordings and live performance, to every possible recipient in the hope of reaching you?  Your ex-girlfriend, it seems, has an iron grip on the attention of Mr. McCartney.

I think we have to allow the possibility that your ex-girlfriend is unstable and possibly dangerous.

What suggests this?  Let’s examine the primary evidence, the message itself.

“You think you’ve lost your love, well I saw her yesterday, it’s you she’s thinking of, and she told me what to say.”

Seems simple enough.  Let’s move on.

“She says you hurt her so, she almost lost her mind.”

Okay, let’s stop right there.

Your ex-girlfriend has instructed Mr. McCartney to write in his message to you that she has “almost lost her mind.”  What kind of declaration of love is that?  “Please come back to me, I’M NOT CRAZY.”  This passage speaks volumes.

Now let’s go back to that first line.  “You think you’ve lost your love.”  Why were you trying to lose your love?  What makes you think you’ve succeeded in losing your love?  How intense were your efforts, and how diligent has she been in following you?  And consider the subtext of McCartney’s desperation: “You think you’ve lost your love, well I saw her yesterday.”  What he’s telling you is “You think you’ve lost your love, well, she she was able to get to me, Paul McCartney, the biggest celebrity in the UK, a man of considerable power and influence.  What chance do you think you stand of avoiding her?  Give it up, for the love of God, talk to her, PLEASE, TALK TO HER.” 

And “I saw her yesterday.”  Apparently she can get to him any time she wants.  Note how in every performance of this song, and McCartney must’ve racked up thousands by now, he still sings “Well I saw her yesterday.”  She is, for years, in near constant contact with one of the most heavily guarded personalities of his time.  This ex-girlfriend, obviously, has her ways of getting to people, and does not give up easily.

(“Yesterday.”  There’s that word, a word that would haunt McCartney for the rest of his life.  He saw your ex-girlfriend yesterday; is it only coincidence that yesterday is the same day that so shattered him, that saw him reduced to “not half the man [he] used to be?”  There’s “a shadow hanging over me” — a troubling image we will examine the implications of later.)

“But now she says she knows your not the hurting kind.”  This line could be read a number of ways.  Either your ex-girlfriend is confident in her abilities to overpower you physically (Why not?  She’s got Paul McCartney wrapped around her little finger) or else she’s whistling in the dark.  You have disappeared, fled this dangerous, unstable young woman, in fear for your life, and in her desperation she has crafted a fiction about the nature of your personality.  “Come back, I know you didn’t mean to hurt me, I understand completely and I love you, and I won’t let Paul McCartney out of my clutches until you respond in kind, in order to prove my point.”  What could this possibly be except the actions of a crazy person?

(In German!  They recorded a version in German!  Why?  Has your ex-girlfriend expressed a concern that you perhaps have amnesia, and are living in Germany?  Does she think, perhaps, that some German-speaking friends or relatives might relay the message to you?  What evidence does she have of this?  Does she think that, in your desperate avoidance, you have fled the country, changed your name and taken up speaking a foreign language?  What the hell did this young woman do to you?)

“Although it’s up to you, I think it’s only fair.”  Yes, that’s right, it’s totally up to you.  Please don’t let me, Paul McCartney, biggest pop star in the UK, influence your decision in any way, it’s absolutely your decision to make.  HOWEVER: “Pride can hurt you too.”  Ah, there’s the rub.  It’s utterly your decision to make, but YOU WILL FEEL THE PAIN OF THAT DECISION.” 

“Apologize to her.”  Oh, now wait, what the hell?  I thought the message is that she loves you, now she’s demanding an apology?  Not herself, of course, no, that’s not her style.  No, it’s McCartney, McCartney is pleading with you, please, for the love of God, apologize to her, or you will find yourself in a world of pain.  This is no tender declaration of love, this is a plain-spoken threat.

“And with a love like that, you know you should be glad.”  Yes, you should be.  But McCartney, at this point, is fooling no one.  Look at the way certain phrases are repeated, chantlike, over and over — “She loves you, yeah yeah yeah,” “and you know that can’t be bad,”  “and you know you should be glad.”  This is what Shakespeare referred to as “protesting too much.”

An image forms in my mind.  The Beatles return from a world tour, exhausted and terrified from their international mission of message delivery.  A pale, drawn, shaken McCartney returns home to London, thinking he’s fulfilled his duty, but is greeted at his door by your ex-girlfriend.

The rain pours down, wetting the young composer’s hair as he stands, crestfallen at the sight of the trembling, enraged young woman.  “Did you deliver the message?”  She asks.  “What was the reply?”

McCartney has no answer.  Distractedly, he fumbles with a cigarette.  He can’t get a match to strike, not in this sodden English weather.  “I didn’t hear back,” he stammers, “I did my best.  Please, you have to understand –“

“You didn’t even locate the recipient, did you?” she cuts him off.  McCartney goes pale.  The cigarette, soaked and lifeless, trembles in his lips.  He knows that he will have to go back to the other Beatles and insist that they tour the world once again, enduring constant threat to their lives, in the service of this young woman.  It’s going to be another long year.

(Did McCartney, perhaps, actually die in 1966, as was widely rumored?  Was it at the hands of your ex-girlfriend?)

More important, perhaps: who are you?  What did you do to this young woman, who must be a middle-aged woman by now, if she’s still alive?  Are you still alive, or did you pay for your relationship with this young woman with your life?  When will it be safe for you to come out of hiding?  Are you waiting for another message from McCartney, a song whose chorus goes “It’s all right, she’s dead, you’re in the clear?”  What will it take to heal this wound?  Can your ex-girlfriend ever be satisfied?

Let’s face it, in the end there is only one possibility: your ex-girlfriend is a supernatural being of terrible power.  Your ex-girlfriend may be, in fact, not your ex-girlfriend at all.  The song does not, after all, identify her as an ex-girlfriend, merely that she is female, that you “hurt her so,” and that she loves you.  She could be your daughter, your sister or even your mother.  You may not even be aware of her existence, but she loves you and her love is powerful, constant and unstoppable.  She could, in fact, be a ghost and, like Sadako in Hideo Nakata’s Ringu films, she will never rest until her message has been disseminated to every living person on the planet.  Which begs the question: what did you do to her?  You “hurt her so.”  As per Sadako, did you push her down a well because of her awesome powers of destruction? 

Whoever she is and whatever her powers, her mark on McCartney was permanent and irreversible.  In three short years, she turned him and the other Beatles from cheeky, entertaining moptops to sallow bickering, paranoid drug addicts.  What else explains the Beatles’ withdrawl from public life, their investigations into psychedelia and escape into hallucinations, John Lennon’s relationship with the Sadako-like Yoko Ono, George Harrison’s obsession with spiritual life?

What will free the world from the curse of her “love?”

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